I grinned when the waiter brought me a clean ashtray. It was a Monday kind of grin. It was an I-got-drunk-and-stoned-and-screwed-around-all-weekend, barely-crawled-out-of-bed lift of the muscles that parenthesize my lips. On a dog, you’d call it fair warning.
I’d been having a lot of Mondays like that. I’d even hit the trifecta of fucked up Monday mornings the week before when I’d woken up in a stranger’s home in Santa Monica with no memory and a really kickass Kanji tattoo on my right my shoulder.
I had no idea what it meant, but it looked good.
And maybe my brother Jake would have had a thing or two to say about that sort of shit if I let him in on it, like… maybe he’d have said I’m not a shallow guy and I’m just having a midlife crisis, but I am and I’m not, respectively. I was on the trail of tears to forty, newly divorced, newly out and proud and I didn’t give a damn.
It wasn’t like I hadn’t tried to do everything right, because I had tried. Hard. I’d made my mother happy when she was alive. I’d treated my wife well even though she left me for some other asshole, thank fuck. I’d let her get away with the house, her car, and an income, because I was not a monster. My father was monster and I knew what one of those was like.
So really, I was not a monster.
I was just a guy who finally, finally had the chance to get it right. And it was my turn to pick and choose.
My second Vodka Mary had appeared on the table next to my good elbow while I’d been sitting there, eyes closed, drifting. Enjoying the buzz from my first drink and the warm flush of nicotine.
The sound of the waves hitting the sand behind me was soothing. It interspersed with children playing, the sound of two or three portable radios, and seabirds. As grim as the morning had started out, the day promised high temperatures. People had come early, prepared to stake out their territory and wait for the sun to burn off the clouds. I could feel its radiant warmth on my face and shoulders even though the light breeze off the water was chilly.
I ate my olive slowly, savoring its salty, bitter aftertaste. The chairs were comfortable. I found if I crossed my feet at the ankles and slunk down a bit, it supported my head and shoulders and I could avoid that sprawled, knees splayed out appearance while I relaxed…
“Dan, are you asleep?”
I shook my head. Hell no I wasn’t asleep, I was just resting my eyes. Wasn’t I? A quick scan of my surroundings revealed my cigarette had burned to ash and my drink had a thick layer of water at the top.
“Shoot. Sorry, yeah, I think I was.” I pushed up in my chair to shake the cobwebs out of my brain. “Wild weekend. I was out of town.”
Jakey sat down and shot me a smile I think he might have invented just for me. There was never any disappointment in that shy half-moon of perfect white teeth and lips. It had begun to appear on his face long before he’d even had those incisors that were evident now, when what his mouth revealed had been like the tiny white Chiclets in gimme-sized boxes of gum people handed out on Halloween.
“Where’d you go?”
“Santa Barbara. Up in the hills, nice place. You’d have liked it. We went to a place for brunch yesterday that was out of this world.”
“Yeah? Who’d you go with?”
I shrugged. “Some guy I met at Sandpiper. Stunning course. Really beautiful, first-rate golf. I want to go back sometime, want to come?”
Jake shook his head. “Golf. As if.”
“You mock now. Someday the golf bug will get you.”
“Hardly. Golf has to be the most effete, boring fucking game… Bunch of guys hunting for a little white ball. Oh, woe is me. The ball is in the sand. Call me when that sand explodes.”
“Do you actually want the sand to explode?”
He frowned. “No. But there has to be a happy medium between almost getting killed and I’m going to drive this little cart off a cliff just to make something happen. Anyway, how are you golfing with that?” He indicated my hand.
Yeah. My hand was still in a brace, still showing the effects of a brutal crush injury and several surgeries. The bones of my wrist were barely mended, the radius and ulna held together with titanium strips and pins and screws.
My bionic arm. Except – unlike Steve Austin’s -- it was weak and pale and scarred and useless.
“I can’t hit the long range balls because my grip is fucked up, but I can still putt. I found someone who” -- Heaven help me, the memory of the three days I’d spent with Julio made me blush and shift in my seat like an adolescent boy --“likes to drive.”