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Malibu Rising / (by Taylor Jenkins Reid, 2021) -

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Malibu Rising /   (by Taylor Jenkins Reid, 2021) -

Malibu Rising / (by Taylor Jenkins Reid, 2021) -

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Malibu Rising / (by Taylor Jenkins Reid, 2021) -
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2021
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Taylor Jenkins Reid
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Julia Whelan
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/ / / upper-intermediate
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upper-intermediate
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11:06:03
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128 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

Malibu Rising / :

.doc (Word) taylor_jenkins_reid_-_malibu_rising.doc [1.12 Mb] (c: 4) .
.pdf taylor_jenkins_reid_-_malibu_rising.pdf [1.58 Mb] (c: 9) .


: Malibu Rising

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Malibu catches fire. It is simply what Malibu does from time to time. Tornadoes take the flatlands of the Midwest. Floods rise in the American South. Hurricanes rage against the Gulf of Mexico. And California burns. The land caught fire time and again when it was inhabited by the Chumash in 500 B.C.E. It caught fire in the 1800s when Spanish colonizers claimed the area. It caught fire on December 4, 1903, when Frederick and May Rindge owned the stretch of land now called Malibu. The flames seized thirty miles of coastland and consumed their Victorian beach house. Malibu caught fire in 1917 and 1929, well after the first movie stars got there. It caught fire in 1956 and 1958, when the longboarders and beach bunnies trickled to its shores. It caught fire in 1970 and 1978, after the hippies settled in its canyons. It caught fire in 1982, 1985, in 1993, 1996, in 2003, 2007, and 2018. And times in between. Because it is Malibus nature to burn. At the city line of Malibu today stands a sign that reads, MALIBU, 27 MILES OF SCENIC BEAUTY. The long, thin townshipan area that hugs the slim coast for almost thirty milesis made up of ocean and mountain, split by a two-lane throughway called the Pacific Coast Highway, or PCH. To the west of PCH is a long series of beaches cradling the crystal blue waves of the Pacific Ocean. In many areas along the coast, beach houses are crammed along the side of the highway, competing for views, narrow and tall. The coastline is jagged and rocky. The waves are brisk and clear. The air smells of fresh brine. Directly to the east of PCH lie the immense, arid mountains. They dominate the skyline, sage green and umber, composed of desert shrubs and wild trees, brittle underbrush. This is dry land. A tinderbox. Blessed and cursed with a breeze. The local Santa Ana winds speed through the mountains and valleys from the inland to the shore, hot and strong. Myth says they are agents of chaos and disorder. But what they really are is an accelerant. A tiny spark in the dry desert wood can grow to a blaze and run wild, burning bright orange and red. It devours the land and exhales thick black smoke that overtakes the sky, dimming the sun for miles, ash falling like snow. Habitatsbrush and shrubs and treesand homescabins and mansions and bungalows, ranches and vineyards and farmsgo up in smoke and leave behind a scorched earth. But that land is young once again, ready to grow something new. Destruction. And renewal, rising from the ashes. The story of fire. The Malibu fire of 1983 started not in the dry hills but on the coastline. It began at 28150 Cliffside Drive on Saturday, August 27at the home of Nina Rivaduring one of the most notorious parties in Los Angeles history. The annual party grew wildly out of control sometime around midnight. By 7:00 A.M., the coastline of Malibu was engulfed in flames. Because, just as it is in Malibus nature to burn, so was it in one particular persons nature to set fire and walk away. Saturday, August 27, 1983 Part One 7:00 A.M. TO 7:00 P.M. 7:00 A.M. Nina Riva woke up without even opening her eyes. Consciousness seeped into her slowly, as if breaking the morning to her gently. She lay in bed dreaming of her surfboard underneath her chest in the water, before she began remembering realitythat hundreds of people were going to descend upon her house in just over twelve hours. As she came to, it dawned on her once again that every single person who would show up tonight would know the indignity of what had happened to her. She lamented it all without even peeking through the curtains of her own eyelashes. If Nina listened closely, she could hear the ocean crashing below the cliffjust faintly. She had always envisioned buying a home like the one she and her siblings grew up in down on Old Malibu Road. A shabby beach bungalow off of PCH, built on stilts, extended out over the sea. She had fond memories of sea spray on the windows, of half-rotted wood and rusting metal holding up the ground beneath her feet. She wanted to stand on her patio and look down in order to see high tide, hear the waves crashing loudly underneath her. But Brandon had wanted to live on a cliff. So hed gone and bought them this glass-and-concrete mansion, in the cliffside enclave of Point Dume, fifty feet above the coastline, a steep walk down the rocks and steps to the breaking waves. Nina listened as best she could for the sounds of the water and she did not open her eyes. Why should she? There was nothing for her to see. Brandon was not in her bed. Brandon wasnt in the house. Brandon wasnt even in Malibu. He was at the Beverly Hills Hotel, with its pink stucco and its green palm trees. He wasmost likely at this early hourcradling Carrie Soto in his sleep. When he woke up, he would probably take his big paw of a hand and move her hair out of the way, and kiss her neck. And then the two of them would probably start packing together for the U.S. Open. Ugh. Nina didnt hate Carrie Soto for stealing her husband because husbands cant be stolen. Carrie Soto wasnt a thief; Brandon Randall was a traitor. He was the sole reason Nina Riva was on the cover of the August 22 issue of Now This magazine under the headline NINAS HEARTBREAK: HOW ONE HALF OF AMERICAS GOLDEN COUPLE GOT LEFT BEHIND. It was an entire article dedicated to the fact that her tennis pro husband had publicly left her for his tennis pro mistress. The cover image was flattering enough. They had pulled one of the photos from her swimsuit shoot in the Maldives earlier that year. She was wearing a fuchsia high-leg bikini. Her dark brown eyes and her thick eyebrows were framed by her long brown hair, lightened from the sun, looking a tad wet, a faint curl still in it. And then, of course, there were her famous lips. A billowy bottom lip topped by her thinner upper lipthe Riva lips, as they had been dubbed when they were made famous by her father, Mick. In the original photo, Nina was holding a surfboard, her yellow-and-white Town and Country 6? 2? thruster. On the cover, they had cropped it out. But she was used to that by now. Inside the magazine, there was a picture of Nina in the parking lot of a Ralphs grocery store from three weeks prior. Nina had been wearing a white bikini with a flowered sundress thrown on over it. Shed been smoking a Virginia Slims and carrying a six-pack of Tab. If you looked closely, you could tell she had been crying. Next to it, theyd put a photo of her father from the midsixties. He was tall, dark, and conventionally handsome in a pair of swimming trunks, a Hawaiian shirt, and sandals, standing in front of Trancas Market, smoking a Marlboro and holding a bag of groceries. Over the photos ran the title THE APPLE DOESNT FALL FAR FROM THE RIVA TREE. Theyd framed Nina as the dumped wife of a famous man on the cover, the daughter of a famous man on the inside. Every time she thought about it, her jaw tensed up. She finally opened her eyes and looked at her ceiling. She stood up out of bed, naked except for a pair of bikini underwear. She walked down the concrete stairs, into the tiled kitchen, opened the sliding glass doors that looked onto her backyard, and stepped out on the patio. She breathed in the salt air. It was not yet hot that morning; the breeze that stalks all seaside towns was running offshore. Nina could feel the wind across her shoulders as she walked onto the perfectly cut grass, feeling the stiff edges of the blades between her toes. She walked until she got to the edge of the cliff. She looked out onto the horizon. The ocean was as blue as ink. The sun had settled into the sky an hour or so ago. Seagulls chirped sharply as they dove and rose over the sea. Nina could see the waves were good, a clear swell was moving in toward Little Dume. She watched a set come in, watched them go unridden. It seemed like a tragedy. Those waves hitting the break all by themselves, no one there to claim them. She would claim them. She would let the ocean heal her like she always had. She may have been in a house she never would have chosen. She may have been left by a man she could not even remember why shed married. But the Pacific was her ocean. Malibu was her home. What Brandon had never understood was that the glory of living in Malibu was not living in luxury but raw nature. The Malibu of Ninas youth had been more rural than urbane, the rolling hills filled with dirt paths and humble shacks. What Nina loved about her hometown was how ants found their way to your kitchen counters, pelicans sometimes shit on the ledge of your deck. Clumps of horse manure sat along the sides of the unpaved roads, left there by neighbors riding their horses to the market. Nina had lived on this small stretch of coast her entire life and she understood she could do little to prevent it from changing. She had seen it grow from humble ranches to middle-class neighborhoods. Now it was becoming a land of oversized mansions on the beach. But with vistas this beautiful, it had been only a matter of time before the filthy rich showed up. The only real surprise was that Nina had married one of them. And now she owned this slice of the world, she supposed, whether she liked it or not. In a moment, Nina would turn around and walk back into the house. She would put on her swimsuit and head right back to this spot, where she would descend the side of the cliff and grab her board from the shed she kept on the sand. But right that second, Nina was thinking only of the party tonight, having to face all of those people who knew her husband had left her. She didnt move. She wasnt ready to turn around. Instead, Nina Riva stood on the edge of the cliff shed never wanted, and looked out onto the water she wished was closer, and for the first time in her quiet life, screamed into the wind. Stay here. Jay Riva hopped out of his CJ-8, jumped the five-foot gate, walked down the gravel drive, and knocked on the door of his older sisters house. No response. Nina! he called out. You up? The family resemblance was striking. He was slender and tall like she was, but more powerful than reedy. His brown eyes, long lashes, and short, rumpled brown hair made him the kind of handsome that breeds entitlement. With his board shorts, faded T-shirt, sunglasses, and flip-flops, he looked like what he was: a championship surfer. Jay knocked again, slightly louder. Still nothing. He was tempted to pound on the door until Nina got out of bed. Because, he knew, eventually, shed come to the door. But now was not the time to be a dick to Nina. Instead, Jay turned around, put his Wayfarers back on, and walked back to his Jeep. Its just you and me this morning, he said. We should wake her up, Kit said. Shed want in on these waves. Tiny Kit. Jay started the car, and began his three-point turn, careful to make sure their sticks stayed put in the back. She watches the same forecast we do, he said. She knows about the swell. She can take care of herself. Kit considered this and looked out the window. More accurately: She looked out where a window might have been if the car had doors. Kit was slim and small and tightly built, all sinew and tanned skin. She had long brown hair, lightened with lemon juice and sunshine, freckles across the bridge of her nose and onto the apples of her cheeks, green eyes, full lips. She looked like a miniature version of her sister without any of the grace and ease. Beautiful but maybe a bit awkward. Awkward but maybe beautiful. Im worried shes depressed, Kit said, finally. She needs to get out of the house. Shes not depressed, Jay said, as he came to the intersection where the neighborhood roads met PCH. He looked to his left and then to his right, trying to time his turn. Shes just been dumped is all. Kit rolled her eyes. When Ashley and I broke up Jay continued. They were now flying north up PCH, the base of the mountains to their right, the vast clear blue ocean to their left, the wind so loud Jay had to shout. I was upset about it, but then I got over it. Just like Nina will soon. Thats how relationships are. Jay seemed to be forgetting that when Ashley had broken up with him, he was so upset that he wouldnt even admit it had happened for almost two weeks. But Kit wasnt going to mention that and risk him bringing up her love life. At the age of twenty, Kit had not yet kissed anyone. And it was a fact that she felt every day, every moment, some more acutely than others. Her brother often talked to her as if she were a child when it came to love, and when he did, she found herself reddeningequal parts embarrassment and rage. The car approached a red light and Jay slowed down. Im just saying, getting in the water is probably what she needs right now, Kit said. Nina will be fine, he said. With no one else at the intersection, he put his foot on the gas and drove on, even though the light had yet to change. I never liked Brandon, anyway, Kit said. Yes, you did, Jay said, catching her eye out of the corner of his. He was right. She had. She had liked him so much. They all had. The wind roared as the car sped up and neither of them spoke until Jay pulled a U-turn and took a spot on the side of the road at County Line, an expanse of sand at the very northern edge of Malibu where surfers hovered in the water all year round. Now, with the southwest swell, there would be waves hollow enough to get barreled. And maybe show off a little if they were so inclined. Jay had taken first and third in two United States Surfing Championships. He had three Surfers Monthly covers in as many years. A sponsorship with ONeill. An offer from RogueSticks to shape a line of Riva brand shortboards. He was a favorite going into the first ever Triple Crown later that year. Jay knew he was great. But he also knew that he attracted attention based in part on who his father was. And sometimes, it was hard to tell the line between the two. Mick Rivas shadow excelled at haunting each one of his children. Ready to show these kooks how its done? Jay said. Kit nodded with a sly smile. His arrogance both infuriated and amused her. By a certain population, Jay might have been considered the most exciting up-and-coming surfer on the mainland. But to Kit, he was just her older brother, whose aerials were getting stale. Yeah, lets go, she said. A short guy with a gentle-looking face and a wet suit half undone around his hips spotted Jay and Kit as they started to get out of the car. Seth Whittles. His hair was wet, slicked back. He was wiping his face off with a towel. Hey, man, I thought I might see you here this morning, he said to Jay as he came around the side of his Jeep. The tubes right now are classic. For sure, for sure, Jay said. Seth was one year younger than Jay and had been one grade behind him in school. Now, in adulthood, Seth and Jay ran in the same circles, surfed the same peaks. Jay got the sense that felt like a victory for Seth. Big party tonight, Seth said. His voice had the slightest edge of bravado to it and Kit instantly understood Seth was confirming he was invited. Kit caught Seths eye as he was speaking and he smiled at her, as if just now realizing she existed. Hey, he said. Hi. Yeah, man, partys on, Jay said. At Ninas place in Point Dume, just like last year. Cool, cool, Seth said, one eye still watching Kit. As Seth and Jay continued talking, Kit got the boards out of the back and waxed them both down. She started dragging them to the shoreline. Jay caught up with her. He grabbed his board out of her hands. So I guess Seth is coming tonight, Jay said. I gathered, Kit said, tying her leash onto her ankle. He was checking you out, Jay said. He hadnt ever noticed someone checking Kit out before. Nina, sure, all the time. But not Kit. Jay looked at his little sister again, with fresh eyes. Was she hot now or something? He couldnt stand to even ask himself the question. Whatever, Kit said. Hes a good guy but its weird, Jay said. Somebody scoping out my little sister in front of me like that. Im twenty years old, Jay, Kit said. Jay frowned. Still. Yeah, well, Id rather die than suck face with Seth Whittles, Kit said, standing up and grabbing her board. So dont lose sleep over it. Seth was an all-right-looking guy, Jay figured. And he was nice. He was always falling in love with some girl or another, taking them out to dinner and shit. Kit could do worse than Seth Whittles. Sometimes she made no sense to him. You ready? Kit said. Jay nodded. Lets go. The two of them headed into the waves as they had countless other times over the course of their liveslaying their bodies down on their boards and paddling out, side by side. There were already a handful of people in the lineup. But it was easy to see Jays prominence as he made his way past the breakers, as the men in the water saw him coming toward them. The lineup spaced out, made room. Jay and Kit saddled up right at the peak. Hud Riva, short where his siblings were tall, stocky where they were lithe, who spent the summer getting sunburned as they grew bronze, was the smartest one of the bunch. Far too smart to not understand the true ramifications of what he was doing. He was eight miles south on PCH, going down on his brothers ex-girlfriend Ashley in an Airstream illegally parked on Zuma Beach. However, that was not how he would have phrased it. For him, the act was making love. There was simply too much heart in all of it, in every breath, for it to be anything cheaper than love. Hud loved Ashleys one dimple and her green-gold eyes and her gold-gold hair. He loved the way she could not pronounce anthropology, that she always asked him how Nina and Kit were doing, and that her favorite movie was Private Benjamin. He loved her one snaggletooth that you could only ever see when she laughed. Whenever she caught Hud looking at it, shed get embarrassed, covering her mouth with her hand and laughing even harder. And he loved that about her, too. In those moments, Ashley would often hit him and say, Stop it, youre making me self-conscious, with the sparkle still in her eye. And when she did that, he knew she loved him, too. Ashley often told him she loved his broad shoulders and his long eyelashes. She loved the way he always looked out for his family. She admired his talentthe way the world looked more beautiful through his camera than it did right in front of her. She admired that he could get in just as dangerous waters as the surfers did, but that he swam, or balanced on a Jet Ski, holding up a however-many-pound camera, capturing in perfect light and motion what Jay could do on the board. Ashley thought that was the more impressive feat. After all, it wasnt just Jay who had made the cover of Surfers Monthly three times in as many years. So had Hud. All of the most famous shots of Jay were by Hud. The wave breaking, the board cutting through the water, the sea spray, the horizon Jay might be able to ride the wave but Hud was the one making it look beautiful. The name Hudson Riva was in all three of those issues. Ashley believed that Jay needed Hud as much as Hud needed Jay. Which is why, when Ashley looked at Hud Riva, she saw a quiet man who did not need attention or accolades. She saw a man whose work spoke for itself. She saw a man instead of a boy. And in doing so, she made Hud feel like more of a man than he ever had before. Ashleys breath got shallower as Hud moved faster. He knew her body, knew what she needed. This wasnt the first or second or tenth time hed done this. When it was over, Ashley pulled Hud up to lie next to her. The air was muggythe two of them had shut all the windows and doors before they had even kissed, for fear of being seen or heard or even sensed. Ashley sat up and cracked open the window near the bed, letting the breeze in. The salt air cut the humidity. They could hear families and teenagers on the beach, the waves rolling onto the shore, the sharp whistle of a lifeguard at the nearest tower. So much of Malibu was restricted beach access, but Zumathat wide stretch of fine sand and unobstructed coast against PCHwas for everyone. On a day like this, it attracted families from all over Los Angeles trying to squeeze one last memorable day out of summer vacation. Hi, Ashley said softly, shy and smiling. Hi, Hud said, charmed. He grabbed the fingers of Ashleys left hand and played with them, weaving his own fingers between them. He could marry her. He knew that. Hed never felt this way about anyone before but he felt it for her. He felt like hed known it since the day he was born, though he knew that couldnt possibly be right. Hud was ready to give Ashley all of him, anything he had, anything he could give. The wedding of her dreams, however many babies she wanted. What was so hard about dedicating yourself to a woman? It felt so natural to him. Hud was only twenty-three but he felt ready to be a husband, to have a family, to build a life with Ashley. He just had to find a way to tell Jay. So tonight, Ashley said as she sat up to get dressed. She pulled up her yellow bikini bottom and threw on a white T-shirt that said UCLA in blue and gold across the chest. Wait, Hud said, sitting up, his head almost hitting the ceiling. He was wearing navy blue corduroy shorts and no shirt. There was sand on his feet. There was always sand on his feet. It was the way he and his brother and sisters had grown up. Sand on their feet and on their floors and in their cars and bags and shower drains. Take your shirt off. Please, Hud said as he leaned over and grabbed one of his cameras. Ashley rolled her eyes, but they both knew she would do it. He pulled the viewfinder down, looked at her directly. Youre art. Ashley rolled her eyes again. That is such a lame line. Hud smiled. I know but I swear Ive never said it to any other woman on the planet. This was true. Ashley took her hands and crossed them over her chest. She grabbed the bottom edge of her shirt, and pulled it off her head, her long sandy hair falling down her back and around her shoulders. As she did all of that, Hud held down the shutter, capturing her in every state of undress. She knew she would look beautiful through his lens. As he clicked, she grew more and more comfortable, blooming at the idea of being seen by him. Ashley slowly took her hands and put them on her bikini bottom and untied the strings holding it on. And in three swift clicks, it was gone. Hud stopped for an imperceptible second, stunned at her willingness, at her initiative, to become even more bare in front of his camera than hed ever asked of her. And then he continued. He photographed her over and over and over again. She sat down, on the bed, and crossed her legs. And he moved closer and closer to her with the camera. Keep shooting, she said. Shoot until were done. And then she pulled at his shorts, and let them fall down, and put her mouth on him. And he kept photographing her until they were done, when she looked up at him and said, Those are just for you. You have to develop them yourself, all right? But now youll have them forever. Because I love you. OK, Hud said, still watching her, stunned. She was so many incredible things at once. Confident enough to be this vulnerable. Generous but in control. He always felt so calm around her, even when she thrilled him. Ashley stood up and tied her bikini bottom back on, put her shirt on with conviction. So, like I was saying, about the party tonight Ashley looked at Hud to gauge his reaction. I dont think I should go. I thought we decided Hud started but Ashley cut him off. Your family has enough problems right now. She started slipping her feet into her sandals. Dont you think? You mean Nina? Hud said, following Ashley to the door. Ninas going to be fine. You think this is the hardest thing Ninas had to go through? Thats even more to my point, Ashley said as she walked out of the Airstream, her feet hitting the sand, the sun hitting her eyes. Hud was one step behind her. I dont want a spectacle. Your family Attracts a lot of attention? Hud offered. Exactly. And I dont want to be one more problem for Nina. It was this kind of thoughtfulness for his sister, despite having met her only a few times, that Hud had found so enchanting about Ashley from the beginning. I know but we have to tell them, Hud said, pulling Ashley toward him. He put his arms over her shoulders, tucked her head underneath his. He kissed her hair. She smelled like tanning oilfake coconuts and bananas. We have to tell Jay, he clarified. I know, Ashley said. She rested her head on Huds chest. I just dont want to be this person. What person? The bitch, you know? That comes between brothers. Hey, Hud said. Me falling in love with you is my fault. Not yours. And it was the best thing I ever did. Fate trips up sometimes. Thats the conclusion Hud had come to. Its how he made sense of a lot of things that had happened in his life. Whatever hand was guiding himguiding everyonetoward a certain future theres no way it could work without error. Sometimes the wrong brother meets the girl first. It doesnt have to be any more complicated than that. Hud and Ashley they were simply correcting fate. It doesnt even make sense I was with Jay, Ashley said, pulling back from him except for where her hands interlaced with his. Thats what I thought the first time I saw you, Hud said. I thought, That girl doesnt belong with Jay. Did you think I belonged with you? Hud shook his head. No, youre far too good for me. Well, at least you recognize it. Ashley pulled far away this time, sinking her heels into the sand, letting Huds grip on her be the only thing keeping her from falling down. Hud let her hang for a moment and then pulled her back to him. You should come tonight, he said. And we will tell Jay and it will all be OK. There was an unspoken pact between them that what they were going to tell Jay was going to be a lie. A half-truth. They were going to tell Jay they were together. They were not going to tell him they had started sleeping together one night six months ago, when they ran into each other on the Venice Boardwalk. Back when Ashley and Jay were still together. Ashley had been wearing a denim jacket over a coral dress that was floating up with the breeze. Hud was in white shorts and a blue short-sleeved button-down, a pair of old Topsiders on his feet. Each had been out drinking with friends when they found themselves passing each other just outside a tourist shop, selling tank tops with cheesy catchphrases and cheap sunglasses. They stopped to say hi and told their friends they would catch up in a moment. But a moment seemed to get longer and longer until they realized they werent going to catch up with their friends at all. They kept talking as they slowly started walking together down the boulevard, going into shops and bars. Hud tried on a straw cowboy hat and Ashley laughed. Ashley jokingly grabbed a Wonder Woman lasso and pretended to twirl it in the air. And Hud could tell, the way Ashley smiled at him, that the night was becoming something bigger than either of them intended. Hours later, after a few too many drinks, they crammed themselves into one of the bathroom stalls of a bar called Mad Dogs. Ashley whispered into Huds ear, I always wanted you. I always wanted you instead. Shed always wanted him instead. A second after shed said it, Hud had kissed her and grabbed her legs, pulling her up around his waist and against the wall. She smelled like a flower he couldnt name. Her hair felt fine and soft in his fingers. No one had ever felt as good against him as she did that night. When it was over, they both felt exhilarated and satiated and light as air, until the anvil of guilt settled in their stomachs. Hud liked thinking of himself as a good guy. And yet sleeping with your brothers girlfriend was exactly the sort of thing a good guy would never do. Certainly not more than once. But there was that night and then another. Then dinner in a restaurant four towns up the coast. And then a few discussions of how, exactly, Ashley should break up with Jay. And then, she did it. Five months ago, Ashley had shown up at Huds Airstream at eleven oclock at night and said, I broke up with him. And I think you should know that I love you. Hud had pulled her inside and taken her face in his hands and said, I love you, too. Ive loved you since I dont know. Well before I should have. And now they were just biding their time, trying to create the perfect moment in which to tell Jay the half-truth. A half-truth between half brothers, though Jay and Hud never thought of themselves as half brothers at all. Come to the party, Hud said to Ashley. Im ready to tell everyone. I dont know, Ashley said as she put on her white sunglasses and grabbed her keys. Well see. 8:00 A.M. Nina was out in the surf, having a hard time finding the kind of long, slow right-handers she was looking for. She wasnt there to shred. And the waves werent right for it that morning anyway. All she wanted was to ride her longboard gracefully, cross-stepping up to the nose until the waves knocked her off. The beach was quiet. This was the glory of a tiny, exclusive cove, protected on three sides by fifty-foot cliffs. While technically the beach was public, the only people who knew how to get to it were those who had access to private stairs or those willing to hike the jagged coastline and risk high tide. That morning, Nina was sharing the cove with two teenage girls in neon swimsuits who were sunbathing and reading Jackie Collins and Stephen King. Since Nina was the only one in the water, she hung out on her board just past the peak, unhurried. As she floated there, the wind chilling her wet skin, the sun crisping her bare shoulders, with her legs dangling in the water, Nina was already getting a small slice of the peace shed come out here for. An hour ago, she had been dreading the party. Shed even fantasized about canceling it. But she couldnt do that to Jay, Hud, and Kit. They looked forward to this party every year, talked about it for months afterward. The party had started out as a wild kegger years ago, a bunch of surfers and skateboarders from around town gathering at the Rivas house the last Saturday in August. But in the time since, Ninas own fame had risen and shed married Brandon, garnering even more attention. With each passing year, the party seemed to attract more and more recognizable people. Actors, pop stars, models, writers, directors, even a few Olympians. Somehow, this once small get-together had become the party to be seen at. If only to be able to say you were there when. When, in 1979, Warren Rhodes and Lisa Crowne got naked in the pool. When, in 81, the supermodels Alma Amador and Georgina Corbyn made out with each other in front of their husbands. When, last year, Bridger Miller and Tuesday Hendricks met for the first time, sharing a joint in Ninas backyard. They got engaged two weeks later and then Tuesday left him at the altar back in May. Now This ran a headline that said, WHY TUESDAY COULDNT CROSS THAT BRIDGE WITH BRIDGER. There was no end to the stories people would tell about what happened at the Riva party, some of which Nina wasnt even sure were true. Supposedly, Louie Davies discovered Alexandra Covington when she was swimming topless in Ninas pool. He cast her as a prostitute in Let Em Down Easy and now, two years later, she had an Oscar. Apparently, at the party back in 1980, Doug Tucker, the new head of Sunset Studios, got plastered and told everyone that he had proof Celia St. James was gay. Did Ninas neighbor Rob Lowe sing all of Jack and Diane with her other neighbor Emilio Estevez last year in her kitchen? People claimed so. Nina never knew for sure. She didnt always catch everything that happened in her own home. Didnt see every person that showed up. She was mostly concerned with whether her brothers and sister had a good time. And they always did. Last year, Jay and Hud had smoked weed with every member of the Breeze. Kit spent the entire night talking to Violet North up in Ninas bedroom, a week before Violets debut album hit number one. Since then, Jay and Hud had tickets to the Breezes shows whenever they wanted. And Kit did not shut up about how cool Violet was for weeks afterward. So Nina knew she couldnt cancel a party like that. The Rivas might not be like most families, being just the four of them, but they had their traditions. And anyway, there was no good way to cancel a party that never had any invitations. People were coming, whether she wanted them there or not. Shed even heard from her close friend Tarine, whom shed met at a Sports Illustrated shoot, that Vaughn Donovan was planning on coming. And Nina had to admit Vaughn Donovan was perhaps the hottest guy shed ever seen on-screen. The way he smiled as he took off his glasses in the mall parking lot in Wild Night still got her. As Nina watched a swell come in just west of her, she decided the party was not a curse, but a blessing. It was exactly what she needed. She deserved a good time. She deserved to let loose. She could share a bottle of wine with Tarine. She could flirt. She could dance. Nina watched as the first wave in a set crashed just beyond her. It peeled slowly, consistently, beautifully to the right, exactly as shed hoped. So when the next one came in, she paddled with it, caught the feel of the tide underneath her, and popped up. She moved with the water, thinking only of how to compensate, how to give and take in perfect measure. She did not think of future or past, but only present. How can I stay, how can I hold on, how can I balance? Better. Longer. With more ease. As the wave sped up, she hunched farther down. As the wave slowed, she pumped her board. When she had her bearings, she danced, lightly, up to the nose, moving with a softness that did not compromise speed. She hovered there, on the tip of the board, her feet balancing, her arms out to steady her. Throughout it all, this grace had always saved her. 1956 Our family histories are simply stories. They are myths we create about the people who came before us, in order to make sense of ourselves. The story of June and Mick Riva seemed like a tragedy to their oldest child, Nina. It felt like a comedy of errors to their first son, Jay. It was an origin story for their second son, Hud. And a mystery to the baby of the family, Kit. To Mick himself it was just a chapter of his memoir. But to June, it was, always and forever, a romance. Mick Riva first met June Costas when she was a seventeen-year-old girl on the shores of Malibu. It was 1956, a few years before the Beach Boys got there, mere months before Gidget would begin to beckon teenagers to the waves in droves. Back then, Malibu was a rural fishing town with only one traffic signal. It was quiet coastline, crawling inland by way of narrow winding roads through the mountains. But the town was coming into its adolescence. Surfers were setting up shop with their tiny shorts and longboards, bikinis were coming into fashion. June was the daughter of Theo and Christina, a middle-class couple who lived in a two-bedroom ranch home off one of Malibus many canyons. They owned a struggling restaurant called Pacific Fish, slinging crab cakes and fried clams just off the Pacific Coast Highway. Its bright red sign with cursive type hung high in the air, beckoning you from the east side of the highway to look away from the water for just one moment and eat something deep fried with an ice-cold Coca-Cola. Theo ran the fryer, Christina ran the register, and on nights and weekends, it was Junes job to wipe down the tables and mop the floors. Pacific Fish was both Junes duty and her inheritance. When Junes mother vacated that spot at the counter, it was expected that it would be Junes body that filled it. But June felt destined for bigger things, even at seventeen. June beamed on the rare occasion that a starlet or director would come into the restaurant. She could recognize all of them the second they walked in the door because she read the gossip rags like bibles, appealing to her fathers soft spot to get him to buy her a copy of Sub Rosa or Confidential every week. When June scrubbed ketchup off the tables, she imagined herself at the Pantages Theatre for a movie premiere. When she swept the salt and sand off the floors, she wondered how it might feel to stay at the Beverly Hilton and shop at Robinsons. June marveled at what a world the stars lived in. Just a few miles away and yet impossible for her to touch because she was stuck serving french fries to tourists. Junes joy was something she stole between shifts. She would sneak out at night, sleep in when she could. And, when her parents were at work but did not yet need her, June would cross the Pacific Coast Highway and rest her blanket in the expanse of sand opposite her familys restaurant. She would bring a book and her best bathing suit. She would fry her pale body under the sun, sunglasses over her eyes, eyes on the water. She would do this every Saturday and Sunday until ten-thirty in the morning, when reality pulled her back to Pacific Fish. One particular Saturday morning during the summer of 56, June was standing on the shoreline, her toes in the wet sand, waiting for the water to feel warmer on her feet before she waded in. There were surfers in the waves, fishermen down the coast, teens like her laying out blankets and rubbing lotion on their arms. June had felt daring that morning and put on a blue gingham strapless bikini. Her parents had no idea it even existed. Shed gone into Santa Monica with her girlfriends and had seen it hanging in a boutique. Shed bought it with money shed saved from tips, borrowing the last three dollars from her friend Marcie. She knew if her mother saw it, shed be forced to return it or worse yet, throw it out. But she wanted to feel pretty. She wanted to put out a signal and see if anyone answered. June had dark brown hair cut into a bob, a button nose, and pert bow lips. She had big, light brown eyes that held the giddiness that often accompanies hope. That bikini held promise. As she stood at the shoreline that morning, she felt almost naked. Sometimes, she felt a little guilty about how much she liked her own body. She liked the way her breasts filled out her bikini top, the way her waist pulled in and then ebbed out again. She felt alive, standing there, partially exposed. She bent down and ran her hands through the cold water rising up to her feet. A twenty-three-year-old, as-yet-unknown Michael Riva was swimming in the surf. He was with three of the friends hed made while hanging out in the clubs of Hollywood. Hed been in L.A. for two years, having left the Bronx behind, running west in search of fame. He was finding his footing coming out of a wave when his gaze fell on the girl standing alone along the shore. He liked her figure. He liked the way she stood there, shy and companionless. He smiled at her. June smiled back. And so Mick ditched his friends and headed toward her. When he finally made his way over, a drop of ice-cold water fell from his arm onto hers. She found herself flattered by his attention even before he said hello. Mick was undeniably handsome with his hair slicked back from the ocean, his tan, broad shoulders shining in the sun, his white swimming trunks fitting him just so. June liked his lipshow the bottom was so full it looked swollen, and the top was thinner and had a perfect little v in the center. He held out his hand. Im Mick. Hi, she said, taking his hand. The sun was beating down on them and June had to put her left hand over her eyes to block the glare. Im June. June, Mick said, holding on to her hand just a bit too long. He did not feed her a line about June being a beautiful name. He conveyed the sentiment clearly enough by the cool joy he took in saying it out loud. You are the prettiest girl on this beach. Oh, I dont know about that, June said, looking away, laughing. She could feel herself reddening and hoped he would not notice. Im sorry to say its a fact, June, Mick said as he caught her gaze again and then let go of her hand. He slowly leaned forward and kissed her cheek. Maybe Ill take you out sometime? June felt a thrill run through her, from her heart to her legs. I would like that, she said, straining to keep her voice flat. June did not have much experience with menthe few dates shed been on had been to school dancesbut she knew enough to hide her eagerness. All right, then, he said, nodding at her. Youve got yourself a date. As Mick walked away, June felt confident he had no idea she was giddy with delight. That next Saturday night, at a quarter to six, June wiped her last table at the restaurant and quietly slipped off her red apron. She changed her clothes in the dimly lit, dingy bathroom. She waved her parents goodbye with a shy smile. She told them she was meeting a friend. As June stood in the parking lot in her favorite A-line dress and a buttoned-up pink cardigan, she checked her reflection one more time in a hand mirror and smoothed her hair. And then there he was at six on the dot. Mick Riva in a silver Buick Skylark. He was wearing a well-fitted navy suit with a white shirt and a thick black tie, not unlike the look he would be known for only a few short years later. Hi, he said as he got out of the car and opened her door. Hi, June said as she got in. Youre quite the gentleman. Mick smiled out of only one side of his mouth. Mostly. June forbade herself from swooning. Where are we going? June asked as Mick pulled out of the lot and headed south. Dont you worry, Mick said as he smiled at her. Its gonna be great. June sat back in her seat and pulled her purse into her lap. She looked out her window, facing the twilight ocean view. It was easy, in moments like this, to appreciate how beautiful her hometown was. Mick pulled into the parking lot of the Sea Lion, built against the rocky shoreline, with its oversized swordfish sign proclaiming it WORLD FAMOUS. Junes eyebrows went up. Shed been there a few times before with her parents on special occasions. There were hard-and-fast rules in her family for places like this: only water to drink, one appetizer, split an entr?e, no dessert. Mick opened up her car door and took her hand. She stepped out of the car. You look gorgeous, he said. June tried not to blush. You look very handsome, as well, she said. Why, thank you, Mick said, smoothing his tie and shutting the door behind her. Soon, she could feel the warmth of his hand on the small of her back, guiding her toward the front door. She immediately surrendered to his touch. His command of her felt like reliefas if, finally, there was someone who would usher her toward her future. Once inside, the two of them were led to a table by a window, looking out over the Pacific. This is lovely, June said. Thank you for bringing me here. She watched Micks face loosen and brighten into a smile. Oh, good, he said. I took a chance youd want seafood but I wasnt sure. Since it sounds like your family owns Pacific Fish, right? Yes. June nodded. My parents own it and run it. I help out. So are you sick of eating lobster? Mick asked. June shook her head. Not at all. Im sick of lobster rolls. If I never see another lobster roll it will be too soon. But we almost never have a full lobster. And we certainly dont have steak or anything like that. Its all burgers and fries and clams and stuff. Everythings fried. My father has not met a single thing he cant fry. Mick laughed. And June hadnt been expecting it. She looked up at him and smiled. When they retire, Im supposed to take over. Her parents had recently expressed a very unappealing idea to June: that she should marry a man who wanted to be in the restaurant business with them. And I take it youre not excited about that? Mick asked. June shook her head. Would you be? Maybe he would be. Maybe marrying a man who wanted to take over the restaurant wouldnt be so bad. Mick looked June in the eye and held her gaze for a moment. No, he said. I would not be excited about that. June looked down at her water and took a sip. No, I suspected not. Ive got my eyes on a bigger prize is all, Mick said. June looked up. Oh? Mick smiled and put down his menu. He repositioned himself, leaning forward, sharing with June a secret, a sales pitch, a magic spell. Im a singer, he said. A singer? June asked, her voice rising. What kind of singer? A great one. June laughed. Well, then, Id like to hear you sing sometime, she said. Ive been making my way in Hollywood a little bit, doing a couple of clubs on the circuit, meeting the right people. I dont make much yet. I mean, I barely make anything, honestly. I paint houses during the days to pay the bills. But Im getting somewhere. My buddy Frankie knows an A and R guy over at Runner Records. I figure I wow him, I might just get my first record deal. The words Hollywood and circuit and record deal made Junes pulse speed up. She smiled, not taking her eyes off him. The waiter came and asked for their orders but before June could speak, Mick took over. We will both have the surf and turf. June stifled her surprise as she folded her menu. She handed it back to the waiter. So am I going to be able to say I knew you when? she asked. Mick laughed. Do you think I can do it? he asked. Do you think I can get a record deal? Hobnob around with all the stars? Tour the country selling out venues? Make the papers? Youre asking me? June said, smoothing out the napkin on her lap. Im not in the business. Nobody cares what I think. I do, Mick said. I care what you think. June looked at him, saw the sincerity plastered across his face. Yes, she said, nodding. Yes, I do think you can do it. Mick smiled and drank the ice out of the bottom of his glass. Who knows? he said. Maybe a year from now Ill be an international sensation and youll be the girl on my arm. This, June knew, was a line. But she had to admit, it was working. Later, as the waves rolled in just beyond their window, Mick asked June a question no one had asked her before. I know you dont want to take over the restaurant, but what do you want? What do you mean? June said. I mean, if you close your eyes he said. June closed them, slowly but at once, happy to do as she was told. And you imagine yourself happy, in the future, what do you see? Maybe a little glamour, a little travel, June thought. She wanted to be the sort of woman who, when someone complimented her fur coat, could say, Oh, this? I got it in Monte Carlo. But that was all wild stuff. Fit for a daydream. She had a real answer, too. One she saw in vivid color. One that was almost real enough to touch. She opened her eyes. A family, she said. Two kids. A boy and a girl. A good husband, who likes to dance with me in the living room and remembers our anniversary. And we never fight. And we have a nice house. Not in the hills or in the city but on the water. Directly on the beach. With two sinks in the bathroom. Mick smiled at her. He wanted a career touring all over the worldbut hed also always imagined having a family waiting for him when he got home. He wanted a wife and kids, the kind of house where there was space to breathe and peacefulness even when it wasnt quiet. He wasnt sure if he could ever have that sort of life. He wasnt sure what it looked like or how one went about making it. But he wanted it. He wanted it just like she did. Two sinks, huh? he said. June nodded. I always liked the idea. My friends parents had two sinks in their home over by Trancas Canyon. They had a ranch behind the marketplace there, she said. We used to play dress-up in her parents room. I noticed they had two sinks in their master bathroom. And I just thought, I want that when Im an adult. So my husband and I can brush our teeth at the same time. I love that, Mick said, nodding. Im not from a two-sink world either. Where Im from, we couldnt even afford lobster rolls. Oh, I dont care about that, June said. She wasnt sure if it was true or not, in general. But she felt it when she said it. Im just saying I dont come from any money at all. But I dont think what youre born into says anything about where youre headed. Mick had grown up in a glorified tenement, sharing a bathroom with other families. But hed decided a long time ago that there would be no more squalor in his future. He would have everything and it was how he would know hed outrun it all. Ill be rich one day, dont worry, he said. Im just advising you that Im a penny stock. June smiled. My parents restaurant is on the verge of bankruptcy every two years, she said. Im in no position to judge. You know if we ever make our way into the two-sinks world, those two-sinks people are gonna call us New Money. June laughed. I dont know. They might be too busy tripping over themselves for your autograph. Mick laughed, too. Cheers to that, he said. And June lifted her drink. For dessert, Mick handed the decision to June. And so she nervously perused the menu, trying to pick the perfect thing, as the waiter looked on. Im on the spot! she said. Bananas Foster or baked Alaska? Mick gestured back to her. Its your choice. She hesitated a second longer and he leaned over and stage-whispered to her. But get the bananas Foster. June looked up. The bananas Foster, please, she said to the waiter. When it showed up, the two of them tangled their forks over the same plate. Watch it, mister, June said with a smile on her lips. Youre hogging the whipped cream. My apologies, Mick said, leaning back. I have a mean sweet tooth. Well, so do I, so I guess well have to compromise. Mick smiled at her and pushed the plate to her side of the table, giving her the rest of dessert. June took it. Thank you for finally being a gentleman, she said. Oh, I see, Mick said. You just wanted me to say that I would split the dessert but then let you eat it all. June nodded as she continued to eat. Well, Im not that kind of guy. I want in on the desserts. I want my half. And if this thing has legs, youre gonna have to get used to it. If this thing has legs. June tried her best not to blush. All right, she said, handing the rest back to him, content to give it up. Fairs fair. When the waiter put the check down on the table, Mick picked it up immediately. Do you want to freshen up before we go? he asked her. Yes, June said, hopping up from the table. Thank you. Ill be out in just a moment. She went into the bathroom, where she reapplied her light pink lipstick, powdered her face, and checked her teeth. Was he going to kiss her? She opened up the bathroom door to find Mick waiting for her. Ready to roll? he said, putting his arm out for her to grab. As they hastily made their way back to the car, June got a sense that Mick might have skipped out on the bill. But she put the thought out of her mind just as quick as it had come in. That night, after they left the restaurant, they parked on the side of the road by the beach. Mick took Junes hand and pulled her out into the cool evening air, the two of them running their bare feet through the chilled sand. I like you, June, Mick said as he held her close, wrapping her tight in his arms. He wanted a woman he could make happy. Youre one in a million. He began to sway with her, as if they could hear music. June wasnt quite sure what Mick thought was so exceptional about her. She hadnt played it as cool as shed meant to. She was sure shed made it obvious how charmed by him she was. She was sure he could sense how na?ve she felt about all of thisabout love, about sex. But if he believed she was special, then maybe she could dare to believe she was, too. Can I sing to you? Mick said. June grinned and said, I get to hear this great voice? Mick laughed. I was talking a big game back there. Maybe its not so great. Either way, Id love to hear it. There, just off the Pacific Coast Highway, they were miles away from the nightclubs of Hollywood, isolated from the movie studios farther inland, far up the coast from the hustle and bustle of Santa Monica. The lands of Malibu back then were only half-tamed, all ocean and desert, navigated by half-paved roads. Everything could still feel quiet and wild. June pushed her body up against his and pressed her cheek to his chest and Mick starting singing a quiet song on a quiet beach with his beautiful voice to a beautiful girl. Im gonna love you, like nobodys loved you, come rain or come shine. His voice was buttery and gentle. She couldnt detect even an ounce of effort. The notes left his throat like breath out of lungs, and June marveled at how easy it all was, how easy the world felt when she was near him. She understood then that shed been right, back at dinner, when she said she believed he could do it. The man in her arms right now was a star. June was sure of it. And it thrilled her. Im with you always, Im with you rain or shine. When the song was over, June didnt lift her cheek or stop swaying. She simply said, Will you sing Cole Porter next? She had loved Cole Porter from the time she was a baby. Cole Porter is my favorite, Mick said. He pulled away from her for a moment and looked her in the eye. A beautiful woman who will fight me over the bananas Foster and who has great taste in music, too? he asked. Where did you come from, June Costas? Mick didnt want to go through the world alone. He had one of those hearts that stick to things. And he wanted to stick to her. She seemed like such a good one to stick to. Ive been right here, June said. In Malibu. This whole time. Well, thank God I finally came to Malibu, he said before he started singing again. Mick wanted a woman with an entirely tender heart, not an edge in sight. A woman who could never yell, never raise her hand. Who would radiate warmth and love. Who would believe in him and encourage his career. He was starting to think June could be that woman. And so, in a way, you could say that this is when Mick fell in love with June, if falling in love is a choice. He chose her. But for June it wasnt a choice at all. For June it was a free fall. And after Mick took her face in his hands and kissed her that night on the beach, June Costas was a goner. 9:00 A.M. Ninas hair was wavy and wet. Sand clung to the edges of her feet, settled in the pockets behind her knees and the roots of her hair. She put her board back in the shed and fastened the lock. She did not want to get out of the water, but there was so much to be done. As she started up the long, steep path to her house, her legs felt wobbly, her back and chest just as tired and sore as they were every time she came out of the ocean. Still, she made it easily up the hillside to her yard. She headed directly for the outdoor shower. It was made of teak panels and a faucet along the side of the house. As she pulled off her dark green halter bikini, she didnt even need to shut the shower door. There was no one and nothing to see her naked body but the ocean and the bougainvillea. She let the water warm her iced skin, washing away the brine, rendering her once again a clean slate. Then she turned off the faucet, grabbed a fresh towel, and walked into her house. Her huge, quiet, echoing house. Full of space and light. The home was all open hallways, glass walls, ivory couches, and ecru carpets. It was intimidatingly casual, as if its excellence was entirely without effort. Paintings Brandon had collecteda Warhol, a Haring, a Lichtensteinhung on the walls, adding a scribble of red or a dash of orange to an otherwise aggressively pale home. Nina dried her hair as she walked toward the stairs to her bedroom. But as she passed the kitchen, she saw the red light blinking on her answering machine. Worried that Jay, Hud, or Kit needed her, she pushed the button and started listening. Hey, Nina, its Chris. Travertine. Looking forward to the big party tonight. Wanted to give you the heads-up before I see you: Theres nothing we can do about them releasing extra photos from your calendar shoot. They own them. And you are technically not nude, you are wearing a bikini. Anyway, look, you look hot, all right? Onward and upward. And lets talk tonight about Playboy! All right, buh-bye, love. See you soon. Nina erased the message and walked up the steps to her bedroom. She looked at herself in the sliding mirrors that covered her closets. She looked like her mother. She could see June in her eyes and eyebrows, the way her cheekbones rounded her face. She could see her mother in her body, could feel her in her heart, could sense her in everything she did, sometimes. The older she got, the more obvious it became. Nina was twenty-five now. And that felt young to her because she was so much older than twenty-five in her soul. She had always had a hard time reconciling the facts of her life with the truth of it. Twenty-five but she felt forty. Married but she was alone. Childless and yet, hadnt she raised children? Nina threw on a pair of cuffed jeans and a faded Blondie T-shirt that shed cut the arms off of. She left her hair damp and dripping slightly down her back. She grabbed her silver watch and put it on, noticing that it would be 10:00 soon. She was meeting her brothers and sister for lunch at the restaurant at noon. While technically all of the Riva kids had inherited it, it was Nina who felt an obligation to make sure it continued to thrive. She did it not only for the people of Malibu but for her mother and her grandparents, who ran it before her. The weight of their sacrifices to keep it standing pushed her to do the same. And so she usually went over for an hour or two Saturday mornings, to do the spot checks and greet customers. This morning, she didnt really feel like going. Lately, she almost never felt like going. But her mere presence brought in customers and she felt an obligation to be there. So Nina slid her feet into her favorite leather flip-flops, grabbed the keys to her Saab, and hopped in the car. 1956 Every Saturday night for three months, Mick took June to dinner. They went out for burgers and fries, or Italian, or steak. And they always shared dessert afterward, fighting for the last bite of pie or ice cream. It had become a joke between the two of them, their mutual love for sugar. Once, Mick picked June up for a date with his hand closed into a fist. I have a gift for you, he said with a smile. June pried open his fingers to find a sugar cube on his palm. Sugar for my sugar, sweet for my sweet, he said. June smiled. Quite the charmer, she said as she took the cube from his hand. Shed put it right into her mouth and sucked on it. I understand you brought it as a joke but Im not going to let it go to waste. He kissed her, right then, still tasting it on her lips. I brought a whole box actually, he said, gesturing to the front seat, where a box of Domino sugar cubes was resting against the back of the seat next to a bottle of rye. They didnt even go out for dinner that night. They drove up the coast eating sugar cubes, drinking whiskey right out of the bottle, and teasing each other over who could control the radio. When the sun set, they parked at El Matadora pristine and stunning beach hidden under the bluffs, home to rock formations so massive and breathtaking it looked as if the ocean had made its own Stonehenge. Micks windshield framed the waves coming in down the shore, a beautiful movie they werent watching. The two of them were drunk and sugar-rushed in the backseat. I love you, Mick said in Junes ear. June could smell the whiskey on his breath, could smell it coming out of her pores. Theyd had so much, hadnt they? Too much, she thought. But it had gone down so easy. It scared her sometimes, just how good it tasted. His body was pressing against hers and it was, she thought, the most miraculous feeling. If only he could press into her farther, hold her tighter, if only they could fuse together. Mick put his hand up her skirt slowly, testing the waters. He got up to the top of her stockings before she pushed him away. Im starting to feel like I cant live without you, he said. June looked at him. She knew that was the sort of thing men said to women just to get what they wanted. But what if she wanted it, too? They didnt give you any answers for that part. All they said was to bat his hand away until you were married. Nobody told you what to do if you felt like youd die without his hand pushing farther up your legs. If you cant live without me, she said, regaining some control of herself, then you know what to do. Mick released his head onto her neck, in defeat. And then he pulled away ever so slightly and smiled. Why are you saying that? Are you saying that because you think I wont ask you to marry me right now? Junes heart began to beat light and fast as if trying to fly. I have no idea what youll do, Mick. Youre going to have to show me. Mick buried his head into her shoulder once more and kissed her collarbone. She hummed with the delight of his lips on her. I want to be your first, she said. She knew exactly what she was doing, making a statement like that. It would allow him to give her the answer she wanted and make her think it was the truth. You will be, he told her. He would tell her whatever she wanted to hear. That was the way that he loved her. June kissed him. I love you, she said. With all of my heart. I love you, too, he said, as he tried one more time. She shook her head and he nodded and let up. That night, when he dropped her off, he kissed her and said, Soon. Mick and June walked along the Santa Monica Pier, the roller coaster and carousel just ahead. The worn boards creaked underneath their feet. June was wearing a white dress with black polka dots. Mick was in trousers and a short-sleeved button-down. They looked good together and they knew it. They could feel it in the way people responded to the sight of them, the way cashiers perked up to serve them, the way passersby took an extra second to glance. As they walked toward the water, with the Ferris wheel dominating the sky to their left, they were peeling pink sticky wisps of sugar off the mound of cotton candy Mick was holding. It had tinted Junes lips a rose-colored hue. Micks tongue was dyed as red as a raspberry. He threw the empty paper cone of the cotton candy in the trash and turned to June. Junie, he said. I wanted to run an idea by you. OK June said. Here goes, Mick said, as he got down on one knee. June Costas, will you marry me? June gasped so hard she gave herself the hiccups. Honey, are you OK? he asked, getting up off his knee. June shook her head. Im fine, she said, trying to gain control of her breathing again. I just I wasnt expecting this today. Do you mean it? Really? Mick pulled out a tiny ring, a thin gold band, a diamond smaller than an apple seed. Its not much, he said. Its everything, she told him. But one day, Ill get you a huge ring. So big it will blind people. Oh, wow, she said. Im on my way, Im going places. I know you are. I cant do it without you. Oh, Mick So is that a yes? he said. He was surprised to find himself finally nervous. Youre saying yes, arent you? Of course Im saying yes, she said. I think I was put here on this earth to say yes to you. Mick lifted her into his arms and spun her around. And June suddenly felt as if human flight was no big thing at all. I know that I can make you happy, he told her as he put her down and put the ring on her finger. I promise you wont ever have to step another foot in that restaurant once youre mine. And Ill get you the house of your dreams one day. Two sinks in the bathroom, bedrooms for as many kids as you want, the beach at your front door. All she had ever wanted. Of course I will be your wife, June whispered, tears in her eyes. Its me and you, baby, Mick said, as he pulled her close to him. She buried her head in his neck, inhaled his scent, pomade and aftershave. They held hands as they made their way up the pier and Mick kissed June with a passion and gravity that hed never kissed anyone with before. His parents had died when he was barely eighteen. But now he was building his own family. His own piece of the world. And they would be different, he and June. When they got to his car, they quickly made their way to the backseat. And this time, when Mick slipped his hand up her dress, June let herself rejoice. She let herself be touched, the way she had so desperately yearned to be touched by him. People act like marriage is confinement, June thought, but isnt this freedom? She was thrilled to finally be able to say yes, to feel everything she wanted to feel. As they pushed against each other, June guessedfrom the confident way Mick held her, the finesse with which he movedthat it was not his first time. Her heart ached a bit to know hed lied to her. But hadnt she asked him to? She found herself drawn to him that much more, quenching a need to be the only one who mattered. She let him push himself into her, pulled him as close as she could, and she let it all go. June was shockedsurprised, stunnedwhen he put his hand on her while he was inside her. She felt embarrassed and shy about being touched like that. But she did not want to tell him to stop, could not bear the thought of him stopping. And moments later, bliss ran through her like a bolt. And somehow, as she lay there next to him in the back of the car, the two of them breathless, June understood that she could never go back to who she was even a moment ago, now that she knew what he could do to her. I love you, she said. And he kissed her, and looked her in the eye, and said, I love you, too. God, Junie. I love you, too. The next day, Mick came over and held her hand as they stood in her parents kitchen and told them they were getting married. I wasnt given much of a choice, it seems, her father said, frowning. Dad Theo nodded. Ill hear him out, June. You know me well enough to know that. Ill always hear a man out. He nodded to Mick. Cmon, son, lets talk about your plan to take care of my daughter. Mick winked at June as he followed Theo into the living room. She felt a tiny bit more at ease. Get the chicken out of the fridge, honey, her mother said. Well make chicken and rice for supper. June did as she was told, moving quietly, trying to hear what her father was saying to Mick. But she couldnt make out a single word. As Christina lit the stove, she turned to June. Hes certainly as handsome a man as Ive ever seen, she said. June smiled. My God, Christina said. He looks like a young Monty Clift. June got the carrots out and put them on the cutting board. But thats just all the more reason to be cautious, Christina said, shaking her head. You dont marry the boys who look like Monty Clift. June looked back down at the carrots in front of her and started chopping. She knew her mother would never understand. Her mother never bought new dresses, never tried a new recipe, never watched TV except the news. She watched her mother reread her old, worn copy of Great Expectations over and over every year, because why take a chance on another book when I already know I like this one? If June didnt want her mothers life, then she couldnt take her mothers advice. Plain and simple. Twenty minutes later, as Christina was stirring the rice and June was nervously setting the table, Mick walked in, Theos hand on his shoulder. Theo smiled at June. You might have picked a good one after all, honey. June, overcome, ran to Mick and her father and hugged them both. You have my blessing, Theo said, turning his gaze to Mick. With the caveats we talked about, son. Mick nodded. Thank you, Daddy, June said. Theo shook his head. Dont thank me. Mick heres got a few years in him to try to make it big and then hes ready to do the right thing and take over the restaurant. Theo shook Micks hand and Mick smiled and shook it back. Yes, sir, he said. Theo went over to Christina and June pulled Mick aside. Were going to take over the restaurant? she whispered. Mick shook his head. He just needs to hear what he needs to hear right now. And so I gave it to him. But did you hear the first part? A few years to make it big? I dont need a few years. Dont worry, Junie. Over dinner, Mick complimented Christinas cooking and Christina finally smiled. Mick asked Theo for advice on car insurance and Theo gladly stepped in to consult. And over dessert, strawberry shortcake, Theo asked Mick to sing. June says you sing Cole Porter better than Cole Porter, Theo said. Mick demurred and then acquiesced. He put his napkin on the table and stood up. He starting singing Ive Got You Under My Skin. And before he got to the bridge, Theo was nodding along, smiling. Mick felt a lump in his throat and so he carried on, but he pushed harder out of his sternum, held the notes a bit longer than normal. And when he was done, Mick caught his breath, unable to look at Theo as he tried to steady his pulse. June clapped. Theo joined her. Nicely done, he said. Nicely done. Mick looked at him, finally took in his approval. Christina smiled wide but June noticed she neither parted her lips nor scrunched her eyes. Lovely, she said. Mick said good night to everyone shortly after dinner. He kissed June on the cheek in the driveway. Were really going to be something together. You know that, dont you? he asked her. And June beamed. Of course I know that. He held her hand tight as she tried to walk back into her house, as if she could drag him with her. He dropped it at the very last second, not wanting to say goodbye. He stayed in his car until she waved at him from her bedroom window. Then he backed out and went on his way. Christina found June in the bathroom moments later, washing her face. Christina was already in her robe; shed set her hair in rollers to sleep in. June, are you sure? Christina asked. June felt her shoulders begin to slump. She straightened them out. Yes, Im sure. I know hes handsome and I know hes got a great voice but But what, Mom? June asked. Christina shook her head. Just make sure he knows how to run a restaurant. Did it ever occur to you, June said, feeling her voice getting higher, that I might be meant for something bigger than a restaurant off the side of the road? Christinas face tightened, her lips pursed together, as if she was guarding herself against her daughters sharp tongue. June braced herself for a moment, unsure how her mother would react. But Christina softened once more. I know you like all this flash, honey, she said. But a good life is knowing people care about you, knowing you can take care of the people that count on you, knowing youre doing a little something in your community. The way your father and I do that is by feeding people. I truly cant think of much bigger than that. But thats just me. June apologized and kissed her mother good night. And then she picked up a copy of Sub Rosa and imagined, one day, reading about Mick in those pages. Mick started getting paying gigs at restaurants in Hollywood and Beverly Hills singing standards while rich people ate dinner. Then he booked a few clubs in Hollywood with a backup band hed put together called the Vine. With each show, June became prouder and prouder, telling anyone who would listen that she was marrying a professional musician. Mick and the Vine booked a show in a small casino in Las Vegas, a week on a cruise to Ensenada, a wedding for the head of Sunset Studios. Then the Mocambo called with an offer for Mick to do two shows there solo. June jumped up and down when he told her. Mick picked her up and swung her in the air. The first night at the club, June came with him and stood behind the curtain as he sang, staring at the stars who came and took seats. She thought she saw Desi Arnaz. She could have sworn Jayne Mansfield was there. When Mick finished at the Mocambo, he was invited to play at the brand-new Troubadour in West Hollywood. And suddenly, there it was, his name on a marquee. MICK RIVA: ONE NIGHT ONLY. June delighted in it all. Im marrying Mr. Mick Riva, she would say to Mrs. Hewitt, who ran the grocery; Mr. Russo, who delivered the clams to the restaurant; Mrs. Dunningham at the bank. He just did two nights at the Mocambo. Don Adler was there. I saw him there with my own eyes. The night before he was there, Ava Gardner had come in. Ava Gardner! She showed off her tiny ring to her childhood best friends and the girls who picked up shifts at the restaurant sometimes. Hes going to be a big singer one day, already is practically, shed say. Two months later, Mick finally got his meeting with Frankie Delmonte at Runner Records. A week after that, he came to Junes house with a record deal and a new ring. This one twice the size of an apple seed. You didnt have to do this, June said. It was so brilliant, so bright white. I wanted to do it, Mick said. I dont want you walking around with a tiny little something. You need bigger, you need better. June had liked the small little ring. And she liked this one, too. Just wait, Mick said. Were gonna have so much money its gonna be embarrassing. June laughed but that night, she went to bed dreaming about their future. What if they could have a king-sized bed? And a Cadillac? What if they could have three kids or even four? What if they could get married on the sand, under a huge tent? When she confessed these ideas to him, asking if he thought any of it was possible, he always told her the same thing. Ill give you the world. He would whisper it in her ear as he took off her dress. He would pledge it to her as he put his leg between hers. Anything you want. Im going to make sure you get it. He would run his hand down her back, kiss the skin behind her ears, grab her hips. Who could blame June for how often she lay naked beside him before they were married? When he knew so well how to touch her? When they realized June was pregnant, neither of them was surprised. June, Christina said as she shook her head, standing in the kitchen of Pacific Fish, whispering her frustration. I thought you were smarter than this, honey. Im sorry, June said, nearly in tears. Im sorry. Christina sighed. Well, youre going to have to move up the wedding. Thats first. And then I guess we will get you a forgiving dress. And figure out the rest as we go. June dried her eyes. Youre not the first woman in the world to lose her head over a man, Christina said. June nodded. Cmon, now, Christina said. Cheer up, buttercup. Its a beautiful thing. She pulled June into her arms and kissed the top of her head. Mick and June said I do in a tent under the stars, right there on the sands of Malibu. Family on her side. Some music executives on his. That night, Mick and June danced cheek to cheek as the band played standards. Were gonna do it all right, Mick said to her. Were gonna love this baby. And were gonna have more of them. And were going to have good suppers and happy breakfasts and Ill never leave you, Junie. And youll never leave me. And well have a happy home. I promise you that. June looked at him and smiled. She put her cheek back to his. Toward the end of the evening, Mick got up in front of the crowd. He grabbed the microphone. If youll indulge me, he said, with a half smile. I have a song Id like to sing for you all tonight. I wrote it for my wife. Its called Warm June. Sun brings the joy of a warm June Long days and midnights bright as the moon Nothing I can think of but a warm June Nothing I can think of but you June sat right in the front as he sang to her. She tried not to cry and laughed as she failed. If this was their beginning, my God, how high could they fly? Nina was born in July 1958. Everyone pretended she was premature. Mick drove them both home from the hospital directly to a new house. He had bought them a three-bedroom, two-story cottage, right over the water. Baby blue with white shutters on Malibu Road, the back half extending out over the sea. There was a hatch in the floor, on the side patio, that led to a set of stairs that went directly to the beach. As if a new house wasnt enough, there was a brand-new teal Cadillac in the driveway. When June first walked through the house, she found herself holding her breath. A living room with windows that opened to the water, an eat-in kitchen, hardwood floors. Surely it couldnt have everything, could it? Surely each one of her dreams hadnt come true all at once? Look, Junie, look, Mick said, leading her excitedly into the master bedroom. This is where the king-sized bed will go. Holding tiny, delicate Nina in her arms, June followed her husband through the bedroom and soon made her way to the master bathroom. She looked at the vanity. She ran her right hand along the side of the sink, felt the smooth porcelain curve down, level out, and curve back up. And then she kept running her hand along the cold tile and rough grout, until she hit the curve of porcelain of her second sink. 10:00 A.M. Nina pulled into the parking lot of the restaurant and shut off her engine. As she got out of her car, she glanced up at the sign and wondered if it was time to have it redone. Rivas Seafood, once known as Pacific Fish, was still very much old Malibu, complete with a faded sign and peeling paint. It was no longer just a roadside dive but an institution. The children who used to come with their parents now brought their own children. Nina walked through to the kitchen entrance with her sunglasses still on. She found herself leaving them on more and more lately. It wasnt until she saw Ramon that she took them off. Ramon was thirty-five and had been happily married for over a decade with five kids. He had started as a fry cook and had worked his way up over the years. Hed been running Rivas Seafood since 1979. Nina, hey, whats up? Ramon asked her as he was simultaneously keeping an eye on a fry cook and getting shrimp out of the freezer. Nina smiled. Oh, you know, just making sure you havent set the place on fire. Ramon laughed. Not until you add me to the insurance policy. Nina laughed as she came around to his side of the counter and took a sliced tomato off the cutting board. She salted it and ate it. Then she braced herself and headed out to the picnic tables to smile and shake hands with a few customers. As she stepped outside, the sun was already bright on her eyes and she could feel the false version of herself coming to life. Her face took on an exaggerated smile and she waved at a few tables full of people who were staring at her. Hope everyone is enjoying lunch! she said. Nina! shouted a boy not much older than fifteen. He rushed toward her in madras shorts and an Izod polo. Nina could already see the rolled-up poster in his right hand, the Sharpie in his left. Will you sign this? Before she responded, he started unrolling it in front of her. She could not count the number of people who had showed up at the restaurant with a poster of her surfing in a bikini, asking for her signature. And despite how bizarre she felt it was, she always acquiesced. Sure, Nina said, taking the Sharpie from his hand. She wrote her name, a perfectly legible Nina R., in the top right-hand corner. And then she put the cap back on the pen and handed it over to the boy. There you go, she said. Can I get a photo, too? he asked, just as his father and mother got up from their table, armed with a Polaroid. Sure. Nina nodded. Of course. The boy sidled up right next to her, reaching to put his arm around her shoulders, claiming the full experience for himself. Nina smiled for the camera as she inched away from the boy ever so slightly. Shed perfected the art of standing close without touching. The father hit the shutter and Nina could hear the familiar snap of the photo being printed. You all have a wonderful day, she said, moving toward the tables in the front, to greet the rest of the customers and then head back inside. But as the boy and his mother looked at the photo coming into existence, the boys father smiled at Nina and then reached out and smoothed his hand over the side of her T-shirt, grazing her ribs and hips. Sorry, he whispered, with a confident smile. Just wanted to see for myself that its soft to the touch. It was the third time a man had tried this line since her ad for SoftSun Tees launched last month. Nina had posed for it at the top of the year. It had been her biggest payday to date. In the ad, she stood, in red bikini bottoms and a white T-shirt, her hair wet, her hips jutted out to the left, her right arm up against a doorframe. The T-shirt was threadbare. You couldnt see her nipples but if you stared enough, you might be able to convince yourself you could. The photo was suggestive. And she knew that. She knew thats why they wanted her in the first place. Everyone wanted the surfer girl to take her clothes offshed made her peace with that. But then they had added that tagline without telling her. See for yourself, its soft to the touch. And theyd placed it right under her breasts. It had invited a level of intimacy that Nina didnt care for. She grinned insincerely at the boys father and moved away from him. If youll excuse me she said as she waved to the rest of the customers and went back into the kitchen, closing the door behind her. Nina understood that the more often she posedmost likely for even more high-profile campaignsthe more people would show up at the restaurant. The more often they would want her photo, her signature, her smile, her attention, her body. She had not quite figured out how best to handle the sense of ownership that people felt over her. She wondered how her father had tolerated it. But she also knew they didnt touch him the way they touched her. You dont have to go out there and shake all their hands, Ramon said when he saw her. I dont know I wish that were true, Nina said. Do you have time to go over the books? Ramon nodded, wiped his hands on a towel, and followed her into the office. The restaurants doing OK, he said to her as they walked. You know that, right? Nina shook her head from side to side, a yes and a no. Its the keeping it doing OK that I worry about, she said, as they both sat down and began to go over the numbers. It was a complicated endeavor. The building was old, the kitchen had needed to be brought up to code recently, business ebbed and flowed with the seasons. Fortunately, it had been a good summer. But the off-season was approaching and last winter had been brutal. Shed had to keep the place afloat with an influx of her own cash back in January, just as shed done a few times before. Weve pulled it out of the red from the top of the year, Nina said, turning the book toward Ramon for him to see. So thats good. Im just a little worried well fall back in once the tourists dry up. It occurred to her at times that she was using modeling to subsidize a restaurant in which people came to take her photo and often didnt even buy a soda. But she loved the staff, and some of the regulars. And Ramon. Regardless, we will figure it out. We always do, she said. She wasnt going to be the one, three generations in, to let Rivas Seafood go to shit. She just wasnt. Can we stop at home before we head to the restaurant? I want to take a shower, Kit said, over the sound of the road. Totally, Jay said as he put on his blinker to turn down the street theyd grown up on. Jay and Kit were the only two Rivas still living in their childhood home. Nina was in the mansion at Point Dume and often traveling for photo shoots. Hud liked living in his Airstream. But Jay and Kit stayed in the beach cottage they had grown up in, the one their father had bought their mother twenty-five years ago. Jay had taken over the master bedroom. But he traveled a lot, too. He was often at surf competitions all over the world, with Hud by his side. Soon, the two of them were supposed to leave for the North Shore of Oahu. Jay was scheduled to compete in the Duke Classic, the World Cup, and Pipe Masters. Then theyd be off to the Gold Coast of Australia and Jeffreys Bay in South Africa. ONeill would foot a lot of the bill and have their name plastered across Jay at every turn. Hud would be snapping photos of him all the while. The two of them were due for another cover, were planning on selling off the rights for posters and calendars. But to do so, they had to roam the earth. The life of a professional surfer and his entourage required a light foot, a sense of spontaneity. Jays and Huds passion, their livelihood, their lives, depended on chasing the ever-changing, unpredictable combination of wind and water. And so, as much as Jay considered California his home, lately he didnt think of himself as necessarily living anywhere. Kit, meanwhile, was still sleeping in her childhood bed, looking at a junior year at Santa Monica College, spending her nights and weekends behind the register at the restaurant. The only bright spot she could see would be when she could ditch to take trips with her friends up to the breaks in Santa Cruz. The waves were big up there, some double overhead. But that was about as far as Kits life was taking her right now, just a few hours up the coast. Her siblings were out there seeing the world while Kit was still slinging crab cakes. She wanted some of the glory, too. Some of the glamour of Ninas life, some of the thrill of Jays and Huds. She had spent so much of her childhood following them all into the water. But she suspected that even if none of them had ever picked up a surfboard, she still would have. She was great on a board. She could be legendary. She should be out there, getting accolades, too. But she wasnt taken as seriously as her brothers and she knew she wasnt as gorgeous as her sister, so where did that leave her? She wasnt sure. She wasnt sure if there was a spot in the limelight for someone like her. A chick surfer who wasnt a babe. Jay pulled up in front of the garage and let Kit hop out. Ill be back, he said. Wait, where are you going? she asked. She had gotten a tiny bit of a sunburn on the apples of her cheeks and the bridge of her nose. It made her seem younger than she was. Its going to take you forever to shower and I need to get gas, Jay told her. He looked at his gas gauge to see whether he was even telling the truth. The indicator was hovering at just under half. I only have a quarter tank. Kit gave him a skeptical look and then left, heading into the house through the garage. Jay pulled the car back onto the road and put his foot on the pedal a bit heavier than he needed to. The car roared over the barely paved street. He checked the clock on the radio. If he sped, he had time. The Pacific Coast Highway was the most comfortable place on land for him and practically the only road in town. There were small offshoots of neighborhoods dotted along the highway, canyons branching out, shopping centers nestled in one direction or the other. But you could not go anywhere, could not do anything, could not visit anyone in Malibu, without your wheels hitting the pavement of PCH. Your ability to get to a restaurant, shop at a store, make a movie on time, claim your patch of sand, take your spot in the waves, all depended on just how many other people were pulling onto the same road as you every day. It was the price you paid for the view. Jay navigated traffic as best he could, sped up through changing lights, stayed in the left lane until mere seconds before he needed to be in the right one, and soon, he pulled onto Paradise Cove Road. Paradise Cove was a startlingly gorgeous inlet hidden from PCH behind palm trees and valley oak. Jay turned right onto the narrow road and slowed. Once his Jeep rounded the corner, a cove of blond sand came into view, surrounded by magnificent cliffs and clear blue skies. There was a community of mobile homes on the bluff looming over it all with land fees so outrageous that only the Hollywood elite could afford them. But the restaurant at Paradise Cove was the reason Jay was here. The Sandcastle was a beach caf?, where one could buy an overpriced daiquiri and drink it while looking out onto the pier. Jay parked his car and checked his pockets. A five and four ones. He had to at least go through the motions of ordering something. Jay walked into the restaurant, putting his sunglasses on top of his head, and approached the bar counter. He was greeted by a blond guy with a tan darker than his hair, whose name Jay could not remember. Hey, Jay, the guy said. Hey, man, Jay said, giving him an upward nod. Can I get an order to go? The man turned and Jay checked his name tag. Chad. Right. Sure thing. What can I get you? Chad took out a notepad. Just a uh Jay glanced at the specials listed on the board and chose the first thing he saw. Slice of chocolate cake. To go. Jay tried not to look around too much, be too obvious. If she didnt come out, hed resolved not to ask if she was there. Maybe she wasnt working today. Whatever. That was fine. Chad clicked his pen in a way that implied he was excited about Jays order. One choco cake, coming right up, dude. And Jay remembered that Chad was a dork. He sat down on a stool as Chad walked back into the kitchen. Jay looked down at his own shoesbeat-up slip-onsand decided that it was time for a new pair. His big toe on his right foot was starting to peek out from a hole in the top. He would go into town and visit the Vans store next week, get the exact same pair. Black-and-white checkered, size twelve. No sense in messing with perfection. That moment, Lara walked out with a Styrofoam container she was putting into a plastic bag. Chocolate cake? Lara said. Since when does Jay Riva eat chocolate cake? So she was working today. So she was paying attention to him. Lara was six feet tall. Actually a full six feet, just an inch and a half shorter than Jay. She was skinny, all hard edges. And, if Jay was being completely honest, not particularly beautiful. There was a harshness to her, an oval face with a sharp jaw. A thin nose. Thin lips. Yet somehow, when your eyes landed on her face, it was hard to look away. Jay had not been able to stop thinking about her. He was infatuated and smitten and nervous, like a teenager. And he had never been lovestruck as a teenager. So this was all new to him, all uncomfortable and nauseating and thrilling. Gotta change it up, sometimes, he said. Lara put the bag down next to the register and rang him up. He handed over his cash. You coming to the party tonight? he asked. The words were out and he was satisfied with his performance. Casual, not too eager. Lara opened her mouth to speak, Jays entire day and night resting on her answer. Three weeks prior to that moment, Lara and Jayuntil then only vaguely acquaintedhad found themselves the only two people outside of Alices Restaurant. Jay had been walking back to the shoreline after smoking a joint at the end of the Malibu pier. Lara had been leaving the bar. Her lame date had left an hour ago and shed been nursing her disappointment with Coronas. When Jay saw her, she was sitting down on a bench in denim shorts and a tank top. She was in the middle of attempting to retie her white Keds, fully buzzed. Jay spotted her and smiled. She pleasantly smiled back. Lara, right? hed said, lighting a cigarette to try to hide the smell of weed. Yes, Jay Riva, Lara said, standing up. Jay smiled, humbled. I knew your name was Lara. I was just trying not to seem like a creep. Weve met at least three times, she said, smirking. Its not creepy to remember my name. Its polite. Lara Vorhees. You work at the Sandcastle, mostly behind the bar, sometimes waiting tables. Lara nodded her head and smiled. There you go. See? I knew you could do it. There needs to be some room to play it cool, dont you think? People that are cool dont really need to play cool, do they? Jay was used to women that hung around and waited for him, women that made it clear they were available, women that laughed at his jokes even if they werent funny. He was not used to women like Lara. All right, he said, I get your point. Tell me. If Im cool, what do I say next? I guess, next you ask me if Im doing anything right now, she said. And then I tell you Im not. And you ask if I want to go finish your joint, which you clearly have because youre high and smell like bud. Jay laughed, caught. Are you doing anything right now? No. Do you want to go somewhere and finish my joint? Im high and I smell like bud. Lara laughed. Lets go to my place. And so they did. Lara lived in a studio apartment in a complex a quarter of a mile inland at the foot of the mountains. Her place had a view of the water on a clear night. The two of them stood on her tiny balcony, nestled between two houseplants, sharing a beer and a roach, and looking at the moon over the sea. When Lara said, apropos of absolutely nothing, How many people have you slept with? Jay was so disarmed he told the truth. Seventeen. Eight, for me, she said, looking forward, toward the horizon. Although, I guess it kind of depends on what we are defining as sex. He was surprised by her. Where was the shyness? The coyness? Jay was smart enough to know that these traits werent necessarily natural for women, but he was also bright enough to know that they were learned. That most women knew they were supposed to perform them as a form of social contract. But Lara wasnt going to do that. Lets say we define it as an orgasm, Jay said. Lara laughed at him. Actually laughed at him. Well, then, three, she said, breathing out the smoke of the joint, passing it back to Jay. Men dont give women as many orgasms as they think they do. I guarantee I would give you one, he said, as he put the joint to his lips. This time she didnt laugh. She looked at him, considered him. What makes you so sure Id let you? He smiled and then pulled back, moving away from her, letting her feel his absence. Look, if you dont want to feel an orgasm that starts in your toes and shakes your whole body, its no skin off my back. Oh, this is impressive, actually, Lara said, playing with the label on the beer bottle. How youve managed to make sleeping with me seem like a favor. Lets be explicitly clear about something, Riva. You wouldnt be here if I wasnt interested. But youre lucky Im interested. Its not the other way around. I dont care who your daddy is. Jay figured it was then. That moment. When he fell in love with her. But there were other moments, too, that night. Moments it could have been. Did he fall in love with her when she took her clothes off right there on the balcony? Maybe it was when she touched his face, and she looked directly into his eyes, and moved on top of him. Maybe he fell for her as they interlocked themselves together, legs pretzeled, bodies pulled tight until there was no space left between them. They moved together like they knew exactly what they were doing. No fumbles, no mistakes, no awkward moments. And Jay thought, maybe that was love. Or maybe he fell in love with her later, when it was pitch dark out, and the two of them were pretending to be asleep but each knew the other one was also awake. She had lain there bare, no gesture toward covering up. And her skin was the only thing he could see in the dark. It was then that he took a deep breath and, for the first time, told someone else his big new secret. The one that was eating him alive. I was just diagnosed with a heart problem, he said to her. Its called dilated cardiomyopathy. This was the first time hed ever said the phrase out loud since hed heard it from the doctor the week before. It sounded so strange coming out of his mouth that he wondered if hed mispronounced it. The word repeated, over and over in his mind, until it sounded like nonsense. That couldnt be right, could it? Cardiomyopathy? But it was. Hed pronounced it just like the doctor had. Hed been having chest pains for weeks. Hed noticed them starting shortly after he got thrown off his board and then caught in a two-wave hold down in Baja. Hed been underwater so long he thought he might die. He struggled and struggled against the current, trying to decipher up from down. He pushed himself against the weight of the water, desperate to reach the sky. But he just kept tumbling and tumbling, pulled by the riptide. And suddenly, he broke through the surface and there it was: air. Ever since, these pains appeared from time to time, as a tightening that took him by surprise, arriving out of nowhere and stunning him silent and then passing on, leaving as quickly as they came. The doctor wasnt sure what was causing them until suddenly the doctor became very sure indeed. Lara put her hand on his chest, moved her warm body closer to his, and said, What does that mean? It meant that Jays left ventricle had been weakened and would not always function the way it should. It meant that anything that might cause overexertion and adrenaline, especially something like being thrown underwater, was no longer in his best interest. Putting his heart into overdrive by almost drowning had triggered it, but the underlying condition was hereditary, given to him by all of the people who came before him, lying in wait in his blood. Jay spared Lara any more of the details, but told her the worst part. I should stop surfing. It could kill me. His glory, his money, his partnership with his brother One little defect in his body would take it all. But on hearing that, Lara said, OK, so youll find something else to be. She had made it seem so simple. Yes, Jay thought, that was when hed fallen in love with her. When she made what had felt like a fatal blow seem easily overcome. When shed cracked open his bleak future and shown him the light shining in. When Jay woke up the next morning, hed found a note from Lara saying that shed had to go to work. He didnt have her number. Since that day, hed been down to the Sandcastle three times, trying to find her. I wasnt sure how it worked, Lara said, handing him his chocolate cake. With the invites, I mean. Jay shook his head. No invites. Its a pretty simple system: If you know about the party and you know where Ninas place is, youre invited. Well, I dont actually, Lara said. Know where her place is. Oh, Jay said. Well, luckily you know me. He wrote down his sisters address on a napkin and handed it to her. She took it and looked at it. It is OK, she asked, nodding toward the other server, if I bring Chad? She was into Chad? Jay started burning up from the inside, on the verge of humiliation and heartbreak. The drop was so long, so treacherous, when you started from this high up. Oh, sure, he said. Yeah, sure. Im not sleeping with him, if thats what youre thinking, Lara said. I prefer men who dont spend four hours a day sunbathing with a foil reflector. Relief came to Jay like ice on a burn. Hes depressed because his even-more-orange girlfriend dumped him, Lara continued. Somebody at your partys gotta have a thing for pretty boys, right? Can we pawn him off on someone? Jay smiled. I think we will have a lot of options for getting Chad laid. Lara folded the napkin with the address and put it in her apron pocket. Guess Im going to a party tonight. Jay smiled, pleased. There it was. What he came for. When he left, he forgot to take the cake. 1959 June had been due with Jay on August 17, 1959. Smack in the middle of Micks tour for his debut album, Mick Riva: Main Man. June and Mick had fought about the tour dates all through her first trimester. June had insisted Mick reschedule the second half of the tour. Mick had insisted what she was asking was virtually impossible. This is my chance, Mick told her one afternoon as they stood out on the patio, watching the tide pull away. Nina was napping and they were trying to keep their voices down. You dont get to just reschedule your chance. This is your child, June said. You cannot reschedule your child. Im not asking to reschedule my child, Junie, for crying out loud. Im asking for you to understand whats at stake here. What Im building for our kids. What Im building for this whole family. I cant do all of this alone. I need your help. If Im going to go out there and be great, I need you to be here, keeping things together, being strong. This life we want Mick sighed and calmed down. It requires things from you, too. June sat down, resigned. This reasoning made sense to her, as much as she hated it. And so somewhere in the time that Jay went from the size of a lime to the size of a grapefruit, they found a compromise. Mick could perform wherever he wanted, whenever he wanted, but when June called him home, he had to come. They shook on it one night when they were going to bed and as they did, Mick pulled Junes arm toward him and pulled her on top of him. She laughed as he kissed her neck. When Mick took off for his Vegas shows four days before Junes due date, he promised to head home the moment she called to say she was in labor. And Ill be home as soon as I can, he said as he kissed Ninas forehead and Junes cheek. He put a hand on Junes belly and then made his way out the door. But when the time cameJunes mother called him an hour and ten minutes before his Saturday night show beganMick didnt run to the airport like hed promised. He hung up the phone and stood there, backstage in his suit and tie, staring at the bulbs around the mirror. It was his last Vegas stop on the tour. And impressing the guys at the Sands meant a lot of things. It meant he could get booked out for whole months at a time, which would mean some financial stability. This was his last booking for two weeks. Two weeks! Just like Junie had asked. Think of all that time hed have to be home. Junie and the kids would have him all to themselves. Hed pay full attention to their every waking need. And so, he turned away from the mirror, straightened his tie, and finished his sound check. Junes second labor developed with lightning speed, her body kicking into gear, remembering with precision exactly what it had done only a little over a year before. Mick was in an impeccable black suit, leaning over and winking at a young woman in the front row, at the very moment that his first son, three hundred miles away, cried at the shock of the world. Mick arrived back in L.A. seven hours after Jeremy Michael Riva was born. And Mick could see, just looking at June in her hospital bed, that she was angry. You have a lot to explain, his mother-in-law said, the moment Mick came through the door. She began grabbing her things. She shook her head at him. Ill let you get to it, she said as she took Nina with her and exited the room. Mick looked at June, his eyes resting on the baby swaddled tightly in her arms. He could see only the tiny tip of his sons head and marveled at the dark swirl of hair. You were supposed to be here before, June said. Not half a day later. What is the matter with you? I know, honey, I know, Mick said. But can I hold him? Now? June nodded and Mick swooped in, ready to take him. The boy was light in his arms and the sight of Jays fresh face stunned Mick silent for a brief moment. My son, my son, my son, he finally said, with a level of pride and warmth that melted Junes tired heart. Thank you for my boy, Junie. Im sorry I couldnt be here. But look what you have done, he said. Our beautiful family. I owe it all to you. June smiled and took it all in. She looked at her glamorous husband and thought of her darling daughter out in the hall and reached out and touched her beautiful new baby boy. She felt that she had so many of the things she had ever wanted. And so she let them go, the things she did not have. A few weeks after they brought Jay home, as June was brushing her teeth, Mick kissed her on the cheek and told her he had a surprise. He had recorded the song hed written for her. Warm June was going to be the first single off of his second album. She spit out her toothpaste and smiled. Really? she said. Warm June? Mick nodded. Everyone in the country is going to know your name, he said. June liked that idea. She also liked the idea that everyone would know he loved her. That he was spoken for. Because June was starting to suspect Mick wasnt keeping to himself on the road. 11:00 A.M. Kit was sitting in the driveway, waiting for Jay. She checked her watch again. Hed been gone for almost an hour. Who took an hour to get gas? Her hair was wet and combed, grazing her bare shoulders. She was wearing an old dress of Ninas, seersucker and strapless. Kit wasnt really into dresses but shed seen it hanging in the closet and decided to try it on. It was comfortable and cool and she thought maybe she liked how she looked in it. She wasnt sure. Jay pulled up to the cottage like a man whod only twenty seconds ago stopped speeding. What took you so long? Kit asked. Since when do you wear dresses? he said, the second he saw her. Ugh, Kit said, frowning. How were you supposed to changein ways both big and smallwhen your family was always there to remind you of exactly the person you apparently signed an ironclad contract to be? She turned around and started walking through the garage. Where are you going? Jay called out. To change my clothes, you asshole. Once inside, she pulled off the dress, leaving it there on the wood floor. She slipped into jeans, put her arms through a T-shirt. Nice job pretending you were getting gas, Kit said, as she hopped in the car. She leaned over the center console to confirm her suspicions. The tank was still half full. Oh, shut up, Jay said. Make me. Jay sped out and headed back up the Pacific Coast Highway. The Clash came on the radio and, despite feeling annoyed with each other, neither Jay nor Kit could resist singing along. As with most of their disagreements, they found the anger dissipated as soon as they forgot to hold on to it. Just as the car approached Zuma Beach, they saw Hud in his shorts and T-shirt and Topsiders, waiting for them on the east side of the road. Jay pulled over and gave Hud a second to jump into the backseat. You guys are late, Hud said. Ninas probably waiting for us. Jay had to run some secret operation, Kit said. Kit had to change her clothes four times, Jay offered. Once. I changed my clothes once. What secret operation? Hud asked as Jay looked at passing traffic and then gunned it into the right lane. Its nothing, Jay said. Lay off. And thats when everyone knew it was a woman. Hud felt his shoulders loosen. If Jay was interested in someone new, that would soften the blow. Consider me officially laying off then, he said, both hands up in surrender. Yeah, Kit said. Like anyone gives a shit anyway. Hud turned his head and watched the world stand still as they whizzed past it. The sand, the umbrellas, the burger stands, the palm trees, the sports cars. The dudes at the volleyball nets, the bottle blondes in bright bikinis. But he was barely paying attention to what he was looking at. He was guilt-ridden and sick over how he was going to confess to his brother what he had done. Huds entire life, hed always felt that Jay was not just his brother but his closest friend. The two of them were forever tied to each other, twisting and turning both in unison and in opposition. A double helix. Each necessary to the others survival. 1959 It was late December 1959, just a few days after Christmas. Mick was at the studio in Hollywood. June was home with Nina and Jay, roasting a chicken. The house smelled like lemon and sage. She was wearing a red-striped housedress and had curled the ends of her hair into a perfect bob, as she did every day. She never let her husband come home to a woman with her hair out of place. Sometime after four in the afternoon, the doorbell rang. June had no idea that in the ten seconds it took for her to make her way from the kitchen to the entryway, she was experiencing her very last moment of na?vet?. With four-month-old Jay in one arm and seventeen-month-old Nina clinging to her leg, June opened the door to see a woman she recognized as a young starlet named Carol Hudson. Carol was smalltiny reallywith big eyes and fair skin and delicate bones. She was wearing a camel-hair coat and pink lipstick, expertly applied to her thin lips. June looked at her and felt as if a hummingbird had shown up on the windowsill. Carol stood on Junes doorstep holding a baby boy only a month or so younger than Jay. I cannot keep him, Carol said, with only the thinnest edge of regret. Carol handed the baby over to June, pushing him into Junes already crowded arms. June was frozen still, trying to catch up. Im sorry. But I cannot do this, Carol continued. Maybe If it was a girl but a boy should be with his father. He should be with Mick. June felt the breath escape her chest. She gasped for air, making a barely audible yelp. His birth certificate, the woman said, ignoring Junes reaction and pulling the paper out of her black pocketbook. Here. His name is Hudson Riva. She had named the child after herself but would leave him all the same. Hudson, Im sorry, Carol said. And then she turned and walked away. June watched the back of her, listened as the womans black pumps clicked faintly on the pavement. Rage began to take hold in Junes heart as she watched the woman run down her steps. She was not yet angry at Mick, though that would come. And not angry at the situation either, though that frustration would set in almost immediately. But at that moment in time, she felt a grave and seemingly never-ending amount of fury at Carol Hudson for knocking on her door and handing over a child without having the courage to say the words I slept with your husband. Carol had treated the betrayal of Junes marriage as an afterthought, the smallest piece of the puzzle. She did not seem to care that she was not only handing June a child but also breaking her heart. June narrowed her eyes as she thought of the unique combination of audacity and spinelessness that this woman possessed. Carol Hudson was a bold one indeed. June continued to watch Carol walk away while the two baby boys in Junes arms started cryingin alternating tracks, as if refusing to be in unison. Carol backed out of the drive. Her clearly brand-new Ford Fairlane was crammed to the roof with suitcases and bags. If June had any doubt, the image of a packed car made it clear that this was not a game. This woman was leaving Los Angeles, leaving her son in Junes arms, leaving him for June to raise. Her back was turned, quite literally, to her flesh and blood. June watched Carol drive off, until the car disappeared behind the curve of the mountains. She kept looking awhile longer, willing the woman to turn around, to change her mind. When the car did not reappear, Junes heart sank. June shut the door with her foot and guided Nina to the television. She tuned it to a rerun of My Friend Flicka in the hope that Nina would sit there quietly and watch. Nina did exactly as she was told. Even before the age of two, she knew how to read a room. June laid Jay down in his crib and let him cry as she unwrapped Hudson from his swaddle. Hudson was small and puny, with long limbs he had not grown into, could not yet control. He was red and screaming, as if already angry. He knew hed been abandoned, June was sure of it. He cried so hard and so loud for so longso very, very longthat June thought she might lose her mind. His cry just kept repeating over and over like an alarm that never ceased. Tears started falling down his newborn face. A boy without a mother. You have to stop, June whispered to him, desperate and aching. Sweet boy, you have to stop. You have to stop. You have to stop. Please, little baby, please, please, please. For me. And for the first time since they began this peculiar and unwelcome journey, Hudson Riva looked June right in the eye, as if realizing suddenly that he wasnt alone. It was then, June holding this strange boy in her handsstaring at him, trying to process just what exactly was happening to them boththat she understood everything was far more simple than she was making it. This boy needed someone to love him. And she could do that. That would be a very easy thing for her to do. She pulled him close to her, as close as she could, as close as shed held her own babies the days they were born. She held him tight and she put her cheek to his head and she could feel him start to calm. And then, even before he was silent, June had already made up her mind. I will love you, June told him. And she did. Evening came around and June took the chicken out of the oven and steamed the broccoli and fed Nina dinner. She rocked the boys, gave Nina a bath, and put all three of them to beda process that took a full two and a half hours. And as she performed each one of these tasks, June was forming her plan. I will kill him, she thought as she washed Ninas hair. I will kill him, she thought as she changed Jays diaper. I will kill him, she thought as she gave Hudson a bottle. But first I will lock him out of the goddamn house. When the kids were asleepNina in her bed and the two boys sharing a cribJune poured herself a shot of vodka and threw it back. Then she poured herself one more. Finally, she called a twenty-four-hour locksmith out of the yellow pages. She did not want Mick to step one foot in their house, did not want him to ever again sleep in their king-sized bed, or brush his teeth in one of their master bathroom sinks. When the locksmitha Mr. Dunbar, sixty years old in a black T-shirt and dungarees with yellowing blue eyes and wrinkles so deep, you could lose your change in themgot there, June hit her first roadblock. I cant change the locks without an agreement from the master of the house, Mr. Dunbar said. He frowned at June, as if she should know better. Please, June said. For my family. Sorry, maam, I cant change the locks if the house isnt yours. The house is mine, she said. Well, not only yours, he said, and June guessed his own wife might have locked him out of the house a time or two. June continued to plead to no avail but the truth was, she was only a little surprised. She was a woman, after all. Living in a world created by men. And she had long known that assholes protect their own. They are faithful to no one but surprisingly protective of each other. Good luck to you, Mrs. Riva. Im sure it will all work out, he said as he left, having done nothing but extort a fee for being dragged out of his bed. So June used the only tool she had at her disposal: a dining room chair. She lodged it underneath the knob of the front door and then sat on it. And for the first time in her life, she wished she were heavier. She wished she were broad and tall and stout. Hefty and mighty. How silly of her to have worked so hard to stay trim and small this whole time. When Mick came home at 1:00 A.M., after recordinghis collar undone, his eyes vaguely bloodshothe found that the door would open a crack but budge no further. June? he said, into the thin space between the door and the frame. The thing that upsets me the most, June said, plainly, is that I think I knew it, already. That you werent being faithful. But I put it out of my head because I trusted what you said more than I trusted myself. Honey, what are you talking about? You have a third child, June said. Your girlfriend dropped him off here with us. Apparently, shes not ready to be a mother. Mick remained silent and June found herself desperate for him to say something. Oh, Junie, he said, finally. June could hear his voice give, as if he were about to cry. Mick fell to the ground, shaking his head and then burying it in his hands. Jesus, he thought. How did it come to this? It had all felt so simple to him before Carol. He could have the beautiful house with the beautiful wife and the beautiful children. He could love them with all of his heart. He could be a good man. He had meant to be a good man. But women were flocking to him! Good God, youd have had to see it to believe it. Backstage at his shows, especially when he was appearing on a bill with guys like Freddie Harp and Wilks Topper, it was like Sodom and Gomorrah. June never understood that. The way the young girls looked up at him from below the stage, with their big, bright eyes and knowing smiles. The way young women would sneak into his dressing room, their dresses open two buttons too far. He said no. He said no so many times. Hed let them get close or touch him. Once or twice, hed even tasted the schnapps on their lips. And then he always said no. He would push their hands away. He would turn his head. Hed say, You should go. Ive got a wife at home. But every time he said no, he worried he was that much closer to the one day when he would say yes. And he wasnt sure quite when it had been, but sometime when Nina was still just a tiny little something, he realized he was saying no the way you decline a second helping of dessert. You say no while knowing that if its offered one more time, youre going to say yes. That yes finally came in the parking lot of the recording studio during his first album. Her name was Diana. She was a twenty-year-old redhead backup singer with a beauty mark drawn above her eyebrow and a smile that made you think she could see you naked through your suit. Heading home one night, Mick ran into her by his car and she met and held his glance just a second too long. Before he caught himself, he was kissing her against the side of the building, pushing her up against the stucco, pushing his body against hers as if it would save them both. Seven minutes later, he was done. He pulled away from her, fixed his hair, and said, Thanks. She smiled and said, Anytime, and he knew, in his bones, he was going to do it again. The thing with Diana lasted for two whole weeks and then he got bored. But he found that once it was over with Diana, the guilt made him want June more. He needed her love the same way hed needed it when he first met her. He craved her acceptance, couldnt get enough of her big brown eyes. It was that much easier to cross the line a little while later with Betsy, the waitress at the bar across from his producers office. And then there was Daniella, a cigarette girl in Reno. Just a onetime thing. It meant nothing. And what did it matter? He could still be a good husband to June. He could show up on time to every recording session. He could sell out crowds. He could charm the young and the old, wink at the old ladies who showed up with their husbands to have a good time listening to the hip young man. He was giving June everything they had dreamed of for themselves. They had their two sinks and they were starting a great family. And anything June could think of, he would give her. He just had this one thing for himself. But then he met Carol. It was the Carols that ruined everything. And hed known that. Thats what was so maddening about it. Hed learned this all already, watching his father. Hed met Carol at a show at the Hollywood Bowl. Shed been there with a studio executive. She was so tiny but her attitude filled the room. She didnt want to be there, didnt even know who Mick wasa distinction that was becoming more and more rare. She shook his hand politely and he smiled at her, his very best smile, and he watched the edges of her thin pink lips start to curl up ever so slightly, like she was trying hard to dislike him but couldnt quite muster it. Forty minutes later, he had her right there in an unlocked limo they found behind the venue that night. Just before they both finished, she screamed his name. When they were done, she got up and left with little more than a see you around. And ten minutes later, she was back on the arm of the exec she came with, not giving him a second look. Mick was sunk. He needed to see her again. And again. He would call her agents office. He showed up at her apartment. He could not get enough of her, could not help but be enchanted with her passive charm, her indifference to almost everythingincluding him. He could not get enough of the way she could talk to anyone about anything but did not hang on a single persons word. Even his. Oh, God, he thought a few weeks into it. Im falling. They had been seeing each other during late nights and long lunches for three months when Carol told Mick she was pregnant. They had run into each other at Ciros. Mick had been having dinner with his producer. Carol was there with another man. Mick had lured her into the mens bathroom and taken her right there in the stall, so overcome with jealousy seeing her with someone else that he needed to own her. Afterward, as he smoothed his hair and prepared to leave the bathroom, Carol fixed her skirt and made herself presentable. Then she said, Im pregnant. Its yours. He looked up at her, hoping she was joking. It was clear she wasnt. And before Mick could say anything, she left him there alone. He closed his eyes and then opened them up to see his slack-jawed face staring back at him in the mirror. You fucking idiot. In an instant, he punched his own reflection, shattering the glass and cutting his hand open. He did not see Carol again after that night. Hed sent her money but stopped calling her, forced himself to stop thinking of her, and he had not bedded another woman since then. Now here he was, nearly a year later, barricaded from his own house. But hed known from the very moment he punched the mirror that this was looming. Maybe hed known long before that, too. Maybe hed always known he couldnt escape himself. Junie, Im so sorry, Mick said, starting to cry. It was so unbearable, to hate yourself the way he hated himself just then. I tried to do the right thing, I swear. June refused to be moved by the weak sound of his voice. It was not difficult for her to maintain her anger, but whenever she feared she might falter, she would think of herself being pregnant and retroactively change the memory, shading it with the knowledge that there had been another woman nearby, carrying another one of her husbands children, almost as far along as she. How sad to not be the only one carrying your husbands child at that very moment. It seemed to June that privilege was the very least you could ask of a man. I was weak, Mick said, pleading with her. It was a moment of weakness. I just couldnt stop myself. But I am stronger now. I dont want you here, June said, undeterred. I dont want you around these kids. Id hate for these boys to grow up to be anything like you. Shed said boys. Not boy. Boys. Sweetheart, Mick said. He saw it now. The way he could convince her to let him fix everything for all of them. Im Hudsons father. If you want him, you have to take me, too. June and Mick were silent for a while after this, June unsure what to do. Mick waited with bated breath. There was no way she was going to allow a baby to be handed over to Mick. He didnt even know how to change a diaper. That baby needed June. That boy needed a mother. They both knew that. June opened the door. Mick fell into the house. Thank you, he said, as if she had granted him clemency. I will make this up to you. I will do right by you every moment from this day forward. At just that moment, Mick looked up to see that Nina had woken and found them there. Hi, honey, he said to her. From the bedroom, Jay and Hud started crying at the same time. June scooped up Nina and went to tend to her babies. Mick peeked over her shoulder, looking at the newborn son he was meeting for the first time. June was unable to bear it, witnessing Micks connection to this child. She swatted him away and he backed off. When she was done with the children, she went to the bedroom and saw that Mick had lain down on the far edge of the bed, as if the left side of it was still his. Junie, I love you, he said. She said nothing in return. But as June looked at him, she felt fatigue take her down. He was not going to make it easy on her. He wasnt going to leave of his own will. He was going to make her scream it and shout it and force him to go. She was going to have to rage against him and even then, she might not win. Anger extracts such a toll and suddenly, June was so tired. She sighed, giving her body over to her breath. She could not fight him now because she could not fight him now and win. And so, she lay down next to him, saving her indignation for daylight, when she could think straight. All of this would still be there to fight in the morning. But in the morning, her anger had lost its edges. It had morphed into sorrow. She was now overtaken by the dull ache of grief, expansive and tender like a whole-body bruise. She had lost the life she had believed shed been granted. She was in mourning. So when Mick turned over and put his arm around her, she could not summon the energy to shrug it off. I promise you all of that is over, Mick whispered, tears forming in his eyes. I will never do anything to hurt you again. I love you, Junie. With all of my heart. Im so sorry. And because June had not shrugged off his arm, Mick felt confident enough to kiss her neck. And because she had not shrugged off the small request, she did not know how to shrug off the larger one. And on and on it went. Small boundaries broken, snapped like tiny twigs, so many that June barely noticed he was coming for the whole tree. With every move Mick made, as he held her, as he kissed her, June lost sight of the exact moment to speak up and then resigned herself to the pain of having never spoken up at all. And soon, on the horizon appeared a resolutionone that even June started to welcome if for no other reason than needing the return of normalcy, even if it was a lie. At midnight the following night, Mick whispered sweet nothings into Junes ear. June, despite herself, relished the feeling of his breath on her neck. And the two of them talked it through, in the hurried and hushed tones reserved for secrets. Mick would be forever faithful and they would raise Hud as one of theirs. They would intimate that Jay and Hud were twins. No one would dare question it. After all, they were about to enter another social stratum with Micks second album. They would have new friends, new peers. They would be, now, a family of five. June felt, that night, as if she and Mick were mending their own broken bones together. Laying the cast perfectly in the hope that one day she would not even remember she had been broken. And the crazy thing was that it worked. June loved her children, loved her older girl and her twin boys. She loved her house on the water and watching her kids play on the shore. She loved people stopping her at the market, two infants and a toddler in the cart, saying, Arent you Mick Rivas wife? She liked the money and the Cadillac and the minks. She liked leaving the kids with her mother and putting on one of her smartest cocktail dresses and standing backstage for some of Micks shows. She liked hearing Warm June on the radio and having Micks attention when he was home. He always did make her feel like the only woman in the world, even when she knewknew for certain nowthat she wasnt. So, despite the ulcer she was growing, June had to admit, she could stomach it all more easily than she thought. Vodka helped. Unfortunately, Mick simply couldnt stop himself. There was Ruby, whom he met on the Sunset lot. And then there was Joy, a friend of Rubys. They meant nothing to him and so he saw no real betrayal. But then, Veronica. And oh my God, Veronica. Black hair, olive skin, green eyes, a body that set the standard for hourglasses. Hed fallen again, despite every attempt to keep his heart out of it. He fell for her crimson smile and the way she liked to make love in the open air. He fell for her slinky dresses and her sharp wit, for the way she refused to be intimidated by him, the way she made fun of him. He fell for just how famous she was getting, maybe more famous than him, when she starred in a hit domestic thriller called The Porch Swing. Her name was above the marquee in big bold letters and yet still, in the quiet of the night, it was his name she called out. He could not get enough of Veronica Lowe. And June knew exactly what was happening. When Mick didnt come home until four in the morning, when Mick had a tiny trace of lipstick behind his ear, when Mick stopped kissing her good morning. Mick started having dinner with Veronica in public places. Sometimes, he stopped coming home altogether. June had her hair done. She lost weight. She humbled herself to the level of asking her girlfriends for sex tips. She made his favorite roast beef. In the rare moments she held his attention, she tried to subtly remind him of the duty he had to his children. And still, he could not be torn away. Mick told himself he was nothing like his own father. His own father who would come home smelling like other womens perfume, his own father who would leave for weeks at a time, his own father who would smack his mother for asking too many questions. He told himself hed done right by marrying June, a woman nothing like his own mother, who would smack his father back. But he was lost in Veronicas hair, the way it smelled like vanilla. He was lost in her laugh. He was lost in her legs. He was lost. And then one night, when the boys were ten and eleven months old, Mick came home at four in the morning. He was drunk but he was unconfused. He bumped into his nightstand pulling out his passport. The lamp crashed onto the floor. June woke up and saw him there, hair flopping in front of his face, eyes bloodshot, jacket draped over his arm. There was a suitcase in his hand. Whats going on? she said. But she already knew. She knew the way people know theyre about to be robbed, which is to say acutely, right at the last second. Im taking Veronica to Paris, he said, before he turned and left for the door. June chased him to the driveway in her sheer nightgown. You cant do this! she screamed. You said you wouldnt do this! She mortified herself, begging for something she never wanted to beg for. I cant be this person! Mick yelled at her. Some family man or whatever it is that you thought I was. Im not! Ive tried, all right? And I cant do it! Mick, no, June said as he shut the car door. Dont leave us. But thats exactly what he did. June watched him back up the car. And then she crumpled down onto the driveway, heavy and dead, like an anchor tied to nothing. Mick drove away, headed to Veronicas house in the hills, where, he told himself, he could finally get things straight. With Veronica, he would do better. He was not a good man. Not an honest man. It was how he was born, how he was raised. But a good woman could save him. Hed thought that was June, but he now understood, it was Veronica. She was the answer. His love for her was strong enough to cure him. Hed call his kids once things settled down. Years from now, when they were old enough, theyd understand. June cried in her driveway for what felt like a lifetime. Cried for herself and her children, cried because of how much of herself she had compromised in order to keep him, cried because it had never been enough to make him stay. She cried because she was not surprised that he had left, only that it was happening now, in this moment. And not tomorrow or a month from now or ten years from now. Her mother had been right. He had been too bold a choice, too handsome a man. Why were all of her mistakes that had been so hidden from her as she was making them so clear to her now? And then, for one brief second, she gasped and broke down, thinking of the fact that, if he was truly gone, there might never be another man who could touch her the way he did. He took so much with him when he went. The sun started to rise and June caught her breath. She walked back to the house, determined. She would not be shattered by this. Not in front of her children. She walked into the kitchen and put two cold spoons on her eyelids, trying to reduce the puffiness. But when she caught a glimpse of herself in the side of the toaster, she looked just as frightful a mess as shed feared. June poured herself a glass of orange juice and then popped the top of the vodka she kept in the cabinet and tossed that in, too. She smoothed her hair, tried to summon the dregs of her dignity. Where Daddy go? Nina asked, standing in the doorway. Your father doesnt know how a mans supposed to act, June said, walking past her. She grabbed Micks albums off the record player and threw them into the trash, his cocksure face staring back up at her. She poured the rest of the carton of orange juice over it all. Wash your hands and get ready for breakfast. June and her three children ate eggs and toast. She took them all down to the sand. They spent the day in the water. Nina showed June she could sing the alphabet all the way through. Jay and Hudson had both started pulling themselves up. Christina came by around lunchtime with tuna melts and June pulled her aside. He left, Mama, she said. Hes gone. Christina closed her eyes, and shook her head. Hell come back, honey, she said, finally. And when he does, youll have to decide what to do. June nodded, relieved. And if he doesnt? she asked. Her voice was small and she could barely stand to hear it. Then he doesnt, Christina said. And you have me and your father. June caught her breath. She looked at her children. Nina was building a sandcastle. Jay was about to eat a handful of sand. Hudson was sleeping under the umbrella. I will be more than just this, June thought to herself. I am more than just a woman he left. But when the lights went out that night, and all of them lay in their separate beds, staring at the ceiling, June knew that she, and Nina, and Jay, and Hudson all had lost something. They were now living with a different-sized hole in each one of their four hearts. Noon Nina stood in the packed kitchen as the three cooks managed the oversized grill and two fryers. She quietly began what was arguably her most important task at Rivas. She grabbed a few handfuls of fried clam strips, a bowl of cold shrimp, a bottle of tartar sauce, three slices of cheese, and four rolls. And she began making each one of her siblings what they all called the Sandwich. It was a mess of cold seafood, smooshed between bread. One for each of them, hers with no cheese, Jays with extra sauce, Huds with no clams, Kits with a lemon wedge. The Sandwich didnt exist without Nina. When Nina was sick, she still went in and made the Sandwich. When she was out of town on a shoot, no one ate the Sandwich. It would never have occurred to Jay, Hud, or Kit to make the Sandwich themselves, to make the Sandwich for Nina. Nina didnt mind. She took care of her siblings and they thanked her for it, loved her for it, and they all left it at that. When the Sandwiches were done, Nina grabbed four red baskets and four pieces of parchment paper. She nestled each one in and filled the remaining space of the baskets with fries. Except for hers, which she filled with salted sliced tomatoes. She checked her watch. Her brothers and sister were late. Party tonight, right, girl? Nina looked up to see Wendy coming into the kitchen. Wendy was an aspiring actress who took shifts at Rivas Seafood between driving into Hollywood for auditions. So far, Wendy had done a recurring role on a soap opera and been featured in a music video. Yeah, Nina said. She liked Wendy. Wendy showed up for all of her shifts, was kind to customers, and always remembered to clean the soda fountain. Are you coming? Wendy raised an eyebrow. Do you honestly think I would miss it? The Riva party is the one time of year that you truly never know what youll end up doing. Nina rolled her eyes. Oh, God, she said. You make it sound so Rad? Wendy offered. Nina laughed again. Sure, rad. Ill be there, with bells on. Im coming, too, by the way! Ramon shouted from the fryer. Nina laughed as she put the fried clams on each of the rolls. I will believe it when I see it, she said to him. Psssh, he said, waving her off as he pulled two baskets of shrimp out of the fryer. You know Ive got a life. I cant go to some Richie Rich party, spend my time bumping elbows with some famous assholes. No offense. I would expect nothing less than for you to decline my invite, Nina said. She was pretty sure Ramon was one of the only people who didnt consider being invited to the annual Riva party a perk of the job. Meanwhile, she was positive the kid currently manning one of the grills, Kyle Manheim, a local surfer just out of high school, had taken the job this summer just to get the invite. She could practically sense his resignation coming next week. Where are your good-for-nothing siblings? Ramon asked. And just as he did, Kyle lit a grilled cheese on fire. The kitchen erupted in controlled chaos and Nina put the baskets of sandwiches on a tray and slipped out. She made her way to the break room in the back. Nina sat down and picked a magazine up from the desk behind her. Newslife. She flipped through the pages. Reagan and Russian dissidents and MTV is ruining children and should she buy a videodisc player? There were ads for the Chevy Malibu and Malibu coconut rum and Malibu Musk body spray. Nina wondered for the millionth time why everyone outside of town thought the place evoked something exotic and preternaturally cool, as if it were a sun-bleached utopia. Sure, your neighbor might be in a few movies, but Malibu was a place to live, like any other. It was where you brushed your teeth and burned dinner and ran errands, just with a view of the Pacific. Someone should tell them all, Nina thought, paradise doesnt exist. And then she turned the page and came face-to-face with her husband, yet again. BranRan and Carrie Soto: LoveLove. Ugh, the tennis puns. Nina put the magazine down, disgusted. Then she picked it back up and read the article twice over. There were photos of Brandon and Carrie together all over the pages. The two of them getting into a silver Porsche on Rodeo, the two of them walking into a country club in Bel Air. The photos haunted her. Not because Brandon looked happy with Carrie. Although, he did. And it also was not because he looked different with Carriealthough, again, this was true. Brandon had replaced his T-shirts with polo shirts, his boat shoes with loafers. But no. What haunted Nina was that this all just felt so familiar. Shed long ago watched her mother scour magazines filled with images of her father and his new wife. Were here! Hud called to her before they even made their way through the door. Nina got up and hugged each one of her siblings as they joined her. Sorry were late, Kit said. Its fine, Nina said. It was Jays fault, Kit offered. Were barely late anyway, Jay said as he looked at the clock on the back wall. It was 12:23 P.M. The four of them sat down at the table and Kit immediately started eating her fries. Nina knew they had to be cold by now but appreciated that none of her siblings mentioned it. So, whats up with the party? Kit said, putting a fry in her mouth. Do you need us to do anything? Nina picked up a slice of tomato. God, she wanted a fry. No, she said, shaking her head. Its all managed. Im meeting the cleaning crew at the house in a few hours. The caterers will be showing up at five. The bartenders should get there at six? I think? Partys at seven but people should start showing up around seven-thirty, Id think. I have it all under control. Jay shook his head. Its so different from the old days. Hud laughed as he was chewing. He wiped his mouth and swallowed. You mean when Nina cleaned the house and Kit was putting out the bowls of pretzels And you and I were convincing Hank Wegman at the liquor store to sell us three kegs, Jay said. Yeah, thats exactly what I mean. By the way, Im mostly focused on beer and wine this year, Nina said. I mean, obviously the bar will have a few bottles of liquor for cocktails but I dont want to go crazy. I dont need somebody thinking its a good idea to jump off my top balcony into the pool again. Oh, my God, Kit said, laughing. Jordan Walkers nose still looks terrible! Remember when we saw Pledge for Eternity? Every time he came on-screen it looked like he had Silly Putty on his face. Hud laughed. But that wasnt because he had a whiskey, Jay said. The guy was hopped up on mushrooms. Still, Nina said. The caterer said beer and wine is cooler anyway. Yeah, all right, Jay said. And then he briefly glanced at Hud and in that nanosecond of time they both knew they were going to drive down to the liquor store and stock the bar the way they wanted. Guys, what if Goldie comes this year? Hud asked. Jay shook his head. Nina smiled. Would you stop? Kit said, laughing. You cant call her Goldieyou dont even know her. I do know her. Standing behind someone in the grocery store is not knowing her. Just call her Goldie Hawn like the rest of us, Kit said. I lent her my basket! Hud said. Because her hands were full with her kids. And she said, Hi, Im Goldie! Nina, Jay, and Kit all looked at each other, trying to decide whether or not to give it to him. I havent heard anything about Goldie Hawn coming, Nina said, diplomatically. But I do think Ted Travis is coming again. Kit smiled and rubbed her hands together, excited. Yes! Ted Travis lived four streets over in a house built in the shape of a donut with a tiki bar and a grotto in the middle. Kit and her best friend, Vanessa, never missed an episode of his show, Cool Nights, about a cop in Orange County who slept with everyones wives and solved murders wearing a blazer and swimming trunks. He jumped two speedboats on water skis last week and Van and I wanted to ask him about it. Is Vanessa coming tonight? Nina asked. I know you said she might have to go to San Diego with her family. No, shes coming, Kit said. Vanessa had been in love with Hud since Kit and Vanessa were thirteen. So Kit knew she wasnt going to miss an opportunity to be near him. Kit kept hoping the crush would fade but it never did. Hud didnt help matters by being so sweet to her. But is anyone surprised Teds coming? Jay said. Hed never miss an opportunity to come hit on Nina. Nina rolled her eyes. Ted is, like, old enough to be our dad, she said, getting up from the table to grab a napkin off the counter. And anyway, I dont even want to think about getting hit on. Im not sure Im feeling my spunky best lately. Oh, come on, Jay said. Maybe just leave it, Hud offered. Youre gonna let some tennis asshole make you feel bad about yourself? Jay said, looking directly at Nina. The guys a complete douchebag and, Im sorry, but his backhand sucks. And I always thought that. Even when I liked him. I mean, Kit said. Jays kind of right. Also, are we now allowed to acknowledge that he was balding? The last part made Nina laugh. Hud caught her eye and laughed with her. He really was balding, Nina said. Which would have been fine if he realized it. But he had no clue! It was, like, right on the top of his head and hed wear those visors That just made him look more bald, Jay said, plainly. Why did you let him wear those visors? I didnt know how to tell him he was balding! Kit shook her head. That is brutal. You let him walk out of the house and onto national TV with a bagel of hair on his head. And they all started laughing. The four of them, erupting, at the image of Brandon Randall unknowingly balding on ESPN. They were good at this, they had experience. This was how they began the process of forgetting the people who turned their backs. At least its Carrie Sotos problem now, Nina said. Let her find a way to tell him. The good thing about getting dumped by a dickhead is that you dont have to deal with the dickhead anymore. At least, thats how its supposed to work. 1961 The day after Mick and Junes divorce went through, Mick married Veronica. Within weeks, Mick and Veronica bought a penthouse apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and moved across the country. They had been married for four months before he started sleeping with the wife of a sound engineer hed been working with, a redhead with blue eyes named Sandra. When Veronica figured it outshed found an auburn bobby pin in his suit jacketshe threw a dinner plate at him. And then two more. Fuck, Ronnie! Mick screamed. Are you trying to kill me? I hate you! she screamed as she threw another one. I hope you die! I really do. Her aim was terrible; not a single dish so much as grazed him. But he was startled by the violence of it. The flush of her cheeks, the craze in her eyes, the cacophony of dishes breaking and a woman screaming. The next morning, he had his lawyer file divorce papers. As he had movers pack his things, Veronica stood in her robe screaming at him, mascara running down her face. You are an awful man, she cried. You were born a piece of shit and youll die a piece of shit just like every other piece of shit on this planet! When he told the movers to take the bedside lamp, she hit him across his back and scratched his shoulder. Veronica, stop it, he said, as calmly as he could. Please. She grabbed the lamp out of the movers hand and threw it against the wall. Micks pulse started to race, as he watched her unravel. He grew nauseated and pale. She lunged at him and he ducked from her last grasp as she fell to the floor crying. He threw a few hundred bucks at the head mover and ran out of the apartment. As he lit a cigarette there on the street corner, about to hail a cab to his hotel, Mick thought fondly of June. June learned about the divorce from the pages of Sub Rosa magazine. As she read the headline, she felt some semblance of pride. Shed lasted longer on the bull than Veronica had. Maybe, June thought, hell get his head straight now. Maybe hell at least call his kids. But the phone never rang. Not on Christmas. Not on anyones birthday. Never. Still, in the rare quiet moments backstage In the deafeningly sober seconds before the first drink at his after-parties In the blindingly bright mornings before his first glass of bourbon Mick thought of his children. Nina, Jay, and Hud. They would be fine, he figured. He had chosen a good mother for them. He had done that right. And he was paying the bills for all of them. He was keeping that roof over their heads, sending child support payments that were sky high. They would be fine. After all, hed been fine with far less than they had. He gave no thought to the idea that he might break his children just as someone had broken him. Carlo and Anna Riva had been tall, stocky, formidable people. They had one child, Michael Dominic Riva, and had tried for more but came up empty. In other families that might have meant Mick was the star, but for the Rivas it meant Mick was the beginning of a failed project, one they were sometimes tempted to abandon. Carlo was an unremarkable barber. Anna was a mediocre cook. They often were not able to pay their rent or put anything that tasted good on the table. But they were in love, the kind of love that hurts. They hit highs so high neither of them could quite stand it, and lows so low they werent sure theyd survive them. They smacked each other on the face. They made love with a sense of urgency and mania. They locked each other out of the house. They threatened to call the cops on each other. Carlo was never faithful. Anna was never kind. And neither of them spent much time remembering there was a child. Once, when Mick was only four years old, Anna was making dinner when Carlo came home late smelling like perfume. I know exactly where youve been! Anna shouted, furious. With the whore from the corner. Tiny Mick ducked at the sound of her raised voice. He already knew when to find cover. Anna, mind your business, Carlo snapped. Anna grabbed the pot of boiling water in front of her with both hands and flung it at her husband. The scorching water hit the kitchen floor and a spot across Carlos neck. Mick watched from the living room floor as his fathers skin began to puff at the collarbone. You crazy bitch! Carlo screamed. But by the time the burn had blistered, Carlo and Anna were snuggled up together on the tattered sofa, laughing and flirting as if they were alone. Mick watched them, eyes wide and staring, unworried they would see him gawking. They never looked at him when they got like this. The next month, Carlo was gone again. Hed met a blond seamstress on the subway. He stopped coming home for nine weeks. During times like those, when his father was gone, his mother could often be found alone in bed, crying. There were some mornings, far more often than to be called occasional, when Anna did not get out of bed until the sun had passed its zenith and started its way back around. On those mornings, Mick would wake up and wait for his mother to come to him. He would wait until ten or eleven, sometimes even one. And then, understanding that it was one of those days, he would eventually begin to fend for himself. Anna would later open her bedroom door and join the world of the living, often to find her baby boy cross-legged on the floor, eating dried spaghetti. She would run to him and sweep him up in her arms and she would say, My boy, I am so sorry. Lets get you something to eat. She would take him to the bakery, buy him every roll and donut he wanted. She would fill him with sugar, ply him with laughter. She would pick him up into her arms with glee, cradling him to her, calling out My Michael, my Michael, fast as a motorcycle as she ran with him through the streets. People would stare and that made it all the more fun. They dont know how to have a good time, Anna would tell her son. They arent special like us. We were born with magic in our hearts. When they got home, Mick would have an ache in his stomach, and he would crash from the sugar and fall asleep in his mothers loving arms. Until the chill settled into her again. Soon enough, Micks father would come home. And the fighting would resume. And then they would lock themselves in their bedroom. But eventually, whether it was weeks or months or even a year, his father would leave again. And his mother would stay in bed. And Mick would have to fend for himself. Mick married again, shortly after he divorced Veronica. The biggest star in Hollywood. It was a huge scandal, the talk of the town when they had it annulled the next day. Nina saw the headlines in the grocery store while June was buying milk and bread. She couldnt read the words on the cover of the magazine and June wasnt even sure if her daughter recognized the face of the man that was her own blood. After all, June had cleansed their home of his music and photos. She had changed the channel the few times his face invaded their TV screen. But still, Nina stared at the picture on the front of the magazine as if she could sense its importance. June picked up the stack of magazines and turned them around. Dont worry yourself with that garbage, she said, her voice steady. Those people dont mean a thing. June paid for her groceries and told herself she didnt care what he did anymore. Then she took the kids home and poured herself a Sea Breeze. Then came the spring of 1962. Mick was single and in Los Angeles for a show at the Greek, one of the last on his third world tour. In his dressing room backstage afterward, Mick loosened his tie and threw back his fifth Manhattan of the night. You ready to come out and play? said his makeup girl with a glint in her eye. Mick was already bored with her and he hadnt even touched her. He rolled his eyes and grabbed his drink. He was getting so sick of all the people around him all the time. And yet, he didnt want to find out what his soul had to say when he was by himself. And so, he came out and charmed the VIPs and beauties who had made their way backstage. There were so many girls. So many women. For some reason, all of them seemed too easy lately. The way they clamored for their chance to hang on his arm, the way their makeup was all the same, their hair all sprayed in the same styles. Even their beauty seemed meaninglesswhat is one beautiful woman if youve slept with hundreds already? What does it matter if the pretty teenager in the corner is batting her eyes at you when youve had the worlds most famous woman in your bed? Mick had started getting into the backs of his limos alone at night, drunk and already half-asleep. The night after the Greek was no different. Just him and his driver and a bottle of Seagrams. Mick rested his head against the window, watching Los Angeles whiz by as his driver sped farther toward the Beverly Wilshire. Mick was now drinking his whiskey right from the bottle. Perhaps it was the sights of his old city, perhaps it was the smell in the air, perhaps it was the reckoning that was emerging in his soul. But when he closed his eyes, Junes face appeared in his mind. Round, wide-eyed, gentle. She was making him dinner, pouring him a drink, hugging the children. Beautiful, patient, kind. Things had been easier, then. When he had relaxed into her, in their life together. However small and simple it was. She was a good woman. With her, he was as close as he got to being a good man. Lets go down to the 10, he said to the driver, before realizing what he was even doing. The 10 to PCH, please. Up to Malibu. Forty-eight minutes later, he arrived at the front door of the first house he had ever owned, the home of the only woman he ever truly loved. June woke up to the sound of the waves crashing and someone pounding on the door. She put on her dressing gown. Somehow, she knew who it was before she turned the knob, but she couldnt quite believe it until she saw it. And then there he was at the threshold, in a stylish black suit, with a white shirt, and his thin black tie undone, hair tousled just so. Junie, he said. I love you. She stared at him, stunned. I love you! he shouted so loud she startled. She let him in, if only to get him to quiet down. Sit down, she said, gesturing to the dinette, the same vinyl chairs he had sat on before hed left them almost two years ago. How did you get even more beautiful? he asked as he obeyed. June waved him away and brewed him some coffee. You are everything, he said. Yeah, well, June deadpanned. Youre a whole lot of nothing. He had expected this. She had a right to be angry. What have I done with my life, June? he said, his head in his hands. I had you and I ruined it. I ruined it because I got distracted by cheap women, women who dont hold a candle to you. He looked up at her, his eyes watering. I had you. I had everything. And I gave it all away because I didnt know how to be the man I want to be. June was not sure how to respond to the words shed been dying to hear. I cannot live without you, he said, realizing he had come here to get back what hed lost. I cannot live without all of you, my family. I have been such an idiot. But I need you. I need you and our children. I need this family, Junie. He got down onto his knees. I was sorry the moment I left you. Ive been sorry ever since. I am so sorry. June tried, desperately, to make the lump in her throat go away, to hold back the tears forming in her eyes. She did not want him to know how broken he had left her back then, just how desperate she felt now. Give me one chance to fix it all, he said, Im begging you. He kissed her hand with humility and reverence, as if she alone could cure him. Take me back, Junie. He looked so small to June then. Think of the life we could give the kids. The five of us, vacations in Hawaii and barbecues on the Fourth of July. We could give them a childhood of everything you and I ever dreamed of for ourselves. Anything we can think up, we can give to these kids. June felt a pinch in her heart. And Mick did, too. Please, he said. I love our children. I need our children. He was picking the lock on her heart like a burglar at the front door. Almost, almost, almost, and then, Im ready to be the dad they need, he said. Click. It slid open. June took his hand and closed her eyes. Mick kissed her on the cheek. Mick she sighed. There, in her pajamas, Mick still in his suit, June moved her mouth toward his and let him kiss her. His lips were full and warm and tasted like home. When Mick pulled back to look at her, June looked away but took him by the hand. She led Mick into the bedroom. They fell to the bed, as June pulled Mick onto her. They rushed as they clung to each other, their hearts swelling as they moved, their lips pressed against each other, their breath one breath. They both were under the same spell, that delicious delusion that they were the two most important souls to meet. This was what June had ached for, every day since he left. The feeling of his attention on her, the way he moved his body with hers. He touched her in just the way she had grown desperate to be touched. Mick fell asleep soundly moments later, complete. June stayed awake the rest of the night, watching his chest move with his breath, watching his eyelids flutter. When morning came, she felt as if the next chapter of her life was starting, the part where the family lives happily ever after. As June started preparing breakfast, Nina woke up and walked into the kitchen. She could not quite make sense of the sight before her. Her mother was making eggs and toast for this strange man seated at the table. He was in trousers and an undershirt, drinking a cup of coffee. He looked eerily familiar and yet she could not place him. She asked what she did not know. Hi, she said. Who are you? And Mick, undeterred, smiled at her and said, Hi, honey, its Daddy. I had to go away for a little while. But Im back now. Forever. 1:00 P.M. Jay rolled up his trash and walked it over to the garbage can. I have an idea, he said, with a grand pause. So spit it out, Kit said. When was the last time we were all riding together? Like, actually, all of us, he asked. So often now things got in the way of the four of them just being out there on the water. Jay and Hud were traveling all over the world and Nina was always on some shoot. But they were all here now. They all had the afternoon free. Im in, Kit said. Hud nodded. Me, too, he said. Family shred. Nina looked at her watch. Lets do it. The waves are great at my place. We can head there. Especially since I cant stay out too long; the cleaners are coming. I should be there to let them in, make sure theyre all set. Cant you just leave the door unlocked with a note? Jay asked. No, I mean, you know, I should greet them. Make them comfortable. Make them comfortable? They are going to clean your house, Jay said. You are paying them to make you comfortable. Jay Nina started. But then that was it. Are we gonna hit the surf or what? Fuck yeah were gonna hit the surf, Kit said, offering a high five to Hud, who took her up on it. The four of them cleaned up their lunch and said goodbye to the staff and made their way to their cars. It would be the last time they all surfed together. Even though Jay did not know what would happen over the course of the eveningdid not know just what awaited them allhe did know that. 1962 Micks life came into focus for him during the summer of 1962. He was on hiatus from touring. His new record was already in the can. And he had moved back in with his family. Every day, he woke up with the satisfaction of being the man he meant to be. He was paying the bills and buying June and the kids whatever they wanted. He took June out for romantic dinners, he read stories of heroes and soldiers to his boys. Still, his daughter held a piece of herself back from him. Nina was not charmed by Mick like June was and she was not aching for his presence quite like the boys. But Mick remained determined to win her over. He would tickle her in the living room and offer to sing her to sleep at night. He would make her cheeseburgers on the grill and make sandcastles for her on the beach. He knew, over time, she would soften. One day, he believed, Nina would come to understand that he was never leaving again. Marry me, Junie. One more time, this time forever, Mick said to June in the dark one night after theyd made love quietly, as the rest of the house slept. I thought last time was forever, June said. She was half-joking, and still angry, but entirely happy to be asked. I was a boy pretending to be a man when I married you the first time. But I am a man now. Things are different, Mick said, pulling her toward him. You know that, right? Yes, June said. I do. Shed seen it in the way he kept close to her, the way he never stayed out late, the way he drank half a pot of coffee in the morning to get up with the kids and almost no booze at night. Will you let this new man marry you? he asked, pushing the hair away from her face. June smiled, despite herself, and gave him the answer that both of them knew was never really in doubt. Yes, she said. I will. That September, June and Mick remarried at the courthouse in Beverly Hills with the kids by their side. June wore a pale blue sheath dress with white gloves and three short strands of pearls around her neck. Mick wore his signature black. When the judge declared them married again, Mick grabbed June and dipped her, planting a kiss on her lips. Theo, Christina, and the kids watched as June laughed with her whole body, so delighted to have once again given him her soul. Be the man you tried to tell us you were, Christina said to him, just after the ceremony. I am that man now, Mick said. I promise you that. I promise to never hurt her like that again. Them, Christina said. Never hurt them like that again. Mick nodded. Believe me, he said. I promise. As the family walked out of the courthouse, Mick winked at Nina and grabbed her hand. She smiled just the tiniest bit in her lavender dress, so he lifted her up into his arms and ran with her through the parking lot. Nina, my Nina! Cuter than a ballerina! he sang to her, and when he put her down, she was laughing. Afterward, Mick and June did not leave for a honeymoon but, instead, drove home to the beach. They said good night to Theo and Christina. June heated up a leftover casserole for dinner. Mick put the kids to bed. June took off her dress and hung it up in the closet in a plastic garment bag, dreaming of giving it to her daughter one day. It would be a physical testament to second chances. June was pregnant before the year was out. And by the time Katherine Elizabeth Riva was born, Mick had stayed for so long, been so doting, that he had even won over tiny little suspicious Nina. I dont remember now when you were gone, Nina said to him one night as he was putting her to bed before leaving to do a few kickoff shows in Palm Springs. His new album was about to be released, he was back in the spotlight. His publicity team was churning out the story of his redemption. Ladies Man Becomes Family Man. He was dressed up in his black suit. His hair was slicked back, showing his faint widows peak. He smelled like Brylcreem. I dont remember it, either, honey, Mick said, kissing her on the forehead. And we dont ever have to worry about those things again. I love you this much, Nina said as she reached wide with both her arms. Mick tucked the blanket tight around her. I love you double that. Nina was in it with all of her heart now, as only those who have been hurt and learned to trust again truly can be. It is as if once your heart has been broken you learn of the deepest reserves it carries. And she had given up her reserves as well this time. Her dad was here and he was staying and he loved her. She was his girl, his Nina-baby. And every once in a while, when Mick was feeling emotional, he would pick her up and give her a hug and admit to her the truth: She was his favorite. In the comfort of that love, Nina bloomed. She started singing Micks songs with him around the house. Sun brings the joy of a warm June they would sing together. Long days and midnights bright as the moon Nina became entranced by his voice, fascinated by his ties, riveted by the polish of his shoes, smitten to tell her friends at school who her dad was. She was proud that she had inherited his eyelashes, so full and long. She would sometimes stare at him, as he read the paper, watching him blink. Stop staring at me, sweetheart, Mick would say, not even moving his eyes off the page. OK, Nina would say and move on to something else. So casual was their affection, so comfortable were their bodies and souls next to each other that there could be no rejection, no discomfort. Now and then, in the early hours of morning, before everyone else was up, Mick would wake Nina up to fly a kite as the sun rose. Sometimes he would be fresh and clean, having just showered and shaved. Other times he would be getting home from a show, still tipsy, smelling a little sour. But either way, he would gently sit on Ninas bed and hed say, Wake up, Nina-baby. Its a windy day. Nina would get out of bed and put on a cardigan over her nightgown, and the two of them would walk down, under the house, onto the beach. It was always early enough that almost no one was there. Just the two of them sharing the dawn. The kite was red with a rainbow in the center of it, so bright you could see it even in the fog. Mick would let it get sucked up into the sky and hed hold on tight. Hed pretend he could barely hold on. Hed say, Nina-baby! I need your help. Please! You have to save the kite! She knew it was an act but she delighted in it anyway and she would reach out, grabbing the string with all of her might. She felt strong, stronger than her father, stronger than anyone in the world as she held on to that kite, keeping it tied to the ground. The kite needed her and her dad needed her. Oh, how good it felt to be important to somebody the way she felt important to him. Youve got it! he would say, as the kite teetered in her hands. Youve saved the day! He would scoop her up in his arms and Nina knew, knew in her bones, that her father would never ever leave her again. A year later, Mick Riva was performing in Atlantic City when in walked a backup singer named Cherry. He never flew home. 2:00 P.M. The four Rivas were straddling their boards in the ocean, floating at the peak, all in a row like birds on a wire. And then, as the waves curled in, they took off, one by one. Jay, Hud, Kit, Nina. A revolving team, with Jay the self-appointed leader of the pack. They soared past one another and paddled back out together, and when a wave took one of them too far down the shore, they worked their way back to their four-man lineup. The first wave in a gorgeous set came in and Jay was primed for it. He got himself into position and popped up on his board, and then out of nowhere, Kit dropped in, cut him off, and stole his wave. She smiled and held out a sisterly middle finger as she did it. Hud watched, mouth agape. Kit knew that you can only bogart a wave from someone you are confident will not beat the ever-living shit out of you. Because waves that beautiful are rare. That is the thing about the water, it is not yours to control. You are at the mercy of nature. Thats what makes surfing feel like more than sport: It requires destiny to be on your side, the ocean must favor you. So when you are granted a sick wave like the one Jay thought was hischest high, with a hollow face, peeling quick and cleanit is not only a bulls-eye but a jackpot. What the fuck! Jay said, after cutting back quickly to avoid colliding. He grabbed the rails of his board to slow down. He hung there in the water, watching his little sister take off down the face of the wave until it slowly let her go, like her spot on the Ferris wheel was touching down. She laid her chest down on the board and started toward Jay. You really cant pull that shit anymore, he called to her as Kit paddled out, duck-diving under the swells. Oops, she said, smiling. Seriously. Cut it out. Somebodys gonna get hurt, Jay followed up. I cant always tell if youre about to drop in on me. Im in full control, Kit said. I dont need you to make room. Ive got it. He really didnt understand, did he? How good she was. But Hud saw it. Her confidence, her control, the chip on her shoulder. Kit, Im seriously pissed at you, Jay said. Like, apologize at least. Hud took a wave out and then bailed once it all started to crumble. When he popped back out of the water, he saw Jay and Kit both floating on their boards, bickering. He spotted Nina walking out of the ocean. He watched her walk her board back over to her shed. She made her way up the steep stairs that led to her home. Hud knew she was heading in to welcome the cleaning staff. She was going to offer them all a glass of water or iced tea. If one of them broke a plate or a vase, if they forgot a room, if they didnt make the beds the way Nina liked, she would still thank them profusely. She would overtip them. And then she would fix it herself. It made Hud sad. The way Nina lost herself in always putting others first. Sure, Hud tried to put other people first. But sometimes he was selfish. Clearly. But Nina never said no, never stood in anyones way, never took anything. If you offered her five bucks, shed give you ten. He knew he was supposed to like that about her but he didnt. He didnt like it about her at all. Hud lifted himself over a soft wave, letting it buoy both him and his board, and paddled out to where Jay was. Nina went in, Hud said. For the cleaners. Jay rolled his eyes. For fucks sake. Would it kill her to live a little? 1969 In the late sixties, the counterculture had discovered the beauty of rustic Malibu and settled in along the mountains. The beaches were overrun with surfers on their brand-new shortboardscooler and more aerodynamic than their older brothers longboards. Teams of young dudes and the honorary dudette took over the water, running in packs, claiming coves for themselves, rushing poseurs out of town. The air smelled like Mary Jane and suntan oil. And yet, still, you could smell the sea breeze if you took a moment. Mick Rivas careerrocky tabloid headlines, a new hit album, a sold-out world tourhad taken off like a rocket, leaving hordes of young women screaming his name, millions of car radios playing his music as they sped down the freeway. And so, to his children, he was both inescapable and never there. Nina, Jay, Hud, and little Kit knew their father as a ghost whose voice visited them over the loudspeakers at the grocery store, whose face peered out at them from their friends parents album collections. He was a billboard in Huntington Beach on a road trip. He was a poster in the record stores their mother never wanted to go to. When he tried his hand at acting, he was a movie they never saw. But they almost never thought of him as theirshe was everyones. And so, they never thought of the smell of whiskey on his breath, or the way his smile had once made them smile, or the way their mother used to blush with his kiss. It was hard to remember their mother had ever blushed at all. To them, June was stress and bone. In their second divorce, Mick had paid off the house and granted it to June. And he was supposed to resume the child support and alimony payments of their first divorce. But months after their divorce was finalized, June kept going out to the mailbox every day, looking for the checks and leaving empty-handed. None ever came. June suspected it was an oversight. She was almost positive that if she picked up the phone and called himreminded him what was owedhed have an assistant or an accountant set up the recurring payments as hed been instructed. But she couldnt bring herself to ask him for one goddamn thing. She refused to let him see her squirm, to see her need. When he finally came back to her again, he was going to respect her. He was going to bow at her feet and grovel, in awe of her strength. So, instead of asking Mick to pay for the needs of his own children, June finally turned to her parents. She took a job at the restaurant. June ended up in the exact place she had hoped Mick Riva would save her from. By the summer of 1969, Junes father had been dead two years. It was now only her and her mother running Pacific Fish. Nina was almost eleven. Jay and Hud were nine. Kit was six. And every day during the summer, they came with June to the restaurant. One particular July morning, it neared a hundred degrees. People were coming in out of the sun in droves. They wanted cold beers and big sodas and shrimp rolls. The kitchen staff was overwhelmed and June, in a moment of crisis management, took the busboys off duty, put them in the kitchen to help out, and handed a rag to Nina, asking her to clean the tables. Hud and Kit were playing Go Fish on a bench on the side of the restaurant by the parking lot. Jay was trying to flirt with a twelve-year-old girl, not above invoking his fathers name in order to get a hello and a smile. And Nina was inside, watching the customers, making her way to their tables to clean up before they had barely left their seats. Nina worked fast, with a sense of duty and pride in a job well done. She was efficient rather than perfect, just as her mother had instructed. And, without being asked, Nina grabbed a bin and pulled empty plastic baskets and cups and brought them over to the dishwasher. She was a natural. Born to serve. As June rang in orders on the second register next to Christina, she looked up from the sea of customers to spot her daughter, wringing out the rag and getting to work on a just-vacated table. Ninas long brown hair had golden highlights from the sun just like Junes had when she was a child, and her eyes were big and brown and open, just like Junes had always been. Watching her daughter standing there, scrubbing down a table, June saw herself, only twenty years younger, and suddenly had the feeling she was going to jump out of her skin. Nina! she called to her. Take your brothers and sister to the beach. But Nina began to protest. She wanted to clean the tables because who else would clean them? Go! June said, her voice impatient. Nina thought she was in trouble. June believed she was setting her free. Nina gathered her brothers and sister and pulled their swimsuits out of the back of the Cadillac that was now over a decade old. The four of them changed in the bathrooms behind the restaurant. Afterward, Nina took Kits hand and the four of them stood on the side of the Pacific Coast Highway, waiting for an opportunity to cross over to the beach. Nina was wearing a navy blue one-piece. She had sprouted that summer, now tall and lanky. Shed already begun to notice the way people looked at her, a second or two longer than they used to. The suit was now just a bit too small, the straps making indentations into the terra-cotta burn of her shoulders. Jay, refusing to come inside all summer, had turned downright bronze, a fact made that much more apparent by his yellow swimming trunks. And Hud, faithfully beside Jay all season, had a sunburn, as always, and a new crop of light freckles across his nose and cheeks. His shoulders had begun to peel. Kit, all of six years old, had begun insisting upon wearing T-shirts over her bathing suits because she didnt like boys looking at her half-naked. She stood on the side of the road with a yellow Snoopy T-shirt hiding a pink flowered suit, purple flip-flops on her feet. Each one of them held a towel over their shoulder. Nina held her siblings back from the road with one arm outstretched, forcing Jay and Hud to wait to cross the highway until she gave them the go-ahead. When she nodded, the four of them ran across, holding one anothers hands. When their feet hit the hot sand, they pulled off their sandals and dropped their towels. They ran as fast as they could toward the water. And then the four of them came to an abrupt stop as their toes hit the foam, eight little feet sinking into the cold wet sand. Kit, you have to stay right next to me, Nina said. Kit frowned but Nina knew she would do as she was told. All right, Jay said. Ready? Set. Go! The four of them charged into the ocean like soldiers heading into battle. They swam out, past the small breaking waves that were gently rolling onto the shore, preparing to bodysurf to the sand. The ocean was something they had lived in their entire lives. In the water outside their home, they had swam while their mother cleaned the bathrooms, done somersaults in high tide as she made dinner, tried to find fish as June poured herself another Cape Codder. The Riva kids lived with water-clogged ears and salt-crusted faces. Jay claimed the first good wave coming in. Hud, he said. Lets go. Right behind you, Hud called. They took off. Jays long, gangly arms paddled as fast as they could, Huds thick legs kicked with all of their might. They coasted through the water, side by side, each one inching ahead and then falling behind. These two had no real understanding of doing anything alone. They had come together at such a young age that they knew of no world but the one they inhabited alongside each other. But they were not twins. And they had no illusions that they were, despite what their mother pretended in polite company. Each one of the children knew how Hud had joined the family. June had always told the kids the story with a sense of awe and destiny. She told them sometimes wild circumstances help fate unfold. Jay and Hud. An apple and an orange. They did not have the same abilities or wear the same virtues. And yet, they still belonged side by side. Jay coasted until his body hit the sand. Hud got clobbered at the last second, the wave turning him over and over in its grasp until he got his bearings and stood up. He looked to find Jay. It felt as if Jay would always be the one who had made it to the sand and Hud would be the one thrown off the wave. But even before ten years old, Hud was managing this, redirecting his interests. Nice one! Hud said, giving Jay a thumbs-up. This was something Hud took pride in, his lack of ego, his ability to appreciate the success of others, even when he had failed. His mother called it good character. Jay pointed out to the distance. Nina and Kit were coming in on a second wave. Nina had chosen a slow one, a small one. One that a six-year-old like Kit could handle. Nina was not looking at the shoreline or at Jay or at Hud. She was watching her sister, making sure if Kit went under, she knew where. Kit, even then, was irritated by her gaze. They rode the calm wave in and were kicked off it only when they lost their momentum and landed butt first on the wet sand. The four kids stood there in the shallow water, about to go back out, when Jay happened to spot a lone surfboard resting against the grassy dunes to their left. Pale yellow with a cherry red stringer, beat up across the deck, the board stood there casually, as if it was waiting for someone. What if we surfed? Jay asked. These kids had been watching people on surfboards for as long as they could remember. There were surfers all down the waterline at that very moment, riding waves along the shore from cove to cove. We are surfing, Nina told him. No, with a surfboard, Jay said, as if Nina could not possibly get any dumber. They didnt have money for a surfboard. They had just enough money to pay the bills and eat three square meals a day. There was no money for new toys, new clothes. Nina was well aware of this. She was aware that, some months even the necessities werent a guarantee. Children who grow up with money have no idea it exists. But children who dont understand that it powers everything. We are never going to have surfboards, Nina said. But what if we used that surfboard? Jay said, pointing to the one that remained unclaimed. That isnt ours, Nina said. But what if, Jay said, walking over to it, we just used it for a few minutes. Two preteen girls in crochet bikinis were in the process of laying down a blanket, preparing to sunbathe. Jay and Hud were both momentarily distracted. What are we gonna do when the guy who owns it comes looking for it? Hud asked, pulling himself away. I dont know. Jay shrugged. Thats your plan? Kit said. I dont know? If he shows up and wants it back, well say were sorry, Jay said. And before Nina could tell him no, he ran to the board and put his arms around it. Jay Nina began. But Jay was already dragging it toward the waterline. He laid it down in the water, maneuvered himself on top of it, and began to paddle. Jay, come on, Nina shouted. You shouldnt do this! Its lunchtime anyway, we should go back in! No way! Mom said to stay out here! Jay shouted back. Nina looked at Hud, and Hud shrugged. Nina grabbed Kits hand. Kit took her hand reluctantly, and looked up at Nina, watching her sisters face scrunch into tiny folds. Can I go out there, too? I want to try, Kit asked. No, Nina said, shaking her head. Its not safe. But Jay is doing OK, Kit said. Jay was now past the breakers, but he was having trouble handling the full weight of the board. It was hard to turn, hard to control. And then he couldnt get his legs around it quite right. The deck was wider than his straddle. Nina grew more and more anxious with every second. He could fall off, he could lose the board, he could break his leg or his hand or go under. Nina quietly calculated how she would save him, or what she would say if the owner showed up, how she could handle all of this if it went south. Im going out there, Kit said, taking her hand from Ninas and running into the water. Nina grabbed Kit with both arms and held her back. You always catch me, Kit said, aggrieved. You always run away, Nina said, smiling. Look, hes got it, Hud said, pointing at Jay. Jay was standing on the board but then he swiftly slipped back, falling into the water. The board floated toward them with the current, as if it didnt need him to catch a wave. Nina waited for Jay to pop his head out of the water. And it was only once he did that she dared to take another breath. By the time Jay made his way back to them, Hud had grabbed the board and saved it. Nina, Hud said, pushing the board over to her. Take it. Just put it back where it was, Nina replied. Take it out! Kit said. Jay made his way back, put his hands on the board as if it was his. No, Hud said. Ninas gonna take it out. No, Im not. No, shes not, Jay said, taking it again. I am. Youre not either, Nina said. Yes, I am. And it was thenthis one moment in timethat Nina realized things were going to happen whether she relaxed or not. Whether she rode the surfboard herself or just watched Jay do it, the surfboard wasnt going back where it belonged. And so, Nina put her hands on the board. Fine, Im taking it. Jay looked at her, stunned. He took his hands off of it. Its heavy, he said. All right, Nina said. And its hard to balance, he said. All right. When you fall off, its my turn again, he said. Lay off, Jay, Hud said. And Jay did. Nina laid her body across the board and stretched her arms as far as they would go to paddle out. It was harder to get past the waves on the board. She kept getting pushed back, having to start all over again. But then she pushed her chest up off the board when the next wave came for her, the crest of it hitting her chest instead of her face, and she finally busted through. She turned herself around, pushed her arms up, sat down on the board. She could feel it teeter underneath her and she straightened herself out. When a wave approached, Nina weighed her options. She could try to stand up on the board or she could lie down and ride it in that way. Having watched Jay fall trying to stand up, she decided to lie low. Just before the wave bloated underneath her, Nina started paddling as hard as she could. When she felt the water lift her, she didnt let up. She kept swimming until suddenly she couldnt swim anymore. Because she was in the air. Lying across the board, she felt weightless and free, the wind blowing past her. What glory it was to feel the ocean move with you, to ride the water. The wave delivered her, softly, onto the sand. Nina looked at her hands, now grazing the bottom. Shed done it. Shed ridden a surfboard all the way in. When she stood up, she looked down the beach to see her siblings all cheering for her. Her brothers stood there with their mouths open. You have to keep paddling your arms as hard as you can until you catch it, Nina said, as she caught back up with them. It takes more effort than just with your body. But then you move faster, once you catch it. You didnt stand up though, Jay said. I know but I think we can work up to that. And so, thats what they did. Nina, Jay, and Hud took turns riding the surfboard into the shore with varying degrees of success, sometimes letting Kit tag along on their backs. They rode the surfboard all afternoon, crashing and gliding in equal measure. They inhaled water as they crashed, cut their toes on rocks, bruised their ribs simply from the weight of their bodies against the board. Their eyes stung with the salt of the ocean and the glare of the sun. Until finally, hours into their adventure, Jay took the surfboard out on his own as the three of them watched from the wet sand. Im gonna stand up, he said. Watch me. Jay had fallen off enough times now to believe he understood the rules. He paddled out, faced the shore, and lay on the board, waiting. He waited for one slow, small wave, just big enough to carry him. When he saw what he wanted, he paused until just before it swelled right behind him and he started to paddle. He used his arms harder than he had ever used them before. He could feel the board catch on the wave, feel it steady itself. And he slowly got onto his knees, and then his feet, and stayed low. He was doing it. He was surfing. He could see Nina, Hud, and Kit watching him from the distance, could feel their anticipation. It was moments like this, all eyes on him, when he understood himself the best. Beaming, he crouched as still as he could, until the wave started to knock him off. And then, feeling the board begin to betray him, Jay jumped off and landed, half gracefully, into the water. A champion. Nina and Hud started running toward him, Kit leading their way. And Jay started laughing so hard that tears were forming in his eyes. Did you see that? he yelled to them. He was lost in pure, fresh joy. The kind that keeps you weightless even after youve touched ground. Pretty cool, Hud said, as he gave Jay a high five. Kit wrapped her hands around his neck and jumped up onto him. Nina smiled. He had been right. The whole afternoon had been exhilarating. The trying and crashing, the trying and doing, the trying harder, doing better. Soon after, the extended lunch rush had ended and the real dinner rush had not quite started and so June snuck out of the restaurant. In her navy high-waisted shorts and white sleeveless button-up, she ran across the highway, to the beach. She found all four of her children taking turns on a surfboard that she knew wasnt theirs. She put her hands on her hips and said, Now where did this come from? Mom, Im sorry we Nina started to explain, but June put her hand up. Its all right, sweetheart, June said. I was teasing. It doesnt seem like it belongs to anyone anyhow. Can we keep the surfboard? Kit asked. So we can do this together every day? All four of her children looked toward June, waiting for an answer. No, Im sorry, honey, I dont think so, June said. Just in case someone is looking for it. June watched as all four of her children deflated. But Ill tell you what. If its here tomorrow, well bring it home. That night, as the kids ate dinner in the break room in the back of the restaurant and June sipped her Cape Codder, they spoke of nothing but the water. June, with her cup in hand, listened patiently as her children described wave after wave. June kept them talking, asking questions about even the most trivial facts of the day. None of the kids stopped to wonder whether she actually found them fascinating or was just very good at pretending. But the truth was, June simply adored her children. She loved their thoughts and ideas, loved to hear about their personal discoveries, loved to watch them as they began to take the shape of fully formed people. She thought of her children like the magic grow capsules you got at gift shops at the science museum. These tiny little nothings that you drop into water and then watch as they slowly reveal what they were always destined to be. This one a Stegosaurus, this one a T. rex. Except, instead, it was watching them become dependable, or talented, or kind, or daring. June knew that her children had found a previously undiscovered part of themselves that day. She knew that childhood is made up of days magnificent and mundane. And this had been a magnificent day for all of them. That night, they went home and watched Adam-12 together and then dispersed. Kit went to bed. Jay and Hud went to their room to read comics. Nina got under the covers and pretended to read a book from the summer reading list. But all of them felt as though their bodies were still rising with the surf. For Jay, the feeling was almost an obsession. His brain couldnt stop focusing on how it had felt to ride a wave with that much power. To glide that smoothly. To ride, to float, to soar. He was lost in the thought of it when he heard Hud speak up from his bed. If that boards not there tomorrow, Hud said, what are we going to do? Jay sat up. I was wondering the same thing. Should we try to sneak out? And go get it so no one else does? No, Hud said. We cant do that. OK, Jay said. Yeah, youre right. Jay lay back down and stared up at the ceiling. They were quiet for a moment and Jay knew Hud was still considering it. When Hud didnt speak up, Jay knew it was final. It was awesome, though, Jay said. I bet we looked so cool, Hud added, his head on his pillow. Yeah, Jay said, smiling. We totally did. The two of them fell asleep soundly, both hoping and planning. Kit, meanwhile, had drifted off to sleep the moment her head hit the pillow, dreaming all through the night of the four of them surfing together on their own boards. But it was Nina who was consumed by it, living the experience in her body. Her chest could feel where the board had been. Her arms ached from the resistance of the water. Her legs felt like rubber from the force with which she had slammed them down, used them to propel herself forward. She could feel both the ocean and its absence across her skin. She wanted to go back. Right then and there. To try again. She wanted to stand up on the board like Jay had. She was determined now. She remembered a photo shed seen in a magazine a few months ago, a guy on a surfboard somewhere in Europe. Was it Portugal? She wondered if she could be that sort of person when she grew up. A real surfer. Who went places just for the waves. She tried to make herself fall asleep. But well after ten, still wide awake, she walked down to the kitchen and saw her mother sitting in the living room, sipping vodka right out of the bottle while watching the Saturday Night movie in her pajamas. When June saw her elder daughter, she moved the vodka onto the floor, sliding it behind the sofas arm with her foot. Cant sleep, honey? June said as she put her arm out, inviting Nina onto the sofa with her. Nina nodded and curled into the side of her mothers body, the cradle that often felt like it was hers and hers alone. Her mother smelled like Shalimar and sea salt. Can I get a job working at the restaurant? Nina asked. June looked at her. What do you mean? Well, maybe I could earn money, she said. And buy us all surfboards. Oh, honey, June said, as she rubbed her daughters arm, pulled her closer. I will get you all surfboards, OK? I promise. You dont have to, thats not what I meant. Let me get you surfboards. Let that be my job. Nina smiled at her and put her head back on Junes shoulder. It was not easy, being a parent. It was not easy raising your four children on your own. But what made June the most frustrated at her husbandher twice ex-husbandwas that she had no one to swoon over her children with. Her mother would listen, obviously. Christina loved them. But June wanted someone on the couch next to her at night, to smile with her when they thought of the kids. She wanted someone who would laugh with her about Kits attitude, and commiserate with her about Jays stubbornness, who would know how to teach Hud to stand up for himself a bit more, and teach Nina to relax. She, especially, wanted someone to light up along with her on a day like this, when her kids had found a sense of wonder and joy in the middle of her chaos. Oh, what Mick was missing, wherever he was. He did not know how good it felt for your eleven-year-old daughter to want nothing more than to lay her head against your shoulder. He did not know how good it felt to love like this. She knew that when it came to the two of themshe here with these kids and he out there somewhere with God knows whoshe had the better end of the deal. She would choose to be here with these four kids over anything in the world. But she hated that, even in this blissful quiet moment, she was still thinking of him. Nina fell asleep in her mothers arms and when she did, June picked the bottle of vodka back up. She needed that bottle to go to sleep, but she rarely drank past the invisible line she had in her head of where to stop for the night. The next day, the surfboard was gone. And the kids went back to bodysurfing, trying to hide their frowns. A few months later, on Christmas morning, Nina, Jay, Hud, and Kit woke up to see the tree they had decorated was gone. Wheres the Christmas tree? June asked, in mock confusion. You dont think it just up and walked away, do you? The kids all looked at one another, cautiously excited for something they could not even guess. Maybe we should check by the water, June said. The kids ripped open the door and ran down the steps to the beach. They shrieked when they saw it. There, stuck lopsided in the sand, was their Christmas tree. And beside it were four surfboards lined up in a row. Yellow, red, orange, and blue. 3:00 P.M. Huds hair was barely dry when he parked his car in front of the art studio at Pepperdine University. He grabbed his camera from the front seat and walked in despite the fact that, formally speaking, he wasnt supposed to be there. He wasnt a student. But Hud had found that one of the nice things about spending his entire life in a small town was that he knew people. The cashier at the market, the guy who took the ticket stubs, the assistant to the head of photography at Pepperdine, Hud loved talking to them all. He liked to ask them questions about themselves and hear how they were doing. He liked to make jokes with the guy behind the register at the soft-serve stand about chocolate ice cream with extra whipped cream being low-calorie. He loved small talk. A quality he knew was in low supply. It certainly wasnt a trait he shared with any of his siblings or his mother. They, especially Jay and Kit, were always rushing him from one thing to the next. Sometimes, Hud wondered if he got it from Mick, but that seemed unlikely. Which led Hud to wonder if it came from his birth mother, Carol. Carol was a mystery to Hud. He did not know anything about her other than what she had named him and where she had left him. All he could do was imagine what she might be like, wonder if there were things about himself that hed recognize in her, things in her that would make him recognize himself. A few years earlier, Hud had seen a photo of Mick in a magazine where Mick was looking directly at the camera and smiling. The headline said THE MAIN MAN IS BACK, and the article was about Mick topping the charts again after all these years. But Hud barely noticed any of that. He kept staring at Micks right eyebrow, the way it was raised just the tiniest bit, the same way Hud raised his when he smiled. Hud had felt as if the world was closing in on him. If he had Micks eyebrow, what else of his did he have? Was Hud capable of what Mick was capable of? Did Micks callousness live dormant inside him, choosing its moment to reveal that Hud, too, was capable of caring for no one but himself? That Hud, too, could leave the people he loved on the side of the road? Our parents live inside us, whether they stick around or not, Hud thought. They express themselves through us in the way we hold a pen or shrug our shoulders, in the way we raise our eyebrow. Our heritage lingers in our blood. The idea of it scared the shit out of him. He knew that Carol must live in him, too. Most likely in some way he could not see. And so he prayed it was something like this, the way he loved to speak to people. His tenderness. Let it be that he inherited that from her, or her laugh, or her gait. Anything but her cowardice. Hey, Hud said to the guy behind the front desk as he pulled his shades off his face and threaded them over the edge of his collar. Hey, man, Ricky Esposito said. Ricky was in charge of opening and closing the darkroom every day and he would let Hud use the facility whenever it was free. Ricky had been two years behind Hud and Jay in school and thought of them as the very pinnacle of cool. Handsome brothers, surfers, sons of a famous singer. To the scrawny, acne-scarred Ricky Esposito, it was hard to believe Hud and Jay Riva had any problems at all. Mind if I Hud lifted his camera ever so slightly to indicate his intentions. Ricky nodded toward the darkroom. Have at it, buddy, he said. Party on for tonight? Hud smiled. Hed been unaware that Ricky knew of the party. Jay would have said that Ricky Esposito was not cool enough to attend. In fact, many people would have said this. But Hud maintained that if you were cool enough to know about the party, you were cool enough to come to the party. Those were the rules. And Ricky knew about the party. Yeah, for sure, Hud said. You coming? Ricky nodded coolly, but Hud saw that Rickys hands were shaking ever so slightly. You know it. Can I bring anything? Hud shook his head. Just yourself. All right, Ricky said. You got it. Hud slipped through the door and into the darkroom. He had been thinking about the photos all morning. Ashley. If he had to, would he screw up his relationship with Jay for her? Was he capable of it? Both possible answers scared him. He shut the door tight and he got to work. 1971 June drank Screwdrivers in the morning like other people drank orange juice. She drank Cape Codders at lunch in the break room. She had sea breezes with dinner, she and the kids sitting around the table eating meatloaf or a roast chicken. The cups on the table were always the same. Milk for Kit, soda for Jay and Hud, water for Nina, and a highball filled with vodka cut with the coral hue of ruby red grapefruit juice and cranberry cocktail poured over ice for Mom. Nina had begun to notice the alcohol after they had to evacuate the year before. There were fires in the canyons, peoples homes were burning, and you could smell the smoke in the air. June woke them up early in the morning and calmly but firmly told them to each grab the things they absolutely could not live without. Each one of the kids asked to strap the surfboards to the car roof. Kit brought her stuffed animals. Jay and Hud brought their comics and baseball cards. Nina brought her favorite jeans and a few records. June packed up the family albums. But then, as they all got in the car, Nina noticed June had grabbed the vodka, too. Days later, when they returned to their home, unscathed except for some soot covering the countertops, Nina noticed that there was a new, fuller bottle of vodka in her mothers purse. Nina watched as June snuck it into the freezer, the very first thing she unpacked. These days, June had started falling asleep on the couch in her nightgown, hair in curlers. She never quite made it to her bedroom after spending her nights in front of the TV with that bottle. But she still kept her charm and wits about her. She kept her smile. She got the kids to school on time, showed up for every single one of their plays and games. She made their Halloween costumes by hand. She ran the restaurant with diligence and honor, paying her kitchen and service staff well. It was the beginning of a lesson her children would learn by heart: Alcoholism is a disease with many faces, and some of them look beautiful. Christina died of a stroke in the fall of 1971, at the age of sixty-one. June watched the nurses take her mothers body away. Standing there in the hospital, June felt like shed been caught in an undertow. How had she ended up here? One woman, all alone, with four kids, and a restaurant she had never wanted. The day after the funeral, June took the kids to school. She dropped Kit off at the elementary building and then drove Nina, Jay, and Hud to junior high. When they pulled into the drop-off circle, Jay and Hud took off. But Nina turned back, put her hand on the door handle, and looked at her mother. Are you sure youre OK? Nina asked. I could stay home. Help you at the restaurant. No, honey, June said, taking her daughters hand. If you feel up for going to school, then thats where you should be. OK, Nina said. But if you need me, come get me. How about we think of it the other way around? June said, smiling. If you need me, have the office call me. Nina smiled. OK. June felt herself about to cry and so she put her sunglasses over her eyes and pulled out of the parking lot. She drove, with the window down, to Pacific Fish. She pulled in and put on the parking brake. She took a deep breath. She got out of the car and stood there, staring up at the restaurant with a sense of all she had inherited. It was hers now, whatever that meant. She lit a cigarette. That goddamn restaurant had claimed her from the day she was born and now she understood that she would never outrun it. Some of the lights on the sign were broken. The whole exterior needed a power washing. That was solely up to her now. She was all this restaurant had left. Maybe it was all she had left, too. June rested against the hood of her car, crossed her arms, and continued smoking, taking stock of the new shape of her life. She was overworked and overtired and lonely. She missed the parents who had never truly understood her, missed the man who had never truly loved her, missed the future she thought she had been building for herself, missed the young girl she used to be. But then she thought of her children. Her exhausting, sparkling children. She must have done something right if life had brought her the four of them. That much seemed crystal clear. Maybe she had done something with her life after all. Maybe she could make something of what she had left. June put out her cigarette on the ground, crushing it with the toe of her black flat. And then, as she looked up at the Pacific Fish sign, June Riva got a wild idea. Shed earned her name through heartbreak and consequenceswasnt it her right to do with it anything she wanted? Two weeks later, three men came to put up the new sign. Bright red cursive: RIVAS SEAFOOD. When it was done, June stood by the front door and looked at it. She was drinking vodka out of a soda cup. She smiled, satisfied. It was going to bring in a lot more customers. It might even get her some press. But more important, when Mick finally came back, he was going to love it. June was sure of that. Soon, Jay and Hud also began to understand that she was an alcoholiceven if they didnt know the word for it or didnt know it was something with a word at all. Their mom always made more sense first thing in the morning, tired and sluggish but lucid. She made less and less sense as the day went on. Jay once whispered to Hud, after June told him to go bath and shower, that Mom starts acting nuts after dinner. It got so that by 6:00 P.M., the kids all knew to ignore her. But they also tried to keep her home, lest she embarrass them in public. Nina had even started pretending to love the idea of driving at the young age of fourteen. She would ask her mom if she could drive them all to the store, if she could take the boys to the movie theater instead of June dropping them all off, if she could chauffeur Kit and Vanessa to the ice cream stand so June could stay home. Nina was actually terrified of driving. It felt overwhelming and nerve-racking, trying to merge onto PCH with all of those cars flying by. She would white-knuckle the steering wheel the whole way, her heart racing, her confusion rising as she tried to time her turns. When she eventually got them all to the chosen destination and got out of the car, she could feel the tension shed been holding in between her shoulder blades and behind her knees. But as afraid as Nina was of driving, she was more afraid of her mother behind the wheel after lunch. Nina sometimes couldnt fall asleep at night, tallying Junes surging number of near hits, her slow reactions, the missed turns. It was easier, despite how hard it was, for Nina to drive them all herself. And soon it started to feel to Nina that it was not just easier but rather crucial that she prevent what felt like an inevitable calamity. You really like driving, June said, handing over the keys one evening, after June realized they were out of milk. I dont get it. I never liked it. Yeah, I want to be a limo driver one day, Nina said, immediately regretting the pathetic lie. Surely she could have come up with something better than that. Hud caught Ninas eye when he heard her. Ill go with you, he said. To get the milk. Me, too, Jay added. As the three of them headed out, June lit a cigarette and closed her eyes on the couch. Kit was playing with Legos in front of the TV. Junes arm relaxed as she stretched out, the tip of her lit cigarette grazing Kits hair. Nina gasped. Jays eyes went wide. Kit, youre coming with us, Hud said. You need more toothpaste. For your teeth. Kit looked at them quizzically, but then shrugged and got up off the shag rug. Whats going on? Kit asked when they got to the car. Dont worry about it, Hud said as he opened the door for her. Everythings fine, Nina told her as she got in the front seat. You never tell me anything, Kit said. But I know somethings up. Jay got in the passenger seat. Then you dont need us to tell you. Now, who wants to buy the cheapest jug of milk and spend the rest on a pack of Rolos? I want at least a fourth of the pack! Kit said. You always take more than your share. You can have my share, Kit, Nina said, putting the gear in reverse. Everyone be quiet now. Nina needs to concentrate, Hud called out. As Nina slowly backed the car out of the driveway and did a three-point turn onto the road, Kit looked out the window and wondered what it was that her brothers and sister wouldnt tell her, what it was that she already knew. In the end, it was the TV that gave her the words. About a year later, when Kit was ten, she was with June on the couch, watching a TV show. In the scene, two brothers were confronting each other about a murder. And Kit saw one brother take a whiskey bottle out of the others hand and call him a drunk. Youre a drunk, he said. And youre killing yourself with this stuff. Something clicked in Kits head. She turned to look at her mother. June caught her eye and smiled at her daughter. Suddenly, Kits body started to burn with rage. She excused herself and went to the bathroom, shut the door behind her. She looked at the towels hanging on the door and wanted to punch through them, punch through the door itself. She had a name for it now. She understood what had been nagging at her, scaring her, unsettling her for so long. Her mother was a drunk. What if she was killing herself with that stuff? The next week, June burned dinner. There was smoke in the house, a flame in the oven, the smell of burnt cheese settling into the tablecloth and their clothes. Mom! Nina yelled, running through the house as soon as she noticed the smoke. June sprang to attention as her children invaded the kitchen. Sorry! Sorry! she said, pulling her head off the table, where shed fallen asleep. Her movements were stiff, her processing slow. Kit clocked the bottle of Smirnoff on the counter. She wasnt sure if it was the same bottle that had been almost full yesterday, but now there was barely any left. Nina ran to the oven, put on a glove, and pulled the casserole dish out. Jay ran in and got up on the counter, immediately disabling the smoke detector. Hud opened all the windows. The macaroni and cheese was nearly black on the bottom, scorched on the sides and top. You had to cut it open with a knife to find the familiar pale orange it was supposed to be. June served it anyway. All right, kids, eat up. Its not so bad. Nina, Jay, and Hud all sat down as they were told, prepared to act as if everything was fine. They passed around plates, put their napkins on their laps, as if this were any other meal. Kit stood, incredulous. Do you want milk with dinner, Kit? Nina said, getting up to serve her younger sister. Are you kidding me? Kit said. Nina looked at her. Im not eating this, Kit said. Its fine, Kit, really, Hud said. Kit looked at Hud and watched his face tense, his eyes focus in on her. He was trying to tell her to drop it. But Kit just couldnt do it. If she doesnt want to eat it, she doesnt have to eat it, Jay said. Ill go make us all something else, Nina said. No, Nina, this is fine. Katherine Elizabeth, sit down and eat your food, June said. Kit looked at her mother, searched for some embarrassment or confusion. But Junes face showed nothing out of the ordinary. Kit finally snapped. Were not going to pretend you didnt just burn dinner like we pretend youre not a drunk! The whole house went quiet. Jays jaw dropped. Huds eyes went wide in shock. Nina looked down at her hands in her lap. June stared at Kit as if Kit had just slapped her across the face. Kit, go to your room, June said, tears forming in her eyes. Kit stood there, silent and unmoving. She was awash in a tumbling cycle of guilt and indignation, indignation and guilt. Was she terribly wrong or had she been exactly right? She couldnt tell. Cmon, Kit, Nina said, getting up and putting her napkin on the table. Nina grabbed her hand gently and led her away. Its OK, Nina whispered to her as they walked. Kit was quiet, trying to figure out if she regretted what shed said. After all, regret would imply she felt like shed made a choice. And she hadnt. She felt shed had no other option but to say out loud what was hurting so much within her. When Nina and Kit disappeared down the hall, Jay and Hud looked back at their mother. We will clean up, Mom, Hud said. You can go lie down. Hud caught Jays eye. Yeah, Jay said, despite the dread growing within him that it was going to be his job to clean up burnt cheese. Hud and I have this under control. June looked at her two sons, already fourteen. They were almost men. How had she not noticed that? All right, she said, exhausted. I think Im going to go to sleep. And for the first time in a long time, she walked into her bedroom, put on her pajamas, and fell asleep in her bed. The boys cleaned up the kitchen. Jay scrubbed the Pyrex as hard as he could to get the char off. Hud poured out the full glasses and wiped down the light dusting of ash on the counter where the smoke had settled. Kits right, Jay said in a whisper as he stopped scrubbing for just a moment and caught Huds eye. Hud looked at him. I know. We never talk about it, Jay said, his whisper growing louder. Hud stopped cleaning the counter. He took a deep breath and then let it out as he spoke. I know. She almost set fire to the kitchen, Jay said. Yeah. Should we Jay found it difficult to finish his sentence. Should we call Dad? Jay wasnt even sure how they would do such a thing. They didnt know where their father was or how to contact him. If they did, Jay would have liked the chance to see him. But once, years ago, when Hud had broken his nose falling off the monkey bars at school and needed surgery to have it straightened, Jay overheard June tell his grandmother, I would sooner turn tricks off the highway than call Mick and ask him for anything. So even saying it out loud, even suggesting it, seemed to dishonor his mother. And he wouldnt do that. He couldnt. I guess Im saying, what are we supposed to do? Hud frowned and sighed, searching for an answer. He finally sat down at the table, resigned. I have no idea. I mean, this whole thing with Mom Shes just in a bad, like, moment, right? Jay asked. This isnt a forever thing? No, of course not, Hud said. Its just a phase or something. Yeah, Jay said, assuaged. He picked up the scrubber again, grinding away at the cheese. Yeah, totally. The brothers looked at each other, and in one flash of a second, it was perfectly clear to both of them that there was a big difference between what you needed to believe and what you actually believed. When they were done, they brought a half-eaten bag of chips and a box of Ritz crackers into Kits room, where Nina and Kit were sitting on the floor, talking. The four of them sat there, eight greasy hands being rubbed off on eight pant legs. We should get napkins, Nina said. Oh, no, are there crumbs on the floor? Jay teased her. Call the cops! Kit started laughing. Hud pretended to dial a phone. Hello? Crumb police? he said. Jay got so hysterical, he nearly choked on a Ritz. Yeah, uh, Sergeant Crackers here, Kit said, as if she was speaking into the handheld radio. Weve heard reports of loud crunching. Something broke inside of Nina too, causing a wild and loud laugh to escape her mouth. The bizarre sound of it made them all laugh harder. All right, all right, Nina said, calming down. We should get to bed. They got up and put the food away. They put their pajamas on. They brushed their teeth. Everythings going to be OK, Nina said to each of her siblings as she said good night that evening. I promise you that. Upon hearing it, Jays shoulders relaxed one tenth of a percent, Hud exhaled, Kit released her jaw. Despite having long ago learned some people dont keep their promises, all three of the younger Rivas knew they could believe her. 4:00 P.M. Nina stood in her bedroom at the very top of the mansion. It had been rendered spotless. The floor-to-ceiling windows that faced southeast to the ocean were so clean that, were it not for the frames themselves, you would have thought you were looking at open air. In still and perfectly clear moments like this, when Nina could see out past the cliffs, across the rippling sea, as far as Catalina Island, she had to admit there were things to love about this house. Her bed had been made with military precision. A birch-wood platform bed with a white quilt spread out across it, tucked tightly under the mattress. A comforter lay folded in a perfect crease at the foot of the bed. Every type of pillow and coordinating sham that you could imagine was displayed at the headboard. How did she own so many expensive things? The cleaners had moved on to the downstairs. They were washing the stone tile floors and whitening up the walls. They were getting the cobwebs from the crooks of the high ceilings and the dust bunnies from the far corners of the hallways and bookshelves and cabinets. Nina could hear them vacuuming her area rugs and she wondered if there was any real point to it. They would be sandy and dingy by ten. By midnight, her whole downstairs would be in disarray. She walked into her master bathroom to find the vanity pristine, the floor flawless; taupe cloth hand towels were piled in neat triangles. Nina opened up the double doors to the walk-in closet and ran her hand along the left wall, feeling the textures of her dresses, her pants, her shirts. Cotton and silk and satin. Velvet and leather. Nylon and neoprene. She had so many clothesso many clothes she had never wanted, never needed, never worn. She had so much stuff. Lately it felt as if that was supposed to be the whole point of everythinghow many things you could buyas if some magical life waited for you on the other side of all of it. But it made her feel nothing. When she got to the end of her things, she started on the other side, running her hand along what was remaining of Brandons clothes. She could feel the gaps in between the shirts, could see the empty hangers left behind. Brandon did believe in the glory of all that stuff. And now Nina was keenly aware of what wasnt on his side of that closet anymore. His stiff polos and soft Levis and broken-in Adidas. His Lacostes and his Sperrys. The things he loved, the things he felt he needed. They were gone. It hurt. It hurt so bad that there was a part of her that wanted to get out a bottle of Smirnoff and fix herself a Sea Breeze. 1975 It was late 1975. The kids all had sleepovers planned on the same weekend. It was the first time that had ever happened. Nina was seventeen and had plans to go out to a party at a friends house and spend the night there. Jay and Hud had an overnight with the water polo team. Kit was sleeping over at her friend Vanessas. Before Nina left the house that afternoon, she wondered if it was a bad idea, all of them leaving at once. I dont want you to be here all alone, Nina said to June. Nina was in the kitchen, looking at her mother sitting on the living room sofa. Honey, go out with your friends, please. But what are you going to do tonight? Im going to enjoy myself, June said with a smile. Do you have any idea how exhausting you four are? Dont you think I might be eager for a little time by myself? Im going to run a bath and sit in it as long as I want. Then Im going to lie out on the patio and watch the waves roll in. Nina looked unconvinced. Hey, June said. Whos the mom here? Me or you? Youre the mom, Nina said, amused. It had become a familiar refrain. She answered the next question before it was even asked. And Im the kid. And youre the kid. For at least a little while longer. OK, Nina said. If youre sure. June got up off the couch and put her hands on her daughters arms and looked her in the eye. Go, honey. Have fun. You deserve it. And so Nina left. June settled herself back on the sofa and turned on the TV. She grabbed the TV Guide. She planned out what she was going to watch. And then there he was on the nightly news. And in entertainment, the reporter said, Mick Riva has married for the fifth time at the age of forty-two. His blushing bride, Margaux Caron, a young model from France, is twenty-four. June lit a cigarette and sipped her vodka. And then she buried her head in her hands and bawled her eyes out. The cry came from her stomach, bubbled over within her, and emerged from her throat in gasps and screeches. She stubbed out her cigarette and threw herself onto the sofa. She let the sobs run through her body. He was never coming back. She should have listened to her mother all those years ago. But shed been a fool since the day hed shown up. Shed been a fool her whole life. God, June thought, I have to get my life together. For my children. She thought of Ninas bright smile, and Jays cocksure determination, and Huds gentleness, the way he always hugged her tight. She thought of Kit, that spitfire, who might just one day rule them all. She knew they knew she was losing it. It was clear from the way they doted on her, the way they no longer trusted her to remember what they needed for school, the way they had started whispering to one another in front of her. But she could change that if shed just stop waiting for that asshole to fix it all. If shed just face that she had to fix it herself. She breathed in deeply. And poured herself another glass. She put on an old Mick Riva record, his second album. She listened to Warm June over and over and over again, and with each go-round on the record player shed pour herself another glass. Shed meant something to him. He could never take that away from her. June turned to the vodka bottle again to see shed emptied it. She went through the kitchen to get more but, instead, found a dusty old bottle of tequila. She opened the tequila. And then she drew herself a bath. She watched the bathroom steam up from the heat of it and breathed in the mist. It felt comforting and safe. She untied her robe, stepped out of her clothes, and slipped into the water. She rested her arms along the walls of the tub, relaxed her head back, and breathed in the warm air. She closed her eyes. She felt like she could stay in this bath for an eternity. And everything was going to be fine. It was her last conscious thought. Forty-five minutes later, she drowned. June Riva, that once tenderhearted dreamer, was gone. When Nina came home the next morning, she found her mother in the bathtub, slack and lifeless. She rushed to try to pull her mothers body from the water, to try to wake her. She could not process her mothers pallor or stillness. Terror clutched her chest. She ran through who to call at lightning speed but came up empty. Grandparents (dead), father (deadbeat). There must be someone, anyone, who could fix this. As Nina knelt there on the bathroom floor, she felt like she was falling, falling, falling, falling. The pain had no limit, the fear no boundary. There was no net to catch her, nothing to bounce off of, no ground floor to end her agony and distress. The moment Nina fully understood that her mother was dead was the moment she understood there was no one left in the world to count on, to lean on, to trust, to believe in. She held her mothers pale hand as she called 911. She held her tighter as the medics rushed over. Nina watched as EMTs bolted into the house, hurrying to her mothers side. Nina stood by the door, breathless, as they told her what she already knew. Her mother was dead. Nina watched her mothers body being carried away. And she thought, for certain, she would come back. Even though she knew that was impossible. She called Vanessas house and when Vanessas mother answered, Nina summoned all of her strength to ask her to send Kit home right away. And then, unsure how to get ahold of Jay and Hud, she paced the floor. The two boys came home shortly after and when they did, she forbade them from going inside. What happened? Jay said, panicked. Fuck, Nina! Whats going on? Hud remained silent, in shock. Somewhere within him, he already knew. When Kit got there, moments later, Nina took them all down to the shoreline, just underneath the house. She knew it was up to her to say what had to be said. To do what had to be done. When there is only you, you do not get to choose which jobs you want, you do not get to decide you are incapable of anything. There is no room for distaste or weakness. You must do it all. All of the ugliness, the sadness, the things most people cant stand to even think about, all must live inside of you. You must be capable of everything. Mom died, Nina said, and then she watched all three of her siblings fall to the earth. And she knew, in a flash, that she had to be able to catch them. She had to be able to hold each of them up, as they screamed, as the water came and soaked their socks and squeaked into their shoes. And so she did. Do you know how much a body can weigh when it falls into your arms, helpless? Multiply it by three. Nina carried it all. All of the weight, in her arms, on her back. 5:00 P.M. Kit was trying to get dressed for the party. The sun was just beginning to set. The blue-and-orange sky was faintly turning purple. The tide was low, the seagulls were squawking down on the shoreline. Kit could hear the waves softly rolling from her opened window. She was standing in front of the mirror in her bedroom, wearing a bra and a pair of light-wash jeans. She did not know what shirt she wanted to wear and was already second-guessing the pants. But tonight was important. She was going to kiss a boy. Seth would be there. Maybe she could work up the interest to kiss him. Or maybe someone else. Hopefully somebody else. Surely there would be at least one dude at this party she could feel something for. And if not, she just had to rip the Band-Aid off and do it anyway. But she should look good, right? She wasnt actually sure how to look good, wasnt sure what she thought looked good on her. Shed never really tried to look beautiful before. That had been her mothers thing; it was her sisters job. As she looked at herself in the mirror, she thought of her sisters long legs, the way Nina always wore short skirts and shorts. She thought of the way her mother used to sometimes take the better part of an hour to get dressed on her good dayscurling her hair into a bob, applying lipstick with precision, choosing just the right top. The two of them always looked so pretty. Kit took her favorite T-shirt out of the closet and put it on. It was a mens white crewneck that said CALI in faded yellow letters. She liked it because it was soft and the collar had stretched out. She realized, looking at herself, that maybe those were not the best parameters for what she was trying to achieve. And so, realizing she was out of her league, Kit grabbed her two options for shoes, and went to the head of the family, her swimsuit model sister. 1975 Junes body was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Santa Monica. As she was lowered into the ground, she was surrounded by her children, as well as the cooks and cashiers and waitstaff of Rivas Seafood, some of her childhood friends, and a smattering of acquaintances from around townthe mailman, the neighbors, the parents of her childrens friendswho had always appreciated her sincere smile. The Riva kids were lined up next to her casket, dressed all in black. Jay and Hud, sixteen, wore ill-fitting suits; Kit, twelve, pulled at the shoulders of her hand-me-down shift dress, chafing in her black flats; and Nina, seventeen, was dressed in one of her mothers long-sleeved wrap dresses, looking twice her age. The four of them stood together, their faces stoic and detached. They were there but not there. This was happening but not happening. Their mother was lowered fully into her grave. As Jay started crying, Kit started crying. Nina reached out for all of her siblings, and pulled them tight. Hud squeezed her hand. Afterward, everyone gathered back at the house. The staff from Rivas catered everything. Ramon, having been hired by June just a month before as the new fry cook, stayed late to help them all clean up. He was ten years older than Nina and had a wife and two kids by that point. Nina knew he needed to go home to them. You dont have to do this, she had said to him as they put cold shrimp in Tupperware. Ramon shook his head. Your mother was a good woman. Youre all good people. So yes, I do have to do this. And you have to let me. Nina looked down at the table. There was still so much to clean, so much to do. And when it was all done, then what? She couldnt even begin to imagine. That night, after everything was put away and Ramon had gone home, the Rivas sat together in the living room. And finally Hud said the thing no one had said all day. I cannot believe Dad wasnt here. I dont want to talk about it, Jay said. Maybe he didnt get the message, Nina said. But there was no conviction in her voice. She had called his managers office. She had put an obituary in the paper. He had been designated the executor of her mothers estate, which meant the courts had already called him. He knew. He just didnt show up. Do we need him? Kit asked. I mean, weve never needed him before. Nina smiled forlornly at her little sister and put her arm around her, pulling her in. Kit rested her head on her sisters shoulder. No, Nina said, breathing in deeply. We dont need him. Hud looked at her, trying to gauge her expression. Surely, she didnt believe that. And yet, still, it did make him feel better, the idea that they already had everything they needed right there in this room. Jay kept staring down at his own feet, trying with everything he had not to cry ever again in front of anyone at all. We are going to be absolutely fine, Nina said, reassuring them. She was turning eighteen soon. Im going to make sure of it. Nina didnt sleep that night. She tossed and turned in her mothers bed, smelling the sheets, trying to hold on to her mothers scent, afraid that once it was gone her mother was gone, too. As the sun rose, she was relieved to be free from the pressure of attempting to sleep. She could give up trying to be normal. She stood out on the patio and watched some seals go by, four of them in a group, popping their heads out of the waves. She wished she could join them. Because presumably, they werent living through one of the worst days of their lives, trying to figure out how to make sure their siblings werent put in foster care. Nina breathed in the salt air and then exhaled as hard as she could, emptying her lungs. She thought of going for a swim and felt guilty, as if it was a betrayal of her mother to want to enjoy herself at all. She knew her brothers and sister would feel the same way. That they would welcome their own despair and push away their own joy. She understood then, in a way that she never quite had before, that she did not have room to flail about. She had to model for her siblings what she wanted them to do for themselves. They would not be OK if she was not OK. So she had to find a way. Once the sun fully woke, Nina went into their bedrooms and gently opened the windows. She handed each of them a wet suit as they rubbed their eyes open. Family shred, she said. Come on, lets go. And they all, groggy and heartbroken, their chests wounded, their brains foggy, put on their wet suits, grabbed their boards, and met her out on the shore. This is how we survive, she said. And she led them into the water. Nina became what Nina had to become. She went to the grocery store. She made dinner. She did math homework with Kit while she studied for her own chemistry test. She paid the property taxes. When one of her siblings broke down in tears, Nina held them. When the roof started leaking, she put a pot underneath it and called a roofer. The roofer told her that, in order to do it right, the entire back half of the house would need to be repaired. So Nina called a handyman who came over and tarred the cracks in the shingles for a hundred bucks and stopped the leak. Imperfect, haphazard, but functional. The new Riva way. There was a system put in place, each one of them asked to grow up overnight in specific and efficient ways. Hud was in charge of cleaning the bathrooms and kitchen. He would leave them spotless every Sunday and Wednesday and then get upset when Jay got sand in the sink. Its the sink, man, Jay would say, exasperated. Its easy to clean. Then you clean it! Im sick of cleaning it and having you come in and mess it up again, Hud would say. Im not your maid. You are though, Jay would say. Just like Im the fluff and fold around here. Jay was in charge of the laundry. He handled his sisters underwear and bathing suits with chopsticks, unwilling to touch them whether they were clean or dirty. But Jay quickly became a wiz at stain removal, each mark a puzzle to solve. He threw himself into researching the right combination of liquids that would unlock the dirt from Kits soccer shorts. He found the golden ticket by asking an older woman in the laundry aisle what she did to get out grass stains. Turned out, it was Fels-Naptha. Worked like a charm. Look at this, motherfucker! Jay called out to the rest of the house one day from the garage. Good as fucking new! Kit peeked her head in to see her white shorts bright as the sun, unblemished. Wow, she said. Maybe you can open Rivas Laundry. Jay laughed. They all knew there was only one future Jay would entertain for himselfand that was on a surfboard. He would go pro. When he wasnt at school or running the wash cycle, he was in the water. Hud was usually out there with him, helping him perfect every single movement he could control in the waves. Kit often tried to join. And Jay would tell her the same thing every time. Im not out here to play, Kit. This is serious. Often, after having been rebuffed, she would watch Jay and Hud out in the water from her spot on the deck, a pair of binoculars in hand. She could do what Jay was doing. Someday, hed understand. Go ahead and get out there, Nina would encourage her while vacuuming or making dinner or trying to speed-read a book for English class. Ninas As and Bs were quickly becoming Cs and Ds, a fact she kept to herself. Jay doesnt own the ocean. Kit would shake her head. If they didnt want her there, she didnt want to be there, even if she did. Instead, she would watch. And maybe learn. When she was done watching, she would always put the caps back on the lenses, put the set of binoculars back in their case, and then put the case on the shelf in the living room. Because Kit was in charge of tidying up. And she took it very seriously. Every single night, before she went to bed, she picked up all of the books and magazines and put them in stacks. She grabbed all of the glasses and put them in the sink. And if she couldnt see an imminent use for something, she was ruthless about what went into the trash bin. Where is my permission slip? Hud asked one morning when he came to breakfast. Nutritional concerns had been thrown out the window the moment they lost their mother. Grocery store donuts and sugar cereal and chocolate milk took over the kitchen. Kit, not yet thirteen, had taken to drinking coffee with half-and-half and four sugars. Nina tried her best to get each of them to at least eat protein. What permission slip? Kit asked. The one about the field trip to the Getty. For my art class. I needed Nina to make it look like Dad signed it. I left it on the coffee table. The yellow thing? Kit asked. I threw it away. Kit! Hud said, irritated. I told you all: Keep it in your room or Ill throw it in the trash. Hud went through the garbage and found it, wrinkled and stained with butter. Wheres Nina? he asked. Jay came in and saw Hud with the permission slip. You know, any one of us can forge Dads name. Ninas better at it. Jay turned to Kit. Do you think we should buy some of those headshots people have of Dad? And sign them? And then sell them? Hud looked at Jay, frowning. Dont put that in her head. Its not a terrible idea, Jay said. He is our dad. Hud ignored him and went looking for Nina. He found her brushing her hair in the bathroom. Can you sign this? Nina grabbed the pen out of his hand and scrawled M. Riva across it. Thanks, Hud said. But he stayed a moment longer. People are going to figure it out. That hes not here. That hes never been here. Everyone knows hes not here, Nina said. The whole school administration knows hes not here. Principal Declan had pulled Nina aside two months prior and told her that he understood her predicament. And as long as it looked like someone was home, he wasnt going to call the state. Youre almost eighteen. I dont want you all split up into different homes or anything else they might do. Youve been through enough. So make it look good and well be all set, all right? Nina had thanked him as casually as possible and then bawled her eyes out in the girls bathroom. But Im saying how much longer can we really keep this ruse going? Hud asked. At some point, were going to come up against a problem we really cant solve without help. I got it, Hud, Nina said. Trust me. Whatever it is, whatever happens, whatever we run into or need I will take care of it. They were living off the profits from the restaurant, which was being run by a shift manager named Patricia, who Nina had promoted on the spot one day shortly after her mother died. Nina was flying by the seat of her pants. But what other choice did she have? June had been gone for four months. Mick still hadnt so much as sent a sympathy card. And somewhere in all of those days and weeks and now months of the phone not ringing, Nina had given up on her fathers humanity. Shed consulted an attorneya guy she found in the yellow pageswho told her that in order to force Mick to comply with his legal duty as their father, she would need to alert the authorities, who would most likely pursue child abandonment charges. Nina bristled at the idea of its making the papers. Or, the attorney told her gently, if you stay under the radar until then, you can file for legal guardianship of them once you turn eighteen. So it was Nina who signed permission slips, drove them to school, and sometimes answered the phone pretending to be an aunt they didnt have. When Kit got called into the elementary school principals office for an attitude problem, after telling a teacher of hers to eat it, it was Nina who smoothed things over after school, explaining that her father was performing in New York right now, but that she, herself, would make sure Kit never behaved like that again. Nina would sometimes have to sneak off the high school grounds during her lunches in order to get to the post office and the bank. Sometimes shed have to skip school altogether in order to work at the restaurant when too many people called in sick. Every week, shed try to understand the accounting books, haphazardly kept by Patty. Nina would take what cash she could to pay what she had to. The bills came in faster than the money. Past due notices showed up, the gas got turned off. Nina lost an entire two days negotiating with the gas company to turn it back on. She had to commit to a payment plan that she knew she could not follow. She was flunking French and had three incompletes in English. She worried herself sicknew symptoms popping up with every unpaid bill and failing grade. She worked through back spasms and eye twitches and ulcers that she was too young for. She held the stress in her body, suppressed it in her chest, clenched it in her shoulder blades, let it boil in her gut. When Patty quit to move back to Michigan, Ninas heart sank deeper into her chest from the sheer weight of it all. On the one hand, it was one fewer person to pay. On the other, Nina would have to do Pattys job. I cant do this, she would cry to herself in her mothers bed at night sometimes, quietly and humbly, sure to not wake up anyone else. I dont think I can do this. She hoped to hear her mothers voice in those moments, hoped for some sort of guidance from the beyond, as if such things existed. But she heard nothing, just the shocking quiet of her desperation. By April of her junior year, Ninas tardies and truancies had already tallied up to a number that meant she would have to repeat the year. It seemed clear to her then that she simply did not have time to get an education. Suddenly, English class, which had, for so long, seemed like a burden, was a luxury she could not afford. She dropped out. And officially took over running Rivas Seafood. She would wake every morning and get her brothers and sister up, make sure they packed lunches, and then get them to school. Did you do your homework? shed say to Kit as Kit hopped out of the backseat. Did you do your homework? shed say to Hud. Did you do your homework? shed say to Jay. Yes, they would all say. Sometimes Hud would give her a hug through the window. And then all three of them would walk off, into school. And Nina would drive up the coastline, and park in the parking lot of Rivas Seafood. She would open the front door with her keys, turn the lights on, check the inventory, meet the deliverymen, sweep the floor, greet her employees as they trickled in. And then she would take her place, just as her mother and grandmother had before her, behind the register. The morning of Ninas eighteenth birthday, Jay went out to get bagels for her as a surprise and then crashed the car into the mailbox pulling back into the driveway. Kit ran out at the sound of the crash and gasped when she saw the mailbox on the ground. The hood of the car was crunched into a tiny v in the center. Ninas gonna kill you, she said. Thanks, Kit, very helpful! Jay yelled. His chest was growing red, his cheeks started to flush. Why did you swing that way coming in? Kit asked. You took the turn too wide. Not now, Kit! Jay said, trying to reattach the mailbox. Hud came out and immediately checked the hood. The car was still drivable, even if it was now ugly. Nina rushed out behind him and took one look at the situation: Jay embarrassed, Hud reassuring him, Kit with her arms crossed in judgment. She wanted to bury her head in her hands and start the day over. Its all right, she said. The car still runs, right? Yeah, Hud said. Totally. All right, well, everybody get in, Nina said, taking the keys from Jay. Were late for the lawyer. The four of them piled into the car and Nina started backing out of the driveway. Im sorry, Jay said, sincerely. Nina looked at him in the rearview mirror, catching his eye. What doesnt kill us, she said. She put the car in gear and they went on their way, to file the paperwork so that Nina could petition the court for custody of them all. In a sworn affidavit, she testified that she had no knowledge of her fathers whereabouts and that she was the only known relative in the country who could provide for them. She asked for the responsibility of three dependents. She knew her father would be notified. He would be given the option of claiming his rights. And she wasnt sure what she expected him to do. But after a few weeks, Nina got a letter in the mail saying the paperwork had been approved. So, she reasoned, he either signed them away or didnt respond at all. Either way, she was now what he refused to be: a parent. After it became official, the four of them went to Rivas Seafood to celebrate. They were hanging out in the break room while Nina made them the Sandwich for the first time. What is this? Kit said, looking at it as she sat down. I put a bunch of stuff in the kitchen onto a roll, Nina said. It looks delicious, Jay said, taking a bite. Hud picked up his sandwich and before he took a bite, he looked at his older sister, who, in becoming his legal guardian, had settled the stress that lived in him on an almost daily basis. Their day-to-day life would be no different now. It would be full of the same loss, the same challenges. But he no longer had to worry the state would come and take Kit. Thank you, Hud said. Nina looked up at him. She could feel the weight of his gratitude. She had to keep herself from crying. The world seemed no more manageable to her today than it had yesterday. Only a little less unpredictable. Yeah, Jay said, nodding. And Kit piped in, too. Seriously. Nina smiled a small, slight smile. She didnt say, Youre welcome. She didnt think she could get the words out. And so, instead, she nodded toward their sandwiches and said, All right, eat up.
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