Kiki’s Crazy Love
They were so beautiful that it was almost painful to watch them as they strolled hand in hand on the packed sand of the beach. They were tall and tanned and forever young. Blond haired and blue eyed, they could have passed for twins. Kiki was in love with Bye, aka Byron Worthington III. He was her brother. Actually, he was her half-brother, but that made no difference. The sun rose in his hair each morning as he jogged along the shoreline. It took Kiki’s breath away.
He was her golden boy, and no one could take him away from her.
Or so she thought.
Kiki Amelia Worthington. Future heiress to a suntan lotion company. Not a bad place to be, especially if said future heiress lived in Florida—a place where sunshine and tourists and suntan products happily combined to make the Worthington fortunes. At 24, Kiki had just graduated from college with a degree in marketing. She had thought she would work on the advertising end of the business. Now that she had a degree, she wasn’t so sure. She had all summer to decide what she wanted to do with her life.
But for now, she and Bye were together. It was all she had thought about for months as she had struggled to finish her senior year at Douglas Coastal College. She had been so restless and bored—and wondered if she’d made a mistake in her scholastic journey. Well, no matter. Her family was wealthy. She could always get another degree in something—or…who said she had to study or work or do anything at all? She had all summer to decide.
She had all summer with Bye.
They strolled along the shore until they reached the Sandpiper Condominiums.
“Let’s turn back,” Bye said.
They both executed a neat about-face and walked back the way they had come. While they walked along the shores of Douglas Beach—named for environmentalist/writer Marjorie Stoneman Douglas—Kiki looked at her half-brother, a faint smile playing upon her full lips.
“Do you remember when I used to call you ‘Biff’?” she asked.
“Yep. That was a long time ago,” he said.
“I never could say ‘Byron’ when I was a wee tot. It just came out as ‘Biff’. And sometimes I called you ‘Biffy’. I could never understand why everyone thought that was hilarious.”
Bye laughed at the remembrance. “And then when we reached our teen years, Dad decided that I must be referred to by my given name.”
“Which I still had problems with. I guess I was being stubborn or rebellious then. I decided to call you ‘Bye’—when Daddy wasn’t around, of course.”
Bye put an arm around Kiki’s shoulder and gave her a brief shake. “You’re just lazy.”
Kiki’s lips pursed into a pout. “Don’t say that.”
“It’s probably too true. Now that I’ve finally graduated, I am loathe to work for the family company.”
“You’re ‘loathe’, eh?” Bye said, teasing her.
“I like that word. I could say it all day. Loathe. Loathe. Loathe. Loathe.”
They laughed together.
“I also like words beginning with ‘q’. Quirk. Quark. Quiddity. Quaternary.”
“Maybe you could be a professional wordsmith.”
“I’ll look in the want ads tomorrow and see if there’s a position available somewhere—or go online and check out one of the job boards. I’m sure there’s somebody somewhere on the internet who’s looking for someone with my talents.” Or lack thereof, she thought to herself.
“Why do that?” Bye asked. “Our family’s rich. We could make you into a professional wordsmith—if you want to be one. We can set you up with your own office on Atlantic Avenue. You could have your own website—‘Words by Kiki’. Has a nice ring to it. Somebody needs a word, you happily supply it.”
Kiki sighed. “That’s just it. I don’t know what I want to be or do anymore.”
“Come on, let’s go sit in the water for a while,” Bye said. “Mom and Dad are in a cranky mood today. I’m not ready to walk back into all that drama yet.”
“I know what you mean. What is it with Daddy and Dinah? I thought when they remarried that they would be floating around in a cloud of wedded-again bliss.”
Kiki and Bye settled themselves at water’s edge just close enough so the waves just reached them. It was late afternoon, and the waves sparkled like so many diamonds in the sunlight. Soon high tide would begin its slow back-and-forth journey for the second time that day, and finish around 6:30 or so.
As alike as they were in looks, their temperaments were total opposites of one another. Bye was more even-tempered and logical and thought things through, while Kiki was more tempestuous and impractical and impulsive. She was the churning ocean before a storm; he was the smooth surface of the Worthington’s swimming pool. Kiki’s temper could flare up like a huge wave that caused a surfer to wipe out and tumble off his surfboard, while Bye was the steady wave that gave the surfer his buoyancy and brought him smoothly to shore.
They sat on the hard wet sand of the beach, clad in swimsuits and hats and sunglasses, their skin protected by Beachy Keen All Day Suncare #30 (SPF 30), one of the best-selling products of the Worthington empire. With their legs stretched out straight in front of them, the approaching waves would diminish as they splashed against their feet. The retreating waves sucked the sand from under their heels.
“Tide’s coming in,” Kiki said. “We should see little periwinkles in a little bit.” She looked to her right and chuckled. “Sandpipers.”
They watched a pair of sandpipers running along the shore like a couple of wind-up toys. They would peck at the mud for morsels to eat and then retreat from water’s edge when the waves came in and lapped at their feet.
“My second favorite thing,” Kiki said.
“Yeah? What’s your most favorite thing?”
Kiki said nothing for a moment. Maybe it was time to tell Bye her most favorite thing—and her biggest secret–in the whole wide world. “I’ll tell you if you promise not to say anything to anyone.”
Bye looked at her. “Why so serious? You look like you just robbed a bank or something.” He grinned. “You didn’t, did you?”
“No, I didn’t rob a bank. I wish I had—that would probably be easier to deal with.” Kiki spread her fingers back and forth in the wet sand, making miniature lakes of seawater. Her pinky made the barest contact with Bye’s hand. “Bye—I love you. I really do.”
“And I love you, too.” He leaned over and gave her a quick brotherly kiss on her lush lips that were protected by Beachy Keen Sun-Kissed Lip Gloss.
“I know you do. But this—this love I have goes so much deeper than a brother-sister thing.” She hooked her pinky with his as their hands lay flat on the sand. “I mean, I really, really love you. And I know that even though we’re only half brother and sister, it’s still a thing that’s not allowed. Pretty sick, isn’t it?”
He looked at her. She couldn’t read his expression because of his sunglasses. She could only see a distorted reflection of herself in his lenses.
“No, I wouldn’t say it’s sick—because I feel the same way about you. I guess that’s why we’ve been pretty much kept apart these past few years.”
“What do you mean?”
Bye snorted. “Haven’t you noticed? I mean, I went to college in California for five years. You spent two years at that posh girls’ school in Paris between your sophomore and junior years at Coastal. Not to mention the other ways—subtle and not-so-subtle–that we’ve been kept apart. And now–” His voice trailed off as they watched a flock of brown pelicans fly overhead in a V formation.
“And now—what?” Kiki asked. The sea breeze played with her long golden hair anchored down by her hat.
“Dad’s on my case about settling down and getting married and producing offspring who will someday inherit the family fortunes should I be so rude as to die an untimely death. After his, of course.”
“Don’t even joke about such a thing,” Kiki said. She couldn’t imagine a life without Bye. He had been the one that she had clung to over the years. He had been the one who had been her best friend and companion; he had been the one who had sustained her throughout the lonely years—the crazy years when it seemed like Byron had brought home a new woman every week.
“I’m not joking—or at least Dad isn’t. He’s serious as all get out. Besides that, he’s talking about opening a branch in California—Malibu, probably. He wants to send me out there to get the ball rolling, scout out locations and all that. Who knows? He might want me there permanently.”
“He couldn’t do that, could he? I mean, what if you just don’t want to?”
“If I want to work for the family business, I don’t have much choice,” Bye said. “What else am I going to do? I’ve been working for Beachy Keen since I was 16.”
The family business, Beachy Keen Suntan Products, had been started in the mid 1960’s by Byron Worthington the First and his wife Gigi. What had started very humbly from a little shack on Douglas Beach had grown over the years into a modest empire.
Through the years, Beachy Keen products became more and more popular, especially when concerned consumers started wringing their hands over skin cancer issues. Not only had Beachy Keen marketed the largest range of SPF numbers before anyone else, but they had also stressed the use of “natural” ingredients like aloe vera, vitamin E and some secret ingredient purported to be from the Brazilian rain forests. And the stuff smelled good, too—not like coconut or some sissified perfumed slop, but like a citrusy-clean-good-for-you scent that was manly enough for the guys and pretty enough for the ladies. There was even a line for children (the Little Dears collection). None of the products were tested on animals, which meant—as Bye liked to joke—they were only tested on humans.
And now, more recently, sales of their natural cosmetic line (“Light As a Feather Minerals”) were making marketing history.
In addition to sunscreen products, there were, of course, other useful items necessary for playing in the Florida sun such as T-shirts, hats, cover-ups and swim suits—not to mention surfboards, skim boards, boogie boards and wetsuits, fins and water goggles, rubber alligators and tacky postcards (and much, much more!). There was even a line of SPF clothing for people with ultra-sensitive skin. All of this was housed in a two-story 30,000 square-foot facility on A1A that was within throwing/walking/surfing distance of the Atlantic Ocean. A percentage of all sales went to the company’s charity, The Ray of Hope Foundation, which helped victims of skin cancer.
Kiki remembered the time when they were toddlers and Bye had gone crying to Dinah that she, Kiki, had touched his “stuff”. And now, 20 years later, Kiki still couldn’t touch his “stuff”.
Kiki didn’t want to think about Bye moving to California. Funny, she thought, how they had begun their lives apart from each other and now were inseparable. After Dinah’s divorce from Byron, she had moved to her parents’ estate in the Hamptons. Kiki would only see Bye during the summer when he was done with school for the year and Dinah would send him to Florida with his nanny while she toured Europe with her parents. All that had changed the year Bye was six and Kiki four. Dinah’s parents had died in a car accident and Dinah had sold the estate and moved to Florida… Kiki changed the subject.
“Do you think we’ll ever be as big as Ron Jon’s?”
Ron Jon Surf Shop was a world-famous surf shop in Cocoa Beach, 20 miles away. It, too, had had humble beginnings in the 60’s. With branches up and down the Eastern seaboard, it boasted staggering net profits, not to mention a huge following of fans from all over the globe. Beachy Keen wasn’t too far behind.
Bye shook his head. “I doubt it. But hey—we don’t do too badly, either. As long as the sun shines, we’ll always make money.”
“And as long as we have honest accountants working for us, we should do all right,” Kiki added.
“Ah, yes. As long as we don’t have another Sticky-Fingered Stan working for us.” Bye alluded to a former employee who had managed to cheat the company out of $200,000 a few years earlier.
Kiki shook her head. “Why do people do that, Bye? It’s not like he wasn’t well paid. He obviously didn’t go by the family motto.”
“‘Live honorably. Die honorably’,” Bye said. He was quoting the words from the Worthington coat of arms that had been in the family for centuries, according to Byron the Second. Sometimes Kiki wondered if it was just something that her father had made up.
Kiki leaned back on her elbows and pulled her sunhat over her face. “I miss Pop-Pop and Gidget.”
She was referring to their grandparents, Byron the First and Gigi. They had always called their grandfather Pop-Pop. Gigi, from France and eternally youthful in a gamin sort of way, had been dubbed “Gidget” one night when Bye and Kiki had stayed up half the night watching a “Gidget” marathon starring Sally Field. Avid surfers, the grandparents had met with tragedy on a trip to Hawaii ten years earlier. Pop-Pop, then 90, had broken his neck in a surfing accident and had died soon after. Six weeks later, Gigi, forever heartbroken at losing her best friend and lover, had sat in her closed garage with a hose attached to her idling sports car.
“I thought I would never ever get over their deaths,” Kiki said.
“Me, too. I was so angry when they died,” Bye said. “First I was angry at God and the universe and whatever forces are out there for taking Pop-Pop away from us. Then I was angry with Gidget for killing herself and bringing shame and scandal to the family. I later learned that you can get attached to someone and not want to let go of them.” His hand reached for Kiki’s.
She looked at him and gave him a rueful little smile. “I know what you mean. And no matter how well you know someone, no matter how much you love them and adore them and want to protect them…in the end you end up all alone.”
“Sometimes. Except when you’re the person leaving first. But, yeah, we all end up pretty much alone.” Bye said nothing for several seconds. “So. We can’t be together in a romantic way.”
“Unfortunately not,” Kiki said. “Not unless we want to bring shame and scandal once more to the family.”
Bye brought one hand to his chest and the other to his brow in a melodramatic fashion. “Because we are la-di-dah Worthingtons and such a thing would be unthinkable, my dear girl, simply unthinkable,” he said in his best pseudo-British accent.
Kiki had to laugh. Bye always seemed able to find humor in any situation, no matter how serious things got. She nodded her agreement. Neither one mentioned how a lot of people might consider it to be scandalous for their father to have had five marriages and numerous girlfriends over the years.
“Okay.” Bye said. “So. I propose this: since we are both expected to marry other people and presumably produce offspring who will carry on our untainted genes, let’s each pledge that we will do what we can to outlive our spouses. Live to be 100, say. Then, when we’ve both been widowed, we can be together in whatever way we desire forever. Deal?”
Kiki thought about this. They would be old and wrinkled by then. Their parents (and consequently, all or most of Byron’s ex-wives and ex-girlfriends) would be dead. Ditto for most if not all of their schoolmates and current friends and acquaintances. They would be too old (probably!) for sex.
Kiki didn’t know how she could bear it all. She would have to wait seventy-four years until Bye turned 100 (she would be a youthful 98). Hopefully widowhood for both of them would have happened long before that. But still…the seemingly never-ending waiting and waiting and longing for the one man she couldn’t have… She didn’t know how she would bear it. So she said the one thing she could in a situation like this.
Bye nudged her shoulder with his. “Don’t look so down about it,” he said. “Who knows what scientific wonders will have been discovered by then? Maybe I’ll have formulated some sort of ‘perpetual youth’ serum that will keep us looking as we are today. Maybe it will earn me the Nobel Prize in chemistry.” He grinned. “Or Suntanology. Have faith, Miss Kiki.”
Faith. What was faith? Faith was something that “religious” people had. Kiki’s family wasn’t religious. They had never gone to church as a family. Oh, the grandparents had a zillion years ago. But Byron the Second was of a new generation of free thinkers and doers and had eschewed any sort of spiritual beliefs once he had escaped to college. The only times that Kiki and Bye heard about faith or God were from Maria, their cook and housekeeper. Their father had scoffed at the notion of God and church and religion when she had ventured to ask about such things.
“That’s just some sort of hocus-pocus mumbo-jumbo for poor people, for people who are too weak and lazy to make it on their own. It’s weak people who fall down on their knees and pray.” Wealthy people like the Worthingtons didn’t need religion. They were self-made millionaires because of their own efforts.
Kiki had listened to her father’s words over the years and had agreed—to a certain extent. But as she got older, she wondered about it whenever she saw Maria in the kitchen concocting a meal for the family and singing some song she had obviously learned in church. Maria was always happy and content, even when Byron or his wife-of-the-year (or girlfriend, if that was the case) was fussing at her or giving her orders. It was from Maria that Kiki had ever heard anything about the goodness of God or how each person was spiritual inside, no matter what his beliefs or background or way of life. Being in the kitchen was like going to church in a peaceful glen. Maria didn’t come right out and “preach” to Kiki and Bye or talk about sin or damnation or the burning fires of hell; no, she talked about how every person had a free will of their own, and they could choose to do good or they could choose to do evil. They could be givers, or they could be takers. They could be of service to their fellow man and be happy or they could try to get everything they could for themselves and be miserable.
Maybe to Byron and his women Maria was little more than a servant who was “allowed” to sit with them at the dinner table, but to Kiki, she was a font of wisdom. She was Kiki’s best friend and confidante—besides Bye, of course.
She turned her attention back to Bye. “Do you think we’ll live to be 100?” Kiki asked.
“I hope so. If we’ve inherited Pop-Pop’s genes and live healthily, I don’t see why not.”
Kiki murmured an assent as they lay side by side in the surf. The water gradually covered them more and more until finally Bye suggested they go back to the house.
“Okay,” Kiki said. “Maybe things have cooled off at home by now.”
They stood up and waded into the surf to rinse the mud off their arms and legs, which included much splashing and shrieking and a tug-of-war of sorts. Breathless and laughing, they left the ocean and walked sedately home to the luxury beach house they called home.
They were about a hundred feet away from the house when Bye nudged Kiki. “Hey, there’s Freddie,” he said. He pointed to a disheveled-looking man with glasses and cloth hat pawing through one of the wire mesh trash receptacles that dotted the beach. His baggy red-and-yellow plaid pants, obviously a golfer’s cast-offs, were not the latest in fashions for the homeless. Or, maybe they were. Freddie, unbeknownst to them, had a tuxedo neatly folded in his bag of belongings at the bottom of his two-wheeled grocery cart that he pulled with him everywhere he went. He had found it on the racks at the Heavenly Bread thrift shop.
“Freddie!” Bye called.
The man turned and looked up from the trash bin. At first he didn’t seem to recognize Bye; then his face cleared and he gave them a gap-toothed grin.
Kiki and Bye plowed through the loose sand to reach him.
“How’s it goin’, man?” Bye asked. The two men bumped fists.
“All right. How you, Mr. Bye?” Freddie looked at Kiki and grasped the brim of his soft hat in the semblance of a tip. A Purple Heart medal that he had earned during the Vietnam War was pinned to his hat. “How you, missy?” He never called her Kiki.
“Just fine, thank you, Freddie,” Kiki said.
“How’s it going?” Bye asked him again.
Freddie doffed his hat and ran his head through his short red crew cut. He peered at them through the thick lenses of his glasses and put his hat back on. “Just fine, just fine. Slim pickings today, though.” He indicated the trashcan with a nod of his head and shrugged. “But that’s how it goes some days.”
“Bummer, man,” Bye said. “Tell you what—you come on up to the house in about an hour and we’ll fix you a plate. You know what a good cook Maria is.”
Freddie grinned. “She sure is. I keep telling her she needs to open up her own restaurant.”
“After you ask her to marry you, of course,” Kiki said.
They laughed. “Well, a man has to keep trying,” Freddie said.
“That he does,” Bye clapped the man on the shoulder. “See you later, man.”
Kiki gave him a quick wave as they resumed walking.
Freddie had been a part of their lives for the past ten years or so. Ten years. It was the same summer that Pop-Pop and Gigi had died when they first met Freddie. Kiki and Bye, sullen teenagers at the time, had been sitting on the edge of the deck shortly after the family had moved into Pop-Pop’s house. They sat on the edge with their legs dangling and drank sodas even though it was barely 7 a.m. Byron was between girlfriends, and the only female caretaker in their lives at the time was Maria. Few people were about, and Freddie was easy to spot as he trudged through the loose sand clad in baggy oversized jogging shorts, white polo shirt, floppy yellow hat and pink sneakers with black socks. He had just pawed through the contents of one of the trashcans twenty feet to their left and was making his way to the next one a hundred feet to the south. He dragged a black plastic garbage bag behind him as he made his way through the sand. It made a trail in the sand behind him like a giant sea slug.
Maria had just come out to announce that breakfast was ready when Freddie caught sight of her through ill-fitting brown-frame glasses. He tipped his hat and called a cheery good morning.
“Good morning to you,” Maria called back. She nudged Bye on his backside with her toe and said in a soft voice, “He’s saying good morning to you two.”
“Morning,” Bye mumbled.
“Morning,” Kiki echoed faintly.
The two teens were sorry they had said anything because now here he was coming right up to their deck! He was probably going to hit them up for something, Kiki had whispered to Bye. He had nodded his agreement.
And they were right. Freddie stopped about ten feet away and addressed Maria. “Good and kind lady, do you think you could spare a bit of breakfast? My disability check doesn’t come for three days, and I’m just about out of groceries. I’d be much obliged.”
Bye and Kiki nudged each other, which earned Bye another poke in the backside.
“Of course, brother,” Maria said. “Come on up and sit on the deck with us. I was just about to serve breakfast. You’re more than welcome to join us.”
Kiki and Bye watched the man with misgivings as he made his way up the wooden steps that led up to the deck, plastic garbage bag and all. He at least had the manners to take his hat off. “Thank you, ma’am,” he said softly.
“I am Maria, and this is Kiki and this is Byron,” Maria said to him.
The two teens slowly stood up and were grateful that Maria had not mentioned their last name!
Freddie shook hands with everybody. “My name’s Freddie.”
“We’re glad to know you, Freddie. Now, if you’ll just have a seat at the table, Kiki and I will serve breakfast to you two gentlemen.”
Kiki had been glad to escape to the kitchen with Maria. She had never talked to one of the half-dozen homeless men who frequented Douglas Beach. It just wasn’t done. After all, they might want something from you—like money! You might have to actually talk to them! They might have a knife or gun hidden about their persons.
“You shouldn’t be talking to strangers,” Kiki had gently admonished Maria. “It’s not safe.” She was a superior teenager, wise at fourteen. She knew!
And Maria had said… “Child, a person isn’t a stranger once you know his name. And we are all brothers and sisters under the same heavenly Father.” She handed two plates to Kiki. “And I would prefer not to be talked to in that tone of voice.”
Kiki had looked at her in surprise and blushed. “Sorry.” Now she was glad to escape back to the deck!
So, they had shared their breakfast with Freddie and made a new friend that morning. They learned that he was a Vietnam veteran; his wife had died two years earlier of cancer; he had a daughter in Cincinnati. And he liked the color pink.
Maison du Soleil. House of the Sun. That was the name of the Worthington estate that sat on Douglas Beach. It had been built in the early 1950’s by Byron Worthington the First when beachfront property was at a somewhat reasonable price. It was accessible from A1A and was a quarter mile past the last beach access ramp. Here the pavement ended and was replaced by a sandy road which dead-ended a mile further. Here also were the five most exclusive houses on Douglas Beach. They had all been built around the same time by wise entrepreneurs who had seen a future of booming population growth and rising real estate values. While long-time residents in the Central Florida area bragged about growing up in “Florida B.D.” (Before Disney), many people in Douglas Beach talked about the “olden days B.C.” (Before Condos). Their numbers were dwindling, but there were older residents who could recall long stretches of beach that had once been free of hotels and condominiums. The building booms of the 70’s and 80’s had pretty much put an end to that, except for some land donated to the state for a park and several small public parking lots that dotted A1A.
Kiki’s eyes raked over the little groups that dotted the area around Joe’s burial plot. Just a couple more hours of being brave and composed and—
Her father was standing before her. “Darling, I just wanted you to know how very, very proud I am of you. Your voice has never sounded lovelier.”
And with that, Kiki burst into tears and hid her face on her father’s shoulder.
The next few days went by quickly. Kiki was surprised that her father and Dinah were still in town. Apparently they had decided to spend a couple of days reconnecting with this branch of the Worthington tribe. Ernesto had driven back to Douglas Beach but left Maria behind to tend to her adopted family.
On the last night of their stay, Kiki sat on the back porch with Bye. She leaned on his shoulder and closed her eyes as they swayed forward and back on the glider. Becca lay next to Kiki and napped with her head in Kiki’s lap. “I’m so tired. I want to go home,” she said. She yawned.
“We’re leaving tomorrow. Come with us. You’ve been here long enough. I’ve missed you so much.”
Kiki opened her eyes and sat up and twined her fingers with his. “And I’ve missed you, too.” She didn’t say what they both knew—that nothing had changed between them. As much as they loved each other, they still couldn’t have a relationship beyond being half-brother and half-sister.
Long after Byron and company had left for their motel, Kiki lay in bed. Her brain whirled with all the events of the past week and wouldn’t let her sleep. She remembered a breathing exercise that Maria had taught her long ago.
Breathe in God. Breathe out stress (anger/sorrow/fear).
Eventually Kiki drifted off to sleep.
Kiki had been home for two weeks now. All the drama of the past couple of months had left her emotionally exhausted and caused her to spend hours up in her room in solitude. She spent the time at her computer writing and struggling to put all of her emotions into words. Despite her feelings of grief which alternated with a deep sense of joy and contentment, Kiki noticed three things: Byron spent more time at home now and seldom worked late at the office; he and Dinah hardly fussed at each anymore; and no one seemed to care how much time Kiki and Bye spent together alone.
She asked Bye about it during one of their evening walks along the beach. “Ever since Joe’s funeral, I’ve seen a huge change in Daddy. He seems—well, I don’t know. He seems happier. He seems happier with me. He seems content to just let me be, and he’s not bugging me about working for the company.”
“I noticed it during Joe’s funeral, when you got up to sing ‘America The Beautiful’. He really sat up and took notice,” Bye said. His hand sought Kiki’s and captured it. It had been a long time since they had held hands in public.
“Why? Was he afraid I was going to sing ‘The Cootie Song’ again?”
Bye smiled. “No. But the second you opened your mouth and all that glorious music came out of it, he was mesmerized. Weird, isn’t it?”
“It’s the power of music. A song can bring people together. It can bring them to their knees or it can bring them to their feet. They can laugh because of it or cry with sadness or clap their hands with joy.”
“And we witnessed all of that at Joe’s funeral,” Bye said.
The next morning, Kiki sat by the pool and wrote in her spiral notebook. Maria brought her some orange juice and a cinnamon bun. “Thank you,” she said.
“De nada, chiquita,” Maria answered. She sat in the chair next to Kiki and watched her scribble in her notebook.
Finally, Kiki looked up. She smiled at her friend. “Yes?”
“I have a surprise for you—if you have nothing better to do this afternoon.”
Kiki shrugged. “I don’t have anything planned for today.”
Maria gave her a broad smile. “How would you like to meet a famous author this afternoon?”
“Okay. Which one?”
“One of my—and now yours, I think–favorites. Mary Ann Caballeros.”
“You’re kidding! For real?”
“The very one. And she wants to take a look at some of the things you’ve been writing.”
Kiki blushed. “Oh! Well—I don’t know. I don’t really have anything concrete—it’s just ideas and some scribbling–”
“She’ll give you an honest critique. I promise she’ll be gentle. Come on. It’ll be a great opportunity for you.”
“What if she thinks all my stuff is just crap?”
Maria laughed. “She won’t. I promise. She’s a very nice lady. We’ll leave at two o’clock, okay?”
“Well, okay.” Kiki felt flustered. She had written almost 10,000 words about a Southern family in a small town. She didn’t know if she had a novella or if she would ever write enough for a full-length novel. How would it all look—her amateurish efforts—to an accomplished novelist like Mary Ann Caballeros? She sighed. Still, it was an opportunity not to be missed.
At the appointed hour, Maria drove them to the outskirts of town. They had driven about five miles on the Dixie Highway when Maria turned down a dirt road in an unincorporated part of the county. They traveled for a hundred yards and then drove through an open wire gate on the left-hand side of the road. The Caballeros property was expansive, and pine trees dotted the huge front yard. The grass was some sort of low-growing native variety that had been there forever, and little clumps of native wildflowers grew here and there. They parked before a two-story grey shingled house. It looked like it was made out of driftwood.
Kiki was nervous. She had brought a large manila envelope that contained her spiral-bound notebook and the loose pages of her “masterpiece” that she had printed out from the computer. She had stood before her walk-in closet earlier, trying to decide what to wear. She had settled for a khaki pencil skirt and a red-and-white striped shirt and sandals.
Maria rang the doorbell, and they were admitted by the author herself.
“Maria’s told me so much about you,” Mary Ann Caballeros said. She embraced Kiki warmly. Kiki thought she felt a slight tremor from the woman.
“I’m such a big fan of yours,” Kiki said. She didn’t know what else to say. “It was Maria who got me hooked on your books. I only wish that someday I can write half as well as you do.”
“Well, thank you, honey,” Mary Ann said. “We can sit on the back terrace, if you like. It’s got a nice view.”
“That’s fine,” Kiki said. She thought she had seen a trace of tears in the woman’s eyes. Maybe she was having a bad day. Maybe they shouldn’t have come. Kiki followed the two women as they went through the house. She tried to take everything in in one glance—red tiled floors, East Indian wall hangings, old-fashioned floor-to-ceiling jalousie windows that looked like they provided a lot of cross ventilation, a floor lamp that looked like it might be genuine Art Deco. The rooms had minimal furniture and gave the house an uncluttered and airy look.
They sat on the screened-in terrace and enjoyed the view of pine woods just past the property line. Ceiling fans made the outdoor temperature bearable. It
reminded Kiki of Aunt Sarah’s back porch. The silence was almost complete, save for the constant drone of a cicada.
“This is nice. Peaceful.” Kiki closed her eyes and breathed in the pine-scented air.
Mary Ann brought a pitcher of iced tea to the little mosaic-topped table where they sat. She held out her hand to Kiki and smiled down at her. “Let me see what you’ve been writing. I promise I won’t bite.”
Kiki reluctantly gave her the envelope. She almost wished she hadn’t brought her scribblings with her. She knew they weren’t any good—she certainly didn’t need a famous author to tell her that!
Maria pointed to the middle of the yard. “Oh, look—a tortoise!”
Kiki was distracted by the large gopher tortoise as it lumbered slowly through the yard towards the pine woods. She and Maria went into the yard to get a closer look. It was a welcome diversion while they waited for Mary Ann to read through Kiki’s partial manuscript. Two zebra longwing butterflies fluttered by, followed by a giant swallowtail. A pileated woodpecker made a raucous noise in the woods somewhere. Saw palmettos growing among the pines rustled softly in the breeze. Civilization seemed very far away. She liked it out here.
They went back to the terrace. Kiki settled herself on a glider on one side of the terrace and mentally bit her nails as she watched Mary Ann read page after page. Despite her awe of the author, she felt at ease with her and felt like she had always known her. Her blonde hair and blue eyes made her think of Byron’s many wives and girlfriends. She wondered what Byron would think of her! The thought amused her. She leaned against a large square pillow in one corner of the glider and closed her eyes. She mentally wrote a description of Mary Ann’s back yard. How would she describe it using the five senses, she asked herself. The smell of the pine trees, the droning of the cicadas, the rustling of the tortoise as it traversed slowly through the brush, the sight of bright butterflies flitting through the air…
Mary Ann got up from the table and sat down on the glider with Kiki. Kiki sat up straight and backed herself into the corner of the glider. “I can honestly say that you have a talent for writing.”
Kiki’s eyes lit up. “Really? Oh, thank you. Your words mean a lot to me.”
“You have a lot to learn, but I think you’ll do very well in time. Just keep at it, take some creative writing classes if you can, and read everything you can about the writing process. Even if the words just don’t want to flow, keep at it. You can always revise later.” She stood up. “Let’s go inside and sit in the living room.”
They went inside and sat on the living-room couch. Mary Ann nodded at Maria. “Maria, dear, I believe you wanted some of my Mexican petunias from the side yard to take home.” It was clearly a dismissal.
“Oh, yes, so I did.” She got up and disappeared to the terrace where there were some potting tools and clay pots and potting soil.
Kiki looked at Mary Ann in wonderment. She wasn’t sure what was going on.
Mary Ann took her hand in hers. “Kiki, dear, it was I who requested your presence here today.”
Neither one said anything for several seconds. Finally, Mary Ann spoke.
“Child. Look into my eyes. What do you see?”
Kiki stared into Mary Ann’s eyes. They were eyes like sapphires. Eyes like the endless azure sea.
“I see—I see my own eyes looking back at me.”
“As I do when I look into yours,” Mary Ann said.
What was that supposed to mean?
Kiki said nothing. She didn’t know how to respond to this fascinating creature that she held in awe.
Mary Ann gave her the faintest of smiles. It was a smile that one of her heroines might have given the lord of an English castle or to a Southern plantation owner in one of her novels—a smile given to a man who had just told her that she was in his power and must be submissive unto him. It was a smile that held just a hint of defiance and patience and—love.
“Well, my dear?”
The silence stretched on and on.
Kiki gave a tiny shrug of her shoulders.
Mary Ann sighed in exasperation and took Kiki’s other hand in hers. She squeezed both hands hard. “Kiki, darling—I am your mother.”
For several seconds Kiki said nothing. She felt the blood drain from her face. Finally, she found her voice. “You—you’re Mary Ann Jones?”
Mary Ann Jones Caballeros laughed. “I am. Surprised?”
“Am I ever.” So many questions bubbled to the surface. “But how? Why? Why–” Why did you abandon me?
“Why haven’t I been in touch all these years?”
Kiki nodded. She couldn’t trust herself to speak. It seemed that she was feeling every emotion all at once—pain, outrage, confusion, sadness, fear—and joy, an insane joy that was bubbling through her heart and moving upward and outward.
Mary Ann picked up an envelope that had been sitting on the coffee table and tapped it against one blue-jean-clad leg. “Byron—my ex-husband—made me sign an agreement shortly after you were four and just before we divorced.”
“What kind of agreement?”
“That I would relinquish all custodial rights of you—and never be in contact with you in any way, shape or form.” A tinge of bitterness colored her voice.
“That seems rather harsh. Why? Why did he do such a thing?”
“He wanted you for his very own. He promised me that he would give you the very best of everything if I let him raise you.”
“Okay, but why no visits from you, my own mother?”
Mary Ann lowered her eyes to the floor. “I wasn’t the best—mother at the time. I was struggling with alcoholism—and drug use as well. It took me several years to finally hit bottom and make some major changes in my life. I shudder to think about the harm that could have come to you if you’d been in my custody at that time.” She said nothing for several moments. Then she shrugged. “I guess another reason your father didn’t want me around because he was afraid.”
“Afraid. Afraid of what?”
“Afraid that I would—accidently or otherwise—tell our little secret.”
“And what secret is that?”
“That Byron Worthington the Second is not your real father.”
Kiki’s eyes flew open in surprise. “What?”
A young man stepped into the living room. He was tall and tanned a golden bronze. His mischievous smile matched the gleam in his blue eyes.
Kiki did a double take. “Bye! What are you doing here?” She hopped up from the couch and threw herself into his arms.
“Eavesdropping at your mother’s request.”
“You heard all that we were talking about?” She felt her face grow hot. She hoped she hadn’t said anything that was totally lame—
“Oh, most of it, I dare say—including my favorite part.”
Bye stroked her long blonde hair and touched her nose. “The part where we both have different fathers.”
Kiki looked up at him, a troubled look on her face. “And yet—after all these years—Daddy knew and didn’t tell us. Why did he do that, Bye? Why? How could he be so cruel?” She looked at her mother. “Did he think I would stop loving my own mother if he had told me about her—problems?”
“Maybe he just wanted a daughter of his own. Maybe he just considered us as real brother and sister after the first four years of your life that it was just second nature to him. Maybe it was the Worthington pride. I guess we’ll just have to ask him.”
Kiki shrugged. She didn’t really care anymore. “The big thing is, we don’t share the same bloodline.”
“Not a drop, particle, iota, corpuscle or–”
His words were interrupted by Kiki’s eager kiss. She clung to him, literally squeezing the breath out of him.
Bye gently pushed her away—just a little. “Whoa, little lady, give a fellow some room to breathe.”
Kiki leaned her head on his chest and listened to his heartbeat, just as she had done all her life. She clung to his hips and looked up at him. “You know what this means, don’t you?” she whispered.
Everyone helped put together a hasty wedding for these two crazy kids. Dinah, ever the socialite, coordinated everything. Maria catered the event. Kiki’s mother sewed a lovely slip-of-a-wedding dress of lined silk batiste. Ambrose stood up for Bye as his best man while Simone (dear, dear Simone!) was Kiki’s maid of honor. Mary Ann’s three red-headed stepsons acted as ushers while Laura, Miranda and Ariella were Kiki’s bridesmaids. Freddie, dressed in the tuxedo that usually sat neatly folded up in the bottom of his shopping cart, passed out programs. Kiki’s ex-fellow employees from Papa G’s provided the music before, during and after the ceremony, which attracted scores of bathing-suit-clad strangers who watched from the sidelines. Word had gotten out that this was a celebrity wedding of sorts. And—Byron Worthington the Second proudly walked his daughter up the aisle, even though she was his daughter in word, thought and deed only.
The bride and groom faced one other, barefoot and radiant with joy. They had a glow that no suntan–spray-on or natural–could compete with.
When they kissed as husband and wife for the first time, everyone erupted in applause and cheers.
The countless grains of sand at their feet represented their new life together—ever shifting and eternal and always ready for whatever path their footprints would mark for the rest of their lives.