*If you would like to read the next part of the short story, stay tuned, or simply click above the BY YOUR SIDE page for the full story. P.K.
It was as if twilight by the Pacific had never left in that moment. The sky was dull but growing lighter, and the clouds were clearing out, the waves shaking the land to slowly wake up. Endless sand mixed with the salt and paved around the world of the Starlight Palms, this world being in that movement a dimming neon sign with the blue and orange flickering, between shaggy palms—and a boy and girl close together in a waterbed. June’s waterbed.
She hadn’t slept that entire night. It wasn’t like the Mission District. They were facing now the imminent truth they were well aware of, but hadn’t seemed to notice those nights by the ocean. June said nothing. They were quiet for most of the time enfolded in the soft coral sheets. They seemed to never be in a place of their own, detached from anything holding them back. Everything was ready to tear them at the seams. Any new sort of intimacy would have to pass out of thoughts for them—the future took hold of everything now.
She rose out of their embrace; her bare back was turning to look at the clock. Her hair was down, draped over the shoulder closer to where he lay, gently running his fingers through the thick tresses. She looked sweet, beautifully naked and pure, even as she was still hung on those words he’d said just a moment before six. “Before noon?” she asked softly, in a whisper.
He nodded. “Have to make check out, don’t I,” Noah replied rather light-heartedly but uneasily. Her face made no change.
She got up to the record player she had near her window. Pulling the curtains back a little with her small skinny hand, she reached for a record that was piled on others by the window sill. She put it on, a scratchy single of Santo and Johnny’s “Sleepwalk” playing softly as she lowered the volume. She looked back to him, returning to the sheets and smiling a little.
“Better?” he asked her, smiling back.
The mood was simple and slow as she looked away, swaying to the low music. Simple. Life wasn’t simple. He couldn’t have it all just like June knew she could—her world was already made for her, in that little room of that oceanfront rusting motel that desired people only like June to keep them alive. Noah wanted to stay alive, not keep another thing going.
“It’s one of the most beautiful sounds in this world,” she thought out loud. She wasn’t talking about the world. She somehow excluded Noah in those words. Her world was the Starlight, the place he would be leaving shortly. The process had begun.
“You’ll always be beautiful,” he said to her, sitting up and taking her in his arms. She moved a little to loosen the grip. “I’ll grow old,” she simply replied.
“No. I don’t think you will. As long as you have the Starlight you won’t. Has the Starlight gotten any older?”
She shook her head. “But it’s sure stayed behind. Maybe I’ll go out with you.”
“I wouldn’t dream of that. You love it too much out here.”
She was silent for a moment. “At that you’re right.” She laughed a little. Face to face now, they both stared down. “Denver’s awfully cold.”
“I don’t look forward to it.”
“You’re going to miss the sun, the coast. Can’t deny it.”
She was right. There wasn’t one soul who didn’t miss those precious things about the West Coast. She was still looking down, but as he pulled her again back into his arms he could see through her disheveled hair that the corners of her mouth started turning upward, returning to that smile he’d miss more than ever now that the sun was rising, illuminating the distant waters just visible in the window with the dusty blinds half-drawn.
There was everywhere to be in this world, but only one that wanted you. California, she sure liked to flirt, but this golden girl stayed true to your heart—
He’d heard those words somewhere, remembering them now as the spinning record came to a halt. Only Noah forgot who had said them.