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Chapter V. Part II
“It was August 1944, and we’d all but liberated France,” he recounted. “It was hot, I remember that. Muggy. A few of my buddies wanted to go down to the beach for a swim. We’d listened to Eisenhower on the radio that morning. Everyone was in a good mood, so the commander didn’t bat an eye when we left camp for the beach, though we’d been warned to be careful of land mines and holdover enemy troops hiding in caves or in the homes of villagers. Still, we wanted to go to the beach. And what a beach it was. We wandered up past Omaha, where all the fighting had gone on, to a little cove along a rocky bluff lined with beach grass, cypress trees, and a few old craggy-looking apple trees, where Captain Raines and I picked and ate every last piece of fruit.” He stopped talking, showed me a smile. “It’s funny, whenever I sink my teeth into an apple, even now, I’m back on that beach.” Grandpa’s eyes were distant.
“And then we kept walking,” he continued. “The surf got heavier down that stretch of beach. There was a dangerous riptide. Raines nearly got swept out by it.” He chuckled to himself. “I just sat there on the shore as the waves rolled in and out. And that’s when I noticed something wash up. At first I thought it was a rock, but when I inched closer I could see that it was a shell. But not just any shell. This one glistened in the sun. It was the color of jade, iridescent, unlike anything I’d ever seen.
“When Raines sat down beside me, I showed it to him. ‘That’s a special one,’ he said. ‘How do you know?’ I asked. He went on to tell me that he’d met a French girl with a shell just like this one attached to a necklace. Apparently they’re rare and only wash up on that beach once in a blue moon, and only on that beach. The locals say that if you find one, you’re lucky, that it’s a good omen, a sign of love, happiness, and protection.” He smiled again. “I’ve kept it all these years, and you know, I have had a happy life. A wonderful one, in fact. And now you get to keep it.”
I couldn’t believe my good fortune, and I proudly kept Grandpa’s shell on my bedside table, until my friend’s annoying little sister took it one day, and in a scuffle on the sidewalk it slipped from her hands and hit the pavement, shattering into a dozen pieces.
I cried; sobbed, really. I mourned that shell more than I’d mourned the day my best friend had moved away in the second grade. How could I face Grandpa? How could I tell him that in my care, the shell had been destroyed, his treasured memories shattered, all with the flick of the wrist by a thoughtless neighbor kid? But I did tell him, and he forgave me, as I knew he would.
I saved the largest shard of the shell in the top drawer of my dresser, beside my Wonder Woman underwear and rainbow-striped bikini with the ruffles on the front, until I tucked it inside my locket, where it remains today. I pat it, thinking of Grandpa, who passed away two days after my twenty-sixth birthday. “Do you still have your shell?” he asked me the last time I saw him.
“I do,” I said.
I look up, jarred from my thoughts, when I hear a male voice ahead. “Don’t you listen?” he says sternly.
It’s a man from the restaurant in a white half-apron, tied at the waist. He’s obscuring the person on the receiving end of his interrogation, so I strain my neck to make out the scene.
“I’ve told you before that you need to go,” he continues. My heart beats faster. Could it be…?
“Wait!” I call out as a man slowly strides away. I can only see his back, and his army-green jacket. “Please wait.”
The man from the restaurant clears his throat. “Please accept my apologies if that man was bothering you.”
I don’t respond, and race ahead to the next block, following the man in the army-green jacket as he turns the corner. I run faster, but when I round the block I see that he has slipped into the plaza in front of Westlake Center. It’s thick with people—mothers and daughters holding umbrellas over Nordstrom shopping bags, college kids with earbuds attached to iPhones. A street violinist plays “Happy Birthday” in the distance. And then I catch a glimpse of army green.
“Cade!” I call out. He’s a few hundred feet away, and I know he hears me because he immediately stops and looks right, then left.
“Cade!” I say again, slowly walking closer. I’m fearful that if I move too quickly, I might frighten him. So I take careful, measured steps, the way one might when trying to lure a scared, injured puppy into safety. Just a few more steps. “Cade, it’s Kailey,” I say.
He turns around to face me. When our eyes meet, it’s as if the world, once a rushing waterfall, has slowed to a trickle. I do not hear the buzz of conversation around me. I do not see the people fluttering by. I do not feel the rain on my face. There is only Cade. And he sees me.
Chapter VI. Part I
MAY 25, 1996
“How do I look?” I ask Tracy, twirling in our apartment’s kitchen so she can get the full effect of my dress. Blue, with crocheted edging on the hem and sleeves. I picked it up at The Bon on my lunch hour. “Is it too much?”
“No,” Tracy says, “it says ‘I’m a professional, but also secretly a beguiling artist.’”
I scrunch my nose. “Beguiling artist?”
“Yeah, the artsy mysterious type,” she says. “Men love intrigue.”
“Hmm,” I say, tugging at the waistline and trying to make out my reflection in the glass of the microwave. “I’m not so sure.”
“Don’t worry,” she continues. “He’s going to love it. But not if you don’t cut this tag off.” She reaches for a pair of scissors on the kitchen counter. “Here, let me help you.”
I shrug. “Man, I hate dating.”
“Everyone hates dating.”
“Why do we put ourselves through all of this, then?”
Tracy smiles. “Well, despite that armor you put up, you’re an Aquarius, and that heart of yours secretly idealizes love, believes in soulmates, the whole nine.”
“Well,” I say in a sober voice, “even though he asked me to dinner, I’m committing for one drink, and maybe an appetizer. If it’s weird, I’m out.”
I reach for a black cardigan as Tracy rummages through her bag. “Here,” she says, handing me a quarter.
I give her a confused look.
“Tuck it in your purse,” she says. “If you need reinforcements, find a pay phone and call me.”
I smile. “All right.”
I sit at the bar at Wild Ginger, where I nervously stab my straw into the lime in my vodka soda. He’s late. Just ten minutes, but still.
“Care to see the menu?” a sympathetic bartender says, looking my way.
“No,” I reply. “I’m waiting for someone.”
My cheeks redden. “Yeah.”
He nods. “I kind of thought so.”
“How can you tell?”
He smiles. “Occupational hazard.”
I exhale. “I admit, I’m a bit nervous.”
Before I can respond, I feel a tap on my shoulder and turn toward it.
“Sorry I’m late,” Cade says, stepping in to face me. “Staff meeting ran over, and of course I got into it with my business partner, for the thirty-seventh time this week.” He rubs his forehead. “A little tip: Never go into business with your best friend.”
“Noted,” I say, unable to stop grinning.
“Hi,” he says, smiling.
“Hi right back,” I say. He’s wearing jeans, a gray sweater, and a pair of well-worn Converse high-tops. He’s just as I remembered from that night at the Crocodile. A little random, a little irreverent, completely fascinating.
“I hope you won’t hold my tardiness against me.” He grins as though he knows I won’t.
The bartender winks at me as the hostess leads us to our window table toward the back of the dining room. We both sit down.
“I like your dress,” he says.
I glance down at my lap and smooth an imaginary wrinkle. “Do you?”
“Yeah,” he continues. “It’s sort of Stevie Nicks–esque.”
I laugh and take a sip of my drink.
“Do you like Fleetwood Mac?” he asks.
“I do,” I say. “‘Gypsy’ is one of my all-time favorite songs. My mom was an old hippie.”
The waiter hands Cade a menu, and he grins at me, then orders a martini with cheese-stuffed olives.
“You know how I can tell if a restaurant is any good?” he asks, setting the menu down.
He points toward the bar. “Cheese-stuffed olives.”
I give him a confused look. “I’m not sure I understand.”
“Most places don’t have them at all, even the high-end spots. But the key is whether they offer to make them for you. A good restaurant will always make them.”
“Interesting,” I say.
He winks. “If you ever do a story about restaurants, you should add that little gem.”
“We’ll have to see about that,” I say with a grin.
“So tell me more about your work.”
I nod. “I think I told you that I’m a reporter for the Herald.”
“Yes, that’s right,” he says. “I’m impressed.”
“Don’t be. I’m very junior.”
“Oh, come on,” he says. “Obviously your job is a lot more exciting than you’re letting on.”
“Well, I do love the work,” I say. “And I have a great editor who is letting me take on subjects that interest me.”
“Well,” I say, squirming in my seat a little. “Politics, poverty, profiles of people making a difference.”
“Wow. Heavy stuff.”
“Stuff that matters,” I continue. “At least to me.”
Cade stares at me for a long moment until I feel my cheeks redden and look away. “You have a big heart, you know.”
I smile. “Or maybe I just didn’t want to get stuck on the fashion beat.”
The waiter returns with a martini, in which floats a cocktail skewer punctuated with cheese-stuffed olives. Cade plunks one into his mouth, then takes a sip. “Have you always loved to cook?”
“Always,” I say. “I grew up cooking with my grandmother in Iowa.”
“And I’ve always loved music.” He takes another sip of his drink. “Funny how we’re born with certain passions that never fade.”
I nod. “If I didn’t love my work so much, I might have become a chef.”
“Tell me about Iowa.”
“Yeah, I moved there after my parents passed away.”
“I’m sorry,” Cade says.
I shrug. “I was five. They died in a head-on collision on the way to a Grateful Dead concert.”
“What do you remember of them?” Cade asks, leaning forward.
“My mom’s voice,” I say. “She used to sing that song from Porgy and Bess to me every night.”
“You know it?”
“Yeah,” I say, trying to remember the tune, and then in an instant I begin humming the chorus. “So hush little baby…,” I sing softly.
“Don’t you cry,” Cade continues, finishing the line for me, and when he does, I feel goosebumps on my arms.
I smile to myself over the confession I’m about to make. “I had a weepy moment the other day at work. For some reason, I was struck with the memory of a dress my mom used to wear. It was rust-colored and had blue embroidery on the front.”
“My parents died, too,” Cade says. “My aunt took me in when I was seven.”
“Wow,” I say, stunned. “I’ve never met anyone else whose parents died at a young age. I always felt like I was the weird girl with dead parents.”
“A couple of orphans, the two of us,” Cade says with a grin.
“Tell me what happened to your family,” I continue.
“So, the story goes: My mom died of cancer. I remember the idea of her, as if I can somehow recall her spirit, if that makes any sense.” He pauses. “She gave me the music gene, though it took a few years to emerge.”
“Of course she did,” I say. “I recently read that children who are separated from their mothers, even at birth, can grow up and still pick them out of a lineup. It’s a connection that’s never severed.”
He nods. “She died the week after my second birthday and spent months before that in the hospital, so I know it seems impossible that I could have any real memories of her. But I do. And I can’t really explain it.”
“I get that,” I say. “I think our brains are forming memories, and cataloging them, before we’re even aware.”