The Beach House
“Are we there yet?”
Christa tried to smile as she looked at her daughter, but you can only answer that question so many times before it gets old. She had reached that number long ago, now she was just trying not to strangle her daughter.“Almost, sweetie.”
“I’m hungry,” Madeline whined, shifting around in her car-seat. She was starting to get restless. Poor girl was doing pretty well for a four hour drive, though.
Christa was starting to get pretty restless about now, too, and she didn’t have the opportunity to take a nice nap like her daughter. But they were almost there, or they should be if they followed the directions correctly. It should be only a few more miles.
They were going to a private beach somewhere in the Middle of Nowhere, California. They had rented a cute little beach house a month ago as a romantic surprise for her husband, but sometime between then and now, a divorce happened, and so she was taking this trip with her daughter. Much different company than she had originally imagined.
Christa sighed and patted her daughter’s arm. “We’ll get you something to eat when we get there. Hopefully, there would already be some food at the house, because she hadn’t seen a grocery store for miles. In fact, with the exception of California’s beautiful nature- bleached rocks and dead shrubs- she hadn’t seen much of anything for miles. But she could hear the ocean just out of reach, somewhere on the other side of the wall of rock that separated her from her vacation. She always thought California was supposed to be pretty, but so far it only looked… dead.
If she knew it was this far out from civilization, she probably wouldn’t have rented it. But she had gotten the property from Craigslist. Apparently, some elderly man only used it when his family came over for Easter. He rented it out for the rest of the year. It was a little pricey, but she took pleasure in the fact that it had been mostly paid for with her ex-husband’s money. He still didn’t know about it.
Suddenly, the rock wall on her left quickly started to disappear until she could finally see the sea. It was a dark bluish-green, the waves crashing almost aggressively. Above, birds flew lazily over the water. Out in the distance, she could see a boat.
“Yes!”She cried. “Oh my goodness, yes! We’re close, Maddie, so close.” She turned to her daughter, wanting to share her joy, but Maddie was busy tearing apart the directions and sticking them in her mouth.
“What are you doing?” Christa asked, as if for the first time her daughter might actually give her a logical answer.
“I’m hungry,” Maddie whined again, letting her mother fish out the slobbery pieces of paper.
“So you’re eating paper?” She asked more to herself, shaking her head. She understood that four-year-olds weren’t the most logical of people, but still, out of everything she could grab, she chose the paper Christa had written the directions on? “Luckily,” she continued, still talking to herself, “I realized early on that there wouldn’t be any Nobels in your future.”
“Mommy, where are we going?”Maddie just asked, fidgeting in her car-seat again.
“The beach, honey,” she explained for the fifth time. “We’re going to the beach because Daddy didn’t want Mommy in his apartment anymore.” Nope, he needed the room for all of his new girlfriend’s stuff. His new, plastic girlfriend who looked like the biggest accomplishment she ever made in her life was learning to put her shoes on the right foot. “So Mommy’s taking a vacation before she gets sent to jail for murder.”
“Ok,” Maddie said in a tone that Christa realized by now meant the little girl hadn’t understood a thing. “Are we the-“
“Oh, thank you, Jesus,” Christa cried as she saw the exit for the beach house and took it. She followed it until it turned into a dirt road and ended at the beach house. “We’re here! Oh my god, we’re finally here!”
An old Honda was already parked in the garage, but it was covered in dust and obviously hadn’t seen a sponge in ages, so she just assumed it was the old man’s. She parked behind it and nearly jumped out of the car, stretching her legs and doing a happy dance. “Finally. Oh, thank god, we’re here. That was the longest drive of my life.” She looked up to see her daughter fidgeting with the buckle and practically skipped over there to help her. “It’s not that I mind a long car ride with you, Maddie,” she continued to speak, knowing that the only thing on her daughter’s mind was food, “but it was a long car ride. And you’re… you.”
“I’m hungry,” Maddie said again as she squirmed out of the seatbelts and onto the rough ground of the garage.
“Alright, we’ll make you something to eat, alright?” Christa asked, letting her daughter run into the house before her.
She wasn’t surprised the door was unlocked, the old man said it would be. Nobody ever came by, he had told her, it was too far into the middle of nowhere. She agreed.
She picked up her daughter’s duffel bag and slipped it over her shoulder before grabbing her own suitcase and towing it inside.
The house was pretty cute. It was a little small, but the idea was that they wouldn’t be in it much. It was a bright robin’s egg blue with white trim and a friendly hand-carved sign that welcomed friends and family. It reminded her of a little cottage, which it pretty much was.
The air was on inside, and was a cool break from the hot wind outside. The door from the garage led directly into a small kitchen where she found her daughter pulling out food from the fridge.
“Maddie, stop that,” she said, dumping their bags onto a pale granite-topped counter. “Go sit down like a good girl.”
“Yes, mommy,” Maddie said and dropped the bag of hamburger buns she had gotten a hold of. She knew she should make her daughter pick up the food, but also she knew her daughter had just been restless from being cooped up in a small rental car for hours on end. Even if the girl did sleep for most of the ride, it was still a lot to ask from a four-year-old.
The kitchen was done in hand-painted white wood and looked like maybe the old man had done it himself when he had bought the house. The appliances were top-of-the-line though, and all functional. The cabinets and fridge were stocked with enough food to feed an army- or a growing four-year-old. But not both.
She took out the stuff to make a PB&J and made it for her daughter, taking a plate from the drying rack and setting it in front of her daughter. She also poured her a cup of juice.
“So now that you got food, you’re going to behave, right?” Christa asked.
Maddie just nodded as she tried to stuff as much of the sandwich that would fit into the tiny little mouth of hers.
“Alright, don’t choke while I’m gone,” she told her daughter and grabbed their bags again.
“Mommy, I have to use the bathroom,” Maddie said abruptly, dropping her sandwich and plopping off the barstool.
It didn’t take very long to find the bathroom, just a quick look around. The small kitchen opened up to a homey living room whose walls were lined with homemade shelves filled with books and wooden sailboats. It held one couch, a tiny faded navy and white two-seater that faced a small, old-school television. It was so old it even had a curved screen. They didn’t even sell those anymore.
The back of the living room was one large sliding glass door that looked out to the vast panoramic view of the sea. On the other side of the living room was a short corridor that had two doors and a closet. One of them looked like it was the bedroom so the other must have been the bathroom.
“It’s right there, Maddie,” she said, pointing to the appropriate door and Maddie went running like she hadn’t visited the bathroom in ages.
Christa smiled as she watched her daughter lock herself in the bathroom and went to clean up the rest of the mess her little girl had made.
“What are you doing here?” A harsh, deep voice growled.
She screamed and jumped, grabbing the butter knife she had used for the sandwich and turning to face the source of the voice.
Two people stood just inside the doorway of the sliding glass door. She hadn’t even heard it open. A man and a small boy stared fearfully back at her. Well, the boy looked scared, the man looked upset.
The man was wearing dark blue swim trunks and a haphazardly buttoned white t-shirt that clung to his stomach. He had gotten the front of the shirt completely drenched and it had become completely transparent, showing off a tight set of abs. His skin was dark like he spent a lot of his time in the sun. Even his dark blonde hair had been sun-streaked. He had a sort of rugged looked to him, but that might just have been him clenching his jaw, he seemed very angry. But she felt it was more the stubble he had let grow in. He ex had never done that. He hated the look of facial hair. He claimed it made people look poor. But this man didn’t seemed to care as much about what others thought of him.
“I said: what are you doing here?” The man repeated, his deep voice growling roughly once again. It sent little shivers down her spine.
She blushed when she realized she had been staring and dropped her eyes from his mesmerizing sea-green ones. “I’m staying here,” she told him.
She could feel him glaring at her and he seemed to get even madder, if that were possible.
“No, you’re not.”
She looked up, her embarrassment fading and slowly being replaced with anger. “Yeah- I am,” she told him shortly.
He shook his head. “You can’t be.”
She put down the butter knife and folded her arms defensively. She could feel the familiar signs of a fight coming on. “And why not, mister?”
“Because I am,” he told her, his eyes moving to the bedroom. “We came this morning. Our stuff is in the room.”
She was stunned silent for a moment, but quickly regained her speech. “That can’t be right. I’m staying here this week. I can prove it. I still have the bank statement.”
“I paid for the week,” he told her coldly.
“So did I,” she told him just a coldly. “And I’m staying.”
The man just seemed to consider the situation for a second before grabbing the boy's hand and pulling him toward the hallway.
“Where are you going?” Christa snapped. “We haven’t resolved anything.”
“There are no landlines and cell phones don’t get signal because of the mountains. We can’t just call the man up, and since neither of us plan on packing our things and leaving, I’m going to give this little guy a bath.”
Christa seemed to see the boy for the first time. He seemed to be about Maddie’s age and was wearing only swimming trunks and a giant towel wrapped around his shoulders. He was also completely covered in sand. Typical kid.
“You can’t,” she said quickly, “my daughter’s in there.”
The man froze and looked at her, his eyes scanning her up and down. “Aren't you a little young to have a daughter?”
It was her time to clench her jaw now as she tried not to scowl. “Aren’t you a little young to have a son?” Actually, he wasn’t. He looked to be in his late twenties, and looked like the kind of guy that settles down young. She, on the other hand, did look a little young. She was twenty-four, but looked maybe twenty. Back home, the local bartenders were still convinced she was using a fake ID.
“He’s not my son,” the man told her. “I’m watching him for my sister. Mike, you want to get the food? You can take a bath later.”
“Ok, Uncle Kyle,” the boy, apparently named Mike, said and ran off, raining sand behind him as he went to the fridge and pulled out ground beef and hamburger patties.
“We’re grilling burgers for dinner,” the man, who she deduced was named Kyle, said, “do you want some?”
She was taken aback for a minute. Before he had been so cold, but now he seemed… well, he still seemed a little pissed, but she couldn’t blame him. This wasn’t how she expected to spend her vacation. It probably wasn’t the best surprise for him, either, seeing how much they paid. “Y- yeah, sure,” she finally stuttered out.
“You might want to check on your daughter,” Kyle told her as he turned to leave, “she’s been in there for a while.”
Christa just smiled and waited until he went back outside before she marched up to the bathroom and banged against the door. “Maddie, stop playing in the sink!”