MY AFFAIR WITH PALE RIDER AND THE CHIN
It has become a routine. I wake up automatically at six, brew my coffee while I work out with my hand weights, then with the paper in my lap I sit on the balcony with a steaming cup of brew between my hands.
It's all a front, of course. The real object of my balcony routine of late has just come on to the beach.
He's decked in his wetsuit and has his long board tucked under his arm as usual. The board is way longer than he is tall, but he manages to yield it with athletic finesse. That's what caught my eye in the first place.
As usual he pauses a moment and studies the waves while the offshore breeze ruffles his unruly mop of white blond hair. A tingle runs down my spine as I imagine my fingers doing the breeze's job. And the tight wetsuit fits him really, really well.
But I digress.
When he first appeared nearly two weeks ago what caught my attention was his complexion. I had never seen such a pale surfer. It had been a rough night for me and I was on the porch because my restless mind hadn't let me sleep. I was so tired that I thought he was a ghostly vision at first, being so pale. His complexion, combined with that enormous long board, raised such curiosity in me that my mind began to quiet. Soon he had all my attention and my thoughts, finally, some sort of focal point.
It was obvious he had never surfed before or hung around the beach on a regular basis. His natural athletic ability soon took care of the former problem and, to my disappointment, he didn't feel the need to attend to the latter. Every morning for the past two weeks he appeared, observed, experimented and soon conquered. The Pale Rider mixed with the regulars for their morning wave fix, and then disappeared like the morning fog.
And I finally had something to look forward to.
His appearance was like a gift. Broken hearts and broken dreams had frazzled my emotions to a point of non-recognition. It was through additional tragedy that I inherited this beach house. Emotionally I like an offshore water-spout; a whirling mass of indirection.
The Pale Rider was the start of my change. I finally had a purpose, albeit a very tiny one, but my mom always told me that any trip started with one baby step. Watching him quieted the storm in my head.
My day started with him and ended him. I went to bed at night dreaming of him and looked forward to waking up and seeing him. Who was he? Why did he want to surf? Where did he come from? Part of me wanted to just watch and enjoy, the other part wanted the questions answered. I'm embarrassed to say that I searched the house from top to bottom for the binoculars I knew were stored here somewhere to help me out in both areas. I found them two days ago. They're still in the box.
This morning I've worked up the nerve to use them for the first time.
He observes the waves while I fantasize about my fingers in his hair. Then he drops down and begins to wax his board while my focus changes to his marvelous butt. As smooth as silk I pull the binoculars from the box and bring them up. After fiddling with the focus, I order my hands to stop shaking and inhale sharply as my heart nearly stops.
I've never seen such intense eyes!
Now I damn the distance between us; the angle only allows a sporadic glimpse of the blueness under the blond. I need to get closer, but reason finally finds its way into my thoughts. I find I've missed it - reason, that is.
My newly found reason leads to a bit more self confidence, and I settle down to zoom in on my obsession as he surfs. I can appreciate his quick footwork now as well as his expression when he has a good ride. Is that a regular face? Is he a happy person? The binoculars only help me form new questions.
The coffee is ice cold by the time he comes in and I lower the glasses. I must look like a raccoon from the lenses being pressed to my face for so long. Slightly embarrassed and wickedly energized I watch his ending routine in a flustered state. He leaves the beach on foot as usual. I stand and move closer to the rail, listening for the sound of a car and hearing none.
He must live nearby. Correction, he must rent nearby. There's no way he can live here and be that pale.
I run to the other end of the house. A bedroom there has a window that faces the narrow street and I throw it open. Binoculars in hand I lean out as far as I dare.
There he is! Walking! He must live nearby! He turns into the driveway of a grey house and I bring up the binoculars. He stops and looks up, his mouth working. I move the glasses . . . there's a man in a white robe on the upper balcony of the house. Dark hair, coffee mug in hand and . . . arms around his chest? I lean out further, teetering on the edge of the window to see between the branches of an interfering tree. A dark haired lovely is hugging Pale Rider's friend from behind, and I see him turn his head and smile the sexiest smile I've ever seen. It dawns on me that I've never seen Pale Rider smile like that.
Then the dark haired one looks right at me!
With a mortified squeak I fall back inside and the binoculars and I clatter to the floor. My face is hot with embarrassment. I lay my hand on my cheek and feel a giddy grin begin. Not entirely embarrassment - I have to admit I'm kind of aroused! I haven't felt like this in . . .well, it's been awhile.
So Pale Rider has a roommate. The Chin I dub him, recalling the shadow of a cleft. Who's the girl? Is The Chin attached? And more importantly, is Pale Rider attached? My instincts tell me no but I realize now that I have a quest. I also know I have to go outside to get a closer look.
Sitting on the floor still I find the full-length mirror on the bedroom wall. Who is that in the mirror? Me? My God, I'm a wreck! My hands are now in my hair, horrified. What's happened to me in the last few months? Where did the 'me' I used to know go? I know what had happened - I'd lost my mind and my self-respect. But Pale Rider has changed all that. Now I'm a girl with a mission.
I'm back, and I feel great!
Energized, I jump to my feet and head to the shower. It's about time I met some neighbors!
The shopping bags under my arms crackle and complain as I peer into the boutique window. I needed a bathing suit and a hairstyle but not necessarily in that order. I must have forgotten to eat while I was out of my mind because now I would look smashing in one of those bikini bathing suits. My arms, though, are tired and I want a break. Next to the boutique is a styling shop and I dump my bags on the floor by the door and gratefully sink into the single open chair.
"Twiggy!" I say instantly. "I want hair like Twiggy!"
The old me had long, straight hair that my now ex-fiancé liked. The new me was going to have cropped, Twiggy hair that I liked! After all, if I was going to learn to surf I didn't need hair in my eyes. The stylist gives me a funny look when I giggle to myself at that thought.
I also pitch in for a manicure and a pedicure, and settle in the chair by the front door. I'm happily sucking up the compliments on my hair from the cosmetologist when a loud noise in the doorway makes both of us look up. A woman has crashed into my pile of bags!
"Oh!" She says breathlessly. "I'm so sorry! I'm trying to hide from my old boyfriend. Do you have a back door?" Wordlessly, the stylist points to the back of the shop, and the girl bounces in that direction. "Thanks!" The woman chirps as she disappears.
It's quiet for a moment. "She had your haircut," the cosmetologist comments. "But it looks better on you, dear!" My day is complete. I thought the girl had been a knockout!
It's late afternoon and I sweep home and dump my purchases on my bed. I quickly throw together a salad and boil a chicken breast. By the time I'm done and decked, I don't even recognize myself! The black and white mini-dress fits like a dream, and the white go-go boots are perfect with the white beret! It's Pale Rider's turn to notice me! I dump the remaining shopping bags to find the final piece - a tiny white purse. The last bag gives it up along with another tiny purse that isn't mine.
I hold it up to the light. It's much better than mine. I open it and find it empty except for a business card tucked in the inner pocket. 'Jake's ', it says. That's the bar two blocks down. I recall the Twiggy-cut blonde in the shop and realize it must be hers. I grin and consider the purse a loaner. I'll stop by Jake's' later in an honest effort to locate the girl, making a perfect excuse to get a drink by myself! The sunset will be beautiful from the beach-side bar.
But first to meet the neighbors. The thought makes me giddy. What if The Chin had seen me looking out the window and now they think I was some sort of nut? I glance at myself in the mirror. There's no way I look like that person now. But I can't just walk up to the door. Hmm. I know, I'll drive by slowly. If he's outside I'll invite him for a cocktail. If not, Jake's anyway!
Plan in mind, I dash to the garage and put down the top on my temperamental MG convertible. Luckily it shows its good mood by starting up instantly and we're off.
Slowly I cruise by the target. No one appears to be home. Disappointed but not defeated I let out the breath I didn't realize I as holding and continue on. My hands are shaking with excitement. I did it! I actually made a plan and executed it! Smiling, I rev the engine and head to the bar. By the time I get there I realize that I'm relieved. What if Pale Rider turned out to be a jerk? Who needs that? I'm fine now and ready to enter the world again!
I whip the MG into a lucky spot, parallel to the front door of Jake's. I can hear the band inside and the air is tingling with energy. The sidewalk is alive with young people. This is where I belong, tonight at least. With confidence, I enter and look around.
People are dancing, people are singing, people are drinking and eating and I realize just how long I've been at my own lonely pity-party. I dive into the crowd and make my way to the bar where I plunk down my cute new purse (loaner purse, I remind myself) and yell my order to the bartender. I take a moment to marvel at the sun sinking towards the horizon through the huge plate glass window separating the bar and dance floor from the outside patio. I blink in surprise.
He's out there on the patio in a great fitting white jacket surrounded by stunning women. None of them, I note, own the arms I saw wrapped around him this morning. So The Chin is a playboy! I snort a short laugh. Should have known by his debonair good looks. He obviously oozes charm from every pore to rate that bevy of flesh.
My drink comes and I tip my glass at the bartender labeled 'Sam'. Sam pulls me in with a bend of his finger. I lean forward in response and he and speaks over the crowd. "Courtesy of the gentleman at the end of the bar."
Pleasantly surprised I look over and see a red headed man raising his glass to me. He's not particularly handsome. In fact, he's kind of creepy looking. I flash a smile, and turn my back to him to watch the band.
They're playing a tune with a thumping back-beat and the dance floor is packed. I turn my gaze to find the name of the band and my heart stops! Pale Rider is on the stage playing bass! Mouth agape, my eyes feast on his sweat-sticky Hawaiian shirt and snug white pants. And the eyes! So blue! Something's wrong, though, and I frown. He looks different. It's the eyes.
He's not happy.
Well, he's not sad either. He's . . . gee, what is he? Busy? Although he's playing well, he's not really paying attention. His eyes are looking off to my right. And now they're looking at me!
Someone touches my elbow and I jump, spilling my drink. The red headed man has appeared at my elbow.
"Hello, Miss. I see you have something for me?" He indicates the purse with a nod of his head. Is he nuts? It doesn't even go with his jacket!
"I don't think so," I reply, pulling the purse in tight. "It's not even mine."
He looks perplexed. "What? Are you trying to get more money from me?"
Now it's my turn to look perplexed. "I don't want anything from you! Get away, you pervert!" Red Head's eyes suddenly turn stormy and he grabs my elbow. "Hey!" I yelp. Something jabs me hard in the side. "Ouch!"
Now Red Head is pushing me to the door! I hug the bag to my chest and open my mouth to scream.
"Scream and you're dead! I have a gun!"
A gun? Good God, what's going on? As I'm propelled to the door I turn my head to ask if he's lost is mind. I see Pale Rider leap from the stage, his eyes locked on my kidnapper. He's cutting his way through the dance floor like a rider cuts the waves. The Chin is moving, too!
We're outside now and Red Head pulls me up the sidewalk. I plant my feet. "Leave me alone!" I scream. I see him raise the gun but his eyes snap to the bar door. I turn to run but he grabs my purse at the last second. We have a short tug-of-war, and the contents of the purse spill to the sidewalk. I let go of the empty bag and he leaps into a waiting sedan. I grab my keys from the sidewalk and run to my car and climb in. My hands are shaking too much to get the keys in the keyhole.
"Here," a voice croons in my ear. It sounds just like I imagined it would - exotic, low and incredibly sexy. My racing heart screeches to a stop and leaps to my throat. "I'll get that for you." I look into the mesmerizing blue eyes and am immediately shoved to the center of the car where there's not really a seat, but a lumpy console. Pale Rider is behind the wheel and The Chin occupies the second seat.
I'm compressed between virile manhood! "HEY!" I yelp for the second time today.
"You're not going anywhere." The Chin's voice is as silky as I thought it would be. "I'm sure you have some Thrush secrets for us."
"WHAT?" I yell. We squeal from the curb in a burst of power. Pale Rider may be a magnificent surfer and cut a manly figure, but his driving is borderline maniacal! "THIS IS MY CAR!"
This isn't at all how I imagined our first meeting would be!
The blond bombshell barrels down Coast Boulevard at a speed I didn't think was possible. My beret is gone, my hair takes on a life of its own, and my beautiful manicure is chipped and in stark contrast to my white knuckles clinging to the top of the windshield. Mr. Cool in the passenger seat doesn't seem to notice we're on a runaway roller coaster. He's to busy aiming his gun. GUN?
I would close my eyes, but they're frozen wide-open in fear. I hear a popping noise and a sharp smell hits my nose. I've just discovered gunpowder!
"There's a chance he can lose us in the city, but he has to get there by the highway. That's our best bet to catch up."
Gee. The Chin is a driving instructor, too!
Pale Rider has become Wild Driver. "Tell me something I don't know," he says calmly as he darts through a spot between a bus and a truck that would barely fit a greased cat. "I can only use what I'm supplied with."
Did he just insult my car?
"DUCK!" The Chin's hand shoves my head below the windshield just as I hear a ping. I peek out from between my fingers and see a spider web crack that extends to all corners of my windshield.
"HEY!" I yell yet again. Now I'm getting mad. "YOU BROKE MY CAR!"
"Miss," Pale Rider's voice is icy polite even as he guns around a car by crossing over the double yellow lines. "Your partner's bullet broke your car."
"PARTNER?? BULLET?? WE WERE SHOT AT??" My yelling voice sounds borderline hysterical even to me.
A glance passes between the odd couple. The Chin shrugs. "She matched the description."
Pale Rider snorts in disgust. It doesn't lessen his foot's pressure on the gas pedal, though.
The sedan carrying Red Head is right in front of us now. We're on the Highway and in a rare straight stretch known as Blood Alley due to the number of drivers who ignore the double yellow line, just like Pale Rider is doing now. I hear an ancient prayer from my old Catechism days march through my brain unbidden. Sister Bern appears briefly, waggling her finger in an 'I Told You So!' manner.
I'm befuddled for a moment at how my brain seems to have detached from the rest of me! Is this my life passing before my eyes, orchestrated by Sister Bern?
The straight stretch is running out and we're next to Red Head's sedan. The Chin shoves my head down again and I can see his shiny shoes. There's a thump and a bang and the MG wiggles in an unfamiliar motion. The engine makes a grinding noise and I can feel Pale Rider's arms and feet dancing on the car's controls. I hug my knees. More bangs, more thuds and The Chin barks, "NOW!"
The MG comes to a jolting stop in a most unconventional manner and my escorts leap from the vehicle. After a moment I dare to peek and all I see is dust. I uncoil and slide into the passenger's seat, still warm from The Chin. I swivel around and place my feet on solid ground, but that's as far as I can go. My knees have turned to Jello somewhere along the line. My missing beret is probably partying happily with the heel to my left boot somewhere on the Highway.
Slowly the dust settles - literally - and I find we've stopped on the shoulder of the Highway. It drops down sharply to the beach about one foot away from my toes. Numbly I think that Pale Rider is either really good or merely lucky.
I'm surprised that I'm not scared. Probably because this really isn't happening…
Red Head's sedan is down on the beach. Pale Rider is by the driver door tucking his gun into a shoulder holster peeking out from under his sweaty Hawaiian shirt. The Chin has Red Head by the collar and moves him away from the wreck. I have the impression of a cartoon character whose legs are trying to run when his feet aren't near the ground.
I hear a giggle. Was that me?
Pale Rider reaches into the back seat and comes up with my purse (loaner purse, I remind myself). The Chin now has Red Head face down in the sand and plants one of those impossibly shiny shoes in the middle of his back, holding him there. He tucks his gun under the immaculate white jacket. Pale Rider examines the purse, and The Chin points at the flap. With pointed determination, Pale Rider rips out the lining and a folded paper falls out. As the object of my obsession unfolds the paper, his partner talks into his pen.
His pen. At this point it seems so very natural. Everyone talks to their pen.
After studying the paper Pale Rider re-folds it and hands it over to The Chin who tucks it away in his coat. As The Chin continues to chat with his pen, the blond mystery starts up the hill.
His breathtaking eyes are studying me as he trudges up the hill. He's not wearing his happy, carefree beach face, but it's not his serious-I'm-working face either. It’s a sort of a satisfied face. I like it best of all, I think.
"Miss? I think we have made a mistake."
I blink. "You mean there's another creepy red-headed guy somewhere with a secret thing stashed in the lining of his purse?"
The pause tells me he wasn't expecting that response. His eyes tell me he's amused.
"Well, no, he's the right man. I think you're the wrong woman."
Those words deflate me for a moment, but I find it a relief in the end. I study his face and discover that all the mystery is now gone. "I was happier watching you on the beach from a distance."
His raised eyebrows tell me he wasn't expecting that response, either.
"Coffee on the balcony. With binoculars." He says after a few seconds of studying my face.
I feel my face turn hot. "Um…"
"You've had your hair cut. It looks nice."
The Chin has appeared at his side. "I've cuffed our man down there to the door handle and a car is on its way to pick us up." He turns his somber brown eyes on me. "Thank you for the use of your car, Miss …?" He extends his hand.
"Um … Decker. Celia Decker." I shake his hand with my fingertips and try to showcase what's left of my dignity.
"Miss Decker. My name is Napoleon Solo and this is my partner, Illya Kuryakin. May we take you home?"
"I'll need to get a statement from you, but it shouldn't take long."
My blond obsession is helping me back into my car as he speaks. I face The Chin one last time. What was his name again? Something Bonaparte? "Um…nice to meet you."
I hear a door slam and the engine roars to life. I turn to those magnificent blue eyes as he finds the right gear of my MG. "Do me a favor and stay on the correct side of the road?" I manage to croak.
He whips a U-turn and glances innocently in my direction. His eyes sparkle like the sun on the ocean. "Which side is that again?"