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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Chapter 11 of Castles Made of Sand

Chapter 11
     I woke up at the crack of dawn. My eyes felt heavy and my mouth was parched but worse than that, my mind was racing. Had Brian really said what I thought he said? Had I really walked away from him like it meant nothing to me? When I walked into the living room to grab my cigarettes I was shocked to see him asleep on the couch. I figured he would have gone to Julie’s room like I suggested. For a moment I stood there staring at him as he slept and I thought of that week when he was mine, when he slept beside of me and I woke up every morning smiling because I knew that he was there. Over the summer I had changed. I became stronger yet I still loved him, didn’t I? But now I knew what that love could do to me, what Brian could do to me, and I wouldn’t give in to him as easily as I had before. “Bri, wake up. If we’re going to get there before noon we’ve got to get ready. Come on.” I said, shaking his leg to wake him up.
     “Christ, you are cruel.” He mumbled, sitting up and looking at me like I just stole his dog. “Do you at least have coffee?” I shook my head no. “A smoke?” I smiled and threw a cigarette at him. He turned it over in his hand, looking at it like a foreign object. “Would it be too much to ask for a match?”
     I tossed him my book of matches and announced, “I am going to take a shower. When I’m done we’ll go so do whatever it is that men do to get ready.”
     I heard him snicker as I turned away. When I was finally put together I walked into the kitchen to find a cup of coffee from a donut shop down the street and a note saying Brian had borrowed my car to go change and get his own. He told me not to worry, that the part of town his room was in was seedy but even a thief wouldn’t touch my car. Oh yeah, I thought as I sipped the coffee, it’s going to be a fun trip.
     “Are you dressed for Frisco or have you just spent too much time around the Beach?” I climbed into Brian’s car with my cloth bag and notebook in my hand and I tried to glare in response to his asinine question. My attempt to shut him up was futile. “You know why the Beats used to call kids like you hippies?” I wasn’t going to dignify his question with a response. Staring straight ahead in silence I waited for him to go on knowing too well that he would. “They called them hippies because they were too young to get into the clubs but they wanted to follow the Beats around, they wanted to be hip. So the beats called them little hippies, to mock them, ya know?”
     Looking at him with a sideways glance I replied, “That is very interesting, McVie, but who do you suppose it was that came up with the term bastard to describe people like you? Is it Latin, do you think?”
     Laughing at the insult, Brian asked innocently, “Are you in a mood, darling?”
     “I wasn’t and don’t call me darling, Professor. Just drive!” I lit up a cigarette to calm my nerves which were suddenly on edge. Brian took it right out of my hand with a smile, no doubt satisfied that he had gotten under my skin. I wasn’t going to indulge him in a fight for the smoke so I just lit up another one and I sat back for the long drive ahead of me.
     About an hour into the ride Brian asked louder than he needed to, “So about this interview thing?”
     I looked over at him in disbelief. I hadn’t held out hope that he would go through with it. He was a guarded person, after all, and it would be read by one of his coworkers. Even if Blackwell didn’t realize it was about Brian, Brian would know that his past was being viewed by a stranger. “You didn’t seem terribly interested in the idea when I brought it up last night.” I replied dryly.
     “Yeah, well, you were stoned and I was stoned…I had other things on my mind. But today I’m straight and if you want to do your assignment on me then I will answer whatever you ask honestly.” He declared with a sheepish grin. “On one condition.”
     I knew there had to be a stipulation lurking somewhere. “Which is?”
     “That no one except you and me knows that it is about me. I don’t need the kids in your class or Blackwell knowing my life story. Hell, I was up all night trying to decide if I wanted you to know more than you do already. But as long as no one else knows, I’ll do it, ok?” There was that tightening of his jaw when I smiled over at him. I couldn’t believe he was really doing that for me. When I moved closer and I put my arm in the crook of his I felt him tense up. When I kissed his cheek and whispered a small thanks the look in his eyes was almost wild. What is he thinking, I wondered. What demons lurked behind those troubled eyes? “If you are going to do it you might want to start. Four hours, remember? We’ve got three hours left. I’ve read your articles. This could take a while.”
     My face was hot and my insides were mush at having been so close to him. Why? Why did he bring out the foolish little girl in me? It wasn’t fair. Opening up my notebook I brought to take notes from Jack, I took up my pen and wondered what the hell to ask him. I knew I had to tread lightly. He was sweet enough to do it. The last thing I wanted to do was ask him something that would upset him. “We’ll start with the easy questions. What are the month and the year of your birth?”
     “You know that already.” He protested. When I shrugged he reluctantly came out with, “January 1939.”
     “Where were you born?” I asked quickly.
     “Chicago, Illinois. Are you going to ask me something that don’t know sometime soon? If not you can answer these without my help.” His impatience was setting in.
     “Christ you are moody today! Ok, describe a moment in your life that changed you forever and made you who you are today.” There it was, that careless question. Brian tensed up from head to toe and there was that look, that craziness in his eyes. Having never been around anyone who was abused before I met him, it never occurred to me that what happened to him would be the first thing that came to his mind. When I looked at him and watched him go to a place in his head that I thought was dark and horrible, I knew instantly what I had unwittingly done. I put no more thought into it. Crumbling up the paper, I threw it out the window and whispered softly, “I’m sorry. I didn’t…I wasn’t…I didn’t think. I just didn’t think”
     Just like that the madness vanished from him and there he sat looking puzzled. “Why did you do that? How the hell are you going to finish the assignment if you toss it out the damned car window?”
     “I’m not worried about it. It’s not that important to me. It was stupid of me to ask you to do it. I’m sorry. I was thinking of myself and it was selfish…”
     “Hey, calm down, will you? You were not being selfish, you were being practical. Who else are you going to get to do it?” When he put his hand on my leg it was gentle, the gesture comforting.
     “Jack can do it. Hell, he would love to do it! I would get an A for sure because there is nothing about his life or his conspiracy theories that he wouldn’t gladly share with everyone. What’s even better is that Blackwell knows him so if he sounds crazy, if the paper sounds crazy, he will totally understand. You don’t have to drive yourself nuts over some damned assignment.” I covered his hand with my own and smiled at him.
     “Is there anything I can do to help you?” He asked, his tone softer and kinder than it had been since he woke up.
     “Yeah, you can help me think of questions to ask an ex-beatnik psychopath!” I replied with a giggle.
     “Well, it is about fucking time Sanders! If you had come last night we could have started on this hours ago!” Jack shouted as soon as I came through the shop door.
     “Oh bullshit, Jack! You and I both know that you just crawled out of bed. It’s not even noon yet, asshole! You are lucky I’m here at all. And what the hell are we starting on exactly? It’s not like we are putting a paper together! I’m just picking up some issues!” I shouted back.
     Coming toward me and not paying any attention to the sharp edge in my tone, Jack went on saying, “No, we are also making a list of next month’s topics. I know you are back in school but the show must go on. You need the money, I need the money…”  I watched as Jack’s eyes shifted from me to Brian. “And who is your little guest, Elizabeth?”
     “He’s my professor, Jack. And this is not about him. What sort of topics were you thinking of?” I asked wanting to get this over with as soon as possible. I was hungry and I did not want to spend my whole Saturday cooped up in the store with Jack.
     “Not everyone brings their professors on road trips with them, you know?” Until then I hadn’t noticed how much Jack acted like Brian. A persistent pain in the ass.
     To my surprise, Brian moved up to shake Jack’s hand saying with a fake smile, “Hi. My name is Brian McVie and I am just a friend.” Then without waiting on a reply from Jack, Brian went about the store pretending to look at everything.
     Jack’s expression was that of shock and I wanted to laugh at him but there was business to attend to, wasn’t there? “Ok, now that you’ve stuck your nose into my personal life, tell me about this list of topics.” I knew if I didn’t keep Jack on the right track I would indeed waste my whole day with him.
     “Oh yeah, yeah…Well, follow me to the counter. I put the list in the register so I wouldn’t lose it. Now, everything on the list is up to you. What you want to do put a check mark beside of it and what you don’t want to do just…cross it out or something. The one exception to this is the article about the Watts Riot that went down in L.A. before you came home. I’ve got the address of a guy that was involved in the whole damned six days of it. I want you to go and talk to him. Now, he lives in a really bad end of town so don’t go at night and I’m not sure how his neighbors are going to feel about a little white girl strolling up in their part of town so you might want to take someone with you that has a little more muscle than Julie.” Handing me the list across the glass counter Jack looked satisfied that I would comply with his demand and not say another word about it. Jack was wrong.
     Looking down at the address I burst out laughing. He wasn’t serious! I hadn’t been in L.A. long enough to know where a decent taco joint was but I already knew that someone like me did not tread into territory like that! “Are you fucking crazy? I am not going to do this! No way and how dare you even ask me to! Are you trying to get me shot, stabbed…what?” I was outraged.
     “Hey, listen, our readers want to know what went down in L.A. I figure enough time has passed so that tempers have cooled a bit but it is recent enough that this guy will remember the details and the emotions. The people buying our paper are sick of hearing the points of views of the white cops. They want the other side of the story. Who else is going to do it if we don’t?”
     “We? If we don’t? That’s the fucking problem! It’s my ass on the line here! This isn’t like a list of questions for Dylan. I could be killed especially this soon after the riots yet this is your idea and you will get just as much of the profit as I will. It’s not right, asshole!”
     Since the paper started Jack had never asked me to do anything dangerous before. He might have asked me to do things I wasn’t sure I could but he had never told me to do everything short of drawing a target on my head to get a story. I think it hurt my feelings a little that he could think my life a fair trade for a story. “So what the hell do you want, Liz? I need this story and there isn’t anyone else. You are all I have.”
     “Let me see the address, Lizzy.” Brian demanded. When had he come up behind me? Silently I handed him the paper and I tried not to laugh when Jack mouthed the word ‘Lizzy’ with a roll of his eyes. “I know this guy and I know the neighborhood. Don’t worry about it. Tomorrow I’ll take you over and you’ll get your story. James is really a good kid and if we’re lucky we’ll get there in time to catch his grandma cooking Sunday brunch. You couldn’t buy food any better.” Of course Brian would know someone with a grandmother that cooked. At times he reminded me more of a stray cat than a brilliant teacher.
     With that problem taken care of I got out my notebook and tore from it the paper with my questions for Jack written on it. I also handed him two blank pages saying, “Now, here is what you can do for me. Answer these questions while I go over the topics. Don’t ask me questions and don’t give me shit or you can kiss your Watts story goodbye.”
     Not bothering to wait for an answer I found a corner in the shop where I wasn’t likely to be disturbed and I went to work. I heard him make a comment about my rag but I ignored it. However, when I heard Brian’s lowered voice asking Jack what he thought he was doing, my attention was focused on the front of the shop. “Do you have any idea how fucking dangerous it is since the riot went down? Black against white. That is how people in that area viewed it and whether she realizes it or not she was right when she said she could end up dead. What kind of heartless asshole sends a nineteen year old girl out to slaughter over a fucking newspaper?”
     I had to strain to hear Jack’s response above the bell of the door announcing more customers but I did manage to catch, “Listen here, Mr. Professor, I don’t tell you how to run your classroom don’t tell me how to run my paper!”
      “Your paper? That’s a fucking joke! There wouldn’t be a paper without her and you know it!” Brian seethed. I had to put a stop to this spectacle before things got bad. Both of them had tempers and the motivation to make an ugly scene out of a simple dispute.
     “Acid? What do you want on acid?” I asked loud enough for everyone to hear.
     “There’s this new cat here in Frisco, goes by Owsley, and he’s manufacturing LSD. He wants to promote it so he came to me. He wants you and a couple of friends to try it and write a story talking about your experiences. Basically he wants to dispel the rumors, get rid of the fears, and get people comfortable enough to trip. You get the LSD for free if you say yeah.” Jack explained all of this in his best professional tone.
     “No, I’ll pass but we might want to keep it in mind for later. I have to get more backbone before I’ll go through with that. I’ve checked four major topics and one album review. Is that enough?” I asked still sitting on the floor hidden by a rack of blue jeans.
     “Yep, that’s plenty. I finished this weird little test you gave me. What the hell is it for, man?” Jack, the paranoid head case. What had I been thinking?
     “Your friend Professor Blackwell’s journalism class. Don’t panic, Jack. He’s the only person besides me who will read it. The president, the FBI, the IRS, none of them will have access to it.” Standing up I laughed at the look of indignation on his face.
      “I am not that paranoid! Geez, you make me sound crazy!” He protested in his own defense but when he handed me the pages his name had been crossed off of each one.
     “I’m sorry I made you sound crazy, Loser. Now where are these fucking papers I’m taking to Venice Beach? I want to get something to eat and go home.” I explained with a yawn.
     “As you wish, My Lady.” He replied with a bow. Brian looked at me as if he was insane and I only laughed. Going upstairs, he returned with three large boxes. I marveled at how well his tiny frame supported them all even though they were stacked up higher than his head. Sitting them on the counter he explained, “Each box has the amount of papers that were requested by the shop owner. The names and addresses of the places are on top of the stack of papers. Just take them where the note says.”
     “I didn’t realize there were three headshops in Venice.” I replied offhandedly.
     “Actually only two of them are going to headshops.” As he said this he began to grin in that way that meant trouble.
     “Where is the third one going, Jack?” I asked, half afraid to hear the answer.
     “A church in L.A. I guess it’s part of God’s mission. Help the freaks see the light! Halluaha!” He shouted in his best preacher man’s voice. “They are using our papers as a trap, man, but they are also paying you upfront for all of them because they plan on giving them away.”
     “Only you! Only you could get a church to buy an underground, anti-establishment, pro rock n’ roll paper! You’re crazy! You really are. But I can tolerate it as long as I get my half of the money. I’ll be back up next weekend with whatever money we get and maybe a couple of the articles and the album review…Speaking of that, why don’t you get me the album?” Jack sighed in that get-off-my-ass sort of way but he crossed the room and quickly returned with the record he wanted me to write about. “So I will see you next weekend?”
     “Yeah, I guess. I’ll call you sometime this week or something. You know, make sure you lived through the ghetto experience and all of that.” Jack raised his eyes to meet Brian’s and said in the friendliest of tones, “It was nice to meet you, Professor. Please come back and see us again sometime, man.”
     As we sat down to eat at a burger joint just up the street from the shop I decided to read over Jack’s responses to my questions. My eyes scanned the page drifting over boring stats until I came to the question I had asked Brian in the car about a moment that changed his life. Before I could stop myself I burst into hysterical laughter prompting half of the restaurant to look at me as if I were crazy. “Liz, what the hell is wrong with you?” Brian barked out, embarrassed by my outburst.  Because I couldn’t catch my breath I handed the paper to him and pointed to the question and answer. “The moment that changed my life happened like three years ago when I gave up on the awful beat scene and I came to this part of San Francisco. Once here I realized that the government and the aliens from Roswell are working together to track our every move. Since my enlightenment I have taken the necessary steps to ensure I cannot be tracked. I am now free. You are all slaves. Fuck the establishment!” Brian read out loud with his brows furrowed in disbelief. “Is this crazy bastard serious?” He asked.
     “That is the worst part of all. I think he might be dead serious.” I replied, giggling a little more. Madness was all around.
     Once we were back on the road crossing the Golden Gate Bridge I said softly, “I’m sorry you didn’t exactly hit it off with Jack. At least if you two had liked one another and you would’ve hung out a little the trip wouldn’t have been wasted for you.”
     “Who the hell said the trip was a waste for me? It’s not like I had anything else to do. At least I wasn’t alone or hanging out at a bar or something. It was great to hang out with you all day. As for being sorry that Jack and I didn’t get along, don’t be. The guy is a total jack ass! Is he in the habit of asking you to do shit like this? Fucking lunatic!” Brian retorted furiously.
     “No, that was a first. I couldn’t believe him but I know Jack. He just wasn’t thinking of the danger. His mind was focused only on the story and nothing else. It’s not that he purposely wanted to put me in harm’s way. He just doesn’t have enough sense to realize that going to that part of town this soon after the riots could end really badly for me. You shouldn’t hold it against him. He’s really not a bad guy. He’s just…”
     “Criminally insane?” Brian asked, finishing my sentence.
     “He’s just Jack.”
     That night Brian decided that it would be easier if he stayed another night at my place so we could just get up and go over to this guy’s house. “How do you know that he doesn’t sleep until three in the afternoon?” I asked, still unaware of the connection between Brian and this boy.
     “James sleep until three p.m.? Especially on a Sunday? His grandmamma wouldn’t allow it. He has to go to church with her in the morning.” Brian assured me as we sat on my couch.
     “This just doesn’t seem like a guy that I should be talking to about his involvement in a riot.”
     “You’d be surprised.” Brian replied as he went to my records once again.
      With that topic of conversation exhausted there was something that I needed to say to him. I had wanted to say it all day because the unspoken words had hung between us all day long. Bringing it up might piss him off and even if his temper remained in check, I might have looked like an ass in the end. It wouldn’t be the first time, I mused, as the first notes of Love Minus Zero came from my speakers. “I think we had a misunderstanding last night. I’m pretty sure that is what put you in such a bad mood earlier and I just want to…ya know…clear it up.” I got out, practically stumbling over my words.
     “We didn’t have a misunderstanding last night.” Brian replied, turning to look at me as if I were crazy.
     “Yes, we did. You see, you said something before I went to sleep last night and…”
      “Oh, that? No, that wasn’t a misunderstanding. I told you I love you and you said you were going to bed. I understood that well enough. Anyone would have to be a fool not to.” He barked out like a petulant child.
      Sighing audibly, I wondered why in the hell I chose to do this to myself. “See, that is the misunderstanding. I didn’t mean for you to take my reaction the way you did. I was stoned and I had been thinking and I guess I wasn’t in a state of mind to deal with what you said in the right way.”
     “Oh, cut the bullshit, Elizabeth! What the hell is this? You are not talking to some stranger, ok? You are talking to me. Now quit it with this formal apology crap and be straight with me. You brought it up. I told you I love you.  You aren’t stoned right now and you’ve apparently thought about this all day so now the question is do you love me back?” Brian’s tone held little authority compared with his eyes. They bore into me it seemed, daring me to lie to him.
     “Brian, this is very difficult for me to…”
     “Bullshit! You know how you feel. Do you love me?” He asked again with all the persistence of a child.
     “I just don’t think…”
     “Goddamn it, Lizzy, do you love me or don’t you? Just answer me!” There was a plea in his tone that almost left me bare.
     “I don’t want to!” I shouted at him, swallowing a lump that was forming in my throat. What had I expected from the conversation? There had been only one place for it to go.
     “That is not what I asked you.” His tone was soft but firm and his eyes were locked on mine. “How did it feel when I told you that I still love you? Can you answer that?”
     If I wasn’t careful all resolve I had would be surrendered in order to take that doubt from his beautiful blue eyes. “It hit me like a ton of bricks, Bri. I couldn’t believe you said it. It’s not like you to go around making casual declarations of love.”
     “Casual? You thought that was casual, huh? I’ve been looking for a way to say that all damned week!” He giggled softly and for a moment I felt the pressure taken off me. That moment was short lived. “Well, you answered that quickly enough. Now, do you still love me?”
     Why was he doing this to me? “Of course I still love you, Brian, and I’ve had to fight myself every day to keep from giving into what I really want. But I cannot give in to you…not yet. I can’t go there until you are ready and I can look at you without fearing that you’re going to walk out the damned door!”
     “If that is the case then I guess you’re right. We did have a major misunderstanding last night.” Brian replied simply with the most beautiful grin.

Castles Made of Sand Chapter 10

                                                     Chapter 10
     “So what’s with that Ginger girl in class?” I asked Brian. Class had been over for a half an hour but Brian wanted to get papers graded that we had done in class over the week. So there I was helping him like old times.
     “What do you mean?” He looked up for a moment before dropping his eyes back down to his work.
     “I don’t like her, Bri. I think she’s trouble.” My eyes were on him. How funny that after everything I still worried about him.
     “You don’t have to like everyone you share classes with, Elizabeth. Just because you don’t like her, that doesn’t mean she’s trouble.” The way he was defending her annoyed the hell out of me.
     When I told him about our encounter before class he only shrugged as if it meant nothing. “Maybe she has a school girl crush. It’s no big deal.”
     “Brian, every female in this class has a school girl crush on you, ok? None of them have ever approached me the way she did! Is she trying to intimidate me or threaten me? What the hell was the point?” This was the old kind of frustration I used to feel toward him. It was the kind that made me want to wake him up to the importance of his job and his life.
     “So what do you want from me?” He asked giving me his undivided attention for the first time.
     “I want you to stop acting like what happened at Berkeley can’t happen here. I want you to just consider how another incident like that could ruin your future.” What exactly was I telling him to do? I wondered helplessly.
     “When you came here were you thinking of my future? Your name was mentioned to the people here, you know. Most of the teachers and the higher ups know who you are. Were you thinking of my career when you transferred here to this school and requested my class?”
     “Brian, I had no idea they…” I felt sick suddenly as I stumbled through my words. “They all know about us? About everything at Berkeley?” I felt ashamed suddenly. When the reports were filed they were false but in the end we did exactly what they accused us of, didn’t we? What must they think of him? Because of me his fellow teachers probably considered him some kind of pervert…
     “Hey, what are the tears for? Stop it. It’s ok.” Brian was now crouched between my legs, his hands wiping at my cheeks. I hadn’t realized I was crying. “Look at me, Liz.” I did as he said, powerless for the moment. “Yes, they know. All of them know and you know what? I had a beer with your creative writing teacher on Wednesday. He was telling me about a poem you write in class. There was no condemnation. Blackwell knows we meet after school, Ross knows we meet after school, Julie’s Art History teacher knows we meet. All of them were made aware of the reports. None of them care. I didn’t bring this shit up to upset you. I brought it up to ease your mind. We’re ok. If we were fucking, it would be ok. This isn’t Berkeley and neither of us ever has to worry about that shit again. Besides, what can they do? We’re just friends.” He smiled forcing me to smile in return.
     “So you went out for a beer with Professor Ross?” I asked. “I knew you two would get along.” I said offhandedly.
     “Yeah, we do.” I was thankful when he got up and walked back to his desk. “Now here is what I want to do tonight. I want to go get something to eat somewhere, maybe Chinese, and go back to your place. I’ve got some great grass that our friend Ross sold me the other night. I want us to smoke it all and listen to your records until you leave me to go to your bed alone and I pass out on your sofa. What do you say?”
     “You want to stay the night with me, just the two of us, at my house?” I questioned, thinking he had lost it.
     “Yep. I will be a perfect gentleman. Besides, I have stayed the night with you before and I kept my hands to myself.” He protested defensively.
     “Yeah but that was before…” I let my words trail off but he got the point.
     “It was just as hard for me to behave then as it will be tonight. I wanted you then the same as I want you now but we are apparently not ready for one another yet. I swear on my honor, or what is left of it, I will not try a thing.”
     I had never been alone over night before and I imagined it would be lonely. Besides, dinner, dope, and music all sounded like fun. “Fine, McVie, once again you win.”
     Grabbing his old leather case of graded, ungraded, and partially graded papers, he started towards the door. Picking up the pile of papers I had worked on and my notebook, I caught up with him and I threw my stuff in his bag as well. “Oh, and for dinner I want a picnic on the beach. There’s a Chinese restaurant across the sand at Venice.”
     “Anything else you request for the evening?” I retorted sarcastically.
     “Yeah. You’ve still got that bong I bought you, right?”
     In fact, I did still have the bong but before we could put it to use I had to indulge him in a picnic on the beach. I found us ideal spots while he walked across the street to the restaurant and he got so much Chinese food that I wondered if he went in and just got one of everything. “What did you do?” I questioned as he unloaded it on the blanket he grabbed from his room when we went to get the dope.
     “Oh, this? This is our dinner now and our after smoke snack later. Now eat up.” His smile was charming and boyish and the alarm bells in my head were blazing. The devil wears many faces…
     “So about that bong, Elizabeth?” Brian asked, putting cartons of take out into the fridge. The hours spent on the beach had been both nice and relaxing but it was time to get down to business.
     “I’m looking, Brian! I don’t think I unpacked it.” I shouted from my bedroom where three huge boxes sat in my closet full of stuff that I hadn’t gotten around to. I jumped up and saw him standing over me. Why did he have to be so damned sexy?
     “It might have helped if you had turned the light on.” Brian commented with a giggle.
     With my head buried in a box I saw no point in turning the damned light on and I was about to say as much when my hand came across what could have only been the lost bong. I smiled as I pulled it out, a sheet of acid still stuffed inside. Neither had been used and when I packed my things up in Berkeley I decided I would throw them in the bottom of a box and never look at them again. But that was then. Now? “I found it.”
      “Well, what the hell are you waiting for? Come on!”
     Already at home in my place after only five minutes, he walked into the living room and made himself comfortable on my sofa. There was something in the familiarity of it all that made me angry for a moment. Who did he think he was? To invite himself over for the night was bad enough but to sit in my living room and look like he belonged among my things? Unforgivable! “Wow, you’ve still got the acid, too? And not one tab touched.”
     “We’re not doing that shit. Just get the bong going and come on.” I demanded, sitting down beside of him. When he laughed at me, my annoyance heightened. “What’s so funny, McVie?”
     “You’ve never used a bong, have you? You have no idea what you are doing.”
     “So what? I never used it. Julie and I either buy it rolled or she rolls it. There was never a reason to use the damned bong!” I spat out angrily. Why was I mad suddenly? He hadn’t done anything to deserve it. So why?
     “I’ve got two joints rolled if that’s more your style and if you have papers I can roll up the rest. We can break in the bong on another night. Maybe when Julie comes home, you know?”
     I looked at him. There was no sarcasm in his tone, no amusement at my naivety lurking in his eyes. There was only Brian waiting in his impatient way for me to say something. “Fine, whatever you want. Just light it up!”
     One joint smoked and the second half gone and there I sat feeling like I would never be able to move again. Where ever Professor Ross had scored his weed, he should go back because I had never had weed that was so good… “Liz, smoke it or hand it to me. Don’t fucking look at it all damned night!”
     Hitting it three times in a row as he and Julie taught me to, I handed it back to him. “I have a damned paper due on Monday that Blackwell assigned us today.”
     I could barely keep my mind straight and I could only pray that my words were intelligible. “What’s it about?” Brian asked through a cloud of smoke. When I only looked at him, he barked out, “The assignment, lightweight!”
     “Oh, yeah. I have to interview someone, see what I can get them to tell me about themselves.” I hit the joint like a pro, holding the smoke in until my lungs burned. Exhaling, I shouted (or it felt like a shout), “You! I could do it on you!”
     “Me? Why?” I wanted to giggle when he burned his finger taking the joint.
     “Why? Because I’m only going to be around you and Jack and I have no desire to probe him about his life. He’s a freak. So what do you say? Will you let me interview you? Please, Mr. Professor?” I asked, trying to plead. Really I wanted to laugh. I could feel it. A fit of the giggles was about to erupt at any moment.
     “You are fucking with my high, Elizabeth! Now what are we going to listen to? I want music and you are about to start laughing, Think quick!” When I only shrugged in indifference, still trying to keep from surrendering to hysterical laughter, he got up and moved to my box of records. I watched him drop to the floor and I wondered how he managed to stand at all. I couldn’t have done it. I knew what album he had on as soon as the music to She Belongs to Me came through the speakers of my record player. It was ‘Bringing it all Back Home’. It was the album that I hadn’t been able to listen to after he left because of all Dylan’s records it had been Brian’s favorite. And now here he sat singing this song to me like we were lovers and he had a right. And there I sat just high enough to wish that were true.
     When the song went off Brian turned the volume down and grinned in a way that made me wonder if it had more to do with what had been than what was before us now. “All summer I couldn’t listen to that album or that song. It reminded me too much of you and when we were together.”
     “We were together?” I asked, confused.
     “Well, weren’t we?” Brian seemed defensive now. That was plain to me. What wasn’t clear was the reason why.
     “Were we? I don’t remember us ever being an official couple. I remember months spent hiding to hang out and fighting to keep both our friendship and your job. I remember it all ending in a week of fucking and bullshit promises. I remember lies and I remember my heart breaking. But as for you and me being together? No, I don’t remember that.” I reached for my cigarettes on the table in front of me and I lit one up without looking at him. I was too stoned, too tired to argue but I had started it, hadn’t I? And what had I expected?
     “You have a talent, you know that?” I wouldn’t lower my eyes, I wouldn’t ask questions. Let Brian ask for my attention if he wanted it. “Goddamn it, look at me!” He shouted. I heard him loud and clear through the fog in my mind. For a moment I would give him what he wanted. With his eyes now locked on mine, he went on, saying, “You have this amazing talent for saying just the thing it takes to bring a man to his knees. With a sentence you can turn a confident guy into an apologetic fool. But I want you to realize that I am not the only one who’s lied. You haven’t been honest with me lately, have you?”
     “What was I dishonest about, McVie?” I asked. My words had no feeling, no emotion, because I couldn’t decide how I felt. Was it anger or sorrow driving my thoughts?
     “You said that you forgave me. You didn’t. It breaks my heart to realize that there is a chance you never will.” His eyes made his words seem completely honest. The sorrow in them made me sorry for a minute.
     “Why? What does it matter to you if I stay mad forever?”
     “Because I still love you and I will never be more than a ghost from your past if you can’t let that bitterness go.” He replied.
     Brian’s words sent a shockwave through my body. He still loved me…he still loved me…he still… “You can crash in Julie’s bed when you are ready. I’m so tired. That was some great weed, though. Thanks. And you are welcomed to do whatever you want if you’re not sleepy. Listen to music, talk on the phone…whatever. I’ll see you in the morning.” Just like that I got up and walked away as if his words hadn’t meant a thing.

Castles Made of Sand Chapter 9

Chapter 9
      It was close to dusk when I got home but there were no lights on inside. This was unusual because as soon as the sun began getting low in the sky Julie always turned the lights on. It wasn’t that she didn’t like the darkness of night. Dusk depressed her. When I went in and heard her sobbing from the sofa the warning bells went off in my head along with every horrible scenario I could imagine. “Jules, what is the matter?” I asked, sitting on the coffee table beside of the couch.
     “Where the hell have you been? You’ve been gone all afternoon!” She all but shouted at me.
     “I was at the beach talking to Brian. Why? What’s wrong?” I asked again, not believing for a moment that her tears had anything to do with my absence.
     “Talking to Brian, huh? Well that is just swell, Liz!” She sat up and reached for my purse. I watched her take out my pack of cigarettes and light one up. “I got a call from Lonnie’s mother in Berkeley today. I gave her the number, you know, in case anything happened. Lonnie’s dead. She was served the notice yesterday. Some bastards from the army brought it so they could offer their official condolences. Can you fucking imagine? Telling a mother that her son was blown to pieces in some jungle thousands of miles away, all alone in that horrible place, and they assume that it is easier for her to hear because it is coming from an admiral or whatever they were! If that had been my son I would have punched the bastards in the face!”
     I was stunned! This was before the nightly news was full of images of five hundred boys in flag draped boxes every night. This was before the years came when it seemed like every family had someone dead or missing in Vietnam. I honestly thought that Lonnie would go and serve a year and he would come back alright. I always pictured him coming home and I knew Julie would forgive him instantly for going and he would talk her into marriage within a month. I imagined myself at their wedding as Julie’s bridesmaid, dutifully feeding her full of enough Jack Daniels to get her down the aisle. She loved him. Of all the boys back in Ohio who had their hearts broken by Julie, he was really the first to take and break hers. In all of my thoughts of her future I never pictured her weeping with her hand clinched in a fist on her leg in a dark room because her love was dead. That was never part of the dream.
     Leaning forward I hugged her tightly. For the first time since kindergarten she seemed small and vulnerable. Because she was the person that I had always secretly relied on for strength, I was alarmed at watching her fall apart. “I’m sorry, Jules. I am sorry that he is gone and I am so sorry that I wasn’t here with you when you heard the news. You have to believe that if I had any idea I would have left Brian at U.C.L.A. and I would have come straight home.”
     Laughing, she replied in true Julie fashion, “You should have done that any damned way, Elizabeth Louise! Now get the hell off of me. I need a drink!”
     I followed her as she switched on the lights in the living room and made her way into the kitchen. Pulling the half empty bottle from the freezer she held it up and gave me a look like ‘What the hell?’ “You still have your old fake I.D., right?”
     “Of course I do! I intend to carry that damned thing around until I turn twenty-one.” I replied with a smile.
     She laughed, her eyes still red from crying. “We got any money left over?”
     “We have about ten dollars. Why?” I asked, although I knew what she wanted. At the right store we could pick up a gallon of whiskey for nine bucks and fifty two cents.
     “Why? Because this,” She held the bottle out. “is never going to do!”
     “Well, let’s go.” Grabbing my purse and my car keys, I decided to tell her something that I had been stalling on for a while. I figured with everything else going on, this problem would no longer look as large. “Oh, by the way, you know that little allowance of mine that we use to pay the rent and buy groceries?” I asked, jiggling my handle to get in the car.
     “Yeah.” She gave me a sideways glance.
     “I’m not going to be receiving it anymore. I talked to my mother the day we came home and she told me to come back to Ohio or live here entirely on my own. Apparently she had already sent out this month’s check but next month…”
     Julie gave a laugh that was nearly hysterical. I feared for a moment that she had lost it. Perhaps I had picked a bad time to deliver this news, I thought to myself. My eyes nearly bugged out of my head when I saw that she was climbing out of the passenger side window. I was going to hit the brakes but I realized just in time that the action would do more harm than good. I was about to ask her what she was doing when, sitting on the car door with her hands on the roof and her legs on the seat, she shouted into the early night, “I hate my goddamned life!” She then laughed so hard that I could almost hear it echoing down the street. I couldn’t help but laugh with her. At moments like those you have but two choices. You can laugh or you can cry and tears mess up your makeup.
     Morning came much too soon. Have I ever been this hung over, I wondered, trying to put my face on despite my throbbing head and upset stomach. “Do you think we should have saved some of that gallon for this morning?” Julie asked as we walked out the door.
     Feeling my mouth water in disgust at the mere mention of that gallon, I threw up my hands against the very idea. “How, Julie? How can you even think about whiskey right now?” I asked. She only laughed at me and lit up another cigarette.
     “Good afternoon, Miss Sanders! Rough night last night?” Brian asked as I walked into his class. Why did he have to pick today to be on time? Because I was something like ten minutes early and there were only three other people in the room he apparently felt it would be alright to chat like old pals. “I told you to stay away from the Strip.” He said with a laugh.
     “I was nowhere near the Strip, Mr. Professor.” I replied as I dropped my head into my hands. Why did it have to be so bright in the room and so damned sunny outside? I wished I were in San Francisco. I imagined it was raining there or, at the least, overcast. It so often was.
     “A seedy little joint, then?” He was grinning from ear to ear. I didn’t even have to look up to know that he was enjoying himself immensely.
     “No. If you must know I got wasted last night in the comfort of my own home. Half a gallon for me and half a gallon for Julie. We each had a quarter of a bottle of Jack Daniels as well, in case you are counting. She had a bad night. Because I am her pal that meant I had a bad night. We share everything, you know.” I replied, trying to look at him without pain assaulting my eyes.
     Brian only continued to smile, saying softly, “Not everything.” What the hell was that supposed to mean?
     By that time more people had come into the room and Brian was preparing for the day’s lesson. After class I did not volunteer to stick around and Brian didn’t ask me to. Apparently he realized I was too miserable to be good company. As soon as Julie and I walked through the door with the intentions of going back to bed the phone began to ring off the hook. Julie, who loved phones as much as possible, rushed to answer it. For about twenty minutes she talked while I tried to find something I thought I could eat without my stomach tossing it back up. Just as I decided on toast Jules came in with eyes that swam with tears. “That was Lon’s mom. I am going to miss classes on Friday. His sister, the one that lives outside of Hollywood, is going to come and get me and we’re staying the weekend with his mom in Berkeley to talk about the funeral and…” She paused to swallow the lump in her throat. “his will. His sister is going to drop me off Sunday night.”  I watched her sigh as she sat down on the kitchen counter. “Lonnie’s mom feels that since I was his fiancé I should be involved in everything. It’s the same as being his wife. That’s what she just told me.”
     “But you were not his fiancé.” I protested.
     Her smile was laced with sorrow when she said with a nod, “Yeah, I was. He proposed to me right after he enlisted. I had a ring and everything but I told him to keep it until he came home. It’s being returned to his mother along with the rest of his personal possessions. All the letters we wrote and he never told me that he took it with him. He never told me that he had talked to his mom about the engagement either.”
     “But why didn’t you tell me you two were engaged?” I asked. I was suddenly angry that she had kept something so important from me.
     “I didn’t want you to feel like I was going to leave you because I wasn’t. I had already explained that to Lonnie. He was going to move in with us after the wedding but I was afraid that you might still feel abandoned so I was just going to wait until he came home to tell you. It’s not like you have anyone else out here, Lizzy. I was afraid you might go back to Ohio and leave me here I guess. Even if I had married him I wouldn’t have been happy here without you. You’re my best friend…my sister.” She smiled that sad smile again.
     “That’s insane! I would never be mad at you or feel abandoned because you married the man you love! I sure as hell wouldn’t go back to Ohio and leave you! I always figured the two of you would end up hitched.”
     “Well, none of it really matters now, does it?” She jumped off the counter suddenly and went into her bedroom. I knew she was going in there to cry herself to sleep. Sleep itself did not sound like a terrible idea.
     Classes the next day were easier to get through without the burden of a hangover. Professor Blackwell treated me more like his assistant than his student which both annoyed and amused me. Professor Ross was just great and that day I sat watching him talk about writing with such passion that I soon found myself thinking of Brian. It wouldn’t surprise me if the two were friends really. They were both young, brilliant, passionate. I couldn’t help but wonder how many girls sat and thought of him the way I used to think of Brian. Used to… “You look more alive today, Elizabeth!” Brian quipped as I walked through the door.
     “Early to class two days in a row? My god, what happened to my professor McVie from Berkeley? I think I liked him better.” I smiled in a sickly-sweet sort of way but the smile became real enough when I saw the look of shock on his face. The giggles from the two girls also in the room only heightened my amusement.
     Our relationship in class had changed. I realized that as he hurled little sarcasms at me throughout the hour and I tossed them right back at him. The intimidation I once felt, the awe he once inspired in me especially in the classroom, were gone. He wasn’t the amazing professor anymore. He was just Brian. I wasn’t big on the transformation. Just before the end of class as I finished copying down my notes for the day he came over to me, stooping down so we were eye level. “Are you going to stick around a while after class?” He asked in a whisper. Anyone around us would have thought we were talking about psychology instead of after school meetings.
     “I have to take Julie home. She’s going through a hard time right now. In fact, I’m not sure that I should leave her alone.” I answered just as quietly. He mouthed the word ‘why’ with raised eyebrows. “I’ll tell you later.”
     On top of my page he wrote, ‘So you’ll stay then? I’ll come with.’
     Wanting only to be finished with the discussion I wrote in response, ‘FINE!’ and he smiled broadly.
     I would have rather done anything besides meet up with Julie outside of the school with Brian dragging behind. I knew she was going to be pissed. He had broken my heart and even if I forgave him for it Julie would not. However, when I explained everything to her and she acted fine, actually indifferent, it made me worry. Her silence from the passenger seat all the way home was more deafening than a blast. When she got out of the car Brian jumped up front declaring merrily, “Let’s go get tacos!” I wanted to hit him.
     “I don’t have any money.” I replied dully as I pulled away.
     “It’s ok. I do and I know a great place to go. So now that Julie is out of the car are you going to tell me what’s wrong with her?” Brian switched easily from one subject to the next.
     “You remember her old man Lonnie?” He nodded. “He was killed in Vietnam. That’s why we got drunk the other night and that is why she didn’t say one mean thing to you the whole ride home.”
     “Wow, that’s horrible.” For some reason I was surprised by how genuine that statement sounded.
     “Yeah. She’s meeting his mom this weekend about the funeral.” I replied, changing lanes so I could pull into the only taco place I knew of. I didn’t care if it was the one he had wanted to go.
     “This isn’t the place I was thinking of but it’ll do. So you are going up to Frisco alone this weekend?” He asked as we got out of the car. I wanted to giggle when he held the restaurant door open for me.
     “It looks that way.” I said, following him to a table. We were the only people in the whole place besides a teenaged couple holding hands a couple of tables over. For some reason I thought suddenly of a boy I dated back in high school…Bobby Green…
     “Well, let me come with you.”
     “Huh?” I asked, snapping back into reality with a jolt.
     “To Frisco. Let me come with you.” Just as he said that a pretty young waitress came over to take our order. Brian looked up at her and smiled. “Hey, Lynette. How’s it going?” He asked her, taking her note pad out of her hand and writing his order down before looking at me. “Get what you want, Liz, but make it quick, will you? Can’t you see how busy our waitress is?” My god, he was insane but I smiled brightly. This was the Brian that I had loved.
     “Did our lonely professor bring a date today?” The girl asked as she batted her eyelashes flirtatiously. To say he was a regular at the place seemed like an understatement. And he did like them young…
     “Nope, she’s just a hungry friend.” He replied before turning once more to me and demanding impatiently, “Well, Elizabeth?”
     “Give me two tacos I guess.”
     “Bad choice. You’ll leave as hungry as when you came in.” Then he wrote something down and handed the order back to the waitress. “Thanks so much. You really are the best.” He declared and the girl giggled as she walked away.
     “What did you just order me?” I questioned. It had been a long time since I had seen this side of Brian and inside I loved it.
     “A Coca-Cola. So do you want me to come with you tomorrow to Frisco?”
     “Saturday morning actually and why would you want to make a six hour trip to San Francisco? I have to go otherwise I would spend my day at home listening to records and sitting on my ass.” That was such a great idea that I felt I had my plan for Friday night.
     “If you let me drive it will only take four hours. We’ll take my car because I don’t think yours could handle the abuse. I have to go to the shop anyway. There are some records I want to check out and they just got their new shipment of acid in yesterday. The shit only comes in once a month, your friend’s shop is the only place that carries it, and by this time next week it will be sold out.” His words sounded like excuses to me. I was fairly certain that he wanted to meet Jack and see how close the two of us really were. “Besides, you know you’ll be bored as hell if you make the whole trip alone.”
     With that he had a point. It did seem like a long way to go alone. Just as the waitress returned with our Cokes and the food I replied with a sigh, “I suppose, McVie.” The cocky smile he flashed at getting his way was hardly welcomed.
     “So are you still staying over at that motel?” The girl asked Brian as he tore into his burrito. For me he had ordered a taco salad and a Quesada. I hated to admit it, but he did well.
     “Yep, I am.” He got out with a mouth full of food.
      Patting him on the back, the girl laughed out, “You are a stubborn man, Brian!” before walking away.
     “Why are you staying at a motel?” I asked, assuming he had a place of his own.
     “Because I can’t afford to stay anywhere else.” His tone had a hint of bitterness in it.
     “Bullshit! If I can afford…”
     “Here’s the difference, Liz. I don’t have a rich mommy and daddy sending me cash once a month!” He practically spat out.
     His words didn’t get to me nearly as much as the contempt with which he said them. “Fuck you, Brian!” I was about to get up and leave him when he covered my hand with his own sending that familiar shock through me.
     “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that. It’s just that when I came to U.C.L.A.  I had to take a pay cut. I make about half of what I made at Berkeley. It’s sort of a sore subject for me. I really didn’t mean what I said.” He tried to apologize.
     “Yes, you did.” I mumbled, followed by, “And for your information, my parents won’t be sending me money anymore. I wouldn’t come home so my mother cut me off.”
     “What are you going to do?” Now he was concerned.
     Deciding to see what sort of reaction I would get, I said innocently enough, “Talk around town is that there is a place on the Strip called The Whisky A-Go-Go and they are hiring new girls as dancers. I thought maybe I would check it out.” I tried not to laugh as I casually sipped my coke. The look on his face was priceless!
     “Like hell!” He replied before thinking. Although the place, from what I heard, was great for music and drinking, the dancers had reputations that were on the same level as strippers. Of course I knew that when I said it. “We’ll think of something way before it comes to that.”
     By the time I dropped him off that night at his motel room I had agreed to stay away from the Strip and to not do anything “rash” just yet. He claimed he had the start of a plan in his mind but he refused to share it until it was all worked out. When I went home Julie was stoned, though where or how she scored the weed, I had no clue and my records were strung all over the living room floor. The house smelled like a mixture of dope and incense. But Julie was acting less upset and that made me feel good. “So where did you and Brian go?”
     Producing the two burritos I talked Brian into buying her from my bag I handed them over. “A taco place where the waitress knows the professor by name. No surprise in that. He burns toast and looks at anything in a mini-skirt!” Julie laughed, devouring her food as only someone with the munchies can.
     That night I woke up out of a dead sleep with the topic for my creative writing assignment. My fears. Fifteen pages I wrote on my three biggest fears: Loneliness, rejection, and change. Yes, even after all of the change I had gone through I still feared the word but only certain changes. I didn’t fear the changes I could make for myself. I only feared the changes I could not control. It was the fear that actions of others might change my life until I didn’t recognize it anymore. I never could have guessed that night as I poured my heart onto the page how many times I would face those fears in one lifetime.
     Because Julie wasn’t going to classes the next morning there was nothing but silence through the house as I got ready. I didn’t want to wake her up to tell her goodbye but I didn’t want to send her off with nothing so I wrote her a note telling her that I loved her and I’d see her Sunday. Even though it was a day early I turned my creative writing piece into Professor Ross. He acted thrilled at the length and the fact that it was early but I figured he would change his mind once he read it. Considering the hour and the feeling I put into it, I probably sounded like a lunatic. In my journalism class we were given our first major assignment. “I want a story or an interview on or with someone you know. It can be someone you love, someone you hate, as long as it isn’t someone you are indifferent to. I want you to see how much you can get them to reveal to you. It’s due on Monday.” Everyone in the class looked at him like he had lost it. I was pissed.
     When I walked into Brian’s classroom three hours later I was mildly amused to see he wasn’t there yet. One of the two girls that were always there before me moved over so that she sat beside of me. Through her chewing gum, she said, “Hi. My name’s Ginger.”
     “Liz.” I said, trying to be nice to her. The truth is there was something about her that I disliked immediately.
     “Yeah, I’ve heard your name before.” She replied with a laugh. “So this professor, Brian, you were in his class at Berkeley?” She asked. I didn’t like where this was going. “Why’d you transfer here?”
     “I was bored in Berkeley.” I wanted to glare at her but I couldn’t afford to appear defensive.
     “Oh. So what’s Brian’s deal? He’s so unconventional and he never teaches by the book. Was he like that last year?”
     “Yep.” I had opened my notebook to the next clean page to get ready for class only to see Brian’s untidy script at the top. It was his plea for me to stay. I knew Ginger saw it as well and I tried to cover it casually with my hand hoping she wouldn’t put it together. She didn’t seem incredibly intelligent.
     “I think it’s funny.” She commented, blowing a bubble with her damned gum.
     “What’s that?” I asked dryly.
     “Yesterday you mentioned him being on time like you didn’t like it.”
     “Yeah?” I wasn’t getting her point. Or, rather, I thought I was and it was pissing me off.
     Standing up to walk away, she gestured toward his empty desk and chair. “Today he’s late.”

Castles Made of Sand Chapter 8

Chapter 8
     I remember the morning we got back to L.A. with a smile. We pulled up outside our house at seven o’clock in the morning. This was after we drove in circles for a half an hour trying to find the house because neither of us could remember where it was. We got out of the ’64 Mustang, the only part of the trip that we would miss, and we used the last bit of energy either of us had to unlock the front door and walk inside. When we did we were both stunned at what we found. The place was a disaster! People were strewn along with garbage on our living room floor. Stepping over the wreckage, both of us made our way to the master bedroom.  We were glad to see that Jack had made good on his promise to find us furniture but that was about the only good thing we could credit him with. This hardly changed when we found him in a queen sized bed with three naked women around him. I was pissed!
     “Jack, you bastard, wake the fuck up! Look at our house!” I shouted, rousing Jack from his slumber.
     Blinking up at me, he smiled. “Well welcome home, girls! Say, you know what time it is?” He asked as though I wasn’t furious.
     “A little after seven. Why?” I was tired, I was angry, and I wasn’t in the mood.
     “Well damn, Liz, I just went to sleep an hour ago!” He protested, apparently not getting that I could have cared less.
     “Sleep? Yeah, that sounds great. So why don’t you take these…” I bit my tongue. “…girls and get the hell out of my bed so Julie and I can go to sleep.”
     Without any protest he woke the girls up and got them out of the room in a matter of three minutes. However, he refused to leave the bed, saying with a grin, “Sorry, Lizzy, but I’m not going nowhere!”
     “Fuck it!” I swore as I kicked off my shoes and climbed into bed, Julie right behind me. Our bags could wait, the mess our house was in could wait, the mess my life was in could wait. For that moment there was only sweet amazing sleep.
     Just before I went to dream I heard Jack say, “I’ll straighten up when I get out of bed. And I’ll get rid of all these people, you know? It’s really good to have you two home.”
     “Yeah. It’s good to be home.” I replied before surrendering to sleep.
     When Julie and I got out of bed nearly twelve hours had passed. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t remember another time in my life when I had slept so much. However, when the two of us did get up we saw right away that Jack had made good on his word. The house was absolutely spotless! My mother could not have done it any better. And all of the strange people that were all over the place were gone. On the coffee table was a letter from Jack reminding me to finish the articles for the paper and telling me that he would be back over the weekend to exchange cars and pick up the papers. I shrugged in indifference until I glanced down at the bottom of the page. After his signature he had written, ‘P.S. Oh yeah, call your damned mother, will ya? That woman is a spaz!’
     I smiled at the description. It fit her perfectly. I didn’t want to pick up the phone any more than I wanted a root canal but he was right. I needed to. Picking up the receiver of the ugly brownish orange phone Jack rented, I hesitated before pushing that god awful zero. At least I can still stick it to her by calling her collect, I mused as the operator directed my call. “The Sanders residence. Mrs. Sanders speaking. How may I help you?” From the moment I heard her overly long hello I wanted to hang up the phone.
   “Hi, mom. I just thought I would call you and let you know that I’m alright. Everything is going good.”
   “Where have you been all summer, Elizabeth Louise Sanders? And do not lie to me!” She seethed over the phone. I sighed. Clearing my throat I decided to tell her the truth. I told her all about my job at the paper and then I told her what I had been up to since June. “Just as I suspected.” She was clicking her tongue in the most unbecoming fashion. “You remember your father’s cousin Mildred? Well, she just came back from her vacation at that beach near Los Angeles or Hollywood…Oh, what is it called?”
     “Venice Beach?” I replied, holding in laughter as I thought of Mildred walking around Venice in disgust, the long stick protruding from her ass as usual.
     “Yes, that’s it! Well, you know she and the children haven’t been there since the summer of ‘60…it may have even been ’59…Anyway, she was absolutely appalled at what the kids out there have done to the place and she said the way that they are living is just unbelievable! Boys and girls are all parading around with long, shaggy hair and the girls are running around barely clothed! She heard that they are all taking strange drugs and they drink all hours of the day and night. Their music is horrible and most of the kids have no home because they refuse to work. There are shops there where you can walk in and buy drugs like you would a blouse, Elizabeth! Now that is it! I want you to come home and start the fall quarter at Ohio State. If you don’t you will no longer receive help from your father and me. Is that understood?”
     I knew this was coming. I was just surprised that it took so long. “That’s fine, mother. Keep your goddamned money because I don’t need it. Frankly there are worse things to be than some hippie high on weed at Venice Beach. At least I am not going to be miserable my entire life because I did only what I was told to do and nothing else! You should know a thing or two about that. You don’t have to worry about me anymore because I’m not your problem. Goodbye.”  When I hung up I was in tears. It wasn’t because of the fight or the money. No, it was worse than that. For a moment I actually thought about doing what she said. At least back in Ohio I knew what was expected of me and I would know how to live my life until it was over. I had been in California a year and I still wasn’t sure that I would ever figure things out.
     The next couple of weeks went by too quickly. Articles were finished and fussed over, Julie got her car back only to have it break down, and I went around town to find the ugliest, cheapest car for miles to get us back and forth. In the midst of all of this there were numerous shopping trips. A new wardrobe was essential for a new school, we mused, spending all we had after we bought the car and paid the bills on the clothes. Then there was the orientation at U.C.L.A. where we had to meet with the academic counselors to sign up for classes. I was as smooth as I could be when I said to the woman, “I was told by Dean Stuart at Berkeley that Professor Brian McVie transferred here. I was just wondering if that were true and if it is, does he still teach psychology?”
     She smiled a kind smile, saying sweetly, “Yes and yes. In fact, he could use a few students for his last period of the day. It begins at two and it ends at three. Would you like me to squeeze you in?”
     I replied that yes, in fact I would and I thanked her. I knew what she thought. She thought I was a young girl with a crush on her teacher. She was both correct and terribly wrong; so wrong in fact that it was funny. At any rate, we went on with picking the other classes and before long we were through. I left, thanking her once more for her help. I don’t remember all of the classes I took that year but I recall that the number was either the minimal amount required or little more. There was a class in creative writing, one in journalism, and another required math class. And of course there was my last period psych class.
     The Tuesday after Labor Day (which Julie and I spent at Venice Beach) was the start of the 1965-66 school year at U.C.L.A. That morning as I got ready I remembered the previous year and how nervous I had been. Now that I knew what I was getting myself into the butterflies in my stomach seemed to have doubled. I looked in the full length mirror that graced my bedroom wall admiring my new bellbottoms, my peasant shirt, and the long leather belt Julie talked me into buying. Not too bad, I mused. My makeup was as flawless as I could get it and I smelled of sandalwood thanks to the soap and the body oil from a headshop at the Beach. I looked calm, I looked confident, but inside I was ready to crumble.
     “Liz, hurry the fuck up! It’s bad enough that my first class starts at the ass crack of dawn…I don’t want to be late to it on the first day!” Julie exaggerated from the living room pulling me away from my reflection. One last look and I grabbed my cloth bag and convinced myself that I was ready.
     The first string of classes passed pleasantly. The instructors at U.C.L.A. were nothing like the straights at Berkeley. My creative writing professor, a guy about Brian’s age named Professor Ross, wanted us to do our first assignment based on our fears. “I don’t care if you form the assignment as a story, poem, or a song. I do not care if the finished product is one page long or forty. I don’t care if your fears are sex, drugs, or circus freaks. It does not matter to me what you write or how you articulate it as long as it is your truth and it has your emotions, your voice. That is what I want to accomplish this year if I do nothing else. I want to help you all find your creative voices. Until you have done that you can never succeed as a writer.”
     I thought he was great. My professor in Journalism was in his early thirties but he was totally into the scene around him. When I said my name he got a strange look on his face and after class ended he asked me to stay behind. I was shocked, wondering what I could have done. After everyone had gone he said, “I didn’t want to embarrass you or put you on the spot in front of the class but when you said your name…and that you just transferred here from Berkeley…You wouldn’t happen to be the Liz Sanders who writes for The Full Circle, are you?”
     “Yeah.” I replied, blushing. Never expected that one!
     “Well, that’s far out! Jack and I go way back, man! We were both heavy in the beatnik scene. At one time we were even roommates but I came down here and he stayed in Frisco. I saw him last month and he gave me a copy of the paper. Great stuff! You don’t really need this class if you ask me but I’m happy that you’re here.”
     Nothing of interest occurred with the math class. I thought I hated it ten minutes after it started and by the time it ended I was sure of it. At noon Julie and I were able to leave until our last class started at two. We went home and ate and I watched as Julie got high. I refused the weed when she offered. I wanted to be clear headed for this particular psych class. I did drink down a bit of stale whiskey Jack had had in the freezer before I left but that was more for a little courage than a buzz. By ten till two we were back at school and ready for round two. I must have smoked three Lucky’s on the ride over. Because I planned on being intentionally late to Brian’s class I smoked two or three more after Julie had gone in. Finally at five after two I walked in prepared for whatever might come.
     By the time I walked through the classroom door I was almost twenty minutes late. Brian, who had just sat down on his desk, looked at me as if I were a ghost. For a moment we just held each other’s gaze. He was in shock I suppose and I…Well, I was in pain. I could not have imagined that seeing him again would hurt so badly. What a fool I was. Finally I went to a seat as Brian said angrily, “Miss Sanders, you are late!”
     “Sorry, Professor but I figured since you are usually late to class yourself I would be getting here right on time.” I replied, looking him once more in the eye. This time it was a challenge. The fight had begun.
     “Whatever your excuse is, don’t let it happen again. Understood?”
     “Oh absolutely, Professor McVie.”  I said mockingly.
     He chose to ignore my arrogance and went about a repeat of last year’s introduction. This time, however, instead of doing the thing about telling your name and life story, he instructed the class to tell their name and their favorite quote. “It can be from a poem, a story, a song, a movie, or just something you heard somewhere. I want it to be something that means something to you. In fact, I want you to tell us why it’s special to you. This is a way for us all to get to know each other in an interesting way.”
     I was the last person in the last row so I got to hear everyone before me as they quoted everything from Shakespeare to The Beatles. There was even one cat who quoted Gone with the Wind which made me grin because that had always been my favorite movie and I had always loved Rhett Butler’s infamous exit line. Finally Brian looked at me as if I was like all the rest and he asked my name and my quote. “My name is Liz Sanders and my quote is from a Bob Dylan tune. ‘If your rooster crows at the break of dawn, look out your window and I’ll be gone. You’re the reason I’m a travelin’ on but don’t think twice…it’s alright.’”
     “And why is it special to you?” Brian asked almost reluctantly. Whether he wanted to acknowledge it or not, he got my meaning.
     Shrugging, I replied almost offhandedly, “It just reminds me of someone I used to know.”
     There it was again, that hard gaze, his eyes locked on mine holding my mind quiet and still for a moment. The class seemed confused but no one said anything until Brian regained his composure and went on with the lesson. For that first day we got off with no assignments which worried me. Was my great professor losing his touch? There was always something he wanted us to think about and write down. There was always something for us to interpret or discover. Nothing? That was enough to worry me.
     As everyone got ready to go for the day Brian said abruptly, “Miss Sanders, I want to see you in my office after class so stay put.”
     I had a feeling he did not want to compliment my work at The Full Circle. I did as he said and I stayed put until everyone had gone and Brian, having gathered his things, motioned for me to follow him. Déjà Vou hit me hard as I walked behind him thinking of the day he asked me to stay behind to discuss my passion for writing. How many things can change in a year? When we got to his office, which was down the hall from his classroom, he opened the door and waited for me to sit down before closing it and taking a seat. “So why did you come here, Elizabeth?” Brian asked. He just sat there across from me flashing his pious airs as if he had a right! That was the final shove I needed. I was outraged.
     In a calm, bitter tone, I answered, “Because you asked me to, Brian, or did you forget about that? Why the hell not? It looks like you’ve forgotten everything else!”
     For a split second I thought I saw regret, even remorse, in his eyes. But when the moment passed he was again oblivious to my pain. “I know I didn’t handle the situation with you properly but what do you hope to accomplish now? What is the point of this?” He asked without emotion. This was not the Brian I had known. It certainly wasn’t the man I had loved.
     “The situation, McVie? Is that what it is? A situation? Well, that’s just great! Super, really.” I stood up because I was all but shaking with anger and disappointment. I had to get away from him. “Alright, here’s the way I see it, Brian. You may appear to be calm and collected sitting across from me right now but I will bet that if I came any closer you would be ready to fuck me on that desk of yours. And would you like to know something else? You love me and you are scared shitless because of it! You are nothing more than a terrified little boy! What was the problem? Were you afraid that I would walk out on you the way you did me? Until five minutes ago I wouldn’t have dreamed of it. Now you have your wish. I am dropping your class this week and at the end of the term I’m transferring back to Berkeley. Have a nice life, Bri.”
     I was halfway out of the door when he yelled my name. Where have I seen this before, I thought, bemused. In the hallway I stopped but I didn’t go back to his office. He was going to have to do better than that if he had something he wanted to say to me. Finally he came rushing out the door like a madman and when he saw me standing there, all but waiting from him, he was furious. Holding back his anger, he demanded softly, “Come back inside.”
     “Why the hell should I do that? What do you hope to accomplish with this? What’s the point?” I mocked him outright.
     “I am your professor and I am not through with you, Liz, so get your ass back in my office now!”
     “Oh, you’re not through with me, professor?” I said his title with a laugh. “Well, that must be shitty because I am completely through with you!”
      I had turned away from him, no longer able to look in his eyes or watch his jaw clinched in anger. I was about to leave him there when he said in a lowered voice that I had to strain to hear, “You don’t mean that, Lizzy.”
     He used that tone that could break my heart with a sentence. “What do you want, Brian? You bitched that I’m here so I said I would go. What is left for us to talk about?” I questioned with a weary sigh.
     “I’m sorry, for starters. I fucked up with you. You think that I don’t see that? I have never done something so terrible in all of my life! I have thought about this…about you…every day since I left. It makes me sick to think of what I probably put you through. It was even worse when I thought about everything you’ve done for me. I really am sorry for that. And maybe you’re right.”
     “About what?” I asked with my back still facing him.
     “Damn it, you know what!” He replied. A smile snuck through my lips at his resistance.
     “No, I don’t. I said a lot so you’ll have to refresh my mind.”
     His irritated sigh was music to my ears. “I’m scared shitless, Liz. Is that what you want to hear? Yes, after all that I’ve been through in life I am terrified of a nineteen year old girl. Does that make you happy?”
     I turned to face him and my grin was indescribable. How could I forgive him so easily? And yet a part of me had. I knew that. “It’s a good start.”
     “So will you come back into my office and listen to what I have to say?” It came out as a question but it was really another demand.
     “You mean you have something left to say?” I asked as he threw up his hands in exasperation. I laughed at the dramatics as I walked past him, back to the room I had stormed out of. “Fine, McVie, have it your way!”
     This time when we sat across from one another there were no formalities between us. He had apparently stepped down from the high horse he rode into the room. This time it was like the days we had spent together at Berkeley but there was a bit more tension because now we had something between us that needed to either be repaired or resolved. For a while we sat in silence. Brian opened up two windows and pulled out a pack of Marlborough’s and a match from his desk drawer. Seeing this I grinned, fetching my Lucky’s from the depths of my bag. Striking up a match I lit up one of my own. As I took a long drag off the cigarette Brian smiled easily. “Alright, Liz, I’ve said that I’m sorry. You must have accepted the apology or you wouldn’t be here. You seemed to have figured out the reason why I left on your own. So what should we talk about now?”
     “See, I knew it! You didn’t have anything left to say!” I replied in mock outrage. Then I started to laugh, all the while wondering how one simple incident in a school hallway could take away all of the pain and the anger I had just an hour before.
     “And you were right. Technically, I didn’t but I don’t want to watch you walk away yet. It’s been a long time since I saw you, since I talked to you. I missed your laugh and your smile. I missed the way you move from adoration toward me to telling me to go to hell in the blink of an eye. When you walked into my class today my heart leapt into my throat because I was so damned happy to see you. That first glance took my breath away. But then I realized it meant I had to face you and I knew I would have to try to explain to you why I walked out. That’s how I’ve felt since I left. That is why I never tried to see you or write you. It wasn’t that I didn’t miss you…it’s because I’m a scared little boy when it comes to us.” He grinned; no doubt thrilled that he could work the analysis in.
     “Well, I’ll start off by telling you that since we’re speaking I’m going to have a lot of free time. I won’t have to spend my days thinking up the perfect death for you, which is a shame because I’ve come up with some pretty creative situations.” I laughed as he sat there trying to figure out if I was joking. Then I said seriously, “If we are going to salvage any part of what we had, Brian, we have to start all over. We will have to rebuild our friendship completely. Do you really think you want to bother with it?”
     “I wouldn’t want it any other way. Hey, do you want to go for a walk?” He asked suddenly.
     “Can we do that? I don’t want what happened at Berkeley to happen here.”
     “No, it’s not like that here. This whole place is loose. They didn’t give a damn. So…?” He asked, pleading with a smile. I nodded and he grabbed the cigarette from my hand, throwing it out the window with his own.
     Almost as soon as we left the room Professor Blackwell, my journalism professor, spotted us and came over saying apologetically, “Sorry to bother you, Miss Sanders, but I was wondering if you happened to have Jack’s phone number.”
     Brian looked at me as if to ask, ‘Who the hell?’ but he said nothing. I laughed at the question. “The man lives over three hundred miles away and I am still on the phone with him every day. I could write it down for you if you want.” He nodded, leading Brian and me into his classroom. At his desk he handed me a pen and a piece of paper. As I wrote I explained, “The number is actually to a shop that Jack’s brother owns. During the day that is who will answer but all you have to do is ask for Jack. He lives above the store and at night, once Chris closes up, he just goes around in the shop doing whatever so if you call at night it is likely he will answer.” I handed him the number with a smile.
     Blackwell laughed. “Still the same old Jack I see. Would you know how I might get this month’s copy of The Full Circle? I can’t seem to find it around here and Jack told me there’s going to be a whole section on The Beatles’ show at Shea Stadium. Does it have pictures?”
     My god, I sort of had a fan. Brian, however, seemed annoyed that he was out of the loop and he had no idea what we were talking about. “This weekend I am supposed to make the long drive up to Frisco to bring a few hundred copies down here. They’ll be at a shop at Venice Beach but I’ll just bring one to you on Monday. The article about the show is in there but there are no pictures. Our friend Jack never asked for any so I didn’t take any. All you would have seen were hysterical teeny boppers anyway.”
     “Well, thanks for his number and everything. I’ll give him a call tonight. You take care.” He said and then he looked at Brian as if he had just seen him and added, “You, too, McVie.” with a wink and a grin.
     Once we were down a flight of stairs Brian asked roughly, “What the fuck was that about? Why is he asking you about a paper in Frisco? And who is this Jack guy?”
     I looked over and grinned at the way he said Jack’s name. He had left me high and dry and now he had the nerve to get jealous? As we walked out into the early fall afternoon, I sighed. “Officially, Jack is my boss. Unofficially he is…” I paused to watch him squirm a bit. I wasn’t disappointed. “…my business partner. The Full Circle was his brain child but all summer I’ve done all of the work. That is why Blackwell was asking about the paper and Jack, who happens to be an old pal of his. Small world.”
     I found my keys just in time because when I looked up I was standing in front of my car. I motioned to Brian to get in and, after fussing with the messed up door handle, I did the same. By the time I started it Brian was all but laughing. “What year is this thing anyway?” He asked.
     “It’s a ’51 or a ’52. I think it is the ugliest, most dilapidated car I have ever seen but I picked it up for forty bucks and the engine runs great. So where the hell are we going, Professor?”
     “Let’s go to the beach so we can park this damned thing and walk around.”
     “As you wish” I replied, speeding out of the parking lot. The radio only picked up one station and it was the sort of bubble gum pop from the ‘60’s that still makes me cringe. Brian switched it on only to turn it right back off and the rest of the drive was taken in silence.
     Parking the car, we got out and as he put an arm around my shoulder I felt a shock of recognition go through me. What have I gotten myself into this time, I wondered, saying softly, “Just friends, McVie. Remember that.”
     He grinned and pulled me closer until my head was all but resting on his chest. “I know, I know. Now, I want to hear about this job you have.”
     “What’s left to tell? I asked, pausing a moment to take my shoes off. I wanted to feel the hot sand between my toes. “It’s an underground sort of paper that you can only get in Frisco right now because Jack is too cheap to spring for shipping costs. I write all of the content and Jack edits it and puts it all together but…”
     “Wait, wait…stop a minute. The Full Circle? That’s what you said before? You can get it at that headshop we went to for a quarter?” He interrupted.
     “Yeah, that’s it.” I responded.
     “Of course it is! I can’t believe I never connected it with you! Then again your last name appeared only on May’s issue and again on July’s but that was only on the Dylan piece. Your boss man wrote a disclaimer for that one. I laughed about that. Christ…Lizzy, I am so fucking proud of you! You’ve got spunk, little girl. The way you defended Dylan’s performance was great. For weeks that was all I heard about was the folkies bitching about Dylan’s electric set and most of them were nowhere near Newport. When I went to the headshop and I read the cover of July’s issue I bought it. I had devoured the whole article before I got out the door. The guy at the counter laughed at me when I asked him who wrote it. When he asked why I wanted to know I told him honestly that the person knew what they were talking about, ya know? All the time it was you? That’s far out!”
     “Oh, stop it. You’re making me blush.” I replied with a giggle. “How many of the issues do you have?”
     “I have May’s, June’s, July’s, and last month’s but I haven’t been up that way yet this month. I can’t believe you saw Dylan at Newport! And you went around asking kids about the war and sex…I loved the part at Newport when the girl tried to pick you up. I laughed my ass off. Did I hear Blackwell right? You saw The Beatles in New York? I’ll bet that was a trip. Did you do it all alone?” He asked sitting down at the water’s edge and motioning for me to do the same.
     I sat replying, “No, Julie was with me. We had a lot of fun this summer but we were glad to see California again. Being back east, especially around Illinois and West Virginia, we were just too close to home for comfort, ya know? I felt like I was running away all over again sometimes. It was like I couldn’t exhale until I saw our house and I knew that it was safe again. But we saw the Beatles and it was a trip. They sounded great and John was adorable. Had there not been thousands of screaming little girls it would have been perfect. Then again, it wouldn’t have been as noteworthy, either. I’ll take it and Dylan’s performance with me to the grave.”
     “Did you get to meet Dylan? I saw your Q & A with him.”
     “No but I met someone in his crew who was really nice. He carried the questions and answers back and forth for me. He did say that my questions made Dylan laugh or amused him or something like that but after the show I think the backstage area was crazy with people wanting to see Dylan. I was told I could wait but it was suggested I not. So I didn’t. I had seen an amazing show and I had a paper that Dylan touched, wrote on, and even signed his name to the bottom. It was great!”
    For awhile neither of us said anything. I sat there listening to the ocean’s waves dance and crash around us. If I ever went back to a place like Ohio I imagined I would miss that sound. Softly, Brian said, “You have changed so much since I first met you. Last year you were completely terrified of the people here and the things they do. Now you have a place right here in Los Angeles. A year ago you never would have taken off and traveled the country like that and you sure as hell wouldn’t have gone up to total strangers and asked them the things you asked those kids this summer. My dear Elizabeth, I think you have emerged from your shell. You are not just on the right road to being who you want to be. You’re driving seventy-five. Look at the way you challenged me today. The great girl I knew at Berkeley is becoming an amazing woman. I really am proud of you.”
     He had read much more into my journey than I had. I hadn’t thought of the things I had done in that way. My emotions had been running so high since Brian left that I hadn’t thought about anything I did before I did them. I just sort of went with it. Looking at it from his prospective I could see his point. Since I came to California I had changed. “Thanks, Bri, but it’s really not that big of a deal. I traveled the country because I had a job to do and I wanted to do it. As for moving here…Well, I had a point to prove and I proved it. All of it seems so simple when I break it down like that. Maybe subconsciously I figured if I could run away from my safe middle class life in Ohio to come to a place where anything could happen, I can do anything. From here on out, nothing I can do will ever be as hard as coming out here.”
     “You might be surprised about that.” He responded, singing a little bit of The Times, They Are A’ Changin’. “There is always chaos with mass change and, in case you didn’t catch it in those articles you wrote, America is on the brink of change. I hear it in music, I read it in papers, and I feel it. In my heart I feel the nerves on edge of everyone around me. This is the calm before the storm and I think this summer you were chasing the start of the tornado whether you realized it or not. You may end up doing many things that make leaving Ohio seem like a walk in the park. Keep your eyes open and your pen ready because I have a feeling you are going to end up in the middle of it all.”
     “The psychic professor.” I mumbled sarcastically but his words created a tension in me that I couldn’t explain. The message seemed like a forewarning, a brief description of the months and years to come. The idea made me uneasy. I did not feel ready to stand in the middle of chaos and change and I doubted I would have my eyes open or my pen in hand if such a thing happened. I wasn’t that strong yet. Sighing I said softly, “Well, McVie, it’s been fun but I should probably go. I have a paper due Monday for my creative writing class and I should probably start it.”
     “What is it about?” He asked, stalling as usual.
     “My fears.” I laughed. He grinned in a mischievous way that both amused and annoyed me. “So I have to split, I guess. Do you need a ride to where you’re staying?” I asked.
     “No, I can hitch a ride later. I wish you didn’t have to go yet.” He said with a small smile. Maybe it wasn’t all bullshit. Maybe he had missed me.
     “I have to. I’ve got work to do and Julie is probably worried about me. It isn’t like I’m going far. I’ll see you tomorrow, ya know?” I said softly, suddenly caught between really wanting to go home and never wanting to leave that beach, or Brian, again.
     Standing up at nearly the same time we just sort of stared at each other for a while. How many times had I yearned for a moment like this one in the last four months? How many times had I dreamed of the boyish smile he was giving me? When he hugged me tight I let him without saying a word. I felt relieved suddenly. I had not backed down from him; I had not backed out of the confrontation that I had planned for months. I stood my ground and I think I earned his respect that day because of it. If nothing else he knew I wasn’t going to simply lie down and take his shit. “So I guess I’ll see you tomorrow, then. ‘Til then, stay out of trouble. Stay away from Sunset Strip. Oh, and don’t go looking for any seedy little bars that might let a minor in.” He said this with a chuckle and then he just turned and began walking toward the road. As I watched him go I remember thinking that L.A. might not be so bad after all.