Friday, September 12, 2018 <> Avila Beach, California

I've always thought "Jessica" is a pretty name, but in my mind, this Jessica will always be the "Beach Girl." That's partly because we met on the beach, and partly because Jessica looks exactly like she belongs on a beach from her perpetually wind-tousled hair to her always bare feet.

Besides her name, I knew very little about Jessica. I guessed her to be in her mid- to late-twenties. She doesn't seem to be employed, yet her home is in a gated community above Avila Beach. Ocean view home prices in that neighborhood begin around 1.5 million and run as high as five million.

When her travels require transportation other than shank's mare, Jessica drives a screaming scarlet P-1800, Volvo's sporty GT export of the 1960s and '70s. This is an odd choice of vehicle for someone living in a rural location because, no matter how well built, any 50-plus-year-old automobile requires TLC from time to time. So far as I know, however, the nearest Volvo repair service is clear over in San Luis Obispo. I should also mention there are no service stations or auto repair shops of any kind in Avila Beach.

From another perspective, though, the little red Volvo is a perfect fit for Jessica. It is a car that enjoys being driven with skillful verve and in a spritely fashion, which is exactly how she drives the little Swedish machine.

That's it. That's all I knew about Jessica, but I hasten to add my lack of knowledge about the Beach Girl was much more a matter of not wanting to scare her off by appearing too snoopy than not wanting to know her better. During our conversations I gave her many openings to talk about herself, but either I was too subtle or she figured her life was her business and none of mine.

The odd thing about our relationship back then was, despite her evasiveness on personal matters, Jessica apparently enjoyed our conversations about life and such. Also, she listened with great interest when I answered her questions about what I do and why  I'm in Avila Beach. Sometimes we would talk an entire afternoon away while strolling the length of beach along Front Street and on out to the sport fishing pier, a mile or so past the San Luis Bay Inn.

Oh, in case you're curious, the answer to her question about what I do is I am a screen writer. The answer to what I am doing in Avila Beach is I just completed an intense project and I need a long vacation to recover from overexposure to the motion picture industry.

Unlike most folks I encounter, Jessica is only mildly interested in show business, which is just fine with me. Her lack of interest indicates a high degree of intelligence. It also implies an imagination quite capable of keeping its owner entertained without watching shadows of bad acting cavorting on a motion picture screen.

So there you have it, the story of Jessica. The story, that is, until yesterday. Today, the world is a different place.

Jessica and I spent yesterday afternoon absorbed in our usual daily beachcombing. At one point we stopped to observe two youngsters cavorting in the surf under the watchful eye of an older couple we guessed might be the kids' grandparents. The scene was appropriate to a conversation we were having about families and how they influence the lives of their children.

Responding to a comment I made about how caring the kids' grandparents must be to devote so much time to them, Jessica nodded less than enthusiastically and said, "Mitch, have you ever considered that too much devotion to a child can be more destructive than nurturing?"

That struck me as an odd thing to say. My writer's instinct told me the comment referred to something in Jessica's past—something significant. Even more curious about the Beach Girl now, I said, "I'm not sure I follow you. I mean, I understand parents can be overprotective and fail to prepare a child to be self-sufficient when they are faced with the real world, but . . . ."

"No, that's not what I'm talking about. I mean it is actually possible to love a child too much—to love her to death."

"I guess that could be possible, but I'm having trouble imagining such a situation. Can you give me an example?"

That question got a response I was not expecting. Jessie stepped closer and leaned her head against my shoulder. That was a big surprise. Physical contact beyond an occasional high-five when we agreed on something was not part of our relationship. "I'm sorry, Mitch. I'm just babbling now."

When she didn't step away after several seconds, I did something perfectly natural. I slid my hand around her waist and gave her a gentle squeeze. Jessie didn't seem to mind my familiarity. In fact, she put her arm around me and we continued our stroll like that. It made walking awkward, but very pleasant.

Jessica was wearing one of her bikinis and my reaction to the warmth and velvet texture of her bare skin against my hand surprised me. It was almost intoxicating. Even more surprising, just as the word "intoxicating" entered my mind, Jessie pulled herself more tightly against me. It was as if she was reading my mind and approved of the direction my thoughts were going. Impossible? The way I felt at that moment, nothing seemed impossible.

A few minutes I felt Jessie shiver. It was time to get into some warmer clothes or leave the beach or both, but I didn't want the exciting new bridge between us to evaporate yet. I tried something else beyond our previous experience.

"Hey, kiddo, it's getting a little chilly. How about we walk over to Mister Rick's and warm up?"

I found myself holding my breath while I waited the few seconds it took her to answer. The last time I felt like that was when I asked my high school crush to the prom.

With a big grin and enthusiasm, Jessica said, "Yes. That sounds great, but I need to freshen up first. Would it be okay if I meet you at Rick's in half an hour or so?"

I watched her drive off up Front Street in her little red Volvo. My GT350 was next to where Jessie was parked, so I popped the trunk and slipped into  the Topsiders and a windbreaker I keep there for just such impromptu excursions into frolicsome abandon.

And, yes, I also drive vintage American sheet metal. The difference between my Hertz Shelby Mustang and Jessie's Volvo is I can disassemble and reassemble my 1968 Ford 302 small block in my sleep, plus most of the parts or emergency make-do parts are available in auto parts stores or even at auto dismantlers.

Next, I walked across Front Street to Mister Rick's, a purveyor of spirits across from the beach. During spring breaks the seaside-themed tourist bar caters to students from Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, or SLO as the burg is known to the cool kids. Come summer, Rick's clientele switches to folks who travel from the San Joaquin Valley to escape the heat in places like Fresno and Bakersfield.

After nursing a Carta Blanca for nearly an hour in Rick's small open air terrace next to the sidewalk, I was beginning to wonder if "meet you at Rick's in half an hour" was Jessica's polite way of telling me to buzz off. Thus I was relieved when she walked into Mister Rick's a few minutes later, but I had to look twice to be sure it was her.

Jessie's hair was now neatly brushed to a luster that made me think of TV shampoo commercials and she wore just the smallest hints of eyeliner and pale lipstick. She also changed her outfit from a bikini that would easily fit in my shirt pocket to jeans, a burgundy turtleneck, a quality leather jacket, and shoes . . . well, sandals. Overall, the effect of the transformation was stunning.

Jessie's freshening up even went beyond her appearance to her personality, which needed no enhancement. She came straight to the table and leaned over to give me a kiss on the cheek. Then, before I could stand to hold her chair for her, Jessie slid the chair so close to mine she nearly ended up sitting in my lap.

Once seated, she said, "I'm sorry I took longer than I said. One thing led to another and before I knew it I'd started from scratch with a shower and everything. Were you ready to give up on me, baby?"

Now I was "baby?" That called for a comment, but before I figured out what that comment ought to be, Rick's barmaid, Kellie, arrived to take Jessica's drink order. Jessie glanced at me and noticed something in my expression that caused a small frown to wrinkle her forehead. To Kellie she said, "I'll have a glass of Wente Chardonnay, please."

Kellie looked at me and I gestured to my beer stein for a refill. Kellie nodded, and as she walked away, Jessie looked at me and rested her hand on my arm. "I’m sorry, Mitch. I messed up, didn't I?"

This is a good example of why you seldom hear the same dialogue in a film as you hear among a group of friends in the real world. The intent of the conversation must be spelled out in a film because viewers seldom get enough visual cues from a film scene to understand subtle or vague dialogue. Trying to catch up, I said, "I don't know, Jessie. What did you do?"

She looked down, and then back at me. "I think I tried too hard."

I thought I had an idea of what she was getting at, but I wasn't sure. "You tried too hard? Tried what too hard? I'm sorry, I'm confused."

Jessie shook her head. "I don't think you're really confused, but you're right to make me spell it out. That's how we learn about each other. Mitch, I've wanted to get closer to you since our very first walk on the beach, but you scare the hell out of me."

Now I was really confused. "I scare you? How do I do that?"

Shaking her head, Jessie said, "It's nothing you do, really. It's just that you are a big Hollywood movie guy used to hobnobbing with other big shots and beautiful sexy actresses. That's why I've stayed at arm's length. I was afraid of making a fool of myself and scaring you off."

"Jessie . . . ."

She held her hand up to stop me. "Please let me finish. This is taking all the nerve I have left."

I shrugged and she took a deep breath. "This afternoon I decided I had to try something to make you see me as a woman instead of just a pal. To do that I had stop being a beach bum and be more attractive and sophisticated like the women you're used to." After a short pause, Jessie added, "That's how I messed up. I overdid it and ended up doing what I was trying most to avoid; I made a fool of myself. I'm really sorry and if you want me to go away, I will understand."

Kellie delivered our drinks and I took Jessie's hand in mine. After staring at her intently for several seconds, I leaned forward and kissed her lips. It was one of the most exciting kisses I've ever experienced.

Now it was Jessie's turn to stare at me, which she also did for several seconds. Finally, she whispered, "Oh, my."

"Yes, oh my. Is it my turn to talk now?"

Jessie lowered her eyes and said, "Yes, dear."  Then she quickly looked up and added, "Is 'dear' okay? I could tell you didn't like 'baby'."

"Yes, Jessie, 'dear' is okay because it sounds like a term of endearment you might really use. Am I right?"

She nodded and I said, "Good, then I like it. Now, let's get down to cases. First, I am not a big shot and I do not hobnob with movie people. I am just a writer and I avoid movie people whenever possible. That's one reason I'm up here in Avila Beach. I'm recuperating from overexposure to movie people. Did you get all that?"

Jessie nodded again, but said nothing. "Okay, about our relationship for the past few weeks. I don't know how you missed my hints. I thought I was being pretty damned obvious about doing everything BUT ignoring you. That's because I feel the same way about you as you feel about me."

Her eyes widened. "You do?"

"You bet I do. Everything about you from the way you think, to the way you look at me, to your cute butt have been driving me nuts for weeks."

Apparently feeling relieved, Jessie grinned at me and teased, "Do you really think my butt is cute?"

Feigning frustration with her, I shook my head and said, "Yes, your butt is the very definition of cute!"

A couple of gals at the table next to ours apparently overheard me and giggled. Jessie turned beet red and I glared at the girls, and said, "Well, it is!"

That just made them giggle all the more. Ignoring them I turned back to Jessie and said, "Okay, are we straight on all that now?"

"Yes, dear. I think we're straight."

Standing, I said, "Good. Come on."

"Mitch, I just got here! Where are we going?"

Helping Jessie from her chair, I said, "We are going to suite 312 at the San Luis Bay Inn, where I have a heated view-balcony and room service that will bring us just about anything we could possibly want. How long you stay there is entirely up to you, but I think you'll agree we need some privacy to discuss this turn of events.

Jessie looked up with demure smile. "Yes, dear."

Saturday, September 13, 2018 <> San Luis Bay Inn – Avila Beach, California

By unanimous consent Jessie and I decided to spend Saturday together, starting with breakfast at the Custom House next door to Mister Rick's. We got there, however, by a circuitous route necessitated by a stop at Jessie's house to drop off her Volvo and change her clothes.

While she changed, I wandered around taking in the décor. Among the items I found interesting was a framed black and white photo in the family room. It showed a woman nursing a baby. I guessed it was a family photo, but it was not the sort of thing one expected to see on a family room wall.

I was still in the family room when Jessie tracked me down. "There you are. I was afraid I'd lost you."

I smiled. "That ain't gonna happen. I was just admiring your home. This is a great house and you've made it very homey."

"Thanks, Mitch, but I don't deserve credit for the décor. My mother did most of the decorating when she lived here."

"Would that be you and her over there on the wall?"

I thought Jessie blushed a little. "Yes, that's mother and me. She's gone now."

"Oh? I'm sorry to hear that."

Jessie's expression turned to something complex I couldn't identify.  Softly, she said, "Don't be."

Jessica seemed to be going from life mystery to another. Getting a handle on the whole story was becoming a long process. I heard the first installment Friday night when she told me her father left their home while Jessie was still a child of ten.

At the Custom House, we ordered breakfast, after which Jessie got a sort of faraway look on her face. I said, "Hello? Earth to pretty lady . . . whatcha thinkin' about?"

Jessie jumped a little as if she was surprised to suddenly wake up and find herself in a place she didn't remember going. Looking at me, she said, "You must think I'm a real mess."

"For the record, I do not think that, but even if I did, I would think you're the cutest mess I ever saw."

That got me a smile. "Okay, I'm a cute mess, but you have to be curious about me and all the drama in my life."

"Of course I'm curious. That's because you've become special to me. I'm also patient. If there are things in your past you want me to know, you'll get around to telling me about them. In the meantime I'm just enjoying the view."

I earned another smile. "I think you enjoyed a lot more than the view last night. I sure did!"

There was no doubt she was right about that. I lost track of how many times we woke up in each other's arms and instantly succumbed to the throes of endless pent up passion. Be that as it may, however, Jessie had just skillfully redirected our conversation away from all that drama in her life. I decided to let her get away with it, but she wasn't going to let herself get away with it.

"I'm sorry, Mitch. That was rotten of me."

"It was only tricky of you, not rotten. Also, I'm getting a little tired of you apologizing for things. How 'bout we do this: When you do something I think deserves an apology, I'll let you know?"

The arrival of our breakfasts—a Belgian waffle with fresh strawberries for Jessie and Eggs Benny for me—acted like one of those reset buttons on electronic devices that restore the operating system to its original state. She took a swallow of her coffee and said, "Okay, Mitch, I'm not sorry, but you deserve some answers so you know what you're getting yourself into."

"Well, unless you're an ax murderer, let's save the answers until we get to the beach. Okay?"

Jessie looked down at her plate and said, "Okay."

Across the street where I'd parked the Shelby, the sun was shining brightly on our beach and the air was warming up nicely. In celebration of all that, Jessie stripped off her pink and white striped top and white jeans, revealing another pocket-sized bikini, this one in white. From there, she took my hand and we set off along the beach toward Fossil Point to the south.

After walking for only a short distance, Jessie stopped. There were some rocks along the low cliff to our left. She pointed to them and said, "Let's sit for a minute."

I knew she wasn't suggesting we sit because she was tired. Jessie could out walk me and then some, so I got the idea I was about to get another chapter of the Jessica story. I was right.

Turning to face me, Jessie took my hand and said, "I didn't do it with an ax, but I did murder someone."

That one caught me completely off guard. All I could think of to say was, "Oh? Should I be in fear for my life?"

She shook her head as if my question was intended to be taken seriously. "You're the last person in the world I want to kill, or even hurt. That's why I'm telling you this. The person I killed was my mother."

My Beach Girl was just full of surprises. The only reply I could think of this time was: "I'm guessing that probably happened for a good reason."

Jessie nodded. "Yes, at the time there was a reason, but that doesn't make it any easier to live with the fact that I killed my own mother. The County of San Luis Obispo Grand Jury said it was 'justifiable homicide' because the coroner and the sheriff agreed the evidence supported my story that I killed her in self-defense."

"Then, that's it; end of story."

She shook her head. "No, that's not the end of the story. If you and I are going to . . . well, going to do whatever this is we're doing, you have to hear what I did and why. Otherwise you will always wonder . . . ."

I stifled a sigh. "Alright, tell me the story."

Jessie took a deep breath. "I told you my father left my mother and me when I was only seven, but there is more to it. I didn't learn the entire truth until I found his suicide note among my mother's papers after she . . . died.

"In that note father said he was going to kill himself because he feared he would do something terrible to me if he continued to live." Jessie paused for several moments before taking another deep breath and continuing her story.

Now there was a sob in her voice. "He was afraid he would molest me because he couldn't help himself. Father loved me . . . so much . . . he killed himself . . . rather than . . . ."

"Jessie, your father wasn't thinking clearly. He could have gotten help . . . ."

"I know that, Mitch, but to him there was some kind of logic to what he was doing. The thing is, I never had the slightest sense of father doing anything wrong . . . like touching me inappropriately or . . . or anything. In fact, I doted on him. I always felt much closer to him than to mother. He really was a good man."

A realization finally caught up with me. That realization completely reversed the perspective of our conversation the previous day. "This is what you were talking about yesterday when you said it was possible to love a child too much, isn't it? You weren't talking about too much love hurting the child, you meant the parent."

"Yes, darling. I didn't intend to be so mysterious about it. I guess I said that because a wanted to tell you about all this then, but I couldn't do it because I was afraid you would think I was nuts or something."

"The only nutty thing I've seen you do is fall in love with me, that is, assuming this is love."

Jessie gave me a small smile. "I'm pretty sure it's love, all right, and falling in love with you wasn't nutty. It is the only thing I've done lately that actually makes sense, but please let me finish this story. I need to find out if you . . . you still love me after . . . ."

I wasn't really enthusiastic about watching Jessie torture herself further, but it was apparently something she needed to do for herself, as well as for me. "Okay, go ahead."

"Father built a successful plastics manufacturing company in LA and he left an estate of roughly fifteen million. After he died, mother sold our big house in Avila Beach and moved to the smaller place I have now. The rest of the estate is well managed and nets me something like three hundred thousand a year. Mostly, it all just sits there making more money than I can possibly spend."

I laughed. "Sounds like a terrible problem to me."

Jessie shook her head. "That has nothing to do with any of this. I only told you that part so you wouldn't think I was only interested in you as a meal ticket."

"That idea never occurred to me."

"Anyway, six or seven years after father 'disappeared,' mother began behaving strangely. Before that she was always kind of flighty, but suddenly she was angry and agitated all of the time. I got her to see her doctor and he prescribed some pills to calm her down, but she didn't like taking them because of their side-effects. The situation got worse almost by the day.

"The problem was, no matter what I did, I couldn't please her.  All I could do was stay off her radar. Then one night it all came to a head. I was just drifting off to sleep when my bedroom door slammed open and mother came in. She screamed at me . . . calling me all kinds of names and saying stuff like, 'You killed my man and made me a widow . . . you dirty slut.'"

Jessie's voice grew shrill and louder as she described the nightmare scene in her bedroom that night. "Mother kept saying It over and over, 'You dirty slut . . . you dirty slut,' and then light from the window flashed on something in her hand and I saw the knife. It was dad's favorite chefs knife. It looked huge in mother's hand."

"By that time I was out of bed and trying to get out of the room, but she had me cornered. She raised that big knife over her head with both hands. The point of the blade was aimed right at my chest. All the time she was still screaming, 'You killed him . . . you dirty slut . . .you dirty slut!'"

Looking into Jessie's eyes and I saw pure terror. She was living that horrible night all over again. I started to reach for her, but she shrank away from me. We were in very different worlds at that moment.

Breathing faster, Jessie went on with her narrative. "I didn't know what to do.  I couldn't get away from her. Finally, she swung the knife down at me. I sidestepped far enough that the blade only grazed my arm and stuck in the wall. While mother was pulling at the knife, trying to get it loose, I moved toward the door as fast as I could.

"I squeezed past her and was nearly to the door when the knife came unstuck from the wall. She spun around and came at me again. I grabbed for the only thing I could reach, my desk lamp. It was one of those adjustable ones with a heavy base. I grabbed it by its shade end and swung it at mother. The heavy base gave the lamp a lot of centrifugal force. It was almost like swinging a baseball bat. The base hit her in the left temple.

"She staggered and began turning her head left and right as if she was looking for me, but couldn't see me. She made a  hideous noise in her throat like a choked scream, and then she sort of melted onto the floor a little at a time. When she stopped moving, that horrible knife was still in her hand."

Now Jessie was literally gasping for breath, but she kept on talking between gasps. "I ran into the kitchen . . . and dialed nine-one . . . one. I told the operator . . . she sent paramedics and sheriff's . . . ."

Suddenly Jessie just went limp. She fell against me and I held her for at least a minute until she looked up at me. I doubt she could see me clearly, though. Her eyes were filled with tears.

"Jessie, just breathe slowly and relax. It's all over. You did what you believed you had to do that night and again just now, but it's over and you're okay."

She wiped some of the tears from her eyes and looked at me again. "Do . . . do you still want me after what I did? I mean, do you still . . . ."

"Do I still love you? Yes, more than ever. You went through hell that night, and the fact that you were willing to relive it for my benefit now leaves no doubt about your feelings for me. In fact, I wouldn't be at all surprised if we found ourselves standing in front of a preacher one of these days, assuming you believe in such traditional goings on."

"Oh, Mitch! I believe in them more than ever now. I love you so much. I don't know how I lived without you."

I smiled at Jessie. "You got along without me because you're one smart, brave woman . . . and . . . ."

Now she was smiling despite the tears on her cheeks. "Yes? And what?"

"And you've still got the cutest butt on the west coast."

Jessie frowned at me. "Only on the west coast?"


Story, design, and Avila Beach images © Steve Eitzen
Header graphic & HPO logo © HPO Productions
Character images © 123RF used by license
All other images modified from public domain sources

All rights reserved by copyright owners

This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, locations, and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.