Montecito – Chapter 4: A Walk to the Beach
by MJ Staff
Take a sneak peek of Montecito by Michael Cox in this ongoing serialization of his yet-to-be-published book. This fictional story is inspired by “tales of true crime THAT HAPPENED HERE.” After an embarrassing dinner party at the Wimbys’ house, Hollis walks the kids to school. Chapter 3 is available here.
Montecito Chapter 4
by Michael Cox
I passed the rest of the evening in morose self-loathing. Cricket – ever the intuitive one – understood and left me alone to brood. It was a gift I did not deserve but appreciated.
The next morning – Monday morning – was no better. Isabel had to be at school at 7:30 am for orchestra practice and Trip was content to enjoy an extra hour on the jungle gym before classes began, so we chugged our Cheerios and headed off into the day with the temperatures still chilly from the cloudless night.
While I had been prepared to fill Friday’s walk with jibber jabber, regardless of feedback, I was not as loquacious this morning. The three of us trudged the mile toward school in relative silence until Isabel backhanded me with a question I should have seen coming and been ready to avoid.
“Is mom going to have to go back to work?” she asked.
If cringing were sport, I would have been an Olympian. “Mom already works,” I said, deflecting the real question.
“You know what I mean, dad.” Isabel said, stiff-arming my deflection.
Indeed, I did. Isabel’s question had been preying on me and was reinforced when I caught Cricket sitting at the dining room table that morning – sporting her reading glasses and a pencil tucked behind one ear – poring over our bank statements and stabbing at her calculator.
It had not always been this way. When Cricket and I first met, she was a rising star at Ridley & Barnaby, a national Public Relations firm, while I was a promising but wet-behind-the-ears coder at QIR Resources. The year we got engaged, Cricket joined a few others and launched a boutique PR firm headquartered in Montecito. Cricket’s ascent went from rising to meteoric. She opened art galleries, clothing stores, and interior design shops; she worked with reclusive celebrities and ambitious politicians. She was amazing at her work and in short order became connected to everyone and everything that made this town move.
But she did not love the work. Which is why, when I rebooted myself at CryptoWallet, she seized the opportunity to retire from Public Relations and follow her heart, becoming a full-time volunteer with the Storyteller Children’s Center, a preschool focused on Santa Barbara’s homeless children.
Even in retrospect, this pivot seemed reasonable. After all, I was soon to be named to a fancy-titled position in a company with global aspirations. I was in on the ground floor; the sky was the limit. What could go wrong? Sure, I had been relieved of my duties at my prior two posts, but that was different, I told myself, and – accordingly – I would behave differently. It would not be easy – being a single income, no-safety-net family in one of the most expensive communities in American never is – but it was doable. We could have made it; we should have made it.
But we had not, and, perhaps, it was time to pull the plug on this charade; the one with me cast as our family’s protector, provider, and All-American dad. How many times did I need to test the hypothesis to prove it false? What is more, the family had a perfectly capable – nay superior – replacement waiting in the wings in our very own Cricket. It was as if our family was a baseball team in desperate need of a hit, and instead of sending Ted Williams to the batter’s box, we elected to cast our fortunes with Hollis Crawford, a man whose last solid contact came in tee-ball.
“No, honey,” I finally answered Isabel, determined to hide these honest questions behind a wall of false bravado. “I will work it out. Mom is good.”
My hopeful answer did not lift Isabel’s mood, leaving the three of us to complete the remainder of the twenty-two-minute walk in complete silence.
We said our goodbyes on the sidewalk in front of Montecito Union, both kids giving me glum waves before ascending through the school’s doors. I was initially grateful for the lack of a school assembly, but as I turned south to reverse the path home, I was struck by the intense and unabating melancholy of knowing that I had absolutely nothing to do.
So, I walked.
With my hands stuffed deep into my pockets, my head hung low, and my sneakers kicking up a whisp of dust, I headed down San Ysidro Road toward Highway 101 and the Pacific Ocean beyond. I thought I just might perform a one-man rendition of the most hackneyed Hollywood scene I could imagine by moping down to the beach, finding a place to sit, and tossing pebbles into the lapping waves all while an imagined soundtrack of Sade songs played in the background.
As I reconsidered the previous night’s failure, it seemed obvious that I had allowed my hopes to outreach the bounds of reality. My meeting Cyrus the business tycoon at precisely the moment when I was most desperate for a second – scratch that – fourth chance was not the kismet that I dreamed it to be. The truth was that, despite the roller coaster ride, I was now in exactly the same spot I had been in before I met Cyrus. The same hopes, prospects, and options that I had considered as I drove too fast to the Spring Singrecital – meager as they might have been – still existed.
Recognizing that, why did I now feel so much worse?
What are you going to do? My inner voice asked on repeat. I had no answer.
Before I reached the intersection of San Ysidro and Highway 101, my depressing reverie was interrupted by the wail of sirens. I assumed at first that the emergency vehicles would pass under me as I crossed Highway 101 on the overpass, but to my surprise, the source of the sirens was the Montecito fire department’s EMT truck, heading the same direction as me, straight toward the beach. Shortly after it passed, two Santa Barbara County cruisers joined the fray, all three vehicles headed toward the miniscule parking lot at the top of Miramar Beach.
I kept walking, curious but not alarmed, the vehicles now too far out of sight for me to understand the nature of the emergency.
I passed All Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, crossed the railroad tracks and the gated entrance to the exclusive homes of Sea Meadow, and – just before smacking into the backs of the EMT truck and police cruisers – made a right turn down the bougainvillea-covered path known as the Hammond’s trail. At the end of this path was my favorite beach in Montecito: perfect for sad-faced pebble tossing.
Shortly down the trail, I was passed by two of the fire department paramedics headed the opposite direction, back to the parking lot. Their walkie-talkies were buzzing, but the men themselves were in no hurry. Someone sprained an ankle and called an ambulance, the sarcastic twin of my inner voice chirped.
The Hammond’s trail ended at a bridge crossing the Montecito Creek, which was truly a creek for only three or four months a year. The rest of the time it was a dry creek bed, occasionally backfilled with saltwater if the ocean tide was particularly high. I crossed the bridge, walked alongside a stunning beach-front home, and emerged onto Hammond’s Beach.
There, one-hundred yards west from the mouth of Montecito Creek, just beyond the reach of the crashing waves on an otherwise empty beach, were four police officers standing around a body.
I froze. This did not look like a sprained ankle.
I jutted my head forward; something about the prone body exposed between the officers’ legs looked familiar. I took a few tentative steps toward them, my skin tingling with anticipation. The body appeared to be that of a man; a shirtless man in board shorts with the neoprene and Velcro of a surfboard leash still strapped to his ankle. Seeing the leash, I also recognized the surfboard laying beside him like a stretcher. But that wasn’t the familiar part. I took a few more steps, growing more confident and more horrified with each footfall.
It was the alabaster skin.
It was the shock of orange hair.
It was Landon.
Click here for Chapter 5