Sweet Forty-Two
Author:Andrea Randall

“Thank you guys for letting me stay with you while I look for a place.” I yawned and poured milk into my coffee, looking at the boxes surrounding Bo and Ember’s new kitchen.

 

Through the window over the sink, the calm waters of Mission Bay greeted me. North Cove, to be exact. And I was ... envious. Soft, crystal blue waves lapped up onto the almost-white sand that was a couple of dozen yards from the sliding doors off of the kitchen. The house was tucked neatly into the cove, and I could see the tiny bungalows and cottages that lined the cul-de-sac of water on all sides. None were over a story high, allowing for a full view of the small mountains just beyond the bay.

 

Inhabited by mainly year-round residents, it was a far cry from the ocean side of Mission Blvd. Or “wild side”, as the neighbors called it.

 

I knew I’d never be able to afford to find a place like this on my own, so I was taking in what was sure to be one of my last waterside morning vistas.

 

Ember’s parents had maintained a condo here since the late eighties, even after they moved to Connecticut to send Ember to high school. They’d offered to have Bo and Ember move in with them, but Ember had gone on and on during late night drinking sessions about boundaries. Before she wavered, though, they were able to find a bungalow to sublet for six months a few houses down from her parents.

 

Relaxed boundaries, then.

 

Bo entered the kitchen and set his coffee mug in the sink before he put his hand on my shoulder for a second. “Any time, man. You know that.” He gave it a slight squeeze before picking up a box labeled Sandals.

 

“A whole box?” I raised my eyebrows, eyeing him over my steaming mug of motivation.

 

He shrugged. “I ... guess...” He chuckled, so did I.

 

Little things like that were starting to come more naturally again. Laughing.

 

“You boys find something funny?” Ember sauntered into the kitchen looking more ready for the day than I’d ever looked any day of my life.

 

Her long auburn hair was tied back, and she wore short denim shorts and a green tank top. She was gorgeous by any standard but didn’t flaunt it. I’d met her when she was in the middle of an emotional mess after her breakup with Bo. I still wasn’t clear on all the details from when they met to when they broke up, but I didn’t think I needed them.

 

I wasn’t the one sleeping with her, so I figured it was safe for me to push the teasing a little. “You can only wear one pair at a time, Ember. Why do you need so many?”

 

“San Diego.” She arched her eyebrow and fished through another box, producing a pair of kitchen shears.

 

“Huh?”

 

“We’re in San Diego, Regan. It’s sunny three hundred days a year.” That was the only answer she felt she needed to offer. She gave Bo a quick kiss before running the scissors along the seam of the box as he held it.

 

She was right. It was San Diego, and I hoped that this place held more answers than why Ember needed twenty-five pairs of sandals. Just after I’d come back from Ireland, Ember sent her mother some audio and video recordings of me playing, without telling me. I would have resisted had she suggested it, but I’m glad she did. Her parents wanted me immediately and called me themselves to ask that I consider coming out with Bo and Ember to record in January. I was still jobless, but with a nice cushion in my bank account from when I’d taught in Ireland the year before, so I had nothing to lose.

 

“Here they are.” Ember exhaled in near-relief as she lifted a pair of gold sandals out of the box and slid them onto her feet.

 

Bo cleared his throat, seeming to stifle a laugh. “Ember, I told your dad I’d meet him at the studio this morning to help him set up that new equipment. You two all right here?”

 

“Of course, tell Dad I’ll be by around lunchtime.” Ember rose up on her toes as Bo slid his arms around her waist and rested his hands on the small of her back. “I love you.”

 

“I love you,” Bo whispered as he kissed her.

 

I turned quietly on my heels and snuck out the back door onto the cool sand. No matter what room I left, or what country or state I entered, she was there.

 

Rae Cavanaugh.

 

Bo’s younger sister, and my girlfriend, who had died tragically the summer before. We were together for less time than she’d been gone, but her death overrode all internal sense of time. Seeing that horse buck her from its body and watching her lay lifeless on the ground changed my internal makeup.

 

Her death stuck to me like thick, cold mud, dried under the hottest sun I’d ever felt. It tugged at my skin, ripping the hair from my arms one at a time before I could brush the dust free. Dust. One day, seemingly just like that, I was able to stand up and brush it all off like dust.