Waiting for a waitress to take her order is a tall, curvy Latina cop in a navy uniform. Wavy hair, brown woven through with strands of gray, is pulled tight into a thick ponytail at the base of her neck. A pair of dark purple sunglasses sits on her face. I recognize those: She’s the cop who flashed her lights at Davy and Porter at the crosswalk, the first day I got into town.
“Morning, Pete,” she says in a husky voice. One corner of her mouth curls at the corner. Just slightly. Then her face turns unreadable. I think she’s peering down at me, but it’s hard to tell, especially with the sunglasses on. “Dutch Baby?” she says.
“You know it,” my dad answers, and laughs in an odd way.
I look between them. My dad clears his throat again. “Wanda, this is my daughter, Bailey. Bailey, this is Sergeant Wanda Mendoza of the Coronado Cove Police Department.”
Like I couldn’t figure that out. She smiles and sticks out her arm to offer me a firm handshake. Wow. Knuckle-cracking firm. I’m awake now. And I’m not sure, but I think she might be uncomfortable. Do cops get nervous? I didn’t think that was possible.
“Heard a great deal about you, Bailey.” She has? Who the heck is this and why hasn’t Dad mentioned her? Are they friends?
“I do the sergeant’s taxes,” Dad explains, but it sounds like a lie, and both of them are looking in different places—him at the counter and her at the ceiling. When her head tilts back down, she taps her fingernails on the counter. I glance at the gun holstered to her hip. I don’t like guns; they make me uncomfortable, so I guess we’re even.
“I like your brows,” she finally says. “Glamorous.”
I’m caught off guard for a second. Then I’m pleased. “I do them myself,” I tell her. Finally someone who appreciates the importance of a good arch. Plucking is painful.
“Impressive,” she confirms. “So, how’re you liking California?”
“It’s a different planet.” I realize that might not sound positive, so I add, “I like the redwoods and the churros.”
That makes her smile. Almost. She lifts her chin toward my dad. “Have you taken her to the posole truck?”
“Not yet,” he says. “She’s never had posole. Have you?” he asks, giving me a questioning look.
“No clue what you’re talking about.”
She blows out a breath and shakes her head like Dad has let down his entire country. “I’ve got a messed-up schedule right now, but sometime in the next couple of weeks, we should take her.”
We? Take her? They are a we?
“It will knock your socks off,” Dad assures me while the cop places a to-go order with the waitress. He stands and fumbles with his wallet. “That reminds me . . . Bailey, give me a second. I need to talk to the sergeant about something.” He hands me a wad of cash to pay for our check and then he walks with the cop down the counter, where they lean a little closer, but don’t seem to be talking about anything all that important. That’s when it all comes into focus.
Jeezy creezy. My dad’s dating a cop.
She seems nice. Has a great handshake. Pretty hot. The same height as him. Hope she likes him as much as he likes her, because he’s smiling like a doofus. Then I hear her quietly laughing at something he says, and see her push her purple glasses up to rest atop her head and that makes me feel better.
As I wait for the CPA–cop macking session to come to an end, I pack up my boardwalk map and look around the diner. Without my dad’s body blocking the view, I now notice the person who’s been sitting on the stool adjacent to his. It’s a boy about my age with sandy-blond hair. He’s eating eggs and drinking coffee. When he moves his arm, I see two things: (A) He’s wearing a red T-shirt screen-printed in black with Cary Grant’s face, and (B) he’s reading a guide to the summer film festival.
My heart picks up speed as my gaze flicks over him. He’s eating slowly, engrossed in his reading, taking small bites of scrambled eggs. His well-fitting shorts reveal toned, tan legs. Worn sandals slap against the counter’s metal footrest as his knee bounces. The orange-and-blue key chain sitting next to his plate is printed with a familiar logo that I’ve seen on the boardwalk: Killian’s Whale Tours. That’s not by definition a retail shop, but it is a storefront along the boardwalk that has a view of the ocean. One with a counter, and possibly a family-owned business. I mentally call up my map and place the shop about three stores away from a churro cart. No resident cat, but then again, cats are mobile.
Could it be . . . ?
My brain is telling me to slow down, but my heart is thinking, Pennies from heaven!
He’s cute. But he’s no Porter.
God, what’s wrong with me? Who cares about stupid old Porter, anyway? I push him out of my mind and focus on what’s in front of me, try to match it to the Alex I have in my mind. Could this guy be witty? Sensitive? He looks well-groomed. Are serial killers well-groomed?
This is harder than I thought it would be.
I pull myself together and remember that if it is Alex, he doesn’t know who I am. To him, I’m just a girl sitting in a diner. I’m not Mink. Deep breath.
“Grant,” I say.
He looks up from the brochure. “Excuse me?”
“Your shirt,” I explain. “Cary Grant. Only Angels Have Wings, if I’m not mistaken.” I’m not. I’m totally showing off. What a total geek I am, but I can’t help myself.
His head drops. He smiles now, and he’s got great teeth, a big, white smile. “Yes. You’re the second person ever to recognize that, and I’ve been wearing this for almost a year.” His voice isn’t what I imagined. Sharper, somehow. But still good.
“I’m a huge Grant buff,” I say. “Bringing Up Baby, The Philadelphia Story, The Awful Truth, His Girl Friday.” I tick them off on my fingers, getting a little carried away and flushed in the cheeks. Reel it back in, Rydell. I clear my throat. “And North by Northwest, of course,” I add, dangling that like the bait that it is.
“Everyone loves that,” he agrees.
Huh. Can’t tell if he’s being droll or sarcastic. Then again, Alex has a superior sense of humor. Hard to tell.
He thinks for a moment, then says, “If I had to pick one, it would be My Favorite Wife.”
“Seriously? I love that movie,” I say. “Irene Dunne and Randolph Scott are brilliant.”
“Adam and Eve,” he agrees, smiling.
“I’ve seen it a hundred times.”
“You know, Randolph Scott and Cary Grant were lovers.”
I nod. “Probably. No one’s ever proven it, but I don’t doubt it. I think he probably liked men and women.” I shrug. Who cares anyway? Cary Grant was sex on a stick. More important, he was charm on a stick. At least on the big screen. I don’t really care what he did off the screen.
“Patrick, by the way,” he says, and it takes me a second to realize he’s introducing himself.
Patrick. Huh. Not Alex, but Patrick? Of course, we aren’t using our real names online, so that means nothing. More important, does this feel right? I honestly can’t tell, but my pulse is racing, so if that’s any indication, maybe that’s a yes? And he still doesn’t know to connect the Me sitting here with the Online Me, so I guess it’s okay to give out my real name now. Besides, my dad’s a few feet away, not to mention a cop with a badass handshake.