“I’m your therapist, and I say you have to face the beast,” Tina said. “Back to where your troubles began.”
We pulled into a parking lot near La Jolla. We weren’t anywhere near the spot I’d gone into the water a week ago, but the ocean was the same, blustery and whitecapped. All my life, I had felt connected to it, as though it was leading me to my future, my happiness. But now, it was the enemy.
“I’m pretty sure no licensed psychiatrist would think this is a good idea,” I said.
Jenny killed the engine and turned around, her pink hair vivid against the backdrop of sand and sea. “I’m full of bad ideas.” She opened her door. “Come on.”
Jenny jerked a picnic basket from the trunk and led the way along a path that angled toward the beach. A few lone gulls circled the shore. Otherwise, the oceanfront was deserted.
“I can’t believe I haven’t been here before,” Tina said. “All work and no play.”
“You find a place yet?” Jenny asked.
“Nah. I’ll wait and see if they bring me on full-time. Besides, I’m kind of digging the room service and daily cleaning ladies at the hotel.”
“That’s got to be killing your earnings,” Jenny said.
“Not as bad as you think. It’s pretty seedy.”
“So did Dr. Hunk convince you to go out?” Jenny asked.
I had forgotten all about the doctor interested in Tina. Too much trouble of my own.
Tina glanced at me, realizing I had talked about her with Jenny. She shrugged. “He didn’t show up. Neither did his patient. Whatever.”
I trudged along behind them, realizing that it wasn’t nearly as cold as I had thought. In fact, after a couple minutes, I stripped my gloves and scarf away and stuffed them in the pocket of my coat.
Two days had passed since the test. Last night I had actually talked to Gavin on the phone a while. He told me Rosa was leaving for Mexico this afternoon to meet her brother, but Manuelito would remain behind for the time being, with her cousin.
Her brother had actually been sort of worried about her disappearance, so she still had a job and a place to live.
I didn’t understand how any of this would work. How much could a three-year-old understand about the changes his life had undergone in so short a time? The man he thought was his father was gone, replaced by this man he had never seen. One mother had let him go and another was now taking care of him.
Children were resilient. But I worried for him, if he would carry long-term insecurities from the upheaval. I didn’t know who I would be to him, if anyone at all. It seemed best if I just let them work things out before Gavin and I made any move toward a future together.
A cluster of people were standing together ahead. The glare on the water and the sand made it hard to see more than a shadow. Tina and Jenny glanced at each other, and I knew something was up.
“What have you planned?” I asked, catching up to them, squinting down the stretch of shore.
They surrounded me on either side.
“Well, as your unlicensed, untrained mental health professional,” Tina said, “I made the call that the place that once tried to take you out of this life is the very spot to bring you back in.”
“What are you talking about?” But I didn’t listen for an answer, as I could make out Gavin in the group of people ahead of us. I halted. “What’s he doing here?” And a woman. And a boy. Rosa and Manuel? And another man, holding a camera. A photographer?
I panicked. Were they getting married, here on the beach? And were they dragging me to it? The girls tried to move me forward, but I was rooted to the ground. “What is this?” My voice was strangled.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Jenny said. “I know that sound. This is not a bad thing. We promise. It’s a good thing. A very very very good thing.”
“Then why is she here? And — and the boy?”
“Well, that wasn’t our call,” Tina said. “But we went with it.”
“You have to tell me what’s going on, or I’m going to take off running.” And I meant it.
“Can you just trust us?” Jenny asked. “Just this once?” She stood in front of me. “Oh, and let’s fix your ’do.” She spread my hair out along my shoulders.
“Stop it.” I pushed her hands away. “Tell Gavin to come here and explain it.”
“Fair enough.” Jenny whirled around and wolf-whistled. “Yo, Gavin! Your woman needs you for a second.”
He began striding toward us. The others waited a moment, seeming uncertain, and followed at a slower pace.
When he got close enough, I asked him, “What is this about, Gavin? Why is everyone acting like I can’t handle the truth?” It didn’t make sense, any of it. Gavin would have told me if he was going to marry Rosa, for a green card or legal stuff or for real.
He took both my hands in his and brought them to his lips. “I’ve been convinced that I need to act, and act now. We should finish something we started a long time ago.”
“So here?” Jenny asked. “You’re off script.”
“This is as good a place as any,” Gavin said.
My frustration grew. They had all planned something, talked about me without my knowing.
Jenny set the basket on the ground and dug around a minute, finally handing him a little scroll, a paper tied with silver ribbons. I knew it instantly. The proposal he had written me four years ago, after we had gotten pregnant with Finn.