She finally opened her eyes and looked at her ceiling. She stood up out of bed, naked except for a pair of bikini underwear. She walked down the concrete stairs, into the tiled kitchen, opened the sliding glass doors that looked onto her backyard, and stepped out on the patio.
She breathed in the salt air.
It was not yet hot that morning; the breeze that stalks all seaside towns was running offshore. Nina could feel the wind across her shoulders as she walked onto the perfectly cut grass, feeling the stiff edges of the blades between her toes. She walked until she got to the edge of the cliff.
She looked out onto the horizon. The ocean was as blue as ink. The sun had settled into the sky an hour or so ago. Seagulls chirped sharply as they dove and rose over the sea.
Nina could see the waves were good, a clear swell was moving in toward Little Dume. She watched a set come in, watched them go unridden. It seemed like a tragedy. Those waves hitting the break all by themselves, no one there to claim them.
She would claim them.
She would let the ocean heal her like she always had.
She may have been in a house she never would have chosen. She may have been left by a man she could not even remember why she’d married. But the Pacific was her ocean. Malibu was her home.
What Brandon had never understood was that the glory of living in Malibu was not living in luxury but raw nature.
The Malibu of Nina’s youth had been more rural than urbane, the rolling hills filled with dirt paths and humble shacks.
What Nina loved about her hometown was how ants found their way to your kitchen counters, pelicans sometimes shit on the ledge of your deck. Clumps of horse manure sat along the sides of the unpaved roads, left there by neighbors riding their horses to the market.
Nina had lived on this small stretch of coast her entire life and she understood she could do little to prevent it from changing. She had seen it grow from humble ranches to middle-class neighborhoods. Now it was becoming a land of oversized mansions on the beach. But with vistas this beautiful, it had been only a matter of time before the filthy rich showed up.
The only real surprise was that Nina had married one of them. And now she owned this slice of the world, she supposed, whether she liked it or not.
In a moment, Nina would turn around and walk back into the house. She would put on her swimsuit and head right back to this spot, where she would descend the side of the cliff and grab her board from the shed she kept on the sand.
But right that second, Nina was thinking only of the party tonight, having to face all of those people who knew her husband had left her. She didn’t move. She wasn’t ready to turn around.
Instead, Nina Riva stood on the edge of the cliff she’d never wanted, and looked out onto the water she wished was closer, and for the first time in her quiet life, screamed into the wind.
“Stay here.” Jay Riva hopped out of his CJ-8, jumped the five-foot gate, walked down the gravel drive, and knocked on the door of his older sister’s house.
“Nina!” he called out. “You up?”
The family resemblance was striking. He was slender and tall like she was, but more powerful than reedy. His brown eyes, long lashes, and short, rumpled brown hair made him the kind of handsome that breeds entitlement. With his board shorts, faded T-shirt, sunglasses, and flip-flops, he looked like what he was: a championship surfer.
Jay knocked again, slightly louder. Still nothing.
He was tempted to pound on the door until Nina got out of bed. Because, he knew, eventually, she’d come to the door. But now was not the time to be a dick to Nina. Instead, Jay turned around, put his Wayfarers back on, and walked back to his Jeep.
“It’s just you and me this morning,” he said.
“We should wake her up,” Kit said. “She’d want in on these waves.”
Tiny Kit. Jay started the car, and began his three-point turn, careful to make sure their sticks stayed put in the back. “She watches the same forecast we do,” he said. “She knows about the swell. She can take care of herself.”
Kit considered this and looked out the window. More accurately: She looked out where a window might have been if the car had doors.
Kit was slim and small and tightly built, all sinew and tanned skin. She had long brown hair, lightened with lemon juice and sunshine, freckles across the bridge of her nose and onto the apples of her cheeks, green eyes, full lips. She looked like a miniature version of her sister without any of the grace and ease. Beautiful but maybe a bit awkward. Awkward but maybe beautiful.
“I’m worried she’s depressed,” Kit said, finally. “She needs to get out of the house.”
“She’s not depressed,” Jay said, as he came to the intersection where the neighborhood roads met PCH. He looked to his left and then to his right, trying to time his turn. “She’s just been dumped is all.”
Kit rolled her eyes.
“When Ashley and I broke up …” Jay continued. They were now flying north up PCH, the base of the mountains to their right, the vast clear blue ocean to their left, the wind so loud Jay had to shout. “I was upset about it, but then I got over it. Just like Nina will soon. That’s how relationships are.”
Jay seemed to be forgetting that when Ashley had broken up with him, he was so upset that he wouldn’t even admit it had happened for almost two weeks. But Kit wasn’t going to mention that and risk him bringing up her love life. At the age of twenty, Kit had not yet kissed anyone. And it was a fact that she felt every day, every moment, some more acutely than others. Her brother often talked to her as if she were a child when it came to love, and when he did, she found herself reddening—equal parts embarrassment and rage.
The car approached a red light and Jay slowed down. “I’m just saying, getting in the water is probably what she needs right now,” Kit said.
“Nina will be fine,” he said. With no one else at the intersection, he put his foot on the gas and drove on, even though the light had yet to change.
“I never liked Brandon, anyway,” Kit said.
“Yes, you did,” Jay said, catching her eye out of the corner of his. He was right. She had. She had liked him so much. They all had.
The wind roared as the car sped up and neither of them spoke until Jay pulled a U-turn and took a spot on the side of the road at County Line, an expanse of sand at the very northern edge of Malibu where surfers hovered in the water all year round.
Now, with the southwest swell, there would be waves hollow enough to get barreled. And maybe show off a little if they were so inclined.
Jay had taken first and third in two United States Surfing Championships. He had three Surfer’s Monthly covers in as many years. A sponsorship with O’Neill. An offer from RogueSticks to shape a line of Riva brand shortboards. He was a favorite going into the first ever Triple Crown later that year.
Jay knew he was great. But he also knew that he attracted attention based in part on who his father was. And sometimes, it was hard to tell the line between the two. Mick Riva’s shadow excelled at haunting each one of his children.
“Ready to show these kooks how it’s done?” Jay said.
Kit nodded with a sly smile. His arrogance both infuriated and amused her. By a certain population, Jay might have been considered the most exciting up-and-coming surfer on the mainland. But to Kit, he was just her older brother, whose aerials were getting stale.