“Yeah, let’s go,” she said.
A short guy with a gentle-looking face and a wet suit half undone around his hips spotted Jay and Kit as they started to get out of the car. Seth Whittles. His hair was wet, slicked back. He was wiping his face off with a towel.
“Hey, man, I thought I might see you here this morning,” he said to Jay as he came around the side of his Jeep. “The tubes right now are classic.”
“For sure, for sure,” Jay said.
Seth was one year younger than Jay and had been one grade behind him in school. Now, in adulthood, Seth and Jay ran in the same circles, surfed the same peaks. Jay got the sense that felt like a victory for Seth.
“Big party tonight,” Seth said. His voice had the slightest edge of bravado to it and Kit instantly understood Seth was confirming he was invited. Kit caught Seth’s eye as he was speaking and he smiled at her, as if just now realizing she existed.
“Hey,” he said.
“Yeah, man, party’s on,” Jay said. “At Nina’s place in Point Dume, just like last year.”
“Cool, cool,” Seth said, one eye still watching Kit.
As Seth and Jay continued talking, Kit got the boards out of the back and waxed them both down. She started dragging them to the shoreline. Jay caught up with her. He grabbed his board out of her hands.
“So I guess Seth is coming tonight,” Jay said.
“I gathered,” Kit said, tying her leash onto her ankle.
“He was … checking you out,” Jay said. He hadn’t ever noticed someone checking Kit out before. Nina, sure, all the time. But not Kit.
Jay looked at his little sister again, with fresh eyes. Was she hot now or something? He couldn’t stand to even ask himself the question.
“Whatever,” Kit said.
“He’s a good guy but it’s weird,” Jay said. “Somebody scoping out my little sister in front of me like that.”
“I’m twenty years old, Jay,” Kit said.
Jay frowned. “Still.”
“Yeah, well, I’d rather die than suck face with Seth Whittles,” Kit said, standing up and grabbing her board. “So don’t lose sleep over it.”
Seth was an all-right-looking guy, Jay figured. And he was nice. He was always falling in love with some girl or another, taking them out to dinner and shit. Kit could do worse than Seth Whittles. Sometimes she made no sense to him.
“You ready?” Kit said.
Jay nodded. “Let’s go.”
The two of them headed into the waves as they had countless other times over the course of their lives—laying their bodies down on their boards and paddling out, side by side.
There were already a handful of people in the lineup. But it was easy to see Jay’s prominence as he made his way past the breakers, as the men in the water saw him coming toward them. The lineup spaced out, made room.
Jay and Kit saddled up right at the peak.
Hud Riva, short where his siblings were tall, stocky where they were lithe, who spent the summer getting sunburned as they grew bronze, was the smartest one of the bunch. Far too smart to not understand the true ramifications of what he was doing.
He was eight miles south on PCH, going down on his brother’s ex-girlfriend Ashley in an Airstream illegally parked on Zuma Beach.
However, that was not how he would have phrased it. For him, the act was making love. There was simply too much heart in all of it, in every breath, for it to be anything cheaper than love.
Hud loved Ashley’s one dimple and her green-gold eyes and her gold-gold hair. He loved the way she could not pronounce anthropology, that she always asked him how Nina and Kit were doing, and that her favorite movie was Private Benjamin.
He loved her one snaggletooth that you could only ever see when she laughed. Whenever she caught Hud looking at it, she’d get embarrassed, covering her mouth with her hand and laughing even harder. And he loved that about her, too.
In those moments, Ashley would often hit him and say, “Stop it, you’re making me self-conscious,” with the sparkle still in her eye. And when she did that, he knew she loved him, too.
Ashley often told him she loved his broad shoulders and his long eyelashes. She loved the way he always looked out for his family. She admired his talent—the way the world looked more beautiful through his camera than it did right in front of her. She admired that he could get in just as dangerous waters as the surfers did, but that he swam, or balanced on a Jet Ski, holding up a however-many-pound camera, capturing in perfect light and motion what Jay could do on the board.
Ashley thought that was the more impressive feat. After all, it wasn’t just Jay who had made the cover of Surfer’s Monthly three times in as many years. So had Hud. All of the most famous shots of Jay were by Hud. The wave breaking, the board cutting through the water, the sea spray, the horizon …
Jay might be able to ride the wave but Hud was the one making it look beautiful. The name Hudson Riva was in all three of those issues. Ashley believed that Jay needed Hud as much as Hud needed Jay.
Which is why, when Ashley looked at Hud Riva, she saw a quiet man who did not need attention or accolades. She saw a man whose work spoke for itself. She saw a man instead of a boy.
And in doing so, she made Hud feel like more of a man than he ever had before.
Ashley’s breath got shallower as Hud moved faster. He knew her body, knew what she needed. This wasn’t the first or second or tenth time he’d done this.
When it was over, Ashley pulled Hud up to lie next to her. The air was muggy—the two of them had shut all the windows and doors before they had even kissed, for fear of being seen or heard or even sensed. Ashley sat up and cracked open the window near the bed, letting the breeze in. The salt air cut the humidity.
They could hear families and teenagers on the beach, the waves rolling onto the shore, the sharp whistle of a lifeguard at the nearest tower. So much of Malibu was restricted beach access, but Zuma—that wide stretch of fine sand and unobstructed coast against PCH—was for everyone. On a day like this, it attracted families from all over Los Angeles trying to squeeze one last memorable day out of summer vacation.
“Hi,” Ashley said softly, shy and smiling.
“Hi,” Hud said, charmed.
He grabbed the fingers of Ashley’s left hand and played with them, weaving his own fingers between them.
He could marry her. He knew that. He’d never felt this way about anyone before but he felt it for her. He felt like he’d known it since the day he was born, though he knew that couldn’t possibly be right.
Hud was ready to give Ashley all of him, anything he had, anything he could give. The wedding of her dreams, however many babies she wanted. What was so hard about dedicating yourself to a woman? It felt so natural to him.
Hud was only twenty-three but he felt ready to be a husband, to have a family, to build a life with Ashley.
He just had to find a way to tell Jay.
“So … tonight,” Ashley said as she sat up to get dressed. She pulled up her yellow bikini bottom and threw on a white T-shirt that said UCLA in blue and gold across the chest.
“Wait,” Hud said, sitting up, his head almost hitting the ceiling. He was wearing navy blue corduroy shorts and no shirt. There was sand on his feet. There was always sand on his feet. It was the way he and his brother and sisters had grown up. Sand on their feet and on their floors and in their cars and bags and shower drains. “Take your shirt off. Please,” Hud said as he leaned over and grabbed one of his cameras.