Nina smiled and told Brandon the story of all of her siblings on the beach that afternoon in ’69. Brandon laughed when she told him about not letting Kit go on her own, but instead pulling her along on Nina’s shoulders on the board. “I realize I barely know her,” Brandon said. “But I feel like I already know that she hated that.”
Nina laughed. “Oh, she definitely hated it,” she said. And then she sipped her wine and caught Brandon’s eye. How nice it is, she thought, to laugh in this way.
After Brandon drove her home that night, he kissed her on the cheek as they sat parked in her driveway.
“I like you, Nina,” he said. “And I know you’ve got guys coming at you every which way nowadays. But I want to be the real deal. Can I see you again?”
Nina smiled and nodded.
“All right,” he said. “I’ll call you tomorrow and plan something good.”
“OK,” Nina said. “You do that.”
Despite his fame and his fortune, Brandon did not woo Nina with expensive dinners. He did not ask very many questions about her fancy father. He did not whisk her away to penthouse apartments in foreign lands.
He made her stir-fry at his place in Brentwood. He showed up at her house with flowers. He went to the beach with her and watched her surf.
When she cut her arm on some coral, he pulled a first aid kit out of the back of his Mercedes and bandaged her up. When she said thank you, he kissed her on the temple and said, “I like taking care of you.”
That April, the cover of Sports Pages was not BranRan in Big Bear or BranRan in Joshua Tree. It was BranRan with his back to the ocean, his racket down by his side, calling out to someone off-camera.
The headline said BRANRAN: TENNIS’S NICE GUY IS LOOKING FOR LOVE. It was the only issue of Sports Pages that sold out that year. Kit thought it was cheesy but she still bought Nina three copies.
By that point, Nina and Brandon had started seeing a lot of each other. And Brandon almost always invited Kit, and soon Jay and Hud, out with them, too.
The five of them all went to see Raiders of the Lost Ark together. They went hiking together. They went on road trips to chase waves. Brandon drove and waited out on the sand for them.
When they all tried to teach him to surf one afternoon at County Line, he kept falling off the board. His strength and training from tennis didn’t seem to help him with his balance in the waves just yet.
“Fall off nine times, get up ten, right?” Brandon said, after he bit it the first time.
Nina laughed and helped pull him up onto his board and he leaned over to her and kissed her and said, “I guess you’re better at this than me.”
Nina laughed. “I’ve been doing it longer.”
“Still,” he said. “It’s sexy.”
Kit had overheard him and smiled to herself.
“All right,” Brandon said after falling off for the fourth time, frustration growing in his voice. “I’ll be in charge of lunch, meet you all back here in an hour.”
Jay and Hud laughed. Kit convinced him to order them all steak sandwiches. And when they came in from the water that day, he was there, with five steak sandwiches laid out on a towel. Nina’s had no cheese, with a sliced tomato on the side. She kissed him on the cheek but found that she had to stop herself from welling up.
Later that evening, after Nina and Brandon had gone home to his place, they made love in his bedroom, slowly and sweetly. And afterward, as they lay in the dark together, sharing the secrets of their hearts, Brandon told Nina that he wished he loved his brother the way she loved her siblings. “I want you to know that if we do have a future together … if we ever … buy a house together, I know it needs extra bedrooms, for all of them, just in case. I know they are a part of the deal. And I love it about you.”
Nina smiled and turned to him and kissed him. “I love you,” she said and she meant it with all of her heart.
If she was totally honest with herself, she thought he was sort of blandly handsome. She found his white-bread style a little bit embarrassing. He didn’t make her laugh very hard and he didn’t blow her mind in bed. She didn’t like how often he would simply refuse to do something that he wasn’t immediately good at. And while she knew it mattered to him that he was famous and talented and rich, none of those things intrigued her.
But when she thought of a life with Brandon, her muscles relaxed and breath came easier. He felt like falling into a warm, soft bed. And she was so tired.
• • •
That fall, Nina and Brandon got engaged. They were married in the spring of 1982. Nina wore a crown of flowers in her hair, her bare feet buried in the cool evening sand. Brandon wore a white linen suit, picked out by Hud.
Nina felt the hole where her mother should have been. All three of her siblings walked her down the aisle.
• • •
Brandon looked at homes with a real estate agent every day for six weeks before finding the perfect one. 28150 Cliffside Drive was big and airy like he wanted, with a tennis court that overlooked the ocean. It had just enough bedrooms upstairs and a pool that he imagined teaching his children to swim in.
“I’ve found exactly the place,” he said to Nina that night at dinner in the city. He’d been taking her out to restaurants in a lot of areas of Los Angeles she had never thought to explore. This time they were in West Hollywood, eating at Dan Tana’s. There had been a photo of her father on the wall and she’d chosen to ignore it.
“Tell me all about it,” Nina said. “Is it on the water?”
“Better,” Brandon said. And Nina could think of nothing better than to be right on the water but she listened anyway. “It’s on the edge of Point Dume. You’ll be able to surf Little Dume every day. You can walk down there from the backyard. Westward Beach is just a stone’s throw away. It’s literally on the edge of the cliff. It’s on the edge of the world, honey.”
“Oh, OK,” Nina said, eating an undressed salad. “Sounds cool. I’m excited to look at it. I can do it tomorrow if you think it will go fast.”
“No need,” Brandon said. “I put in an offer. It’s ours. It’s all taken care of.”
“Oh,” Nina said, breathing in deeply and hiding her annoyance by sipping her red wine. She would much rather have renovated her current place. Or bought something near it. She thought he knew that. But maybe she hadn’t really explained herself well. “Great. I’m sure it’s great. I’m sure it’s perfect.”
The next morning, Brandon took her to the new house and showed her around. “This is where the couch will go. And I’m thinking my Warhol will go here …”
He kept talking and talking and talking but Nina wasn’t listening. This house was gorgeous but it was too much. Too big and too beige and too industrial and … there was no soul in here.
“What do you think?” he said. “Is it not perfect?”
What could she do about it? It was already done. “It’s perfect,” she said. “Thank you.”
He pulled her into him, put his arms around her. He put his chin to her neck, buried his face by her ear. His body was always so solid. Every time he held her like that, she felt so much less alone.
“Pretty great party house, right?” he asked her. “You all can throw your end-of-summer party here every year for decades to come, I bet.”