MY NEW LIFE started now…
Standing on the deck of the old Long Beach Island shore house I had purchased back in February made me realize how its revitalization went hand in hand with the deconstruction of my inner turmoil.
Its strong frame weathered by many a hurricane still stood firm today. Yet, the interior of the stilted Cape Cod was a different story. Although everything was somewhat functional, it was hardly up to date—forgotten. Not unlike me, who had dealt with several personal storms in my life recently. Though, there I stood admiring the magnificent Atlantic roar in front of me, while my insides churned with confusion, apprehension, and a curious excitement of what lay ahead.
Memories passed through my body as I struggled with regrets. I contemplated whether I should have told my family and friends the truth. Only Daniel knew I’d settled here, while everyone else thought I was off surfing the globe, trying to find myself.
I missed my brother, Mike, and my best friend, Rain, the most. Even though Mike and I hadn't been on speaking terms, it gutted me that he wasn't part of my life; my fault, not his. Yet, the daily absence of my best friend hurt even more; again, my doing, not hers. I wished I could’ve told her my plans, but she was part of the problem. I didn't know how to let go where she was concerned. It was something I had always struggled with.
Shit! Maybe I should just call them and let them know what I was really up to.
A few days back, I turned the rickety lock for the last time on the front door of the New York Brownstone I’d shared with Rain for the past ten years. The strong but familiar reverberation sounded when doing so and reminded me of how comfortable I was in the house. The hollow echo that emanated was an ominous reminder my comfort had become complacency, confirming the finality of my situation and the decision I made for my future.
The physical move from New York City to the Jersey Shore was an easy one and went off without a hitch. Hopefully…a good sign of things to come. Yet, here I was…melancholy, questioning if I was making the right decisions.
Look at you…you’re not even here a week and already you want to turn tail and head back to a life you couldn’t stand to live anymore.
Enough of this! Frustrated with the reflection in self-pity that didn’t help then and wouldn't fix things now, I slammed my hand down on the old railing, cracking the wood even further, as its random pieces flew up and then fell to the patio below, sending sand filled smoke billowing in the air.
Great…one more thing to fix.
My aggravation not only proved I was done working on me and the house for today, it also caught the attention of my neighbor, Viv Marshall. The lady next door who helped broker the deal between me and James Stanton, the original owner of the shore house and her brother.
“Good evening, Tommy, is everything okay? By the look and sound of things, perhaps you bit off more than you can chew.” She observed as she appeared on the stairs that led to the front deck of the house.
“Good evening, Viv, I’m fine, with the house anyway…” I said, with a broad smile, hoping to hide my embarrassment.
She gave me a flat, disbelieving smile in return.
Shaking my head, I pushed out a strong breath. “I’m fine, really, just tired. Maybe this is all hitting me now? It’s probably a hint I should take a break,” I said, waving my hands around at the work I’ll need to tackle in the morning.
“Well, we have plenty of entertainment to keep you occupied, especially with the start of the summer season. I saw your surfboards in the car when you arrived. You can head out to the end of the island and grab some pretty good waves,” she said, pointing south.
“Fantastic! I think I’ll check out some of the surf shops tomorrow. Maybe I can hook up with a few of the locals who surf the island.” I faced the ocean; the enormous flowing water before me gave me pause. Mesmerized by the crashing waves in the distance, I took in another deep breath.
Noticing my reaction, Viv joined me in the view. “It’s amazing, isn’t it?” Viv asked as she came up behind me and tried to read my thoughts. We quietly walked forward in unison, away from the damaged railing, and stared at the magnificent, churning water before us.
I turned to face her and saw that she too was completely drawn in. As a light wind tousled her blonde strands, she stood captivated by the familiar picturesque world that surrounded her daily. As I studied her more closely, the noise inside of me settled down and a welcomed quietness formed.
“You love it here, don’t you?” I asked.
Her body straightened and nostrils flared as she let out a long profound breath, nodding in agreement, she placed her clasped hands gently over her heart, where they remained.
“Yes, I love it here.” Viv gazed out at nothing in particular, but it seemed as though her focus was on something only she could see, something invisible that held a special place in her memories.
“I have a feeling I will come to love it as much as you do.”
“You will. I can promise you that. Everyone who comes here loves it. The sea air gets under your skin. It makes you feel different, completely at peace.” She explained simply and definitively. Even though I thought there was more to her statement than that, I didn’t press her any further, nor did I want to appear intrusive.
We talked a little more and then said our goodbyes once Viv felt my mind was in a better place. Just as she was about to leave, she turned abruptly back to me and snapped her fingers with an exaggerated movement over her head. “Hey, I almost forgot; my niece, Jade, is away right now, and she’s due back late tonight. I wanted the two of you to meet, so I’d like to have you over for dinner tomorrow night. She’s your other neighbor, so I think it would be nice for you both to get acquainted. If that’s okay with you, I mean?”
“Sure, that would be fine. Thanks for the invite. I look forward to meeting her.” I didn’t know if excited was the right word, but I did feel relieved to have plans for the holiday weekend. Well, at least for Friday night, that is.
“Then it’s all set. Come by around 8. We can have dinner out on the porch.”
“Can I bring anything?”
“Nope, just yourself. Jade owns a bakery here on the island. She’ll bring the desserts and I have the dinner covered. She’ll be able to give you some information on the surf reports and some of the clubs that she and her friends go to.”
“Your niece surfs?” Although surprised, I asked enthusiastically.
“Of course, she grew up down here. The Jersey Shore is the perfect place to be a child, and the perfect place to learn how to surf and stay out of trouble.” She smiled wide and waved, as she disappeared down the stairs.
Smiling to myself, I turned back to stare once more at the Atlantic, or should I say my new backyard. Yeah, this was definitely the ideal place to move.
The thoughts racing through my head were interrupted by a ferocious growl in my stomach. With my renovation duties being sidetracked by my overactive mind, I decided to clean up and head out to a place down the street that Viv had recommended.
The Palm had a great mix of music, with farm to table foods passing under my nose. The wait proved it was one of the more popular spots on the island. I opted to eat at the outside bar on the street level. While taking in the incredible views of the shoreline, a beautiful blonde with eyes the color of frosted sea glass approached me with my drink. Placing the bottle before me, and with a warm smile, she introduced herself.
“Good evening, I’m Kim Turner… the owner of this fine establishment.” She teasingly boasted with a tilt of her hip to one side and her arms opened up wide, as she presented to me the business she was so obviously proud of.
I reached out my hand and introduced myself, “Tommy Conte, great to meet you, Kim.”
“You’re new to The Palm and the island. I can tell.” She smiled as she placed her hand in mine.
I met her bright smile with a curious grin. “How’s that?”
She turned away to face the Atlantic briefly before bringing her focus back to me.
“It’s the way you look at her.” She cocked her head in the direction of the water without looking away this time.
I chuckled. “You’re partially right, Miss Turner. I’ve seen oceans before, but now it’s different. I just moved in down the road from here. Plus, with a view like that, how could you not be taken back by it?”
“It’s true. I’ve lived here my entire life and she never gets old. I can attest to that, even after all of these years, I never tire of her.”
“You’ve always lived here?” I asked, wondering if she knew Viv.
“Then perhaps you know my neighbor. Viv…Viv Marshall?”
“Know her? She’s known me and my family since I was a kid. Her niece Jade is a good friend of mine.”
“Wow… small world.”
Kim laughed slightly. “Not really, the long-time locals on the island tend to know everyone, just like any other tight-knit neighborhood.”
“As a newcomer, that’s comforting to know.”
She nodded. “Have you met Jade yet?”
“No, no I haven’t.”
“Well, you're in luck. Jade and I are having dinner tonight. She’s coming home a day earlier than expected, so when she arrives I’ll bring her over so you can meet.”
“That would be great, thanks.”
Just then, one of the waiters brought my food and handed the plate over to Kim who placed it on the bar in front of me.
“I’ll tell you what, let me leave you to your dinner. I need to check on some things in the kitchen. I’ll come back once Jade gets here.”
“This looks delicious, thank you again.”
“No problem at all. Enjoy.” She left through the beach bar’s side opening, leaving me to devour my meal.
An hour or so passed with no Kim and no Jade. I concluded Kim either had her hands full with the enormous crowd, or Jade hadn’t shown up as Kim had expected her to. At this point, I’d grown tired. This was my cue to head home. Besides, I would definitely get to meet Jade at some point, and after the terrific meal I just enjoyed, I would certainly see Kim again, as I intended to return to The Palm often.
Heading out, I noticed the crowd on the dance floor had grown a great deal larger since earlier this evening. I maneuvered my way through the mass of bodies dancing to a song I wasn't familiar with.
Finally, I found a small opening that led to the exit.
Then…I found her.
A beauty with long chestnut hair, eyes to match, and legs that went on for miles, was walking in my direction. Instant attraction quickly changed into reach and rescue as my reaction was to scoop her up into my arms to avoid her falling face first into the sea of dancers who engulfed us.
Luckily for me, her bashful smile and the force at which she grabbed onto my arms showed she wasn’t offended, in the least. Her expression made me think my night was about to change for the better, and I wouldn't be leaving after all.