Unlike the suddenness and great contrast that Billy had experienced before, the turnover from spring to summer at USC seemed to overlap as smoothly as the baton exchange of the university's relay team. It was as though a continuous season had fallen and left the terrible illusion over all the freshmen new to Southern California that the lush simplicity of so easy a year could remain forever. The only sign which kept the changing seasons from going unnoticed was the all too drawn-out finals week, wherein each day further into it fewer and fewer students cluttered the halls and cement courtyards and quad - by Friday leaving them the vast, lonely remnants of the annual summer exodus, dwindling students away like seed to pigeons.
Billy stood atop the stone stairs outside the main library, feeling a weakening emptiness as he looked out upon the vacant courtyard on the final Friday of the term. He was waiting for a newly befriended alpha-type named Maxwell to finish an exam.
The thought immediately crossing Billy's mind as he waited was that the university, being the reputable, proud, highly regarded one which it was, seemed to lose its importance without a swilling of students from class to class. It seemed dead; as unimportant, as un-influencing as a body without life. The students seemed to have been its blood. They seemed to have been its soul. Without them, the University of Southern California was only a collection of buildings - rather nice buildings - filled with books, sunlight from the windows and the first signs of collecting dust.
The university was now massive and hollow, which contributed largely to the emptiness, uncertainty and loneliness which Billy felt standing there. It had been as if the place had slipped right from under him, and now reminded him that everything was rather just teetering there, smack on the brink of uncertainty, like the mystique of dark water.
Still, Billy was coming off a good year, somehow managing to get through it without having to get a job. His grades were a reflection of the extra time the absence of a job afforded him, so accordingly his GPA saw a rise to a "perfect 4" by the second half of the term. The extra time also afforded him a position in one of the university's most swank student clubs.
Bored, sitting alone in the dining commons one day before class, he was flipping through an extracurricular weekly when his gray eyes, loosely and carelessly comprehensive, tightened-in on evidence of a sailing club. By no more than a week later he had talked his way into the company of the club's dozen or so university legacies, many of whom hailed from rich Oceanside communities of the center East Coast; the rest from the nearby West Coast boat towns around Catalina as well as a few up North in the rougher, colder waters around Big Sur and even much higher off the Newport and then even the Seattle coast. All, however, were lead by the club's hansom president Maxwell Dewitt, who was from Cape Cod. Never had a sore-thumb healed so quickly. They referred to it as "The Inlander."
He was very poignant in his approach to them, restricting his words to those which he knew would help pry his self into the club's acceptance.
Maxwell, a tall, dirty-blonde, fittingly ex-Polo model and Luke Raines, shorter but equally thin with a shaved head, thicker dark eyebrows and a square jaw, were moving about and around the ship one day when Billy approached.
Maxwell was hosing off the top of one of the small twenty footers with a hose while Luke sat on the dock, dangling his feet over the side. When Billy, in shorts and Frank's Sperry's, approached, they both stopped dead, not even attempting to greet him.
"I'd like to join your club."
The two looked at each other and then didn't say anything. Billy placed his hands in his pockets and rocked a bit.
"I, um... I'm from a ski town, and now that I'm going to SC I'd like to try my hand at sailing."
The two looked at each other again, now livening a bit. Maxwell kinked the hose.
"A ski town?"
"Mammoth. Mammoth, California."
"I've been there," Maxwell said.
"Who hasn't," Billy replied.
So they had him, at which point it was his usual reservation which kept most of the small club from knowing any details that would perhaps enable them to lift a nose at him. Eventually, when they did come to know Billy's background, they had become his friends, making his economic stance but a side-note and his book-smart brilliance, which they also discovered, his own sort of flattery on a plain as high if not higher than those which they stood upon - not to mention that having a beautiful girlfriend was a sort of right of passage to the shallow outfit which, in itself, took its toll on Carrie and Billy.
Before Billy had joined the Trojan Yacht and Sailing Club, his time, as was alluded to a little ways back, was a currency that which sat plump in his account. Much of it was invested in his studies, some was wasted away, some was left for games and social occasions, while the large remainder went for the purchase of Carrie's adornment. Billy, while not overtly interested or possessive, was trusting and readily available. In combination with his handsomeness, his unconsciously charming awkwardness and sense of protection he cast, the time he handed over for Carrie kept her devoted and, for the most part, satisfied. So when his expenditures began shifting to cleaning the hulls and decks of the club's two twenty footers, filling that void left by the absence of skiing - ever-deepened by the love of Abigail, Carrie began to fade-off, more often giving in to nights in Hollywood with her girlfriends and, of course, Valentine, and then spilling those Hollywood nights into only Valentine, who she insisted until the last time her and Billy ever spoke was only a good friend.
Billy, his hair destroyed; in pajama pants, slippers and a t-shirt, left his dorm early one morning after a restless night to go grab tea. In the lobby he had caught Carrie just arriving home from the previous evening, her hair an equal wreck, her dress ruffled and her pumps in hand. Although he called and texted her repeatedly throughout the night before to no avail, he never felt too worried or jealous, for he had spent the evening at the season-closing pep-rally alone star gazing at his beloved tiny-dancer. But when he saw Carrie that morning, hungover and barely slept, that wretched sensation of betrayal coated his body like a straight-coat.
All she could ask is "What?" to the look he cast.
"Where were you," he said, rhetorically. "You didn't pick up or anything all night."
"My phone died."
He didn't erupt. An eruption, perhaps, would've got her back. It wouldn't take much of a fight if he wanted to keep her. But she wasn't his obsession. She never was. So he was only stabbed a bit and nodded, more comfortable with the silence than her. Even the Resident Assistant, sitting behind her desk, turned away.
"I'll call you later," is all Carrie said.
When Billy continued to the café, he addressed the RA as he passed: "She slept in a battlefield."
Maxwell ran and hopped jauntily down along the long cement patio. "Sorry that took so long! I hadn't studied at all!"
Grabbing Billy's shoulder, he joined him in observing the dead university.
"We've got the whole place to ourselves, it looks like." He then cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled out before smiling at Billy and then yelling out again: "We're outa here!"
The two made way down the steps into the courtyard, balancing their ways along small walls and obstacles, plant pots and benches, jumping on and off of them.
"Now where are we going? Something about stars or something," Billy asked.
"This cool little place up the coast. We're drinking free."
Billy stopped. "You never mentioned that!"
"No? It never occurred to me I guess," Maxwell said, coursing a small garden's ledge. His real reason, though, for not telling Billy such a detail was that he didn't want Frank slithering his way in. Not that he didn't like him, but simply because he wasn't a member of the club.
"What's the occasion?"
"Duh, Billy. It's summer. School's out."
"It's this old guy's place in Malibu. I mean, it's a restaurant. He helped kick-start our club, like, ten years ago. He always feeds us and gets us drunk after finals."
"I mean, you don't have any plans, do you?"
"Just to go back to Mammoth."
"Tomorrow or Sunday, yeah?"
Now he smirked. "I haven't procrastinated all year. I'll procrastinate now. Besides, I already told you I'd go."
"That-a-boy! The old bastard's gonna love you. He hates me."
Both jubilant, the two of them reached the end of the courtyard. Turning and facing back at it mid-stride, backpedaling, feeling the straps of their bags until they stopped to take one last look at their campus before what always seemed like the longest season at the start, and by far the shortest upon its close.
The piano seemed as though it was playing behind the evening. Nobody could see it, and nobody would notice it either unless it was to stop. Bob Paxell had years before discovered the perfect volume to which set the Baby-Grand so that it be as such, like the foundation of a building. They cross no one's mind; people could go their whole lives not thinking about the foundations holding their homes, their offices, their restaurants and their bars and dance-floors secure below their shoes. So they dance upon them - just as they did in Moonshadows affront and upon that lovely, rainy trickle keeping the steps without admittance the whole night through. So when removed, the setting becomes almost like an entirely different day and an entirely different place just as to remove a foundation of a building would be to compromise such an unconscious, unknown, illustrious security. A blankness falls between the silences of exchange, and then a reality creeps in and then an obligatory voice whispering each guest to go home...
Yet the piano was all Billy heard when he was stunned by the peripheral sight of her. The piano was at his forefront of things, only muffled in the curdling of rushed blood around his ears. He had an empty glass in his hand. A thick strand of hair had fallen away from the rest of it, slicked back and shiny, across his eyes. He had been doing something - he was serving someone a drink, perhaps. But that had all since vanished. His focus was wrecked. He seemed frozen.
Scott, who had a year or so before gone back to going by his proper name, who tonight shared the main bar with Billy, was leaning against it a little ways down, entertaining a few business-men types who had just arrived. They were all smiling at Billy as Scott sardonically grinned smart-ass jokes at him.
"That's Billy," he said. "He's supposedly the best, by far hardest working guy working here, but at the moment I don't think he even knows where he is."
The business-men laughed. One of them even attempted to include his self into the roast.
"You alright, man - "
Scott cut him off, though, from saying anything more. " Dude," he said towards Billy, "What are you doing?"
Billy didn't respond, but instead reluctantly began turning his head the opposite direction, toward the beautiful girl being greeted by a handful of people beyond the far end of his side of the bar.
With only his head facing her direction, he peered at her as if something forbidden, ready to at any moment spin his gaze away. She was being greeted with hugs and exchanging pecks cheek to cheek just in from the entrance by an assortment of people mostly older than her, accenting the vibrancy of her appearance by a communal dimness in fashion so that she seemed to pop like a rose blowing in a heap of ash.
"You must be admiring her dress," a voice more near his end of the bar casually said, coming out of the trickle to Billy with a nostalgic sound equivocal to the appearance of his almost was. It was perhaps the only voice that so effortlessly could've retrieved Billy's attention in so captivated a moment. Billy looked its way. Leaning against the bar was Mr. Harding.
"Oh! Hello, sir," Billy said, immediately recognizing him. Mr. Harding nodded as Billy gestured to shake his hand which he immediately halted upon realizing that Mr. Harding hadn't recognized him. It had been four years, after all.
"She's going to New York next week to live. She'll travel, but that's where she's going to live. beautiful, isn't she."
Billy looked her way again, more composed now, and nodded back at Mr. Harding. "Very," he said. "Would you like a drink?"
"Belvedere rocks, please."
As Billy poured the drink - the vodka like a smoother looking kind of water splashing over the ice cubes, reflecting the soft lights of the place in a scrambled array around the shining glass, he felt rather glad that Mr. Harding hadn't recognized him. Despite not having seen him since that night five years before on the docks, Billy still regarded him as one of the foremost people he'd like to impress. Not only that, but he also felt an obligation to make up for any offense or insult or disrespect he caused him on that night. Then again, he didn't want to overestimate himself by addressing an incident that Mr. Harding may had long forgotten, and therefore seem somewhat weird or awkward in seeming to have held on to such an issue for so long.
Billy slid Mr. Harding the drink. He was still watching his daughter smile and nod, shake hands, hug and laugh.
"Thank you, son."
Billy gestured her direction. "She's popular."
Billy smiled. "You must've had guys knocking down your door."
Mr. Harding, leaning low and relaxed against the bar, his ever-thinning hair slicked back, looked up at Billy and grinned and nodded. "She's got a younger sister too. The shotgun was in play double time."
"How much younger?"
"A little more than a year. Her mother and I wanted to keep them close."
Billy nodded. Mr. Harding looked back her way.
"If you look closely at her, you can tell how much she'd rather be doing something else right now. She's really sincere, so she hates having to act a part."
Another business-looking man holding a woman around the waist was attempting to get Billy's attention a couple feet down the bar-top. Billy excused himself and attended to them, returning to Mr. Harding quickly after. "Would you like to keep a tab, sir?
Casually reaching for his wallet, Mr. Harding looked closely at Billy. "Do I know you, son?"
Billy looked down at himself, becoming a bit self-conscious, and then smiled a little nervously, looking to Mr. Harding as if jostled by being put on the spot and knowing all the while the truth of the matter. "I don't think so, no," he said, retrieving the credit card. He could see that Mr. Harding was thinking on it, so Billy disrupted him. "Perhaps from here."
"I've only been here a couple times," he said, shaking his head.
"Well maybe that's it."
"A couple times over the last twenty years," he said, half laughing. Then after thinking a moment more, Mr. Harding began nodding. "Yeah. Probably."
"Mr. Harding!" A voice suddenly blurted. Scott walked over, holding out his hand at Mr. Harding. "Scott Franklin. I'm a Sigma Nu. I've met you a ton of times at the Sailing Serpents socials."
As Billy cringed, immediately attending to other patrons, Mr. Harding extended his hand to Scott. "Yes! Look at you!"
"How are you, Mr. Harding?"
"Things are well, very well - "
Billy, although in the middle of serving a round of drinks to a handful of people, was entirely honed in to Scott and Mr. Harding a little ways down the bar. It was inevitable, he knew, that Scott would eventually inform Mr. Harding who got him his job at Moonshadows. So when it did happen, he was ready, and went about his blown cover gracefully.
"Yes," Billy heard Scott say, "He's the guy who got everyone to jump overboard!"
Billy hesitantly walked over, mischievously half-grinning. Scott took him around the shoulder.
"Billy, this is the famous Mr. Harding."
Gently nodding his head, Billy greeted Mr. Harding with his guilty eyes. Of course, Mr. Harding wasn't angry.
"I knew it! Have you known it was me this whole time?"
"Yeah," Billy admitted youthfully, shrugging his shoulders like a child when forced to apologize, "But I wasn't sure if you'd remember me or anything."
"How could I not remember you?"
A hand rose over the bar. Scott jumped to it, saying "One second, boys."
Billy was silent for a moment, rocking and fidgeting, reclaiming the charming awkwardness that was so much more prevalent in his earlier years when Mr. Harding last knew him, of which all he knew; now he appeared much more dapper in his tailored black slacks, matching slim fit button up and bow-tie. "Well I certainly haven't forgotten you, sir. Sorry for not telling you."
As he often did when speaking with people, Mr. Harding ignored what Billy was saying, continuing on with only his own stream of thoughts. "After you..." Mr. Harding searched for an adverb with the gesture of floating his glass through the air. "... Sporadically jumped off my ship you became a kind of living legend at that social."
Billy smirked, gloating a bit, inciting Mr. Harding to continue.
"Every year since that the kids have talked about it. It's been like a fishing story - each year the story's gotten crazier and crazier."
Mr. Harding nodded. "I just stood by and let it take its course - let the story build on itself. When the pledges ask me about it I just kinda nod. The story's taken on a life of its own now. This year you had apparently stolen The Abigail-May single handedly and returned it to the docks at sunrise."
Billy was astonished. "Really... That's ridiculous."
"It's never come up to you?"
Billy squinted as he remembered, retrospectively clarifying in his head the way he regarded certain comments and the way people had known him over the years. "Scott never said anything. But I guess it had. I just didn't really realize it."
"You're a crazy kind of kid," Mr. Harding said. Of course, Billy had no idea how to respond. "How come you didn't end up pledging," Mr. Harding continued. Scott was handling the whole bar now. Billy moved closer to Mr. Harding, leaving only the bar between them.
He felt that he could be honest with Mr. Harding - even when it involved his own daughter, but for that very reason he wasn't and shrugged. "I just don't think it was for me. It wasn't really my thing." At that, Billy began to worry that he sounded like a pushover, and so specified. "I had, um... I just couldn't fit it in. I had a scholarship that to keep I had to pretty much slave over. I had a hard enough time not being distracted, so doing a fraternity would've probably been the death of me... At SC, I mean."
"That's as good a reason as any, I guess."
Billy nodded again, modestly. "I did find time to learn to sail, though."
"Pretty often now, yes. I learned in the University's sailing club." Billy lifted with repressed pride.
"You're kidding. SC has a sailing club now?"
"It's not a very big club."
"How many ships do you guys have?"
"They've got two twenty five footers. A pair of Juno Produktors. Old. Built in the sixties, but good. All wood trimmed."
Mr. Harding nodded, almost indeed looking impressed, remaining silent in his endless examination of Billy, who continued:
"Do you still sail often, sir?"
He took a sip, his eyes a wise glimmer in the flattery of bar light. "Not as often these days. Every once and a while, though."
Billy, finding a little tenderness between them, became boldly inspired. "You should know that sailing the Abigail-May in Catalina that one time - before me causing everyone to jump off of it, at least - was what made me wanna sail. I had never even thought of it until then."
He listened in stride, nodding along. "That's nice to know, Billy."
"How is that ship by the way - The Abigail."
He spun his glass on the bar, keeping pace. "I'm under the impression that it's great. But I don't know for sure," he said, nudging a shoulder. "I'm done with having so many ships. Who needs so many anyway." He broke tempo, pausing. "I sold The Abigail to some Italian guy. It's in the Mediterranean now."
"Oh," Billy said. "Was... was your daughter mad about that?"
"It was her idea."
Billy nodded, wanting to continue the interrogation but thought better to simply wait and see if Mr. Harding would clarify, but he didn't, so Billy smiled. "I would've taken it."
"You and a lot of people," he replied, raising his glass to Billy. "You know her, my daughter?"
He almost blushed. "No, not really. I talked to her once and she just so happened to talk about your guys' ships."
Mr. Harding nodded. "I can't buy you a drink, can I?"
"Oh, I can't on the job."
Mr. Harding sipped his vodka. "Understood. Right. I'll let you get back to that then."
Billy looked back down the bar. She was no longer there, so he wondered where in the restaurant she was. Looking back at Mr. Harding, Billy saw him begin to go, disappearing into the crowd. But then he stopped and returned.
"One more thing. It's William, right?"
"Yes, sir. Billy."
Mr. Harding smiled. "Why, after all, did you jump into the water like that anyway?"
Billy looked stern now, looking Mr. Harding in the eye with a massively respectful disposition, holding the silence there for a moment. "I um, just because," he said slowly, lingering. "I accidentally dropped my phone over the side."
Mr. Harding's smile enlarged as he nodded, saying "Just a phone" before continuing into the party.
Billy suddenly felt a similar way that he did when he first met Mr. Harding, only this time it lacked the charm and magic that it had four years before. The fruits of the feeling seemed to had vanished, fallen and rotted at some point along the way, leaving him with the leftover trappings which accompanied his Abigail, wherever she was, around the room - the melancholies and dashing hopes and settlement of what never was, and most of all, the comprehension of time passed and the loss of invisible expectations.
The night was busy and it was only he and Scott behind the bar, so he was restrained to only the passing sight of her, each time fire, appearing and disappearing out in the crowd somewhere, the crimson silk of her dress almost phantom from position to position, the quick flashes of her face streaks of smile and pulled up brown hair upon the slimmest of necks. He hoped she would come to the bar as much as he hoped she wouldn't. He wanted her father to mention him as much as he cringed at the thought. He wished her to stay until close as strongly as he wished her away...
However it was, his shift went by faster than it typically did, for unlike all the pleasant rain and mist, blue and silver singing evenings Billy ever passed at Moonshadows, she appeared in this one and enchanted it with all the electricity of a thunderstorm filling the sky. Even as he didn't see her for most the night, or rather in flashes, he felt her buzz. It spun him in a way that, if nothing else, made this particular shift worthwhile to work a bit harder, a bit more enthusiastically.
At the base of such vigor, though, was still that crackling hope that they might talk, that something romantic might happen as it had an entire college education before. It was there - the youthful bright tingle in his belly and faint flush of his skin, only fainter now, still right and true and present yet burned to a flicker so that he might control it, yielding it from stupefying him as it had before, like an allergic reaction which grows weaker and weaker with every encounter with the catalyst and each day without it.
To Billy, her luster remained - perhaps more intensely, but it no longer had the affect on him that such vigor be reckless, alien-felt and school boy like - a blind excitement that ultimately contributed to his legacy in Mr. Harding's social.
He was more mature now and, accordingly, much more experienced, substantially shed of youthful naivety, increasingly bitter to the taste of sentiment, with a more keen, clear sense for the actual way of things. Recognizing this, he found that her unexpected entrance into Mooshadows wasn't so much an opportunity, but a sort of summit of things. There she was, like a flag atop a high ridge in upon an immense range where he stood looking. A life that had come to him so quickly and so contrasted from all that was before seemed to be maxing-out, becoming complete in the style that which it clandestinely found itself - a mass encroaching in on Billy overwhelmingly and steadily to the brink of that high piste, overhung mystically above the dark haze of a valley, another base, into which there was no other choice but to plunge.
Whether she might take the fall hand in hand with Billy indeed lied in hope that fateful opportunity could emerge in her chanced appearance, but that she was a symbol for a changing of times was a certainty.
She came to the bar once in a latter moment of the evening. Billy, cleverly concealing his focus, found her at Scott's end, leaning casually on her elbow, oblivious to the man taking the order of the man she was talking to - looking like the well dressed version of anyone's initial thought of regular, about a decade or so younger than her father.
As she pinched her martini and lifted it in unison with the man's vodka, Billy dauntlessly faced her straight, taking what he settled would be his final blink of her, her spinning back into the crowd as she sipped. Suitably, her hair was up, stretching an already gazelle-like neck and displaying her unavoidable diamond earrings, flashing like beacons. She was preserved in her elegance to such an extent so as to appear absolutely un-aged, evermore Peter Pan-like, only perhaps complimented by the early twenties as her eyes were more direct and careful now. She would stay that way forever in Billy's memory.
Her beauty was made for late evenings, yet as the bar thinned she'd no doubt be gone before it became dull.
Moonshadows always closed quietly, for as the stragglers took their hint, the piano player - an unspoken older man - took a seat at the bar for the cap of vodka Billy had waiting for him, along with a short winded yet always sincere compliment on his subtle performance.
Scott, ever-grateful to Billy for introducing him to Mr. Paxell, would mop the floor behind the bar, so to keep out of his way Billy would go out to the deck for his cap of scotch, of which he was steadily becoming more fond. Sometimes Bob would join him or sit inside with the piano man if it was too cold, but usually he just kept to his office downstairs until Billy, always the last employee to leave, brought down the evening's earnings.
Tonight Billy took to the railing of the deck alone. The late night was rather chilly as the cold notice of the far-off seasons snuck in a breath from off the Pacific, making him push back down his rolled up sleeves, snap-off his bow-tie and pop-up his collar.
The Northern breeze, as it was, was steady enough to have blown inland all the hanging smog from the surrounding cities so that the stars, with all the opportunity of a long-sunken moon and extinguished patio lights, were as vividly visible as anywhere else on Earth, abundant as sand on a beach, twinkling and varying in spirals of alabaster stardust. Looking up at them, a hand in his pocket and the other clutched to his tumbler, gave him the sensation of floating off the rocky beach just close enough to hear the collision of land and ocean, like sudden gusts through a forest, like a million drops of water flash-frying on a hot pan, like the fluctuating roar of a crowd. Then he dropped his gaze to the horizon, distinguished only by the absence of space, squinting as if to see something more before widening them again and finally taking his first sip of scotch - wherein it all settled, and he was back at Moonshadows.
For the first time in his life he felt restrained. He felt immobile, and yet with every sip and breath an enveloping contentment was sweeping over him; even half opposing it, it remained. And then there was an anxious worry in the mix of things. It had been rising gradually in his throat and blotting out his mind since the last quarter of his senior year, but it was only now that he recognized it - a fear that his best was behind him. Before there was always a security in hope, in imaginatively looking forward, oblivious to any notion of a past... And then there was an electronic, synthesized, rhythmic one beat chime that came from a chair a few feet away.
It took him only an instant or so to recognize it. It was in a purse under the chair. Out-gunned by reluctance to venture into a strange woman's purse than by the impulsive hurry to silence a ringing phone, he held the purse out with one hand - his scotch was in the other - as if examining an animal carcass by the tail.
When it stopped ringing, he placed it on the ground below the railing, not letting the responsibility of it interfere with his nightly ritual and knowing that the owner would probably be back in the morning - or soon nonetheless. Yet when it rang again, he more heavily considered opening it, assuming that the owner was probably calling. But by the time he picked up the carcass, it stopped. Then, before he had placed it back down, it began ringing again, so he opened the bag - a large Chanel purse - and fumbled around until he felt the phone.
The name Mark read across the caller ID.
"Hi, did you leave a purse here?"
"No, she - " His voice faded off as a female's took over: "I'll be right in."
"Yeah, I've got it out on the patio."
Billy, awkwardly holding the phone, attempted to put it in the purse in the exact same way that it was before. He held the purse a bit more casually now - almost as naturally as a woman catching a smoke at the rail - so that it not be on the ground when whoever it was came to retrieve it. There, hand-bag at his side, he sipped at his scotch again before hearing Scott's belligerent voice call at him from inside.
"What the... So you're wearing purses now?"
"Wow. You really think that," Billy said sarcastically, turning around.
"I don't know!" Scott said from the other side of the bar, shrugging his shoulders.
"Someone left it! She's coming in to get it now!"
Billy turned back to the sea and looked down at the bag, holding it up a little. "It is a nice purse," he said under his breath, smiling.
Moments later, he heard the commotion of pumps scurrying across the wooden floor inside and a woman's voice followed by Scott's indicating it in the right direction. Billy began to turn around as he heard it more clearly say "Thank you" to the sound of the door opening. Seeing her just as she came out, he watched her slow her pace, regain herself and shed her urgent body language to the drop of her shoulders as she fell into the effortless, candid, never-expected swagger that which she always seemed to glide with into Billy's eyes. "Oh," was his crumbled reaction.
"Oh my god, thank you so much," she said, placing a hand on her chest in relief as Billy handed it to her. He nodded, watching her as she looked through her purse. "Really. Thank you so much," she said again, rummaging through.
"I think it's all there," he said, regaining himself. "We usually don't pawn them off until the next day or so."
She pulled out a glittery, diamond laced watch and flirtatiously hung it in front of her face, smiling. "You would've done well."
Billy only lifted his brows and smiled for, although he was much more composed than he had ever been in her presence, he was still without all his wits. She still cast a spell over him, so he took a big sip from his scotch and then set it on the rail.
"I'd have looked pretty miserable if I lost this," she said, clipping it around her wrist. "It was a gift."
"I'm glad I saw it there. The Malibu kids would've gotten to it tomorrow. That's a nice gift."
"Very. But I hate wearing watches. That's why I put it in my purse."
"I don't wear'em either," he said, momentarily upturning his wrists for her.
Looking at his wrists and then at him, she smiled and nodded. "No tan lines that way."
He laughed. "Yes. That's exactly why I don't wear them."
She half laughed as she continued to nod. "I'm sure."
Billy, looking natural but out of nervousness, placed a hand back on the railing just as she connected her hands down low, the purse hanging.
"Well," she said. "Thank you very much for saving my purse."
"I might be able to make it seem as if I had this watch on all night."
In Billy's opinion - what he wanted to say - was that such a watch could only go unnoticed on her. Of course, that's not what he said. "A watch like that... that might be tough."
She shrugged. "I'll wing it. But thank you again."
He nodded. She back-pedaled once, graciously saying "Okay then" before turning to the door. Billy ran his fingers through his hair in frustration, watching her go again.
"You're Abigail," he said firmly, taking a step forward as she placed her hand on the door. She turned quickly, which startled Billy, pushing him a half-step back.
"I Knew it! I know you, don't I?"
Billy looked both ways, again fidgeting, as if being quizzed. But then he nodded. "You do. A little."
She was unwaveringly looking in his eyes, curiously and softly examining him. "How?" She asked, in a lower, softer tone.
Billy uknowingly regained his step. "From college," he said. "From our freshmen year."
Her head tilted to the side a bit as she squinted and slyly smirked, still curious.
"I, um, you met me at your dad's sailing social."
Now her head equivocally moved upright with the speed at which she remembered, yet she remained silent. Accordingly, Billy assumed to continue.
"We talked for a while just before..."
"Yes," She interrupted. "Just before I left! I remember now." She paused a moment, examining him.
"William..." Her eyes squinted as she searched for his last name.
"Gladsten," he said.
"Yes," he said before waiting a moment. "Harding."
She nodded. "You're the one who jumped ship. The ski town boy."
Unbothered, Billy turned his head, smirking down the coastline, then returned her an admittant and nearly undetectably smug nod. Now more than ever he scorned his blunder, and it was one of his most genuine regrets. But he was at terms with it nonetheless, so he saw no other way about it but to bury it behind such a reaction, leaving it to the night to hopefully conceal his honest eyes - quite the most novel, brilliant and yet most vulnerable part of his person. "You missed out."
"Oh, I heard. I know," she exclaimed. Her eyes, framed in slate-white, then gleaming ocean gems at the centers, were as lively as the water before them, advanced then retreated, wide then narrow, in a constant state of vivacious presence. They fluctuated in sync with everything she said, like ballerinas to a score. In her savvy, happy go lucky filler, they were as wide and fine as a pin-up's; in observation, honed and narrow; answer, easy and relaxed and pleasant; question, all a gaze; in remembrance, privately downcaste. "I was never completely sure it was you who got everyone to jump into the water. You didn't cross me as the type." At this, she quickly saw that Billy wasn't sure how to register such a judgment, and as he shrugged that he somewhat disagreed. "I only thought it possible," she continued, "Because you say so little."
He was listening, now sure she was attempting to compliment him.
"You're like a good book, maybe, William." She knew that to use his name meant to personalize a conversation. And Billy didn't even consider correcting her. She made William sound so nice, in a way that took note in him to never call her Abby.
"You let people think. So many people try to give you so much..." She paused. "So that's the only reason I thought it could've been you. You never actually told me your name. I had to hear it from my dad."
Billy crossed his arms. "You never actually told me yours either. Someone had told me later."
"Officially than," she said, holding out her right hand.
"William Gladsten," he said, shaking her hand. "Everyone calls me Billy."
"Billy. Okay. I'm May Harding."
Billy continued shaking her hand. "Abigail..."
Puzzled, he kept shaking her hand. She thoughtfully smiled.
"Abigail was my mother's name."
Their hands began to slow down and then finally stopped as Billy let her go. He smiled, a little embarrassed, the back of his mind lost in retrospection. "I'm sorry."
"Really. I thought - "
"No, no worries."
Billy pocketed his right hand. "I could've sworn."
"It's fine, really. You'd be surprised how many people mistake me for my mother, even after her being passed for so long now. If anything it's a compliment. You just complimented me the best compliment I got all night I believe. Accidental compliments are the best ones," she said, pirking up. "I understand. It makes sense."
"I'm sorry," Billy said in a softer tone, differently now.
"No, she died before I can even remember." She looked off, again finding herself unintentionally opening up to Billy, though more sure about it now. "I know her through pictures and my dad. She was actually about my age when she died. It's funny, I'm kinda picking up where she left off. I'm always going to know her as this beautiful young woman on all these sail boats, looking perfect. But I'm gonna watch myself get older, pass her by. It's weird. I look just like her."
Billy was looking at her more closely with every passing second. But now he was also touched, due in large part to such a spontaneous intimacy. "I had just heard the ship was named after you."
"I never got the sailing bug. She didn't leave that with me. But it was," she said sprightly again. "When I was thirteen my sister and I had her name added to it for Father's Day."
"Mr. Harding - " Billy cleared his throat. "Your dad said you sold it."
"We started a scholarship with it at SC. So now Abigail Harding is in the South of France where she belongs. She loved it there, so now she's always there."
Billy, now for the first time in her presence feeling completely like himself, without any bit of nervousness or cloudiness of mind, looked May in the eyes with the confidence that which he had a dozen other forgettable girls in recent years, yet he was in love with this one. "New York."
She nodded, somewhat surrendered to his gaze. "To dance."
Billy returned her nod and stepped back to the rail, leaning his back against it, placing his other hand into his pocket as well. "You know why this place is called Moonshadows?"
Unavoidably a bit jaded in the last end of her early twenties and taken off gaurd by the somewhat random question, she wondered where he was going with such a start. "Is this what you tell to girls..."
He smiled, his eyes widening innocently. "I've never mentioned it at all. I just haven't told you anything really. You've told me all these great things," he said, catching through the windows the sight of Scott and the piano player hurriedly attempting to play it off that they hadn't been entertaining themselves by watching Billy and May.
"Why then." She adjusted her hold on the purse.
"Bob named it Moonshadows when he bought the place in 1984," he said quickly, gesturing that he'd continue.
"Bob owns the place I assume?"
Billy nodded. "His wife died in 1980, right after he had retired as a contractor for the Navy. They were supposed to go sailing all around the warm places in all the warm seasons in the world after they had been planning it for years. So after she died, Bob was pretty disgusted with how untimely it was - her death - and so he mourned it by still going," he said, brightening. "He sailed around the world like in a way that you only read in books. Like the stuff you see in movies. Just him. He sailed all alone for four years and... " Billy began looking around, flooding his mind excitedly. "And he went everywhere. He made entire crossings over both big oceans. He was caught in storms and met all these interesting people and saw all these amazing things." Billy paused again, calming a little, looking at May like a little boy returned from an adventure down the street. "I'm waiting for him to tell me about a Mermaid," he said, laughing. "He's told me about just nearly everything else. And he never tells me a story twice. He did in those four years what most people don't even come close to doing in a lifetime."
May was listening intently, not necessarily because of the story's content, but because of the child-like youthfulness with which Billy told it. Even if she didn't hear them, she was hanging on his every word.
"Anyway," he continued, "He called it that because they - moonshadows, I mean - bothered him so much when he was sailing around. It wasn't in a bad way or a good way. It was just one of those things people pick up when they're in a kind-of emotional crisis, I guess. That's how he put it at least. He said that they remind us that there's always darker places in the world. And that, when you're in them and you look out, everything is so much brighter. Everything you can see outside of it is brilliant." He let her think about it a moment. By now, Billy had thought about it plenty, so he certainly wasn't now - not with May standing before him. Rather, he was concerned whether she was wondering if he was going to be more specific. "He doesn't really ever get into details. He keeps all his stories pretty simple, I think because it's his way of holding them for his wife. So he never explained it any further than that."
"He doesn't have to. That's lovely," she said with her chin turned up a bit as if to defend Bob Paxell, her dimples slight and her smile small.
"But he told me that when he'd pull into all those little island-chains out there when the moon was out, he would throw anchor out on the edges of the shadows cast by the coves. Even though the water was a little rougher, he preferred the moonlight over being in the dark." Billy quieted, humbled and calmed by his own voice and the sublime sincerity of May's face, and then looked off. "Coves can be pretty dark at night when the moon's out I guess."
May wrapped herself up, finally taking notice to the summer cold, all the while looking at Billy like she never had before - as if she had known him a hundred years. Billy was looking at her just as he always had, only now in regards to the woman she had become from the girl he had crushed upon in the budding times of his far-gone freshmen year.
In her grace, it was rare to find May Harding ever out of sync from any situation one might find her, yet as she moved no more than an imperceptible inch forward, naturally pushing one pump across the wood of the porch into the years and glycerine life between her and Billy, a hidden obligation or responsibility of sorts held her from this one, keeping her from going any further into the not necessarily crumpled moment, but the one turned anew. She smiled in spite of herself, favoring one side of her mouth in a bit of frustration and uncertainty, but then wistfully settled and regained herself just as her phone began to ring.
Billy looked at her purse and then away guiltily, as if it was his fault that it was ringing.
She retrieved it, looked who was calling, silenced it and looked back at Billy, holding the phone in her hand. "I'm being waited for."
"Oh, yeah, no problem," Billy lied, dreading her coming exit. "It's getting cold anyway. I'ma go in pretty soon too."
"Well here," she said, holding out her phone. "Punch in your number, and then I'll call you and you'll have mine."
Billy took the phone, watching the numbers light up, and then handed it back. "There. I hit send. My phone's inside but I'll know it's you. I'll save it."
"If you're ever in New York," she said. "And, um, I have yours."
Billy nodded and watched her again back pedal, glowing at him, and turn and this time leave through the door.