The scene: the morning of Belle’s eleventh birthday as the Witch Creek Fire crests. Lance is her father. Their neighbor Wren is Lance’s tantric sex partner and the mother of Sam and Max.
An hour later, Lance and Belle worked off their pancakes in Encinitas Park, kicking the soccer ball, trying to maintain the rhythm for as long as they could, back and forth, to the side, to the side, going long. The air quality was crap, and their throats were raw. There was a swath of blue above the ocean, but overhead, smudge- gray smoke clouds filled the sky like dirty insulation. Belle wore her retired Barstow soccer uniform: nylon goldenrod shorts and T-shirt gray from washing. go rattlers! Intent on maintaining the rally, the pair didn’t notice a silver Volvo SUV scraping the curb and disgorging Sam. The wethaired boy flew fl at- out toward them. He entered the game with a smooth steal, amping up the energy level. Lance fell back like a player tagged by his replacement and strolled toward the car. “Need help?” he called, watching Wren struggle with the car seat as she tried to unbuckle the sleeping Max.
“Damn,” Wren whispered. With her back to Lance, she felt for the release lever that was beneath the car seat and between Max’s legs. She crouched awkwardly while she tried to release the unseen mechanism without jarring the toddler, then shecarefully raised the shoulder straps over Max’s sleeping head. She lifted the sleeping baby giant, cradling his head and finding the right spot for it on her shoulder as she backed out of the SUV.
Wren rose and turned, with Max heavy but reassuring against her chest, his eyelashes tickling her neck. She protected him—and he protected her; for Max, she could be stronger than she ever was alone.
“Need help?” Lance whispered.
No, she mouthed. In faded red yoga pants and a turquoise hoodie, her head angled to compensate for Max’s weight, her smile content and mysterious, she was a beach bum Madonna. [Read more…]