No tears this time, just a quiet and soul-deep grief.
Not only for her lost dreams, but for Noah and the terrible thing that haunted him. If he ever shared the cause of his demons with her, she’d be his friend, attempt to help him, but she couldn’t live her life trying to protect his. He had to take responsibility for his choices… as she had to for hers.
When her phone rang, she stared at the screen for long seconds before picking it up. “Terrence,” she said, putting a smile in her voice.
Noah would’ve realized it was false, but Terrence didn’t know her that well yet. He would though, she thought as she agreed to meet him for dinner at his place. She’d go into this with her heart wide open, give him a chance to truly know her, this good, smart man who wanted her.
Noah woke with gritty eyes and an aching body. He hadn’t gone out and picked up a girl last night. Instead, he’d gone running on the beach, the world silvery white under a bright moon, the waves crashing to shore inches from where his sports shoe-clad feet hit the sand.
He hadn’t bothered with a T-shirt, just pulled on running shorts and shoes, and then he’d run and run and run and run until it seemed he’d left the entire world behind, locked up tight in sleep.
It wasn’t true, of course. He was awake and so were the flotsam and jetsam of the world. Including the gangbangers and drug pushers who only came out after the sun set—and who left Noah alone because they were fans. An odd perk of fame, and one he appreciated. His favorite Venice night person was a familiar homeless guy who, night after night, managed to sneak onto the beach to sleep under the stars.
“Hey!” he called out as Noah passed him on the way back to his place.
When Noah stopped, the other man struggled up into a sitting position in his sleeping bag, his deeply tanned face seamed with life and all but covered by a sprawling white beard and mustache and the messy white of his hair. “Why you so crazy? Out here at night all the time, disturbing a man’s sleep.”
Breath rough, Noah bent over with his hands on his knees. “Just a bad seed, I guess.”
“Since you woke me up, you got a dollar?”
“For you, Marshall, I got twenty.” Taking the bill from his sock where he’d put it for exactly this purpose, he handed it over. “What’s happening, my man?”
“I was creating a symphony inspired by the waves.” Marshall tucked away the money. “Now I’m thinking I’ll be inspired tomorrow morning by bacon and eggs and sausage. Symphony of Cholesterol.”
Noah grinned, knowing that for the truth. Marshall never drank away what money he had, had even turned down a bottle of bourbon last Christmas. “A full breakfast sounds good. I might join you.”
The homeless man grunted. “You’re not invited. Last time you came into the diner, you had all the waitresses going so crazy they burned my sausages and made my eggs sunny-side up when I specifically said scrambled.”
Noah took a seat on the sand, his eyes on the waves rolling in to shore. “Body’s gotta eat.”
“You got that right.” Marshall held out a stick of gum, slid it back when Noah shook his head. “Why do you run so much?”
“Same reason you sit on the beach playing your harmonica long after the world’s gone to sleep.”
The other man nodded solemnly, rubbing his thumb over the small instrument. “Where’s your guitar?”
“Back home. Want to come up so we can jam?” Noah had offered Marshall a place to crash—not in his house, because he couldn’t have anyone in his house while he slept, while he was vulnerable—but in the guesthouse. The homeless man kept turning him down because he hated walls, hated not being able to taste the wind and breathe the open air.
The only time he’d ever accepted shelter had been during a rare torrential rainstorm.
“Naw,” Marshall said to his invite. “I want to work on my symphony. But I’ll see you at the diner for breakfast. Seven a.m. sharp. And if those waitresses get my order wrong, I’m eating yours.”
Saluting the older man, Noah rose and jogged back to his place. He was so tired by the time he arrived that he slept, though he was still awake in plenty of time to make his date with Marshall and looking forward to it. Whatever path had led Marshall to this life, he had music in his blood—and Noah knew that if not for Fox, Abe, and David, he could’ve ended up much the same. Lost and without roots and tormented by nightmares until he couldn’t bear walls around himself.
Not shaving, he pulled on an old Lakers cap in an effort to shadow his face, then made his way down to the diner on the boardwalk. Marshall was already sitting at a table, having tidied himself up so that he looked respectable. The olive-green weatherproof coat Noah had given him last year was clean, his beard neatly trimmed, and his backpack set beside him. No shopping cart for Marshall, just that ragged backpack.