Once, Kai had nearly died. Once. Now, whether she was riding the wave or just paddling out, she knew she had led a mostly charmed life. She took deep, cleansing breaths, soaked in the brine of the surf, and thanked God and the universe for every single, amazing day she got to be alive, alive, alive. The tide cleaned the darkness away. It always would, wouldn’t it?
A California beach girl with a natural, bohemian style, one event had scorched a permanent hole in Kai Weston’s sand dust, barefoot world. That was the day her beautiful mom, her best friend in life, walked out the door and never came home. A phone call on her cell, from a stranger. Blood clot to the brain. She never felt a thing.
Kai was twenty years old when her mom died, and now, at twenty three, she honored her mama’s life by being grateful for every moment. It’s what her mom would’ve surely wanted. Not that she didn’t grieve—oh, she crumbled like one of those thin papers that cover Italian amaretti cookies, the kind you light on fire and it disintegrates, just poofs into thin air. She dropped the phone, then smashed it against the wall, dropped out of UCLA and went inside of herself for a year; crawled inside a pit she never knew existed, the kind of place where hope rots and your insides liquefy. Now she didn’t talk about that time, to anyone. It was Her Dark Place, and she never wanted to face that kind of pain and fear again, ever.
She wanted to, no; she would radiate light and joy into the world, into the universal energy where her mama’s soul still surely dwelled. People said that Kai’s mother, Beka, was an angel on Earth, the kind of person who didn’t have a mean bone in her body. Kai wanted to be exactly like her mom, or at least to try.
Besides that one very bad thing, Kai had always been pretty lucky and she didn’t know what she had done to deserve it. Maybe she was a good person in a past life?
A lot of her daily luck was the kindness that comes to attractive girls, although Kai never felt beautiful, in that way that girls can be damaged when their own father deserts them young. Her self-esteem deeply bruised, her insides felt plain and emotionally paper thin, a house of straw, not bricks.
It was as if her own mirror was permanently cracked; because apparently, the rest of the world saw her differently. If she walked into a sub shop for a sandwich, ordering just the sandwich, the skinny teenager behind the counter would throw bags of free chips and cookies in with it. If she walked past a rug dealer, the owner would step outside and hand her a free, burgundy Persian throw rug. If she went to a five star restaurant, heads turned, and the plump, ruddy faced, normally irritable chef personally shuffled out from the kitchen, to bring her table an amuse bouche, on the house.
Her friends would call her every time they wanted to go to the hottest new club, because even if she didn’t know the owner, when she smiled, the ropes would part and they would glide right in. A heavily tattooed rock star would send them a round of free drinks and then invite her to his house for an after party. It was embarrassing, she didn’t want to be rude, but she always declined.
The truth was, she had never not had a boyfriend, in fact, not since preschool, when Billy Kellan proposed to her on bended knee, holding his late grandmother’s antique wedding ring. Five other boys were in line behind Billy, all with treasured family diamonds clutched in their small, hot, sweaty palms, some of them stolen from their very own mothers. One curly dark haired boy, Bradley, brought his grandmother’s Tahitian black pearls. Four year old Kai wanted those, to be truthful, but she told him she couldn’t accept a family heirloom.
Her older sister Janie resented Kai’s good fortune to be born both pretty and smart, with that laid back sensibility that drew people to her like magnets. Janie didn’t “get” Kai’s deep seeded insecurity, she thought her sister had it made. Janie was not quite as tall, she was pretty, but in more of an average way, she was not quite as bright in school—everything was more of a climb for Janie. Kai’s teeth came in straight; Janie needed both braces and a jaw expander. Kai’s eyes looked like emeralds, Janie’s were blue clouded with gray, as if they were your dream trip to Fiji—ruined by a gloomy rainstorm.
Kai had those breasts that were on the small side, but looked like they were saying “Hello, World!” Janie’s nipples were larger and flatter, her hair just a bit thinner and more coarse, Janie often thought she looked like God had tried to make Kai and she, Janie, was the dough that didn’t rise. The dough the baker threw away so he could make the really good bread.
Kai had big feet and long toes, but boys, and later men, mostly found that adorable. She decided to accept her weird feet, declaring at age thirteen “I think I love my big boats, because they sail the rest of my body where I need to go.”
Kai joked that she loved getting sand in her butt crack, it was “exfoliating”—Janie declared it “gross,” then upon turning eighteen, promptly moved as far away from the ocean as she could get. She now lives in Hays, Kansas, where she’s a stay at home mom of three little girls under the age of five, with a sweet, preacher husband. Since their mother died, the two sisters had drifted apart. Janie homeschooled her kids and she was always too busy to visit California. The pain Kai went through following their mom’s death was something Janie couldn’t, or wouldn’t stand to hear about—she was pregnant when it happened, and said she had to protect her emotions in order to protect the baby.
To Kai, it appeared Janie had no grieving phase, but who was she to say? Everyone grieved differently, and their lives couldn’t have been much more different in the years that followed. “Save the drama for your mama,” wasn’t that the old expression? If Janie wasn’t gonna grieve for their mom, Kai wondered if she had shut down her emotions completely.
When her mom died, she broke up with her college boyfriend; she couldn’t feel any love or joy through her grief. Kai eventually took the small amount of money her mom left her, and bought a teeny tiny, rickety ass little beach shack from a nice old man named Gus, with red surf shorts, white hair and a bristly beard—a beach Santa Claus. She hand painted BEACH MAMA across the front of it and started sewing handmade sarongs, weaving beach sandals from rope, and using beach glass and shells to decorate handmade bikinis. It was her therapy, the first glimmer of hope that began to bring her out of her depression and grief.
It was like she was slowly, painstakingly pulling herself up a rope, clawing herself back from a deep, dark pit of nothingness and despair. She would sleep there, in the hut alone at night, feeling the salty breeze of the ocean, aware that she could be harmed by some crazy stranger, some drifter or maniac, but needing this, on the deepest level, to save her. To stop her from going over the edge of the boat, back into the deep end.
While she was hanging on, barely hanging in, the craziest thing in the world happened. A young female celebrity from a reality TV show wandered into her hut and the paparazzi took a million pictures of her trying on Kai’s stuff. The next week, the photos were in US Magazine and on PerezHilton.com, the popular gossip site. Every photo had the “Beach Mama” sign in the background, and Kai had a gazillion customers before she could blink.
That was just the kind of thing that used to happen to her, that was her “old good luck” before she lost her mom, and she had to admit, it was fantastic. Just six months before, she had wanted to walk into the surf on a moonlit night and just disappear. Thousands of times, she had imagined how drowning might feel: cold, wet, panic and unbearable pressure, then nothingness. No more loss and no more pain. Now hope, that thing with feathers, began to fill her patchwork heart again.
Maybe she could have an actual future, even an actual career.
Other celebrities started coming by to check her stuff out, and they began inviting her out to their parties and the hippest bars in Hollywood. Real actors intermingled with reality stars and musicians—there were different levels, but the young and famous seemed to be in some kind of “celebrity club,” and she was given a pass inside their rarified, gilded world. It was not a bad world to be in—everyone was nice to you, and a lot of things were free. She went out on dates with a guitar wielding rock star that had just broken up with an actress who was America’s latest romantic comedy sweetheart. She was hit on by “A” list actors, producers, film directors and drop dead gorgeous male underwear models, who appeared on billboards in Times Square—displaying all of their bidness to billions.
It was a whirlwind, fueled by mojitos and champagne, as everyone told her she should be an actress/model/whatever…but no one felt like the one. No one felt like her future husband, or the future father of her child. No one felt like home—until she met Teddy.
Teddy Verona was a walking dream, when he strolled into her shack one day, his surfboard casually slung under his muscular arm. He wasn’t a typical surfer type, but he was damn good at it—he was damn good at a lot of things. Kai had always been drawn to thick dark hair and big brown eyes with heavy, Bambi lashes. It was her physical opposite, and she also liked a quick wit, with a bit of a potty mouth. A good/bad boy, he had to want to pull up her skirt in the elevator, maybe even sneak a finger up under the edge of her panties…but not pull her hair and certainly not strangle her in the corridor. Was that too much for a good/bad girl to ask?
Teddy put her into his palm and gently held her. The Verona family was wealthy with vineyards in northern California—Verona Vineyards, of course—but even they had been hit by the economic downturn, their rare varietals and five hundred dollar bottles of wine couldn’t be sold at many restaurants, since people had learned to watch their dollars a little more closely. Teddy had enough money to be more then comfortable. He owned a mansion in Beverly Hills and had started a production company with two close friends, as he told Kai; he “wanted to produce films he believed in.” Kai respected his taste. His favorite film was about an old jazz musician in Paris, called “Round Midnight.” It was beautiful and sad and had a lyrical winter beach scene that cracked her heart wide open like an egg.
Kai tasted a bottle from Teddy’s best vineyard and nearly cried…it felt like red, warm heat mixed with velvet, melting down her throat. He grinned at her reaction and declared, “You’re a beach girl, Kai, you have to experience the great beaches of the world!”
So off they went, on a magical mystery love tour: first to Bora Bora, where they swam with swirling stingrays and black tip sharks, without a cage, and made love in the beach hammock beside their private hut over the pristine, jewel colored waters. Every morning, they watched the fish swim under the glass floor of their hut, then took their rolls from dinner the night before with them under water snorkeling, feeding a swirl of multi-colored fish by hand. Hundreds of them—yellow angel fish—even one school of fish with iridescent scales the colors of a pastel rainbow…
Some of these particular fish, had they looked upwards while swimming with their little fins beneath their romantic over water hut, may have just seen the underside of Kai’s perfectly heart shaped, tan booty through that glass floor window.
Fiji…the Virgin Islands…the South of France…the Italian Riviera…Ibiza…Greece…they danced and partied and made love. They ate like kings, Kai was brown and happy and her belly started to swell just a bit…too much delicious food, she thought.
But no, it was even more joyful.
It was a miracle. She had almost died, and now life was growing inside her. She stared at the stick and screamed and jumped up and down and hugged Teddy, then called Janie, who said “God is good.” Kai thought, God is great.
A part of Kai, that damaged part that was her long gone father’s daughter, still couldn’t believe that someone like Teddy loved her, had picked her. But she tried to stop looking at her own mirror as cracked; she tried to see herself now as Teddy saw her.
He proposed just days after they found out. On the moonlit beach, right beside her shack, with a four carat, antique cushion cut ring set in platinum, from the ‘40s. She said “Yes!” but asked him if they could have the wedding after the baby was born. Teddy said, “Whatever you want, babe.” She always felt like she was a person who did better with less on her plate, she didn’t want to be planning a wedding and preparing to be a new mother at the same time. There was time for everything; she was not in a rush to get a wedding band on her finger.
Teddy wasn’t famous, and Kai was glad about that. Nothing against the talented and famous…she just wanted to be happy. An uncomplicated life. Family and relationships, love, that was what truly mattered. And she wanted to be a good mama, like her mama was. At least she would give it everything she had.
She moved into Teddy’s mansion in Beverly Hills, a little bummed that it wasn’t on the ocean, and the décor was a little sleek and state-of-the-art modern for her taste. He promised they’d get a place in Malibu that was all her style; he was trying to be smart and pace out the real estate market. They were only a twenty minute drive from the ocean, he reminded her, which was true, and they had a pool, but she missed the charm of her tiny shack. Teddy said she could start a line of beachwear, he knew so many designers personally, which he did. There was no huge hurry, they had their whole lives ahead of them.
There was something else they needed to attend to, first, and that was Kai’s growing belly. They had an ultrasound, where the baby was the size of a kicky gummy bear! There was actually a person in there! It blew her away—she cried large, hot, waxy tears, right there in the doctor’s office.
At her five month ultrasound, they had decided they wanted to know: It was a boy! A baby boy. She had grown up with a sister; she had never seen a boy become a man.
“Your baby is perfect,” those were the exact words her Ob/Gyn, Dr. Wallace, said after the ultrasound, “he has good lips!”
Kai beamed as Teddy squeezed her hand. They wanted to name him before he was born, Kai had read it was a good way to help them both bond with him in the womb. “He has his beautiful mother’s lips,” Teddy smiled, kissing Kai’s own pink, cupid bowed pair. “Of course he’s perfect,” the proud daddy-to-be said. “I don’t live a wrinkled life.”
They named him Fin, with just one “N”— because of their mutual love for the ocean and because he just might have been conceived with fishies swimming beneath them, right under that over water hut in Bora Bora, beneath his beach mama’s booty.
JOY, the joy of all joys, filled her spirit—where there once was despair, there now was endless possibility. Who would he be? What would he teach her? What kind of love could she give him? The unconditional love her own mama had given to her, she hoped.
And to be honest, Kai was also scared. She didn’t play the lottery, what bigger lottery could you play than having a baby? What if she lost him, before he was full term? What if he got sick? What if he died? She had some deep seeded guilt about her luck—why her?
She wasn’t blind to the dark side of life. Why bad things happened to good people is something she could not fully comprehend, but she believed in God. Kai believed there must be a universal order to things; maybe it was a cosmic plan that humans weren’t meant to know the meaning of their lives, until they passed on from this world. She tried not to think about it too much, it terrified her to know that children got diseases, that children were abducted. How could there be a meaning to that? She had to shut out those thoughts, she realized it was irrational. Most kids grew up healthy and just fine! She was still here, and she had made a ton of stupid mistakes in her life, especially as a teenager. She had actually hitchhiked once—her poor mother! Her kid was never hitchhiking, yikes.
Kai believed deeply in gratitude, and tried to keep her focus there, she didn’t want to put out any negative energy into the universe, especially not with her little one budding inside her belly.
Kai’s sister Janie believed that God controls everything that happens in a person’s life, and that you do not have any control whatsoever. If something is God’s will, it will happen, no matter what you do, for good or ill.
Kai wasn’t sure she believed that entirely, but it did take some of the guilt off of her shoulders. She wasn’t choosing her good luck; God was, so she shouldn’t look at God’s gifts as a burden. She once saw a man on TV, a guest on Oprah, who saw many people die in a plane accident. The man survived, but he witnessed these people perishing, burning up in their seats in flames. It was a horrible story, but the beautiful part was that this man who survived said he could actually see the people’s auras, or souls, leaving their bodies, and that some were much brighter than others.
Kai decided in that moment that she wanted her aura to be very, very bright, and every day as she got out of bed, she said a little prayer, asking God to help her achieve it. She wasn’t going-to-church-every-week religious, but she felt like she had a special relationship with God, her whole life. They just talked, kinda hung out; the whole world was His church, in her humble opinion. Being in nature, whether you were by the ocean, in the lush forest, taking in the majestic, snowcapped mountains or witnessing a hummingbird suspended in flight, those experiences were akin to being in one of the most holy chapels on Earth.
Kai loved being pregnant. Eating pregnant was fabulous. Every time she ate healthy food, she felt so good about doing it for two. One day, she thought, she would tell Fin he was mostly made of organic salads, vanilla buttercream cupcakes and daydreams.
She was high on pregnancy hormones—she felt like she could take on the world! Sure, she had a few emotional moments, some normal teariness and irrational worry, what pregnant woman didn’t? You know, when you read you could lose the baby if you eat unpasteurized cheese, or cold cuts that could have listeria on their surface— innocent cold cuts! Well, it’s hard not to have a few worry filled moments, she figured that was normal.
Overall, it was the happiest she had ever been. She played classic rock and felt her little boy kicking to the drum beats of The Beatles and The Stones, who says you can’t get no satisfaction? Her baby just loooved Bob Marley, of course, he already had excellent taste. Kai and Teddy went to a big summer action movie and their little guy kicked through all of the action scenes—Kai worried that he thought all those gunshots and explosions were real. Noooo more action fare, she decided after that, she wanted to do absolutely everything right for this kiddo!
She took her pregnancy vitamins with folic acid every day, ate a healthy, balanced diet, devoured every pregnancy book she could get her hands on, and took every class on babies and motherhood in the greater Los Angeles area. The women who worked behind the counter at The Pump Station in Santa Monica, a place where Kai took prenatal classes and dragged Teddy along, got to know her on a first name basis. She asked so many questions in class, Teddy joked that he, “Didn’t realize he was having a baby with the annoying student who sat in the front row and always has her hand raised.”
When they were walking down the Santa Monica shopping street called 3rd Street Promenade, one day after a class on breastfeeding—enjoying street performers and creamy light green pistachio gelato—a distracted, pimply faced teenage boy nearly ran directly into her swollen belly. Without thinking, Kai swerved and drop kicked him to his bony knees.
Teddy thought it was hilarious, saying, “That progesterone kickin’ in, babe?” but Kai would drop kick Jesus Himself if he ran smack into her uterus. She wasn’t gonna let anybody, not even the son of God, hurt her angel.
$2 of each book sold goes to the charities who saved Bexon, ISOP and Shriners Hospitals for Children.