“The One”

We’ve all had the experience. Sometimes it’s accidental serendipity. Sometimes we meet and we know subconsciously but it has to brew awhile before we’re aware of it. However it happens, you know the tell-tale signs. Maybe your heart does that stutter-step thing, then races. Maybe it’s that twist of excitement in the pit of your stomach, or that smile that keeps teasing the corners of your lips no matter what you do.

Nyra’s been waiting for this moment since before her body started to ripen into the woman she would become. She’s one of those, you know? The precocious one sitting quietly in the back of the classroom. You’d never guess to look at her at the simmering sexuality roiling just beneath the surface.

But she knows. Doesn’t she ever! Her driven sensuality has ensured that Tai won’t be “her first.” But he might be her last. Perhaps this is Nyra’s moment. It’s a perfect day for it. Late Spring with a hint of Summer’s coming warmth that Nyra can just feel through the watery veil of the coastal mists.

    After checking the time on her phone, Nyra walks the wet sand area toward the now-decommissioned San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. Late spring surf laves her feet, surprising her with its warmth. A watery sun backlights the thin marine layer, tinting the gentle, glassy waves an elusive quicksilver. I can handle this.

     Her thoughts replay last night with Cori and Ross and the nearly electric eyes of the pretty woman in the teal blue sheath dress. What would it be like to kiss—stop it! But there’s no ignoring what’s missing in her life. I’m okay. Nyra sighs. But why do I miss it so much now?

     “Because it’s not hypothetical anymore,” she whispers to herself. Did Toni…or Kev awaken something that won’t sleep now? Probably.

     As she walks, a gray and white Least Tern with a sharp black mask darts in front of her, picks at the sand, then darts back toward the brush near the cliffs with something in its bright-yellow bill. Nesting? There are no restricting “off-limits” tapes, but she turns back anyway, just in case.

Back at the grass shack, a weathered, dark green metallic Toyota pickup with a white camper shell is parked next to Nyra’s orange Hyundai Veloster. The camper shell door is open. A sun-bronzed man is bent over a surfboard next to the grass shack, with three other boards nearby, face-up in the sand. As she draws closer, Nyra can see he’s passing a SureForm over the edge of one of the boards. He looks up, and she stops dead.

     Oh God! Wavy ebony hair frames prominent cheekbones and soulful eyes. He rises with sinuous grace, reminding Nyra of a large predatory cat.

     “Hey! I’m Tai. You here for the surf clinic?” Asian or Polynesian,  she guesses. Or both…and delicious. He transfers the fine-tooth SureForm from his right hand to his left, wipes his hand on his board shorts and extends it.

     “Nyra,” she replies, accepting the hand. “Nyra Westensee.”

     “Right.” He smiles and Nyra’s eyes stick to his, kindling a conscious awareness of warmth. “I remember your name from the list. Only three of you, today, assuming everybody shows. A lot don’t this early in the year.”

     Quit staring. “What are you doing to that board?” Nyra asks.

     The muscles in his arms dance as he raises the SureForm. “Patched a rail ding on this one last night.” He nods at the board he’s been working on. “Got here early, so I thought I’d blend the patch into the rail outline before class starts.” He picks the board up by the rail and leans it against a leg rippling with muscle to show her the ding patch on the rail.

     Nyra reaches out to run a hand over it. “It’s still rough.”

     Tai nods. “Not finished with it yet.” He drops to his knees, reaching into a small tool bag next to the board. “That’s what this is for.” He holds up a sanding block of hard rubber and wraps fine-grit carbon paper around it. “I use this to sand it close to flush, then finish up with a #400 sanding sponge to blend the patch flush with the rail.”

     Tai brushes a lock of hair out of his eyes. “After I’ve rubbed it out, you’ll never notice it, unless you’re looking for dings.”

     Nyra watches him work, dividing her attention between the play of his muscles beneath deeply bronzed skin and the work he’s doing with the sanding block.

     “May I?” she asks, after a few minutes. She reaches out for the sanding block.

     Tai looks up and shrugs. “If you want. Don’t bear down too hard, or you’ll sand through the glass on either side of the patch.”

     “Smells like modeling glue,” Nyra observes after sanding for a couple of minutes.

     Tai laughs. “Oh, you sniff, do you?”

     Nyra awards him a pained look. “Yeah. Right.”

     “Sorry. Couldn’t resist.” His conciliatory smile looks genuine. “For curiosity’s sake, you know how modeling glue smells—why?”

     “My brother Kip used to build model sailing ships. Every time a new one came out, he had to build it. I used to help.”

     “Models aren’t usually a chick thing,” Tai observes. “So, is that something you like?”

     Nyra holds up two hands and flexes her fingers. “I’ve got steady hands,” she explains. “Got roped into doing the rigging for him,” she explains.

     “Literally and figuratively, I guess,” Tai quips, earning a laugh.

     “Right,” she agrees. “The HMS Victory was kind of our masterpiece.”

     Tai nods. “Gotcha. And in answer to your question, the sanding resin we use for surfboards is polyurethane, so it would smell a lot like modeling glue. You really should be wearing a dust mask if you’re going to continue sanding,” he adds.

     “You weren’t.”

     “Guilty.” Tai shrugs with a self-conscious smile. “Don’t always follow my own advice, yah?” He looks like he’s about to say more when another car pulls alongside Tai’s pickup and a man and woman get out.

The rude interruption of Nyra’s living dream will be temporary. The effects on her will not be. Whether Nyra and Tai become a thing or not, she’s been touched by feelings she recognizes but doesn’t yet fully understand. Will Nyra and Tai become a thing, or will Tai be merely a catalyst to who she will become? Sorry, folks. No spoilers, here. You’ll have to read The Year of Maybe to find out.

Dirk is a retired Marine officer, former corporate trainer turned full-time author. “The Year of Maybe, Act II of Nyra’s Journey” is his sixth book.

Toni-Do We Ever Forget our First?

Excerpt from Best-Case Scenario.

The modest swell of her breasts is all but camouflaged by her flowy tunic. Turning sideways in the mirror, Nyra pulls it tight and pouts. Does anyone even notice? She twists and stands on tiptoe, for an over-the-shoulder look at her stern. Does her slender waist make her ass look too wide? She’d once overheard her brother’s best friend Mark commenting on her “sassy chassis.” Nyra’s all through high school crush on Mark date from the overheard offhand remark.

He’d flirted persistently, but nothing ever came of it. Had Kip warned him off?

The door swings open and in walks Toni, the IT Applications Manager. Nyra pivots hastily toward the mirror.

     “Hey Nyra!” Toni smiles, pulls a plum shaded lipstick from her purse and gets to work. “You look just fine leaving, if that’s what you’re wondering. How goes it in the call center?”

     “Nothing but a party.” Nyra fishes lip gloss from her own purse and concentrates unnecessarily on applying it.

     “One of those days, huh? I feel you. Had a few of those working the IT Help Desk before I got my certification.”

     “It’s nothing I won’t get over.”

     “That which does not kill us?” Toni’s lips twitch in irony.

     Their eyes meet in the mirror and Nyra’s stomach twists. Toni has most of what Nyra wishes she had. Full, prominent breasts. Perfect symmetry. her mahoghany skin seems to glow, calling attention to generous, kissable lips.

     A light dusting of freckles across her nose and cheeks spill down her neck, inviting speculation. A thick cascade of glossy black curls frame her face. And those liquid brown eyes.

     Toni drops the lipstick in her purse and pulls out a cell phone chiming to a text message.

     Her brow furrows as she reads. “Gotta go.” She meets Nyra’s eyes again and smiles. “Keep the faith, Girlfriend!”

     Nyra follows Toni’s graceful departure until the closing door cuts her off.

Toni’s loveliness, Nyra soon learns, goes way past her undeniable beauty. Her soul is a shining example of loving, giving kindness coupled with competence and empathy. Who would not love her?

Best-Case Scenario-Intransigent Hope

Nyra Westensee

The first thing you notice about Nyra Westensee as she approaches from afar is her graceful, athletic gait. Her movements are light and free. Close up, her striking hawk-nosed face, and full, kissable lips catch your eye. Is she beautiful? Objectively, no. But when she speaks, her meliflous contralto and careful diction—a siren’s song of possibility reel you in.

Her eyes tell the rest of her story, mirroring her spirit. Very little in Nyra’s young life has gone her way. Hints of her disappointment lurk beneath her thick chestnut eyebrows in impossibly turquoise eyes. Now that she has your attention, she seems not to know what to do with it. Her reticent smile and occasional nervous giggle suggest she’d probably be good company, if she’d just loosen up and take herself less seriously.

Nyra’s as slender as Kip—her brother from another father—is muscular and powerful. Otherwise, they share their mother’s complexion and hawk nose. You don’t have to ask, to know they’re brother and sister. But where Kip is confident and self-assured, Nyra often doubts she “can,” even after she “does.”

More than a year out of college, Nyra is still in search of her first career-level position in marketing. Is it her reticence, her choice of career or both that seem to have her feeling like she’s wading through wet cement? The truth is, many less intelligent or less accomplished have already started their careers and many less attractive have found what looks like “love.” So what’s wrong with her?

Nyra is still looking for answers. But the very incarnation of hope, Nyra purserveres. Working an internship that barely pays for gas and waitressing in a south bay sportsbar, she hasn’t given up. And though she doesn’t realize it yet, opportunities personal and professional lurk. She knows nothing in life is guaranteed and has never acquired the vice of feeling sorry for herself, though her peppery wit occasionally borders on acerbic. But to most of us, a time comes. And Nyra’s is just around the corner.

Best-Case Scenario, a tale of hope is the first act in Nyra’s journey of growth from a thoughtful young woman with more questions than answers to her dawning maturity, sophistication and the possibilities of a life of purpose and promise.

Best-Case Scenario (of Dreams and Demons)

Shadowboxing with herself...

Nyra Westensee has a long history of conflicted shadowboxing with herself—metaphorically speaking. On the surface of things, it’s hard to see why. She’s attractive, much more than she realizes. She’s not voluptuous, but she has a light, pleasing figure. She once overheard her brother’s friend Mark commenting on her womanly stern as a “sassy chassis.” But crushing on him came to nothing and unaccountably, she’s concluded that her ass is more a liability than a positive.

Is it partly because Kip is so out of reason good-looking? Maybe it’s those disarming smiles that earn him forgiveness and second chances he doesn’t always deserve. Things just come easily for Kip. Maddeningly competent and sublimely confident, he nevertheless manages to avoid appearing too full of himself.

Growing up in Kip’s shadow no matter what the dynamics at home were like would probably have been difficult, Nyra knows. Two years younger, Nyra joined him in middle school after Kip had already established himself. Same thing in high school. She was always walking a path Kip had already walked and as much as he tried to make things easier for her, she was always Kip’s younger, cute younger sister. Nice, attractive, but somehow “less than.”

But Nyra’s struggles for validation at school were mirrored at home. Their mother unconsciously confirmed Nyra what suspected. She’s just not quite as good. If Kip was in the room, he always seemed to fill it. It’s not that Nyra wasn’t there or that she wasn’t loved. She was just never the center of their mother’s world the way Kip was.

Dreams and Demons

Does it not happen to all of us, at some point? That recognition we’re not necessarily who we thought we were or wanted to be? Maybe it’s the friction of life, dangling our limitations, real or imagined before our eyes. Or perhaps we’ve always been aware of them, but are only now realizing how those limitations are defining us in ways we’d rather they didn’t. How we’re suffering by comparison with others we’d like to live up to or who show us how short of our own expectations we fall.

In the end, the catalyst of truth or it’s timing matters less than the truth it reveals. “Less than” is who we are. It is also who we must be in order to discover with who we can be and perhaps as importantly, who we want to be. It is the demons living inside us that drive us, for better and/or worse.  And it is in confronting them…how we confront them and what we do when we see them for who they are…that we become.

On the Threshold of Tomorrow...

In some respects, Nyra is fortunate to have to confront her demons early. She has her fair share of them, but they matter less than her response. In common with all of us, she will grow (or not) into what she was meant to be, can be…or wants to be. Or some combination thereof. Are we not our own life sentence and our own demons?

In Best-Case Scenario, Nyra is confronted by her truths in a way it’s impossible for her to ignore. It is a catalyst of self-discovery and the beginning of a journey toward her most authentic self. In common with all of us, she joins the silken river of life, meandering toward an uncertain destination.