The Beautiful Creatures of Beverly Hills
E. Van Lowe
Published by EViL E Books
a division of Sweet Lorraine Productions Publishing, Inc.
Copyright © 2016 E. Van Lowe
Edited by SolaFide Publishing & Camille Pollock
Art direction by Jim Seidelman
Formatting by Polgarus Studio
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Library of Congress Control Number: --
To request permission to reprint any portion of the book, e-mail and in the subject heading, write the name of the book.
There was no decision to dive into the pool.]
I did it without thinking. One moment I was standing on the edge of the gym floor, peering into the murky waters, and then, I was in.
I kicked down toward the commotion in the deep. The water was cold, even for a hot summer’s night, and I felt a shiver ripple my belly.
The weight of my water logged clothing dragged against the buoyancy of the water, preventing me from going down. I kicked harder, pointed my head like a projectile, and I finally got moving.
I didn’t see the creature, but I could feel pressure from the churn of struggle beneath me, and after a while I saw the eyes, just as I’d seen them skulking in the drain of Alan’s backyard pool. They were emerald green, and they were angry.
I swam toward the angry eyes, and my struggling friend came into view. I arrived, and latched onto the claw that was clinging to his side. The claw was hard like a conch shell. I wrapped both my hands around the pincer, and yanked on it with all my might, expelling a tiny bit of air as I did. After several moments of struggle, the claw reluctantly released, and I was able to pull Alan free.
I corralled him in my arms, spun him around and pushed him up toward the surface. He began rising slowly like a figure in an underwater dream sequence. He wasn’t swimming. There were no arm movements, no leg kicks. Still, he was rising, a foot or so every few moments, getting closer to the surface.
Swim, I thought. Swim, dammit!
Something latched onto my ankle from below.
I peered down and could see the creature in all his hideousness, pulling me into the depths of the pool. I tried to kick, but all that got me was searing pain in my right ankle. Fresh blood appeared in the water.
Mine, no doubt.
The creature continued pulling me down, trying to drown me. The pressure of the water pressed against my chest. I needed to get free. I needed to get to the surface. I needed to breathe.
“No one of any value lives south of the Boulevard.”
That’s what a ridiculous old lady once told my father. She was looking down her nose at him at the time. Would you believe the words of an old biddy drenched in diamonds and Chantilly lace changed everything? Everything.
Dad was attending a town hall meeting, there to protest yet another hotel going up in our beloved community of Beverly Hills.
The lady, and I use the term loosely, was sent to the meeting by the company who wanted to build the hotel. She lived in our community, but she’d been compromised. The hotel people had promised her a handsome payment to disrupt the meeting—probably a bunch of coupons for the early bird special at Denny’s. They even offered her a bonus if the hotel got built.
We didn’t know any of this at the time—no one at the meeting did, and so her words pierced my father’s heart like an arrow. No man wants to be told he’s not good enough, especially when deep in his heart he believes it might be true.
Our family home, you see, is south of Wilshire Boulevard in what we insiders laughingly call the slums of Beverly Hills. We south of the boulevard dwellers don’t live in mansions, or on acres of land. Our homes don’t have maid’s quarters, or guest houses, or twelve car garages. Ours are the homes of young executives, and budding stars on their way up, or failed executives and actors who hadn’t quite hit the big time, on their way down.
Yet there’s another breed of folk who live south of the boulevard—Us, the working class, who live in overpriced, cramped homes on small lots, not because we want the distinction of claiming to live in one of America’s most affluent communities, but because our working class parents want their children to go to the best schools, and in our neck of the woods, there is no high school better than Beverly Hills High.
A public school education in Beverly Hills is equivalent to getting educated at one of the best private schools in the country. My friends and I went to school with some of the richest kids in the world. And the best part, it was all free—sort of. There’s always a price to pay.
The way my folks saw things, a Beverly Hills education was well worth the high cost of food in our community, along with living in a cramped, overpriced home.
Yet, if there was one thing our tiny working class homes had in common with the ritzy homes across Wilshire Boulevard, it was swimming pools. Beverly Hills is chockablock with swimming pools—even the slummy parts. There are nearly twenty-five hundred pools in the city of Beverly Hills. That works out to be one pool for every one and a half people. The crazy thing is, most of the pools go unused. They’re more for status, than for swimming. Go figure.
Me and my friends got good use out of the swimming pools of Beverly Hills. We swam; we swam a lot.
The summer I turned sixteen would be spent very much like the summers I turned thirteen, fourteen, and fifteen, pool hopping from house to house with the guys in my crew, playing, swimming, arguing, eating Mulberry Street pizza and Carney’s hot dogs, and dreaming of what our lives would be like once we finally escaped living under our parents’ roofs.
Or, so I thought.
As it turned out, my sixteenth summer was very different from the all the summers that had come before, or after, for that matter.
That summer there would be a girl.
That summer there would be a creature.
That summer there would be an awakening.
And before the start of my junior year, there would be death.
I never saw any of it coming.
Conner Halsey, dipstick that he was, stood on the diving board yelling cannonball at the top of his lungs.
“Cannonbaaaaall!” he screamed for the third time.
Instead of jumping in the pool, Conner stayed planted on the diving board, eyes glued to the five foot hedge at the far end of the yard.
We were in my best friend, Alan’s backyard. The Feinmans lived in the biggest home on the block. They didn’t own the home. They were renters. The Feinmans once owned a large home three blocks from here, but when the stock market took that humongous nosedive several years ago, Alan’s stockbroker father’s fortunes plummeted along with the market. While the stock market returned to form a few years later, Alan’s father’s fortunes never did.
The hedge that had taken hold of Conner’s attention that morning was at the property line separating the Feinman home from the home next door. The home next door was occupied by a new family—the Duprees, and somewhere on the other side of that hedge, we all knew (or hoped) was a sixteen year-old raven-haired beauty. Alexia Dupree.
Alexia had lived next door to Alan for just three weeks, and during the course of those three weeks, Alan, Conner, and I had each developed serious crushes on her, despite the fact we’d barely uttered a word in her presence. In fact, you could have crammed every word the three of us had ever said to Alexia Dupree into one sentence—a very short sentence.
“Jump, already,” I called. “Cannonball should be followed by a splash that sounds like a cannonball.”
“Fuck off, Buttface,” Conner called back.
The “Buttface” remark was a play on my last name—Butters. Josh Butters. I’d been enduring insults on my name since grade school. Some days it was Buttbreath, or Buttstink, or Butt-of-the-joke. One kid back in the eighth grade came up with my favorite, the very imaginative, Mrs. Butterworth. As embarrassing as it was, that one made me laugh.
“Hey! No cursing. My mother hears you curse, she’ll kick us all out,” Alan warned.
“That’s all right with me,” Conner replied with fake bravado. “Yours’ is not the only swimming pool in Beverly Hills.”
I started to say: It’s the only swimming pool in Beverly Hills next door to Alexia Dupree, but that would have worked against us all, since not one of us was willing to admit that Alexia was the reason we were gathered around Alan’s pool at ten a.m. on a summer morning rather than catching up on our beauty sleep. We were keeping our crushes on Alexia secret. It was the worst kept secret in all of Beverly Hills.
“Just jump, already,” I called.
“That’s what I’m fixin ta do,” Conner replied, his eyes still on the hedge.
Lately, Conner had been fixin’ ta do this and fixin’ ta do that, as if his roots were in the deep South instead of Minnetonka, Minnesota.
We all knew it was because during Conner’s summer drama workshop, word had leaked out that the fall play was going to be To Kill a Mockingbird, and Conner was making silent claim to the role of Atticus Finch.
“What are you waitin’ for then?” came a small and, dare I say, delightful voice from the other side of the hedge, followed by a giggle.
“Huh?” said Conner, and nearly fell off the diving board.
“Some of us are trying to read over here, and I suppose we’re not going to get anything close to quiet until you’re finished with your cannonballing,” replied the as of yet unseen, Alexia.
“So, what are you waitin’ for?” asked a second, softer voice, the one belonging to the giggle.
The fact that there were two young ladies on the other side of that hedge got us all excited, the sound of that second voice kicking our imaginations into high gear. If the possessor of that second voice looked anything like Alexia, we’d hit the jackpot.
That’s when the music started to play, a lilting tune being played on a harp, or maybe a sitar. I’m not up on my ancient musical instruments.
“What is that weird music your mother just put on?” I asked, my gaze moving to the sliding glass door.
“What music?” asked Alan. He glared at me for an annoyed nanosecond before his gaze ventured back to the hedge.
“The belly dancing music. Is your mom taking belly dancing classes, because if she is, Dude, that’s embarrassing?”
Alan shot me another annoyed look, making it clear the beauties on the other side of the hedge were far more interesting than any belly dancing music.
“Who all’s over there?” Conner called, dipping back into his version of a southern accent. He stood on his tip-toes, trying to a clear view of Alexia’s backyard.
“Jump in, and maybe you’ll find out,” the mystery voice called back.
That was enough for Conner.
“Cannonbaaaall!” he hollered for the fourth time, then he bounced up on the board, tucked his legs, and entered the water with the most ungraceful buttflop imaginable, producing a tremendous splash that sent half the water sloshing out of the pool on entry.
I had to hand it to him. It was a good one—a perfect cannonball. Alan and I were left completely drenched by its wake, but we didn’t care. We were staring at the hedge, drenched in pool water, grinning back, waiting for two lovely faces to appear. After a few moments, we were rewarded when Alexia Dupree peeked over.
She was every bit as beautiful as I remembered. Her eyes sparkled with mischief.
“Now maybe we can get back to reading,” she said. Her green bathing suit top set off the iridescent blue of her eyes. She hit us with what I can only describe as a sly grin, as if she were a spider, toying with a couple of flies before swallowing them whole.
The sound of her voice, the blue of her eyes, the slyness of that smile, along with the sheen created by the sun on her raven hair got my heart beating faster. I imagine the same was happening with Alan as neither of us said a word.
“Whatcha readin’,” I finally managed. Two more words added to the lexicon of language we three had uttered to Alexia in the three weeks since she lived next door.
“A book.” Alexia’s grin widened as she danced along her web, toying with her flies.
“I like books.”
That was Alan. In the nearly one minute since Alexia had appeared, that was the best he could manage. I like books?
Alan was at his verbal best when he thought he sounded like an old school action hero. He was smart enough to realize that I’ll be back or Say hello to my little friend wouldn’t win him much favor with the likes of Alexia. So, I like books would have to do.
“He’s under awfully long, don’tcha think?” Alexia said, her smile fading.
Our collective attentions moved back to the pool. Since Alexia had appeared on the other side of the hedge, Conner had been totally forgotten. Now, we three were staring at large air bubbles making their way to the surface of the water.
He had been down a bit long for a cannonball, and it looked as though he were struggling beneath the surface. In a flash, Alan tore off his tee shirt and dove in.
I didn’t move. I looked back over at Alexia and shot her a weak smile. “He’s probably just messin’ around,” I said in an attempt to reassure her.
If the word loser could actually appear on someone’s eyeballs, it would have appeared right then on both of Alexia’s. “Sure,” she said dryly, and then her eyes were again on the water.
When I looked back, Conner was being dragged to the edge of the pool, but not by Alan. A girl had pushed Conner up to the edge of the pool. Where the hell did she come from? Alan helped Conner out of the water and onto the deck.
“I’m fine, I’m fine,” Conner said, slapping at Alan’s hands on him. “I was just messin’ around,” he said, embarrassed that a girl had maybe saved his life.
“Are you sure?” the girl asked. I recognized the voice as being on the other side of the hedge along with Alexia Dupree moments earlier.
“Heck, yeah! I was just trying to get you over here,” Conner said. “Looks like my plan worked,” he added with a grin. “What’s your name?” he said in an attempt to spit some game.
“Lara,” she replied, her voice going soft and tremulous like an Ellie Golding song. She seemed shy.
You’ve gotta hand it to girls for humility. If I’d just pulled a hundred and eighty pound dude from a swimming pool, I’d have been pounding my chest as if I’d just kicked the winning goal in the World Cup.
Lara wasn’t the raving beauty Alexia was. Her beauty was understated. Quiet beauty. She wasn’t the girl guys hollered at from moving cars, or tried to pick up at bus stops. She was small, under five feet, with an athletic build, shoulders like a gymnast. Her blond hair was cut short, and right now the pool water had slicked it back against her head. She was wearing shorty shorts and a white tee that made her the first ever entrant into the Alan Feinnman wet tee shirt contest.
With no makeup, she affected the look of a young boy. Her eyes were deep green, and brooding. She was the girl who mostly went unseen, but on that July morning in Alan’s yard, I saw her, and when I did, a switch inside me clicked on.
Alexia Dupree came trotting up the back walkway. “Maybe we should take him to the hospital,” she called, her voice ringing out in alarm.
“Stop it, will ya! All I was fixin’ ta do was get you both over here,” Conner said. He was trying his best to smirk, but I could tell he was embarrassed.
“You’re bleeding,” Alexia said as she arrived poolside.
I had yet to move from my lounge chair. Alexia shot a quick glance at me as she hurried past. It wasn’t the dismissive glance I was expecting. She seemed troubled. Yeah, I know, my friend is on the pool deck nearly drowned, of course she’s troubled, but the look on her face implied something other than that, something guarded, and secret.
It would be the first, but not last time I got the feeling there was something strange going on with these girls.
Speaking of girls, I still couldn’t figure out where Lara had come from, how she got from the other side of a five foot hedge and into Alan’s pool without anyone seeing her, least of all, the guy who still hadn’t moved from his lounge chair.
I finally got off my butt, and trailed Alexia over to where Conner was sitting on the pool deck.
There were three jagged crimson scratches trailing along Conner’s right calf. Blood flowed freely from the wounds.
“Sorry. I must’ve scratched you when I pulled you out,” Lara said, again with the soft, tremulous voice.
“I’m going inside to get the first aid kit. If my mother comes out here while I’m gone, pretend nothing happened,” Alan announced, then he exited into the house through the sliding glass door.
“Umm, yeah. No problem,” said Conner, then he rolled his calf to the side, hiding it from view. “So, Alexia, welcome to our humble abode.”
“You don’t live here.”
“I see you’ve been keeping tabs on me,” Conner replied, a grin widening across his face.
“Who are you?” I blurted. I was staring at Lara. Yeah, I know it was blunt of me to call her out like that, but I was curious about her, even if no one else was.
“She’s my cousin, Lara,” Alexia said. “She lives nearby.”
I was staring at Lara, who hadn’t said a word, and didn’t seem inclined to. I noticed she had a small, jagged scratch on her face.
“Looks like you scratched yourself as well,” I said, pointing.
Lara touched the scratch on her cheek. She looked at the blood on her finger tips, her eyes widening ever so slightly.
“When Alan comes back with the first aid kit, he should tend to you first,” Conner said to Lara. Then, he smiled over at Alexia. The perfect southern gentleman.
“I didn’t see you come over the hedge,” I said. “I didn’t see you come up the walkway, either.” I know I should have dropped the line of questioning, or at least waited until everyone’s wounds had been treated, but for some reason, I couldn’t. Something deep inside was pushing me, pushing me like I’d never been pushed before to confront the girl. “You must be pretty fast to—”
“I better go,” Lara blurted, and sprang to her feet. She shot Alexia a withering glance, and started toward the walkway that ran alongside the house.
“What the F, Dude!” Conner exclaimed.
“What? What did I do?” I didn’t see her come over the hedge. Did you?”
“I was under the water, Dipstick!” His eyes quickly moved to Alexia. “Pretending, of course.”
Just then, Alan trotted from the house concealing the first aid kit under an armload of beach towels. He looked around.
“What happened to Lara?”
As if they were members of a well-oiled synchronized swim team, both Conner and Alexia turned and looked at me.
I jogged up the walkway, past my bike lying next to Conner’s on the lawn, and out to the street. The bike was going to stay on the lawn. I was two weeks away from my sixteenth birthday, and figured when I rolled up on a cute girl like Lara for the first time it needed to be in a car, and not on a two wheeler like some middle school kid. Half my class was already driving. No way was I going after her on a bicycle.
I looked down the quiet, tree lined street, past the small but meticulously manicured lawns, toward Gregory Way. A gardener a few doors down was loading his lawn mowing equipment back onto his truck. Aside from the gardener, the street was empty. I turned and gazed in the opposite direction, up toward Charleville Boulevard. I spotted her, walking quickly, wrapped in the beach towel she’d plucked from a deck chair before heading out.
I began trotting after her, trying to come up with what I’d say when I caught up to her. Knowing I’d have to string at least a few long sentences together, a lump formed in my throat.
Hey, Lara, why don’t we go to The Coffee Bean and talk this misunderstanding through over an ice-blended dark chocolate. That’s what my older brother, Troy, would’ve said, and then he’d’ve winked at her, and flashed his winning smile. Troy got all the smooth genes in our family—every single one.
At least I couldn’t say he got all the looks since we looked so much alike: same curly brown hair, same brown eyes. No way you wouldn’t think we were brothers. Unfortunately, our similarities ended with looks.
What I lacked in smoothness, however, I made up for in… nothingness. There was absolutely nothing that could make up for the fact I had no game. This was made even sadder when I considered my two best friends, Alan and Conner. As pathetic as their rap games were, theirs were head and shoulders above mine.
Just then, the music started again—the same music I’d heard earlier in Alan’s backyard, the same ancient song. It was a haunting melody, strange yet familiar, like something from an old Star Trek episode.
I began looking around for a car. A BMW convertible rolled by bumping some serous hip hop. No, that’s not it. I looked toward the beautiful yet modest homes that lined the street. They looked back in silence.
Then it dawned on me. The music wasn’t coming from a car radio, or a neighbor’s backyard. The music was inside my head.
I didn’t have time to focus on the music just then. Lara was approaching the corner, about to cross Charleville. I got the feeling if I let her get away, I’d never see her again. I couldn’t let that happen. At that moment, seeing Lara again was the most important thing in the world.
I closed the distance between us. We were entering a busy area. If I called her name and everyone on the street looked at me but her, I’d probably slink down one of the storm drains that lined the side of the street and die.
“Lara!” I called, not too loud, but hopefully, loud enough.
She slowed. Then she stopped, turned around, and faced me.
Okay, what now, Playa?
I continued toward her not saying anything. Truth is, I couldn’t think of anything to say. She was standing there staring at me, and my heart felt as though it was filling with knots, bunching up in my chest. I know this is going to sound strange, but as I approached Lara, I felt myself caring for her more and more.
Yes, I know, the only words I’d ever spoken to her were Who are you? and I didn’t see you come over the hedge, proof that I’ve got no game. Yet, I felt this weird sensation of falling for her just the same.
“What?” she said, as I arrived at her side. She placed her hands on her hips, and crooked her neck.
“I, umm… apologize,” I said. Okay, nothing special, but not a bad way to break the ice.
“You’re a jerk,” she said.
I did not see that one coming. Hey, at least she didn’t walk away. Now, what would Troy say?
“Jerks are people, too,” I replied, then I smiled at her.
Lara turned on her heels and started across the street, letting me know the words I just uttered were more than likely the opposite of what Troy would have said. So glad I didn’t wink at her. She might’ve popped me one, right in the nose.
“I’m sorry, I really am. I just want to be your friend, Lara. Can’t we start over?” I called after her, and now people on the street were looking at me. I could have kicked myself for sounding so weak and pathetic, but to be honest, I didn’t have a choice. The words just tumbled out of me.
At that moment, a most awesome thing happened. When Lara reached the far side of the street, she turned back toward me, and there was the tiniest of smiles lighting up her face.
“I guess,” she said in that soft, tremulous tone I’d soon come to love.
I started across the street, and as I crossed, I told myself not to think, not to plan what to say next, and definitely not to wink at her. Just let it come naturally. It had worked so far.
“So, how did you get in Alan’s pool without me seeing you?” I asked as I arrived.
Lara’s smile faded. It was like watching the sun setting on a perfect day. One moment it was there in all its radiant glory, and then it wasn’t.
Lara turned, and without a word, politely walked away. She didn’t pop me in the nose. I guess I should have been grateful for that. I didn’t follow. I looked on as she moved up the street.
She reached the end of the block, and started across Wilshire Boulevard, never once looking back. Watching her go, I felt as though an ice cube had lodged in my heart, growing larger the further she moved away.
The song was fading as well, growing fainter and fainter, and when I could no longer hear the music, I knew I’d lost out on something exciting and special.
She’s right, Josh old boy, I thought as Lara disappeared from view. You really are a jerk.
Conner didn’t show up at Alan’s the next morning.
We figured he decided to catch up on his beauty sleep, while at the same time taking the morning to lick his wounds. Alan and I silently understood that whether Lara had saved Conner’s life or not, it was embarrassing being pulled from the pool by a girl. He needed to put some distance between himself and the incident.
When Conner didn’t show up at Yogurt Hill later in the afternoon, we started getting worried. Yogurt Hill was one of the most popular yogurt emporiums in all of weight conscious Beverly Hills. On any given day, you could see as many movie and pop stars going in and out of Yogurt Hill as you could at an awards show.
Conner loved going to Yogurt Hill, especially between three and five on weekday afternoons when Yogurt Hill was crawling with cute, high school girls. In fact, we’d long stopped calling our favorite yogurt shop Yogurt Hill.
To us, it was privately known as Yo, Mama Hill. Whenever we were sitting there scarfing yogurt, and a sexy twelfth grader would walk past in a short skirt or a top that revealed some serious boobage, one of us would whisper, Yo, Mama with as much sexual innuendo as was humanly possible.
The girl, of course, had no idea we were doing this. We three Lotharios kept our lechery private. Let’s face it, if one of those cool girls ever spoke to us, it was a safe bet we’d each start babbling like certifiable idiots.
Alan and I waited outside Yo, Mama Hill for twenty minutes. When Conner didn’t show, we hustled over to his house.
Conner lived with his Dad and Stepmom. He never talked about his real mother, and we didn’t ask. He had two older stepsisters. They were both lookers, but they treated him like crap, and me and Alan as if we were the crap the crap crapped out.
The sisters were very close. The oldest, Sara, got a car when she turned eighteen, a used Mustang convertible. The two of them, Sara and Annalise, would roll around Beverly Hills in that Mustang as if they were movie stars. They’d see us walking home, but do you think they ever offered us a ride? Guess they didn’t want any crap on the upholstery.
We took to calling them bitches on wheels. It was a joke that never got old, and it eased the pain of how badly they treated us. It made the bad treatment laughable. There goes the bitches on wheels. Yuk, yuk.
When we got to Conner’s, we found him hidden away in his bedroom, plopped in front of his computer, playing video games.
“What are ya doin’ here?” he asked. He seemed annoyed.
“The mamas at Yo, Mama Hill are demanding your presence,” I said with a knowing grin.
Conner smiled, not looking up from the computer screen. It was a wistful smile. “I had a dream last night, and I couldn’t shake it,” he said.
“Was it a wet dream?” Alan chimed with a chuckle.
Not being one to let a good insult opportunity pass, I said: “Is the it you couldn’t shake still sticky in your pants?”
Both Alan and I got a real kick out of that one. We fell on the bed laughing, our eyes bubbling with tears until we realized Conner was finally looking at us, and he wasn’t laughing. He wasn’t even smirking. He didn’t holler shut up, Buttface! He was staring at us with a far off look in his eye.
“I was under the water in your pool, Dude, holding my breath. I really was trying to get the girls next door to come over into your yard.”
“I know,” replied Alan, not sure where this was headed.
“In the dream, I was under for maybe ten seconds when I saw a dark shadow emerge from the pool drain above me and to the right. Actually, it wasn’t a shadow. That’s what I thought it was at first. It was a claw, reaching for me out of the drain,” he said in an ominous tone. “There were eyes in that spillover drain, guys. Emerald green, and angry.”
“So, you had a dream. Did you have a hot dog before you went to bed? Remember the dreams you had last time you went to Carney’s before bedtime?” Alan asked.
Conner shook his head. “That’s the thing. I know it was a dream, but it was also a memory. I was remembering what really happened in the pool yesterday.”
Just then, I thought of Lara, about how she appeared in the pool without me seeing how she got there. I wasn’t ready to believe something out of a fantasy novel had occurred in Alan’s swimming pool, so I said nothing.
“I saw something,” Conner said. “I saw something when I was down there.”
“Yeah, you saw something, all right. You saw a girl in the water saving your sorry ass,” Alan said, trying to lighten things up.
Conner was shaking his head. “I saw a claw,” he said, his tone insistent. He ran his hand gingerly across the bandage on his right calf.
“Come on, Dude. You need to go for a swim, that’s all. Who knows, maybe Alexia Dupree will stop by to see how you’re doing,” I said, trying a new tact.
Conner shook his head. “No pools for me for a while,” he said. Then he went back to his game.
Conner could not be coaxed out of his house all afternoon. We tried telling him that sometimes dreams feel real, but they’re still dreams. We tried reasoning with him that if there was a creature hiding in Alan’s pool drain we would’ve seen it by now. I mean, how could it have gotten there? Why would it be there? Nothing worked.
On that day, there was no reasoning with Conner. Not that he could be reasoned with on any other day, but on that day, Conner dug in like a hermit crab, burying himself beneath the sand on Venice beach, and there was no way we were getting him to come out.
“What do ya think?”
We were once again in Alan’s backyard, loafing on the lounge chairs alongside the pool, staring into the clear blue rippling water when Alan asked the question.
I’d been mulling over the incident ever since Conner revealed his dream. “About what?” I asked, hanging back.
“Conner’s dream. You think he made up the story because he doesn’t want to admit that a girl saved him?”
It was late afternoon, and the sun glinted off the pool creating eerie shafts of bright light beneath the surface.
“Normally, I’d say yes, but not this time. He seemed…” I searched for the right word. “Scared.”
“He is an actor,” Alan countered. “Conner will go to great lengths not to look like a dipstick.”
“He always looks like a dipstick,” I said. “Can’t help himself.”
We both chuckled at that one, although the pleasure we usually got from razzing one another wasn’t there this time. While neither of us wanted to admit it, we were both concerned about him. We’d never seen Conner acting so strange before.
Alan got up, and started toward the pool.
“Where ya goin’?” I asked, although I already knew. My heartbeat quickened.
“He says he saw it in the pool drain at the deep end of the pool.”
Alan reached the edge of the pool deck, and peered into the water. He stooped.
“Don’t!” I said. I was on my feet, but not moving toward the pool. “It was just a dream,” I called.
He leaned over toward the pool drain.
“What are you guys doin’?” Alexia Dupree called from the other side of the hedge.
Her head appeared just above the tall shrubbery. She was smiling a smile that could melt any guy’s heart, but that day, it didn’t melt mine. All it did was make me wonder if Lara was somewhere on the other side with her.
“Just hangin,’” Alan said, stepping away from the pool’s edge. He was trying to sound cool and suave while not venturing past the safety of the three word limit.
“Are you looking for something in the pool?” Alexia asked.
Alan continued away from the pool and toward the hedge. “Just checking the water temperature. It’s perfect. Wanna go for a swim?” he asked, making his first journey past three words. I suspected the babbling was about to begin. Good thing Alexia changed the subject.
“Not today. Say, you guys want to go to a party?” she asked.
Alan shot me a look that said we’d just struck the motherlode.
“Yes!” he answered without hesitation.
“Will Lara be there?” I asked.
Alexia’s smile disintegrated. “Probably. Why? You got some new insults for her?”
“She told me what happened yesterday, Josh.”
“Just asking,” I said, too embarrassed to say anything more.
“Stay away from my cousin,” she said pointedly. “She’s not interested.”
I nodded, my head bobbing up and down like a bobblehead.
“The party’s up in Benedict Canyon. You boys can pick me up around ten,” she said, then she dropped back down, and out of sight. “I’ll be out front,” she called from behind the hedge.
Alan Shot me a look, and I knew what he was thinking: No way are we taking Alexia Dupree to a party in one of the most upscale neighborhoods of Beverly Hills on our bicycles.
“I can’t steal my mother’s car, Alan.”
“You won’t be stealing it. You’ll be borrowing the family car—which is actually one quarter yours—to go to a party. You’re two weeks away from getting your license anyway, Dude. Grow a pair, already.”
“What if I get in an accident?”
“You know, and I know, you’re not getting in any accident. This is our shot, Butters. This is our chance to have Alexia Dupree all to ourselves. No Conner getting in the way with his lame-o jokes and fake southern accent. It’ll be just you, and me—best man wins.”
He was grinning at me as if he’d suddenly become a great orator, like Clarence Darrow, and had just made the winning argument in the Scopes Monkey trial (for information on The Scopes Monkey Trial see footnote 1—psyche!).
Three days ago, what Alan said would have made a good argument. Three days ago, I would have jumped at the chance to hold a conversation that lasted longer than three words with Alexia Dupree. That was before I found myself infatuated with a girl who I knew wanted nothing to do with me.
“Both of your parents are in bed by ten,” Alan went on. “We push the car out of the driveway and onto the street so they don’t hear it starting up. By the time we get home, your parents’ll be sound asleep, and none-the-wiser.
“I’m two weeks away from bein’ legal. You realize if they find out, I will probably lose my driving privileges for another year,” I said, trying to reason with him. “We need to think about the future.”
“We need to think about tonight!” Alan barked, his eyes going wide and wild. “Why are you being so negative about this? Don’t you want a shot at Alexia Dupree?”
The answer was no, I didn’t want a shot at Alexia Dupree. But I did want another glimpse of her cousin, Lara, even if I didn’t have a chance with her, even if she didn’t say a word to me.
I sighed deeply, and Alan knew he’d worn me down.
“Par-tay,” he said, grinning back.
Borrowing my mother’s Camry was the easy part.
The hard part for me was the deception. I didn’t like lying to my parents. It was the words of a liar that had changed everything for us.
When we were younger, Stan Butters was the perfect Dad, playing catch with his sons on the lawn, going to our Little League games. He even coached Troy’s soccer team one year. That was before the town hall meeting.
My Dad had been a sales rep for a large Beverly Hills security company that secured the homes of the stars. When he came in from the meeting that night he realized he’d been in the same position for ten years—ten, long years, and he was no closer to being a star than he was when he got there.
I guess he reasoned he should have been running things by then. If he were running things, we’d be living on the ritzy side of Wilshire Boulevard, but because we were still living in the house where I grew up, he began to see himself as a failure. Our lives went downhill from there.
It was a lying old biddy that had reduced my father to the beaten man he was today. Lying was not easy for me.
Yet on that night, there was something bubbling inside me that made the lying not only easy, it made it worthwhile. A crazy, unreasonable emotion was gripping my heart, and the tighter it held, the easier it was for me to lie, the more the lying made sense.
Alexia was waiting out front when we pulled up at ten-oh-five in my mother’s Camry. As soon as we turned the corner, I heard Alan’s breath catch.
She was a sight to behold, wearing a red dress that clung to her as if she’d been dipped in bright red honey. It wasn’t the kind of thing you’d think of for a pool party, and yet it was perfect. The top half of the dress was sheer enough that you could see Alexia’s black bra through the filmy fabric while imagining you could see whole lot more. Her long dark hair now had blond highlights running through it. The bottom half of the dress was short enough to show off her legs, while at the same time titillating a young man’s imagination about the wonders that lay just above the hemline. It was a goddess dress, and Alexia Dupree was a goddess.
Alan had composed himself by the time we pulled up to the curb. “H… here we are,” he said in a wavering, breathy tone. Okay, maybe he hadn’t totally composed himself just yet. He got out and held open the passenger door for Alexia to climb in.
“I don’t mind sitting in back,” Alexia said.
“No. You should…” He never finished the sentence. Alan had reached the three word limit, and with Alexia looking so gorgeous, he was reluctant to venture past. He gestured for her to get in.
Once Alexia was in the passenger seat, Alan got in back. I knew he was grateful it was me who was sitting next to her, with him in the back where she couldn’t see him hyperventilating.
We pulled away from the curb. Alexia turned on the radio. The sounds of soft jazz filled the car.
“Hmm. You have interesting taste in music,” she said, before tuning in a top forties station. She cranked the music up loud and began singing along to the song.
While Alan was grateful for the music, I wasn’t. I turned the radio down as soon as the song came to an end.
“Where’s Lara?” I asked, pointedly.
“She’ll be there. But I’m warning you, do not talk to her.”
Before I could respond, she turned the music back up, singing along loudly to Sam Smith’s latest soul crushing ballad, and that was that.
The moment we got to the party, Alexia ditched us.
The party was being held at a beautiful home deep in Benedict Canyon on a plot of land about the size of a football field. You could have easily fit my home, Alan’s, and Conner’s on the lot that held the palatial mansion.
The girl throwing the party didn’t live there. Her parents had rented the sprawling home so their daughter could have an end of summer bash before heading back to Switzerland for her senior year in high school. A rich kid’s party.
I didn’t know the girl, although Alan and I knew many of the party people. They went to school with us, kids from north of the boulevard who drove to school in Beemers, Mustangs and Mini Coopers; kids who didn’t have to take out the trash or walk the three family dogs unless they wanted to—the entitled youth of Beverly Hills.
Kids from our side rarely mixed with the rich kids. It’s not that we or they discriminated, but when the rich kids took off for their spring breaks in New York, or their post-Christmas ski trips to Aspen, us Southies couldn’t tag along. Both groups knew it, although no one ever said anything, instead, we just kept to our own.
When we arrived at the party, we spotted the typical blend of former and current child actors who’d been on Disney Channel and Nickelodeon shows, mingling with the average Beverly Hills high school kid. The TV stars weren’t celebrities at parties in Beverly Hills. Every kid felt they were a celebrity in this part of town.
Alexia made a beeline for Gary Shanks, a senior on the Lacrosse team. He wasn’t a rich kid, although he acted like one. He was tall, and handsome, and athletic—things we were not.
“That freakin’ Gary Shanks thinks he’s so hot,” Alan groused. “Stealing our girl right from under our noses.”
I started to tell Alan that we’d obviously been played by Alexia. To her, all we were good for was a ride. But I knew he’d figure it out soon enough. Besides, I had other things on my mind.
“She said Lara would be here.”
“What’s with you and Lara?” Alan asked, annoyed. “You’ve been talking about her all night.”
“No, I haven’t. I just want to apologize for the way I acted yesterday.”
“Let it go, Dude. Let it go, and clear your head. We need to come up with a plan to get Alexia away from jerkface over there,” he said, gesturing toward Alexia who was standing in a crowd by the waterfall pool, looking at Gary Shanks as if she were interested in more than just conversation with him.
The truth is, I wanted to let it go. I’d been wanting to let it go ever since I insulted Lara in Alan’s backyard. I couldn’t explain why I was suddenly so obsessed with her—a stranger.
“You hatch a plan,” I said. “I’m going to mingle.” It was my excuse to go looking for her. I started away.
“You’re walking away from a shot at Alexia Dupree?” Alan called after me, making his voice sound incredulous, as if I were walking away from a sure thing shot at a million bucks.
“Yep,” I replied without turning around.
“You do realize that you’re giving up all claim to her?” he called. I could hear the desperation creeping in.
“She’s all yours, bro,” I responded. We both knew he didn’t have enough game to lure Alexia away from Gary Shanks. To accomplish that, he’d need to be able to form full cohesive paragraphs in her presence. Doubtful.
Alan didn’t want to be left alone.
We were at the kind of party we’d never been invited to. Leaving him alone would be a reminder to Alan that maybe he didn’t belong there, and that maybe he never would. I thought of my father, and that old lady who’d made him feel inferior at the town hall meeting.
A part of me didn’t want to leave my friend standing all alone; a part of me wanted to go back and join him so he didn’t come away with the same feelings my father came away with all those years ago. But a song had begun to play, not through the studio grade sound system that was pumping some serious club music, but in my head. I’d heard the song before, just prior to laying eyes on Lara for the first time. I knew if I followed the sound of that haunting tune, it would lead me to her.
I started walking toward the house, and as I did, the music began to fade, so I did an about face, moving toward the rear of the large backyard, if that’s what you want to call it. Nothing that large and grandiose should ever be called a backyard.
The crowd was thinner as I moved toward the rear of the property, but the music was louder, so I knew I was headed in the right direction.
What is that song? I asked myself. I’d only heard it once the day before, and yet it was so familiar to me.
As I started up a moonlit path toward the guest bungalows, I saw her. Lara. She was standing beneath a weeping willow tree bathed in the shadow of its drooping branches. Her green eyes were on me, the moonlight glinting off of them, giving them a cat’s eye gleam that made her seem otherworldly. I got the feeling she’d been watching me the entire time. She was wearing cutoff shorts and a loose fitting tank top—simple, yet so darn sexy.
“Umm… hi,” I said,” as I neared. The grip on my heart tightened, like a hand squeezing juice from a lemon.
“What are you doing here?” she asked, annoyance rampant in her voice. “Are you some kind of stalker dude?”
“No, no,” I said. I tried to laugh it off, but it came out all wrong, sounding like the soft bray of a Billie goat. “I’ve been looking for you. I sincerely want to—”
A drunken, laughing couple pushed out of the greenery that lined the path, stopping right in front of me.
“How much have you had to drink?” the girl slurred to the guy. She couldn’t have been more than fifteen.
“Not as much as you,” the guy slurred back.
Amidst waves of laughter, the couple stumbled off the trail and into the darkness on the other side. When they cleared my sight line, Lara was no longer standing under the tree.
“Lara?” I called softly. “Lara!”
The music in my head had once again ceased to play. She was gone.
I searched for her for fifteen minutes before giving up.
I found Alan stewing by the punch bowl. I suspected the punch had been spiked, and that Alan had had more than his share.
“She went in the house with that idiot,” Alan groused, and took a slug from his plastic cup. “She smiled and waved at me as she went in. Said she wouldn’t be needing a ride home,” he said glumly.
“Oh,” I said. “Okay. Let’s get out of here.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” Alan said, his voice rising.
“Dude, how much of that punch have you had?” I asked. “I think you’ve had enough.”
“What I’ve had enough of is being stepped on by creeps like Gary Shanks.” I’d never heard him use that tone before. His voice was laced with anger and jealousy.
“Alan, it’s not Gary Shanks who played us, it’s Alexia. She just wanted a ride to this party, can’t you see that?”
“So, you’re just going to let him steal our girl?” He was looking at me with accusing eyes.
I guess he couldn’t see it.
“Alan, Alexia Dupree is not our girl. We’ve barely said more than three sentences to her.”
“Okay, cool. As of today, you are no longer in the running.”
“Great. She’s all yours, Alan. Now, let’s go home and sleep it off.”
“I’m not going anywhere. Oh wait, yes, I am. I’m going in the house to get Alexia away from that claim jumper.”
“Claim jumper? Dude, back away from the punch bowl.” I reached for Alan’s cup and he yanked it back, sloshing punch down the front of his shirt.
“Look what you did!” he shrieked.
Whatever was in the punch was making him crazy. Or was it something else?
Some of the party goers in the area were pointing and laughing. It was always fun to watch a classmate make a fool of himself.
I moved in closer, threw my arm around his shoulder. “Alan, buddy, we need to get out of here. I’m sure Alexia will be just fine.”
He looked around, into the faces of our classmates. His expression changed, softened. It was as if he’d emerged from a trance.
“Yeah,” he said. “You’re right. We don’t belong here. Let’s go.”
He finished his punch, crumpled his cup, and threw it into the crowd.
When we arrived outside, we were greeted by the distant roar of thunder, followed by a flash of lightning that lit up the night sky. Rain was rare this time of year, thunderstorms were even more unusual.
“That’s odd,” I said at the sound of the second thunder clap. This one was closer. “If we get out of here now, maybe we can beat the storm. I’ve never driven in the rain, and I don’t want my first time to be in a borrowed car with a learners permit.”
I climbed in behind the wheel. Alan moved around to the passenger side, but he didn’t get in.
“I can’t leave her,” he said.
“What?” I rolled down the passenger window. “What are you talking about?”
“I can’t leave her up here with that guy. You go, get the car back home safely. I’ll see you in the morning.” He shot me a distant smile, a smile that indicated he was compelled to do this. He started back for the house.
A few scattered raindrops spattered onto the windshield.
“Alan, I have to go. I don’t want to drive in the rain,” I called after him, my voice beseeching him to turn around and come back. If he heard me, he didn’t respond. He disappeared in a swarm of kids.
I pulled out of the driveway, and drove down the winding road back toward Beverly Drive. As I headed down, the wind kicked up, a sure sign it was going to storm. Hopefully, not before I got home.
Five minutes later, the sky opened up and rain fell in buckets.
Just my luck, I thought. Just my rotten luck.
My wipers were on high, I’d turned on the brights and yet I could barely see two feet in front of me. The rain was coming in sheets, cascading off my windshield like river water over a waterfall.
Rather than risk my first accident in a stolen/borrowed car two weeks before I was legal to drive, I pulled alongside the road to wait out to storm, or at least wait until the rain had eased up enough that I felt safe to drive.
I turned on the radio, but instead of a top forties tune pelting through the speakers, the harp and sitar song filled the car.
I turned off the radio, but the song played on. I squinted at the road ahead of me, then looked over my shoulder, squinting through the rear window. If my hunch was right, Lara was nearby. I sat staring at the road for several minutes, and then she walked past, head down, walking in the pouring rain.
I rolled down the window and the rains came in, bombarding my face. “Lara!” I called.
She continued away from me as if in a trance, as if she didn’t realize how hard it was raining.
I pulled the car back onto the road, caught up to her, and rolled down the passenger window.
“Lara! It’s me, Josh. Get in!” I called.
She emerged from her trance, and looked at me without stopping. “No, thank you,” she said.
“You’re getting soaked,” I called.
“Better than getting insulted,” she called back.
She shot me a look, and I felt the hand tighten its grip around my heart. “Lara, please get in. You’re shivering.”
She stopped, and took inventory of herself. She was soaked to the bone, the tank top and shorts clinging to her. Rain water ran as if from a leaky faucet down the tip of her nose.
“You sure you’re not a stalker dude? You sure seem like one,” she said.
“I’m not. I swear. I just want to help. I have a towel in the back. You can dry yourself. I won’t talk if you don’t want me to. Just, get in. We’ll pull over and wait out the storm.”
She hit me with a warning expression. “No talking!” she said.
I nodded, and pushed open the passenger door. She climbed in, sloshing rain water onto the passenger seat and console. I’d need to dry that off before I got home.
I grabbed the beach towel from the backseat and handed it to her. She began drying her hair as I pulled off the road.
I tried not looking at her, but I couldn’t help myself. She’d been dominating my thoughts ever since I first laid eyes on her.
“Stop staring at me,” she squawked.
“It’s either staring or talking,” I answered with a wry smile.
It was a terrible line, one that was sure to send her back out into the rain, but it didn’t. She smiled back.
You just dodged one, Joshie boy. Don’t blow it this time. Keep your mouth shut.
I noticed she was still shivering. “Be right back.”
I hopped out into the storm, went to the trunk, and found what I was hoping for. I got back in, and handed her the large USC sweatshirt.
“This is my Mom’s. It should fit you easy.”
She looked from the soft, dry sweatshirt, now in her hands, to me.
“You want me to change into this with you sitting right there?”
“That’d be nice,” I said with a grin. Before she had a chance to frown at me, I said: “Tell you what, I’ll turn my back and face the road. You can change, and tell me when it’s all clear.”
After a moment’s hesitation: “Okay.”
I turned my back to her, staring out onto the rain-soaked road. I could hear her shrugging out of the tank top, and then the shorts.
“So… this is your mother’s car?” she asked.
“Yes,” I replied. Stick to monosyllables, Dude.
“Does she know you’re out here in the rain?”
“No.” There ya go. Just stay with the Alexia Dupree conversation manual, and you are home free.
“How old are you?” she asked.
“What difference does that make?”
“Ooh, defensive. You must be fifteen.” There was a playful teasing to her voice that for some reason, I enjoyed. I liked being teased by her.
“Sixteen in two weeks,” I replied.
“You can turn around now.”
I did. If I thought Lara was sexy before, she now appeared old Hollywood sexy. She wore the oversized sweatshirt the way Marilyn Monroe must have worn a mink coat. Looking at her lit only by soft shafts of moonlight that had squeezed in between the rain drops, I knew I was falling in love with her.
She withdrew into a shadow, pulling back against the car door. “Don’t look at me like that,” she said, her voice turning wary.
“Like what?” I asked, trying to play it cool.
“Like… you care,” she said, her voice dropping an octave. “You can’t like me, Joshua. Okay?”
“Okay,” I replied, knowing, of course, it was too late for that.
Her eyes were huge and luminous. In the daylight they were green, but in the moonlight, her eyes had been transformed into glorious emerald beacons, pulling me like a moth to a flame, insisting I love her.
Her lashes were long and beautiful as well. Her skin had an olive tone, as if she’d gotten just the right amount of sun. Her lips were pouty and pink. I looked away from her again, not because I wanted to, but because I knew if I kept staring, pretty soon I’d try to kiss those lips.
“Conner asked what were you reading before he dove in the pool yesterday. Were you and Alexia really reading?” I asked, changing the subject.
“Yes,” she replied, laughing lightly. “I wouldn’t lie. We were reading poetry. William Wordsworth.”
“I think I’ve heard of him.”
“He’s one of the romantic poets.”
“We haven’t gotten to romantic poetry in school yet. Maybe next semester.” She laughed again. “What’s funny?”
“We don’t read romantic poetry for school. We read it because it’s beautiful. It’s romantic.”
“Oh.” It hadn’t dawned on me that some people might read poetry when they didn’t have to.
“’My heart leaps up when I behold a rainbow in the sky.’ That’s beautiful, isn’t it?” she said. “The romantics can take something as simple yet beautiful as a rainbow, and capture the feeling it provokes.”
“Okay, yeah. I get it,” I said, smiling so as not to appear dumb. As far as I was concerned, a rainbow was a rainbow. It didn’t evoke any feeling in me. But sitting there, staring at Lara sure did.
“Looks like the rain is letting up,” I said, grateful the storm was coming to an end.
The rain outside had softened to a heavy drizzle, a typical Southern California soup.
“I can drive now. Let me drive you home,” I said, my voice turning raspy. I didn’t look at her. The inside of my mother’s Camry suddenly felt small and claustrophobic. I continued staring at the road ahead.
“Okay,” she said, in that soft tremulous voice I found utterly irresistible. If she asked me to eat dirt with that voice I’d gladly do it.
Without glancing in her direction, I pulled away from the side of the road.
You can’t like me, Joshua.
As I drove on, her words of warning played over in my mind. It was the one thing she could ask me to do in that tremulous voice that I was immune to—liking her, loving her. She could say those words until the cows came home.
You can’t like me, Joshua.
Too late for that.
Lara gave me her address.
She lived in Benedict Canyon, not far from where we were. In no time, I was pulling up to the wrought iron gates of a huge and rundown old mansion on Applegate Lane. I knew the house—every kid who grew up in Beverly Hills knew the house. It had once been the estate of a famous eccentric movie star, Terrence Applegate. This was back in the thirties and forties when the motion picture heart throbs were Humphrey Bogart, James Stewart, and Terrence Applegate.
“Your family bought the old Applegate mansion,” I said.
The gates of the old fortress were usually closed and padlocked, but that night there was no lock. The gates were swung open—an inviting gesture, although I didn’t know anyone who’d take them up on the invite.
“Somehow I feel an insult coming on,” Lara said.
Lara’s family had to be rich. While the house was beat to heck, it sat on a prime piece of Beverly Hills real estate. Location, location, location.
“No, no. The house is famous is all. An old movie star from the old days used to live here.” I lowered my voice. “This house is considered haunted,” I said.
That piqued her interest. “Oh? Tell me more.”
“If you’ll be attending Beverly Hills High in the fall, you’ll hear all about it, ‘cause this old house is crazy famous. Kids come up here every year around Halloween. It’s a bit of a ritual, so you’ll need to get the word out that your family lives here now to keep them away,” I advised. “Legend has it the old actor went crazy in this house. He’d taken a wife fifty years younger than him, and when he caught her cheating, he killed her, and ate her.” I said, making my voice sound ominous, as if I were telling a camp fire ghost story.
“Ate her, did he?”
“Yep. And he got away with it, too. There was nothing left of her. No body, no bones, no evidence of the crime.”
Lara nodded solemnly. “Do you know my name?” she asked.
“Of course I do. Lara.”
She shook her head. “Aaaaant!” she said, making the sound of a game show buzzer. “Lara Applegate.”
My face began getting hot, stinging with embarrassment. Idiot! “Like I said, it’s… just a dumb old legend. I…I didn’t believe it for a minute.”
“Of course you didn’t,” she said with a smirk. “I guess the day isn’t complete until Joshua Butters has insulted me, huh?”
She reached for the door handle.
“Look, Lara,” I said. I grabbed for her hand.
Just then, something moved in the shadows on the other side of the gate. The thing was quick, bouncing between pools of light, but I got a glimpse of it—a creature, with a hideous face, deformed body, and claws.
Suddenly the music in my head stopped playing, the fog in my mind lifted, and everything that had happened the past two days made perfect sense. It was as if a spell had been broken.
The creature was gone, lost in the shadows before I could get a clear look at it, but I’d seen enough.
I jerked my hand back. “Gotta go,” I said.
With my head now clear, the pieces began falling into place: the creature, Lara appearing in the pool, the scratches on Alan’s leg.
“Gotta go, right now, chop-chop.” I reached across her, and pushed open the passenger door. “See ya!”
“And the insults just keep on coming. Have a good life, Joshua Butters,” she said, and hastily climbed out.
I’m sure she would have slammed the car door, but she didn’t get the chance. I beat her to it. I pulled shut the door, made sure it was locked, threw the Camry in gear, and spit gravel as I squealed out of there.
Five o’clock the following morning, Mrs. Felicia Hauser started to scream when she discovered a dead coyote floating in her swimming pool. The coyote hadn’t wandered in and drowned. It had been ravaged by what authorities said was a wild animal that left the dead carcass floating on the surface of the pool. Mrs. Hauser lived three doors down from the Feinmans. Coincidence? Not!
I was pacing along the deck by Alan’s pool when Conner finally arrived. The early morning sunlight cast a silky sheen across the top water of the pool giving off an inviting sereneness.
Come on in, fellas. I won’t hurt ya.
The Feinmans had a No Knock policy for Conner and me. We could come and go as we pleased. This started when we were twelve. That summer, Conner and I must have knocked on the Feinman front door fifteen times a day each. One afternoon, Cara Feinman, Alan’s Mom, answered the door and said “I’m sick of you boys disturbing my day. Do not knock on this door ever again. Just go on around back. The sliding door will always be open.”
Conner arrived wearing a rumpled t-shirt and rumpled shorts, looking as though he’d had another rough night sleeping. A gauzy bandage covered the scratches on his leg.
“This better be good,” he said as he crash landed in one of the lounge chairs.
“It is!” I replied, forcefully.
“He’s all worked up over something,” said Alan as he munched on a Pop Tart. “And he wouldn’t spill anything until you got here.”
“So spill, Buttkiss! I’m here!” Conner groused. He wasn’t happy to be back at Alan’s so soon. He kept glancing at the pool.
I finally stopped pacing and took a deep breath. I’d had a rough night as well, although, mine was a night of clarity. It was the first time since I’d laid eyes on Lara Applegate that my eyes were wide open, and I could see things as they really were.
Convincing Alan and Conner how things really were would be another story, although Conner had seen the creature as well, so he’d be the easiest to convince.
“Did you guys hear about what happened this morning?” I said.
Conner grabbed a rolled-up towel from off a nearby chair, and threw it at me.
“Spit it out already, Buttbreath!”
“I am spitting it out! Mrs. Hauser found a dead coyote in her pool this morning. The coyote had been attacked by something wild.” I looked from Alan to Conner, and saw that they were not putting two and two together.
“Am I missing something, Josh?” Alan asked.
“There are no wild animals in Beverly Hills, Alan. It was… the creature.”
“Creature?” asked Conner. Clearly, he was a little slow on the uptick.
“The creature you saw in Alan’s pool two days ago? Duh!”
“That was a dream,” Conner said.
That surprised me.
“You know, and I know that was not a dream, Conner. Did a dream put those long scratches on your leg?”
“This is about Lara, isn’t it?” Alan blurted.
“Yes! Yes, it is about Lara. I know this is going to sound weird, but trust me, she has something to do with the creature in your pool. She’s not what she appears to be.”
Alan looked at Conner. “Hey, bro, do you want to throw him in, or should I?”
Conner cast a wary glance at the pool. “Be my guest,” he said.
Alan started for me.
I saw the way Conner was looking at the pool, and pounced. “Then, let’s go for a swim, Conner. You believe it’s safe in there, right? You believe it was all a dream, so let’s go in.” I pulled off my t-shirt in a grand gesture.
Conner cast another quick glance at the pool. “I don’t have my trunks.”
“Since when have we ever needed trunks to jump in a pool?” I asked. “Remember the time all three of us jumped in Mike Dozier’s pool with all our clothes on?” I was gaping at him, daring him to jump in.
Alan reached my side.
“Good morning, Alan.” It was the lyrical voice of Alexia Dupree.
We all turned. Alexia was smiling at us from the other side of the hedge, smiling that smile that could scorch men’s souls.
“Hey, Alexia.” A goofy, smitten look appeared on Alan’s face. Alan’s soul had clearly been scorched.
“Why don’t you come over for lunch today? Pay back for last night.”
“Sure,” Alan replied.
“Good. I had fun last night,” she said, her smile widening.
“Me, too,” replied Alan, the goofy expression getting goofier.
“See you later,” she said, and dropped out of sight.
“Dude!” Conner exclaimed, impressed.
“What can I tell ya? I am the man!” Alan said and began doing a happy dance.
I wasn’t biting. “It’s no coincidence Alexia popped up just now. She’s one of them, you know.”
“One of what?” asked Conner.
“Have you guys been listening to me?” I said, frustration creeping in.
“Your friends can come, too. If they want.” Alexia called from the other side of the hedge.
“I am not going over there!” I said loudly, folding my arms across my chest.
That’s when Alan shoved me in the pool.
As I rose to the surface, I gazed into the darkness of the pool drain. I thought I saw a pair of eyes staring out at me—emerald green, and angry.
I got the hell out of the pool as fast as I could. Alan and Conner were laughing, although Conner hadn’t budged from the lounge chair. He knew better. He knew I was speaking the truth, but he didn’t want to look like a nutjob.
That was all right. I had to look at the bigger picture. As crazy as it seemed, there was a creature haunting the pools of Beverly Hills. A creature was somehow living in the spillover drain of my best friend’s swimming pool. Once I had visual proof, neither Conner nor Alan would be able to deny it. I knew just where I could find the proof I was looking for.
The moon was full, bright, and eerie when I wheeled up to the Applegate fortress on my bike. It was a Halloween moon, the kind you fully expected to see a witch flying by on her broomstick. The wrought iron gates were swung open as they were the night before, still proffering a gesture of welcome. All I could see beyond the gates was looming darkness. Needless to say, I did not feel welcome.
An egg lodged in my throat as I deposited my bike in the tall grass alongside the road. If anyone had told me a month ago I’d be walking through the creepy gates of Applegate mansion, I’d have told them they needed to have their head examined. Yet, here I was.
Grow a pair, Butters, I told myself in an attempt to bolster my courage.
I pulled out my iPhone and set the camera to record, then I proceeded cautiously through the gates.
While many of my classmates had visited the Applegate fortress over the years, seeking Halloween horror thrills, I never did. I was too chicken to visit a bona fide haunted mansion. Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios was more my speed. Controlled horror offered up by a multi-national corporation was my thing. The worst that could happen to me at Halloween Horror Nights would be to OD on corn dogs.
As I passed through the gates, the music in my head started up again, and as it did, I felt a shift occur in my soul. I realized then that a part of me wasn’t there to photograph the creature I thought I’d glimpsed the night before. A part of me was there to get another glimpse at Lara Applegate. Yeah, I know, crazy. Truth is, even when I thought I was no longer under her spell, I was. My feelings for Lara were growing.
As I continued up the drive and around a stand of tall trees, the house came into view. It appeared even older and more decrepit up close than from afar. It would have seemed even more frightening if it wasn’t lit up as if for a party. From what I’d heard, the Applegate mansion was always bathed in sinister darkness, but not tonight.
A monster party, I thought, then I immediately dismissed it as stupid. I had to dismiss the thought, because I knew if I didn’t, I’d turn around and start in opposite direction.
I crept up to the house, keeping to the shadows, even though I knew the shadows were the most dangerous for me. The creature I thought I saw the night before had been lurking in the shadows.
What are you doing here, Josh? I asked myself. What are you really doing here?
I am not the daring type. I have never been a risk taker. When Alan jumped into the pool to save our friend, I stayed put. I’d been swimming in Alan’s pool since I was twelve, but that day, I stayed put. Too risky. You can drown in six inches of water. I wasn’t going to risk drowning in my best friend’s pool to save my other best friend’s life. Too damn risky.
But isn’t this riskier?
I didn’t want to answer that question. The answer was obvious.
So, what was I doing there?
Compelled. That was the word that came to mind. It had nothing to do with whether or not I believed in creatures or anything supernatural. I didn’t. That was just a mind trick to get me back there. The truth was, I was there because I had to be, because this is where I’d find Lara Applegate.
As I neared the house, I heard the sound of female voices talking, laughing.
I realized the bright light and laughter were coming from around back. Staying in the shadows, I worked my way to the rear of the house.
When I turned the corner, I saw what appeared to be a large, in-ground hot tub in the center of a grassy lawn. Steam rose from the surface of the water like morning mist off a lake. The voices I’d heard were coming from the tub, but I couldn’t get a clear view of anyone through the steam. Childlike laughter drifted over to me.
I ducked behind some low shrubbery, and started moving in closer. I readied my camera in case a creature came into view.
That’s when I went spilling to the ground as two powerful arms tackled me below the waist. Oof!
“Gotcha!” I heard the tackler say.
I wriggled in his grasp. Wrenching around, I found myself staring into the face of a creature.
Click here, to continue reading the novel. It is available here in all formats, or go to Amazon.com.
"Young love, paranormal creatures, and murder." There is a creature haunting the swimming pools of Beverly Hills. 16 year-old Josh Butters believes he sees a connection between the creature and the mysterious and beautiful girl next door. Before long, Josh finds himself falling head-over-heels in love with the girl, Lara, who it turns out is an enchanted being. Josh discovers that he and Lara are soulmates, drawn together by the siren's song, destined to be together from birth. But there's a dark secret to being Lara's soulmate, a secret that involves battling creatures, and an age-old feud. Josh must decide if the price for being Lara's one true love is a price he's willing to pay. It could cost him, his family, and friends their lives. Dangerously exciting, yet mystical and romantic, Moondancers is a page turning thriller that asks the question "do you believe in soulmates?"