w — swearing, moderate sexual references.
adagio [ a-dahj-e-o ] : slow movement, performed with grace and fluidity.
THE GLASS CASTLE
One moment before the sunrise, everything is quiet. The sea is silver and endless. I can see myself through his window: the first surfers, waiting for the waves. I wonder if there are points of time that we had briefly met—meaningless, one moment between crests of waves when I looked up at the glass castles towering along Malibu Beach, the life rousing inside made opaque by the sun. One moment where he rested his tea on the balcony, cast his gaze over the surfers, breathing with the ocean. And here I am. Wound in silk sheets, on the other side of the glass.
Mako stirs. Tired from last night. Sand in his hair. He squints, confused. The barest of dawn light through the sheer hangings—then me, kneeling on the bed. He smiles sleepily and reaches out a hand across the silk.
“Surfing!” I bounce onto him.
He half laughs, half wheezes, folding away from the impact. “Jesus, Eva. Get off.”
“Get up,” I say stubbornly, but he wrestles me down, kissing me warm, the sheets knotting around our legs. My stubbornness breaks into laughter. Mako gives me reprieve. My chest rises and falls softly against his. He smiles down at me.
“Five more minutes,” he whispers, and his plea feels so good on my skin—on the swell of my breasts and the dip of my navel, that I just breathe out a sigh. He’s slow, sinuous. The morning light stretches languidly across the bedroom. The warmth of the sun, and then there’s this.
Thirty minutes later: we rush down the staircase beneath his villa and break into the salty air. Surfers paddle into the sea by the dozen. The best spots are claimed already—I can see silhouettes bobbing up and down at the start of First Point, getting ready for a prime swell. I turn heel, heading east under Malibu Pier, for a stretch of beach with mellow waves and softer beds. The water is cool when I dive in. Mako joins me with a longboard nicked from a fellow beanstalk: my older brother, Alec. It’s calm and glassy, this dawn. There are no summer storms out in the Pacific.
The last two mornings were spent on the shoreline, where the waves hummed around our ankles. I taught my partner the basics of surfing: how to distribute weight evenly on the surfboard, pop up, and balance. Mako trails a hand through the water. His brows knit together.
“Are you scared?” I say, surprised.
“No,” he says eventually. “I just don’t like… not being able to see everything.”
“It’s too shallow for sharks.” When he doesn’t look reassured, I lean over and clasp his hand. “You can’t control the ocean. You have to give way, and listen. If you learn to read and respect her, you’re gonna be fine.”
I sense the right wave rolling underneath me, and push forward. He lasts about five seconds before wiping out spectacularly. I burst out laughing. Mako grabs the board and comes up sopping wet. He rests his chin on his arms, face turned away, cheeks burning. “Eva.”
“Okay, okay! I’m sorry.” I paddle over to him. Gently brush the wet strands off his forehead. “You did well for a rookie. Let’s try again.”
Mako lifts his gaze to meet mine, then; embarrassment fading into confusion, a hesitant smile, and he pulls himself back up again.
Salt-drenched, we return to the villa. After showering he gives me something soft, wrapped in crepe paper. Cotton unfurls in my hands, white inked with delicate blue flowers, like fine china. The dress is achingly lovely. Stitched on the tag are the names of my friends. My throat closes, and my thank you is muffled in the fabric.
Mako rests his fingertips lightly on my back before pulling up the zip. “It was Misha’s idea.”
“Figures. He told me that your suggestion was a private island in the Seychelles.”
“Tattletale,” Mako says, but he smiles and sways me, kisses my shoulder. I can’t tell if he was joking.
Zuma Beach is quiet at this hour. Seagulls cry above. The ocean breathes across the shore, and I chase the wind, leaving quick footprints in the wet sand. Half-buried shells gleam along the tideline. I unearth periwinkles, olive shells, ceriths; rinse the sand from their pearly mouths in the sea foam. Mako races me in the search, ducking when I kick water at him, his laughter snatched away by the crashing waves. I bring our shells together into his cupped hands. “Turretilladae.” I point at a turret shell: a mathematically perfect spiral, almost like a Gothic spire. I had memorised the scientific names of all the shells in California when I was twelve. “It’s a mollusc, they like to burrow in sand.”
“It’s beautiful,” he murmurs, and I glance up. His gaze is on me. The wind ruffles at our hair. Reverence.
THE LANTERNS IN THE OLIVE TREE
At the end of my garden is an olive tree—gnarled as it was when my parents first stepped on the land, thick with dandelions, bent by the seaborne winds that gust around the cliffs. Salt and time have silvered the boughs where I played as a child, the soil around the roots fragrant from years of crushed olives underfoot. I stretch up on a stepladder. Hang paper lanterns from the boughs. Under the shade of the tree is a ramshackle assortment of tables and chairs, and my sister with armfuls of wildflowers, gathered from the nearby hills.
Fawn leans back to admire her work and glimpses me. “Eva, you’re going to fall.”
“No I’m not.”
My father, passing by with a box of lemons, halts at my sister’s complaint and comes to steady the ladder. “How’s New York looking, kiddo?”
I hook a lantern around the branch. The ballet contract had arrived before I graduated from the academy—I read it beside Darcy, weighing up the salary against the god-awful rents of New York City. “There’s a studio apartment in Brooklyn that seems okay. It’s just… expensive.”
Further up the garden, Señor Papperino barks happily and leaps into the flowers, sending white butterflies flying amok. Dad snaps his fingers and our dog heels, circling at the base of the stepladder. “Your mother and I can help.”
“Don’t worry.” I pat Señor Papperino’s golden head with my foot. “I know we’ve already scraped the barrel in the last decade for my training. Focus on Matias and Santiago. I just need to get a part-timer. Like, one Saturday shift. It should be fine.”
Dad taps out a slow beat on the ladder. Dientes de león. Dandelion. A lullaby he wrote when my mother was first pregnant. “Sometimes I feel you grow up too fast, Evangeline.”
I light the lantern and smile at him. “Well, it is my birthday today.”
A bell tinkles inside our villa. I slip down from the ladder and dart into the cooler shade of the living room, past my brothers lining up margarita glasses and mint leaves. Mom assigned Alec to watch my younger brothers so they, and I mean Matias, don’t try to sneak sips from the rum and vodka. Said brother has already beat me to the door, and Matias hollers my name like a ship horn. “I’m right behind you, dingus.”
Matias grins at me and turns back to Mako. “Holy shit, is that a Lambo?”
I nearly shove him into the door. My partner takes the question in stride. “Aventador. I had it customised in black carbon.”
“Wow. But isn’t that like… millions of dollars?” Matias says incredulously. I peek around his shoulder. The sleek car is dusty from the drive to our house. Something twists uncomfortably in my belly. Even for a rich boy… it sounds too expensive. “Is it okay if I look, dude? Promise I won’t touch.”
Mako smiles and inclines his head. While Matias is busy staring at the car, I tug him into the house. His gaze lingers with soft curiosity over the sunlit hallway. Photographs cram the wall: little me playing the piano on Dad’s lap, our old dog Momo curled around Fawn and Alec, Santiago wavering in a handstand in the garden. Just below is all the ribbons and trophies I’ve collected over ten years. The Grand Prix trophy shines silver at the heart. Mako’s brows lift in surprise. “Oh.” I laugh, rocking back on my heels. “Mom insists on keeping everything in the hallway. It’s a little embarrassing.”
The windows and doors are thrown open, so the eucalyptus breeze flutters through the house. The gold medals, strung up by their ribbons, clink gently. His fingertips reach out to meet plastic. Spring of 2008. I was tiny and clumsy, the ribbons on my ballet slippers kept on escaping, but that first competition and the little plastic medal made me a promise: you will be great. A smile ghosts over his lips. “She’s proud of you.”
Mom emerges from the kitchen, dusting flour from her hands, and fusses over Mako as they cut strawberries together in the kitchen. At four thirty, my cousins and aunts and uncles come bearing food and birthday wishes; from all over the state, even Aunt Cara plus her sons Cassius and River from San Francisco; and my friends, exclaiming when I squeeze them for the dress, melting effortlessly into my family.
We gather under the olive tree: the summer air bright with laughter, I eat watermelon and korean fried chicken, and hop from one conversation to another. My uncle is leaning back in his chair, tattoos curling pitch black from under his lotus shirt, presumably napping amongst the loud chatter. I clap a hand on his shoulder. “What’s up, old man.”
Raphael opens one eye, like a cat in the sun. “Hello, small brat.”
“I think my blondie era is coming to an end.” I pop into the chair beside him. “There aren’t Raphael Kage hair colour services at New York. Do you think I should dye it myself?”
“Great idea.” He takes a slow drink from his mojito. “The last time you tried to dye your hair it turned blue.”
“Oh yeah. Fuck.” I was ten and wanted to make my hair golden, like the sun, but somehow ended up looking like one of Matias’ favourite blue popsicles. “Never mind. I’ll wear black to match and be a proper New Yorker.”
Someone ruffles my hair, and I tip my head back to Aunt Lilith. “Your mamá ran to the big city at your age, you know.”
I know snippets of my family’s history. Mom told them as precautionary tales, and I still can’t believe my sweet mother ran away with two suspicious strangers, even if they did turn out to be Dad and Uncle Luc. For some reason she refuses to divulge the rest, no matter how much my siblings begged, but I heard enough to understand that my family had struggled in the grittiest underbelly of the city. Born from fire. “I’m running towards something, not away.”
Lilith kisses the top of my head. “And that means you always have a place to return.”
Fawn brings out her cake, fresh cream with citrus from the tree, blazing with candles. It’s so good that my guilt stays silent. The guests diffuse across the dusky garden. My partner is sitting alone on the beach. I take a second slice of cake and tread down the sandy path from my garden. The waves hush in their calming rhythm. The fireflies are drifting on the breeze around him—rare in Southern California, but every summer since I remember, they appear on the evenings to twinkle in the woodlands. When I settle down beside him, curling my toes in the cool sand, his gaze is clear and happy, following the fireflies.
“This feels like a dream.”
I offer him the cake, although I already know his answer. “You could stay.”
“My family is waiting.” Mako leans over and kisses my cheek gently. “Thank you.”
I rest my head on his shoulder and watch the last golden dregs of the sun glitter on the water. Late morning tangerines, from the farmers on the pier. We wandered three days through oyster shuckers and windchimes, along the sun-beaten paths over the hills behind Malibu. Last night, the secret waterfall near my family villa, glimmering as it spilled quietly onto a tiny crescent-shaped beach hidden in the cliffs. We laid on the sand and listened to the hollow song of the ocean swirling over the rocks. Mars rose amongst the stars at midnight, and he told me the Japanese name for it, kasei, fire. His lips forged new constellations across my skin. It’s only three months, I reassure myself, but it’s not that and I can’t shake it: things won’t ever be the same in New York.
After he leaves for his flight to Narita, my family awaits under the lilac sky: gathered on the grass in front of the patio, where Fawn is setting up the piano and Alec is tuning his bass. Santiago tries to push Señor Papperino away from chewing on the electric guitar cords. Matias talks excitedly over his drums to Misha, who my siblings already like immensely; something about summer camping next week. The lanterns sputter and sway gently. I tuck my arms through Amaya’s and India’s. They play Summer Salt. Palm Tree on Avenue G.
It sounds like home.
You may notice that this chapter is way shorter than before! As my Tumblr followers already know, I decided to halve the chapter lengths, capping them at 3000 words and 8 pictures (this one is ~2000, on the minimum side), to make it both easier for readers to digest and for me to publish. So, this is 1 of 2 chapters focusing on Eva’s home before she jets off to the unknowns of New York; sort of filler-ish and leisurely, but I thought it important to spend a bit of time on her roots before Act III. I hope you enjoyed this short & sweet chapter, and that everyone is doing well ❤