Authors: Jessica Gray
Hazel hadn’t felt this bad since the first day she’d come to Sandy Beach. She’d overreacted. Ethan was such a kind and caring man; he sure didn’t deserve this kind of treatment. Since she’d agreed to go out with him he’d been the perfect boyfriend, and talented lover. Always putting her needs before his. He’d never once looked at another woman – and there had been plenty of opportunities. Everything she’d heard about him didn’t seem to be true.
But nothing of that mattered anymore. After what had just happened, he’d probably never talk to her again.
She’d messed up. Again.
As she drove, she dried her tears and then glanced at her watch. She didn’t have to be at the salon for another hour. She drove along the shoreline until she found a place to park, where she got out and walked along the beach.
In the distance, she saw a woman playing with a toddler. The little boy was just learning to walk, and the shifting sand was making things more difficult than normal.
He didn’t seem to mind. Every time he fell down, his mother was there to pick him up, and a wave of loneliness and grief swamped her. She would never see her own mother again.
She sat down on the sand a little ways away and watched as the mother blew up a beach ball and rolled it to her son. The little boy clapped his hands and squealed with glee when he was able to send the ball back across the sand.
This continued for several minutes, and then the little boy sent the ball towards Hazel in his exuberance to hit the ball back to his mother. Hazel reacted automatically, pushing it back to the little boy across the sand. This was apparently taken as a sign for the young woman to come up and start a conversation with her.
“Hi. Thanks for sending the ball back. This young man is Jackson, and I’m Allison.”
“You must be Hazel, the new girl over at Hairworks.”
“How did you know?”
Allison laughed. “Sandy Beach is a small place and Vero has been raving about you.” She started to say something else, but then stopped herself.
Hazel nodded. “That’s me.”
“So, how do you like Sandy Beach?”
“It’s nice. The men around here seem to like having their hair cut, but other than that, it’s a nice little town.”
Allison chuckled at her comment. “I think the men in town like getting a chance to talk to you.”
Hazel blushed and glanced at her watch. She stood up, dusting the sand from her pants. “I’m sorry. I have to be at work in a few minutes. It was nice meeting you.”
Allison joined her, picking up her son. “It was nice meeting you as well. I hope to see you more often.”
What the heck did she mean by that, Hazel thought before jogging back to her truck. Allison had been super-friendly, but something was off.
She didn’t speculate about Allison, but smiled at one of the things she liked most about Sandy Beach – how welcoming and friendly the people were.
Ethan returned to his office and attempted to get some work done. He met with the bank and filled out the paperwork to apply for the company credit line. Eventually, the investors and profits would fund the day-to-day operating expenses, but until then, he’d use a revolving line of credit to set up AngelSeeds
Next, he placed a call to Peter Shaw in California and gave him the go-ahead to work on the programming he needed to make the business function in the virtual world. After lunch, several people who’d gotten his name and number from Peter called him to talk about becoming prospective investors.
He also took several phone calls from people who were hoping to secure funding for their new ventures through his company. It was all the usual stuff he dealt with on a day-to-day basis, but he was distracted. Hazel’s scowling face as she’d stomped out of his house haunted him. And he had no idea how to proceed next.
Around lunchtime, he decided to visit his parents for some distraction. His father owned a sailing and windsurfing school in Sandy Beach and was out sailing with students, but his mother was home and gave him a hug, before she said, “So, tell me about the new girl you’ve been seen around town with.”
Ethan sighed; so much for getting his thoughts off Hazel. “How do you know, Mom?”
She raised an eyebrow. “We’ve been over this before, son. I know and see everything.”
“You keep saying that, Mom, but we all know it’s not humanly possible to be everywhere all the time.”
His mother patted him on the shoulder. “Come in. I’m not telling you my secrets, but I have friends in all the right places. And the two of you haven’t been exactly secretive; by now probably everyone in town knows.”
“Well, she is very special.” He didn’t go into details, not after the look his mother was giving him.
She knows something is going on that isn’t the normal status quo.
“Sweetie, Hazel sounds like such a nice girl. You should bring her over one day.”
There was his opening.
“I would love to, but she’s not talking to me anymore. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if she never spoke to me again.”
“What happened? Did you say something?”
Ethan evaded his mother’s questions and looked away. He had no intention of telling his mother about the ugly fight, but he knew if he started talking, she’d be digging for details.
His mother Bridget had a way of seeing right through the façade of her children, and avoiding her was almost worse than telling a half-truth.
She reached a hand out to him and waited until he looked up before asking, “Did I ever tell you your father basically had to beg me to marry him?”
When Ethan shook his head, she smiled and continued, “Well, he did. I thought my life was too messed up and I didn’t want to be a burden for him.”
Ethan’s jaw fell open. “You had problems?” He’d never placed his mother as one having any problem she couldn’t handle. She was super-organized, and during their childhood she’d had no problems keeping six children at bay. Even if she sometimes stuck her nose too deep for their liking into their business of her children, he knew she did it out of love and secretly he appreciated it. Not that he would ever acknowledge that, of course.
She giggled. “Ethan, we all have problems that require help sometimes. In this instance, you need to follow your heart.”
That piece of advice didn’t help him very much. He’d been hoping to find concrete steps he could take to get Hazel back, but instead his mother offered some wishy-washy advice. At least her wisdom helped to strengthen his determination to go after Hazel a second time.
He wasn’t going to let her push him away because she was trying to protect him. He wanted her, and though her mouth said otherwise, her eyes and her body betrayed her, because he could see in each and every one of her gestures that she loved him as much as he loved her.
When he left his parents’ house a while later, his mother kissed him good-bye and said, “Son, your heart will never lead you astray. Let it guide you and you’ll have everything you ever wanted.”
Hazel arrived at work on time, but where she normally loved her job and meeting the friendly people of Sandy Beach, today her thoughts remained on Ethan. Even the praise her clients sent her way couldn’t lift the worry from her eyes.
I’ve probably lost him forever.
The brief joy she’d felt on the beach had long since faded away. Her life – a life without Ethan – seemed hopeless and even more sad and dreadful than before.
She continued going through the motions, but a few hours later she was still struggling to maintain a positive outlook on life. The bell above the door jingled and she looked up to see a very elegant woman in her forties with awesome long blonde hair in Claudia Schiffer style enter the salon. She was dressed in an expensive designer suit and had immaculately manicured hands.
“Where is Vero?” she said in a demanding voice.
Hazel watched Julia cringe. “Um…well…”
Vero stepped from the side room and laid a hand on Julia’s shoulder. “I’ve got this.”
Julia scurried out from behind the reception desk, heading for the break room, as all of the other girls did unless they had a client in their chairs. Those who couldn’t leave ducked their heads and tried to be invisible.
Why is everyone acting like this?
Hazel was coloring the hair of a particularly busy woman, who didn’t want to chat, but preferred to work on her small netbook. Hazel watched the spectacle unfold in the mirror. She didn’t intend to eavesdrop, but their voices carried through the almost empty salon.
Vero was obviously very upset with the newcomer. Her usually warm smile was now too bright and completely fake.
I wonder if the other woman notices?
“Vero, come on! Send someone over to Inez.”
Vero vehemently shook her head. “No way. Last year, my girl came back crying and almost quit on me. And I don’t even mention what happened the year before. None of my girls wants to do her hair. She’s the devil in human form.”
The newcomer gave a fake laugh and said in a high-pitched voice, “Vero. That’s a little exaggerated, don’t you think?”
Hazel felt uncomfortable listening to their conversation and pretended to have to get some more aluminum foils for the highlights of her client. But this was the wrong move to make, because the elegant woman became aware of her and strode into the salon area, her hand extended.
“Honey, I haven’t seen you in here before. Lizzie Donald, movie agent.”
Before Hazel could do more than shake the woman’s hand, Vero shot Lizzie Donald a dark stare. “Don’t even think about it. She’s too nice for that devil client of yours.”
Lizzie raised an eyebrow and said, “I think she can decide on her own.”
Hazel had no idea what was going on here. But she’d soon find out, because the movie agent turned toward her, totally ignoring Vero, and said in her most convincing voice, “Honey, how would you like to earn some extra money and do the hair of a famous movie star during her summer retreat in Ashton? The pay is very generous, and the only catch is that you have to come to her house every other evening after your work here.”
Hazel sensed the tension in the air and moved her eyes between them, unsure of what she should do, or how she should respond. Vero attempted to help her out. “Hazel, it’s entirely up to you. But the lady Lizzie is talking about is as mean as they come.”
Lizzie waved a hand. “Inez Barclay is an eccentric old lady, but calling her mean doesn’t do her justice.”
Vero responded in an evil voice, “No, mean is much too nice for her. Cruel nasty bitch would be a better description.”
Hazel’s eyes widened in disbelief as she asked, “
Inez Barclay, biggest movie star of the fifties?”
Lizzie laid her manicured hand on Hazel’s arms and turned on her charms. “Yes, honey, herself. And don’t listen to Vero, she’s exaggerating. Mrs. Barclay may have her peculiarities, but she pays well and in cash. So how about it? The weekly pay is…”
Hazel blinked at the sum in stunned disbelief and swallowed hard. Added to her normal salary, the money being offered was enough to pay down her debt in less than a year and finally get out of her car. All this with only a few hours of extra work every day.
Before she could have second thoughts, she sent an apologetic look to her boss and said, “I’ll do it. When should I start?”
Lizzie clapped her hands together. “Wonderful!”
Vero shook her head, “I hope you know what you’re doing, Hazel.” Then she turned and left them alone to discuss the details. Lizzie Donald left the salon a few minutes later with a promise from Hazel that she wouldn’t change her mind, no matter what the other girls gossiped.
When Lizzie was gone, Vero returned to Hazel once again and said, “I know you need the money, dear, but you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into. This woman is a nasty bitch.”
Despite the dire warning, Hazel spent the rest of the day in a much lighter mood. She was almost happy, and for the first time today, she didn’t dwell on thoughts about Ethan. Not until he stood in front of her with a big box of chocolates in his hands and a big grin on his face.
“Ethan!” She launched herself into his arms with so much momentum, he almost tumbled.
“Wow. I hadn’t expected such an enthusiastic greeting,” he said with an even bigger grin and pressed her against him, before he took her mouth in a ravenous kiss. She met his kiss with equal passion, and got lost in him, forgetting the world around her. He was here kissing her. That was all that mattered.
The sound of someone clearing their throat brought her back to the present and she pulled away to see Vero standing off to one side.
Hazel felt the blood rushing to her face and apologized, “I’m sorry. I didn’t…”
Vero gave her an encouraging smile. “Don’t be sorry, honey. Love is not something to be sorry for.”
Ethan took her hand and pulled her outside. Now that Hazel could think straight, the old worries came rushing back. “Ethan, that kiss…well, I still don’t think we should see each other.”
He looked at her as if she were crazy, “Why are you so insistent on denying the attraction between us? When you launched yourself into my arms back inside…that wasn’t the act of a woman who wasn’t happy to see me.”
Hazel dropped her eyes because he was right. She had launched herself into his arms. Not the other way around. She tried to free herself from his hand, but he gripped her harder and took her into his arms again. Then he looked at her with his chocolate-brown eyes and all her resolves were swimming away – again. All she wanted was to be held in his arms.
“Why are you so afraid to be with me?” he whispered.
“My life is a complete mess. I need to get myself together before I can even think about having a relationship with anyone. It’s not fair to drag someone else into this mess.”
“I already offered to help. Why won’t you let me?”
Good question. Because she never needed help? Because for the last two and a half years she was the strong one, the one her mother could lean on, the one who organized everything, who shouldered everything. And now she had forgotten how it was to lean on someone else and be helped…
She started sobbing and he stroked her hair, just the way her mother had always done when she was still healthy. “Hazel, shush. It’s okay to accept help. People weren’t meant to do everything on their own all the time. We’re supposed to help one another in times of trouble. That’s why there are so many people on this Earth, you know?”
His comment made her giggle. “You can always make me laugh.”
“Come for a walk on the beach with me?” he asked.
“Sure. I’m finished for the day anyway. Let me grab my stuff.” She hurried back into the salon, ignoring the questioning looks her colleagues threw her way. They took his car, and he drove them to the spot where they’d first met.
They removed their shoes and socks, and walked along the shore, their feet just barely in the waves.
Hazel grabbed his hand. “My mom was a wonderful person. When she got sick, we were both devastated, but she coped so well. She continued to show such a positive attitude, even when she became weaker by the day. Unfortunately the insurance covered only the basics. We used her retirement account to pay for the additional treatments. But the money wasn’t enough. It ran out about six months before she died.”
Ethan didn’t interrupt her; he just walked beside her, squeezing her hand tight. She swallowed back tears and continued, “I didn’t tell her. I knew she would stop the treatments, and they were the only thing that gave her some respite from the pain. I couldn’t stand the thought of her having to endure this excruciating pain, so I took out a credit card and maxed it out. Then another, and another. It was easy enough to keep applying for cards and getting them. I stacked up lots of credit without even noticing it.”
She paused and he stopped to look into her eyes. “Hazel, I admire you so much for what you did for your mom. You’ve been so strong. But asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness. It takes immense strength to ask for help and accept it. I’m here and I want to help you. Will you let me?”
For the first time, Hazel started to understand what he was telling her. She leaned against his shoulder and slowly nodded her head. “I’ll try.” They sealed the deal with a soft kiss.
After walking a few more minutes, Ethan asked, “What about your father?”
She took a breath. “He was in the military and died before I was born.”
“I’m sorry you never got to meet him.”
“Me too, but my mom did a good job telling me about him. He must have been an amazing man. She used to share memories of him all the time.”
“That’s good.” They both grew quiet and then he asked the most important question: “So, will you try a relationship with me?”
She looked up at him and searched his eyes. “I will try, but I’m not discussing my finances with you.”
Ethan opened his mouth to argue the point, but then closed it. “OK, but only if you promise to let me love you.”
Hazel turned to face him, willing to give him that much. “You can love me all you want.”