Authors: M. G. Reyes
For my daughter, Lilia,
the first teenager to read
. May your own writing always bring you challenge, excitement, and joy.
CALIFORNIA FAMILY CODE SECTION 7120-7123
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MINOR MAY PETITION THE SUPERIOR COURT OF THE COUNTY IN WHICH THE MINOR RESIDES OR IS TEMPORARILY DOMICILED FOR A DECLARATION OF EMANCIPATION.
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HE PETITION SHALL SET FORTH WITH SPECIFICITY ALL OF THE FOLLOWING FACTS:
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HE MINOR IS AT LEAST
YEARS OF AGE.
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HE MINOR WILLINGLY LIVES SEPARATE AND APART FROM THE MINOR'S PARENTS OR GUARDIAN WITH THE CONSENT OR ACQUIESCENCE OF THE MINOR'S PARENTS OR GUARDIAN.
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HE MINOR IS MANAGING HIS OR HER OWN FINANCIAL AFFAIRS.
It was all going wrong between the housemates. Grace was the one who decided to put things right. But not everyone was in the mood to play along.
“Really?” Candace peered down from the cliff path at El Matador State Beach. With maximum snark she said, “You couldn't find a busier beach?”
Dismayed, Grace eyed the crowded sand. “It'll thin out, you'll see. It's almost four thirty. It has to.” The other five housemates paused behind her on the path, beach bags and coolers dangling from their fingers, surfboards under Maya's and Candace's arms.
“We should have come later,” John-Michael muttered. “Who sets out for an evening beach barbecue at four in the afternoon?”
Grace had persuaded her housemates it was time for a day trip away from their Venice Beach house, where lately all they did was eat too many grilled cheese sandwiches and stare at the TV. They had to get out, get together in
a place where nature and tranquillity could work on their senses. Where the distractions of everyday life wouldn't snap the housemates apart and send them flying for the corner pockets like a rack of pool balls on the break.
She'd even cajoled John-Michael and Candace into helping her put together a picnic. One or two of them grumbled about going to “just another beach,” but so what? What they needed was different air and a different horizon. A place where they could breathe without the taint of uncertainty and suspicion that had settled around them. This was about being together. With its coves wrapped by the cliffs of the Pacific Coast Highway, its crystalline waters and soft golden sands, El Matador seemed like the ideal getaway.
Grace bit her lower lip. Her housemates' complaining was pretty annoying. But she wasn't going to be so easily ground down.
To her relief, Paolo caught her eye. He noticed Grace's frustration and replied with a comforting half grin. “I'm glad we're here while there's still some light. I like to watch the kitesurfers.”
Grace gave Paolo an appreciative smile and her stomach knotted in response. It happened way too often. One of these days her feelings were going to show in her eyes, in the twitch of her lips, and then what? Then she'd be the stupid girl who fell for the ridiculously gorgeous, unattainable guy.
“Kitesurfing, on this beach?” Maya said, skeptical.
“You'd have to be pretty crazy to risk that.”
Paolo shrugged. He could see at least one bright pink sail dragging a surfer across the water, about a hundred yards out. “It's not so windy.”
,” Maya said, pointing at the wall of rock that bordered the cove. “If a strong gust picks you up you could get slammed against a cliff and killed.”
“No one's getting killed,” Paolo said, his voice tinged with admiration. “Just look at that guy, he's a mile out!”
This time, Grace couldn't hold back a warm smile. Paolo, at least, was trying. He had been a little down, too, since Lucy rejected him; hadn't exactly jumped at the idea of the picnic. But once they'd gotten moving, his mood had improved.
She paused for a moment, watching Paolo take the steps two at a time. He looked as good as ever. It was pointless, she told herself. You had to make the effort to avoid boys like Paolo. Too cute, and he knows it. Better to keep him as a friend.
When Grace looked up it was to see Lucy's eyes on her; curious, considered. “Hmm,” Lucy murmured with a knowing nod.
“What?” countered Grace. She could feel a blush rising and couldn't do a thing to stop it.
Lucy smiled gently. “Don't sweat it. Guys are dumb but they figure it out eventually.”
Grace, for a brief moment, was too stunned to move. At least one housemate wasn't fooled by her charade. Moving
somewhat mechanically now, she followed her friends down to the beach.
Candace and Maya rode out into the waves on their short surfboards while Paolo swam nearby. The ocean was still too cold for any but the most hardy, but Paolo didn't seem to care. The water was as clear as a freshwater spring in the middle of the woods. Out on the wide blue expanse, two kitesurfers crisscrossed as their boards bounced and skated over the water.
Grace stayed on the sand, between boulders and the cliffs. Most of the time, she stared out over the water, John-Michael beside her, the two of them silent.
It could be that way with two people looking into the sea, Grace had found. All her life Grace had lived in San Antonio, Texas, more than one hundred miles from the coastline. She'd never known the calming effect the ocean could have on her mind. The past five months, living a hundred yards from the water's edge, had brought the revelation of shared silence.
Grace doubted that she could ever go back.
She thought about the first days of living in the Venice Beach house she shared with Maya, Lucy, John-Michael, Paolo, and her stepsister, Candace. It had taken a few months, but they'd grown close; a synthetic family on Venice Beach. It wasn't something they'd taken for granted. Yet, recently, there were tensions.
It was no surprise, given what some of them had brought into the house. Secrets, deceptions, crimes. Grace watched
Candace rub lotion onto her arms, and felt a familiar flash of guilt. She had confided in John-Michael a secret she was still keeping from her own stepsister.
Grace had kept silent about the true identity of her father, Alex Vesper, for years. How would Candace react if she knew that her stepmother was once married to a convicted murderer, a man on death row? Would Grace's relationship with Candace survive, if that truth ever came to light? Without Candace, Grace was pretty sure she wouldn't be able to keep pretending that being emancipated was as easy as everyone liked to believe. It didn't help that the housemates had more or less all agreed to keep their parents at arm's length.
If Candace were to find out the truth about Grace's father from anyone but Grace, she'd feel betrayed. She might even begin to pick through her memories and wonder what other things Grace had lied about. Grace could already imagine her own response, begging to be believed that there were no other secrets and that even this hadn't been her choice but her mother's.
She lowered her eyes before Candace noticed. No. She couldn't risk it, as tempting as it sometimes was to confess. Like her mother always said: “It's not just
Grace had confided in John-Michael, a week ago, on Memorial Day. She still wasn't exactly sure why she had. When one person shared something private, it felt right to share something back. At least, that's what she told herself.
It was the reason why she'd brought John-Michael in on her own buried treasureâthe truth that her father was “Dead Man Walking”âthe death row prisoner she'd been writing to for years.
But John-Michael had shared a secret with her, too. One about his own father's death, which hung like a dagger above his head. The police had arrested John-Michael on suspicion of murder, but he'd been released without being charged. A week ago things had come to a head. Rather than benefit one more day from his father's pride and joy, John-Michael had driven his father's Mercedes-Benz convertible off the Pacific Coast Highway. Only Grace knew the real reason he'd done it.
She didn't agree with the morality of assisting a father's suicideâespecially when it involved holding a pillow over your father's face until he stopped breathing. She could never have done it herselfâhowever terminal the medical diagnosis. But John-Michael was her friend, and he'd trusted her with the truth. She would
tell, and she knew he would do the same for her.
After sunset, the moms and dads, grandparents and toddlers began to pack up and leave. The disposable barbecues began to glow in the fading light. From the tiny plastic bag within her first aid pouch, Grace pulled fibers from cotton balls to use as tinder while John-Michael lit a match. His practicality often surprised and impressed her.
“When I was living on the street,” he said, “there were
days when I'd have shivered all night long if I hadn't been able to make a fire.”
When the tinder had caught a flame, he tossed a burning cotton ball onto the teepee of sticks he'd carefully arranged. He dropped onto his belly, mouth no more than six inches from the nascent flame, and began to blow. Within a minute, the sticks had caught fire, too. They began to crackle and blaze. In another minute, they had a real campfire.
Candace approached, drying her shoulders and head with a towel. She knelt in the space between Lucy and Grace. After a moment she leaned her head on Grace's shoulder. “This is so great. Why've we never done this before?”
Paolo sat down on a rolled straw beach mat and peered up at her. “You're the one who's always working on your TV show over the weekends.”
“Candace is right,” Maya chipped in. “This is really fun. It's been a while since we just hung out together.” She reached for the cooler and took out cold cans of soda and foil-wrapped cheese-and-meatball hoagies. Paolo caught the Diet Coke she lobbed at him and turned to John-Michael. “Dude, did you bring the rum and the limes? I wanna make a Cuba libre.”
Grace felt the beginnings of a warm glow within her. The easy vibe that had once existed between the housemates wasn't quite there, not yet. But maybe it was a good thing that their secrets had begun to come out into the open. In the flame-heated air that connected the six
friends around the fire, she could sense them coming closer together.
Maybe Lucy would finally reveal her own secrets.
Lucy didn't know it, but she had the power to change Grace's entire life with a single action. She just had to tell the truth about the murder she'd witnessed as a child.
There had to be some way to get Lucy to talk. Grace knew that John-Michael had already told Lucy about Grace's fatherâshe'd suggested it herself, to see if it might get Lucy to confess. So far Lucy had said nothing. The question wasâhad she made any connection between Grace's father's situation and what she'd witnessed as a child?
Grace couldn't be sure. No, it would have to begin with Grace sharing her side of the truth with Lucy first. She had to tell her that Alex Vesper, the man on death row for the murder of Tyson Drew, was her father.
Grace sighed. Then Candace would find out that she'd been lying to her all these years.
If only there was another way.