I hadn’t been thinking much about Will’s age, especially because he looked quite young (and as Janet would say ‘black don’t crack!’), so it came as a little surprise to me that upon our arrival, Will’s friend’s house looked more like a mansion. It was a sunny day in Malibu that we arrived at the brightest house with a sprawling backyard; not as obnoxious as the Kardashians but definitely fit enough for a pool, spa, and a high-class dining area. There were all kinds of drinks flowing, a barbeque going (attended by a chef) and two other chefs in the kitchen preparing the less meaty parts of the menu. Until now it hadn’t occurred to me that Will was well-off and therefore, Will’s friends were well-off; and there was no worse time other than now to feel inferior. Men who have established jobs and an incredible salary are just as much a threat or intimidation or whatever to women as well, and I hated that it made me feel two inches tall.
Lucky for me, all the girls were free. It was the perfect opportunity to introduce them to Will as well. Will and I hadn’t exactly been dating, at least not explicitly, however, the second opinion was still of value here. I wanted the girls to let me in on what they thought about Will and whether or not it was even a good idea to start things.
Janet shrugged when I asked the question. “He fine, ‘nuff said.”
I laughed. “Oh come on, seriously. I need help with this one. I’ve never dated an older man before.”
“And he’s a man’s man too,” Jodie said.
Chloe nodded. “He’s definitely hot, and definitely not a slacker.”
“So I should consider his occupation then?” I asked.
“Of course,” Janet said. “We’re in the fortunate position of not having our occupations define us because, generally speaking, our jobs are temporary until we graduate from UCLA. After that though, once we have our proper jobs, we’re set to be judged by that just as much as men are.”
“That is ludicrous,” Jodie said. “Our occupations don’t define us.”
Janet held her hands up. “Hey, I agree one hundred percent. But it won’t stop the typical guy from thinking that,” Janet then turned her attention to me. “Say you and Will met at the club you work as a bartender, before knowing you worked at the agency. Do you think he would think of you in the same light?”
I took a moment to think. I ran my index finger along the line of my collared dress, suddenly feeling the fibres tightening around my neck. “I think so.”
My answer wasn’t enough to convince myself. I wanted to believe that Will saw me for who I was and not my job, but then again, I never asked. Was that a thing to ask nowadays?
“Don’t listen to her,” Chloe said, “she just doesn’t want to think Stanley’s going to be working in retail for the rest of his life.”
Janet stuck her tongue out at Chloe and they both laughed. I felt a little awkward even though I joined them. By Janet’s reasoning, I had about a year before I’ll be judged fully by the basis of my occupation, along with the other defects that make up my personality.
I once had a conversation with someone, way back when that I don’t remember their name, about this very subject. He was really passionate about the fact that an occupation doesn’t make up a part of us, it’s just what we do. Even till this day we hear it many times, in movies, books, music, even on the street. Even now, though, a creative director at a prestigious agency is of higher importance and has a greater chance of being permanent, than that of a bartending student trying to make a buck. I wanted to reject the idea, and even dispute it; to do that, though, I’d probably have to commit to bartending as a full time occupation for the rest of my life just to prove a point.
As soon as I saw Will from across the yard and he met my eyes, we smiled and then began magnetising. We moved until we met at the centre of the yard; everyone seemed to fade in the background, having to have been lost in their own chatter.
“Did you find the place easily?” Will asked, after he came down to kiss me on the cheek.
I nodded. “I did.” No need to mention the fact that his friend’s place was hard to miss.
“Pretty nice house, huh?” Will asked.
I put my hand through his arm and we started taking a little stroll around.
“It’s a lovely place.”
“Phil is the guy’s name, he’s a music producer out here in L.A. He always jokes that he’s too Hollywood for me.”
I laughed. “Has he produced music for any celebrities I know?”
Will looked at me and then winked. “Maybe.”
My heart started beating a little faster. I’ve never been so infatuated with celebrities, it was the fact that they had so much money they could rule the world that mesmerised me. It was incredible to be standing in the house of someone who made probably just as much as any other celebrity. Doing what one loved was awesome; getting paid millions to do what one loved was the glistening gilded cherry on top of the diamond encrusted cake!
Just then, we bumped into the girls.
“Hey, guys,” I said, catching their attention from their discussions. “This is Will. Will, this is Chloe, Janet and Jodie.”
Will nodded. “Ladies. Are you enjoying your time so far?”
The girls nodded. Each one had a glass of champagne in hand.
“Thank you so much for inviting us,” Chloe said.
“Don’t mention it,” Will replied.
“So how do you know the owner?” Janet asked.
Will chuckled inwardly. “Well, it’s kind of an odd story. Long story short though, Phil and I recorded a few songs together. I’m a trumpet player and also a singer; a Louis Armstrong wannabe I guess.”
I stared at will with a huge grin as pink started forming on his cheeks. When this man blushed, it was unbelievably sexy!
Jodie slapped me on my elbow. “You never told us that.”
I shrugged. “I knew about the trumpet, not about the singing though.”
“Maybe I’ll show you some time,” Will said.
I smiled. “I’d like that.”
The girls stared at us with nothing but bright and eager faces.
“Well, enjoy the rest of the party,” Chloe said, snapping me out of my reverie with Will. It seemed to snap him out of it too.
Will nodded. “You two ladies.”
We went our separate ways then. The girls ventured deeper into the garden while Will and I went inside the house where people frequented less.
“I have a confession to make,” Will said. “I didn’t just invite you so we could hang out.”
“Oh, you’re going to make me do some extra work now?” I joked.
Will chuckled, his whole demeanour becoming strangely nervous. “I almost wish that was it. It’d probably make things easier.”
“Okay,” I stopped with Will in the middle of the living room. I let go of his arm and turned to face him. “What’s up?”
“There’s something I want to tell you, that I think you should know.”
I narrowed my eyes but still retained my smile. “Alright.”
Will paused for a moment, and then sighed. “Okay, I have—”
“Dad!” a voice called.
Will and I both turned our glances to the entrance of the yard where a young girl came out, wearing a cute flowing dress. Her hair in a ponytail and her sneakers white. She was holding something in her hand, and then finally gazed up at only Will.
“Look what Phil showed me,” she said, holding up her hand to reveal a shell. “Phil said he got it from the Red Sea. We should go there some time.”
I was too confused to speak, and it looked like I didn’t have to considering the girl barely noticed I even existed.
Will, however, looked like he was about to burst from the most uncomfortable position of his life. He then placed a hand on the girl’s back to which she responded by finally looking up at me.
“This is my daughter, Kayla.”
My lips were tight. Almost glued, if it were. I had no idea how to process this, and I was just about to lean on the defence that I heard wrong when Kayla spoke.
“What’s your name?”
“Umm, A—Anna,” I sputtered.
Kayla held out her hand. “Nice to meet you.”
I had a feeling that she didn’t care one bit about this little introduction. I’m guessing it was much more different to her than to me.
“Same here,” I said, taking her hand and managing the most casual and calm tone ever that there should be a spot for me in the Guinness Book of World Records.
“See you then,” Kayla said, walking away. I didn’t pay attention to where she went.
Once she left, I let out a large string of air. My chest deflated, my head swarming.
“You have a kid?” I asked. The answer was obvious, but I really couldn’t care less at the lack of formulating a good question right now.
Will nodded, sheepishly. “Yeah, I do. She’s fourteen.”
I quickly did the math in my head. “You were quite young.” A statement that was equally poorly formulated.
Will nodded again. “I was. Kayla was the best thing to ever happen to me though. She got me out of a lot of trouble.”
What a vague answer.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I just don’t know how to register this.”
“It’s okay. I just wanted to let you know now before it was too late. It tends to be one of the most important deciding variables for the continuation of a relationship, or at least my relationships. I wanted you to know sooner rather than later.”
“So now you do,” he said, letting out a nervous laugh.
I wanted to say a lot more than a one-worded nothing, but it was just so sudden. It almost felt like a dream, like it wasn’t real. Had all this been in my imagination? A ploy to jeopardise any chance of anything with Will? Because I can tell you right now, I didn’t need a ‘variable’ as Will put it, to jeopardise any relationship for me. I’m always fully loaded.
We heard raucous laughter and then a loud ‘yeah!’ coming from the backyard.
“We should probably get back,” Will said.
I nodded. “I’m just going to be a minute.”
“Of course,” Will said. “Take all the time you need.”
He leaned down to kiss me, for which I was too slow in my response to return, and then headed out. Even within these four walls, the sun felt like it was penetrating the house. My neck and face started to burn up as soon as Will left, and I quickly needed a more private place for myself.
I hurried up the long staircase, assuming that there’d be a bathroom up there. I knew there was one downstairs, but I figured this was farthest from the crowds of people.
I quickly opened the third door and found myself in quite a fancy bathroom. My hair gathered around my face as soon as I hunched over the sink. I opened the tap, splashed some water on my face, and then dried up. I started feeling a little better until I dropped the towel from my face and saw Kayla sitting in the bathtub with her knees close to her chest.
We stared at each other, frozen in our gazes. Then Kayla smiled and I quickly smiled back.
“Are you going to be my new mama?” Kayla asked.
I widened my eyes. “What? No. No, I’m not, I—”
Kayla grinned. “I’m just messing with you.”
I sighed out of relief and then laughed with her. It would have definitely been awkward if we had to have a talk about that.
“Rough day?” she asked.
I tilted my head from side to side. “Somewhat. It’s hot though.”
Kayla nodded. “The fourth is on fire. Want to join me?” she gestured next to her in the bathtub. “It’s a lot cooler here for some reason.”
I considered for a moment, and then hopped in. Just when I was about to think that the tub wouldn’t be able to fit two people in, I slipped right inside.
Kayla smiled. “Want a cigarette?”
“Oh, I don’t think…”
My lecture trailed off once I saw Kayla shuffling around and pretending to pull out a pack of cigarettes. She made gestures with her hands in the vacant air of pulling out a single cigarette and then lighting it up. I smiled, glad that it wasn’t real. Then she offered me the imaginary cigarette. I took it, and like her, pretended to smoke.
“In my world,” Kayla began, “these cigarettes aren’t harmful and they taste a lot better.”
I nodded in agreement. “They do taste good.”
“Like strawberries, right?”
I giggled. “Right.” I then passed the imaginary cigarette back to her.
“You could be a mother you know,” Kayla said.
“Do I look that old?”
Kayla shrugged. “There are young mothers too you know.”
I thought about that for a moment and, she was right. Since when was being a mother suddenly a stigma for being old, boring and settling down?
“I’m too young though,” I said, taking the cigarette offered to me once again.
“There’s no such thing. Being too young is just an excuse I think. That’s what I say every time my dad says I’m too young for something.”
“I’m sure he has his reasons.”
“But he’s never been a fourteen year old girl.”
I laughed. “That is true.”
“What I’m saying is, it’s hard to be taken seriously when you’re just a fourteen year old girl.”
I nodded in agreement. It was then that I realised I was having a much more interesting time here, with a fourteen year old girl, than with peers who are closer to my age and ‘maturity’ I guess you could say. I couldn’t help but think that maybe, just maybe, I was too young too, and still had a lot of learning to do. More learning than I care to confess; and I didn’t know if it was a process Will was willing to wait for me to go through.
***When I mistook a woman for someone else’s mother, that woman found insult and told me to apologise to her. This happened about a week ago but I couldn’t let it go considering that being called a mother to this woman was an insult to her (I actually told this woman that there were young mothers too, just like Kayla). It’s true, being called a mother has this unfortunate stigma of therefore being old, boring and settling down; yet I reject all of these statements, and dare not apologise for mistaking a woman for being something as beautiful as a mother. This post is therefore dedicated to my mother, who never settles, is never boring, and is always young, physically and in spirit. You are a beautiful soul, I love you!***