That evening as Ethan made the drive to Brittany’s place he second-guessed himself as to whether or not he should have worn a tie. He had opted for khakis, a cinnamon mock turtleneck sweater and his old leather bomber jacket. He wanted to keep it casual as he hoped she would, but he admitted he was out of his league, and clueless when it came to Hollywood and all that. As he pulled into her drive he was surprised at how nervous he was feeling. He parked his Explorer, gathered his wits, and made for the front door. Before he could ring the door popped open and a smiling Brittany met him in jeans and gray a pullover. Her hair was pulled back through a cap; she wore very little makeup as far as he could tell, and looked wonderfully fresh and younger than he knew her to be.
“Hi, come on in,” she told him, leaving the door open before retreating to somewhere in the house.
He waited in the foyer, deciding to close the door to block the wind. The house was impressive and well appointed he observed. Everything looked neat and clean, but not homey. He thought it must because of the lack of personal and family pictures, memorabilia, and things. After all it was just a rental he remembered.
Brittany walked in carrying her coat and small purse. “Well here I am,” she said, holding her arms out at her sides.
“You look beautiful,” Ethan told her without thinking, and meaning it.
“I wasn’t fishing for compliments, but thanks anyway,” she said, smiling up at him. She held out her coat so he could help her slip it on.
“So where are you taking me Mr. Brock?” she asked, when they were in the car and headed back to town.
Carlo’s was a little Bistro just off North Beach with a view of the lighthouse and sea beyond. As they entered the restaurant an attractive young lady greeted them, took their coats and immediately escorted them to a back table. She seated Brittany with her back to the dinning room, which afforded her the best view of the lighthouse as it swept by every few minuets. There may have been a couple of whispers from behind hands or menus as some to the guest asked each other if that was who they thought it was, but no one bothered them.
Carlo, or at least the owner of Carlo’s the restaurant, turned out to be Abu Ajar, a sixty something American Arab who, along with his wife had immigrated in the early 80’s. It was Mr. Ajar, who after introducing himself to Brittany took their orders.
“Ethan, Ms. Stephens, I hope you are hungry? Our chef does a great mid-week menu.”
“The menu changes every week,” Ethan told Brittany as she was scanning the choices.
“Why don’t you order for us?” Brittany asked him, “But not too heavy,” She added.
“Ok Abu, lets see,” Ethan considered. “Lets start with a couple of your house Cesar’s, oh, and I see you have the grilled artichoke and tomato basil, we’ll have that with angel hair pasta. Do you still have the Gary Farrell, 1999 Pinot Noir?” He asked.
“Sure we do, excellent choice,” Abu said.
“I’ll have the wine and your salads sent right out,” he told Ethan before turning towards Brittany and added, “One comment please Ms. Stephens, I want you to know that my wife and I loved you in Fatal Desires, my wife cried. We have the DVD you know?”
“Thank you Mr. Ajar,” Brittany said, smiling up at the man.
“Oh no Ms. Stephens, you must call me Abu,” he told her.
“Ok Abu I will, as long as you’ll call me Brittany,” she returned.
When they were alone, Brittany stared out at the sea and the lighthouse. “This is really nice Ethan, you come her often?
“About once a month,” he told her. “Abu and I go way back, his youngest son was somewhat of a football star around here about five years ago. A good kid, but he got in a little trouble, we worked things out quietly and it all turned out ok. He’s in his first year of medical school up state somewhere.”
The steward brought their wine to the table. He poured a small amount for Ethan who sipped and then indicated he should fill Brittany’s glass. When the man had filled both their glasses he placed it on a small stand next to their table.
“This is an excellent wine Ethan,” Brittany told him.
“Thanks, I enjoy it when I can find it. It’s very reasonable, semidry, and goes well with just about everything.”
“A connoisseur, Mr. Brock,” Brittany said playfully, “You surprise me.”
“No, not at all, I know what I like,” he said. “And I don’t waste money, not on a cop’s salary,” he added.
“How long have you been a policeman,” she asked him, sipping her wine. “And what kind of name is Brock anyway?”
“Well,” he said, “My grandfather’s name was Brockavitchy, and when he joined the navy in 1941 it wouldn’t fit on all the forms, so a clerk or someone just shortened it to Brock. It just stuck. My father was born a Brock, and the rest is history as they say. And I didn’t plan to go into law enforcement, but after college I couldn’t find a job, so my sister’s husband Carl talked me into applying here. He was a Sergeant at the time and it was a chance to stay in this part of the state. It’s been eight years now, and I don’t regret any of it.”
“So the two of you work together?” Brittany said, as a waitress brought their salads and a side order of mussels.
“Mr. Ajar sent these with his compliments,” she told them as she arranged the plates on their table.
“No, he’s with the Sheriff’s Department now and works for the D.A.’s office.
Two hours and a second bottle of wine later, Brittany was surprised at how at ease she felt with this man. He was attentive, but did not ask her a lot of questions. He was very open about himself, and in just one evening she felt she had known him a lot longer than just 24 hours. He seemed to be comfortable with her as well. Nothing seemed to be forced with either one of them, and to Brittany, a veteran of Hollywood parties and flashcube romance, this was unique.
The only rough point in the evening was when she felt she needed to give him some explanation for the other night. She decided on a new approach, the truth. She told him she was coming off a bad relationship, and tended to drink too much anyway. The combination of feeling sorry for herself, and too many screwdrivers had sent her out onto the beach and into the storm.
Brittany reached across the table and placed her hand on his. “I’ve done some things I’m not proud of Ethan. I don’t expect you to understand; hell no one can unless they’ve lived out there. Everything,” she said, vaguely waving her hand west, “is so fake. It’s all for show, for ratings. Everyone loves you when you’re on top, but they love it even more when you fall. I’m sure you read about me getting arrested for shoplifting.”
Ethan started to say something, but Brittany stopped him.
“No, let me finish,” she said, taking a deep breath. “I’m not making any excuses, I did it, it was stupid, and I served a year of probation. The last 18 months have been difficult, with the trial and all, but it’s over.
Ethan looked down at the table and turned his hand over to gently grasp hers. “I saw the Grammy’s,” was all he said.
“Yes, and that brings us to Lesa,” Brittany said, sighing. “About the time I started hitting the bottle, and worse, was when Lesa and I became a couple. I don’t know how to describe it, have you ever seen her perform?
“Rap is not really my first choice in music,” he told her honestly.
Brittany continued, “She is so intense, has so much energy. That’s the way she is with me, except it not 10,000 fans she’s pouring out her soul to, it just me. And then she gets up on stage and dedicates her Grammy to me. Oh my publicist loved it, said it was worth an extra half million a movie. Lesa on the other hand thought it gave her some right over me. She grew up the real deal, East L.A., gangs, all of it. When she said she loved me on national television, in her mind I was bought and paid for. I care for her Ethan, I don’t love her, but she’s very special to me. Brittany pulled her hand out from under his and looked down at the table. “I can’t be part of that anymore; it’s not so much Lesa as that whole Hip-hop culture around her. I needed to dry up and clean up. That’s why I came out here. So far not so good,” she added, closing her eyes.
“Brittany,” Ethan said, “I don’t pretend to know a hell of a lot about the life you used to live, but I see people everyday overcome obstacles that to them are just as big as yours. I admire you for acknowledging that there were parts of your life that needed to change. And,” he added, reaching across the table and lifting her chin until her eyes were level with his, “I will never judge you.”
Even before they pulled into her driveway she knew she wanted him to spend the night. This time it wasn’t an empty bed she was afraid of, she wasn’t afraid of anything, she wanted him; she wanted the closeness, the way they had connected to go on. They were half undressed by the time they reached the foyer. Scooping her up in his arms he covered her mouth with his and carried her up the stairs. He paused at the top. “Left,” she told him breathlessly, pulling the band out of her hair and shaking it loose.
Once in the bedroom they slowed down and finished undressing. Standing in the middle of the room they held each other for the first time with nothing in between them but the moonlight. Brittany shivered as Ethan slowly ran his hands down her bare back. When he reached the soft curve of her bottom she reached up and kissed him hard. In the middle of the night, with their lust consumed she lay there in Ethan’s arms listening to him breathe, Brittany felt something she had not felt in a long time, peace.