Surfing with the Old Man

By James Heaton

I’ve spent countless hours at the little pink donut shop off of Sunset Boulevard. Over the last five years I frequent this place at least three times a week with my coworkers to discuss scripts. Danny’s Donuts is just a small donut shop with maybe five very small tables and $2 coffee. I always get the same thing when I go, which probably speaks volumes about my personality. I like the peanut butter donuts and a coffee with one creamer and six sugars. Three times a week for the last five years. I usually go with my two coworkers, Rick, and Jason. We argue about scripts that we have read and discuss the latest trending insanity that is Hollywood. My job is simple but tedious, I read scripts for a production company and pick the ones that stand out and pass it on to the team that pushes the script to the people who eventually make the movies. I must say that I hate my job, but it pays my bills and lets me focus on my own writing. I’ve been writing since I was in high school, sappy love stories that people dismiss without a thought. I’ve published a few books, and they have never really done well. But honestly, I don’t know anything else. I just love writing, and finding the perfect story is always torment. Why? Because it seems like every good story has already been written. Like how many times can you tell the story of discovery and finding love and then the perfect happy ending. I suppose you can say it all started for me as a kid watching Casablanca. It was heart breaking but I could never get enough of it. Watching Rick walk away from the plane at the end of the movie when we all knew he wanted to be with Ilsa is simply crushing. But a good love story is never about making the right decisions, its about watching the characters do things that infuriate us and move us to hope that they find love in the end.

I had all but given up on ever finding a real story to write, I had been stuck reading other peoples work and never living my own life. I have never experienced true heartbreak or travelled across the globe for someone that I love. And if we are throwing it all out there, I don’t think I’ve ever been in love. Maybe once when I was twelve to a girl named Amy that lived in the neighborhood beside my own. She let me touch her boobs and we kissed, but I can’t say that I’ve ever really felt the type of love that Rick felt for Ilsa in Casablanca. I don’t even know if that is real, that was until I met William Douglas.

It was a Tuesday, and Rick and Jason were arguing about the basis for a good time-travel movie. This is a never-ending conversation between us. I think that time-travel movies that involve love as the prime directive of travelling through time are amazing, but they always argue that saving the world is more important than love. The best time travel movies have always been about someone doing the impossible for the sake of being with their true love. Bu I also enjoy listening to David Foster soundtracks for inspiration. You know, the guy who did the music for movies like Stealing Home and St. Elmo’s Fire? But this is 2021, men can feel any way that we want, right?  I think our idea about how love is supposed to exist is a personal choice, and like everything else its different for each person.

“Jesus Gordan, your stuck in this mindset of love is the greatest innovator. Why would anyone go to the immense amount of trouble of building a billion-dollar time machine just to travel back and fall in love. Look at the Terminator, time travel was necessary to save the future. Nobody is going to send a robot back into the past to help some idiot fall in love with his high school fantasy girl.” Rick explained like he does every week whenever I bring up movies like the classic Somewhere in Time with Christopher Reeve or Peggy Sue Got Married, which really wasn’t the typical time-travel movie.

“All I’m saying is Back to the Future was the most successful money-making time travel movie and it wasn’t about saving the world.” I argued, as I always do.

“We aren’t arguing about money making movies, we are discussing the best storylines. Both of you are wrong. 12 Monkeys is the best storyline of any time travel movie. I can’t believe we are having this discussion again. Every week it’s the same bullshit from you two.” Jason of course wasn’t wrong; it was a good movie but in our business money is everything, it’s all about the mighty dollar.

I was enjoying my regular peanut butter donut and coffee at Danny’s, same as every Tuesday. At the counter I see a man who I immediately recognized as the elusive writer, William Douglas. What you need to understand about William Douglas is that this guy is a genius. Everybody claims to have seen him from time to time but the truth is they haven’t. He only comes out of hiding every now and again and when he does it isn’t for social interaction. The stories about him are that he is some genius savant who locks himself up in his house and writes amazing novels and occasionally records some amazing instrumental albums and even paints some very intense paintings and then just disappears for a few years, only to return and create more and more amazing work. Two of his books have been turned into hit movies and his music is beyond amazing. I guess you could say I’m a fan. Really I’m more than just a fan, I’ve read everything he has ever written. He just has this ability to paint the picture in your mind. He talks about colors and sets the mood for the story by describing everything in a room. But he never does interviews, and he is rarely seen out in public. So, when I saw him in line at Danny’s Donuts I knew I had to introduce myself to him.

William Douglas is just an average looking guy. He is about five foot ten, has a thick beard and has wavy hair. He is probably in his late fifties, and I say this because he has a lot of grey in his hair and beard. He wears thick rimmed glasses with tinted lenses, and the guy dresses like he hangs out on the beach. Cargo shorts and band t-shirts with Vans. Not the way a writer of his accomplishments would normally dress, mind you. I excused myself from the time-travel conversation and tossed my coffee cup. I waited just outside the door in front of the shop for him to exit. It felt like years, and I was really nervous. Was I being awkward? I felt like I was, like I was a celebrity stalker or something of that nature. I was focusing too much on just being casual to actually look casual. Then he exited the shop, carrying a bag of donuts and two coffees.

“Mr. Douglas.” I said feeling like an absolute fool.

He looked around and then sort of met eyes with me. It was hard to tell if he was looking at me or behind me, the tinted glasses through me off.

“Yeah, I’m William. Did we have an appointment? I’m sorry I don’t remember it being on my calendar.” He was stumbling with his words and almost panicking.

“No, no sir. I’m Gordan. Gordan Morris, I’m a script reader at one of the local studios. I saw you in line and I just wanted to say how much I love your work. I’m not a stalker, I just wanted to tell you how brilliant you are.”

“Well, I don’t know about brilliant, enlightened maybe? But definitely not brilliant. But thank you, I suppose. I’m walking this way; would you care to walk with me? I want to get this coffee back to Eryn before it gets cold.”

Let me just say I had no intention to walk with him I just wanted to offer a compliment, but he offered and who was I to say no to this legendary man. So, I walked with him, it actually was more of a brisk walk, almost running. Let’s just say he moved very fast.

“Your last book was simply amazing, the story kept me on edge to the very end. I’m also a writer, nothing like you but I’ve published two books and you are a huge inspiration to me.”

There I was with the ramblings of an obsessed fan boy, talking about my own work to this genius.

“Is your writing good?” He asked sincerely.

“Umm, well I like to think it is. It didn’t sell very well but my mother seemed to like it.”

I can’t believe I actually said my mother liked it. I was making an entire mess out of this conversation.

“Good for you. I find it extremely difficult to get family member to read my work. I gave up asking a long time ago. Honestly I don’t even care anymore. If they read it they read it, but I just stopped caring. Family is always the hardest to please and the first to tell you how horrible your work is.”

“Are you working on anything new at the moment?” I asked as we walked down the sidewalk. I wasn’t really paying attention to where we were going but he was in a hurry.

“I have maybe three books I’m working on. I bounce between them. Today is Thursday or wait. Its Tuesday, so I’m working on the second book. I haven’t named it yet; I don’t believe in naming them until its finished. I just wait and let Eryn help come up with names. Do you like to surf Marshall?”

“Umm, its Gordan sir. And no, I’ve never been a water person. I take it that you do?” We had taken a side street and were now walking down a back alley. I didn’t know if he knew where we were going or if he was just walking.

“Yes, Gordan. Of course, surfing is essential to a good life. I do my best work sitting out in the ocean. Would you like to learn? I’d love to show you how. Its good for developing the ideas and there isn’t any noise. Its quiet and peaceful. Unlike this damn city. Its so noisy in the city. Sirens and cars and people. Its all too much. I do my best work sitting on a surfboard, I just write the stories in my head and then come home and put it all down on paper.” He was speaking so incredibly fast, and I was following behind him listening to everything he had to say. He spoke in fragments, like he was having multiple conversations with multiple people. This must be the reason people refer to him as a savant. I just found it more peculiar than anything.

We cut through yet another back alley to a road that went up a long hill. I was very sure I had no idea how to get back to the donut shop. Up the hill, to the left and then we walked through a wooden gate, through some bushes to a beautiful house. He walked up the steps and stopped. He turned to look at me and smiled.

“This is home. Would you like to come in and meet Eryn?”

“Of course, I don’t want to intrude. I really just wanted to tell you how much I love your work. But sure, I would love to meet Eryn, who is Eryn?”

“She’s my daughter. Well, she’s more than just my daughter, she’s my assistant. And this is her coffee and donuts. Its Gordan right?” He asked as he opened the door.

“Yes sir, its Gordan. This is a beautiful home. I had no idea you lived so close to the donut shop.”

“Of course, how else would I get the donuts? Come on in.”

The hallway at the entrance to the house was full of framed pieces of art. The walls were all painted in brilliant colors with dark wood accents. One room was bright red, and another was a brilliant shade of purple. So much color and intensity. The stairs were finished with amazing detailed, wood accents, and they looked like something out of an architectural digest. And so many books. Every room had bookshelves. There must have been at least a thousand books. And the floors were all beautiful dark wood. It was all so ornate and clean. William disappeared into the back and was calling out for Eryn. I heard a soft voice answer, “I’m in the kitchen dad.”

“Gordan’s here hun. I think he’s in the sitting room. Go see if he needs anything, I’m going to my office.”

“Dad, I told you about bringing people home with you. We talked about this.” Her voice was soft like a whisper but sweet like young girl addressing her father should be.

I felt awkward. I probably should have just turned and walked out but I really wanted to meet his daughter. I heard her moving about in the kitchen and then she walked out of the room at the end of the hall. She was very petite and had beautiful curly hair. It was golden rose, not quite red, but beautiful none the less. She was wearing a t-shirt that looked stained with jelly. And a pair of pink shorts, that made her golden skin shine. She was bare footed and had the smallest feet I had ever seen on a woman. She was radiant, and beautiful. And I felt like a complete idiot just standing there staring at her. But it was like a grand entrance, she commanded my attention with her sweet innocent smile. I should probably add that I was almost speechless. My mouth had suddenly gone completely dry, and I must have looked like I had something in my teeth because I was preparing to say something, anything that would sound worthy of talking to her.

“So, you’re Gordan?” she said with a smile and slight annoyance at me being in the house.

“Umm, yes. I mean, yes I am Gordan, and you must be Eryn.” I extended my hand, realizing that it was probably very sweaty. She smiled as if amused at me offering my hand. She took it shaking it softly.

“Yeah, I’m sorry I just met your father outside of the donut shop. I was simply complimenting his work and then somehow I ended up in your house.” I was being very apologetic, and I felt like I conveyed my confusion at the same time.

“This isn’t the first-time dad has brought someone home. He is having a good day so he tends to be talkative and forgets that he shouldn’t just bring strangers home.”

“Hey Eryn, I’m going to head to the beach, get Gordan a board out of the garage. I’m going to teach him to surf. He’s a writer too, there’s a decent swell headed our way.” The voice came from upstairs. I could hear William shuffling around upstairs.

“Now’s your chance if you want to run. Before he comes back down, otherwise he is going to ask you to go to the beach with him.” She said unapologetically.

I gave it a quick thought, how often does a world-famous writer invite me anywhere? And I really wanted to get to know Eryn. I was aware that we had just met but I felt something, some sort of feeling that said I wanted to know her more.

“You know what, I’m going to go with your dad to the beach. It sounds intriguing and I have never done anything like that before and I feel like I should.” I said with the energy of a third grader earning a free pizza for reading twenty books.

“Good for you Gordan. Follow me out to the garage. We can grab a surfboard for you, dad will be down in a minute or maybe he will forget about it and start writing. I never really know what he’s going to do.”

She led me down the hall and through the kitchen, out the rear door. The back yard was full of plants and in the middle of the yard was a large fire pit with chairs all around. We walked to a large two-story garage that sat on the right side of the yard. There were bushes and flowering plants fixed all around the garage, with a lovely walkway leading to the door. The upstairs had a separate stairway leading to a side door.

“That’s where I live. Up above dad’s surfboard collection and his art studio.” She pointed to the stairs.

She opened the large door at the front of the garage, to reveal a large open space with literally dozens of surfboards stacked up against the wall. And near the front were several large easels with canvasses covering the front part of the room. Beautiful paintings of Rubenesque women and landscapes depicting the ocean. I had only seen a few of William’s paintings in a book but these were amazing, the depth and realism were enthralling. I was at a loss for words, the paintings were good enough to be in some of the local museums. It was hard to fathom being able to write such amazing work but also paint these beautiful paintings. Eryn looked at me, sizing me up and then grabbed a yellow surfboard from the wall.

“This should be big enough for you. Have you ever surfed before?” She said as she pulled the board from the rack on the wall.

“Absolutely not. I don’t know the first thing about it.” I chuckled at the thought of seeing myself trying to stand up on a surfboard.

“Well, you’re about to learn. Just stick with dad, he’s a good teacher. If you can keep up with him.”

She grabbed the board and handed it to me, and then she grabbed a large white surfboard for William from the wall. She had me follow her out to the truck parked in the driveway. She put the boards in the back of the truck and strapped them down. It was an older Ford truck, not what I pictured him driving but it was in incredible shape. The paint seemed new, and the interior was shiny and pristine.

“You’re about the same size as dad, I’ll get you some shorts to wear.”

“Sorry for asking but does your dad do this sort of things often?” I asked as she was walking to the back yard.

“Surfing?” She asked.

“No, the stranger thing. Does he bring strangers surfing often?”

“Typically, no, but he said you are a writer. He likes to hang out with other writers. And you stayed so that usually doesn’t happen. Most people would have left by now. But dad is a little different if you hadn’t noticed.” She walked back up the steps to the kitchen and I followed like a puppy following a kid around.

“I did notice that he was very energetic and seemed to lose focus. But we all do that right?”

As she was about to answer, William came bustling down the stairs with a pair of board shorts on and new t-shirt. He had a towel over his shoulder and was drinking a from a large water jug.

“Come on Marshall, lets get going. Did Eryn get you some shorts?”

“I’m on it, dad, and his name is Gordan.” She said as she disappeared down the hallway.

“Well, you look like a Marshall. Get your trunks on, I’ll be in the truck.”

Thirty minutes later we were sitting in a sandy parking lot off the highway. It was a remote parking area with a slight hike down the hill to the beach. We grabbed the boards and walked down the hill, I was doing everything to keep up with William, to be a man of fifty-plus he really moved fast. On the ride over he talked nonstop about the swell and how it was coming from Japan or something to that effect. He explained his theory about how waves followed the currents and flowed across the ocean, rolling over thousands of miles until they crashed on a beach somewhere in another part of the world. I couldn’t get a word in; it was all him. He had so much energy and excitement, I was just a bystander watching him talk passionately about his love for the ocean.

“This is a great break! It really just breaks hard and then shoots to the right. I’ve seen some great surfers out here. This time of day, we should really be all alone. Maybe Old Mike will be out, guy only has one good eye. I’ve been catching waves with him for twenty-five years, he’s a real old timer. Guys been riding the same board for years; I love watching him line it up and shoot the face of the wave. We get some kids out here doing aerials and crazy moves but there is nothing like just sliding down the face of the wave. You’ll see Gordan, it’s amazing.”

We got down to the beach and pushed through the sand to edge of the water. William threw his board down and pulled out a bar of wax from his pocket and rubbed it on the deck of the board, then tossed it to me.

“Just rub it on the deck, get some sand mixed in with it for grit. Really coat it on. Don’t want you busting your ass out there?” Before I knew it he had picked up his board and was paddling out. I grabbed my board and followed suit. I really didn’t think this through. I was terrified and the rush of the water hitting me as I struggled to lay on the board was shocking to say the least. William was a good ten feet in front of me paddling hard to get past the shore break. He turned to look at me and yelled,

“You have to duck dive to go under the waves! Just push the board down with your arms and then push the back down with your foot. Like this!”

I watched him slip under the breaking wave with little to no effort. And then it was my turn, I tried hard to push the board under the water, but it was clumsy, and the wave washed over me, pushing me back another ten feet. I shook off the water and steadied myself. I was determined to at least show William I was willing to try. The next wave was starting to swell, and I watched William paddle over the top of it and disappear down the back out of sight. I panicked and paddled harder. I was able to make it over the wave into the distance where William sat on his board.

I finally reached him and tried to sit on the board like he was doing but slid off and went under the water. It was dark and overwhelming. I swung my arms like I was drowning trying to get back up to the surface. The entire time William sat there laughing at me struggling. I sat back up on the board, this time steading myself on the surface. I felt like a pro, I was actually sitting out in the line up with William.

It hit me at that moment that less than three hours ago I was sitting and drinking coffee with my coworkers and now I was in the ocean with a world class writer on a damn surfboard. This was the most insane thing I had done in years. I was both ashamed and amazed at the same time. Maybe this was the reason he was such a good writer, maybe this was the secret of his success. He was living life; I had merely been existing. And then it dawned on me I hadn’t called the office to tell them I was gone for the day. But I was living life, so to hell with them.

“This is what I was talking about. We are sitting here in thirty feet of water with these big ten-foot waves rolling in. This is life! This is what living is all about Gordan! Can you feel it? Can you feel your heart pounding? You feel your ass puckering? This is what makes us men! For the first time in your life, you are alive!” He shouted out into the ocean.

“Yeah, I feel it. I’m terrified sir. I’m really terrified. I sit in an office all day reading scripts and making notes and eating donuts. I really admire you, but I’m scared shitless right now.” I said as he started to laugh.

“Listen, take it from an old man. If I thought about everything I did, then I would have never done anything. You see what you want, go for it. Just close your eyes and jump right in!” Then he turned his board toward the shore and started paddling.

“Here she comes, turn around and paddle like your life depends on it! Come on Gordan!”

I turned the board and laid down, paddling harder and harder. I felt the wave lift me up, and at the same time I watched William push himself up and slide down the face of the wave. I pushed myself up, standing to my feet. My heart was pounding, I was so shaky, but I was doing it. William shot out in front of me and cut across the bottom of the wave and went up the face and then back down. I was holding my own, standing still. It was an amazing feeling, just like he said. I was flying across the water, gliding across this wave. The board was bumping up and down, I struggled to keep standing. The white water from the breaking wave surrounded me but William disappeared back out to the lineup. I was done, I rode the wave into the beach and jumped off in knee high water. I walked the board back up to the beach and sat in the sand. That was it for me. I had felt the thrill of riding a wave and there was no way I was going back out there again, not today.

I watched William ride three maybe four more waves, each time better than the last. He was amazing. And all it took for me was one wave, one ride to the beach. He rode the last wave into the shore and jumped off into the water and carried his board up to where I was seated.

“Well, you got one good ride! What do you think? Its amazing right? You’re a natural.” He said as he shook the water out of his hair.

“I’m not half the man you are. You have a good twenty years on me but you’re out there moving like a kid. I think I understand why you can write so well. You really live life. I feel like I’ve never lived before.”

He was laughing, just rolling at what I was saying.

“This was the most excitement I’ve had since I was a kid.” I said as I stood to my feet and picked up the board.

“You know Hemingway once said, in order to write about life, you have to live it. Or something like that. Its true kid, you can’t expect to write something somebody will want to read if you haven’t experienced life. If you really want to live life you need to get out there and feel something.”

We walked back to his truck and put the boards in the back and strapped them down.

“What do you write about? What sort of stories are you writing?” He asked as we sat in the cab of the truck, and he cranked the engine.

“Don’t laugh, but I like to write love stories. You know mushy crap about finding true love and happy endings.” I said with a significant amount of shame.

“Well have you ever been in love?” He asked as he pulled out into traffic.

“Not really, at least I don’t think I have.”

“Well would you write a guidebook to doing a heart transplant if you’ve never done a heart transplant?” He said laughing loudly as he cut in front of another car and sped down the highway.

“I get what you’re saying. Today was the first time I’ve ever felt alive, I mean I felt like I was going to die, but I felt alive.” I said with more shame, each time I talked I felt less and less like a grown man, and more like a little kid.

“That’s what living is Gordan, its almost dying!” He started laughing as he sped through traffic and back to his house.

As we pulled in the driveway he looked over to me and smiled, he slapped my leg and said, “Listen, I’m having a good day. Not everyday is a good day. Some days I’m no use to anyone but today I feel alive. Why don’t you come back tomorrow, and we can talk some more. Maybe I can read over some of your work and give you some pointers.”

“That would be amazing. I really appreciate it.” I felt like a kid getting approval from his dad. It felt like I actually mattered to this man, like we were friends. He was kind and thoughtful, nothing like the articles about him I had read over the years.

He and I put the boards back in the garage and I changed out of the wet trunks back into my clothes and he disappeared upstairs. Eryn was in the kitchen sitting at the table with her laptop.

“So did he almost kill you?” She said with her cute smile.

“I survived, and he said come back tomorrow. Would you mind me asking if you’d be interested in coffee?”

She continued to look at her computer, typing away.

“I don’t sleep with my dads’ friends.” She said without looking up.

“Oh wait, I didn’t mean…”

“I’m kidding. Sure, I’d be fine with coffee. Tonight. Around eight-ish. Here’s the address.” She said as she slid a business card with the name of a diner on the back. I flipped the card over, and it read,

Eryn Douglas, Assistant to William Douglas

I left the shorts on the back steps and made my way back to my office. There was a very unpleasant voicemail on my phone from my manager about disappearing from work, but I could have cared less. I felt like I had transitioned into a new person. I had faced death and lived, or actually I just lived a little. But this was the beginning of something new for me. I was determined to take a few more chances and not be satisfied with just existing. And strangely it was more about seeing Eryn again, and not about hanging out with William.

Later that night I arrived early to the diner, and awkwardly waited outside for Eryn to show. Around 8:15 she was walking down the sidewalk toward me. She had on a blue floral dress and her hair was tied up in a bun. That feeling had returned, the dry mouth and the sweaty palms. I wiped my hands on my pants legs. I felt flush and my heart was pounding. She had a glow about her that just illuminated the night.

“Sorry I’m a little late. Had to deal with dad. But I’m here now.” She said as she tossed her bag over her shoulder.

“Okay so this is the place you wanted to go to?” I said reaching for the door.

“Oh god no, this place is trash. Let’s head down the block I know a great sushi place on the corner.” She said as she started down the sidewalk.

“Wait, you said this place? I’m confused.” I was still reaching for the door.

“Oh, I just wanted to see if you would show up. I hate this place; I can never remember the address for the sushi place.” So, I followed her to the sushi place.

We sat down at a table, and she ordered for the both of us, which took me by surprise.

“You are unlike any woman I’ve ever met Eryn. You are very, what’s the word? Maybe quirky?”

She laughed and unwrapped her chopsticks.

“What do you know about my dad?” She said as she sipped her drink.

“Brilliant writer, mysterious, apparently a great surfer and a musician and a painter and the father of a beautiful daughter. A little intense and he had such enormous energy.”

“That’s what everyone see. But its not really the truth. Dad likes you, which is rare. He occasionally brings home the stranger, but most people freak out when they get to know him and never come back. It takes its toll on him. So, I sort of hope you stick around to at least get to know him.”

The waiter brought us our food and sat it down. Eryn started eating right away.

“Why would someone freak out? I understand he is very intense but, I can’t see myself freaking out over it. I’m sorry, I’m just confused.”

“Well, dad is different. I’m very protective over him. That’s why you don’t see a lot of information about him.”

She made her way around the sushi. I got the feeling that it was her favorite food. I just sort of sat there smiling at her enjoying her food. I studied her face, like I would have if I knew it was the last time I would ever see it again. Her beautiful nose, and her enormous eyes. Her hair had slipped out from her bun and hung off to the side of her face.

 “I work really hard to control any bad press or any obscene rumors that might float around from people who don’t understand his condition.” She mixed the soy sauce with the wasabi and dipped her sushi into the mix.

“What sort of condition?”

“Dad is a high functioning person with bipolar disorder. The man you saw today is him on a good day. That’s why he’s rarely seen outside the house. He cycles between extreme manic and then very deep depressive phases. I never know when he is going to just disappear for weeks at a time.” Her stress was showing in her eyes, they went from bright and sparkling to worried and concerned.

“And you handle his affairs because he is unable to?” I asked.

“Yeah, look the last thing we need is someone telling the world my dad is crazy and starting a bunch of rumors about him. I work really hard to control his business. I deal with the publishers and handle his website. I have literally had to pay photographers to not print pictures of my dad getting into fights in bars when he is having one of his moments. If you’re going to be coming back to see him, I would appreciate you keeping all this to yourself.”

I took a few bites of my food and studied her face a little more. She was tired, she was here to protect her dad. I felt an immense amount of compassion for her in this moment. How tough it must be to have to spend all your time protecting your father from the world and protecting the world from your father.

“I’m sorry you have to deal with pricks who want to shame your father. I enjoyed being around your dad today, but to be perfectly honest with you, I am here to spend time with,… with you. I felt a little connection today when you and I met. Maybe it was misread, but I just wanted to get to know you. I like your dad, I admire his artistry, but I stayed because when I saw you walk through the hallway with jelly on your shirt and your bare feet I had a moment, where I just felt an attraction.” I couldn’t believe I just said that to her, but I wanted to be honest. And I did feel an attraction, and at some point I felt that she might have the same feelings.

After a moment of silence, which was incredibly uncomfortable she looked up at me and smiled.

“So, you’re not a fan boy who is trying to use my dad to boost his writing career? You’re telling me you are here because you found me attractive?” She said with a confused look on her face.

“Woah, I never said attracted! But yes, I do find you extremely attractive.” I said and without hesitation I smiled and started laughing.

“That’s really sweet. I’m sorry if I came off like a really bitchy person. I get so wrapped up in my dad’s life and I haven’t really taken a moment for myself.” She wiped her mouth with her napkin and then took a sip of her drink.

“Well, it’s bizarre, I just wanted to compliment your dad at the donut place this morning and next thing I know he’s walking and talking and I’m in your house and there you are. With the jelly stain and the bare feet and I didn’t know what to say. Then I’m surfing ten-foot waves and listening to your dad tell me that I need to live life if I’m going to write about it. Then I’m sitting here eating sushi with a beautiful woman and rambling on about what happened with my day.” At this point I was fairly confident that I’m blowing any chance of a second date.

“That sounds about like everyday I’ve lived for the last twenty-five years. You have no idea what it’s like to be around him all day, every day. My mom, she left when I was twelve. Like I just woke up and there was a note on the table that said, “I’m done”. And she was gone. From that day until now I have managed his career, managed his moods and been a secretary and a nurse. He does good for a few years and then he suddenly goes off his meds and disappears for weeks sometimes months. He calls me from the Bahamas or Mexico and checks in, but I’m left dealing with everything. Then he comes home and writes nonstop for months. Then he has a new book come out telling all about his adventures and I’ve just been sitting in the house alone wondering if he is dead somewhere. But then he goes back on the meds and starts creating more and more. He takes just enough medication to control himself, but still remain the insane genius that he is.”

“Jesus Christ, that is a lot. Does he realize what it’s like for you?”

“Sometimes he does. Some days he apologizes. About four years ago he was really suicidal, and I had to admit him into a hospital. He had electroconvulsive therapy; you know like shocking him. He was a zombie for almost two years and then out of nowhere he started getting manic again and he went back on low doses of medication and wrote two books in under a year. He goes without sleep for a week every now and again and records tons of music, or paints tons of pictures of women he hires to model for him. And then just crashes for two months. When he crashes I can take a break and relax. I took a little vacation for three days and he called freaking out about everything, so I came home. Don’t get me wrong, I love him, but he is a lot. He is just a lot.”

I watched her face as she told me the story of her father. She had truly lived an arduous life. But it wasn’t her life, it was his. Behind the mad creative genius there was a beautifully broken young lady sitting in front of me. And she was tired, exhausted, and drained from his creative genius. She might be twenty-five but inside she was well into her fifties. That’s when I felt it. The empathy had turned to compassion and then it turned to something more intense. I felt feverish, and dizzy. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the first time I had ever felt true, unbridled love for another human being.

She looked up at me, our eyes met. We were communicating without words. My eyes conveyed the empathy I had for her. She was thankful and relieved that she could express herself truly to another person, maybe for the first time ever. We ended that night sitting in a park on the swings, just looking up at the night sky. She talked for hours about her love for painting and how she had always wanted to be a full-time artist. The more I listened to her the more I fell in love with everything she said.

Over the next seven months I spent every free moment with Eryn. I watched William go from hyper energy to spending a week in bed watching history shows and eating nothing but beef jerky and potato chips, and then the next day he was dragging me back to the beach for another round of surfing. I had begun to experience what Eryn’s life was like. Living with Williams’ manic days and coping with his depression, it was draining to say the least. But I stuck with it, and slowly began to help Eryn with William, coaxing him to work through the depression and slowly pushing him to take more responsibility for his actions. Somehow having me in the house everyday changed his outlook. He tried harder and he started sticking to a schedule. I began taking him to support meetings and pushing him to visit his doctor more. It was difficult at first, he fought me. There were days when he was angry, but he was able to write daily and stick to a schedule. And for the first time in his life, he finished a book on time. At first Eryn hadn’t noticed but her workload had decreased. I edited Williams newest book and delivered it to the publisher on time. Along with my job of reading scripts I had found the time to help Eryn out with her father. He slowly began to trust me and open up to me. For the first time he actually confided in me the difficulty he had with his disorder. He confided in me that he felt ashamed and guilty for taking advantage of his daughter’s time and her life.

During this time Eryn and I had fallen in love, we had found an unspoken kinship with each other. It was like watching a tree growing from a tiny sapling to a giant tree, like when you’re a kid and your mom plants a tiny baby tree in the yard and over the years it just blossoms and after a while it becomes part of the world as you know it. We were friends, but we loved each other. We were consumed with each other, and we orbited each other equally. Over the first seven months of our relationship, I changed a lot as a person. I had always focused on my career and lived in my own world. But I genuinely wanted to help Eryn find her way. She was an amazing artist and I wanted her to have a chance at her own life. Even if it meant the end of our relationship. I realized that being in love with someone, truly loving them, meant wanting their happiness above everything else.

I spent my days editing scripts and my evenings and weekends with Eryn and William. And there were days that I told her to just disappear, and I watched William while she spent her days doing what she wanted. For the first time in her life, she was able to breath, to experience being unchained from her father. Later she took a trip to visit her mother in Oregon, she stayed for a month. It was the first time that we had been apart since we first met. I really needed her to experience some sort of freedom, an escape from the world that had consumed her for the last fifteen years of her life. Part of me wanted her to just go and not have to come back to this life. She deserved her freedom and her chance to experience a real life. And in that time, I got to know William even better.

A few days after she left, I sat outside in the back yard by the fire pit on one of the large outdoor couches drinking a mojito and eating a bowl of chili that I had made for William and myself. He brought his bowl outside and joined me.

“Gordan, I’m having a pretty clear day. You know? I’m thinking clearly today. I’ve watched you with Eryn, I see how she feels about you. I understand it’s been tough on her. I feel really horrible for making her live this life. I have an overwhelming sense of guilt for her being responsible for me all these years. I know I’m a lot to deal with. I don’t always see that. For the last week I’ve been taking the actual prescribed dosage of my meds. I haven’t ever done that. Its given me some clarity about things.” He said looking at me with a face of regret.

I sat my bowl down on the stone blocks of the fire pit and leaned forward, giving my full attention to William.

“Eryn loves you very much. She’s given her entire life up to take care of you. Did you know she was actually a very talented painter herself? Have you ever seen her work?” I asked him.

“I had no idea. She has never shown me anything. Where is she painting?” He was overcome with guilt and shame.

“Walk with me.” I stood and walked over to the stairs to her loft. We walked up the staircase and opened her room. We walked inside and turned on the light switch. Around the room were dozens of canvases, and fresh works on easels. He looked around the room, seeing paintings laying against the walls and framed pictures of Eryn and himself.

“I’ve never been up here. I can’t believe I’ve never been up here. She’s always in the house, I just never thought to come up here. These paintings are amazing. She is incredible.” He said as he walked around the room pouring over the paintings, studying each one with content and love. He started to cry, sitting down on her chair with his hands over his face.

I walked over to his side and placed my hand on his shoulder.

“What have I done. I stole her life from her. I’ve been a stubborn man. I’ve been a selfish man. All these years, she’s sacrificed her life to take care of me. So, I could be this wild bipolar monster that only cared about himself.”

“That’s not how she sees you. But yes, you have been selfish. You’ve ignored her for all these years so you could ride this wave of creativity and unchecked insanity. But you are on your medication, and you see your mistake. This is the first step in fixing the problem.” It took a great deal for me to say this to him. It was harsh but it was the truth. For years he had been treated like a superstar, demanding the focus on himself but now he had a clarity that allowed him to see his selfishness.

He stood up beside me, placed his hands on my shoulders and pulled me in. His arms wrapped around me. He had experienced true clarity and self-awareness for the first time in his life. We sat by the fire that night enjoying stories about his life, he told them with such vigor. He truly had a passion for life.

“I’ve been afraid for so many years that the medication would steal my creative genius, I’ve been blind Gordan. What is my creativity worth if it takes her life from her? How do I make this right?”

“Well first off, you need to hire a real assistant. And let your daughter have her life back. I honestly hoped in the back of my mind that she wouldn’t come home. That she would pull one of your tricks and just disappear for years, and live life. She deserves that.” I said bluntly.

“But that would mean you would lose her too. Are you willing to give her the freedom even if it means its over between you two?” He asked sternly.

“Yes. She means that much to me. All I care about is her happiness.” And for the first time in my life, I understood what true love meant. I put her needs above my own, and for that William was thankful to me.

Four weeks later Eryn returned from Oregon, and she was glowing. For the first time in years, she had the opportunity to experience her own time, her own life. She wasn’t responsible for her father, and she was free to sleep in and enjoy time with her mother. When she arrived home, she ran to me and threw herself into my arms. She held me like we had been apart for years. We just stood there, lost in each other. I grabbed her bags and helped her inside with her luggage.

“Has my dad been a handful?” She asked as we brought her things inside the house.

“Actually, he has made a lot of changes. We’ve both been working on a lot of changes. I think you will be very surprised.” I watched her face and saw the old looks of concern about what he had done this time.

I laughed and took her hand.

“It’s a good thing. I want to take you somewhere and show you something that your father and I have been working on.” I grabbed her hand and walked out the front door and down the steps. We walked down the sidewalk, hand in hand we arrived three houses down.

The house was a two-story stucco home with a large porch and a beautiful front yard. The for-sale sign was planted in the yard next to the walkway with a sign that said “sold” on top. I held Eryn’s hand and started up the walkway toward the porch. She was hesitant and stopped me.

“What are you doing?” She said as she refused to go any further.

“Do you remember when we first started dating you showed me this house? You said you had always loved it?”

“Yeah, but the sign says it sold. Why are you dragging me up the walkway?” She said with a very confused overtone.

“Well, I want you to meet the new owner.” I pulled her up the steps and opened the front door.

As we walked in the front door she immediately noticed her paintings hanging on the walls.

“Gordan, why are my paintings hanging on the walls? What is going on?” With her intense curiosity I pulled her along with me.

“I want you to meet the owner. He’s a huge fan of your work.” We made our way through the hallway to the large living room. On the wall over the couch was her largest piece. It was a colorful depiction of the shoreline, with waves and robust clouds bursting with intensity and hue. Sitting on the couch was William and the real estate lady named Beth.

“Dad?” She said very confused. She looked up at me with those enormous eyes.

“Eryn, this lovely lady is the real estate agent, her name is Beth. And you know your father of course. I would like to present you with your house.” I said trying not to sound like a complete idiot.

Eryn had started to cry; she covered her face. Her father stood and walked over to her. Beth and I walked to the kitchen where we could go over the paperwork and give them the privacy they needed.

“Honey, I have been a fool for so long. For the last month I have been taking my medication. Gordan was kind enough to enlighten me to how selfish I have been. He educated me on your abilities as an artist, which I had no idea. I’ve been so wrapped up in living my life that I forgot to be your father. I owe you this much, at the very least. This is your house. Three doors down from my house. We can be neighbors. And I will be responsible for my own life. Gordan has helped me to seek treatment and I am seeing the doctors and being responsible. This is the very least I could do to repay you for the years you have sacrificed for me.”

William reached into his pocket and pulled out a set of keys from his left pants pocket and out of his right he pulled out a business card. He handed both to Eryn.

She looked at the business card. It was from a gallery that had frequently shown her father’s artwork.

“What is this?” She asked.

“That is the gallery that will be hosting your first showing next month. From what I counted; you have about twenty pieces that need homes. I have arranged your first of many showings. Your work is brilliant, just like you are. I only wish you had shown me years ago.” He said as he pulled his daughter closer to his chest, touching her hair. It had been years since he had last held her, since he had touched her soft golden rose hair. He felt the time slip through his fingers, the years that he had lost to his own selfish lifestyle. He felt what it meant to be a father once again, to care for his daughter.

“This is the most amazing things you have ever done dad. I don’t know what to say.” She said as she looked up at her father’s face.

“It wasn’t me; it was Gordan. That guy loves you. He helped me to see the narcissistic life I had been living. I might have taught him to surf, but he taught me how to love. He opened my eyes to the world I have, and I owe him and mostly you, everything.” William wiped the tear from Eryn’s eye with his thumb.

Eryn and William signed all the paperwork for her new home. Beth handed over the deed to the house and we started moving Eryn’s things into the home. Over the next month Eryn showed Williams new assistant the ropes and taught her how to handle her dad’s business. She now had her own home, three doors down from her father. He insisted that he would call before showing up.

So, I took William’s advice about living. I remember how he said that in order to write about life you need to actually live it. William and I go to that little beach off the highway once a week and surf together. Eryn and I traveled the following summer through the Bahamas in a sailboat. We lived every day; she spent her time sketching and I worked on my book. We met so many amazing and interesting people and at night we would sit on the deck of the boat looking at the sky. The stars were brighter than they were in California. We talked all night about our dreams and all the things she had never done. We made a list of all the things we wanted to do. I had wasted so many years just wanting to experience life. Those days were over, I was done wasting time.

It’s been four years since that day outside of Danny’s donuts. Eryn and I have been married for the last two years and I finally had my first successful book, “Surfing with the Old Man”. William didn’t care for the title, but he loved the story. Eryn has sold so many paintings and made a name for herself. She even hired her own assistant. We have all blossomed like that tree, just growing and growing. Life happens when you close your eyes.  And the life I wanted to experience was happening every day.

I still believe that the best time-travel movies are about love. I know I would travel through time to be with Eryn.

And I still go every week to the donut shop and bring home a box of donuts for William, Eryn, and our son. You really can’t beat those donuts.

©️ copyright 2021 James Heaton

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