Let me transport you to sunny Capitola with pictures from my recent inspiration trip and chapter 1 of Western Shores 🙂
Capitola was everything Madison had hoped for. She’d shortlisted a couple of towns and cities before she came here with the intention of finding a home close to her new job in Santa Cruz, but the small town along Monterey Bay turned out to be even more picture-perfect than the photos she’d seen online. The rows of pastel colored beach-front homes behind the creek made for a spectacular view, painted in shades of yellow, turquoise, pink, blue, purple and soft green. Flowers in contrasting colors hung from the windowsills, matching the front doors and the steps. Even the commercial buildings were quaint, adorned with sun-bleached illustrations of beach scenes and vintage artworks. The town felt bohemian, with its small galleries, numerous tarot readers and stores selling hand-crafted jewelry and screen-printed fabrics. Swings and dreamcatchers hung from trees in the front yards that blended in seamlessly with the natural landscape. Capitola wasn’t big, but it thrived on tourism in summer and everything she needed was right here; grocery stores, coffee shops, bars, restaurants and most importantly, the ocean.
Today being a weekday and still early, the beach was quiet, but surfers and paddle boarders were already out there. Madison counted seven of them sitting or standing on their boards, waiting for a wave or just chilling out. Already excited at the prospect of going for a morning swim before work, she held up her hand to greet the nearest ones, knowing they might get acquainted soon if she moved here. There were volleyball nets on the beach and the path along the boulevard seemed like a great place to go for a run.
“Are you okay, Mom?” she asked, looking over her shoulder when she heard her mother panting. With each step, her stiletto heels sunk into the sand, making her lose her balance, yet she’d refused to take them off.
“Yes honey. It’s just the sand, it’s…” Edie, her mother, finally took off her heels and decided to continue barefoot, then. “Why did you have to cross the beach? There’s a perfectly good path leading up to the homes around the back.”
“I wanted to see what it looks like from here.” Madison took her mother’s heels and hooked her arm into hers. “And I can’t resist a nice beach, you know that.”
The one-storey beach front homes that were built up against a hill with palm trees sticking out behind the rooftops, made for a picturesque backdrop. There was only one house for rent along the strip, and she’d been instantly drawn to the tiny pastel pink building with the bright pink front door when she saw it advertised online. The other places she’d viewed with her mother had been nice; more practical and certainly much bigger, but she’d only gone to see them because her mother had insisted that choice was important in order to make an informed decision. Deep down, her heart had been set on the pink house all along.
“Are you sure that’s going to be big enough?” Edie asked as they looked up at it. “It’s very pretty…” she turned to Madison and let out a chuckle. “…and it certainly matches your hair sweetie, but it looks awfully small and…”
“I don’t need much space, Mom,” Madison interrupted her. “I’m used to my dorm so this will be a palace compared to college.”
“I’m not so sure about that.” Edie squinted, shielding her eyes from the sun. The house was standing between a blue house and a yellow bar, called Western Shores. “It will be your first home though, and I want you to be comfortable,” she continued, clumsily making her way toward the footpath. “You know your father and I would be happy to help you out with something bigger, and there’s always your trust fund. You could buy a really nice apartment in Santa Cruz, or we could buy one together. You could always sell it on if you decide you don’t want to stay here or if you get a better job offer somewhere else. It will be a good investment for us too, we really don’t mind. I’m just not sure if renting is the right way to go for you.”
“I know you want me to buy. And I’m grateful to you and dad for helping me out through college, but it’s time I take care of myself now. I’ve been leaching off you guys for long enough and besides, it’s only a six-month contract to start with. It’s very rare that rentals like this come up and it will give me some time to explore the area. There’s no point going through the trouble of buying something if I’m not going to stay, it’s too much hassle.”
A feeling or nervous excitement took over as they approached the house because it felt so right that there was no way she was going to look any further. It would be a fresh start. A new town, a new job – her first job, and she’d wake up to the sound of the ocean each morning. She fingered her recently dyed pastel pink bob, imagining herself living there. “And you’re right. It does match my hair, it’s a good thing I changed the color again. Maybe it’s meant to be.”
“Are you guys here to view the house?”
“Yeah.” Madison smiled at the woman who was arranging flowers on the three tables outside the bar next to the pink house. “Are you Ally?” The woman had long dark-brown wavy hair that fell over her shoulders, and she wore a loose off-the-shoulder white top and a short denim skirt underneath her black apron. She was barefoot, which was unusual for someone who worked in hospitality, but Madison figured it was a beach bar, and so the customers were likely to be barefoot too. Turquoise beaded earrings dangled behind her dimpled cheeks as she smiled back and nodded, then wiped her hands on her apron before she pulled a set of keys out of her back pocket and introduced herself.
“That’s me. It’s nice to meet you…” She narrowed her eyes. “Madison, was it?”
“That’s right.” Madison shook her hand. “And this is my mother, Edie.”
“Nice to meet you both.” The silver bangles around Ally’s wrist jingled as she unlocked the front door to the pink house and held it open. “Please come in and take a look around.” She switched on the lights in the tiny hallway and walked two steps ahead of them into the combined living room and open kitchen area. There was a beige three-seater couch, a coffee table on a cozy Berber rug, and a big bookcase full of art-related books. Right behind the couch was a small kitchen with a refrigerator, a stove, a sink and a breakfast bar with two stools. A separate piece of wood, matching the kitchen surface, had been placed on the bar to use as a cutting board as there was not much space elsewhere. It felt homey though, with lots of plants and striking modern artworks on the walls. “As I told you on the phone, it’s very small. I’ve been renting it out to tourists but with the bar being next door, some of the tenants have been complaining about the noise and leaving bad reviews. It’s not terrible in my opinion, but it does get busy during the summer and it’s not always easy to get rid of the last customers at night. Quite frankly, I don’t have the energy to deal with the complaints anymore.” She opened the light blue and white seersucker curtains to the two ocean-facing windows, letting in the light. “As advertised, here’s your unobstructed ocean view. The house comes furnished; it’s not the fanciest stuff but I’ve tried my best to make it nice and practical, and you’ll have everything you’ll need here. If you want me to, I can remove the books and other items of course.”
“It looks lovely and I can live with noise,” Madison said. “I’ve come straight off campus so I’m practically immune to it.”
“That’s that problem solved then,” Ally said, looking relieved.
“Is there a yard?” Edie asked, scanning the space for a back door.
“No, but there’s a set of fold-up table and chairs in the hallway that you can put outside your front door if you like. That’s how I do it. Besides, you’ll have the beach, so who needs a yard?”
“Totally agree.” Madison followed Ally to the bedroom and noted her mother wasn’t sold. In fact, she seemed horrified by how small it was. The big box-spring bed took up most of the room, but there was a decent-sized built-in wardrobe and a small desk in front of the window, framed by the same curtains. A blue oil painting, inspired by the view, hung above the bed and an off-white crocheted dream catcher dangled next to it. “So, do you live in the same building as the bar?”
Ally laughed. “No, there’s not enough space there for me and my son. We do live next door though, to your other side in the blue house. It’s got a small tower that we’ve converted into his bedroom.”
Edie turned to her. “You own both buildings?” She was clearly surprised to hear that the woman who worked in the bar next door had managed to buy herself multiple properties on such a sought-after strip of coastland. “Is the bar yours too?”
“Yeah, all three are mine, it’s a long story.” Madison was sure she saw a hint of sadness in Ally’s eyes, but the woman turned away from them, making sure to avoid eye contact. “The bathroom is right here.” She walked back into the hallway and opened the only other door, revealing a narrow, white-tiled bathroom that was so small that the showerhead was hanging over the toilet.
Madison couldn’t help but laugh. “Okay… I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before. At least I can do two things simultaneously, saves me time in the morning.”
Ally laughed too. “Yeah, it’s small all right. Theo, my son and I brush our teeth in the kitchen sink. I use one of the kitchen cupboards for toiletries and I’ve stuck a mirror on the inside. You’ve got to be creative in a place like this. Oh, and I want to be honest with you about the parking too, although you probably figured that out when you arrived. The thing is, there is no parking space around here. This place comes with a guest permit, but you’ll have to leave your pickup at the end of the beach road. It’s a ten-minute walk from here and it gets really busy in high season. You might have to park it twenty minutes away sometimes during the summer months, so I just want to forewarn you.” She shot Madison an amused look. “But the time you save in the shower will make up for that.”
Madison’s eyes met Ally’s and held them for a beat. Her dimples and the few freckles on each cheek were adorable, and the fine lines around her eyes indicated she smiled a lot. She really liked this friendly hippie chick, and she had a feeling they were going to get on. “What’s behind there?” she pointed to a silk screen in front of an alcove in the living room.
“Sorry, I almost forgot.” Ally folded the screen away. “This little nook here has a washer and a dryer and there’s a little space left in case you have a surfboard or something else big you need to stow away.”
“It’s very small,” Edie remarked, unable to let it go. “We’ve viewed three-bedroom apartments for the same price not far from here.”
“You’re right. It is small, but if you take the premium location into account, it’s actually highly competitive.” Ally shrugged. “I understand if you’re not interested, it’s totally fine. I’ve got another twenty-six people lined up to take a look at it, but your daughter sounded so nice on the phone that I wanted to give her the first choice.”
“Thank you for that,” Madison said, shooting her mother a quick warning look. “I’ll take it.” She had a feeling Ally was bluffing about the twenty-six people, but even if she was, this place felt good and she couldn’t wait to move in.
“Really?” Ally arched a brow and grinned. “Are you sure?”
“Am I sure? You’re not exactly selling it,” Madison joked. “Did anyone ever teach you about upselling? I love it.”
“No, I’m afraid not.” Ally chuckled. “But I love it here too. I’m just highly aware of the impracticalities, that’s all. And there’s the price, of course. I know it’s not cheap but if you want it, it’s yours. I’ve got the contract ready for you to sign next door.”
“Let’s do it, then.” Madison ignored her mother, who was trying to make eye contact, determined to talk her out of it.
“Don’t you want to think about it, Madison?”
“No, Mom. This feels right, I want to live here.” Madison’s tone indicated there was no discussion to be had. This would be her new home. She’d never touched her trust fund until now, but she needed some of it to pay for the three months’ rent upfront. After that, she’d have a steady income from her job.
“Great, follow me.” Ally led them back outside and pulled out three chairs at one of the tables outside her bar. She disappeared for a moment after enquiring what they wanted to drink, then came back with a tray of coffees and a pile of paperwork clenched under her arm. “Here’s a cappuccino for you, Edie,” she said as she put the cup down on the yellow painted recycled wooden table. “And a soy latte for you, Madison.” She paused as she put a second cup in front of Madison. “And our new house special for you to try too. It’s a beetroot soy latte. I figured it suited you as both your hair and your house are pink now.”
“Damn.” Madison looked down at the bright pink hot drink with white foam shaped into a perfect wave. “This is art, Ally.”
“Wait until you taste it.” Ally put down an espresso for herself and placed the tray under her chair before handing Madison the contract.
“It’s so good.” Madison licked the foam off her upper lip after taking a sip. “It’s sweet, but a natural kind of sweet… and it’s spicy, which is unexpected.” She gave it to her mother to try.
“Hmm… I like it too,” Edie agreed. She seemed a little more relaxed than five minutes ago, Madison thought. Or maybe she’d just resigned herself to the idea, knowing there was nothing she could do to change her decision. Madison would do whatever the hell she wanted to do. It had always been that way.
“Yeah, it’s like chai but with a little cayenne pepper added in,” Ally said. “People who don’t tolerate caffeine love it because the spice still wakes them up in the morning.” She gave Madison a smug look. “My own invention.”
“Clever lady, you are.” Madison returned her smirk while she searched for her driver’s license in her purse. “Here’s my ID.”
Ally snapped a picture on her phone. “Twenty-three,” she said after calculating Madison’s age. “Do you mind if I ask why you’re moving here?”
“A job.” Madison flicked through the pages of the standard rental contract. She’d looked them up online before she came here, knowing her mother wouldn’t be of much help. Her father took care of things like that in their household, and her mother had always been comfortable taking a backseat to her husband’s career as a political strategist, sitting around looking pretty, and occasionally decorating houses they purchased to rent out. Not that there was anything wrong with that. She was an amazing mother and she did a lot of great charity work too. Edie was fifty-two now, but because it was hard to guess her age due to the many procedures that she’d undergone over the past twenty years, people often asked them if they were sisters. “My first job, actually, I got my Masters in Marine Biology last year. I’m going to be a research technician at the Marine Mammal Research Center in Santa Cruz. They’re starting a tagging-and-tracking program of long-beaked common dolphins next week so my first three months will be fieldwork mostly.”
“I see.” Ally seemed a little taken aback by that. She stared at Madison for a moment, then cleared her throat. “I know that place very well,” she said. “My husband…” She hesitated. “He was the director.”
“Really? What’s his name?”
“Marcos Santos.” Ally lowered her voice as she said his name, and Madison noticed that look in her eyes again. “I meant to say my late husband. He died nine years ago when Theo, our son, was two.” She took a deep breath and gave them a smile. “I apologize, this is all a bit heavy considering this is our first meeting and I didn’t mean to bring it up but since you mentioned the lab… It was a long time ago though, and Theo and I are okay now.”
“I’m so sorry, honey,” Edie said, reaching out for Ally’s hand. Madison hoped her mother wouldn’t start crying and make matters worse. She tended to get very emotional whenever there were children involved in tragedies.
“I’m sorry too.” Madison studied Ally, unable to look away despite the serious conversation because she was simply stunning. Her skin was sun-kissed and her long, brown hair, that she was constantly fussing with, shimmered in the sun. She was petite and cute, with a wide, contagious smile that made Madison smile too, each time she looked at her. She wondered about her age, but it was hard to tell. Mid-thirties, maybe?
“Thank you, but really, we’re okay,” Ally said. “Marcos gave me Theo and I feel really blessed with him. He’s sweet and extremely clever, he’s doing great in school and all in all, he’s just a good kid.”
“Children are the biggest blessing God has given us,” Edie said in a dramatic voice, rubbing a hand over Madison’s arm. “You know, Madison used to babysit when she was younger. She’s really good with kids if you ever need someone to look after your son.”
Madison barely suppressed an eye-roll at her mother, who was clearly sold on Ally now and all on-board with her moving into the pint-sized house. Jesus, it doesn’t take much.
Ally laughed it off. “I don’t doubt your daughter is amazing with kids, Edie, but I’m sure she’s got better things to do and besides, I don’t tend to get that personal with my tenants.” She knocked back her espresso. “But the tenancy package does include a free coffee each morning so I’m sure we’ll get to know each other better.” She pointed to the section in the contract Madison was reading.
“Free coffee?” Madison looked up at her and grinned. “Where do I sign?”