The airport is small and local. She exits into a sunny side of life, inhaling smells of lilac and lemon trees. The clean pavement reflects gold rays back to her as she makes her way to one of the few waiting taxis. There would only be a few. It’s about a twenty-minute drive to the house, and after exiting the freeway, the neighborhoods lining the coast all seem private, secluded. The houses are individually wrapped by bundles of trees and beds of flowers. Something ideal. The driver turns off one of the winding roads onto a small gravel patch. The crunch under the tires announcing her arrival. A gathering of trees line either side of an iron gate. She gets out from the backseat to manually enter in the access code for it, so as to not pass it along to the driver inadvertently. They proceed onto a paved driveway, which snakes up a small hill. The expanse of the home doesn’t completely reveal itself, as it’s perched even higher. The taxi stops in between the main house and the smaller guest quarters where the three-car garage is; it seems logical to them both. When she opens the door to exit, the driver mentions he was just here last weekend dropping off another woman. “Are you sure about that?” she asks. D, the owner of the home, had been out of town, supposedly. “I remember this house,” the driver says. “And she was a blonde Russian, so yeah.” Amber actually doesn’t feel jealous, only curious. She decides not to bring it up. They’ve known one another for years, and a lot of life can be lived in between their visits together.
Amber has been to his home before. She knows where the hidden key is. D is still at work for a few hours, but they have dinner reservations out. “I won’t leave you hanging,” he says jovially, aware of his own bad habits. Also, a Swiss businessman will be arriving before dinner too, as they’re working on a deal. He’ll be staying in an attached guest room at the back of the house. This is encouraging. Since D’s always late, always running a million miles a minute, maybe he’ll be on time for someone else. Amber finds his constant state of anticipation and business dealing exhausting. Having another guest seems to fortify the plans. He won’t let her down, because he won’t let down the business partner. We’ll be off to a good start. This time it’ll be a pleasant visit, she thinks. She unpacks and settles in. She soaks in his sunken tub and uses his luxurious products. She meanders through the house, browsing all the book shelves. She notes the fun electronics and sophisticated earphones in the office and then admires the Rolexes in their watch winder box on a shelf in one of the walk-in closets. She peruses the walk-in pantry and notes all the new gourmet, specialty items. She opens the truffle salt to smell it. There’s a personal sampling of soylent meal replacement from one of the tech bros. D has invested with all of them over the years. There’s barely an app he hasn’t invested in. She eventually opens a chilled white wine at random, knowing she’ll only have one glass and not feel wasteful, regardless of its value. She sits by the pool as dusk colors the sky and waits for the evening to really begin.
D is over an hour late. She is beyond annoyed. Now she has the added weight of being annoyed on behalf of the Swiss man, too. He has arrived and settled and hidden himself away until his host finally shows up. ‘Business. Meetings. Calls. Non-stop.’ D is a whirlwind. She and the Swiss man are waiting in one of the living rooms, straining through conversation. The Swiss man is disgusted and mortified by Trump. He does not know D always contributes to both sides financially, because you don’t know which way the wind blows, and being in is what matters most. D attended the inaugural; personally invited. It is apparent to her, the guest must be on the asking end of the business deal, because he doesn’t act the least bit put out or ravenous to eat.
All three exude the coastal, business casual as they leave the house for the restaurant in jeans, tailored button downs and blazers. Amber wears a silk scarf around her neck, too, like her great-grandmother always did -an extra layer against the Pacific Ocean. It’s completely black out, minus the stars. The town shuts down early, even on the weekends. People are proper here. People are private. They even entertain privately. From the parking lot, the restaurant appears to be the only business alive and lit up. The brass top bar and the polished wood floors come across as extravagant for a laid-back neighborhood. D knows the owners, of course. It’s as if they’ve stayed open just for them. Two men at the bar appear as if they’ve been sitting long enough; others entering startle them into finally leaving. Only a handful of tables are occupied. D orders a burger without the bun. No carbs. The Swiss man orders steak frites, rare. Amber orders salmon. She adds to the dinner conversation only three times but otherwise stays quiet, and enjoys the ambiance under the dimmed sconce glow. An almost empty restaurant amplifies the quiet around her. She feels lonely all of the sudden. They drive around a bit afterwards so D can show the Swiss guest some historical landmarks.
The next day is hers, as the two men are off early for the office in the morning. The Swiss man will leave for the airport after a full day there. She runs into the houseman in the kitchen, but otherwise occupies the space as if her own. She takes coffee on the back porch, overlooking the water garden and the Zen seating area partially hidden by landscaping design. Later in the morning, she lounges and reads by the pool till hunger motivates her out of the house. Amber has use of the extra, older Mercedes. She drives towards the coast knowing of the quaint shops on a street parallel to the water. After a sandwich, she drives to one of the famous landmarks as well, taking in the Spanish colonial history. She then goes to the shopping district and browses, purchasing a lovely maxi dress she’ll wear to dinner later.
Amber genuinely loves visiting, and it doesn’t particularly bother her that D is unavailable most of the time. It’s the perfect weather, the relaxed pace of living, the cared-for and catered-to his environment affords. She gets a personal reprieve from her life. Yet, there is such a disconnect in the romantic department; their temperaments are so very different. This is why she didn’t really give a damn about the possibility of another woman being here recently. And when she’s strolling the shopping boulevard, she can understand why woman try to rope in a life like this and seek to find a man who can provide this ease of living. Amber doubts their happiness. This life is for ladies who only lunch.
Once again, D is exceptionally late for dinner. So much so, he asks her to use the Mercedes and meet him there -no further delay by having him pick her up first. She has ordered a glass of wine by the time he arrives. He’s 6’3 and slightly over 200lbs, so the handwaving in the air with apologies as he walks towards her, and the cheek-to-cheek kisses and shoulder squeezes when he embraces her, come across as insincere and over-dramatic. Everything is so happy and exciting and up-and-coming, it’s hard to not roll with the wave of optimism he brings and ignore the terrible habit of disregard he gets away with. ‘More wine for him, please,’ waving to a server. She sees how people can get caught up in his charisma. And since he is often the broker for the deals, the center of many networks, Amber has no doubt he gets away with this. She has reached her limit. She knows she will never visit again.
D orders the half roast chicken making sure no carbs come with the entrée. He clarifies to the waiter how no bread basket should be brought either. Everyone avoids carbohydrates. He almost scoffs when she orders the evening ravioli special. Over dinner, they each share their entrepreneurial endeavors. He gets really excited to tell her about a book she would love, 10% Happier. It was given to him, and he’s all about it. Their discussion is tailor-made to the west coast. If it isn’t tech progress, it’s human progress: all the self-help books, all the self-actualization; all the ways to optimize for a better body, mind, and spirit. She nods along and considers how receptive she’s always been to this frame of mind, gratitude certainly. But coming from him, it suddenly sounds like a sales pitch. Something fake. Though his heart may be in the right place, there is no heart here. Amber has enjoyed the setting of these visits, but that’s about it. He expresses little emotion. She feels none for him. He proceeds to finish off her remaining raviolis as dinner ended but conversation dragged on.
Arriving back at the house, they land in the kitchen. While she turns on the kettle for tea, he eats a mini, ice cream sandwich pulled from the bottom freezer drawer. What of his mindless eating? Amber is at least witness to some discord.
A few years later, she decides to Google him. Since his company is well known, it’s easy. He’s been personally rewarded and written about in Forbes and Bloomberg a few times. It appears he has finally gotten married. His wife is a tall, blonde Russian with a nutrition degree. Their wedding website is password protected.