PROFOUND THOUGHTS NOTE – California Casual?
Late next morning they packed up overnight bags and drove out to Malibu. Looking forward to a relaxed afternoon with Annie’s friends and her nieces, India planned to swim at the beach, too.
“It’s almost like being in the country,” Annie had told her.
They drove down Sunset Boulevard past the suburban estates of Pacific Palisades and onto the Pacific Coast Highway. After a few miles, Annie turned the SUV expertly up the incline of a steep hill that led them a few miles into the canyon. Then she slowed down on a tiny dirt road, avoiding the lines of precariously parked cars. The sprawling ranch property was set way back in acres of land. While they waited for the electronic gates to open, India noticed a large sign underneath the surveillance cameras. “Private Party: No Tweets or Video, Please.”
“That’s funny, Annie.” She laughed. “Do we get a full body search? Hope so, it’s been a while.”
“We try to keep this place a secret,” Annie said, laughing. “Well, we’re a bit late. Let’s freshen up quickly.” She climbed down from the car and led India up a back stairway.
India splashed her face and straightened her hair in a bath- room. She had opted for a white linen shirt, black capri pants, and flat leather moccasins. This was working beautifully, or so she thought, until Annie reappeared in a heavily jeweled Tory Burch smock, meticulously ripped blue jeans, and high, gold, strappy Jimmy Choo sandals.
“Come on, darling. Joss and the girls are bursting to see you,” Annie said, grabbing her hand and leading India down the stairs and into the garden.
A woman passed by in a long sequined evening dress, also wearing emerald earrings and a choker of enormous black pearls. Obviously this “California Casual” look doesn’t come cheap, India thought, and began speculating on the total cost, starting with the woman’s highlighted hair, her makeup, manicure, pedicure, shoes, handbag, and jewelry. She’d reached a rough estimate of $5,500 and was about to start on Annie, when she was interrupted by a shout from Joss. He raced across the garden and lifted her up off the ground for a hug as she threw her arms around him.
“My favorite, favorite sister-in-law,” he said, planting a kiss on her cheek.
“Your only sister-in law,” India replied. “Now unhand me or people will start tweeting about us.”
“Ah. Yes. The sign. Last time we had a party it was all over TMZ as it was happening! You can’t be too careful in this town, believe me.”
“Ha!” India replied. A woman in a low-cut, skintight mini- dress and eight-inch platform heels teetered by. India whispered: “That’s some outfit for a barbecue! Annie said this was going to be really casual for just a few friends.”
“Yes. This would be Annie’s idea of a few friends, all right.” He laughed, eyeing the crowds near the pool. “And you’re a breath of fresh air, India. Now come on; let me get you a drink.”
Shortly after, she was standing alone, sipping a mimosa, and feeling that weird sense of disconnection she’d had in the session with Pete just before the firewalk. What did she want? What had she ever wanted? She watched Joss hoisting one of the kids onto his wide shoulders and admired the strength in his back as he went toward the haze of charcoal smoke. Incredible to think his band is outselling Zeppelin, she mused. It’s different for guys. He just gets better looking every time I see him.
“India! Give us a hug, you gorgeous thing!” shouted a total stranger, a man in tan shorts and an open-collared plaid shirt.
She took a step back as he tried to put his arms around her. “I’m Ben. And I just know you must be Annie’s sister.”
“You do?” she replied, smiling tentatively. “Have we met?”
“No,” he said, gently leading her toward a trestle table that was set up in the shade beneath a wooden trellis covered in wisteria. “But don’t worry, I don’t bite.”
“Me either,” she said.
“I’m relieved. Now please take a seat and say hello to Max. Oh, and the ugly one is Adam.”
India nearly dropped her glass when she saw “the ugly one.” Sarah would die, she thought. And she’d also know the name of every movie he’s been in. Oh. My. God. The arms! They were the sexiest arms she’d ever set eyes on. And Max? She’d heard about him, too. He had been one of Hollywood’s funniest, most successful comedians, until the drugs killed his career.
“Hey,” Adam said, standing up, slowly, to shake her hand and holding eye contact for what seemed an exquisitely torturous amount of time. “How are you?”
“Fine. I … I’m doing fine, a little bit tired today, but doing okay. I woke up earlier than usual though… I’m good…” she said. Shut up now, she thought, it’s a form of greeting, not the Spanish Inquisition.
“Glad to hear it,” he said, letting go of her hand and sliding over on the bench. “Sit right here, next to me.”
India sat down so quickly, her drink spilled.
“Sorry. It must be jet lag,” she said, wiping the table with her hand.
“No problem. Where’ve you come from? Long flight?”
India felt positively light-headed. Her heart was pounding. It certainly wasn’t the jet lag or the mimosa. It was his dark, wavy hair, the absurdly broad shoulders, those intelligent, piercingly blue eyes. And forget the thigh muscles…
She started to answer him. “London … just…”
“So India,” Max interrupted, touching her elbow. “Ben here is trying to convince us he met Cynthia in another life. He’s been seeing a hypnotist and just finished a past life regression. What do you make of that?”
Adam caught her surprised look and they shared what she was sure was a complicit exchange. “Sorry, who’s Cynthia?” she asked.
Max lifted his chin. “Over there. The blonde.”
India recognized her immediately. She was a very tiny actress, famous for her insanely large bosoms. “I see,” she said, not seeing at all.
But Max was way ahead of her. “My theory about Ben is he’s just regressing, period.”
Everybody, including Adam, laughed. “Yeah, well, thanks, that’s funny, man!” Ben said. “We’ve all been here before, right? I mean, you’re still a Neanderthal!”
Adam glanced in India’s direction. “Why dismiss the possibility?” he said. “I’m open-minded. Sometimes you do have an instant connection with people. You feel like you’ve known them before.”
He’s definitely looking at me, India thought. But was he talking about her, about that instant connection? Feeling increasingly flustered and brainless, she just sat there.
“Well, if I come back,” Ben said, “I hope it’s not with a bunch of losers like you.”
Max focused his attention on India. “You look kinda like Annie, but I thought she said you were twins.”
“We are, but we’re not identical, we’re fraternal; Annie got Mum’s blonde hair and blue eyes. I look more like our dad,” India said, glancing across the lawn to Annabelle, who was helping some kids get out of their water wings. God, she’s thin, she thought, taking in her sister’s profile.
Max looked curious for a moment and started to say something.
Please let him shut up now… India thought. Do not come out with some tired one-liner – “two for the price of one … twice the fun” – believe me, I’ve heard them all.
He must have read her mind because he changed the subject quickly. “So what do you do? Joss mentioned you’re some kind of teacher. That’s cool. What do you teach?”
India took a large sip of her mimosa. “I’m a sort of teacher,” she said, mysteriously. Or so she hoped. She wasn’t about to get into stories about grade-school teaching. Adam was studying her out of the corner of his eye, waiting for a more detailed answer. If only she could start the whole scene all over again. This time around she’d be ten years younger wearing a sarong, with an all- over tan and big boobs. She’d be carrying a basket with a scarf twined around the handle, and have a French accent.
“Let’s just say I’m on vacation for now,” she managed.
But Max wasn’t even listening. He was following a girl, more like a child, India thought, as she climbed out of the swimming pool in a flesh-colored string bikini so tiny, India couldn’t see it even when she squinted. Leaning over to shake the water out of her waist-length, streaked blonde hair, she then sauntered over to a lounge chair where she began to apply, in what seemed like agonizingly slow motion, a squirt of sunscreen to her long legs. I hope she stops when she gets to the top, India thought, knocking back the rest of her drink.
“Barely legal,” Max sighed. “Where the hell do they all come from, anyway? Sometimes I think there must be a factory out near Anaheim or something. It’s weird.”
India noticed that the girl’s performance hadn’t been entirely lost on Adam. But she was also relieved and delighted to note that he looked bored. Then, he grinned at her again.
Joss had now joined the group. “Your glass is empty, Indie. Want another?”
“Thanks, but I think I’d better get something to eat. I’m not used to all this sun,” she said quickly. She was dying for another drink, several in fact, but one more smile or glance from Adam and she figured she might just faint. Joss started to lead the way.
“Great to meet you,” India said to no one in particular, standing up, attempting to leave and realizing the strap of her purse was caught on the back of her chair. Tugging at it with a smile, she gave it one last yank and stumbled off, acutely aware that her linen pants had grown two sizes while she’d been sitting down.
India picked her way through yet another wave of Annie’s hundred or so “just a few friends” who were greeting one an- other with screams of delight. “So great to see you!” “I’ve missed you like crazy.” “How ARE you?” It amazed her. In England, you could have been kidnapped and held hostage in a cave for a couple of years and you wouldn’t expect this kind of reception.
Wandering into the kitchen, she aimed for the food table. The room was the size of a tennis court at Wimbledon. Everywhere she looked there were women toting trays, fixing hors d’oeuvres, washing dishes, chattering away in Spanish. Two kids in oversize tee shirts were pouring thick chocolate syrup onto strawberries so obscenely large, India assumed they must be mutant. She had just helped herself to a healthy slab of lasagna when Annabelle appeared and signaled her to come over. Reluctantly leaving her plate behind (not a good look meeting people with a mouth full of food) she stepped across the hand-fired clay tile floor to join her.
“Meet my sister, India,” Annabelle announced proudly. “India is staying in LA for the summer after we leave for the house in the Hamptons, so I want her to get to know you all. India, darling, this is my friend Georgia.”
“Lovely to meet you,” India said, smiling. “What a beautiful necklace.”
“Thank you so much,” Georgia replied, playing with the sparkling semiprecious stones wrapped around her neck. The neck- lace seemed to float against her skin. “A friend of mine makes them. She has a little store at Fred Segal. I’ll give you her name.”
“And this is Tess,” Annabelle continued as she turned toward the rest of the group.
An Amazonian blonde squeezed by. “Hi,” she said in a husky, low voice. “Excuse me, won’t you? I’ve just seen my director and I need to have a quick word with him.”
“Of course,” India said, moving aside and noticing the woman’s fluorescent white teeth. “Nice to meet you.”
“Reality television has a lot to answer for,” Tess said under her breath. There was a pause while they watched her make her exit, and then the introductions continued.
“India, I’m Toni. We met a few summers ago. If you’re going to be here on your own for a while, I’d LOVE to do some hiking with you. Are you into power yoga? I have this amazing, I mean totally amazing guy who comes over to the house twice a week for private sessions. All my friends are in love with him. Why are all the good-looking ones gay?” She sighed wistfully.
India was enjoying Toni’s energy. “I’d like that,” she said. “I’d like that very much.”
“Great, I’ll ask Annie for your number and call you. By the way, your moccasins are so cute. I’m sooo into beading.”
“Thank you; they’re very old,” India said, looking down at her feet.
“A bit like myself,” Toni said, lifting up her head. “Had my neck done just two weeks ago; you’d never know, would you? No downtime, either.”
India nodded her approval. All this instant intimacy was a bit alarming. You could be at a party all day in London and the most you could hope for by way of intimacy was someone pointing out you had something stuck between your teeth.
“There you are, darling.” Annie was back at her side. “Quick, my friend Summer’s doing some readings in the other room. Why don’t you come in and listen? Some women have so much faith in her readings they don’t even decide what to wear without consulting her first.”
“It’s true,” said Cynthia, who had popped back into the group. “The woman is almost scary, she’s so good.”
“See, India? I told you. And hey, maybe we’ll find out your days of being single are about to be over…”
India gave a halfhearted, irritated smile. “You mean maybe my stars are finally in alignment?”
“Don’t be cynical, darling.”
“Well, I’d appreciate it if you were just a tad more discreet about my spinsterhood, Annie. Please!”
The three of them tiptoed into a chapel-like room where a circle of women were sitting on rugs and cushions, surrounded by lit candles. The walls were lined with bookshelves under a vaulted mahogany ceiling.
“Blessings,” said a girl India knew instantly must be Summer, as she was holding a woman’s upturned hand in her own, tracing the lines around her thumb. She could have been sent by central casting, India thought, taking in the woman’s short floaty caftan, the ton of bangles, the bandanna tied around her head, and the snake tattoo that inched its way up her thigh.
“Trules,” Summer whispered, “I can see that you’re a very giving person. Your energy is strong, but there’s been quite a drain on it recently. You must learn to hold something back for yourself or you will having nothing left to give.”
Trules nodded with rapt attention.
“When I do these group readings, I like to take affirmations from others. The energy can help. Do I have your permission to ask your friends if they agree with me?”
“Yes, yes,” Trules said. The woman next to her wiped away a tear. “I think that Trules is one of the kindest, most generous, loving, and giving women we know.”
There were nods of agreement around the room.
Summer continued in reverential tones. “Trules, you must learn to honor yourself and your own needs first. My gift to you today is this reminder that you are an extremely special person and should be kinder to yourself. I’m also going to give you an affirmation that I would like you to repeat as often as you can.”
“Yes, Summer,” she murmured, “I will.”
Summer gave her a very special smile. “Say this after me: ‘I honor and love Trules.’”
“I honor and love Trules,” the girl repeated, softly. “I honor and love Trules.”
India was squirming on her cushion. The stench of incense was making her queasy. Surely these full-grown women weren’t swallowing this sort of bullshit whole?
Then Summer touched Annie lightly on the shoulder and pulled her aside. They squatted on two large velvet cushions and Summer laid out some cards in front of her. The two of them chatted for a while, then stood up and hugged each other.
“Ladies, it’s been such a pleasure today,” Summer said, turning to the rest of the group. “Thank you so much for being here. And please, feel free to take one of my cards and some leaflets. I’d be happy to offer discount rates for groups of five or more,” she said, backing out of the door with her hands crossed over her chest.
It was unbelievable, India thought. The blatant self-promotion. How much did it cost Summer to “give away” a mantra? A blessing? Talk about a business with no overhead… And what about all that stuff about past-life regression and power yoga? She gave herself a mental kick. Relax. You’re on vacation. Annie’s so glad you’re here.
“I’m so happy you’re here!” said Annabelle, reading her mind. “You have no idea.”
“It’s great to be back, Annie. I mean it,” India said, winding her arm through her sister’s. “I’ve missed you.”
“It’s been the most manic year of my life,” Annie replied, leaning in closely against her arm. “I shouldn’t complain. So many women in this town hit thirty and it’s over but here I am with al- most more than I can handle.”
“I want to hear all about that, Annie. But in the meantime, I have a few questions for you.”
As the two of them walked slowly across the lawn, the sound of their laughter turned heads. India was pumping her sister about Adam. “I want all the details,” she whispered. “And I mean ALL the details.”
“Later,” Annie said, looking across the garden. “Joss is calling us over. Let’s go watch the kids at the pool. Oh, and by the way, I’m having a little dinner party for you on Thursday night. Some other people I think you’ll enjoy meeting. After that, nothing’s planned. We’re wide open.”
As they walked hand in hand toward the pool, India noticed that Adam and his friends had disappeared.