From afar, Santa Monica Beach on any given day resembles an impressionistic painting. Dots of color created by various skin tones, beach umbrellas, coolers, towels and blankets converge on a beige canvas that stretches seamlessly into the sparkling ocean. Looking at Audrey, her red swimsuit coverup flowing like a cape behind her, I think she could be mistaken for a half-open tent from far away.
Audrey considered it part of her “job” to look chic no matter where she went in case she was photographed or noticed by fans, but at the beach, every bare inch of her went into hiding until she was under an umbrella. The linen coverup Audrey is wearing would be lovely on its own, but the oversized sunhat, the gloves reaching up to her shoulders, the sunglasses that cover half her face and the beach umbrella with UV/UVB protection make her look like a sixty-year-old Korean woman.
“I know,” she says, noting my grin. “The gloves are a little much, aren’t they? But my Oma sent them, and the woman has the skin of a fifteen-year-old so, I’ll be the last one laughing while the rest of you bitches inject yourselves with Botox and blood from your own asses to turn back time.”
I laugh. “Touché”.
I tug my beach bag a little higher over my shoulder. “Can you believe it’ll be October next week? How is it that we haven’t made it to the beach together yet when both of us live within walking distance?”
Audrey sighs. “I know. It’s pathetic. You and I work too much.”
“I see a spot!” I say, shifting my bare feet on the hot sand and pointing toward a cluster of girls packing up their coolers and towels.
“Let’s go hover,” Audrey says, picking her way through beached bodies. I reluctantly follow. I’d rather have waited until they’ve clearly vacated the spot out of courtesy, but Audrey only took chances on big, unpredictable things.
Luckily, she’s taken off her sunnies and her crazy gloves by the time we reach the girls and rather than taking their time and being instinctively territorial once they see us making a beeline for their spot, the teens’ expressions perk-up and they begin to gush.
“OMG! You’re Audrey Cho! I’m like, obsessed with your beauty blog and your show,” one of the girls blurts. “Are those the gloves your mom sent you last week? And what’s the name of that snail cream you use every morning?”
By the time Audrey has taken a few photos and sent them on their way, I’ve already laid out our towels, set-up our umbrella and prepped our perspiring bottles of sangria. I grin up at her as she sinks onto the sand, her sunnies and gloves back on her body with the speed of a super suit. “OMG! Audrey Cho! Do you think I could like beee you if I used Korean snail masks every day?”
I can sense her eyes roll upward, but she grins. “That reminds me, Oma sent a few products for you too, including a large bag full of those Malang candies you’re obsessed with.”
My mouth waters at the thought of the milky strawberry chews. “I’m fully planning to stop by your apartment after this to collect them.”
“So...” Audrey says, taking a sip of her drink and wiggeling her eyebrows at me. “I talked to Jake yesterday about the exclusive I’m doing on him. He mentioned that you hadn’t RSVP’d to his farewell party.”
I lean back on my towel and close my eyes, push my toes into the sand at the edge of my towel. “I’m not sure that I’ll go.”
“Come on, it’ll be fun.”
I roll my head to the side so I can see her. “Yeah, for you. You’ll know half the people there. And if you don’t know them, they’ll want to get to know you, which means I’ll be stuck in the corner; alone, nursing my cocktail, counting down the minutes until it’s absolutely necessary for me to leave because people are seconds away from realizing that I don’t have a beach house in Malibu and a loft in New York.”
“You are such a snob,” Audrey says. “You know you’re allowed a plus one. Bring Rich. He’ll smell all the properties in that room and make sure you become besties with everyone before you leave.”
I let out a very unladylike snort. “You’re doing an awesome job of convincing me to go.” I stick my hand in my beach bag and feel around for the container of cheese and crackers I’d prepared for us.
Audrey sits up so fast I wonder how she hasn’t spilled her drink. “Wait a sec...you have let Rich know about the invite?”
I shrug, stuff a cracker into my mouth. “Why tell him about it if I’m not planning to go? I’d rather not have him bugging me to change my mind for the next week.”
A slow smile spreads across Audrey’s face. “So, this is more about protecting Jake from Rich, than you, being uncomfortable about going.”
“What? No!” I say, even though her words resonate with the clarity of truth. “I’m proud that Rich is so ambitious, but you know he won’t be able to resist networking at this party and that would be so inappropriate!” I sigh, wishing Audrey would let it go. “And…I really don’t want to go. It’s so not my scene. It’s at Jake’s parent’s house in Calabasas right? I’d feel weird.” I lay back on my towel and nudge my shoulder blades deeper into the sand. “Did I tell you that Rich probably knows more about the Hursts’ business portfolio than someone who actually works there? He’s been researching them ever since he met Jake.”
Audrey takes the container of cheese and crackers off my stomach and I can hear her scheming as she chews. “I wouldn’t put it past Rich to seize the moment,” she finally says, “but you really should go to the party and trust Jake to fend for himself. Think about this from a strictly business point of view. You’re the other half of a deal that’s taking him out of this town. It only makes sense that he invited you. If Therese knew you were seriously considering ditching...”
I groan, throw my arm over my eyes. “You’re so manipulative.”
The smile of triumph in Audrey’s voice would be annoying if I didn’t know that she was genuinely happy that I would be hanging out with her. “I promise I won’t let Rich drag you around the room all night. And you know the drinks and food will be spectacular. Ooh! I’ll even get one of the network stylists to do you, too! Jake’s agreed to let our cameras in for a couple of hours to get b-roll and maybe a couple of soundbites.”
I grin at her despite my misgivings. “At least I’ll look fantastic while having a horrible time.”
“Hey,” Audrey says softly. “I’ll look out for you. We’re going to have a blast.”
I flip onto my stomach and look across the sand toward the white brick mansion with mature palms guarding the back entrance like armored guards. Until a few months ago, this was just another beautiful building that I couldn’t afford to book for even a night. Now, every time I saw it or heard the name, Hurst, I thought of hazel eyes that didn’t miss a thing.