:: home is where the heart is ::

I was a very late entrant in the Blue Collar Hanson writing challenge in September 2005, having not been initially invited to participate. An email to the challenge’s organiser, Eve, was all it took for this story to be included, and I was also invited to participate in her Christmas challenge. It was inspired by the John Butler Trio song of the same title.

My thanks to the lovely Lily Fox for the illustration for this fic

The bell above the door jangled, and I looked up from reading my magazine. Business had been unusually slow so far this summer – hours often passed before the door opened to admit a customer or two, and most afternoons I closed up shop without having sold anything. On one hand, I was getting a head start on my summer reading for my college classes. But on the other, the sharp downturn in sales had both me and my older sister worried. There had even been talk of closing down for good, selling the shop and going back home to Sacramento if things didn’t improve any time soon.

“Tay, my man!” I said when I saw who had wandered inside. I pushed a pile of invoices, catalogues and other assorted papers off of the hard wooden stool that stood behind the counter, a twin to the one I was currently perched on. “Haven’t seen you in a while…”

He shrugged as he walked around the glass display cabinet and sat down on the stool, letting his bare toes trail on the cool tiled floor. “I’ve been busy,” he said by way of an explanation. He pushed his damp blonde hair behind his ears.

“Busy as in you’ve been out in the surf every day from dawn till dusk, or busy as in you’ve been sitting on your white-boy ass all day, every day with nothing to do?” I cocked an eyebrow, waiting for his answer.

He scowled. “Busy as in I’ve been working my ‘white-boy ass’ off twelve hours a day in the Starbucks down the street, trying to earn enough money to pay my rent.”

I snorted. “I don’t know what you see in that place, honestly. I can’t even walk past it without feeling like I’m going to pass out. Why don’t you come and work here instead?”

“After you let me buy this” he raised his left hand so I could see the rather expensive-looking diving watch he wore around his wrist “for twenty-five bucks? If I recall correctly, your sister would have your head on a pike if you even considered having me added to the staff payroll.”

“There is that,” I conceded. “But if not for that, you’d consider it?”

He let out a quiet sigh. “I don’t know, to be honest.”

I studied him a little while. “I think I know what your problem is. You’re homesick.”

“I am not.”

“I know homesickness when I see it, Taylor Hanson. I lived on campus at UCLA for my freshman year, and my roommate barely made it through the first semester thanks to a lengthy battle between wanting to go home and wanting to stay at college.” I tilted my head to one side. “You know, in all the years I’ve known you, you’ve never told me why exactly you came all the way out here. I tell you what, I’ll close up for about half an hour or so, and we’ll go out for lunch – my treat.”

“Angel, no-”

“Ah ah ah, I’ll be having none of that.” I shook my right index finger at him. “And before you ask, Ellie won’t mind; hardly anyone comes in here anymore as it is. Half an hour won’t make a lick of difference.” I slid off of my stool and gathered up my phone, wallet and keys.

My favourite café, Breakers, was our lunchtime destination; we had claimed a table near the back. I’d ordered fettuccine with napolitana sauce, while Taylor had chosen focaccia with sundried tomatoes. While we waited for our respective meals, Taylor told me his story.

“Do you want me to be honest with you?” he asked, and I nodded. “The sole reason I came out here was because I’d never seen the ocean. I only intended to stay for a couple of weeks and then head back home, but it didn’t quite work out that way.”

“You came here as soon as you graduated from high school, right?”

“Yeah, I think it was the Saturday after I graduated.” He traced a blackened mark on his half of the table, left there, I surmised, after someone had put their coffee cup down on the bare tabletop rather than on a coaster. “The day I planned to leave for home, my car gave up the ghost.”

“And let me guess – you couldn’t afford to have it fixed.”

“Exactly. I had two options – risk hitchhiking home, or stay here in LA and try to earn enough money to get my car fixed so I could go home. And, well…I’ve been here ever since.”

“You couldn’t have asked your parents to send you a bit of money?”

“Are you kidding me?” He let out a harsh bark of laughter. “Angel, put it this way – my family isn’t exactly rich. I’ve got three brothers and three sisters, my dad’s an electrician, and my mom’s a teacher. The mechanic that looked at my car wanted about five hundred dollars to fix it, and I would have needed maybe an extra hundred, maybe two hundred dollars to get myself back home. We don’t exactly have that much money lying around. I couldn’t in good conscience do that to my parents, not after all they’ve done for me.”


“Yeah.” He nodded and looked down at the table.

Our lunches arrived at that moment, and our conversation went on hold as we ate. As I worked my way through the large plate of pasta before me, I thought back to our very first meeting.

“Angelinha, get your ass out here! We have a customer!”

I rolled my eyes as I finished tagging the pile of T-shirts that had been dropped on me earlier that morning. Faced with the prospect of yet another long, boring summer, I had begged my older sister to let me work in her shop, a surfing accessories store that she had rather unimaginatively christened ‘California Dreaming Surfing Supplies’ – a testament to her Mamas and the Papas obsession. But I had soon come to realise that a summer job really wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, especially when it came to working for one Elena Mendez. Not only did she treat me as if I was seven rather than seventeen, but she insisted on calling me by my given name rather than my easier-to-pronounce nickname.

“I don’t see why you can’t do it, it’s your shop!” I yelled out as I exited the storeroom and meandered up to the sales counter, weaving between racks filled with T-shirts, board shorts, criminally short skirts and baggy jeans as I walked.

“Do it or I’ll dock your pay for the next three weeks!”

Yeah, like that scared me. I walked behind the glass display case that doubled as the sales counter, hopped up on my stool and gave my standard greeting. “Welcome to California Dreaming, how may I help you?” I chirped out.

“I was wondering how much that watch there is.” A long, slender finger tapped the top of the display case. “The one with the black strap and the glow-in-the-dark dial.”

“Two hundred fifty.” I didn’t even need to look at the watch to know what one it was – so many people had come in this week alone wanting to buy it, and all had backed right off once I’d rattled off the price.

“Oh…” Whoever wanted to buy it this time, they sounded rather disappointed, and that alone made me look up. “I was hoping it wouldn’t be so expensive.”

The owner of the voice was a tall, exhausted-looking teenage boy clad in a plain grey T-shirt, patched jeans and leather sandals. Straggling locks of dirty blonde hair framed his face.

“How much you got?” I asked. Elena generally kept the more valuable items from her inventory in the front display case. None of the items had price tags attached, so the general consensus was that if you had to ask how much something was, there was no way in Hades that you could afford it. It was usually the newcomers who came right up to the counter, as the regulars knew to keep well away unless they had something they wanted to buy. But today I was feeling charitable, even though I knew Elena would be out baying for my blood if she found out what I was about to do.

“Uh…” He pulled a ratty-looking wallet from a pocket and thumbed through it. “Twenty-five dollars,” he replied, sounding defeated. He let out a quiet sigh. “Don’t worry about it.”

“No, wait,” I said as he turned to leave. He looked back at me, and I saw the faintest light of hope in his clouded blue eyes. “I’ll tell you what – my sister is going to have my head for this, but if you tell me what your name is, I’ll let you have that watch for twenty-five dollars. Do we have a deal?”

“Deal.” He turned around again and placed his money on the counter. “My name’s Taylor Hanson.”

“Angelinha Mendez,” I replied as I counted out and placed the money in the till, and unlocked the display case. “Black strap and glow-in-the-dark dial, was it?” I looked up, the coveted watch in my right hand, and he nodded. “Call me Angel though, everyone does.”

He took the watch from me and buckled it securely around his thin left wrist. “A pleasure to meet you, Angel,” he said, and I beamed.

That had been June 2001 – four years ago. The two of us had hit it off immediately, and my sister soon grew accustomed to his occasional presence in the shop. The next summer, Elena ‘upgraded’ me to full staff member, though it wasn’t until this summer that she began calling me by my nickname; I in turn returned the favour, calling her Ellie.


“Hmm?” I looked up at Taylor, only to see that he was trying unsuccessfully to hide a very cheeky grin. “And what is that shit-eating grin for?”

“What were you thinking about? Oh, and you’ve got sauce on your chin.” He reached out and wiped something off of my face.

“Just about the day we met.”


I studied him a little while. He looked slightly happier, but his expression was still rather melancholy. I dug in my pockets for my wallet and extracted a few coins. “Here,” I said, dropping the coins on the table. “Go call your family; there’s a payphone on the wall over there. You and I both know that you need to go home – your head is telling you to stay here and save up enough so you can go back, but your heart is with them. You aren’t happy here.”

“Are you sure?” he asked, furrowing his brow.

I nodded. “Positive. Go on, call them.”

He got up from the table and walked over to the payphone; I watched as he dropped the coins into the phone, lifted the handset, and then paused, as if trying to remember the number. He mouthed something to himself, frowning, and started dialling.

Less than five minutes later, I had finished my lunch and was quickly making short work of Taylor’s. He came back over to the table right as the time on my watch ticked over to 1:30, tears in his eyes and a wide smile on his face. And I knew immediately that those weren’t tears of sadness.

“What’d they say?” I asked as he sat down again and slapped my hand away from his lunch.

“They…my mom said that they’ve come into a bit of money, and that they can pay for my plane ticket home. All I have to do is pack my things, hand in my notice at work and tell my landlord that I’m out of that dump.” He looked up at me, sheer wonder in his eyes. “Angel…I’m going home.”

~ fin ~