It was my birthday, and my daughter flew from New Hampshire to Northern California, where I make my home now, to celebrate with me. There was nothing I would have preferred more for my gift than getting to spend the day with Audrey. But it’s complicated, too. Where I can be a tightly wound person — always rushing, making to-do lists, worrying about the future — Audrey lives on the faith that things will work out one way or another. I love this about her, but I can get impatient with Audrey’s mellow, easygoing style.
That’s what happened the day she arrived. A friend was hosting a party for me. Audrey was roasting beets, listening to music, doing her yoga stretches. I stood at the door, tapping my foot. I said she should have been more mindful of time. She said I should have been more chill. When it was over, we did what we always do. Cried. Hugged each other. Went home and shared pie.
For our last day together, we made the plan to hike on one of our favorite parts of the coast: the Point Reyes National Seashore. We started early: took in the tule elk, the lighthouse, the stretch of beach along Drakes Bay where the sea lions bask in the sun. Dusk was approaching when we reached our final stop: a remote stretch of sand known as Limantour Beach.
The sun was low on the horizon. “Let’s run down the path and just stick our toes in the water,” I said. “Then we’ll go get some sushi.” We held hands all the way down the path. We rolled up our pants legs enough for our feet to get wet. Then we turned back in the direction of the car. It was on the path that Audrey asked me: “You have the car keys, right, Mom?”
I didn’t. Maybe I’d left them in the ignition by mistake. No.
I will take a moment to mention, here, the unique thing about my key ring. My key ring is a plastic man — a little nerdy looking — holding a bouquet of flowers behind his back. It had been a joke in our family — because I was a single mother, always hoping to find a good man — that I called this key ring “Mr. Right.”
Now darkness was closing in fast. No other car left in the parking lot. No cellphone service.
“They must have fallen out of your pocket,” Audrey said. I followed her back to the beach, in the last dying light of day. The keys weren’t there.
I was already mourning the sushi we wouldn’t eat. And picturing how my daughter and I would spend our last night together: in the partly reclined front seats of my Honda Civic. This was when I spotted Audrey, standing as frozen as a sphinx, with her palms together and eyes closed. “What are you doing?” I said. She was doing Reiki to find the keys.
I could have been impatient. How ridiculous was that? Then Audrey started walking down the sand. So far it was hard to make out her figure in the near-total darkness. Way past the point where either of our footprints had ended. That’s when I heard her calling to me, barely audible, over the roar of the waves. “I’ve found him, Mom,” she called. “Mr. Right.”
Not on the sand, mind you. He was bobbing in the water. She raced in and retrieved him, then — wet up to her knees — ran back to put her arms around me.
On the way to the restaurant, I was too stunned to say much, though my daughter seemed not all that surprised. The water must have picked up my keys and sent Mr. Right bobbing down the beach. But what sent my daughter to precisely the right spot to find him?
“Oh, Mom,” she said, “sometimes you think too much.”
Joyce Maynard’s latest novel is After Her. The film adaptation of her novel Labor Day is out on DVD. Send comments to email@example.com.