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- Story Listed as: Fiction For Adults
- Theme: Love stories / Romance
- Subject: Novels
- Published: 02/19/2019
Return To Beach HavenBorn 1947, M, from Oceanside, United States
Return To Beach Haven
I awoke to the sounds of Beach Haven’s surf splashing onto the shore coming through my second story bedroom window. Because it was only 6:30, I knew my landlord, Mrs. Hastings, wouldn’t be up yet, so I decided to take a walk along the beach.
After slipping on a pair of cutoffs and a UConn t-shirt, I went downstairs, through the kitchen, out the back door, and down the short flight of steps onto what little lawn there was between the sand and the house.
During the night, a dense fog had rolled in, but still the air felt warm. The sand between my bare toes seemed a little clammy, but I didn’t mind as I started walking parallel to the water in the direction away from town.
As I walked, a strong sense of serenity settled over me. There was no doubt in my mind that coming here to Beach Haven had been the right decision. Yet, at the same time, I felt a little twinge of regret. If only mom and dad could have lived to see me make it back.
I’d only been planning this trip since I was 15. That’s when Beach Haven first wormed its way into my heart and soul with its roiling surf, powder-like sand, its boardwalk area, and the girls—especially the girls! They were everywhere, and I’m not just talking about the tourists. There were swarms of locals, many of whom seemed to fit perfectly into my ideal image of what a beach girl should look like: flowing hair, bodies sleek as race horses, and tans straight off a Coppertone poster.
It only took me until after my second year at the University of Connecticut before I could make it back here. I would have come sooner, but first, I had to deal with having both my adopted parents die in a car accident right after I graduated high school. What a miserable summer that was! If it hadn’t been for the love and support of my aunt and uncle, I might not have made it to college that fall. But I did.
Then just before the spring semester ended, my uncle, who owned a music store in Westport, hurt his leg really bad playing baseball. Before I could make any plans for the summer, he asked me if I could help him out in the store. Even after his leg healed enough that he didn’t need my help any longer, I let some of my friends talk me into going with them for a week to the Jersey Shore. We had a great time, but still, I would have preferred to come here. That’s why I warned everyone early this year that I was going to take the whole summer off and spend it in Beach Haven.
And what was I planning to do for two months in paradise? Whatever fate decided to throw my way—and boy, did it throw me a big one!
Before long, the houses to my left gave way to a wooded area of trees and shrubs, so I turned around and headed back the way I had come. By the time I reached the area where Mrs. Hastings’ house was, the fog had begun to lift a little, but was still kind of thick, which was why it was hard to see clearly the girl sitting on one of the many huge drainage pipes that occasionally appeared from under the lawns of some of the houses. These were used to let runoff from the streets empty into the ocean.
As I got closer, I could see she was young, probably in her late teens or early twenties. Thin like a model, she was wearing a tight-fitting, long-sleeve, green shirt and white jeans, and had the most gorgeous-looking long blond hair.
At this point, she either heard me coming (which I doubt), or she noticed something out of the corner of her eyes, because she turned to face me. And that’s when my heart nearly stopped!
She had to be the most beautiful-looking girl I’d ever laid my eyes on; luminous blue eyes; a nose that was both straight and perky at the same time; cheekbones that could easily be called chiseled; and lips that seemed to be frozen into a perpetual smile. Even her eyebrows, which were the same color as her hair, seemed perfect somehow. It was like watching the cover of a woman’s fashion magazine come to life.
I felt as if I could spend all day just staring at her face. That’s why I decided I had to meet her, but would she want to meet me? What if she thought I was a total jerk? I didn’t care. I had to try. So with my insides quivering like Jell-O, I stepped forward and asked, “Do you mind if I join you?”
To my great relief, she smiled and replied, “No, go right ahead.” Could you believe it? She was actually letting me sit with her! Talk about a miracle!
“Thanks,” I said then sat down on the pipe next to her.
At this point, I was hoping to come across as someone she’d think was both clever and witty, but the only thing I could think to say was, “I hope you don’t get those dirty.” I was indicating her white jeans.
Thankfully, she replied, “Don’t worry about it. This is an old pair anyway.”
“Good,” I said, but then couldn’t think of anything else to say, which was why I just sat there with my mind feeling like melting slush.
Finally, to my relief, she turned to me and pointed toward my t-shirt. “Is that where you’re going to school?” I nodded. “Where is that?”
“Connecticut,” I told her.
“Is that where you’re from?” Again, I nodded then she asked, “So what are you doing down here?”
“I’m here for the summer,” I told her. A light went on in her eyes. I went on to explain. “It’s something I’ve been planning since I was 15.”
She looked at me a little quizzical-like, so I told her about my first visit to Beach Haven, and how I had fallen in love with the place.
“So why haven’t you come back since then?”
I hesitated. Would she really want to know the truth? I decided to tell her anyway.
The pain stretched across her face like cars along a congested highway.
She lowered her eyes. “I lost a parent, too,” she replied in a quiet voice. Now it was my turn to feel sadness.
“I’m sorry,” I replied.
“No, it’s OK,” she said, looking up again and giving me a slight smile. “I was a baby. I’m used to it being just mom and myself.”
“Speaking of your mother,” I said. “Isn’t she going to wonder where you are? It’s kind of early to be out here, isn’t it?”
She looked at me. “No, she knows I like to come here whenever I want to think.”
“Think about what?”
When she didn’t elaborate, I asked hesitantly, “Boyfriends?” I knew I was treading on dangerous ground.
To my immense relief, she replied, “No, we broke up a long time ago.”
I could have shouted to the heavens; that meant I actually had a chance! But first, I needed to find out a few things.
“So, are you in college, too?” I asked her. I wanted to make sure she wasn’t still in high school. That would have been awkward.
She nodded. “Harding University.”
“And where’s that?”
“Not far from here.”
“I just finished my freshman year.”
“And what courses are you taking?”
When she mentioned liberal arts, I felt my interest shoot up. “So am I!” I told her then went on to explain about how I couldn’t decide between becoming a librarian or going into journalism.”
“You must love to read,” she remarked.
“I do,” I told her.
“I’m taking art history and business courses.” She glanced out towards the water then back at me. “One day, I’d like to run my own gallery.”
“Why, do you paint?” I asked her.
She wrinkled her nose and said, “A little, but not very well.”
“I’d like to see some of your stuff anyway,” I told her.
She looked at me, and almost casual-like replied, “If you’re really that interested, I have some of my stuff hanging in my mother’s store.”
My stomach jumped a little. “Is that an invitation?” I asked her.
“Maybe,” she replied with a slight smile.
Just then, I heard the distant rumble of a jet taking off and smiled to myself.
She must have noticed, because she asked, “What’s so funny?”
I shrugged, “Nothing really.” She frowned slightly, so I figured, I’d better explain. “That was a military jet from the local naval base, wasn’t it?”
She shrugged. “I guess so.”
“The fog must have amplified the sound of its engine, making it seem closer than it really was.”
“If you say so.”
I went on to explain. “The last time I was here, my dad took me to the naval base to watch the jets take off and land. I was so into planes and anything that flew, I felt like I was in Disney Land. I couldn’t stop grinning for a week.”
“You fly?” she asked.
“I’ve taken a couple of lessons, but it was so expensive, I had to quit.”
“Too bad,” she said, sounding almost as if she was genuinely disappointed.
For some reason, I picked that moment to glance at my wristwatch. It was almost 7:30. Part of my brain was telling me I should cut this short before I say something really stupid, while the other part of me wanted desperately to keep it going. So, I asked hesitantly, “By the way . . . what are you doing later?”
When she didn’t answer me right away, I thought for sure I had messed up. But then she replied, “I have to help my mother inventory her store.” That made me feel at least partially relieved, at which point, she added, “And then I have to hang around while she does errands.”
My enthusiasm quotient continued to take a nosedive, until she said, “Wait a minute. I have an idea.”
It started to come back up. “What’s that?”
“Tonight, I’m going to a beach party. Would you like to join me?”
“Sounds fine,” I told her, trying not sound too enthusiastic. “When?”
“Any time after seven.”
I didn’t know if I could wait that long, but I kept my cool and asked, “Where?” I prayed it wasn’t too far.
She jerked a thumb over her shoulder. “Down that way about half a mile or so.” She was pointing the same way I had walked.
“I just came from that direction,” I told her.
“Then you know where I’m talking about?”
“Not really, I didn’t see anything that looked like a spot for having parties.”
“It’s beyond the trees,” she explained. “There’s an inlet where people go to launch their boats and sometimes make out.”
I wanted to inquire if she ever went there to make out. Instead, I asked, “How do we get there—swim?” I was trying to be funny.
Thankfully, she chuckled and replied, “No, silly, by car.”
Disappointment gripped my stomach. I looked down. “That may be a problem,” I told her.
Looking up again, I replied, “I don’t have a car. It’s back in Connecticut.” Which had been part of my plan from the very beginning.
I know it sounds crazy, and both my friends and family thought so, too, but I wanted to kind of rough it while I was here, which was why I left my car behind and advertised around the college for a ride. Eventually, my journalism professor, who was on his way to Florida for the summer, offered to give me a lift.
Once I got to Beach Haven, I knew I’d have no real problem getting around. From my last visit, and from the one phone call I made to the Chamber of Commerce, I knew Beach Haven still had a fleet of trolley-like buses that cruised up and down the main drags, picking up and dropping off passengers practically every fifteen or twenty minutes.
Instead of asking me why I had left my car behind, or how I expected to get around, she simply said, “We can use mine.”
Relieved, I stood up. So did she. For a moment, neither of us said anything. We just kind of stared into each other’s eyes—we were about the same height. Once again, I felt as if I could happily bask all day in the gorgeousness of her model-like beauty.
Suddenly, a thought hit me. “By the way,” I said. “In all this time, I never asked your name.”
She looked me straight in the eyes and replied, “It’s Suzy Landers. That’s Suzy with a zy. And yours?”
“Tim Stark.” Her eyebrows wrinkled briefly. “Yeah, I know—Stark like stark naked. I’ve been dealing with that my whole life, but what can I say? It was my adopted parent’s name.”
Again, she smiled; my heart fluttered. “So Tim Stark, where are you staying while you’re here in Beach Haven?”
I gestured toward Mrs. Hastings’ grey and white trimmed house. “Over there. Your neighbor’s my landlord for the next two months.”
“You must be doing real well in school,” she said.
I looked at her. “Why do you say that?”
“Because, every college student who rents the room for the summer from Eleanor Hastings must have an excellent record, both academically and legally. It’s what she insists upon.”
“I have both,” I told her, “but I would have chosen Beach Haven even if I didn’t.” I hesitated a moment. “So where’s your house?”
She pointed to a house painted red that was down the beach a little ways. “That’s mine.” Happiness filled my entire body. Only four houses away from Mrs. Hastings’! How perfect was that!
“See you this evening,” she said then turned and started walking barefoot toward her house.
Watching her, I thought, God, she even walked like an angel—all sophistication and yet, girlish somehow. I particularly loved the way her legs seemed to bounce almost spring-like as she walked. I kept watching until she finally disappeared inside, then turned and headed for Mrs. Hastings’, my heart thumping like a drum all the way.
When I got inside, I went straight to my room and began writing in my journal. I wanted to capture everything that had happened to me since I left Connecticut—especially everything about meeting Suzy. I still couldn’t believe how easily we had gotten along. I didn’t know what I had done to make her trust me, but whatever it was, boy, was I glad!
After a while, I heard a radio playing down stairs and knew that meant Mrs. Hastings was finally up. So, going down into the kitchen, I asked her if it was OK if I made myself some eggs for breakfast.
“No need,” she replied, smiling. “You just sit and relax. I’ll make us breakfast.” Standing in front of the stove in her bathrobe and slippers, she asked, “So, how do you want your eggs?”
After breakfast, which turned out to be a full-blown omelet with bacon, toast and coffee, I went for a jog along the beach. Afterwards, I took a shower, then continued to write some more in my journal, until I found myself becoming a little drowsy. After taking a short nap, I got dressed, then hopped aboard one of Beach Haven’s trolley-like buses and headed into town.
I got off somewhere near the end of Beach Haven’s famous boardwalk. It ran parallel to the beach, and contained a plethora of souvenir stands, food shops and pinball arcades. But the crowning achievement was the small amusement area filled with rides and games for both adults and kids.
The weather, this day, was perfect: bright sunshine, a few scattered clouds and a deliciously warm breeze. It definitely brought out the tourists in droves to enjoy the beach, or stroll along the boardwalk.
Leaving the boardwalk, I crossed over to the main boulevard to look for a bank in which to deposit some of the money I had brought with me. Besides walking around cash, I was carrying enough to buy or rent a pretty decent used car, if I needed to.
After the bank, I headed back to the boardwalk, and sat in an outdoor restaurant where I had some coffee and a couple of sugar doughnuts while I watched the crowds enjoy the sun, sand and surf. It almost felt like I was fifteen again, hanging out on the boardwalk while mom and dad stayed by the motel pool.
A little while later, I left the restaurant and went looking for a stand that sold both Beach Haven t-shirts and swimming trunks. I bought a couple of each then hopped on a bus back to Mrs. Hastings’ house.
When I got there, I put on one of the trunks I had just bought, and went out back to enjoy the beach again. This time, I brought with me one of the paperbacks I’d been reading and my guitar to practice some songs. One of my plans for the summer, was to find a bar, or coffee shop that allowed entertainment, and see if I could play there a couple of nights a week.
I was surprised to see how many people were around me also enjoying this stretch of beach. I shouldn’t have been that surprised when you think about how many houses there were—but there were also no lifeguards, which begged the question: if someone got into trouble, who would save them? The waves here were a lot bigger and more turbulent than the ones on the beaches of the southern Connecticut shoreline where I grew up. Those were mostly tiny, lapping ones.
Eventually, I went back inside, took another shower, watched TV in my room for a while then began to get ready for my night with Suzy. I was a little bit nervous, even though there really wasn’t any reason for me to be. I guess it was because I wanted so much for this evening to go right. One wrong move could kill the whole thing I had with her.
Of course, I had to explain to Mrs. Hastings what my plans were. That’s when she looked at me from where she was standing by the stove, watching a pot of boiling peeled potatoes (she had planned to make mashed potatoes for supper), and said with a knowing smile, “She has a lot of friends, doesn’t she?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know; I haven’t met them yet.”
“Well, don’t be surprised if they tell you that you look a lot like Dale.”
Lowering the burner on the stove, Mrs. Hastings turned to me and replied, “Suzy will tell you.”
I hate it when grownups do that—hint at something, but don’t tell you all the details; instead, they leave you hanging. At least, I could always find out from Suzy . . . but would she tell me?
At ten to seven, I left the house and headed over to Suzy’s. It only took a few seconds after I rang the doorbell for her to answer it. And when she did . . .
Once again, it was as if she had stepped off the pages of a fashion catalog. Only this time, I wasn’t sure if it was from the woman’s section or the men’s. She had on a tiny pair of tan safari shorts, which to my delight, exposed most of her legs. And what legs they were! Long and lean, they were what we back at school would call runner’s legs.
Her shirt was a man’s white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up almost to her elbows and the tails tucked loosely into the shorts. Around her neck was an expertly knotted man’s dark blue and gold striped necktie, which hung slightly eschew, almost as if she had loosened it during a long night of meetings. But the thing that held my attention the most was the grey man’s fedora she had pulled down rakishly over one eye.
My heart and stomach did flip-flops.
Adding to the overall affect was the absolutely intoxicating scent of her perfume. It made me think of vanilla mixed with the color purple, if that was possible.
“You like?” she asked, spinning around once with her arms outstretched. On her feet, she wore low-sided red Keds sneakers.
“Amazing!” I murmured, barely able to push out the word. “By the way, what is that perfume you’re wearing?”
Smiling, she asked again, “You like?” I nodded. “It’s called Emeraude.”
Swallowing, I replied, “It’s beautiful.”
I almost added, like you, but was stopped when a more mature-sounding female voice behind me said, “Personally, I think she puts too much of it on.”
Suzy frowned “I do not!”
Turning, I found myself facing Suzy’s mother. Like her daughter, nature had given Suzy’s mom a model’s figure and face. Unlike Suzy, her hair was brown, and short, and flipped up on the sides. When she saw me, her blue eyes grew wide, and the glass she’d been holding slipped from her fingers, spilling the bubbling liquid inside all over her beige wall-to-wall rug.
“Damn!’’ she exclaimed, rapidly scooping up the glass, then retreating into the kitchen, while the gold-colored liquid, I assumed was either beer or Champaign, fizzled its way into the rug’s fibers.
She returned a few moments later with a sponge and a fist full of paper towels, and began to rapidly dab and scrub at the damp spot on the rug. While she wiped at the spilled liquid, I saw her glance up at me. I could swear I saw fear in her eyes. Of course, I could have been mistaken.
While trying to figure out if I actually saw what I thought I saw, I heard Suzy say, “I told you he looks a lot like Dale, didn’t I?”
I glanced her way. With the fedora now tilted back on her head like a baseball cap, she was watching me like a coach who was proud of his or her star player. I glanced back at Mrs. Landers. She stood up her eyes focused on me like two spotlights.
“Who’s Dale?” I asked, trying to sound as if I didn’t know the name. When neither of them spoke, I added, “An old boyfriend?”
Suzy’s expression went from happy to almost morose. “He was an old friend from the neighborhood. He died about this time last year.”
I felt horrible. I looked from Suzy to her mother, then back at Suzy. “Is that what you were doing this morning when I showed up—thinking about him?”
Suzy looked down and nodded.
An awkward silence began to fill the space between us. Suddenly, Suzy’s mother said, “You two kids should get going.” I had to agree.
I turned to Suzy. “You ready?” She nodded. Then I turned to her mother and said, “Nice to meet you, Mrs. Landers.”
This time, she smiled and replied, “Nice to meet you, too, Tim.”
Then I followed Suzy out the door.
“I hate it when my mother acts weird,” she said after the door closed behind us.
You mean drunk, I thought, but didn’t say anything. Instead, I kept mostly quiet all the way to the party. I didn’t want to upset her with any more mentions of her dead friend.
Of course, that didn’t mean other people at the party wouldn’t bring him up.
“My God, you look exactly like Dale!” more than one person said to me. One girl even grabbed my face and turned it back and forth, examining it like a piece of fruit. “You could be his twin brother!” she exclaimed.
“Tim, this is Joan Garretty,” Suzy said beside me. “She had a thing for Dale once.” Joan, who looked like she might be a little older than most of the other kids, glanced at Suzy then let me go. “Joan, meet Tim Stark from Connecticut. He’s here for the summer.”
A wide grin spread across her face. “Ooh, I like that!”
I bet you do, I thought.
After some more introductions, Suzy and I took the hotdogs we had roasted over an open fire someone had built in a fire pit, and then, along with a plate each filled with potato salad, macaroni salad, slices of watermelon and our drinks, sat on the blanket Suzy had taken from her car.
While we ate, I looked around. The place where we were was a huge open field of grass, surrounded by trees. It had an opening at the far end with a ramp for launching boats into an adjacent cove. Near us, were several picnic tables and stone grills. It even had a permanent setup for horseshoes and a tetherball pole. There was also a huge set of swings and a sliding board, I guess for when people brought their kids.
Most of the partygoers were boys and girls Suzy said she knew from college, or her high school days. A number of them were couples standing around talking while holding bottles of beer or soda in their hands. Others were sitting on blankets and/or chairs, also eating. The few who weren’t chowing down were either tossing around a football, or a Frisbee, or dancing to music coming from four portable radios all tuned to the same station. There must have been twenty to twenty-five people.
Looking again at Suzy, I thought that, even sitting there with her legs crossed and a plate of food on her lap, she looked absolutely ravishing. That’s when a kind of sad, stupid thought popped into my head. Instead of me being here, I thought, this should have been Dale. For some reason, I found myself feeling a little bit guilty that I was taking his place. Maybe that’s why I foolishly asked her, “Did you and Dale ever have a thing going?”
She stopped eating and looked at me. “I told you before,” she said, sounding neither sad nor angry, “we were just friends. We’d known each other since we were kids. He used to come over our house all the time to eat and hang out. Both his parents worked a lot. Mom treated him like he was my brother. We even fought like brother and sister.”
Talk about feeling foolish. “Sorry,” I said to her. I took a swig of my beer and asked, “So, how did he die?” And then thinking I shouldn’t have asked that either, I added, “Or don’t you want to talk about it?”
She looked down a moment. “No, I’ll talk about it . . . He died in a plane crash.”
She shook her head. “No, private. He and his flying instructor were in a small plane, coming in for a landing when a sudden cross wind caused it to flip.”
“I’m sorry,” I muttered. I really did feel sorry. But then, another thought came to mind. “Can I ask you something else? I promise it won’t be too personal.” She looked at me a second and nodded. “If I look so much like this Dale guy, why didn’t you act surprised when you saw me this morning?”
Suzy got a kind of mischievous grin on her face. “Because I already knew what you looked like.”
“When Mrs. Hastings received the paperwork from your school, they also sent along a picture. The moment she saw it, she called me to take a look.”
“So, you already knew what I looked like and where I went to school?” She nodded. “Then why did you ask me all those questions this morning?”
Still smiling mischievously, she put down her plate of food, picked up her hat, jammed it on the top of my head, and said, “Come on, let’s dance!” The same Beach Boys song was playing on all four radios.
Adjusting the hat, I put down my own plate of half eaten food and stood up, then followed her out onto the grass, where we began to dance. Man, could she move!
“So, how did it go last night?” Mrs. Hastings asked the next morning. We were in her kitchen. She was at the stove cooking up breakfast.
“Wonderful!!” I replied, while visions of the night before played like a movie inside my head. “Do you know she can throw a football like a pro?”
I was remembering what she did when one of the guys missed the football that had been thrown to him, and Suzy picked it up.
“Come on, Suzy, throw it.” It was the guy who had thrown it to the one who had missed it. I didn’t know what I was expecting, but not what happened next. Turning it in her fingers, first to get a better grip, she told the passer to go long. I watched him begin to run, thinking he was going too far, too fast for a girl to throw it to him. But then, talk about surprised! What I saw next was a perfect bullet pass, right into his arms!
I whistled. “Where in the heck did you learn to throw like that?”
Suzy turned to me and smiled. “I told you Dale hung around our house a lot.”
My stomach dropped a little. Dale again. Then we danced some more.
Later, after we finished our food, Suzy and I gathered with a bunch of others around one of the guys who had taken out his guitar. Together, we watched him sing and play. His first song was Peter, Paul and Mary’s Blown’ In The Wind. His second was a more obscure song I never heard of.
“If I’d known this was going to turn in to Hootenanny,” I said to Suzy after the second song, “I would have brought my own guitar.”
Her eyes lit up. “You play guitar?” I nodded. “Well, why don’t you ask Rick here if you can borrow his?” Then she turned to the guy, and said, “Can he?”
I looked at Rick. He hesitated a moment then un-strapping his guitar, he handed it to me. “So what were you thinking of playing?”
I thought a moment. “You know any Simon and Garfunkel?” He nodded then the two of us entered into a rendition of The Sounds Of Silence.
While we sang and played, I could see Suzy watching me almost like a mother watching her baby. She looked really proud.
After we finished, she said, “You are really, really good!”
“Not that good,” I told her. “I’d say more like adequate.” I was trying to be honest, but she kept pushing me about how good I was, so, I asked her, “You want to take a walk?”
She nodded. I gave Rick back his guitar. Then with the scent of her perfume wrapped around the both of us like a sweet, lavender blanket, we began to walk hand in hand toward the far end of the field where the boat ramp was.
After we had walked a bit, Suzy stopped, and turning to me asked, “So, when did you start playing guitar?”
I hesitated. Should I tell her the truth? After all, it happened so long ago. But then, one look into her luminous blue eyes and . . . I don’t know, I felt as if I had to.
“Well, if you have to know the truth, it began right here in Beach Haven.”
I could see she was surprised. “When?”
“Back during my first visit. One night, my mom and dad asked me if I wanted to go with them to a movie. It was a French film with subtitles. I told them no. Instead, I said I was going to go hang out on the boardwalk for a while. That’s where I met a local girl who was playing guitar and singing folk songs.
“I don’t know how to explain it, but before that night, the only instrument I was even vaguely interested in learning was the drums. But after she showed me some cords on her guitar, it was like the whole plan for my life took a weird sideways turn. Suddenly, I found myself wanting desperately to learn how to play guitar. Don’t ask me why.”
“Was she cute?” asked Suzy after a moment.
“This girl who changed your life?”
I looked at her. I could see the beginning of a smile, but, at the same time, I knew she was challenging me, so I said, “Nowhere near as cute as the person standing before me, now.” Then, I wrapped my arms around her trim waist, pulled her to me, and we kissed.
Electricity shot through every part of my body. No, I mean it; I’m not kidding! I felt tingles where I had never felt them before, and that wasn’t normal! I’ve kissed plenty of girls, but never felt anything like this. It was almost mystical, what was happening to me.
After we separated, I stared into her blue eyes. She felt doll-like in my arms. I guess it was because of how fit she was. She’d already mentioned that she used to run cross-country in high school, and still liked to jog along the track at the local college whenever she could, but that’s not what I was thinking about at that moment. I was thinking about her as a whole—the Bogart hat on top of her head; the perfect model’s face staring back at me; the scent of her perfume mixing with the heat of our bodies.
At that moment, I felt as if I was holding an angel in my arms.
We kissed some more, harder this time. And that’s when I knew for sure—Suzy was mine, not Dale’s, mine!
After breakfast, I went upstairs and wrote in my journal about everything that happened the night before. There were some sweet memories in those pages.
Once I finished, I headed out back to the beach to meet Suzy. We had planned to jog along the sand. While we ran, I could barely keep my thoughts straight. She looked so sexy in her gym shorts and T-shirt, and her hair, which was tied back in a ponytail. Afterwards, we made plans to meet up for lunch, so, at 11:30, after a shower and some rest, I headed over to her house.
Lunch turned out to be at the same outdoor restaurant where I had relaxed the day before. Right after we got there, Rick, from the party the night before, showed up with his girlfriend, Becky.
“I hope you don’t mind me asking them to have lunch with us?” Suzy asked me before they arrived. She actually sounded concerned.
“No problem,” I assured her.
After they arrived, Becky, who hadn’t been at the party because of work, took one look at me and almost turned white. “Oh, my God!! You do look like Dale!” Her eyes were practically popping out of her head.
“Now that we all agree that he and I look alike.”—I turned to Suzy—“You don’t happen to have a picture of him, do you?” I thought about asking her the night before, but decided it might be spoiling the moment.
Without even hesitating, she reached into her purse and pulled out her wallet. Then removing a picture from one of the clear plastic pockets, she handed it to me.
“Holly crap!!” I said, before I could stop myself. I cupped my hand over my mouth. “Sorry,” I said to the others.
“That’s OK,” replied Rick.
I stared down at the picture (a headshot) while the others remained silent. How could this be? Were we twins in another life? Not only did we have the same exact facial features, but both of our heads of reddish brown hair were even combed the same way!
“I feel as if I’m staring into a mirror,” I mumbled without looking up.
“I had a teacher in high school,” I heard Rick say, “who told us that everyone has a doppelganger.”
I looked at him. “What’s that?”
“Someone who looks exactly like you.”
For some reason, that made me glance sideways at Suzy. “If I saw another you, I’d probably faint.”
She pinched my arm. “And why’s that?” Her eyes looked playfully fierce.
I smiled. “Because just looking at you makes me want to swoon. Two of you would probably kill me.”
Rick and his girlfriend cleared their throats, while Suzy smiled like she’d just won a marathon. That’s when the waitress came over and asked us, “So what would you like to drink with your meals?”
“Did you really mean it back there?” Suzy asked me as we walked along the busy sidewalks of the shopping district. We were heading toward her mother’s store.
“Do I really make you want to swoon?”
I wasn’t sure how to answer her. That wasn’t exactly something you say to a person every day. We stopped walking and I looked at her.
“Let’s put it this way,” I said after a moment. “I’ve been around some cute girls in my lifetime. Even the girl I dated on and off last year was considered pretty spectacular looking by some of the other guys at school. But no one I’ve met so far could hold a candle to you.”
There, I said it. I was proud of myself; it almost sounded like something someone in a book might say. Suzy must have thought so, too, because her face broke into a huge grin and she leaned forward and kissed me, right there in the middle of the sidewalk, in the middle of the day, with all kinds of tourists and locals passing us by. That was fine by me. Let them gawk if they wanted. I wasn’t embarrassed one tiny bit; I was enjoying myself too much.
Just then, a couple of navy jets flew low overhead. The noise from their engines tickled my stomach. For some reason, this made me want to laugh, which made me snort, which made Suzy laugh, which had us pulling apart.
“Why did you laugh?” she asked me.
“The noise from the jets was making my stomach vibrate.”
Both of us giggled.
I glanced around. “Maybe we should go,” I said. She nodded. Then we started walking again towards her mother’s store.
The store was much bigger than I thought it would be. Like a lot of the other gift shops in town, it sold the usual beach stuff: towels, hats, suntan lotions, sunglasses, beach balls, inner tubes and all kinds of odds-and-ends with the words Beach Haven etched or printed on them. It also sold other stuff, as well: candy, cigarettes, books, magazines and a few food items.
I looked around. “Not bad,” I said nodding. “Not bad at all.” Then something caught my eye—not a painting, but a colored pencil drawing of a rose, hanging high on a wall between a shelf of suntan lotions and a rack of women’s bathing suites.
“Aren’t roses supposed to be red?” I asked, keeping my eyes focused on the drawing. When she didn’t answer right away, I glanced sideways at Suzy. She was also looking at the drawing, her expression neither happy nor sad. Suddenly, it dawned on me why she might have drawn a rose that was black instead of red. “You drew that after he died, didn’t you?”
She turned and looked at me. This time, I could see a definite sadness in her sky blue eyes. She nodded, but didn’t say anything.
Time to change the subject, I thought. “So, where’s your mother?”
“Right here,” I heard a woman’s voice say behind us.
I turned around and saw Mrs. Landers glance up at the drawing, then back down at us. Even though she was smiling, I could sense something not right about her smile. What could I have done to her this time?
Glancing around the shop, I said to her, “I have to say, I’m really impressed with your store.”
“Thank you,” she replied, still smiling that same kind of forced smile.
“Yeah,” said Suzy. “I wanted to show Tim the store, plus he wanted to see some of my artwork, even though I warned him I wasn’t that good.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” I replied, looking back up at the rose. “That flower looks pretty real to me.” And it was. Somehow, she had managed to capture not only all the nuances of the stem and leaves, but also the bulb as well.
“Well, I’ll let you two continue with what you were doing,” Mrs. Landers said, then turned and started to head back toward the counter where her cash register was. Halfway there, I saw her glance at us over her shoulder. Once again, I thought she seemed . . . I don’t know . . . bothered somehow. Mentally, I shrugged, then turned to Suzy and asked, “So, where’s the rest of your art?”
“Come on, I’ll show you.”
The rest of the tour didn’t take very long. There were only five pictures in all: another colored pencil drawing of a horse, and three paintings of flowers, all done in a Picasso-like style with swirls of paint. I’ll have to admit, I really did like the pencil drawings much better than her paintings. Of course, I didn’t tell her that. I only nodded uncommitted-like when she asked how I liked them? “Not bad,” I told her.
In order to steer her away from any doubts she might have about my sincerity, I asked, “What, no pictures of Dale?” I had a huge grin plastered across my face so she’d know I wasn’t trying to be serious. Still though, her expression turned solemn for a moment.
“That’s for my room, only,” she replied, her eyes lowering a bit.
I could have made a smart-alecky remark about wanting to see her room, but decided against it. Instead, I kept quiet and just held her hand lightly as we left the store and headed back to her car.
At her house, we split up. Both of us went inside to change into our bathing suites. We were going to meet Rick and Becky on the beach behind Suzy’s house. Rick and I were going to practice our guitars together. He said I could play with him the following weekend at a place called the Peppermint Lounge—that’s, of course, if I wanted to. I knew about the lounge from the last time I was here. It was both a restaurant and a nightclub, that was situated right on the boardwalk, and which catered to a lot of military from the nearby Army and Navy bases. Rick said, if I joined him, we’d be playing between sets of the band. Sounded fine to me.
I showed up first, then Rick and Becky. She was a short, green-eyed brunette who was wearing a blue one-piece bathing suit. Not knowing what either of us was going to wear, both Rick and I showed up wearing the same thing—our gym shorts. His was from the same college Suzy attended, while mine was from UConn.
We were already into our second song when something made me stop and turn. That’s when I spotted Suzy emerging from her house, wearing an olive green T-shirt and the same type of tan shorts she had worn the night before. She had her hair pulled back into a ponytail again, and was carrying a large beach blanket.
“I thought you were going to put on a bathing suite?” I said, as she spread her blanket down next to Becky’s.
“I have it on,” she replied, then began to pull her T-shirt up over her head. I lay my guitar across my lap and watched as next, she wiggled out of the shorts.
She had on a small yellow bikini with read and white polka dots. But it wasn’t the bikini so much as her figured that had my eyeballs skittering up and down her body like two horny salamanders. Lean and with incredibly well defined muscle tone everywhere, the sight of her was making it really hard for me to keep my thoughts from wandering into areas where I didn’t want them to go. I think even Rick was having problems not staring.
Without sitting down, Suzy asked Becky, “You want to go for a walk and let the boys play with their guitars for a while?” After Becky agreed, she and Suzy started walking side by side down the beach.
After watching them for a minute or so, I turned back to Rick and asked, “So what song did you want to play next?”
He looked at me with a huge grin on his face and replied, “How about, ‘Itsy Bitsy, Teeny Weeny, Yellow Polka Dot Bikini?’”
“Works for me.”
Of course, that wasn’t the song we ended up playing.
By the time the girls got back, I was ready to hit the waves, which is where I almost got into trouble. Suzy and I were standing in water up to our knees, trying to brace ourselves against the push-pull of the waves, when I saw in her eyes that she wanted me to kiss her, and I really wanted to. The only problem was, as soon as our bodies came together, I felt tingles again in places I shouldn’t be feeling them.
“Whoa!” I said, stepping back quickly.
“What’s the matter?” she asked, staring at me confused.
I squatted in the waves, trying to keep my waist below the water line. “Ah . . . how would you like to go out for supper tonight?” I said, trying not to let on what had happened to me.
For a moment, she continued to look confused, until finally, it dawned on her what I was trying to do. Her eyes got all squinty-like, and a wicked smile spread across her sun-drenched face. “You sure you don’t want to stand up?” she asked.
I shook my head. “Not right now.”
Eventually, I did, and we went back to our blankets, where, just before Rick and Becky left, we made plans for our date . . . a date which would carry with it one heck of a surprise, at least for me, anyway.
We had decided I should come over around seven. By a quarter to seven, I was ready to head over to Suzy’s house, but I waited a respectable ten minutes past seven, so I wouldn’t seem too anxious.
When she answered the door, I was delighted to see she was wearing her fedora again, as well as, another white shirt, but with blue shorts this time, and no tie. As usual, she smelled absolutely fabulous. Besides her purse, she also had a sweater draped over her arm, though as warm as it was, I didn’t think she’d need it.
“You know,” I said, as she closed the door behind us, “I’m not sure exactly why, but you seem really sexy when you have that hat on.”
She smiled. “Why do you think I wear it?” Then, she used her keys to lock the door.
“Why are you locking the door? Isn’t your mother home?”
“No, she’s on her own date tonight.”
“Your mom’s got a boyfriend?” I asked. For some reason, this seemed to surprise me.
Suzy grimaced. “Not really a boyfriend, boyfriend. Just someone she knows who takes her out once in a while.” She didn’t sound too happy about it.
“What’s the matter? Don’t you like him?”
Suzy shook her head. “Not really. He made a pass at me once.”
“When was that?” I asked, my fingers curling into a fist.
“Believe it or not, it was last summer, right in the middle of Dale’s funeral.”
“Well, he’d better not try it again,” I said, and meant it.
Suzy replied, “Don’t worry about that. I told him if he ever tried anything again, I’d cut off his you-know-whats.”
“Whoa!” I said, as we reached her car, which was a red and white 57 Chevy convertible, parked on the edge of their front lawn. The white top was up, but all the windows were down.
“Remind me never to get you really mad at me,” I told her.
Suzy looked at me with a nasty smile again and said, “If you ever did anything to get me really mad, I’d probably just run you over with my car.”
Swallowing hard, I opened the door to the passenger side and slid slowly into the seat. After tossing her stuff in the back, Suzy settled with ease into the driver’s side.
Like with the other times she drove, Suzy’s ability with a stick shift was impressive—no hesitation or grinding of gears whatsoever. In town, we parked in a lot behind a Five And Dime store. It turned out to be one of the better places to park; no meters. From there, we walked over to the boardwalk. We were planning to eat at the Peppermint Lounge.
One thing I noticed right away was how much more crowed the streets and sidewalks were than during the day. Then it was mostly the beach that was crowded. This evening, both locals and tourists were out in droves, and everyone, especially the girls and the military guys, seemed to be roaming in packs of three or more, instead of by themselves.
We had just reached the boardwalk when Suzy stopped, and turning to me said, “You know what I feel like doing before we eat?”
“I want to go over to the arcade and try out a couple of the rides . . . unless you think that’s too babyish?”
“Not at all,” I told her and grabbed her hand. With Suzy in tow, we continued past the Peppermint Lounge until we reached the arcade area.
“You know, I haven’t been to the arcade in a really long time,” she said, as we walked through its tall, arched entranceway, “but with you here, it feels right somehow.”
“Feels right to me, too,” I told her, and it did. In fact, it felt so right, I could almost believe I was fifteen again, especially after we got on the merry-go-round.
Suzy had the horse ahead of mine; a little girl had the one next to hers. After we started to go, Suzy looked over her shoulder, and pointing her fingers at me like a gun, made “kapow, kapow” noises with her mouth. Shaping my own hand into a gun, I shot back.
“I just robbed the stagecoach and I’m running away with the gold,” she announced, while she shot at me.
“And I’m the sheriff chasing after the Short Pants Bandit,” I proclaimed, as I shot back. The little girl next to Suzy giggled at our make believe game.
After the merry-go-round, we went on the roller coaster. It wasn’t much of a coaster compared to others, but it was fun anyway. Next, we tried out a couple of the games. This is where I found out how good of a throwing arm Suzy really had, especially when I saw how easily she knocked down all three metal milk bottles with a single beanbag.
The old guy running the Knock-‘em-Down booth whistled. “Nice arm you got there, young lady!” he exclaimed, his caterpillar-like eyebrows shooting up towards his balding head. “You want to try out for our baseball team? We could sure use a throwing arm like yours.”
Suzy shook her head. “Not really,” she replied, “but I will take that teddy bear.” She was pointing toward a medium size brown bear with yellow shorts hanging just above the guy’s head. When he pulled it down, I saw the shorts had a picture of the boardwalk area, with Beach Haven printed on both the front and back. After the Knock-‘em-Down game, we tried the ring toss. Unfortunately, neither of us was very good at that one.
“Time to go eat,” I said to Suzy.
As we started to walk away, she took off her hat and tried it on the bear. It covered the entire thing’s head. After she put it back on, I asked her, “So what are you going to name it?”
She looked thoughtful for a moment. “Oh . . . how about Terry? That way, whether it’s a boy or girl, it won’t matter.” I nodded my OK, but wondered how could you tell if a teddy bear was a boy or a girl?
As soon as we got to the Peppermint Lounge, I got hit with several surprises, the first of which turned out to be Joan Garretty. Not only was she our host, but I learned her family owned the place. The second was that Rick’s Becky turned out to be our waitress. I shouldn’t have been surprised; I knew she worked there, but for some reason, having her as our waitress surprised me anyway. The third was to come a little later, and boy, did it turn out to be one heck of a surprise!
We both ordered steak, baked potatoes, vegetables, and sodas to drink. By the time we finished eating, the band was ready to start playing. They called themselves The Cadets, though none of them looked like they were in the military; they all had longish, combed-down hairstyles, sort of like The Beatles. They played songs you hear every day on the radio: songs from groups like The Beatles, the Stones, The Birds, Diana Ross And The Supremes, and others.
Suzy and I got up to dance more than once, leaving Terry, the bear, and her hat behind at our table. Then just as the band announced that it was taking its first break, I told Suzy that I was going to use the little boy’s room. She said she’d wait for me at the table.
While passing through the area of the lounge where they had several pool tables (military guys loved to play pool), I saw the poster and stopped dead in my tracks.
“No way!” I said to myself. “You have got to be kidding me!” I stared at the poster while thinking this has to be like something straight out of a Twilight Zone episode.
When I got back to our table, I said to Suzy, “You’ll never guess who’s going to play next.”
Before she could answer, singer songwriter Lexi Parker appeared, and going up on stage carrying a guitar, sat on a chair someone had placed in front of one of the band’s microphones.
Suzy asked, “Who’s that?”
I turned to her and explained, “Would you believe that’s the girl who got me interested in playing the guitar?”
“You mean, the one you met when you were here with your parents?” I nodded.
Suzy turned to look at Lexi again. “She’s cute,” she said, as Lexi began her first song. I had to agree. Her reddish brown hair, which had been kinky the last time I saw it, hung straight down her narrow face, sort of like Suzy’s. She also didn’t have braces on her teeth anymore.
I turned to Suzy. She was still staring at Lexi. She didn’t look happy. Something told me that maybe it was time we left.
“You want to go somewhere and have a cup of coffee?” I asked her. She turned back to me, and after a moment, nodded. I got up and held out my hand. “Come on,” I said, “let’s go.”
Suzy stood up, then reaching down to grab Terry from where he/she had been sitting on the floor next to our table, tucked the bear under her arm and followed me past the stage and towards the exit.
As we passed Lexi, I thought I saw a flash of recognition in her eyes, but before I could be sure, we were passed her and out the front door, and into the warm night air.
The next morning, I was sitting at the kitchen table having cornflakes and orange juice with Mrs. Hastings when the phone rang. She got up to answer it. After listening a moment, she held the phone out to me. “It’s for you. Suzy Landers.”
Surprised for a moment, I got up to take the phone from her. “What’s up?” I asked.
She sounded slightly panicked. “Tim, can you come over here right away?”
I didn’t even have to think about it. “Yeah, sure, why, what’s the matter?”
“What about her?” I asked, my anxiety quotient jumping a bit.
“She’s drunk. I mean, really bombed.”
“Why, what happened?”
“I’ll tell you when you get here. Can you come over right now?”
“I’ll be there in a minute,” I told her then hung up. I turned to Mrs. Hastings. “Suzy needs me right away. She says her mother’s drunk. She sounded really worried.”
Mrs. Hastings, who was dressed in her bathrobe and slippers, nodded like she knew all about it, then giving me a motherly smile said, “You go right ahead, dear, and don’t worry about cleaning up. I’ll take care of everything.”
“Thanks,” I told her, and then, without even going back upstairs to get my wallet or put on my shoes, I made a beeline for Suzy’s house.
When Suzy answered the door, I asked her, “Where is she?”
“In the bathroom.”
I followed Suzy, who was wearing her white jeans and a green T-shirt, over to the downstairs bathroom door, which was closed. “I’m kind of scared, Tim. I can hear her in there throwing up, but she’s locked the door and won’t let me in.”
“Mrs. Landers,” I called through the closed door, “are you all right in there?”
Immediately, I realized, how stupid that was. I turned to Suzy. “Sorry, I know that was a stupid question.” Then I leaned towards the door again. “Mrs. Landers, do you need any help?”
“Go away!” I heard her slurred voice come through the door, followed by what I was sure was a long bl-a-a-a-h and splashy sound. I just hope she didn’t miss the bowl.
I turned to Suzy, “So what happened?”
“It’s Harmon’s fault. That’s the guy she went out with last night. When mom called his house this morning to find out if they were going to get together today, his maid answered and said he was out with his wife, and she didn’t know when they’d be back. That’s when mom started chucking shots of vodka and orange juice like they were glasses of water.”
Mentally, I grimaced—screwdrivers. You don’t feel them until they hit you, and then it’s head in the toilet time.
I asked Suzy, “How many did she have?”
She looked worried. “I don’t know for sure, but when I came downstairs this morning, the bottle of vodka was three quarters empty, and I know it was full yesterday.
I looked at the closed door again. I was feeling a little bit helpless. I’d dealt with drunks before back in the dorm, and it scared me, because they’re almost always impossible to control, especially when they’re really pickled—and Suzy’s mom was obviously pickled!
I knocked lightly on the door again. “Mrs. Landers, won’t you unlock the door so Suzy and I can help you?”
Instead of a response, I was greeted with silence. Then, just as I was about to knock again, I heard the lock click.
Grabbing the doorknob, I turned it then pushed the door open slowly. Sure enough, Suzy’s mom, who was wearing a white blouse and pink peddle-pushers, was sitting on the floor next to the toilet with her legs splayed out in front of her. Eyes half closed, her head bobbing up and down as if it was trying not to fall off, she looked pretty out of it.
But it wasn’t her appearance, or the brown, yellowish gunk that was all over the rim and front of the bowl that was making me scrunch up my nose—it was the smell. “I think she had an accident,” I told Suzy.
“Yeah, I can see that.”
“No, I mean another type of accident.”
Suzy took a whiff of the air and scrunched up her nose, too. “Yeah, I see what you mean.”
With my help, we were able to get her mom to stand up. Then while I held her so she wouldn’t collapse back onto the floor, Suzy turned on the shower. While we waited for the water to get warm, Suzy’s mom turned to me, and with shaky fingers, stroked my cheek and mumbled, “Forgive me; I’m so sorry. I didn’t want to, but I had no choice.”
“I know you didn’t,” I said then raised my eyebrows at Suzy. She raised hers back. Neither of us had a clue what her mother was talking about.
I asked Suzy, “You want me to stay and help you some more?”
She shook her head. “No, that’s OK. I’ll take it from here, but thanks for coming.”
“No problem,” I said then handing Mrs. Landers’ half limp body over to Suzy, I walked out of the bathroom, and then out of the house.
I felt so helpless as I headed back to Mrs. Hastings’. I really had wanted to do more, but what could I do?
When I got inside, I told her what had happened.
“You did what you could; now it’s up to Suzy to do the rest. Besides, she’s had experience.”
I looked at Mrs. Hastings. She had changed out of her bathrobe and into a flowered housedress. I asked her, “What do you mean?”
She leaned against the kitchen counter and replied, “This is not the first time Suzy’s mom has had trouble with alcohol.”
I was astonished. I knew she drank, but . . . “You mean she’s a drunkard?”
Mrs. Hastings shook her head. “No, but it doesn’t take much to upset her. And after what you just told me, I can see why she might have done what she did.”
About then, a thought that had been buzzing around inside my head, landed on the surface. I asked, “How long have you known Suzy and her mother?”
Mrs. Hastings smiled. “I used to baby sit Suzy when she was a little girl.”
For some reason, this hit me like a feathered pillow to the head. Mrs. Hastings babysitting Suzy? “I suppose you also baby sat Dale?”
She shook her head. “No, but he and his parents did live about two houses away.”
I nodded to myself. No wonder he spent so much time with Suzy and her mom.
“They still live there?”
She shook her head. “No, they moved across town about two years ago.”
I thought about that a moment then let Mrs. Hastings know I was going up to my room. Once there, I continued to write in my journal, finishing up what I had started earlier.
Suzy had been quiet all the way from the Peppermint Lounge to the outdoor restaurant, where we had gone to have our coffees.
“What’s bothering you?” I asked, even though I knew the answer. When Suzy responded with only a slight shake of her head, and the word nothing, I tried to explain to her, “I didn’t even know she was in town.”
I sighed, taking a sip of my coffee, then continued. “I met her once—well, actually twice—when I was fifteen. I haven’t heard from, or talked to her since. Tonight was a complete surprise to me.” Suzy looked at me, her expression under the fedora blank. I added, “I don’t even think she recognized me.” Of course, that was a lie. Like I said, I could have sworn I saw a momentary flash of recognition in her green eyes.
That’s when Suzy asked if we could leave. “I’m getting a little tired. Besides, mom wants me to help her out in the store tomorrow.”
My heart sank. I glanced at my wristwatch. “OK,” I said. Then the both of us got up and left our unfinished coffees on the white wooden table. We headed for her car.
After I finished writing in my journal, I told Mrs. Hastings I was going for a jog along the beach. I started out running, but after a short distance, slowed to a walk. I continued to walk until I reached the edge of town. It wasn’t really that far—only about a mile and a half.
I continued along the sand until I reached the part of the boardwalk where the outdoor restaurant was. Then climbing the steps to the boardwalk, I went over to the window and ordered a cup of coffee. I took my coffee to one of the tables and sat there, sipping it while watching parents and their kids play in the sand, or frolic in the waves. Other families and individuals were passing in front of me on the boardwalk, either on rented bicycles or on foot.
After about ten minutes, I spotted Joan Garretty walking along the boardwalk in the direction of the Peppermint Lounge. I got up and followed her.
“Fancy meeting you here,” I said, as I caught up to her.
Surprised for a second, she said, “Oh, Tim, it’s you.” I fell into step beside her.
“Hey, Joan, what can you tell me about Lexi Parker?”
She looked at me with a smile. “Funny you should ask. I talked to her last night after her set. She asked about you.”
“Me!” I exclaimed, astonished. “Then she did recognize me,” I said more to myself.
“Not exactly. She thought you were Dale.”
I stared at Joan. “Doesn’t she know he’s dead?”
She shook her head. “No, and I didn’t have the heart to tell her either, but I did learn one thing during our conversation—she and Dale were once an item.”
I stumbled and almost fell. “You’ve got to be kidding me! Lexi and Dale went out together!”
“For a short time anyway.”
“Was that before or after you two got together?” I remembered what Suzy had said at the party.
“Does Suzy know?”
Joan shrugged. “You’d have to ask her.”
I looked down a moment. “I’m not sure that would be a good idea. I think she’s a little upset with me right now.”
The way Joan looked at me at that moment made me think of a hungry lioness eyeing her next meal. “Well, if she ever decides to give up the ghost, so to speak, I’m not going anywhere any time soon.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
We reached the Lounge’s entrance; Joan went inside. I stayed by the boardwalk’s railing for the next few minutes, going over in my mind what we had just discussed. I shook my head. It was so bizarre, the way we were all connected, starting with Lexi Parker, then me and Dale, and Suzy, and Joan Garretty, and even Mrs. Hastings. Could this be some kind of cosmic joke the universe had decided to play on me?
After a while, I headed back toward the outdoor restaurant, and then passing through one of the exits, crossed over to the town’s main boulevard and hopped on a bus back to Mrs. Hastings’ . . . and Suzy, if she still wanted to get together.
She did, but she also had another idea in mind—and this one I liked way better!
The next time I saw her was after supper. I was sitting on the same drainage pipe where we first met, looking out at the ocean, when I heard someone behind me sifting through the sand. Startled for a second, I glanced over my shoulder. Immediately, my heart began to race.
“How is your mother doing?” I asked, as she came around front and sat down on the pipe next to me. She had on a blue windbreaker and a pair of ill-fitting red shorts that looked as if they were left over from her high school days.
Suzy smiled and nodded. “She’s doing fine.” I felt better. “After the shower, I got her to lay down on the couch. She slept all afternoon.”
“I’m glad.” Then I motioned toward the jacket she was wearing. “By the way, why the windbreaker? It’s not as if it’s breezy out here?” In fact, there was almost no breeze at all.
Suzy stood up and held out her hand. “Come on, let’s take a walk.”
I stood up. With her hand in mine, we began a slow stroll down the beach, away from town and toward where the houses ended.
“I got a call from Joan Garretty today,” Suzy said, after we had been walking for a little bit. For some reason, this made me feel slightly uncomfortable.
“What did she say?”
“She explained to me about Lexi Parker thinking you were Dale.”
I glanced at Suzy. “And . . . ?”
She looked down a moment. “And I shouldn’t have been so worried.” You mean jealous, I thought.
We continued to walk. The night was deliciously warm; the sound of the surf as it sizzled onto the sand was like a siren song, calling to me. Maybe later, I thought.
Suddenly, Suzy let go of my hand and started jogging along the beach.
I called after her. “Where are you going?”
She turned around, and running backwards, said to me. “You going to stand there, or are you coming?”
I shrugged and started after her. As we jogged, I kept watching every delicious move of her perfectly shaped rear end and legs.
Then, just as I was about to ask her how much further she was going, she stopped. I stopped, too. I watched as she turned to face the ocean and began to unzip her windbreaker.
What was she doing?
As I watched, she wriggled out of the jacket and let it drop to the sand near her bare feet.
Holy crap! She wasn’t wearing a bra or a shirt! I was staring at her magnificent bare back! Then, as I continued to watch, she grabbed the top of her shorts, and bending over, tugged them down to her ankles and stepped out of them.
My eyes were practically popping out of my head as she straightened up and turned to face me.
If heaven existed, it was no match to seeing Suzy naked.
“Well, you coming in or what?” she said with a devilish grin, as she began to back up slowly towards the water.
I was barely able to speak. “I’m not wearing a bathing suite,” I said to her.
“Neither am I.”
It took me only seconds to remove my sneakers, socks, shorts and T-shirt. Then standing there naked for a moment, I started to walk toward Suzy. I didn’t even bother to look around to see if anyone was watching us; we were way past where the houses were, but still . . .
“How are you feeling?” I asked Suzy’s mom, as we sat in her living room, waiting for Suzy to come back down stairs. She had gone up to her room to change. We were going to a party at a friend’s house.
“Much better, thank you,” her mom replied, and took a sip from the glass in her hand. She saw me look. “Don’t worry, it’s only root beer. Suzy got rid of all the liquor in the house while I was asleep.”
“Good,” I said, and meant it.
Leaning forward from where she was sitting on the couch, Mrs. Landers looked at me so intensely, it was like having two car headlights lock their high beams on me. She asked, “Do you miss your parents, Tim?”
Wow! That one took me by surprise. For a moment, I didn’t know what to say. Finally, I nodded and replied, “Yes, very much.”
Mrs. Landers leaned back and took another sip of her soda. “So they treated you well?”
Again, I nodded. “I couldn’t have asked for better parents.”
“Good,” she said. “I’m glad.”
I was about to ask her why she wanted to know about my parents, when I heard thumps on the steps above us. Suzy was coming back down. I turned to look. She had changed into a clean pair of tan shorts—once again showing off her magnificent legs—a white, men’s dress shirt (I could tell she was wearing a bra this time), and her red sneakers.
Both Suzy’s mom and I stood up. “You ready to go?” Suzy nodded.
“Don’t stay out too late,” her mom said, as we closed the front door behind us.
As soon as we were outside alone, I turned to Suzy and pulling her to me, kissed her deeply and passionately on the lips. She responded just as fervently, although with clothes on, it wasn’t quite the same as when we were standing naked in the water together—then it felt as if I was rapidly sinking into a steaming pool of hot, naked flesh.
That’s because I was.
The party was at Ben Cosgrove’s house. He was the one at the beach party who had thrown the football that Suzy had then fired like a bullet to the kid who caught it. Obviously, his parents were rich. They had a rec room with a huge stereo system and two pool tables, one regulation size, and one slightly smaller.
Suzy and I took turns playing pool with different people, then played against each other. This turned out to be great for me. Finally, something I was actually better at than Suzy!
Afterwards, we stopped at a nearby Dairy Queen and ordered ice cream cones, which we took outside to one of the benches, and sat there enjoying our cones, while watching cars go by.
“So, who looked after the store today while you played nursemaid to your mother?”
Suzy licked the top of her cone. “Oh, I had one of the other girls come in and watch the store for a while. I even went down there for a short time to make sure there were no problems.”
“You did! Too bad we didn’t run into each other.”
Suddenly, Suzy smiled at me. “By the way, what are you doing tomorrow morning for breakfast?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. Whatever Mrs. Hastings decides to make me.”
“How about coming over to our house for breakfast?”
“Does your mother know you’re inviting me?”
Suzy looked out at the traffic and shook her head, “Not yet, but I’ll tell her when we get home.”
“Is this a Fourth of July tradition—having your boyfriend come over for a holiday breakfast?”
I thought about it a second. “OK,” I replied, smiling. “What time?”
“Aren’t you planning to sleep in?”
“I would, but mom needs me in the store tomorrow morning. We’re expecting a delivery.”
“On the Fourth of July?”
“The world doesn’t stop because it’s a holiday.” Unfortunately, she was correct.
“So where does that leave us?” I had been expecting to spend the entire day with her.
“I should be done by noon.” Suzy took another lick of her ice cream. “Meet me on the boardwalk in front of the Peppermint Lounge around twelve. And make sure to wear a bathing suite underneath your pants, just in case we decide to go in the water.”
I smiled, wiggling my eyebrows up and down like Groucho Marx. “Who needs a bathing suite?”
“Pervert,” she said, smiling then swiped her ice cream cone down my nose. It left a cold streak all the way to the tip.
We never did quite make it through breakfast.
I was over Suzy’s house, sitting with her at the kitchen table, while her mother stood by the open refrigerator pulling out items with which to make breakfast. Suddenly, she turned to me and asked, “Dale, dear, what would you like with your eggs—sausage or bacon?”
It was like she had suddenly turned into a wax statue that had been left out in the sun too long. I watched as her face began to melt into an expression of both horror and embarrassment. Then, dropping the package of bacon she had taken from the fridge, she hurried out the open doorway, trailing behind her the sounds of crying.
Suzy and I stood up and looked at each other. “Maybe I should go,” I said to her.
She nodded without saying anything. Then she too headed out the door. It made me both sad and a little bit angry to think, that even though he was dead, Dale still managed to inject himself into everyone’s lives.
After I told Mrs. Hastings what had happened, she suggested I try to forget it. I nodded to make it look as if I agreed, but I couldn’t help wonder again if this wasn’t part of some bizarre plan by the universe to keep me off balance?
At the stove, Mrs. Hastings pulled out one of her frying pans and placed it on the burner. Then turning to me, she asked, “So, what do you want for breakfast?”
Smiling, I replied, “How about a nice, big omelet?”
After breakfast, I took another jog along the beach, only this time, I headed in the same direction Suzy and I had gone the night before. When I got to the spot where we had stopped, I stood like Suzy had, and looked out at the ocean. In my mind, I replayed everything that we had done last night before going to the party. Immediately, a spark of heat ignited inside my chest and stomach, growing and spreading like an overflowing river into every part of my body.
Flesh to flesh, muscle to muscle, we didn’t make love exactly, but came as close as you can without going all the way. Afterwards, we had to hunker down in the water, because a couple walking their dog had come by. While we waited for them to pass, I tried to keep an affectionate hand on Suzy’s back, but it was hard, because the surf kept knocking us around like two sticks; but still, she didn’t seem to mind, especially since our naked hips and legs kept rubbing up against each other.
Once the couple and their dog got to what we decided was a safe distance, Suzy and I scrambled out of the water, grabbed our stuff off the sand, and ran up the beach, giggling like two ten-year-olds, until we found a spot in the bushes where we could hide while getting dressed. I used my shirt like a towel to wipe the both of us down. As soon as I started on Suzy’s front, she snatched the shirt away from me; I was making her too excited, she said. Knowing she was getting excited was making me excited.
Once we were presentable again, we walked arm-in-arm back to Mrs. Hastings’ where Suzy waited while I got changed. Then we walked over to her house so she could get ready for the party at Ben Cosgrove’s.
The minute I showed up in front of the Peppermint Lounge where I was to meet Suzy at noon, so did Lexi Parker.
“What are you doing here?” I asked her. I looked around to make sure Suzy wasn’t anywhere in sight. I was afraid if she saw us together, it would cause problems.
“I’m here to pick up my check,” she said. “They owed me for playing this weekend.” She looked at me with her green eyes. “What are you doing here?”
Looking around again, I replied, “I’m waiting for my girlfriend to show up. She had to work this morning.”
Tilting her head slightly to one side, Lexi Parker looked at me, almost as if she was studying a statue in a museum. “That wouldn’t happen to be Suzy Landers, would it?”
I nodded. “Yeah, how did you know?”
“Joan told me.” I wondered if I should mention Dale at all, but before I could say anything, Lexi continued. “I hear you’re here for the summer.”
I nodded then pointed toward Lexi’s outfit, which included a wide brim straw hat, a brown bikini top and a pair of blue shorts that left most of her midsection exposed. She was almost as toned as Suzy.
“I assume you’re going to hang out at the beach today?” I said to her.
“Yeah,” she replied, hefting the large beach bag she had brought with her. “I am, once I finish my interview, that is.” She must have noticed the look on my face, because she added, “I work for the Beach Haven Gazette. I’m here to interview one of the bands that’s going to play on the beach later today.” I had seen the small stage someone had set up on the sand just below where we were standing.
“You mean you’re a journalist?” I asked, as a small jolt of excitement shot through me.
Lexi shrugged and nodded. “Sort of. I’m a freelancer. But still, they pay me for every story I bring them.”
Just then, I spotted Suzy; she had come to a stop on the boardwalk and was looking in our direction.
“You’ll have to excuse me,” I said to Lexi. “My girlfriend is here.” I hurried toward where Suzy was standing. As soon as I reached her, I put my arm around her shoulder, and turning her around, steered her back the way she had come.
“Who was that you were talking to?” she asked, glancing over her shoulder.
“Oh, just some tourist,” I said, feeling bad that I lied to her, but also amazed that I was able to come up with an explanation so fast.
Suzy looked at me sideways. “Oh, yeah, what did she want?”
Again, I had to think on my feet. “She just wanted to know if I knew of a good place to eat?”
“And did you?”
“I told her the lounge was a great place.”
Suzy smiled. “Joan will like that.”
“Speaking of food,” I said. “I’m kind of hungry. How about you?” I wasn’t really, but I figured this would keep her mind from going places it shouldn’t.
Suzy nodded. “Yeah, me, too. I didn’t get much of a breakfast after what happened.”
“Speaking of what happened. How is your mother doing?”
“She’s doing fine now. She told me to tell you that she is really, really sorry.”
“No need. I understand. I look so much like Dale, it’s easy to get confused.”
While we talked, we continued to navigate through the thick crowds. This being the Fourth of July, there were a lot more people roaming up and down the boardwalk than usual.
After discussing it a bit, we decided on a pancake type of restaurant—one that just happened to be down a side street directly across from where we were on the boardwalk.
The meal was great, and so was the rest of the afternoon. We hung out at the beach, listened to several bands play, watched an air show put on by the Navy, and just enjoyed ourselves both in and out of the water. Luckily, I saw no sign of Lexi Parker the rest of the day. Not so lucky that night.
I arrived at Suzy’s just as she and her mother were coming out of their house. Suzy and I had planned to go to another party after watching the fireworks on the beach. Her mother had closed her shop early, and was heading over to a female friend’s apartment where they were going to have a barbeque, and then watch the fireworks from the friend’s porch.
In town, we had to park far from the beach, and walk the rest of the way. During our stroll, we stopped and had and ice-cream Sunday, which we shared then headed over to the sand where we were barely able to find a spot against the wall near where the bands had played earlier. There must have been a couple of thousand people around us!
Setting our blanket down, we got comfortable, lying on our backs, looking up into the cloud-filled sky, while listening to music coming from a couple of portable radios nearby.
It was fun watching many a kid run past us waving sparklers their parents had lit for them. It reminded me of my own childhood. I looked at Suzy and said to her, “See all those sparklers—that’s what it’s like when I kiss you.”
Even in the semidarkness, her smile shown. “For me,” she replied, “It’s more like fireworks.”
And that’s when the real fireworks began.
It was a spectacular show—way more impressive than anything Westport had ever put on. I guess Beach Haven had a lot more money to spend on fireworks, especially if you figured the military was probably helping to pay for them.
After it was over, Suzy and I hung around on the sand for a little while longer, making out. All around us, a wave of humanity, like a giant ameba, slowly made its way off the sand and up onto the boardwalk.
We might have continued making out long after everyone left if a cop hadn’t come along and told us to move it. “I guess it’s time for us to go to that party,” I said to Suzy, as we began to follow the rest of the crowd off the beach.
The house where the party was to take place was in the same neighborhood as Ben Cosgrove’s. Suzy warned me about the soiree before we got there—how wild and bizarre it might get.
“I didn’t go to last year’s because of Dale, but I heard about it from some of my friends who did. Don’t be surprised if you see a lot of people stoned. My friends said there was a lot of marijuana being passed around.”
“That’s OK,” I said to Suzy. “I’m not really into the whole drug thing anyway. I’d rather have a nice cold beer.”
But Suzy was right. The moment we walked in the front door, I could tell several of the people there were higher than kites. The smell alone could make you woozy.
Music was coming from one of the other rooms. At first, I thought it was a really good stereo system, but when Suzy and I rounded the corner, I saw it was a live band. The room the band was in was huge, with a number of folding chairs set up around the perimeter and a few columns as part of the walls like in a library or a church. I couldn’t help but wonder what the room was usually used for when they weren’t having a party; there must have been at least 25 to 30 people dancing to the band’s music.
Suzy and I were standing side-by-side watching the people dance when I spotted Lexi Parker dancing with some guy in long hair and a beard. Hoping I could steer Suzy away before she spotted them, I said to her, “How about we go find where they’re serving drinks?” Too late, she already saw Lexi.
“What’s she doing here?”
I glanced at Suzy. She was staring at Lexi with an expression that told me she was not a happy camper. I grabbed Suzy by the shoulder and turned her to me. “Forget about her. She means nothing to me.”
But that wasn’t entirely true. For some reason, when I saw Lexi Parker dancing with that guy, I got both excited and a little annoyed. Why was she dancing with him?
A little freaked out by what was going on inside my head, I tugged on Suzy’s arm, “Come on,” I said, “let’s go find the bar.” After some resistance, she followed me out of the room and into another room where indeed a bar had been set up.
Suzy began chugging her second beer even before I finished my first.
“If you keep that up,” I said to her, “you’re going to end up like your mother with your head in a toilet.”
Actually, I was slightly off. Her head ended up hanging over some bushes behind the house. We had been dancing. Suzy had already drunk another beer and had some peanuts when suddenly, I saw her face get all kinds of funny looking. Cupping her hand over her stomach, she made a beeline for one of the doorways. As soon as she got outside, she leaned against the house and heaved.
“I told you to take it easy,” I said, while trying to hold her hair away from her face.
She didn’t say anything; just nodded then heaved again. What came up looked like a combination of what she had for supper, the ice-cream Sunday she and I had shared, and the peanuts she’d been snacking on while drinking her last beer. Looking down at the mess, I thought, I’m glad I’m not the gardener.
Then, just when it looked as if Suzy might be done puking, I heard a voice behind us ask, “You need any help?”
I turned. It was Lexi Parker. Suzy looked up from where she was bent over. She stood up and turned to face Lexi. “No, we don’t need any help from you!” she said with such forcefulness, I thought she might try taking a swing at Lexi.
I looked around to see if anyone else had noticed. No one seemed to be the least bit interested; they were all too busy doing their own things: smoking pot, making out—taking off their clothes (Whoa!) so they could go into the pool!
I turned back to Lexi. “Maybe you should go and let me take care of this.”
“Yes,” said Suzy, burping and rocking gently back and forth like a sailboat in unsteady waters. “Take your butt out of here before I kick it for you.” She pointed an angry finger at Lexi. “He’s mine, not yours.”
“I know,” said Lexi quietly then turned and walked away.
Somehow, I managed to get Suzy, who was still feeling somewhat out of it, into her house with a minimal amount of shushing, and onto the couch. After I got her to lie down, I asked her quietly if there was a blanket anywhere nearby. She pointed a weak finger toward the closet underneath the stairs. Retrieving the blanket, I draped it over her.
Blurry-eyed, she smiled up at me and motioned with her fingers for me to come closer. When I did, she grabbed my shirt and tried to pull me down onto the couch with her. I shook my head and pulled away. “You’re in no condition,” I told her.
Frowning, she moaned and whispered, “Chicken.” Then she turned on her side, and curled up, facing the back of the couch.
She was angry, I knew, so, instead of just leaving right away, I decided to make her happy by keeping her company a little while longer. Perching myself on the edge of one of the cushions, I began to comb my fingers gently through her hair. Both hair and scalp felt extra warm. She moaned again, but this time, I was pretty sure it was from contentment.
After about fifteen minutes, I could tell she was asleep, so standing, I tiptoed over to the front door. Then taking a last look at where Suzy lay underneath the blanket, I opened the door, flipped off the light, and stepped outside. Closing the door gently behind me, I started walking out of their yard and up the deserted roadway toward Mrs. Hastings’.
The next morning, I got up late. Mrs. Hastings let me sleep. She knew Suzy and I had gone to a party after the fireworks. When I finally made it down for breakfast, all I planned to have was coffee and toast. My stomach was also feeling a little bit queasy from the night before.
“How were the fireworks?” Mrs. Hastings asked, as I poured coffee into a cup.
“Great!” I told her, sitting down at the table. “How was your barbeque?” She had gone over to one of her neighbors’.
“We watched the fireworks from New York City on the little TV they brought outside.”
I nodded, taking a sip of my coffee. “Yeah, New York always puts on a great show.”
After breakfast, I went outside and took a look toward Suzy’s house. Her mother’s car was still in their driveway. Damn, I thought! Isn’t she going to work?
Coming back inside, I took a shower then sat down and wrote in my journal. Afterwards, I took another look at Suzy’s house. Her mother’s car was still there.
Going inside again, I grabbed the book I had just started reading, then told Mrs. Hastings I was going to take a walk into town.
“Aren’t you going to ride the bus?” she asked.
“No, that’s OK, I feel like walking.”
I really did want to walk; it would give me plenty of time to think—mostly about Suzy and myself, and our future together.
Once in town, I went straight over to the pancake type restaurant where Suzy and I had eaten the day before. The walk had settled my stomach enough that I was actually hungry again. I had scrambled eggs and French toast, but held off on the coffee until I got to the outdoor restaurant on the boardwalk. There I ordered a large coffee to go, and took it over to one of the tables, where I sat and read for a while.
I had been there about fifteen minutes when I heard a familiar voice ask if I minded having company? I looked up. It was Lexi Parker. She was standing on the other side of the table, holding her own cup of coffee, and a paper plate with a piece of pie on it. For a fraction of a second, I felt a huge surge of panic and looked around. If Suzy saw us together, she might freak! But then, I remembered she was at home, so it was probably safe. I looked up at Lexi standing there, her green eyes staring down at me, and nodded Okay.
“So, what are you reading?” she asked, after she sat down with her coffee and pie.
I angled the book so she could see the cover. “It’s called The Graduate.”
Lexi raised her eyebrows and asked inquisitively, “Oh, yeah, what’s it about?”
“Some college graduate who doesn’t know what he wants to do with the rest of his life.”
“Do you know?” she asked.
“Partially,” I replied. She looked at me curiously. “I haven’t quite decided yet if I want to be a journalist like you, or a librarian.”
“I’d go with librarian,” she suggested.
That surprised me. “Oh, yeah?” I said, “I thought for sure you’d say journalist.”
Lexi smiled, at which point, for some reason, I felt a warmth, like sunshine, spread throughout my stomach.
“Being a librarian is a steady job. Meanwhile, you can always write articles on the side.”
I thought about that while I watched her dig into her piece of pie. It was pecan.
“So what are you doing here?” I asked. “Another interview?”
With a mouth full of pie, she nodded. Then after she swallowed and took a sip of her coffee, she explained, “I’m here to interview the guy who runs the Knock-‘em’-Down booth over at the arcade.” For a fraction of a second, my mind conjured up an image of the guy standing in his booth watching Suzy as she hurled bean bags at his stacks of metal milk bottles. Lexi continued, “His baseball team is playing in a charity event.”
“I know who you’re talking about,” I told her. “The other night, he asked Suzy if she wanted to join his team. He was impressed with her throwing arm.”
“Speaking of your girlfriend,” Lexi said, after taking another sip of her coffee. “Where is she now?”
“Home, sleeping off last night . . .”
. . . Only she wasn’t; she was standing on the boardwalk, staring at us.
“Oh, no!” I exclaimed and jumped to my feet. “Suzy, wait!”
Either she didn’t hear me, or she didn’t care, because as I watched, she turned and started running in the direction of the nearest exit from the boardwalk.
“Sorry,” I said to Lexi. “I have to go.” Then leaving behind my book and coffee, I took off as fast as I could to try and catch up with her.
The only problem was, I couldn’t find her. Where the heck had she disappeared to? One minute, she was on the boardwalk. The next, she was gone! I thought maybe she had ducked into the public restroom near the entranceway. But everyone I asked coming out of the ladies room said there was no one who looked like her inside. I even went so far as to stand in the bathroom’s doorway and call out her name.
From there, I went over to the same parking lot behind the Five And Dime store where Suzy and I had parked before. Her car was there, but no Suzy. Maybe she had gone to her mother’s store, so I started to walk in that direction. When I got there, I found an old-looking woman with grey hair and huge bags under her eyes standing behind the counter. I asked her if Suzy or her mother were around? She said no. So I headed back to the parking lot where Suzy’s car had been parked.
It was gone.
If only I had stayed with the car, I thought, I wouldn’t have missed her. Now, what do I do?
After driving myself crazy, wondering where she could have gone, I decided there was only one thing left to do—head back to Mrs. Hastings’ and wait for Suzy to show up. But first, I returned to the outdoor restaurant to see if by any chance my book might still be there. Miraculously, it was. There was also a note tucked into its pages. It was from Lexi Parker. It read, She forgives you. Yeah, I hope to heck she does, I thought.
The bus ride back to Mrs. Hastings’ felt as if it took forever. Even before I got off, I glanced toward Suzy’s house to see if her car, or her mother’s was in the driveway. Neither was around. Even so, I tried ringing the doorbell. No answer. I knocked a few times and called her name. Still no answer, so I headed over to Mrs. Hastings’.
“Did Suzy call or come by just now?” I asked Mrs. Hastings, after I came inside.
She shook her head. “Not since she came earlier and asked where you were.”
I thought a moment. So that’s how she knew where to find me on the boardwalk.
Mrs. Hastings looked at me curiously. “Did something happen?”
I thought about telling her, but in the end, all I said was Suzy and I had a fight.
“Sorry.” Then she asked, “You want anything to eat or drink?”
“No,” I told her then said I was going out back onto the beach for a while. But instead of just staying by the house, I began to walk again away from town, and toward where Suzy and I had done our naked romp in the waves.
When I got to the exact spot where we had taken off our clothes, I stood, once again, facing out toward the horizon. Only this time, instead of replaying in my mind what Suzy and I had done in the water, I just stood there while melancholy tears began to leak from my eyes. I was sure if she didn’t forgive me, I would lose her forever, and that made both my heart and mind want to twist themselves into pretzel-like lumps of despair.
After several minutes, I wiped the tears from my eyes then headed back toward the house. But instead of going inside, I sat on the same pipe where Suzy and I had met. I continued to tear up, but nowhere near as much as before.
After about five minutes, I heard her say behind me, “We have a problem.”
I jumped up and turned to face her. “Oh, God, Suzy, I’m so sorry!”
“It wasn’t my fault! She just sat down and started talking to me!”
“I didn’t know what to do! Besides, you weren’t there!”
Suddenly, I realized what she was saying. “You . . . you know?”
“Yes, she told me.”
“After you left, I went back to talk with her.” You mean, beat the heck out of her, I thought. “I was going to warn her to stay away from you, but then, she told me I didn’t have to worry; she was going to be leaving town soon anyway.”
For some reason, this made me feel a little bit sad. “She did . . . she is?”
Suzy smiled and nodded. “That’s why I totally forgive you. I’m not mad at you any more.”
You couldn’t have made me any happier if you had given me a million dollars. I ran around the end of the pipe and began planting numerous kisses all over Suzy’s face and lips. Afterwards, I stepped back and asked, “Where did you disappear to after you saw us talking?”
“I hid out in the men’s room.”
That shocked me. “Weren’t you afraid someone might call the cops?”
Suzy looked away. “That would have been the least of our problems.”
“Why, what’s the matter?”
Without looking up, she replied, “Mom doesn’t want me to see you any more.”
WHAT! WHAT! I felt as if I had been hit by a ten-ton truck. “Why!? What happened!?”
Suzy finally looked at me. “She overheard me talking in my sleep. She knows what we did in the water.”
Oh, God, I thought, she must think we went all the way! “Did you try and explain it to her?” Suzy nodded. “And what did she say?”
Suzy looked down again. “She told me I should tell you to go back to Connecticut.”
“In that case,” I announced, looking directly at Suzy, “your mother is going to be very disappointed.”
She looked up, her eyebrows knitted together. “And why is that?”
“Because, I’ve decided I’m not leaving Beach Haven.”
Suzy’s expression went from confused to concerned. “But what about your schooling?”
“I can go to college here.” I looked into her amazing, soul-stirring, blue eyes, and said with the utmost conviction, “I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”
For the longest time, neither of us spoke. Then suddenly, Suzy came forward and planted the most passionate, tingle-inducing kiss on me she could.
Afterwards, I looked into her eyes and said, “I think it’s time we go inside and tell your mother my plan—I mean, our plan, and see what she has to say about it.”
Suzy’s face got a concerned look on it again. “You sure you want to do that?”
Suzy’s mom must have been waiting for us; she had two folding chairs set up in the living room facing the couch. The TV was on, but with the sound turned down real low. In her hand was a half empty glass of a bubbling yellow liquid topped off by a thick layer of foam.
“Mom, is that beer?” Suzy asked, while standing next to me. Her mother nodded.
Before Suzy could say anything else, I interjected, “Mrs. Landers, believe it or not, Suzy and I didn’t do anything wrong. We just went in the water without our clothes on, that’s all. It’s not like we made love.”
“Thank God you didn’t,” she said.
“Why? Are you afraid we’d ruin our lives?”
“That’s not the problem.”
“Then what is?”
She looked at me. I could see whatever was on her mind was causing her a lot of pain, but she said it anyway—
Which was why both Suzy and I sat down at the same time.
“You said what?” I asked, not sure I had heard her correctly.
She repeated it. “Suzy is your sister.”
I turned to Suzy. She looked almost as stunned as I was. Then I turned back to her mother. “Are you telling me you’re my real mother?” She nodded. “And that you gave me up for adoption like some unwanted toy?”
Again, pain radiated from her eyes. “You have to understand something,” she replied. “I didn’t have a choice!”
My confusion turned to anger. “You said that to me once before! What do you mean, you didn’t have a choice?”
And then she went on to explain about her rich parents who, when they learned that their only daughter was pregnant, sent her to live with a cousin until I was born.
“What about my father? Wasn’t he around?”
Suzy’s mom (I mean, my mom) shook her head. She looked really sad. “The moment he found out I was pregnant, he asked to be transferred to a base overseas.”
“You mean he was in the military?”
She nodded. “He was in the Navy. He had just returned from the war.” She looked down as if she was ashamed of something. “I thought he loved me.”
I stared at her. “What was his name?”
She looked up again. “Robert McDonald.”
Robert McDonald. Robert McDonald. I repeated the name over and over silently to myself, while trying to imagine a face to go with the name.
“What happened to him?” I asked, as I glanced toward Suzy. She was leaning forward, and staring down at the rug as if in shock.
Her mother replied, “I heard from a friend of his a few years later that he was killed in a bar fight.”
Once again, someone who had been connected to me in some way had died.
I stared at my mom. “That still doesn’t explain why you had no choice about giving me up?”
The pain increased in her eyes again. “I told you my parents sent me away to live with my cousin? They also set up the adoption in secret. The moment you were born, they had you whisked away. I didn’t even get a chance to hold you even once.” That must have hurt like hell, I thought.
“But didn’t you ever asked them what happened to me?”
She nodded. “Yes, a lot at first.” She hesitated, taking a sip of her beer. “But then I met Suzy’s father and things changed for me.”
She smiled slightly, as if recalling a fond memory. “He actually wanted to marry me.”
I glanced at Suzy. She was still staring down at the rug.
I turned back toward our mother. She had been talking. “. . . wondering where you were or what you were doing, but I had no way of finding out. And then, I lost both my parents and my husband in the same year—my husband to a wound he had received in the war, and my parents to a car accident.”
Just like mine, I thought sadly, as a short silence began to stretch like a rubber band between us. After it snapped back, I asked, “But how did you know I was your son?”
“The year you turned fifteen, I got a letter from the Starks.”
“I guess your father, being a lawyer, was able to find out things about your adoption I couldn’t. He sent me a long letter telling me all about you. He even included a picture of you from the year before. He said he and your mother were coming here to Beach Haven for a vacation and asked if I wanted to meet you.” I watched as she shook her head and took another swig of her beer. “I couldn’t. I mean, what was I going to say to you? Hi, kid, I’m your birth mother, but don’t be mad at me, even though I threw you away like some old toy.”
I suddenly felt sorry for her. “But it wasn’t your fault!”
She looked down, shaking her head. “It doesn’t matter . . . Anyway, I wrote back telling them no. Then just before they arrived, they sent me another letter. It contained the name of the motel where they were planning to stay, just in case I changed my mind.”
An image formed inside my head of the motel by the boardwalk where we had stayed. Also, another image superimposed itself over the motel—the face of Lexi Parker. I had no idea why?
“But if you knew ahead of time what I looked like, why did you act so weird when you first saw me?”
She breathed a huge sigh. “Besides being afraid you’d find out who I was, I also didn’t know how much you looked like Dale until I actually saw you in person.” She took another swallow of her beer. “I guess nature has a way of sometimes playing cruel tricks on us.”
Amen to that, I thought—Nature, the Universe, and God had all conspired to play the hugest of dirty tricks on me they could.
Suddenly, Suzy leaped to her feet. “I can’t listen to this any more,” she said, without looking at either of us. “I have to get out of here.” Then she started to move toward the door.
I jumped up and grabbed her arm. “Suzy, don’t go!” She looked at me; the pain in her tear-filled blue eyes sent shockwaves through my heart.
“I have to,” she said and pulled away from me.
I watched terrified as she opened the front door, and stepped out. If she left now, I was sure I would lose her forever.
“Let her go,” I heard our mother say. I turned to her. “Suzy will be back. She has to; she lives here.”
“I hope the hell you’re right.”
The rest of that afternoon passed with no sign of Suzy. Then around six that evening, the phone rang at Mrs. Hastings. “She’s gone,” were the words I heard from the other end of the line.
“What do you mean she’s gone?”
“Suzy came back, grabbed a few of her things and said she was going to stay at a friend’s house for a little while.”
“Where? What friend?” I asked desperately.
“She wouldn’t tell me.”
My heart felt like a cement brick inside my chest. “Did she at least say when she’d be back?”
There was a long pause on the other end of the line. Finally, our mom said, “No.” Tears welled up in my eyes as I hung up the phone.
I spent the next couple of days hoping desperately Suzy would return. She didn’t. I even went so far as to borrow our mother’s car to look for her, having been told where the college was.
For several hours, I drove around the area, hoping to spot Suzy’s Chevy parked in a driveway, or in front of a house somewhere. No luck. Then on the third day, she called our mother and said she was going to be staying at her friend’s house for at least another couple of weeks. Hearing this sent me into a deep depression, which lasted for several more days until finally, I realized there was only one thing left for me to do.
The following day, after saying my goodbyes to everyone and everything that was Beach Haven, I boarded a commuter flight bound for La Guardia Airport in New York City.
The rest of that summer, between helping out in my uncle’s music store, and hanging out with my friends, I was able to keep my depression down to a minimum. It wasn’t easy, since all my letters to Suzy came back unopened. At least, our mom was talking to me. I even had a few nice conversations with Mrs. Hastings over the phone.
Come September, I headed back up to school, but by then, college had lost most of its appeal. I tried struggling through, but after less than two months, I decided I couldn’t hack it any more. So, packing up my stuff, I drove back to Westport, where I spent the rest of that fall and winter living with my aunt and uncle, while trying to deal with everyone’s sickening enthusiasm for the holidays.
After the first of the year, I signed up for the Air Force. There was a slight delay, but by the end of April, I was on my way to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas for six weeks of basic training. After basic, they shipped me up to Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas where I learned how to become an Air Freight Specialist. That’s someone who loads and unloads cargo to and from airplanes using forklifts, pallets, and mobile platforms on wheels called K-loaders.
My first permanent assignment after Sheppard was on a remote airbase in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness. That’s where I spent the next year dealing with the cold and isolation, as well as my memories of everything and everyone that had anything to do with Beach Haven, especially the people closest to me: my mom, Mrs. Hastings, and, of course, Suzy.
After Alaska, I came to Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, Texas for another two and a half years. That’s where after the first year, I ran into someone from my recent past—someone who would become very dear to me.
I had seen her once before, but only from the rear as she was leaving. That’s why I didn’t recognize her until this time when she walked into Casey’s Restaurant, and I saw her full on from the front. She was with three other people: two guys and another gal. Immediately, my heart began to race and my stomach clenched, almost as if someone had tried to punch it but missed. I watched with a strong sense of longing and nostalgia as she and the others turned and disappeared down the aisle towards the other side of the restaurant, where the counter and the front tables were.
All kinds of images of my time in Beach Haven sprung to mind, and I found myself sitting in a kind of paralyzing daze. Lexi Parker! What the heck were you doing here in Abilene, Texas? Too bad it couldn’t have been Suzy, but then, from the conversations I had had with my mother, I knew Suzy was more than happy to stay in New York City, where her new life and career were.
Coming out of my daze, I stood up and said to the guys from the barracks who were sitting in the booth with me, “I’ll be right back. I think I just saw an old friend.” Then I started walking towards the aisle where she and her group had disappeared.
With butterflies in my stomach, I moved slowly past the counter and the tables near the front windows towards where Lexi was sitting with her back to me at one of the tables. Once I came abreast of her and the others with her, I said, “Lexi?”
She looked up, and when she saw who it was who had said her name, her green eyes got as big as doughnuts. “Tim Stark!” she exclaimed, sounding almost as surprised as I felt. “What the heck are you doing here!?”
Suddenly feeling a little self-conscious about my military-styled haircut, I rubbed a hand across the top of my head and explained, “I’m stationed here at Dyess. I’m in the Air Force. And what are you doing here?”
Smiling, she replied, “I work for the Abilene Reporter.”
I stared at her for a moment, and then it hit me. “Is this where you moved to when you left Beach Haven?” She nodded.
Suddenly remembering the others, she exclaimed, “Oh, let me introduce you to my colleagues.” She pointed toward the blonde sitting across from her. “This here is Julie Seminar.” Funny name, I thought, but kind of fitting, since she looked a little on the plain side. “And this,” she said, pointing to the slightly chubby guy with a ring of brownish hair sitting next to Julie, “is Hal Clement.” The name sounded familiar to me for some reason. “And next we have Gene Sanders.” He was the guy sitting next to Lexi.
Sanders was the only one who caught my interest. He looked to be somewhere in his late 20s or early 30s, ruggedly handsome, and not someone I would have pegged to be a journalist; but then, how was I to know what a journalist was supposed to look like?
I shook hands with all three, but only Sanders didn’t smile. At that point, Lexi asked if I wanted to pull up a chair and join them? My stomach dropped a little. “I wish I could, but I’m here with some guys from the base and we’re about to leave, and since I don’t have my car, they’re my ride. But I would like to get together with you and catch up on old times. How about we have coffee some time?”
Her mouth stretched into a wide grin and she replied, “I’d like that a lot!”
Elated, I said, “Great! How about I call you at the newspaper and we can make plans for where and when?”
“Perfect!” she replied, continuing to smile.
“Okay, then nice to meet you all,” I said to the others, at which point, I caught a glimpse of Gene Sanders’ expression—definitely not happy to see me.
The next day was Friday. I had morning shift. I spent it on the flight line with some of the other guys from my squadron, loading dummy loads (old jeeps on pallets; wooden railroad ties on pallets) onto C130 cargo planes so that the pilots and loadmasters could practice dropping their loads using huge parachutes onto the drop zone at the far end of the base. You could say Dyess was mostly a training base for pilots, planes and personnel who worked in and around aircraft.
After lunch in the chow hall, I used the pay phone in the barracks to call Lexi at the Abilene Reporter. Hearing her voice once again brought back even more memories of Beach Haven, especially its sand and surf. Abilene was nowhere near a beach.
After we made plans to meet at Casey’s the next day, I hesitantly asked her if she was available that evening?
She got quiet for a moment then explained in a low, apologetic voice, “I’m with Gene.”
My whole body felt like it had sunk, and all I could think to say was, “Oh, sorry.”
“That’s Okay, don’t worry about it,” And then her voice changed to sounding all happy and upbeat again. “We’ll be seeing each other tomorrow, right?”
“Yeah,” I replied, trying to also sound upbeat. “See you then.”
After I hung up, I tried concentrating on my studies. I was going through the pamphlets the Air Force had given me so I could answer correctly when they gave me the test to receive my third stripe. Presently, I still had only two. But after talking to Lexi, I couldn’t concentrate, so changing into a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, I headed for the base’s basketball courts, where both civilians working for the government and Air Force personnel shot hoops.
After finishing on the courts, I came back to the barracks, took a shower, rested for a bit then headed over to the chow hall for supper. Later, I decided to go into town for a movie. After the movie, which turned out to be a western, I headed to Casey’s, mostly to have some coffee and pie, but also hoping against all hope, that I might run into Lexi again. No such luck, but I did run into some of the guys I knew from the base, so I hung out with them for what turned out to be almost two hours.
This was no problem; Casey’s was one of the few restaurants in Abilene that tolerated us G.I.s, and our sometimes less than southern gentlemanly behaviors. You could hang out there, or in their parking lot, for hours on end, and no one seemed to mind or get mad. It was also one of the few restaurants that still had a part of its exterior leftover from the days when they had carhops. There were no more carhops, of course, but it still had the covered lanes where you used to pull in with your car and order your meals, either through speakers, or from the carhops directly.
The next morning, I couldn’t wait to meet Lexi at Casey’s, but the moment I got there, my enthusiasm took a nosedive. Gene Sanders was with her.
Both of them were waiting for me in the parking lot when I got out of my bug. Lexi was smiling; Sanders was not.
“You don’t mind Gene joining us, do you?” Lexi asked me after I walked up to them.
I did, but I put on a big smile anyway. “No, of course not; why should I?” Because you think I want to get into her pants, don’t you, I thought silently at Sanders? Actually, if he did, he might not be too far off base.
“Good,” replied Lexi, as we all went inside.
We sat at one of the wooden tables next to the front windows. Lexi sat directly across from me while Sanders sat next to her.
The waitress came almost immediately to give us menus, but we knew what we wanted. Both Lexi and I ordered coffee and pieces of pecan pie. Sanders ordered a grilled cheese sandwich with his coffee.
“So, how long have you’ve been in Abilene?” Lexi asked me after the waitress left.
“I’ve been here for almost a year.”
Her eyebrows shot way up. “A year! I’m amazed we haven’t run into each other before this.”
“So am I,” I replied. “Which begs the question: why haven’t I seen your name in the newspaper?”
She lowered her eyes a moment then went on to explain, “I write under a pseudonym.”
“I use my middle name, the letter ‘B’ and the town where I grew up: Cindy B. Haven.”
With a shock, I realized how many times I had seen that byline. If only I had known.
“So, where were you stationed before Abilene?” Sanders asked, interrupting our conversation.
I glance at him, not really wanting to answer his question, but did so anyway. “On a remote site in Alaska.”
“Alaska!” exclaimed Lexi, smiling and looking at Sanders. “Gene has an uncle who used to live in Alaska. He told us all about it. That is some place!”
I nodded and chuckled. “You could definitely say that.”
The waitress showed up with our pieces of pie and coffees. She told Sanders his sandwich would be following shortly. So, while Sanders was fixing his coffee with cream and sugar, Lexi asked me, “You still with Suzy Landers?”
I sighed. How should I answer that? After thinking about it for a moment, I shook my head and said, “No, we broke up long before I joined the Air Force.”
Lexi stopped with her fork halfway to her mouth. She actually looked distressed. “Why, what happened? I thought you two were a hot and heavy couple?”
Without thinking, I replied, “That was the problem; a little too hot and heavy.”
Suddenly, I realized the both of them were watching me, waiting to hear what I had to say next. Once again, I sighed then explained, “Well, if you got to know the truth . . . it turns out, Suzy is my sister.”
“WHAT!” exclaimed Lexi, her eyeballs practically falling out of her head.
Sanders coughed while staring at me just as hard as Lexi. “You got it on with your sister?” he said in a voice a little too loud for my comfort. Heads turned and something crashed loudly in the kitchen, but I don’t think it was because of what he said—just a bit of unfortunate timing.
I leaned forward while trying to keep my voice low. “No, I didn’t get it on with Suzy. Besides, I didn’t even know she was my sister until our mother told us.” I looked at Lexi to see if she believed me. I couldn’t read her expression, but I prayed she did.
“So how come you didn’t know this girl was your sister?” asked Sanders, taking a sip of his coffee.
Just then, the waitress arrived with his grilled cheese sandwich. I waited for her to leave before I spoke. “It turns out, when I was born, my mother’s parents forced her into giving me up for adoption. I was born out of wedlock. So, I lived with my adopted parents, not knowing who my real parents were.
“Then when I was 15, I came to Beach Haven with my parents for a vacation.” I glanced at Lexi and smiled. “That’s where I met Lexi for the first time. She got me interested in learning how to play the guitar—changed my life.” She looked at me with genuine surprise.
“Then after my second semester of college, I came back to Beach Haven to hang out for the summer. That’s when I met Suzy, and we started dating. Also ran into Lexi again.”
“Did you two also date?” asked Sanders. I could tell he was trying to see if I had invaded his territory.
I shook my head. “Suzy would have killed the both of us if we had.” Lexi smiled, as if she was remembering something.
While Sanders took a bite of his sandwich, Lexi asked, “So what did Suzy do when she found out you two were brother and sister?”
“She freaked and ran away; wouldn’t come home until I left Beach Haven.”
Lexi’s green eyes lowered a bit. She looked genuinely sad. “Too bad.” I nodded in agreement. “So have you talked to her since then?” she asked.
Putting down my fork, I explained, “I ran into her one day in New York City when I was home on leave just before I went to Alaska.” I hesitated a moment while remembering our surprise meeting on the sidewalks of Greenwich Village, and our subsequent conversation over coffee. “She said she was genuinely sorry for the way she acted, but said she couldn’t stand to be near me if it meant she couldn’t have me the way she wanted.”
Things got a little awkward between us at the table after that, so we concentrated on our food until Lexi asked, “How are you and your mother doing? You two get along at all?”
I nodded. “We’re good friends. We keep in touch and she lets me know what Suzy’s up to.”
Lexi nodded. “Good,” she said, looking as if she was thinking back to the past again.
When I left Casey’s, instead of heading back to the base, I got some gas first then drove over to one of Abilene’s three Christian colleges to watch their football team practice. They were gearing up for the fall season. I knew they were going to be practicing, because one of the guys I worked with said he had a younger brother who was on the football team. He said if I hung around, he’d probably see me there later.
While I drove, I kept going over in my head the bizarre connection I seemed to have with the universe . . . or fate, or whatever you want to call it. It sometimes pissed me off. Why in the heck did the universe have to pick this moment to reconnect me with Lexi Parker? Yeah, I’ll admit I had feelings for her. I knew that even before I left Beach Haven; which was why I’ve often wondered, if Suzy hadn’t been around, would fate have allowed Lexi and me to become a couple?
I shook my head. I don’t know; maybe there was still a chance? When I looked into her eyes after we finished eating at Casey’s, I saw a definite longing there. I think if Sanders hadn’t been with us, she might have tried to kiss me, and I definitely would have kissed her back. But what was I supposed to do now? I was in the Air Force, and she was with Sanders, so where did that leave us?
When I got to the college, I parked in the student lot then strolled over to the field where they were having practice. The bleachers were sparsely occupied with both students and grownups. I took a seat on the second rung up from the bottom, and settled in to watch the action. It turned out, there were several people on the sidelines with cameras taking pictures, one of whom I recognized immediately—Gene Sanders.
My stomach did an up and down, at the same time, I craned my neck to see if I could spot Lexi. She wasn’t anywhere around, but when Sanders saw me, he started coming my way.
Suddenly, I wanted to get up and leave, but Sanders was already too close, so I continued to sit there, and watched as he approached. He had this kind of Cheshire cat-like grin on his face—like maybe I was the prey, and he was the beast stalking the prey.
“What are you doing here?” he asked, continuing to smile.
“One of the guys I work with has a brother on the team.”
Sanders nodded. “Great hands.”
He came up and sat down next to me. I kept my eyes focused on the players, so I wouldn’t have to look at him. “Where’s Lexi?” I asked.
“Back at the office.”
Keeping my eyes straight ahead, I enquired, “So what are you doing here? Are you the sports reporter for the newspaper?”
“No,” he replied, “just filling in.”
I wanted to ask him how long he’d been filling in with Lexi, but before I could, he said, “By the way, you and Lexi had better get in as many of those lunches you talked about, and fast!” Lexi and I had discussed meeting more than once for lunch.
This time, I did look at him. “Why do you say that?” I asked, my stomach filling with dread.
He turned to face me, and with that Cheshire cat grin of his, replied, “Because, we’ll be leaving the area soon.”
My stomach dropped faster than a C130 load whose parachute hadn’t opened. I turned towards the field again so he couldn’t see the expression on my face. Trying to keep my voice calm, I asked, “Why are you leaving the area?”
He replied, “I got an offer to be an assistant editor at a new publication in San Francisco.”
N-O-o-o! My brain screamed.
Still trying to sound calm, I asked, “Does Lexi know about this?”
“I’m springing it on her tonight during supper. I’m taking her to one of her favorite restaurants.” I wondered which one?
This time, when I looked at him, I asked, “How long before you leave?”
He turned to face me. His expression became thoughtful for a moment. “I still have a few things to finalize, but we should be out of here sometime within the next three to four weeks.”
“So soon!” I said before I could stop myself.
He nodded, his smile returning.
“Excuse me,” I said, getting up and stepping down off the bleachers. “I have to use the men’s room.” Then without even looking back at him, I started to head for the sports center, where I knew from past visits there were public restrooms.
My legs felt as stiff and heavy as if I were wearing railroad ties for shoes. I could barely make it up the small hill that led to the sports center. All the while, I kept wondering if there was any way I could stop Lexi from leaving? Yes? No?
By the time I reached the men’s room, I was able to walk almost normal again, but instead of going inside, I continued past it on my way towards my car. I knew my friend and co-worker was going to be disappointed that I wasn’t there when he showed up, but I didn’t want to hang around Gene Sanders any longer.
With a heaviness that pressed upon my soul like a thousand pound weight, I drove back to Casey’s where I sat and had another piece of pie and drank several cups of coffee, while I listened to songs by Simon and Garfunkel play on the jukebox.
When I got back to my room in the barracks, I was surprised to find a message from the CQ (Charge of Quarters) taped to my door. It read: Call me around 8 o’clock Monday morning at the newspaper. It was signed Lexi Parker.
I was both elated and confused. What could she want?
It drove me crazy all weekend. Not only wondering what she had told Sanders when he sprung his little surprise on her, but also why she had called? Her call had come in while I was still out on Saturday talking with Sanders. Since he said he wasn’t going to tell her his news until later that evening, I thought it couldn’t have been about that, could it?
When Monday morning finally rolled around and I got her on the phone, all she said to me was, “Meet me in an hour in Casey’s parking lot. We have some stuff to talk about.” Then she hung up.
No kidding, I thought, as I placed the barracks’ pay phone back onto its cradle!
I arrived in the parking lot about ten minutes early. After getting out of my car, I stood by my VW Bug and waited, still extremely curious about what she was going to say.
Finally, I saw her BMW pull into the lot. She rolled up beside me, then lowering her window, said, “Leave your car here. I want to take you to a favorite place of mine.” I wondered which restaurant that would be?
After locking my car, I got into hers and we started off.
“You don’t mind me wearing my fatigues, do you?” I asked while she turned onto the main road. The other times we had seen each other, I was in civilian clothes. “I figured that since I have afternoon shift this week, it would be easier not have to rush back to change.”
“No problem,” she replied, looking at me with an admiring smile. “Your uniform fits like it was tailor-made for you.” That had me feeling good.
After driving a short distance, we turned onto a residential street. If there was a restaurant down this way, I didn’t know about it. Finally, she pulled to a stop in front of a small two story house with bluish grey siding and white trim. It kind of reminded me a little of the houses my mother and Mrs. Hastings lived in back in Beach Haven.
“Whose house is this?” I asked, as we both got out of her car.
“It’s the house Gene and I rent.”
Coming around to my side, she walked beside me toward the front steps.
“Speaking of your other half,” I said, as she turned her car keys around and unlocked the front door, “where is he?”
“He took an early morning flight to San Francisco. He had a meeting with some people out there.”
Yeah, to finalize things, I thought with regret.
We entered her living room. Then after she put down her car keys, she turned to face me. She was smiling, but it wasn’t her smile that had the heat rising inside my stomach. It was that same look of longing I had seen in her eyes the other day at Casey’s.
This time, I didn’t hesitate, or ask any questions. I just stepped forward, wrapped my arms around her and leaned in for a kiss. And what an amazing kiss it turned out to be! But not as amazing as what followed!
Afterwards, we sat at her small kitchen table, both of us half dressed—me in just my fatigue pants and her wearing a very large, oversized, t-shirt that had the words Super Girl printed on the front above the familiar red and yellow “S” symbol. After what we had just done— definitely appropriate!
In front of us on the table were two cups of coffee she had poured from a pot that had automatically turned on before we got to her house. “You’re going with him to San Francisco, aren’t you?” I said, after tipping some cream into mine and stirring it with a spoon.
She looked at me surprised. “How did you know?”
“I ran into him at the college on Saturday. He said he was going to tell you that evening.”
She looked down a moment then without saying a word, nodded.
I looked at her. I couldn’t stop a small portion of anger from rising up inside of me. “So what was all this about?” I said, motioning with my hand to indicate the both of us and what we had just done.
She looked down once again. When she looked up, she said, “I wanted to give you something I couldn’t before.”
I thought about that a moment. “But how did you know you could trust me, or even that you would like it?”
She flashed a little bit of a smile. “I knew I was taking a chance, but from the first time we met, back when we were teenagers, I sensed something different about you.”
“What was that?” I asked curious.
“You had a gentleness about you, as well as a kindness—both of which seemed to hover over you like a halo.”
“You make me sound like some kind of saint.”
She shook her head and smiled. “Not a saint. Just someone I felt I could become very fond of, given the chance.”
“And it has nothing to do with the fact that I look so much like this Dale guy that you and everyone else back in Beach Haven seemed to know?” She shook her head again.
I watched as she took a sip of her coffee. Meanwhile, my brain was screaming silently, “Say it; say it now, before you chicken out!”
“Lexi . . .” I said, looking at her with as much sincerity as I could muster, “don’t go with Gene to San Francisco. Stay here in Abilene. You have your job; I have the Air Force—”
She shook her head for a third time and said, “I have to go with Gene; we’re a couple.”
I was feeling a small tinge of anger again, but after a while, I realized she was right. They had been together for God knows how long? I was just someone who was sort of passing through. So, with a deep sadness pressing upon my shoulders like a shroud made of lead, I stood up and said, “I’m going upstairs to get dressed.” Then I turned to leave.
“Before you go,” she said, stopping me. I turned back to face her. “I need you to promise me something.’
“Promise me that after today, you won’t try to see me again.”
I stared at her in utter shock. “Why? What did I do wrong?”
“Nothing,” she replied, gently.
She put down her cup of coffee and stared directly into my eyes. “Because I’m with Gene now and we’re about to start our new lives together in California; that’s why I can’t have you calling me, or writing to me, or even trying to send me any type of message. It wouldn’t be right.”
I felt like my insides were being ripped apart. “But, but—”
My entire body was screaming N-O-O-O! But when I saw the steel-like determination in her eyes, I knew, once again, there was no sense in arguing. So in the end, I reluctantly agreed then once more told her I was going to get dressed. “I have to get back to the base.”
Climbing the stairs, I felt like an empty crate that had been run over by a truck, leaving nothing but splinters behind.
Once dressed, I slowly tromped back down to the kitchen where I found Lexi sitting at the table sipping her coffee.
The minute she saw me, she rubbed her eyes then jumped up and said, “Wait! Let me go upstairs and get dressed. I’ll drive you back to Casey’s.”
“Don’t bother,” I said. “I’ll walk back.”
“You don’t have to do that!” She started for the stairs again.
“Don’t worry about it,” I said, a little more forcefully than I intended. She stopped and turned to face me. “It’s probably less than half a mile. I’ve walked a lot further than that around this town before I got my car.”
“You sure?” she said, staring at me with eyes that looked as if she might have been crying.
I tried to smile. “Yes, I’m sure.”
That’s when she walked up to me, and stroking the side of my face with her fingertips, said with a gentle smile, “Take care, Tim Stark from Beach Haven. Try to have a happy life.”
“You too,” I replied.
Then with my own eyes brimming with moisture, I slowly turned and walked out of the house, and out of her life.
The hike back to Casey’s felt as if it took ten hours instead of less than 15 minutes. The rest of the day, I was in such a deep funk that one of the guys I was working with on the flight line had to come over and knock on the cab of my forklift to remind me that we were done.
“What’s the matter with you?” he asked after we got back to the hanger where our offices were located. “You look like your dog just died.”
I shook my head. “Not my dog, but a really good friend of mine said she was leaving Abilene and I may never see her again.”
“Well cheer up,” he said with a sly smile. “I think Hodges is planning to sneak a couple of girls into the barracks tonight. Who knows, you might get lucky.”
Lucky was not what I wanted.
A year later, I was sitting in Casey’s, hunched over a plate of steak and French fries. I had an open copy of the Abilene Reporter sitting next to me on the table. I had been reading a story about a local celebrity whose new movie was about to premiere in town. That’s when I heard a familiar voice above me ask, “Mind if I join you?” My happiness quotient shot up about ten points.
“Don’t mind at all,” I replied, smiling up at Lexi. After she sat down, I asked, “So where’s Gene?”
Tilting her head slightly to one side, she glanced up toward the ceiling and replied, “Let’s just say our two lives were not going exactly in the same direction.” Once again, happiness shot through me.
Reaching over, she picked up a French fry off my plate, then after popping it into her mouth and chewing for a little bit, asked, “So, what’s been happening around here since I left?”
Closing up the newspaper and pushing it off to the side, I replied, “Well, I’ve been taking a correspondence course in journalism. I’ve also been volunteering a lot at the local library.” Her eyes lit up. “When I get out, I think I’d like to try and find a job in a library somewhere.”
Picking another French fry off my plate, she asked, “Have you decided where yet?”
Watching as she chewed, I replied, “Well, I’d have to go back to Connecticut first to collect my stuff from my uncle’s house, but I think that maybe I’d like to settle down in Beach Haven.”
Her eyes grew even brighter, and with a warm smile she asked, “Would you like some company while you try and sort out the rest of your life?”
Looking at her smile, and her magnificent green eyes, I reached across the table and, after cupping her hands in mine, replied, “I’d love it!”
As I pull the last page of my latest article out of the roller of my typewriter, I hear the front door open and the voices of my two most favorite people drift up from below. I head downstairs to greet them.
“Did you get all your shopping done?” I ask.
Lexi looks at me with a huge grin. “I found the perfect dress. It matches my eyes. I’m going upstairs to put it on now.”
After she disappears, I turn to mom. “Have we heard from Suzy yet?”
“She called the shop just before we got there. She got the promotion.”
My chest swells. “Good,” I say. “She really deserved it. The Guggenheim would have been dumb to give it to anyone else.”
Mom looks at me, and smiles. “How about you? You nervous at all?”
I look at her and say, “My library is giving me a plaque, not a coronation. Oh, by the way, how is Cindy doing? Is she driving Mrs. Hastings crazy yet?”
“We were just over there. Eleanor has already put her down for her afternoon nap. She’ll be out for at least the next couple of hours.”
After another minute, I hear a noise on the stairs. I stand and turn. Lexi is coming down wearing the dress she just bought. Wow! It does match her eyes, as well as hugs the perfectly slender figure she has been working on so hard since Cindy was born.
“You girls ready to go?” I ask, just as a plane that sounds like a four-engine turbo prop flies low overhead. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear it was a C-130 cargo plane, which calls to mind images of my days in the Air Force.
Mom says, “Just let me put on some lipstick and I’ll be ready in a second.”
After she disappears, I turn to my wife. “You ready?”
She smiles proudly and puts her arm around my waist. “I’m ready, Mr. Newly-appointed Head Of Book Acquisitions.” Then after mom returns, we all head for the front door, and out into the warm, July, Beach Haven sun.