Filed under: Chapter 15 | Tags: Discovery Channel Store, Garth Brooks, Guns 'N Roses, Josh Bates, Kujo's, Lagwagon, Little Debbie snacks, Nail Trix, P90X, Paul Stanley, sharks, Some New Trend, stingrays, the beach, The Beach Boys, The Hunt for Red October, VFW Hall, Will Sharp
WOULDN’T IT BE NICE :: BY KEVIN WILDER
MY BARE FEET DIG INTO the almost-white sand, stinging no less than three blisters that I’ve earned at work over the last few days. Yet another reason why I haven’t made my way to the beach all summer long. We’ve trespassed here today, all three of us, to a semi-residential area two blocks past a brick schoolhouse, one past a like-new car lot, and directly across from a defunct fire station, with the inside weather report from the Waterboyz. They informed us that the CAUTION tape had been taken down, since no more red tide threats were on the horizon.
I lay between two girls on a quilt my grandmother made. And for a moment it seems all order has been restored in the panhandle of Florida. Almost.
Bryanna insisted we come. I didn’t know it was possible to continue being friends with someone after you’ve just stood them up, but she seems to be pretending that nothing ever happened.
On the left end of Me-Maw’s blanket is June Marley, straightening the slack over some barn-and-horse appliqué pattern. June said she wasn’t up for the beach, that she wasn’t exactly made for it, but then I did a little persuading. I invited Stephanie too, who declined. It’s probably for the best. I’m alreading feeling outnumbered. Guess she’ll have fun, fun, fun until her daddy takes her Wednesday afternoon privileges away, to pick up the slack on his choir’s unsatisfactory row of Altos.
I confess, I never made it to Hot Topic. When I left Nail Trix on a mission, and told June not to go anywhere, I really meant what I texted. But then, walking past the Discovery Channel Store, Stephanie ran toward me in a state of panic, offering up critical details about her and her best friend’s respective work days:
“Some spiky-haired manager-chick’s been giving June hell all day. But at least she managed to catch a shoplifter. Talk about dedication.”
I tried to hide the fact that I was on my way there, figuring I could learn more about the situation from the original source. I cut her off, saying I was on my way to get a Banana Chocolate Vanilla Werewolf Sunrise.
She sneered. “Meeting up with that no-good Bryanna I’ll bet.”
I pushed my sister aside. “Not now, Steph. Please.”
“If you’re going to check on our friend June, she already left. Her mom came by to pick her up.”
“Oh.” My legs went limp. Before my brain could process thisany further, a pair of hands reached around and cover my eyes.
“Guess who?” the voice behind the hands said. The fingers smelled like—well, paint.
These weren’t June’s hands.
Gasping, I asked Bryanna, “Done already?” It was the only thing that came to mind.
My sister disappeared.
“Check it out. They did my fingernails for free. Today’s special.” She dangled her hands before me. “Next time don’t be so impatient, Joshy.”
I took a long look and said, “How fetching.”
Flash-forward to now, sitting in the warmth of the sun.
I wait for June to remove her jean shorts. It never happens. There’s a black tie around her neck, suggesting the top portion of a two-piece swimsuit. The tank top over it is printed with some flowers and waves, and more flowers and more waves. I wonder if she borrowed these surfer girl garments from someone else, or if they’re hers. She wears them well. So well.
Of course, Bryanna is also wearing some form of bikini. Not too different than what I’ve envisioned in my series of recurring dreams. But greener.
These girls are as different as the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, yet their friendship continues. Bry’s nailpolish is pink and perfect, and June’s is chipped and blue. They’re both chewing bubblegum, but then again, Bry hasn’t been making the same smack-smack noises as June.
June gets out a few necessities from her Emily the Strange bag, attaches her iPod Touch into a speaker cube, and presses PLAY:
Knock-knock-knockin’ on heaven’s do-oh-woor
She glances at us bashfully, and presses PAUSE. “Uh, sorry.”
Bryanna tells her, “Don’t be,” and presses PLAY again, turning the volume up louder. She stands up and shakes her hips. “I love this song.”
The song comes to an end and the player shuffles to something by Lagwagon. Bryanna frowns, and the dancing stops. I, however, have always believed there’s nothing a little crusty punk rock can’t cure. Apart from the tension a boy feels while baring his chest around two females for the first time.
Before I can pay June’s music a compliment, she breaks away to find the bathroom. I redirect my attention to some sea grapes, then a canoe capsizing in the distance. Once again I’m drawn back in by Bryanna’s fingers, playing with my hair. I’d be a liar if I didn’t claim this little affectionate act felt really, really good.
“So you having fun?” she asks.
“Beats work, huh?”
She wiggles her hand off my scalp. Her face hardens. “I’m not stupid, Josh. I know what you’re thinking.”
I refrain from talking.
“You think you and I are better off as friends. And believe me, it’s OK.” She gets closer, leaning into my face.
Interesting, I think, no makeup today?
She makes a guttural noise, and says, “Here’s a little hint. If you ever wanted to make a move, now is the time.”
I try to unpack this advice. The message might as well have come to me in a bottle: cryptic, and in blurry, sunbleached handwriting. It’s impossible to unscramble—is she suggesting I make a move on her or June?
I see the shadow of the person behind us and say, “Here she comes.”
June squirts some lotion in her palms to rub on her arms. My heart is racing, like Paul Stanley’s before an encore. “Think I’m gonna go for a swim,” I say. “Anyone wanna come?”
June says, “Sure.”
Bryanna says, “No thanks. You guys go ahead.”
I jog toward the cool, cool water and paddle out. June takes off her outerclothes quick, staying hidden as long as possible, and gets in halfway. It seems as if she’s in a state of great discomfort, shivering with both hands over her head.
“Get in,” I say. “Water’s not bad.”
She dives (or is it falls?) into a mini-wave. It’s sort of clumsy/sexy. I laugh.
When she jets to the surface, I surprise her with a splash in the face.
“Let’s see how far we can go.”
When we’ve finally reached the sandbar, my gaze shifts to the shore. Clockwork never fails. A group of four teenagers are approaching. The one in the back looks like my long-lost buddy, but with no hair. Could it be? They are walking from the public area. God only knows what this could mean.
Donnie and Carlos hop out, and I follow. I’m kind of slow anyway, especially when I’m:
- tugging important commodities,
- and walking on sandy surfaces.
A sunburnt Jenn Z is with us too, holding up the taller end of the group. She smells of makeup mixed with perfume mixed with sunscreen and menthol cigarettes.
Some jetskiers shoot by, practicing Figure 8s. I reach in my backpack to find my zoom lens, and try to imagine them crashing into each other:
Their watercrafts explode. Smoke rises from gasoline and seawater. The vapors fade to reveal a ball of burning flesh, and I run to the water like Hasselhoff, diving in shirtless to help.
Within moments I finish off my roll of photos, and take a mental inventory of my shots, which until now have mostly been of:
- paddleboat riders,
- and people’s feet.
The brownness of Carlos’s skin is emphasized by the whiteness of his friends, and the even whiter-ness of the SPF 40 his mother dabbed on his nose. If Josh and I are weird, Carlos is weirder. A year ago he wore a Speedo. It was turquoise, with stripes. Good thing his current friends are thoughtful enough not to let him slip on through with these types of mistakes.
Donnie, on the other hand, is taking greater efforts at looking cool. After participating in some nutrition and weightlifting program called P90-X, he’s been lecturing repeatedly on the importance of:
- and this thing called “Muscle Confusion.”
Since a girl is with us, he’s hoping to impress her with his ability to carry over a hundred pounds of beach gear.
He asks, “Did you see which one of those people took my frickin’ beach ball?”
“Who cares,” Carlos says, squinting his eyes at the Catholic family walking toward the sun and pier.
Donnie groans. “I’ll bet it was the scrawny one. His ass is grass.”
Jenn Z chimes in with, “You mean ‘sand.’ His ass is sand.”
Carlos scratches his butt. “Mine is too.”
I want to tell him that his joke, like the majority he keeps on reserve, doesn’t really make sense.
3:01 p.m. We can’t find a spot to park our overabundance of stuff, so somehow we keep up the pace while carrying the standard beach equipment:
- a volleyball,
- shovels for digging trenches or burying bodies (still breathing, of course, and assuming we’ll get bored eventually),
- plenty of picnic gear, including but not limited to:
- a sixer of high-octane Ginger Ale,
- Capri Suns for the faint of heart,
- and assorted Little Debbie snacks, now melted.
I’ve always thought that friends are the primary factor making the Beach Experience the most fun. I only wish I still had the option to invite Josh. My coastal buddies plus girl certainly aren’t as entertaining as he was, at least before the possibility of getting girls entered the picture. At this present moment in time, my coastal buddies are all I have.
For a while I wanted to destroy my mall-working compadre. Once or twice I envisioned a final showdown, in cold blood:
I navigate my father’s boat to the Bermuda Triangle, and throw Josh in the ocean without a life preserver while I search the cabin for more artillery. He gasps and kicks, fending for himself while sharks and stingrays swim in circles, ready to maul him.
There were several other cinematic scenarios I imagined too, like scenes from The Hunt for Red October—another movie Dad talks about that I should probably watch.
But then the fight in the parking lot occurred. Awful words were spoken, and innocent blood was shed. I could only feel sorry for Josh after that.
Jenn pops in another cigarette.
Carlos says the cliché that eclipses all clichés: “Cigarettes are bad for you.”
She snarls at his poster-message, combating it with “Oh are they? Well so’s skin cancer,” pointing to his blistered back.
Donnie flexes his triceps and says, “I wonder where all the hot babes are hiding.” He’s redirecting the attention back to himself, and reinforcing his lack of interest in Jenn Z. This lack of interest is fake, of course.
“What’s your mom doing?” I ask Carlos. “Can’t we invite my favorite Hispanic Math tutor to come along?”
He says, “I hate you,” and smacks the back of my head.
At roughly 3:15 p.m. we spot none other than Josh and June, swimming like a couple of adorable fish. Or “guppies.” Summerson’s on the beach, stretched across some bedding with her eyes closed. She’s tanning every inch of her flawless body, except for the parts her steamy suit and enormous sunglasses cover. Carlos tiptoes in the water, thinking he can creep up and cannonball into the swimmers. It’s obvious they know he’s there. He doesn’t make much headway, as he catches a wave that knocks him back in.
I take off my flip flops and step in the water. Should I swim out? There are only two options:
- and no.
I pick the first. When I get to Josh and June, they look terrified. “Relax,” I say. “I haven’t brought any weapons.”
After a minute, Josh speaks: “Wh-whatcha been up to?”
“Just knockin’ over sand castles and stuff.”
“How considerate,” June says. But she grins. And laughs.
Josh asks her if she’d mind checking on Bry. I explain to her that we have unfinished business.
She swims to shore, then runs to safety, the whole time avoiding Donnie and Carlos, who have begun throwing sandballs at Jenn Z. I curse my nearsightedness, and within moments she’s already wrapped a towel around herself.
“Dammit,” I say.
Part of me wants to be mean to Josh, and rough him up a little. But there’s really no use in playing this game of heroes and villains. He doesn’t want to see additional bloodshed any more than I do.
“So what else is new?” he asks.
“Not much. Surf’s up lately. And I started wearing tightie-whities under my boardshorts. You know, for extra support.”
Josh laughs. I try to toss my hair back, and then remember I don’t have any.
“The shorn look is nice,” he says.
“Thanks. It was sort of an accident. Carlos tried to give me this nineties fade, and the No. 3 guard slipped off his electric razor.” I gargle some seawater and spit it back out. “Hey man. Sorry ‘bout everything.”
He smiles. “Thanks for saying sorry.”
I point to his lip. “How’s. That?”
“Getting better. The sodium chloride helps. How’s…your eye?”
I rub the fading sore and tell him it feels fine. I’ve always loved shiners.
“Hey, Josh. There’s something else I wanna apologize for.”
The words are difficult to spit out, so I have to say them fast: “Sorry I told your sister you were gonna grow up and be some lame-ass youth minister.”
“Huh? She never told me you said that.”
shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shit
“Well you were probably just mad when you said it…right?”
double shit double shit double shit double sh-i-i-i-i-i-i-t
“Totally. It was a stupid thing to say. Didn’t mean it at all. Plus, I actually think most chicks kinda dig youth pastors.”
He laughs, and I’m relieved. “I’m not sure that’s entirely true, but thanks, I guess.”
It’s difficult to tread water and shake hands simultaneously, but we try it anyway.
“I’m also sorry,” Josh says. “For everything.”
He tries to hug me, until I twist his arm and call him a candy-ass.
He says, “Not so fast, Bronanza.”
We dive under the water, and when we return to the surface Josh is holding a giant shell. He shouts, “How ‘bout this thing?”
3:50 p.m. It appears my coastal friends have left. Who needs them? Josh and I have always agreed that the Dynamic Duo is most dynamic without any outside influence.
That said, we return to Summerson and Marley on a blanket big enough for an army. “Who did this handiwork?” I ask. “Somebody at the VFW Hall?”
“Hey now,” Bryanna says, patting Josh’s back.
She doesn’t say yes, and looks at Josh as if asking for permission. He’s busy with Bryanna, who’s calling him “darlin’,” while asking if he’ll cover her back with some pigment-modifying liquid gel.
“I can show you how the pros do it. I mean, if you’re up for it.”
She pauses. “I wasn’t…planning on getting wet again, but—” Eventually, she shakes the sand off her shoes and follows me. Who can decline a good skimboarding lesson?
I holler out at Josh and Summerson that we’ll be over by the palm frond huts.
4:05 p.m. Since I’m getting good at rectifying situations by way of apology, I decide to try it now with June.
“Sorry ‘bout everything in the watermelon patch that day. I’m not big on social graces.” I add, “Garth Brooks said that. He’s from Georgia, I think.”
My fully-clothed friend nods. “Don’t worry about it. Everyone runs out of gas at some point.”
Before long, June steps on a pointy shell. She stops and takes a seat. I find a sea-stick and start drawing pictures in the sand. As Josh would point out, Jesus did this once while defending some Bible-times hooker.
“What time is it?” she asks. “Wanna head back?”
I look down at my wrist. “It’s only 4:09. We got plenty of time to learn a few novice skimboarding techniques.”
She looks at my hand, and asks, “Hey. New watch?”
“Yup. It has a waterproof interface developed by scientists for wakeboarders. It’s sturdier and more sophisticated—”
“And also more blue,” she interrupts.
“I know! And super lightweight. I almost bought one with a calculator, but I’m gettin’ pretty good at Math without it.”
She touches it and smiles, and says, “Cool.”
I never showed Josh my new watch, but I’m sure he’ll like it too. I’d put money on it.
Will and June get up, ready to totter down the beach together. Will, with a girl I missed my chances with. And June, the girl I missed my chances with. I wonder, Am I okay with this? I must be.
“Sail on, sailors,” Bryanna tells them.
I try to smile. “Hey. You’ve been listening to the tape I made you.”
“Sure have. The Beach Boys, 1972, the only song on Holland that wasn’t recorded in Holland, based on ‘Josh’s Notes’.”
“So you like it?”
“I’m trying. Some of the songs are wonderful, except for maybe that noisy one by The Sonic Youths.”
“Their name’s actually—” I cough. “Oh, nevermind.”
Bry lets go of my arm. She’s waiting to see if my attention will turn to June and Will, who are already a quarter mile down the beach. I’ve decided I won’t look away. My friend can have his fun.
There’s plenty else to enjoy on the beach today, like the sun over our heads, and Mrs. Summerson’s lemonade in our glasses. I quit with the talking. There’s not much I can add to the moment.
“So I got my tape” Bryanna says, tying her hair back. “But I still never got my kiss.”
We might technically be ‘broken up,’ but only an idiot would contradict her far-more-experienced lines of reasoning.
We lay down, and lean in. Her lips look soft and inviting.
How do I…?
Before our mouths can touch, a flock of seagulls dive toward our spot. They begin fighting for our tortilla chips, and ultimately, our sandwiches. I stand up, and attempt to shoo them off while hiding my half-mast.
“Hey!” I yell at the biggest, who’s running off with a beak full of bologna. When the last seagull standing finally flies away, I return to the quilt.
Bryanna says, “Where were we?”
The seagull comes back with a vengeance, poops in Bryanna’s hair, and she dashes for the water shrieking.
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