January 31, 2009

Rough Surf

Lucy: The mid-afternoon sun is hazy and heavy on my shoulders as Katie and I step out of the crisp, choppy waves and walk up the beach. Katie's long black hair hangs in wet ringlets down her back. I hastily pull my blond strands into a sloppy loop on top of my head.

"The waves were awesome!," Katie sighs as we reach our beach towels. She collapses onto her sand-splattered towel, dramatically throwing her tanned arm over her eyes.

I turn toward the water, shielding my gaze with my hand. The waves are white-capped and fat, rolling in thick spirals and slamming into one another. A small boy on a wakeboard in the shallow surf falls into the damp sand as a hard wave knocks into his ankles. The rest of the beach is almost deserted, except for a group of high school kids playing volleyball and Katie's mom, Bethany Heeley, who is sitting on a lounge chair a little distance away, reading Us Weekly magazine.

For me, this is a perfect day. I love when the water and the sky are the same shade of gray, when I can't distinguish between the foam of the ocean and the fog in the air. Gray days keep the tourists away, so when I float on the surface of the ocean I can close my eyes and let the tide carry me without having to watch out for sunburned kids wallowing on clunky Styrofoam boogie boards.

Katie props herself up on her elbows and kicks a spray of sand onto the back of my legs. "Hey! Luc! Are you even listening to me?"

Breaking my concentration, I spin around. "What? Oh, sorry Katie." I plop down onto my towel and lay back, gazing up at the humid, still layer of clouds overhead. "I'm so out of it today. The Fed Ex guy woke me up super early and…"

"Wait a minute. Your mom is still getting newspapers delivered to her?" Katie pulls a pair of oversized sunglasses out of her straw beach bag and slides them onto her face. "Is she, like, going crazy or something?"

By now I'm used to her brashness. Katie Heeley is an only child – an only, spoiled child – and she is a good friend, but sometimes she is a little wild – and a little insensitive.

"She's not going crazy," I mumble, exasperated. "At least, I don't think she's going crazy…" I roll away from Katie and onto my side, slowly brushing the sand off my towel with the side of my pinkie finger.

"I dunno…" Katie says in a singsong voice as she lies back on her blanket and adjusts the straps of her bikini. "I saw this lady on Oprah, who went totally crazy after her son died. She, like, adopted all these cats and then one day they found her wandering through the streets in her pajamas with cat litter in her hair."

Rolling my eyes, I begin to speak but then stop myself. Katie wouldn't understand, and I don't feel like trying to make her. I know my mom isn't crazy, and it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks. Unless they had lost a son – a brother – no one would understand.

"Anyway, this is depressing." Katie says, rolling over onto her stomach and rifling through her bag. "Want me to ask my mom if she'll take us to Chez Amis for dinner? They have the best garlic bread ever."

"Um, yeah, sure." I sit up and lean over to grab my sandals as Katie shouts her dinner request to her mother.

"That's fine honey!" Bethany Heeley calls out without looking up from her magazine.

"Thanks Mommy!" Katie calls back, then turns to me. "It's expensive. But don't worry, my mom will pay for you," she says as she pulls on an Abercrombie & Fitch t-shirt.

I cringe. Katie isn't shy about bringing up the differences between our families. While Katie's dad, Robert Heeley, is a successful businessman who practically lives at his office, and Bethany Heeley is the town's queen socialite who spends all her time planning fundraisers and community events, my mom is now a receptionist at a law firm during the day, and three nights a week she works as a Merry Maid, cleaning offices downtown. And although the check Dad sends every month helps us make ends meet, his salary as a park ranger doesn't stretch very far.

"I mean, my mom always says how, like, bad she feels for you and your mom," Katie whispers so her mom won't hear. She snaps open her cell phone and scrolls through the missed calls. "Like, what a loser your dad is, right? To just leave you and your mom to go play in the forest like a Boy Scout or - yuck! Why is Jason Keller calling my phone?" Katie clicks her phone off in disgust and throws it into her bag. "I mean, get over it, stalker. Sorry, what was I saying?"

I shove the final edge of my damp beach towel into my bag with such force that I hear the seams pop. Katie is the last person I want to talk to about my dad. Actually, I don't want to talk about him with anyone. Katie's words ring in my ears: I mean, get over it…

I am. Sort of.

"You were saying how good Chez Amis' garlic bread was. I'm siked – I'm starving!" I sling my bag over my shoulder and begin walking up the beach toward the wooden plank walkway that leads back to the parking lot.

Katie furrows her brow in thought. "Did I say something wrong?" she mutters. Then, with a shrug of her tanned shoulders, she yells, "Hey, wait up!" and sprints up the beach after me.

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