By Su Williams
(This story was originally meant as an entry into a writing contest about summer. I missed the deadline but posted it on Facebook. It was inspired by my friend Heather.)
Summer was finally here. Finally hot enough to go to the lake and enjoy the solar waves and watch sunrays scatter across the water like a million shooting stars. Winter lasted forever this year. I thought it’d never go away. So now, I lay basking in the sun like lizard, thawing my insides from the long winter’s chill. My fingers probe the cubes of ice in my cup, bringing one to my lips every few minutes as the last melts on my tongue. I scan the beach for familiar faces, regulars who come to this lake every year, some who live here year round in quaint little cottages within walking distance to the shore.
Some faces are familiar. A year older, a little less bronzed at the beginning of the season. I watch from a distance, sequestered behind my sunglasses, watching the pretty, thin girls with unnaturally blonde hair talking and laughing together. But I don’t call out or join them. They’re not really my type, not that I really know what my type is, now that I know myself a little better. And I’d really just prefer to keep to myself for now.
Yes. That’s what I’ve decided--but then she walks by. Already golden, as though she spent the summer in the South Pacific. Her hair is coppery brown, with streaks of gold like the rays of the sun itself. Her suit, a tankini I think they call it, is modest and hugs the curves of her slight frame. She is beautiful. In that natural homespun kind of way.
But I only watch her from a distance, as she smears suntan lotion on her long thin arms and legs. I wonder if she might need some help with her back, but I’m not brave enough to ask. Someone else is though. A wanna-be golden boy with platinum hair squats beside her lounger, grinning with pearly teeth. She scowls back at him and shakes her head. Shunned. She’s sent him away with a frown. Would she send me away as well?
I watch her until the sun begins to slide behind the mountains. Watch her as she reads a book, sips on a soda, takes an elegant dive into the water. She emerges, sparkling with the diamonds of water droplets clinging to skin. Another boy offers her a towel, but he, too is shunned and walks away dejected as she shakes her head and retrieves her own towel. And again I wonder if she would turn me away as easily as she did these others.
I pack up my towel and folding lounger and trudge back to the cabin up a windy dirt road that my parents rented for the summer. They’re too busy drinking cocktails and playing volleyball in the backyard with their friends to notice that I’m home. So I climb the steps to the yard, then the steps to the porch, then higher still to the loft that is my home for the next nine weeks.
The loft overlooks the lake, but I can’t see the resort from here. Though the girl is no longer there, I gaze that direction, remembering the breeze that tug at her hair and brought the smell of her lotion enticingly to my nose. Tomorrow. Perhaps tomorrow, I will be brave enough to say hello, to introduce myself to her.
But what if she rejects me like she did the others? What then? And even if she doesn’t will she accept me for who I am? I wonder if she’ll think I’m cute; cute enough to spend her time with. Or maybe she’ll just want to be friends. But what is it I really want from her? Maybe all I really need is a friend. Someone who won’t pass judgments. But how do I know I can trust her not to? What if I’m not cute enough, smart enough? What if I’m not her type?
It seems to take hours for the chirping crickets and croaking frogs to lull my mind to sleep. I sleep in fits and starts. First dreaming that the beautiful bronzed girl shares my affections, sending my heart into overdrive and a flush of warmth through my veins. Then the images morph and she scowls bitterly at me, rejecting even my hand of friendship, and slaps my stricken face leaving my cheek stinging with fire.
I remember all of this the next day, as I’m watching her set up her things. One moment I feel the courage to speak to her and the next I’m shivering with fear like the summer heat will never be hot enough to thaw me. More boys make advances and each is turned away, especially the guy who is obviously in his thirties and way too old to be hooking up with a teenage girl. I want to leap up and attack him, the perv, but she handles him and sends him packing like the rest. The other girls on the beach are smug, snubbing her in envy because all the boys want the golden girl with sunlight in her hair.
Again the sun dives behind the mountain, and I’m no closer to meeting her than I was before. Although, when I walked past her on my way home she gave me a tantalizing coy smile. My heart skipped a beat and my mouth fell open in shock. I’m sure I made a lasting impression: as the biggest dork that ever walked the face of the earth.
And again my sleep comes in fits, and I dream the same dreams as before. When I awaken at dawn with a starling chattering at my window, I can’t sleep any longer. I feel sick. Summer sick. Or maybe just sick from the nervousness that has sent my body reeling too often. I shamble to the resort after breakfast, sure I look every bit the zombie I feel like. Oh well, it was a nice fantasy while it lasted.
After a refreshing swim, I towel off and plop unceremoniously into my chair. The sun bakes my skin and leaves me drowsy. Soon I succumb to the draw of sleep.
Some time later, I’m not sure how long, but the sun has moved several degrees across the sky, a shadow falls over my face and awakens me. All I can see is a thin silhouette towering over me like a giant. I raise my hand to shield my eyes from the penumbra of light that’s blinding me, but it doesn’t help. I flail in my chair and am only stilled be a quiet sound.
“Oh!” a golden voice exclaims, and then the figure drops to my side and I can see her more clearly. Though I wonder if maybe I’m still asleep and dreaming. This can’t possibly be. The golden girl is kneeling by my side in the gritty sand, staring at me. “I’m sorry,” she says, her voice like honey. “I didn’t mean to startle you. It’s just, I think you fell asleep in the sun and I was afraid you would get burned.”
“Uh. Thanks.” It’s all I can manage to say.
“Sure thing,” she says.
A zillion thoughts race through my head like an Indy race at the finish line. She’s here. She’s talking to me. How can she talk to me? She’s this perfect creature who could have any guy she wanted. But she’s talking to me. What if I open my mouth and say something stupid? What if I do manage to say something intelligent but she still rejects me? I know who I am and what I want, but what if that scares her away?
“I just--I don’t know anybody here and I noticed you’ve been alone all week,” her voice stroked my heart and calmed the raging beast clawing at my insides.
“Uh, yeah. The girls around here are not really very friendly. But the boys seem to like you,” I say, then feel stupid for pointing out that I’ve been watching her.
“There is that. But I’m not really interested.”
I watch her eyes, find the gleam of honesty in them. Something like hope thrums in my chest. She wasn’t interested in the boys. Where does that leave me? Well, at least she talking to me. I imagine the summer sharing the sand with her, absorbing the sun into our skin, plunging into the cold lake water that leaves our skin cool and slippery.
“By the way,” she holds her hand out to me, “my name is Celeste.”
I can’t imagine a more perfect name for this girl, the golden girl that rules the sky.
I take her hand in mine and give it a gentle squeeze. Her hand lingers in mine, her thumb strokes my wrist. I shiver at her touch and hope she doesn’t notice.
“Hello Celeste. It’s nice to meet you. I’m Amy.”
Her eyes twinkle in the sun, bright and coy, she cups my hand in both of hers, and suddenly this long dull summer at the beach seems rife with possibilities.