Clusters of booming, bellowing waves beat down on the shore, decorated with sharp broken shells. The waves hollow roars echoed overhead. I lay on the beach cuddled next to my best friend, Katie. We lay side by side, the little bit of skin on our bony hips faintly kissing. Our hands, wrapped together, napped in the cool sand. Katie had always been the type of person who had an eagerness for physical contact and never wanted to be alone. Every Sunday night, we could be found holdings hands as we watched the final minutes of our favorite soap opera. We would make fun of the predictable plots, but secretely, we both adored them. Back in the city, I never payed any attention to that aspect of our relationship.
Katie had spent the summer traveling China, something I’d never thought she would do. The girl lying on my little brother’s red and yellow striped towel had changed. She spoke soft words to me in Chinese. Her curving tones and harsh accents danced in the salty breeze. Then she told me about the summer camp where she had worked that summer.
I watched the sea foam bubble among algae as she recounted the Maple trees that surrounded the wooden cabins. The whole time she was talking, I kept preparing what I would tell her about my summer in Ghana. Maybe I would tell her about the chaotic markets and Ghanian food. I could still hear the shopkeepers bombarding me with complex sentences in Twi and the middle-aged men purring in my ear. Thinking about it, the moist smell of the ocean air was overwhelmed by the putrid smell of a fish’s burnt flesh, crispy scales falling to the floor.
I tried to listen when she talked me about a girl who had roomed with her, a fellow counselor. She told me that the girl, whose name I’ve already forgotten, was from Connecticut and that she went to an all girls boarding school there. I couldn’t help but let my mind wander as I morphed bloated, lavender clouds into hearts and leaping stallions.
Suddenly, they lost their magical shape and turned back into clouds, when Katie told me that she had had a crush on this girl. The silence that followed was fortunately overcome by the low grumbles of the ocean. I had nothing to say, and neither did she. I wanted desperately to say something, but I was too surprised. My breathing had become erratic. Wandering exhales struggled to cut through the beach’s thick air. It felt like my whole body was motionless. All I could feel were the heavy pulses of my heart, pushing at my ribcage and forcing the skin under my bathing suit to swell.
The girl that uncomfortably clutched the terry cloth so tightly in her hand, was the girl that all the boys yearned for at school. She was the girl that all the nervous underclassmen girls aspired to be. Even seniors gawked at her kinked golden hair and her perfect skin, sprinkled with sweet freckles.
I remember watching her slip into a stiff black dress before a date, asking me for my opinion. She stood, encompassed by a dozen rejected outfits, in front of her mirror. Her crimson lips pouted ever so slightly.
I hadn’t realized that our hands were still intertwined. My hand was clammy and I hoped that she wouldn’t notice. Murky grains of sand, glossy in my sweat, clung to my palm. The sand on Katie’s, plunged into her hand’s narrow valleys and lined the creases. I wanted to reclaim my hand, but I wasn’t sure if that gesture would be misconstrued as me disapproving of what she had just said.
My ringtone, that would have usually annoyed me with its high pitched beeps and fuzzy murmurs, was welcomed, as I carefully slipped my hand out of Katie’s.
“My mom said that we should probably start heading back for dinner now,” I told Katie faintly, without gazing into her velvety caramel eyes.
We both rised up and dusted off soggy sand from our legs. As she walked up the dune to retrieve her sandals, I noticed red and splotchy sand imprints embedded on the back of her tight calves.
I turned the keys of the car to start the roaring ignition, as Katie climbed into the passenger’s seat. As I was driving back up to the quaint house my parents had rented, Katie looked at me and waited for me to say something. When I didn’t, she continued on with her story.
“Remember the song Pontoon?” Katie asked.
“Yeah, of course,” I replied, referring to the song we had listened to endlessly while studying for finals last year.
“Well, she really liked it too. We even ended up choreographing our camper’s dance to it.” Katie gleamed, reminiscing about their time shared together. What I had thought was our song, had been morphed, like the clouds, into their song. I clenched the leather steering wheel even tighter than I had been before.
She plugged her phone into the car speakers searching for the song. I focused on the road as the vibrating strums of the guitar and the dense beats of a drum filled the empty space, disturbing the quiet.
As I creeped up never-ending winding roads, the stories Katie told, injected scenes from her summer into my mind and blinded my view of the road. Endless games of soccer took place in a luscious green field. Scattered dandelions were crushed under the small feet of the campers. I can picture the chaotic dance they collaborated on, but never had time to rehearse. Six year-olds swirling around in warm colored tutus, struggling to keep their balance while staying on beat to our song.
“You know, she doesn’t live that far away from us. She said that the drive is less than two hours long,” she blurted out.
I had no clue who this girl was, yet Katie was talking about traveling to meet up with some stranger.
“Hmm. I didn’t know Connecticut was so close,” I mumbled.
Katie realized that she had been talking for ten minutes straight, so she turned the music up and we both hummed off tune as I pulled steadily into the driveway.
That night, with stomachs full of tender hamburgers and plump corn on the cob, Katie and I climbed into the bed we were sharing. I pulled out my computer and placed it in the space between us.
“I think you’ll like this movie,” I said, searching blindly through my bag for the slippery DVD case.
“Is it funny?” She asked.
“Um… I think so,” I said, knowing that it was drama. I forced it reluctantly into the DVD slot and hoped that she would like it. Throughout the whole movie I kept glancing over at Katie, but I was unable to read her facial expressions. I wanted to see her thick lips curl into a smile, but she sat motionless. When the movie had finished, I shoved the computer under my lumpy pillow and we both slide under the covers. Katie didn’t say anything about the movie and I was too scared to ask. I sunk into the the mattress, discouraged, a spring prodding at my rutted spine.
“I’m sad you’re leaving tomorrow,” I said, as I rolled onto my side, facing Katie.
“Me too. I wish I could stay another day.” she replied.
I turned onto my stomach and she did the same.
“Goodnight,” I yawned, closing my eyes that were still caked with mascara.
“Night,” she murmured. “Love you,” she added.
Katie swung her hand around and slapped at a mosquito anchored onto her shoulder. We both fell asleep instantly, swaddled together in a light sheet.
We sat in the back of the car listening to music, our arms locked. For some reason, it was all I could focus on for the duration of the car ride. I kept wondering if my bony elbow was parched from the harsh ocean water and if it was lodged into her ribcage when my mom dipped the car into shallow manholes. I hoped desperately that my hair, fluttering into her face with the wind, didn’t smell salty and wasn’t hard like coral.
When we arrived at the airport, I walked her to her gate. Our arms, still locked, ripped at their tight seams and dangled at our sides. A raspy voice scampered around the small airport and announced that Katie’s flight was boarding.
I pulled Katie in for a hug, confident, wanting her to notice.
“I’m really going to miss you,” I told her.
“Probably not as much as I’m going to miss you, my being alone in the city and all,” she replied, pulling away. “Let’s hangout as soon as you get back, before school starts.”
“Yeah. Definitely. Love you!” I called out, throwing the words at her swaying torso just as she approached the gate.
“You too!” she shouted over her shoulder as she stared ahead at the ticket agent whose hair, pulled back into a tight bun, yanked at her stretchy rubber scalp.
A week and a half later, in New York, I woke up wishing I could disappear and return to the beach with Katie. I missed giggling into our towels as we lapped up our carefree summer. I was afraid that while I was stuck in Marthas Vineyard, she was galavanting around with a different girl in Connecticut. I pictured them snickering at our soap opera together, while I sank into the ocean, alone. I had no idea why I couldn’t eject Katie from my congested mind, but I almost didn’t want to. I enjoyed the euphoria of our memories. I found myself squirreling away blissful grins when Katie punctured my mind. I felt perplexed towards my feelings for her, but I was never able to fathom how I felt. I may have been attracted to her myself.
Suddenly, my phone vibrated against my burnished bedside table. Through blurry eyes, I struggled to read who the message was from. When I made out Katie’s name, my eyes, held together with gummy sleep, unlatched. My teetering fingers wrestled with the keyboard, desperate to unlock my phone. Dilated eyes and abbreviated breaths, I managed to assemble the message:
“Hey!!! You’ll never believe who asked me out…Ben!!! Can you come over tonight and help me pick out an outfit? I’m so happy you’re back! Love you.”
I glanced outside my sullied window and looked up at the clouds that were dangling from the ashen morning sky. The silver sheet that swathed the sky was peppered with clouds. They slithered about, looking like amorphous mounds of dust bunnies.
Summer was over.
Alice Lew, Age 16 Grade 11, Sanit Ann’s School, Gold Key