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WASHED BY A BEACH





Lisa Reinhard




W & B Publishing

USA




Washed by a Beach © 2017. All rights reserved by Lisa Reinhard.




No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping, or by any informational storage retrieval system without prior permission in writing from the publisher.


W & B Publishers

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Kernersville, NC 27284


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ISBN: 9781635549485



Book Cover designed by Dubya





Dedication



Dedicated to my mother, Rhoda M. Hussey, who always believed that I could do this.





CHAPTER ONE




My life is mostly made up of stuff other people have owned first. We got our sofa at an auction, our refrigerator at a used appliance store, and our dog at the pound. My mom laughs and says, “About the only things that aren’t used around our house is our food, our underwear” — thank goodness — “and each other.” We’re each other’s first daughter and mother. That’s a good enough place to start over, I think, for both of us.

You see, we left a whole lot of ugliness behind; some pretty things, yes, even some brand-new-only-us-owned-them things, but when you’re getting yelled at, and put down, and your mom cries all the time, I guess you’d rather have the second-hand stuff. I think you get it, right?

Well, one night, we’d just had it, and we left. Just left. Just like that. No plan, no nothing. Just Mom’s purse, my back pack, and whatever we had on. When we got on the bus — to “who knows where” since when I asked Mom, “Hey, where’s this daggum bus going to?” she answered, “Who knows where…” and then she sighed, real low.

I started to think about my canopy bed, and the yellow bedspread with giant purple flowers on it. It was so ugly, it was beautiful, at least it was to me. I could picture my whole room; the orange and blue striped wallpaper — My mom says I have “unusual taste in colors.” I just put together any old thing I feel like, and then I sit back and admire the masterpiece. — and my lamps shaped like ice cream cones that had this cool four-inch, hot-pink fringe hanging down from the shades, and my gigantic Bert and Ernie slippers that always sat beside my bed. I couldn’t believe I found them in adult sizes, and was thrilled! At thirteen, I already wear a lady’s size nine. Yeah, get that would you? I sure hope my feet are through growing. There aren’t but two sizes after nine, and I’d hate like anything to go to the daggum men’s department to buy my shoes.

Well, when I started to think about all the things I’d left behind, my eyes filled with tears so fast it surprised me. I turned quickly to the window and acted like I was fascinated with the farmland we were passing — like I haven’t seen that every day of my life in Kansas — but what could I do? My mom had enough on her mind she didn’t need a sniveling daughter carrying on about her bedspread and slippers.

After all, I knew what she’d say anyway, something like, “Now, Lucy, you know those are just things, and things can be replaced. Everything can be replaced except you and me.” And she’s right. Really, she is. It’s just that when you lose everything, all at once, there’s so much to miss and feel sad about you don’t even know where to start. That’s when I decided, right then and there, I’d put off feeling sad about everything I lost until later, when I had the time and energy to feel cruddy. But for right now, I’d just look on this as a giant adventure and go with it. And that’s pretty much what I’ve done.

Every time the bus stopped, Mom looked around and shook her head and said, “Naw, this isn’t it, Luce. I think we gotta keep going east.” Until finally, we ran out of land and we had to get off. We were at the beach — the beach! — with an ocean and sand and seashells.

Now let me tell you, when you’ve been a Kansas girl for thirteen years, you’ve never been east of St. Louis, and you see the ocean for the very first time, it’s like you’ve only had peppermint Lifesavers your whole life. You thought they only came in that flavor because they look like the little life preservers hanging next to the pool. Then someone walks up to you and says, “Hey, try this.” It’s a wild cherry Lifesaver, and you can’t even believe what you are seeing! You put it in your mouth, and it just splits your taste buds wide open. You feel this amazing scream starting somewhere down near the inside of your heel, and it works its way all the way up your legs, through your stomach and stuff, up to your throat, and BAM! it’s out there. Zing! Shouting every bit of its sound up into the air.

I took off for the water. Splashing in the surf, the white soapy-looking foam crawled up my leg, and I looked over at Mom and yelled, “Yep, this is it, all right. We found it.” She just sank down in the sand smiling as she nodded her head at me.

That was two months ago. Don’t ask me how in the world we’ve made it. I couldn’t tell you in words, but we have and you know what? We’re happy. Really, truly happy. Not like jumping up and down, we-just-won-the-lottery kind of happy, but the deep kind, the kind that sticks with you, like oatmeal for breakfast lasts you till lunch. That kind.

We just kind of took it in steps. First, we found a cheap place to stay for the night, then we went to a place right on the beach that served burgers. I will never forget watching the sun going down while I munched my burger and sipped my cherry 7Up. The sky looked like it was painted with the watercolors I used to fool around with when I was in kindergarten. The ocean kept coming in, wave after wave after wave. I was almost hypnotized, like if someone would have told me to go kiss a walrus, I would’ve looked for one. It was just incredible. I immediately made up my mind I would watch every sunset for my evening entertainment. I mean, it was free! And hey, when you’re broke, you look for cool free things. My mom got to talking to our waitress and found out they were looking for waitresses. So, she went back to talk to the owner, while I got a free chocolate-mint ice cream with jimmies, my absolute favorite. Cool, huh? She left the room unemployed, and came back with a job and a great big smile. The owner had seen me out here, and said if I came in early with her, seeing it was summer, and helped out filling the salt, pepper, and ketchups, I could eat free. She got to eat free since she worked here. Well, what do you know? That solved the food and the job problem. Then I could hang out on the beach where Mom could see me, and she could work, not worry, and make great tips, we hoped.

I should probably mention here I am not the kind of kid who just likes to hang out and do nothing. I’m a ‘go-getter,’ my mom says. And if she means I can’t ever sit still and I like to do things, she’s right. I hate being bored, so I just won’t let myself be. I’m always thinking up creative things to do. I also love talking to people, to keeps things interesting.

Even on the very first day, I met Jared, and he became my best friend as the summer wore on. I talked to him about the beach umbrellas. How did they get there? Who put them back? Was there a way we could make some money helping whoever was in charge of them? We did a little investigating and found the fellow who was in charge of the umbrellas. He was in a little stand, positively consumed with flirting with the girls. Jared mentioned he’d never heard anyone talk like me, with phrases like “positively consumed.” I laughed and said I love words and I try them out whenever I can. I try to use new ones, so the old ones don’t get all worn out. He chuckled and said I was a funny kid. I took that as a compliment. Anyway, the guy was open to my making some money helping him out. I guess he thought that’d leave more time for flirting. So, we worked out a system, and I like it.

Like I said, Mom and I took it all in steps. She worked both the lunch and dinner shifts, I worked my little magic with the beach umbrellas, found some dogs to walk, some younger kids to watch, and between the two of us we had enough to pay the rent on a tiny beachfront apartment in a not-so-run-down complex where we weren’t scared to death to go out and get some milk or a paper when it was dark.

One day, after walking some dogs, I told Mom I wished I had my own dog, and she said only if I could get one for free. I headed for the pound, and holy Toledo, did I hit the jackpot! That very day someone had brought in the cutest little Sheltie — you know, like a miniature collie — and I adopted her. I named her Two Socks because Dances with Wolves is my very favorite movie, and I loved that wolf. Especially when Lieutenant John held out a piece of dried meat, and got Two Socks to take it out of his hand. That was trust, man, and it took a long time to build. I loved it, too, when he said in his journal, “If he comes back tomorrow — the wolf — I shall call him Two Socks.” People just don’t talk that way anymore, but I wish they did. I loved the way he wrote everything down, just like me. I want to be a writer when I grow up, I think. Either that, or a seal trainer. I haven’t decided for sure.

Well, that brings us up to date. Now it is the second week of August, and I am getting the blues big-time. Bet you know why; any kid would. Yep, you guessed it. Daggum school. Not only school, but a new school, and, yes, I’m the new kid, and I hate the thought of that. Everyone checking me out to see if I’m popularity material. I can save them the effort, I’m not. Or if I’m a geek, Goth, nerd, freak, skater, or just pathetic. The thing is, I’m not any of those things. I’m just me, Lucy, in the flesh, and the people who’ve known me my whole life just accept me the way I am. I don’t have to explain why it is that even though I hate mayonnaise, I have to have just a smidgen on my BLTs; why I can’t stand those wimpy little prints on paper napkins — just give me plain white ones —; why I’d rather be in cut-offs, a t-shirt, and bare feet than any fancy dress and cutesy heels. I feel like I need to go on the first day in a shirt that says, “I used to be somebody,” cause now I don’t know who I am to these kids. I mean, I don’t know who they need me to be. What are they looking for? And what if I’m not it? What if I end up sitting by myself at lunch, and walking to my classes all alone? Why do I suddenly feel like I should be looking at the supply list for kindergarten instead of seventh grade? Because I’m starting over, and it stinks.





CHAPTER TWO




It’s a week till school, and counting. I’m in a terrible mood, and I’m afraid I’ve taken it out on my best — and need I mention, my only — friend, Jared. He’s such a great guy. He’s got what I call this thousand-watt smile, a straight nose, brown eyes like melted Hershey kisses, tan cheeks, high cheek bones. He almost looks Native American sometimes, or Spanish. He’s so handsome. I can’t believe he’s my friend. I bet it sounds like I have a crush on him. Well, I don’t. I would have if I’d met him in Social Studies or Language Arts, or some other class like cooking, but the way we met and the way we just started hanging out together like two buds, well, I didn’t have time to get a crush. I think it’s just describing him that I realize what a hunk he is. But to me, he’s just Jared, my best friend, the one I can tell anything to, and today, I’m feeling lousy about snapping at him so hard.

I tell myself I better get a move on to start my exciting filling session of the salt, pepper, ketchups, and, yes, now I’ve even graduated to Sweet ‘n Lows and sugar packets. As I’m walking over to the Burger Hut — Catchy name, huh? Bet they had to think a long time to come up with that!I hear my name being called, and turn around. Wow, what do you know, it’s Jared.

“Hey, Jared,” I start rather quietly. “Look, I’m really sorry I snapped at you last night. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’m just so out of sorts. Nervous I guess, about the big day.”

“The big day?” Jared answered, looking confused.

“Yeah, school. The thought of it scares me to death.”

“Hey, look, Luce, you don’t have anything to worry about. You’ll be fine. You’re smart, I can tell. You probably got really good grades back in the ‘little school on the prairie.’”

“Hey, watch it. No Kansas jokes.”

“Sorry, I was just trying to get you to loosen up a little. Your face is so tight, it looks like it might crack any minute. What in the world are you so worried about?”

“Have you ever been to a new school, Jared?”

“Well, uh, no.”

“Well, neither have I. I’ve always gone to the same school with the same friends, and I knew which teachers were the mean ones and which were the nice ones, and I, uh…” I stop and look down past my downcast lashes at Jared’s face, “felt sorry for the poor new kids. Now, suddenly, I find I’m one. And well to put it bluntly, I’m freaked out.”

He starts laughing. I look at him aghast, ready to explode in anger when he grabs me by both shoulders and touches his nose to mine. “Lucy, Lucy, Lucy, you are the funniest girl. You just be yourself and you’ll be fine. Believe me, please, you will be fine.” When I look away, he guides my chin back toward him and says, “Yes, you will. Now let me help you fill your peppers, then let’s hit the water. C’mon!”

If only Jared was as good a fortuneteller as he is a friend. Sweet ‘N Lows, here we come.





CHAPTER THREE




I raced Two Socks down the beach and plopped onto the sand, breathless from our run. She slid on my lap and her tongue swept over my nose. I grinned into her amazing eyes and said, “Two Socks, you are my very best friend and I love you, girl. You may even be the best thing that’s ever happened to me.” She grinned up at me, for real grinned, I’m not kidding. If you’ve ever known a Sheltie, then you’ll agree with me that they are positively human. They have about sixty-five different expressions and they talk to you with little noises in their throats. After a while, you can tell the difference between the “I need to go outside” noises and the “I just want your attention and I wouldn’t mind a scratch behind the ears” kind. They are so smart and quick in everything they do, and gentle, too. She never snaps at my fingers when I feed her my leftover hamburger, just takes it nice and gentle. She’s awfully sweet, and has made this adjustment to living here on the coast so much easier.

Mom’s gotten to be good friends with one of the other waitresses at the Burger Hut. Lorraine is her name. Mom calls her Sweet Lorraine, and she’s been a great friend to Mom. Even to me. She gave me this rad quilt she got at a flea market. It’s got amazing colors in it, real vibrant ones like coral, blue, purple, and green with a mustard yellow shade in there, too. I decided to use it as the basis for the color scheme in my new room. My room’s tiny but cozy. Mom offered to give me the other room because it’s larger, but I said no, I’d rather have this one; it’s got a window seat and it looks out onto the beach. I’ve barely got room for my single bed, a desk and chair, and a small chest of drawers, but it is always somehow comforting when I walk into it, like I’ve come home, you know what I mean? I can spend hours in there with Two Socks, listening to music on the boom box I found for two dollars at a yard sale, or writing in my journal, or reading. I’ve always loved to read, I guess because it takes me away from everything, and that was important when you’ve got parents who can’t stand each other and a dad who brutalizes your mom like crazy. See? I told you I love words, like brutalizes. It’s just a cool word. Not that what he did was cool, but if you’ve got to describe it, it’s better to use a cool word.

Anyway, life here has been much better, much! Mom likes her work at the Burger Hut. She gets along well with her boss, Mitch, and does stuff with Lorraine when they’re not working. Me? I just love being on the beach. For a Kansas girl born and bred, it’s paradise to just walk on the beach barefoot and feel the sand squish up in between my toes, to sit and watch Two Socks chase the seagulls and run in the foamy tide, and to take in the glorious colors of one sunset after another. I do my little beach umbrella business, walk some dogs, and twice a week, I watch the Carlton twins for Mrs. Carlton so she can get some things done. They’re cute little girls, although their names make me want to throw up: Maisy and Daisy. I mean, come on, would you want to be stuck with names like that? It’s like an announcement to the world: “It’s not bad enough that I’m an identical twin, but I got a stupid twin name, too!” They’re four, so they don’t seem to mind it yet, but getting to know Mrs. Carlton just the little bit that I have, I can tell you, they are in for it. Identical dresses, bedspreads, backpacks, the works! She invented the word “cutesy,” too. I feel for those kids, I really do. But I get paid well for watching them, and I do creative things with them, like building a different kind of sand structure each week and art projects, fun stuff. It’s given me somewhere to go and something to do with being new and all.

But now school looms on the horizon, edging ever closer and I’m freaked, positively freaked out. Jared says not to worry, but he has so many friends, his perspective is a bit clouded, I’d say. It’s not like he hasn’t tried to include me, he has, but it just hasn’t gone that great.

Like take last Thursday, for example. He invited me to a picnic “the gang” (what he calls his group of friends) was having on the beach. He said they’d just hang out, listen to music, swim, sun, and probably play volleyball. Unfortunately, he mentioned it while we were filling up the ketchups and mustards, within earshot of my mom, and she jumped on it like a mouse on cheese. She’d even volunteered to make us a picnic lunch from the restaurant and everything. She was over-the-top trying too hard, and I appreciated that Jared didn’t say anything to me about it. He just acted all respectful and polite-like, which of course my mom — like all moms — ate up.

“What a polite young man,” she was sure to say when we were next alone. “Do you like him?” She tries, she really does. I can’t complain. But she needs to cool it on the boyfriend thing. That’s just not where Jared and I are at.

We’d agreed to meet at the Burger Hut at eleven o’clock Thursday morning. Mom was beside herself with excitement at getting to pack the picnic lunch, humming little happy songs to herself. She’d made a bunch of ham and cheese croissants, “Classy,” she’d said, and put in carrot and celery sticks with ranch dressing, chips, pickles, apples, and giant frosted brownies, along with four cans of Sprite and two bottles of water.

“Mom, we’re only going for the afternoon, not three days,” I’d complained, but she had just laughed and said the beach makes you thirsty. She’d put the whole thing in a cooler and put two brand new beach towels next to it. I knew she was watching every penny, so I was about to ask her what gives when she saw the way I looked at them and said something about Mitch having extra ones he needed to get rid of. Then she hurried off, looking extra-busy so I wouldn’t question her. Wiping her hands on her little black half-apron she wore to stash straws, napkins, and tips in, she smiled at me. I could feel all that motherly love and protectiveness radiating out of her. She wanted so badly for me to fit in here, to have friends. It was like she was filled with guilt that my life had taken the turn it had, and she was trying to make up for it with sheer effort. I kept trying to tell her life was actually better here than in Kansas, but when I did, she just nodded and I could tell it didn’t penetrate her guilt.

So, when Jared showed up, she came rushing up to him, complimenting his tan, his suit, and sandals. “Oh no, not the sandals, Mom. Stop, please, before you kill me.” He smiled, nodded at something she said, then looked at me, and asked if I was ready to go.

“More than ready. Let’s get out of here.” I wanted to shout, but I managed to remain calm and thank Mom very respectfully for the lunch, which Jared picked up, along with the beach towels. I almost got out of there without the obligatory hug, quick kiss, and the words, “Be careful!” floating after me. Jared just smiled. I have to say I really appreciate the way he knows when not to say something.

“You and your mom are real close,” he observed, more of a statement than a question.

“Yeah, well, we’ve been through a lot together,” I answered, shrugging.

“No, I wasn’t saying it like it was anything bad,” he said quickly. “I can just tell how much she wants for you, you know, to be happy and all. I think it’s cool. Really.” He shrugged when I looked pointedly at him. “She cares about you. A lot. That’s all I’m saying.”

We walked along without saying anything more for a few minutes. The wind had whipped up and my hair started blowing all over the place, even hitting him in the face. I stopped suddenly, and put my beach bag on the sand, started rooting around for a hair clip, and then, finding one, wound my hair around my hand and stuck the clip in to anchor it to the back of my head. While I was in the bag looking, I grabbed my sunglasses and stuck them on, too. Without a word, Jared had stopped and waited for me, then began walking when I did. That’s something I like a lot about our relationship. We don’t have to talk all the time. We are very comfortable around each other. At least, I thought we were, until we reached his “gang.” Then everything changed, and the day went downhill from there; my life went downhill from there.

Some guy with a preppie name, like Skip, or Jock, or Tag, came running up to us and clapped Jared on the back. “I thought you weren’t coming, old man,” he kidded. “We’ve been waiting for you. C’mon.” He looked right through me as if I wasn’t there, and moved off before Jared could introduce me, if he had been meaning to introduce me at all. I kinda got the idea he wasn’t planning on it for some reason.

When we got close to the group, Jared set down the cooler and towels when, before he could say another word, three guys grabbed him and pulled him toward the ocean. They were all shouting something I couldn’t understand, and raced off together, leaving me standing there, holding my beach bag, looking like an idiot. I looked around. There were about five or so girls huddled together — I couldn’t see where one ended and the next began — hands up to their mouths, whispering and giggling. Great. Like I needed this today. Not knowing what else to do, I walked over to them and introduced myself.

“Hi, I’m Lucy,” I said with as much enthusiasm as I could muster. Yeah, I was honestly thinking the word, “muster.”

“Oh, hey,” one of them answered, not offering her name in reply.

“Lucy? That’s kind of a weird name isn’t it? Like, old-fashioned or something,” a bronzed girl with an impossibly flat stomach and a tiny bikini said through lips laden with gloss.

“Well, my mom loved the TV show I Love Lucy. That’s where I got it from,” I offered, suddenly even more uncomfortable.

“Oh,” the bronzed beach goddess answered.

Could she be any less articulate?

No one else introduced themselves, and the conversation screeched to a halt. We stood there for an awkward moment, until another girl, a blonder, lighter-skinned version of the bronze girl, said, “Hey, let’s put out our towels and grease up, okay, guys?”

There were some mumbled murmurs of assent and then movement to unfurl towels and sit down, unscrew tops of suntan lotion and slather it on. No one took any further notice of me, so I imitated their actions, placing my towel at the very end of their row of towels. There were seven girls I saw, now that they had moved apart. They all looked pretty much alike, with skimpy bikinis, dark tans, blonde or sun-streaked brunette hair — all long, pulled up in scrunchies — and, get this, all of them had these incredibly long, manicured fingernails that looked fake as anything. Even their toenails were professionally polished. Several had their navels pierced, and a couple of them wore toe rings. It took me about a nanosecond to realize I had nothing — nada, nuttin’ honey, zip — in common with any of them. They would be too afraid of breaking a nail to ever walk one dog, no less four at once. They probably would think it was nasty to even pet a dog. I wondered what would’ve happened if I’d brought Two Socks along? I could just imagine the pained looks and squeals if she had sniffed any of them. It made me smile just to think of it.

I lay back, in my practical one-piece, and began reading the book I had brought with me. It was an Agatha Christie mystery, and I was at an especially exciting part. It was, however, hard to concentrate, and I found myself rereading the same page as the girls next to me carried on a constant stream of gossip.

“Jen’s breaking up with Skip, you know,” one of them said authoritatively.

Snap! I was right about one of those guys being named Skip. I inwardly congratulated myself.

“Well, who wouldn’t? You know he cheated on her with Megan.”

“No.”

“Yes, I heard it from Roxie! She said she saw them at the pool and they were very friendly, if you know what I mean.”

“That is not cool. He owes it to Jen to stay with her, after all she’s been through, you know?”

“Absolutely.”

At this point, I successfully screened them out, thinking my own thoughts about who the heck Jen was, and what all she’d been through. It also occurred to me that these girls were being amazingly rude to me, not trying to include me in any of their conversation and having never even introduced themselves. Everything about them screamed selfish, self-centered snobs who had no more room or desire for another friend. I got the distinct feeling I was mingling with the upper echelon of the middle school crowd. Surely these girls could not be going into seventh grade as I was, could they? They seemed much too sophisticated and, for lack of a better word, grown-up, to be thirteen!

I refocused on my book and successfully finished the chapter I was reading, when the guys returned with shouts and splashes of water as they shook out their hair over the girls who squealed as if on cue and giggled afterwards. The whole group bored me to tears, and I could hardly distinguish Jared from the five other guys, so complete was his transformation. Gone was the friend I had made, and in his place was a wise-cracking clone of the other guys, who offered our lunch to the guys so easily that at first I didn’t think I’d heard right.

Hands dove into our cooler, though, coming out with sandwiches, chips, brownies, soda, and water. Nothing was offered to the girls, who, I took it, didn’t eat in front of the boys. Without so much as a thank you to me, or even a look in my direction, the meal was concluded and the guys raced off again, this time with a volleyball in hand.

Angry as much as crushed, I stood, folded my towel, slipped on my flip-flops, and turned to the girls. “It was awfully nice meeting each of you,” I said purposefully, hoping to capture their attention that I had, in fact, not “met” any of them. One raised her hand as if in a half-wave. The rest went on talking as if I had never spoken.

“Unbelievable,” I muttered under my breath, as I made my way back down the beach, toward the direction of the Burger Hut. “Absolutely, unbelievable.” I had never seen anything like those girls back in Kansas. Not just that they were on the beach — I could easily substitute pool; we had those, now, in Kansas, in case anyone was interested — but in everyday life, at school, at church, in the parks. Who did those little snobs think they were? To not even acknowledge me as a human being. I was furious at myself for not belaboring the point during the “introductions,” or lack thereof. Yes, I thought the phrase “lack thereof.” I admit it. I had read it in a book somewhere, and thought it sounded cool. What can I say? I love words. I know, funky.

I was still in quite a state when I marched into the Burger Hut, threw down my beach bag and slumped into a back booth. Lorraine saw me, smiled and motioned toward the iced tea. When I nodded, she filled up a large glass, added a lemon, and headed over. Handing it to me, she slid in opposite me in the booth, and looked at me, raising her eyebrows.

“Beach didn’t go so well?’ she asked.

“Horrible!” I exclaimed. “I met the beach babes from you-know-where!” I put the glass to my mouth and began swallowing. Before I knew it, I had drunk the whole glass.

“Gosh a-mighty, girl. You’re one thirsty customer. Should I just bring over the pitcher?” She rose to go retrieve more tea. “Okay, Lucy-Luce, spill it,” she said, as she refilled my glass. “What in the world happened, and where is Jared? Didn’t you guys go together?”

“You could say that,” I muttered. “I thought that’s what we were doing, but he had other plans, like dumping me with a bunch of little snob girls and running off with his pals. Then, they had the nerve to come back and eat the entire lunch Mom made without offering me any of it. And I sat there, Lorraine, like a bump on a log, and just let it happen.”

“Well, honey, I wouldn’t be too hard on yourself. You were probably just plain shocked, is all. I mean, I would’ve been. Who’d have thought Jared would do that to you, Luce? He’s always been so polite and, well, nice.”

“Yeah, look how he turned out, huh?” I put my chin in my palms.

“Let me get you something to eat? Whacha want?”

“Could I please have a small blackened shrimp salad?” I asked shyly, afraid it was too expensive.

“You got it. Coming right up. And, Lucy,” she turned and looked at me significantly, “I’ll hold off telling your mom for a while. Get your bearings and all,

okay?” She smiled at me and winked, knowingly. She was the best.

“Thanks a bunch, Lorraine. ‘Preciate it.” I got out my book and dove into the mystery. Thank heavens for books, I thought. Once again, they’re helping me to escape reality.

I blinked away the tears as I remembered that day, sitting there refilling the salt and pepper at the Burger Hut. It was almost a week ago, now. Mom had been relatively cool about it all. I guess Lorraine had clued her in and told her to back off a little. Anyway, she hadn’t said very much, except to tell me Jared had dropped off the cooler and towels, thanking her for the lunch. I know she’d been tempted to get in his face and ask what the heck he was thinking, but, somehow, she refrained herself. She surprised me sometimes. Jared hadn’t been around since, though. Too busy with Skip and the beach goddesses, I guess. Well, that’s okay, I told myself. I’m better off without him. Just a fake, that’s what he is. Got me all convinced he was a real person, genuine and all, and then shows his true colors last Thursday at the beach. Hope he liked those “classy” ham and cheese croissants ‘cause that’s the end of the line, bud. No more Miss Nice Guy. I’ll show them all, yes sir, I will. I look down when I feel something hitting my hand, and realize I’ve been pouring salt into a shaker without paying attention. There’s a mountain of salt on the table with my hand under it. Oh no, and here comes Mitch.

“Hey, Lucy. Mind if I sit down?”

“Your place, Boss Man.” I smile up at him. He smiles back and scoots into the booth across from me.

“Interesting concept there, Luce, but usually the customers prefer their salt in the shaker, not all over it.”

“Yeah, well, always going for the new, the different, the unique. If you think it doesn’t work for you, I’ll just go back to the hum-drum, the same-old-same-old.”

Mitch laughs. “You’re a cool kid, Lucy, you know that?”

“Thanks. Yeah, I’m definitely popularity material. Hey, I was thinking of having the whole school here for burgers. You know, like my fan club? You up for that?”

“Worried about the new school, are you, Luce?” Mitch looks at me, and I barely nod. “I know how you feel, I do. My dad was military. We were always moving. Always the new kids, my brothers and sisters and me. Sucks.”

I laugh, nervously, not used to having an adult say words like “sucks” to me. He must catch on to this because he colors ever so slightly and changes it.

“Uh, I mean, it stinks. Sorry about that.”

“Doesn’t bother me; Mom’d probably mind, though.”

“Yeah, ‘spect she would.” He laughs, and I notice for the first time how the skin around his eyes crinkles when he smiles and how blue his eyes are. He is kind, smiles a lot, and is very courteous to my mom. I am suddenly and unexpectedly overcome by how blessed she and I have been here, how everything’s worked out, and tears fill my eyes, kinda freaking me out, cause there I am right across the table from Mitch, and he’s noticing.

“Aw, Lucy,” he says as he gets up, comes around the table, and pushes in next to me. “Come here, little girl. Just let it all out. Come on. You’ve been brave enough for long enough. Let ‘er rip.” He cradles my head in his hands and, before you know it, I’m bawling like a little kid, and move right into his arms. He holds me, and it feels good, like a dad would. My shoulders start shaking and then moans start up from way down inside me, and escape, sounding pitiful and weird. I would’ve had a hard time recognizing them as mine if I hadn’t been right there and heard them with my own ears. I felt like I was standing over on the other side of the restaurant, looking over at us, but strangely, I wasn’t all that embarrassed. I was relieved. It was like taking off a heavy wool coat that I’d worn all through a long museum tour, and it had become heavier and heavier. It had weighed on my shoulders and felt like fifty pounds of lead. When I finally peeled it off, it was like being set free.


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