by J. M. Cornwell
Why do I end up alone every summer? The summer before Dave broke up with me to go steady with my best friend, and this summer Dale broke up with me because he was afraid I’d go off to college and forget him; college was another year away. I found out he was seeing a girl at Ponderosa steak house where he worked.
Oh, well, another summer alone. At least I had the family trip to Daytona Beach to break up another long summer alone.
When we drove up to the little cottage two blocks from the beach, I was shocked. I knew Mr. and Mrs. Alexander were divorced, but I couldn’t figure out how five kids and Mrs. Alexander could fit in such a small house, let alone how we would all fit in there.
“Bobby and Debbie live with their father in Orlando Beach,” Mrs. Alexander said.
I was heart broken. I had looked forward to spending time with Butch and Bobby; the three musketeers would be together again. Another summer dream shot down.
Daytona Beach was everything I ever dreamed it could be. A flat expanse of packed white sand where hot rods and cars tooled up and down the horizon-to-horizon expanse and handsome bronze-skinned boys and bikini-clad girls strolled, raced, and danced to the strains of rock
and roll and the pounding surf. Halfway down the beach from the cottage, an old wooden pier jutted out over the sand and surf where fishermen tended lines in webbed patio chair and drank beers and sodas from coolers by their feet. Couples wandered hand in hand up and down the pier and children raced whooping and yelling ahead of their parents, anxious to see the day’s catch or the deep blue sea beneath frothy-capped wavelets. Calliope music from the merry-go-round mingled with the screams and squeals of daredevils on the rides swooped, dived, and spun along the boardwalk. The scent of cotton candy and popcorn mingled with the clean
salt breeze that tickled and tumbled ticket stubs, bits of paper and escaping balloons along the pier. The swirls of color and lights, music and the aroma of hot dogs, hamburgers, candy, and roasting nuts were lost on me.
I smiled and laughed, but my heart wasn’t in it. One of the musketeers was missing.
Every summer visit to Florida to see the Alexanders or the visits they made to us in Ohio were happy memories of simpler times when Butch, Bobby, and I were together just like when we did odd jobs around the neighborhood to earn enough money for movies and rides at Buckroe
Beach Amusement Park back in Virginia. Bobby gave me my first kiss in the tunnel of love just before we crept up the towering steel hill of the Cascades and rocketed down into the water below. A little part of me hoped the years and experiences between that long ago starry summer
night had not pushed us so far apart we couldn’t find the thread of that happiness and knit it into another kiss or at least a chance to be as we were: three best friends sharing every possible moment together.
“I called Bobby,” Butch said as we walked up the beach to the showers, sensing my mood.
“Did you talk to him?” My heart leapt at the possibility I would see him before we left in the morning.
“No. He wasn’t there.”
I held back the tears threatening in hot protest behind my eyelids.
“He’s out of town until tomorrow night.”
Tomorrow night we’d be on our way to Chattanooga to visit my mother’s cousin unless someone manufactured a miracle.
Butch and I showered off in the cool spray, dried each other’s backs, slipped on our sandals and headed back to the cottage and our last dinner together, but Mrs. Alexander had a surprise for me.
“I think you should let Maria stay,” she said. “You still have a few days before you get home. She can fly home.”
I didn’t know what to say, what to think, and all that came out of my mouth was a pleading cry. “Mom? Dad?”
“It’s awful short notice and I don’t like the idea of you flying alone.”
“I’ll use my own money.”
“I don’t think so,” my mother said, the finality ringing harsh and clear in her voice.
“Maria will be all right. I’ll take her to the airport and see her off.”
She smiled at me and hugged me close. “She’s a big girl. She can fly home alone.”
“I want to stay,” my younger sister Carol whined.
Butch cringed and his mother patted his shoulder.
“I don’t know,” my father said, but he sounded uncertain, on the verge of changing his and my mother’s minds.
“You never let me do anything,” Carol cried. “I can pay for my own ticket, too. Please? Please, please, please?”
As much as I hated to admit it, if Carol stayed I’d be able to stay, too. Whatever Carol wanted she got. For the first time I didn't mind.
Mrs. Alexander, obviously knowing from long experience what was needed chimed in. “Sure. We’ll take both girls to the airport and they can keep each other company on the flight home.”
My father shrugged and my mother looked at him. “All right. But I want to call the airlines now to see how much the tickets will cost and when their flight will arrive in Columbus.”
Two more days. Two more days repeated in my mind. I might get to see Bobby after all. I didn’t want my sister watching my every move and reporting back to my parents, but even that was worth the chance to see Bobby.
My parents reminded us of the flight information and handed Mrs. Alexander our plane tickets when they left the next morning, Jimmy and Tracy crying because they couldn’t stay, too.
As soon as their silver Chevrolet station wagon disappeared over the rise, Mrs. Alexander told us to go swimming but to be sure to be back by five because we were going out to dinner. Carol, Juma, and Patty ran down the street toward the beach and Butch and I followed, hollering for
them to stop at the corner and wait for us.
The rest of the day passed in a blur of sparkling waves, laughter and warm sun baking us into sleepy submission. A little before five we all showered off the sand and raced home, Butch carrying Juma on his shoulders. Back at the cottage we dressed for dinner and got into the
Alexanders’ wood paneled station wagon.
Anticipation filled me. I was sure I’d see Bobby at the restaurant when Juma yelled, “Mommy, there’s Bobby,” out the window. Butch and Patty shushed him as if trying to keep him from spoiling the surprise I felt sure I knew: Bobby. I was disappointed again.
Bobby wasn’t at the restaurant and he didn’t join us. We ate and talked and I kept my eyes on the door, but he never came. We’d drive to the airport the following afternoon and I would fly back home without seeing him.
Mrs. Alexander turned into the driveway and parked beside a yellow Gremlin where a tall and tanned young man leaned against the hood. I barely noticed him until I got out of the car and he walked toward me.
“You’re still the prettiest girl in Virginia,” he said and smiled his crooked smile, pushing his glasses up his nose.
I couldn’t breathe. Bobby.
“I thought you were out of town,” Carol said, pushing between us, hands on hips, bottom lip thrust out.
“I just got back,” he said.
Patty grabbed Carol by the arm and urged her into the house to play records while Mrs. Alexander and Butch urged Juma inside, leaving Bobby and I alone in the driveway.
We stumbled over hellos and how have you beens and laughed, afraid to get too close. We talked about his trip and the friend who loaned him the Gremlin. “Would you like to go for a ride?” he asked.
We got in the car and he backed out of the driveway and headed down the strip between towering neon hotel signs that pushed back the darkness. He introduced me to a friend who worked in the Marriott and then we walked into the star spangled night and down to the chaos and laughter of the boardwalk.
“It’s called a broad walk,” he informed me, “because guys can watch pretty girls like you.”
Bobby was all grown up, a year older than I was, and had only two more weeks before he had to be at boot camp. He’d joined the Marines. “Dad said I was betraying the family, turning my back on the Air Force.”
We walked away from the lights and down the stairs to the beach and down toward the water line, chattering happily about everything and nothing. A bright crescent moon shimmered on the dark waves, a warm breeze fingered my hair and caressed my cheek, and Bobby took my hand. “I didn’t know you were coming until Butch called me. I hurried back as soon as I could.”
“I thought we’d leave before you got back.”
“Butch said Mom tried to get your folks to stay a couple more days, but they wanted to get home. I’m glad she talked them into letting you stay.”
I shivered. He took off his jacket and draped it around my shoulders. We were the only two people on the beach, or so it seemed. “You let your hair grow. It’s beautiful. I always liked your hair long,” he said.
For the first time, I noticed Bobby had gold and green flecks in his dark brown eyes when he leaned in and kissed me. It wasn’t the tentative sweet kiss of a young boy, but a sure and gentle searching kiss that warmed me like a cup of hot chocolate on a cold and frosty winter day.
We walked back down the beach and under the boardwalk toward the hotel parking lot where we left the car, fingers intertwined, pausing every few steps to test the wonder and warmth of another kiss, another lingering touch.
We drove to all his favorite places around and then he drove me back to the cottage, promising to pick me up for breakfast.
The hours before the flight were filled with laughter and the sweet discovery of what we had known as children; we were meant to be together. No one between then and now mattered and all the hurt and sadness disappeared the moment our eyes met again in that driveway.
At the airport, I smiled through the tears when he took my picture and tucked it into his wallet. Mrs. Alexander and Butch herded m sister and the other kids toward the boarding gate and Bobby and I stood, fingers laced, looking into each other’s eyes, unwilling to let our last
moment slip away.
At the boarding ramp he hugged me and whispered in my ear, “I fell in love with you the first time I saw you smile and I’m still in love with you.”
“I love you, too. I always have,” I said as he kissed my cheek. “I’ll write.”
“You’d better.” He smiled his crooked smile and pushed his glasses up his nose. “Six weeks isn’t so long. It’ll be over before you know it and then….”
Bobby curled his fingers in my hair and kissed me one last time, a kiss that tingled through me. “And then we won’t be apart again.”
I looked out the window of the plane, watching Bobby and his family for as long as I could. The plane’s engines roared and leapt into the clear blue Daytona sky turning toward the north and home.
Summer passed in a gold and blue haze that deepened into the flaming colors of autumn when Bobby came to take me home.
J. M. Cornwell is a nationally syndicated journalist, security columnist, author, professional editor with 28 years of experience, prose editor and chief webmaster for The Rose & Thorn http://www.theroseandthornezine.com/ literary ezine, writes Grammar Goofs, a column on grammar, for Scribe & Quill http://www.scribequill.com/ Occam'sRazor, a paranormal column, for Whim's Place http://www.whimsplace.com, edits erotica and mystery/suspense novels for Another Chapter http://www.anotherchapter.com and runs Creative Ink, LLC, a