Authors: Coleen Paratore
To my “most fun” friend, Kathy Johnson
I wiped away the weeds and foam,
I fetched my sea-born treasures home;
But the poor, unsightly, noisome things
Had left their beauty on the shore,
With the sun and the sand and the wild uproar.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
I open my journal and begin to write:
You must be brave to walk the beach alone. After all, you are only human. You may be simply looking for heart-shaped rocks or orange jingle shells, when, in a blink, three giants—Air, Water, and Earth—might converge upon you to form Fire. Fired, inspired, sea-spired, your heart speaks a language only you can hear.
Suddenly, your problem is solved, your path is clear, you have a wonderful idea! Lighter now, happier, your pace quickens as you turn home. The
footprints you made only minutes ago are now part of the infinite sea.
A new you makes new prints in the sand, new marks upon the planet, dinosaur-size next to the birds—the seagulls, terns, and plovers.
The beach is never the same beach twice.
Blink, and it changes.
Blink, and it changes.
Blink, and you are changed.
I stop writing, read it over, smile.
Such grand thoughts by the sea, Willa.
I ruffle through my beach bag for a water bottle. No luck. How could I have forgotten one? We have a whole fridge full at home. My mother ordered a hundred cases with our new green-and-gold inn logo: “Only the best for Bramblebriar guests. Fresh from a mountain stream.”
I still have some time before work. Leaving my bag, I walk out along the Spit, a long narrow stretch of beach with calm Popponesset Bay on one side, the wide open Atlantic Ocean on the other. It’s my favorite place in the world.
Three tiny birds, piping plovers they’re called—white bellied, mottled brown-and-tan feathers, stick legs, just inches high—scurry along in front of me,
peck, peck, pecking for breakfast crabs.
Good morning, Plovers.
When I reach the prettiest part of the Spit, there are workers hammering wooden stakes into the sand, stringing red ropes between them. They look over at me and I wave. Every summer about this time, the Massachusetts Audubon Society cordons off sections of the beach where the piping plovers and the terns, two types of endangered birds, are nesting. This year they’re closing off an unusually large area of grade-A top-choice Bramble beach. People aren’t going to like this at all.
Right now, the Spit is just sand and birds. By noon, the boats will have landed and anchored and the beach will be covered with blankets, umbrellas, tables and chairs, grills, coolers, volleyball nets, toys, and tons of people. Come Fourth of July, you won’t be able to walk without stepping on somebody’s sand castle.
Every summer there’s always a bit of local nastiness about the endangered bird thing because you can’t bring dogs on the beach when the birds are nesting. Dogs might trample the birds’ fragile eggs. Seagulls launch sinister aerial attacks, but you can’t put a leash on a seagull. Some people ignore the rules and let their dogs run free. Other people call the hotline to snitch.
It makes the papers for a day or two and then
; it’s over until next year. I don’t pay too much attention. We don’t have a dog. My mother says we aren’t “dog people.”
But this year the birds aren’t just messing with dog-people fun. This summer, they’re messing with boat-people fun. Judging from the size of the roped-off area, there’s an extra-big batch of baby birds on their way. Those fancy yacht owners will be batty about birds taking over their favorite part of the beach. This could get interesting.
At the tip of the Spit I stop and head back the way I came. My throat is tight and achy now. I can’t believe I forgot water. The waves lap loudly, taunting me. Water as far as my eyes can see. “
Water, water, every where, nor any drop to…
“Willa!” My new friend, Mariel Sanchez, is coming up over the dune. Dripping wet, out of breath, she hurries toward me, carrying something. Mare is an early-bird beach girl, too. I walk; she swims, way far out by the buoys. I would never swim out that far.
“Look what the tide brought in,” Mare says.
It’s a black rubber snorkel with goggles attached, all tangled up in slimy seaweed.
“That’s cool, Mare.”
“I’ve always wanted to snorkel,” she says, her brown eyes glistening.
“And look, Willa, these are
” Mare strips away the straggly green grass. “At first, I thought maybe I should leave them here…the owner would come looking. But then I saw this.”
She points to the brand name on the snorkel.
“My name’s right on it!” she says, laughing. “It’s obviously a gift for me!”
Mariel blows into the snorkel to clear the airway, then wipes out the eye sockets on the goggles and adjusts them over her face. “See ya, Willa!”
Seconds later, hip-level in the water, Mariel leans face forward and she’s off.
“Bye,” I shout. “Be careful.”
That girl is so free, she amazes me. No worries about where the snorkel came from, or germs, or how she doesn’t have flippers, or anything. Mariel Sanchez gets an idea and swims with it.
When I first met Mare earlier this year, I didn’t like her at all. She wanted the same part I wanted in the Bramble town play: Emily in
She got the part. Then I thought she was after my boyfriend JFK’s heart. It seemed she was ruining my life.
I was wrong. We’re getting closer now. We have a lot in common. We both love books and the beach.
I walk faster, thirstier. When I reach my bag, I fling it over my shoulder and slip on my comfy Swiss cheese sandals, smiling at the sunflower buttons I stuck in yesterday. All my friends are wearing these shoes, decorated differently to make them unique.
As I trudge up the old gray wind-weathered stairs, everyone else is coming down. It’s a perfect beach day, but I’m on lunch duty. We run the Bramblebriar Inn in town and this is our busiest season. That’s the thing about a family business; the whole family helps. And we’re a small family—just me, Mom, and my new stepfather, Sam, whom I just started calling “Dad.”
At the top of the stairs, my best friend, Tina Belle, and my barely tolerable friend, Ruby Sivler, are getting out of the Sivlers’ car. Ruby’s mother toots as she zooms off, their fluffy dog, Pookie, in the passenger seat with goggles on like the Red Baron.
Tina and Ruby are wearing bikini tops with matching orange-and-pink flowered sarongs wrapped low on their hips. They look like models on a photo shoot, like sophomores in college, not the sophomores in high school we’ll be this fall. Tina flings back her long blond hair and adjusts her silver hoop earrings. Ruby flings back her long red hair, diamond belly ring sparkling in
the sun. Tina says something and they squeal, laughing. Two boys watch, mesmerized. The one in the Red Sox cap holds out his cell phone and shouts. Tina and Ruby wave like mermaids, hamming it up for the camera.
When Tina sees me, she acts awkward. “Willa…hi. Where you going?”
“Home. I have to work.”
Ruby’s lip snivels at the sound of that horrible “w” word. “Work” is not something a Sivler girl does. You pay people to do that sort of thing.
“Oh, don’t go, Willa,” Tina says, clutching my arm.
I feel a little less jealous now.
Ruby lowers her designer sunglasses and squints past me like, “Willa, move; you’re clouding my view.”
“Don’t you remember?” Tina says. “Today’s the day. The last Saturday in June.
They’re coming at ten!
“Who’s coming at ten?”
Tina and Ruby look at each other, shaking their heads in disbelief. They lean toward me and whisper-shout: “
“Oh, right.” How could I forget?
Today’s the day the college student lifeguards officially ascend their thrones. One bronzed, buff, and beautiful prince-of-a-boy will rule from each tall gray
chair. Most beaches have boy and
lifeguards, of course, but at Sandy Beach it’s all boys. The lady who hires the lifeguards has three sons and they get jobs for their friends. It’s a monopoly or a dynasty or some “ee” or other. All I know is that someone is handling auditions, because I’ve never seen a goober yet. Every single one is hot. Tina and I used to climb the dunes with our binoculars to spy, wondering what their names were, dreaming of the day we’d be old enough to date them. We’re still not old enough.
Besides, I already have a boyfriend, my own age. I touch the silver heart locket around my neck. Joseph Frances Kennelly, “JFK,” gave it to me. We have a date later.
Ruby stares at the locket. “Oh, that’s right, Willa, we forgot. You’re married. We understand, don’t we, Tina? We won’t tempt you. Will we?”
Each “we” stings like a jellyfish.
I hate you, Ruby Sivler. Tina and I are the “we.” You’re the annoying third.
Or at least that’s how it’s always been.
Ruby grabs Tina’s arm and pulls. “Come on, Teen, let’s get a good spot.”
Tina looks at me. Her eyes are sad. I can tell she’s torn. I’m torn, too.
BFF. Best friends forever.
How many times have we written that? Ever since I moved
here to Cape Cod, we’ve been tight as twins. But before I came, Tina and Ruby were best friends. They have a lot in common. Lately, it seems even more so.
“Call me later, Willa,” Tina says.
“Yeah, sure,” I say.
Biking home, the tears come. I don’t want to lose my best friend. Why do I have to go to work? Why can’t I just enjoy my summer like everybody else?
At the stone fence in front of our inn, I see a paper taped on the Bramble Board. It’s where we post happy quotes and town events. When I get closer, I see that on the paper there is a crudely drawn bird inside a red circle, with a diagonal slash line through it and, in messy handwriting across the bottom, the words: “We serve plovers piping hot with fries.”
I yank the paper off and look around.
Who would do such a thing?
I bound up the stairs, past two guests playing checkers in the lobby, and into the kitchen for a water bottle. I chug it down and toss it into the recycling bin.
“Willa!” my stepfather, Sam, shouts, coming in from the garden.
Good, I want to show him this paper. But then I see his face. Usually a Buddha-like pillar of peaceful, Sam looks manic as a monkey. He drops a wicker basket of
green beans on the counter, spilling them everywhere. He wipes sweat from his forehead, leaving a dirty rainbow. “Willa, I need your help.”
“Sure, Dad, anything.” My heart is pounding. I’ve never seen Sam so wired.
“Aunt Ruthie’s coming. And she wants to get married. Here. Next week. Your mother says that’s crazy, ‘It just can’t be done,’ and so I’m begging you. Can you do it? Can you possibly plan a wedding in a week?”
I burst out laughing, relieved. Then Sam does, too.
“Sure,” I say. “No problem. They don’t call me the wedding planner’s daughter for nothing. But I have one very, very crucial question.”
“Of course, Willa, what?”
“Who the heck is Aunt Ruthie?”