By Gregory Shipman.
I was fourteen going on depressed. The school year had been a major disaster. I had mixed with the wrong crowd, made the worse mistakes and had been lucky that my father didn’t kill me when the Principal told him and mom I would be repeating the ninth grade.
I could have gone to Juvey Jail when the cops came knocking on our door about the break-in at Mr. Sam’s store. I had been a look-out but kept my mouth shut until the cops left. When I told dad he went to Mr. Sam and told him he would pay for his lost stuff. Mr. Sam took the money and I learned my lesson. I ditched the wrong crowd, never repeated my worse mistakes and geared myself to repeat the ninth grade.
Two weeks after school closed dad and mom told me we were going to spend two weeks at Ocean City. I was glad to get away from the city and, hopefully, the memories of the past school year.
Dad wasn’t rich in those days, but he knew how to make one dollar work harder than ten, so we had a rental almost on top of the beach. The beach was long with yellow sand and lapping waves. I was in a new world, and that beach was mine to explore. I didn’t mind the other people because they were just tourist. I was the owner of this new world.
Every morning I was up before the moon went home and the sun punched in. I loved the feel of the wet wind and the sand giving way to my bare feet. The city I knew was far away… as far away as the life I knew, and the horrible year I’d lived.
And then, on the fourth morning, I saw her. It was barely six o’clock, and my walk had just started. The waves were gentle, the water chilly while the sand was still warm under my feet. There weren’t many people on the beach this early, and the waves had combed the sand into a smooth blanket. She was lying on a red blanket with a thermos near her left shoulder. Her two piece bathing suit was dark green, like leaves in the park still holding dew. To this day I remember all those details that seared themselves into my brain.
I walked towards her slowly, as if speed would make her somehow disappear. As I got close to her she looked up and smiled.
“Good morning,” she said. Her skin was fair, her eyes piercing and her hair, just touching her shoulders, was damp.
“Hi,” I almost stuttered.
She sat up and brought her knees upward towards her body. She wrapped her arms around them in a fluid move. “My name’s April,” she said. “My mom and I are from Jersey. My dad’s in the army and he’s driving down from Fort Meade. Do you live around here?”
“I’m Butch,” I managed to say. “My folks and I are from Baltimore, and we’re just here on vacation.”
“Wow,” she said with a crooked smile, “are you from the tough part of Baltimore.”
“The toughest,” I grinned.
“You bragging?” she grinned back.
“Just saying,” I replied. “How old are you, April?”
“Almost sixteen, Butch. How old are you?”
“Almost sixteen,” I said.
“And how ‘almost’ to sixteen?”
I ran my hand over my close cut hair as I replied, “A year and a half… but I’m big for my age.”
She laughed as she said, “So you Baltimore boys don’t lie, you just stretch the truth?”
“Like a rubber band.”
We both laughed and that started our friendship… a week and a half friendship. We met every morning for a walk on the beach. We talked about everything two teenagers could talk about. We convinced our parents to have dinner together on the Monday of our last week. We all ate seafood and spent two hours as if we were long time neighbors instead of the strangers we had been.
On our last morning together we had the beach to ourselves. We held hands as we walked side by side. Our bare feet made a squishy sound in the soft wave-combed sand. Before we turned around to head back to our rentals and soon-to-be-packed cars, we stopped and kissed. My heart pounded, and there was a ringing sound in my ears.
After the kiss April smiled at me before saying, “Someday.”
As we headed back we both noticed a big conch shell sitting on the sand exactly where our earlier footprints were. It hadn’t been there before… now it was. We looked up and down the beach and saw no one else. We stopped as I picked it up.
I turned it around in my hands. It was clean, smooth and magically shaped. I tried to hand it to April.
“No,” she said, “You keep it for us, Butch. One day we’ll meet again. I Promise you, and the shell is our contract.
Heady stuff for two teenagers, but strange things happen that can’t be explained. And I’ve since realized that two hearts don’t need explaining, they just need each other.
I nodded to her and we continued on towards the end of our vacation.
I’m forty now and I’ve never forgotten April. The shell has followed me through two relationships and three apartments. It has always been on a shelf where I can see it and remember.
This afternoon I was having coffee with friends when she walked up to me and asked, “Where’s our shell, Butch?” She said it like twenty-six years hadn’t passed. Her skin is still fair, her eyes still piercing, but her hair is not damp, nor does it touch her shoulders.
Ten minutes later we’re walking towards my apartment, the shell… and our future.
GREGORY K. SHIPMAN, a native East Baltimorean but now a Fairbanks, Alaska resident, has a day job that often extends into the evening. His passion is fiction-writing about the steamy, noir side of life… past, present and future. He has yet to earn a living from his writing but has the satisfaction of knowing its all non-taxable and doesn’t accumulate airline miles. He lives a life of hardly quiet desperation with his pet laptop and on-again, off-again Jeep. He enjoys Jazz, Blues, Theater and the occasional diabetic coma…