He knows very well he can remember being here. The faint smell of washing detergent. Yes, well he knows he shouldn’t sit his coffee mug down on the table to his right, he knows better than to make a ring on wood. So instead he places it down on his knee. She’ll criticize him for doing it, when she comes back.
Not much has changed with the house. The tiles in the bathroom are cold. Maybe you, too, know of such tiles. Well, no, maybe not. He never knew of how many men she had in the house.
He sits in the chair nearest the door to leave, the one that faces the kitchen. He can see her working quickly to prepare her tea, not to keep him waiting, rushing- one of her habits. He hears her hum to the steps of her feet- another habit. But, yes, he can remember the house.
The maroon curtains, sweeping over the window, no light but the lamp and the overhead, fluorescent- fake. It fits, and well, he can remember that. And yes, she still leaves a scarf over the lamp to give the room a coloured tint. He misses that- or maybe he doesn’t. He can’t tell so he doesn’t try to. That is why he left, but besides the point. Yes, well, she keeps the room too cold, he can hear her sniffle in between the crack of the door. He used to tell her she should turn the heat on, but- she never listened.
“My smoke is warm enough.” She would say. He remembers that.
He starts tapping his leg, he grew out of that, but the house brings back all types of older frequencies. He smells a cigar from the kitchen. He regrets coming, but no, he won’t leave. He doesn’t stop by often.
It’s been six years.
He feels guilty, and he knows that she’s aware of that. She opens the door and, yes, she does still keep all the cupboards open. He wants to go in and shut them, but that’s stepping too far. She isn’t making eye contact, that hasn’t changed either.
“It’s been a long time- I’ve missed you.” He tries to start up a conversation.
“It’s been six years and if you’ve missed me I haven’t noticed.”
Well, yes, that feels far too normal, a sickness in his stomach rises; as if he has accomplished nothing in the past six years because she says he hasn’t. He looks at her tea. Two sweeteners, one tablespoon of cream, and a beige floral cup on a silver platter. He wonders if she still washes it after every time she has tea.
“And the kids are-?”
“Fine. Grown.” He can tell she’s hesitant and hurt. She says two words, but maybe it means more, and well, no of course it doesn’t. Or maybe it does, but he didn’t come here to wonder if she’s kept her habits, he came here because it’s been six years and he forgot her birthday.
“They miss you,” She adds, looking toward the curtains.
She picks up her feet, clothed by ten year old Mary Janes, and she walks to the maroon drapes. She picks up a duster and- yes she still cleans when she’s nervous. Maybe she’ll let him help, maybe things have changed with her, too. But she declines when he offers.
“You shouldn’t of come.” She starts, but she says it empty and unpromising.
“Too late now.”
“Is this even a conversation? Am i talking to a ghost? Why can’t we get past the-well, past?” He thinks and worries, and that’s not very unusual for him, but she can tell through his worry.
“No new woman?” She’s trying at least- well, bluntly, but trying.
“No. How about you?”
She chuckles, “Do I have a new woman?” He laughs along. She still laughs with a smirk- and, yes, he can remember feeling this way.
“No, Scarlette, you know what I mean. Anyone of importance I should know about?”
“Well, none you should know about.”
“Is that a yes?”
“Is that a no?”
Stubborn- not new, very triggering to the mind. He knows he can’t do this and he’s starting to feel nauseated at the thought of loving her so he excuses himself to grab something from his car. The cold air rushing through the remains of hair on the sides of his head and he grips his coat.
This feels familiar, walking out. They did that a lot- he can feel the remains of footsteps from his twenty nine year old self leaving and he thinks that if he shuts his eyes long enough he can trace back to it. Flirt with time, make it give up the harshness of winter memories and go back. But- well, she’s waiting inside so he doesn’t dwell on his thoughts. And- well, that’s new.
Once he’s grabbed what he needs he walks, paces- inside to her. Shutting the door too hard, making the lock echo after it’s been heard. He knows that the present isn’t wrapped, but it isn’t like him to cover a gift with a mask. Especially not a book.
“What is it, Sam?” She asks, and she honestly sounds like she has no clue- a surprising reaction that he is more than grateful for.
“I could never say it like Morgan could. I’ve had this for so long, but couldn’t part with it. Well, until now.”
She takes the book, looking at the cover. In big red letters it reads “Scarlette and Sam.” And- yes, they both remember this story well. She gently turns the next page, reads the dedication, to her of course. Then her fingers find their way to the first page of a telling story. She reads “It all started out with two dollars and a cheap pair of flip flops…”
To him she walks
The night begging small stones to brush her damp feet
Her red hair is flying sky to sky
Sky to sky
To Scarlett, my first love.
It all started out with two dollars and a cheap pair of flip flops. The summer of 1985, this was the first year I was allowed to leave my parents for summer break before I was to start my fourth year at UNCG. I was in that whole “I’m twenty one I can do what I want when I want to and I don’t need my parents permission” phase which doesn’t go by smoothly in a place where you’re not allowed to drink the wine at communion. But- yes, this was a new year and I had already gotten three out of the six things done on my 1985 New Years summer bucket list. Which consisted of things like going in the ocean naked or kissing Scarlett, both of which I was unlikely to do at the time, but by the end of the summer would have seemed like child's play compared to the joy and heartbreak of meeting Sam. My best friend, Sam Marello.
Now, to get this crystal clear, this is not my story. I am a figure as far as I should be. I’m a pawn on the chessboard that was the incredible summer of 1985. I am telling the story of my long time friend, Scarlett, and who would become my best friend, Sam- this is their story. I just happened to be on the cast list.
It was summer and I had been saving up for three years for the moment when I got to leave North Carolina and hit California Beach. I got my rich uncle Stevie on my moms side to let us use his beach house for the summer, provided that we don’t drink the booze and I got my dad’s horrible old jeep, which as ugly as it was, seemed to be really new age for it’s time and was dear to my heart.
The morning started like expected. Waking up later than I should, packing at the last minute, eating all the good food in the house before I had to leave. My parents dwelled at the door and yes Scarlett and I would be sleeping in different rooms, mom, and no I won’t drink, and yes I’ll thank uncle Stevie. The time it took to leave the house was longer than I was proud of, but nonetheless I was going to California Beach so I didn’t have much to complain about.
I picked up Scar from her house, before she popped her FIVE suitcases in the back.
“Why did you bring so much shit?”
“How much did you bring?”
“You’re looking at it.” I said, referring to my clothes. She looked shocked, none the less. Her dark brown eyes expanding in disgust.
“Okay, well my swim trunks and pajamas and laying in the trunk, but what else do I need?” I tried to clear the situation.
“Ew. Where’s the Blondie CD?”
“Can’t we just listen to Springsteen for once?”
“Here.” I pointed to the dashboard, she giggled.
The drive to the airport was normal. Filled with loud children and coffee places and too many souvenir shops and- well, Scarlette and myself. The cold air made her shuffle and we were too tired to stand and wait for the flight so we sat in the chairs inside the airport building. The sun was dimming slightly by the time the plane arrived for us to board. We waited outside for the plane which was one of my favorite parts of the whole summer. Once the plane had boarded and started letting people off there was an immense realization of humanity, it had hit me in the face with it’s bare palm. Similar to when you’re drinking a Coke on hot day and you think it’s all gone, but you tip the can anyway and there's just enough for another minute. People got off the plane and ran. Ran to the people they loved; boyfriends, girlfriends, brothers and sisters, and mothers and fathers, grandparents, close friends, and anyone in between. They ran and they hugged and they kissed and I suddenly felt uncomfortable next to Scar, because well- everyone was kissing and hugging and I had wanted to do that for over ten years. I had turned to her and realized her happiness, longing- she had wanted to do that too, just not with me. Which I had come to terms with so I just embraced her in a hug before we had to leave the love feast and board our plane.
The plane ride was of little importance, to be frank I was wasted most of the ride. They had white wine and cheesecake and cheetos so there wasn’t anything much to be noted of- other than the last twenty minutes. The anticipation was high and the only time I had spent this long away from my parents was when I stayed with my grandfather for three days, but to be fair I was a baby. My heart rate was higher than usual and I was interested in hers, Scar, but she was passed out on my shoulder so I had to be quiet. I looked up at the clock and took hold of her hand. When the clock turned from one minute to the next I started counting, not stopping, but always looking at the clock. By the time one minute passed her heart rate was roughly sixty eight beats per minute. Slow from sleep. Mine was a rapid ninety one. Then again, it usually stuck in the eighties. I wasn’t scared- just excited. Maybe a bit scared, but that wasn’t new either. Once we had boarded I woke her up, sitting on my words I shook her. I wasn’t one to yell in public. Or, to be fair, in private.
Once she was awake and we had gotten off the winged machine it felt odd to touch the ground again, but I didn’t dwell on the thought so as to find my uncle who I prayed wasn’t as hungover as me or at least had someone else driving. It was crowded, and filled with love, making him stick out like a sore thumb when we found him.
“Morgan!” He yelled and heads turned and I cowered and Scarlett laughed.
“Uncle Stevie.” I said as politely as I could without sounding like a smart ass.
We hugged and patted shoulders before he addressed Scarlette. All three of us walked to Steve’s SUV which someone as rich as his is should definitely not of owned. The sky was dark, but the moon reflected on the black car door. We got in, I was on the left side, she on the right- back seat, of course. Steve’s shakily driving, but I was too tired to care. There were no stars above my head, but darkness when I looked out the window. Scar and I both fell into a casual position, letting our heads rest on one another. Sharing the middle seat.
It seemed so surreal that I was this far from my house, but so close to what would be my home. At least for one summer. She closed her eyes, which meant he’ll have to wake us up when we get there. I fell asleep afterward, thoughts of what would happen if I never went back to my house fluttering in and out of my mind before my eyes close.
My back had aches from waking up on a couch. A nice couch, granted, but I cursed silently at myself for not finding one of the many beds in the house the night before. I stand up to find Scarlett, but don’t get past the breakfast bar in the kitchen next to the main living room I slept in. I fixed an orange juice. Chugged it. Walked up the first set of stairs. I stepped into the first door with a light on that I saw, but I only found Stevie and Scott, both asleep. Scott is Stevie’s boyfriend from a million years ago, but we were only allowed to refer to them as friends in public because people still had a problem with it. I didn’t mind it, except when they stayed over at my parents house and we heard them shagging in the next room. I shut the door lightly and walk up the next set of stairs.
There’s a light coming from the room at the end of the hall, only two other rooms on the hall. I knock before opening the door and find her trying to figure out a record player in the corner of the reasonably sized room. She was in one of my Pink Floyd tee shirts I gave her a while back. It hung down to her knees and matched her fuzzy purple pajama pants.
“What time do you want to hijack Scotts beer stash and hit the beach?” She asks, but doesn’t turn around- still trying to figure out the record player.
“We need to find the beer before they wake up and we’ll stash it in one of your numerous bags. We can go to the beach at like eleven.”
“Ug. Fine. I need a shower any way.”
“But, you’re going to the beach.” I say like a question.
“Do you see my hair?” She shakes her red mane of curls all over her face.
“Just put it up and meet me in the kitchen in five, it’s by where I slept.”
I didn’t wait for her to answer before leaving and heading back down stairs. Once I was back to the floor where I slept I got my swim trunks and took off my jeans that I was too lazy to change the night before. I slipped on the only other shirt I brought, Rolling Stones tongue on the front. Walking back into the kitchen I looked in the giant fridge for beer. Her footsteps fill the spacious house and I heard them from two floors away until they greet me.
“I heard voices coming from Steve and Scotts room so hurry the hell up. Ain't no way I’m gonna pay for my own beer.” She explained, demanded- and I roll my eyes.
“Then come over here and help, this fridge is huge.”
We only find wine at first, which they would notice if we took. Even at a legal age Scott doesn’t want us drinking. Stevie doesn’t give a shit what we drink, but he listens to Scott. Scar finds the remains of a six pack- three and a half beers. We leave the half empty one in the fridge and run up to her room.
“Give them here.” She whispers across the room even though no one would hear.
I chuck them one at a time and she slips them in the cupboard in the TV stand.
“I thought we were going to put it in one of your bags.”
“Too obvious, too much clothes, designer bags. What if they spilt? You’d owe me fifty bucks, Morgan.”
“Yeah, yeah. What time is it?”
“The clock downstairs said half an hour till’ we need to go.”
“Got a bathing suit ready?”
“I packed eight.”
“How is it you’ve never gone swimming, but you have eight swimsuits?”
“Go down stairs and tell Steve and Scott we’re leaving, I’ll pack a bag.” She ignored me.
“And the beer.”
“Yeah, and the beer.” She rolls her eyes and I leave, questioning why she would put beer in a cupboard and not close the door.
I knocked on the door, not wanting to walk in if they weren’t wearing any clothes. Which wouldn’t surprise me. They groan which means I can come in and I inform them that Scar and I are going to the beach and yes we’ll be safe and no we won’t have sex and yes we’ll be home by dinner. Scott gives me fifty bucks and I stare at him confused.
“This needs to last you a week and as long as you don’t screw up i’ll give you a fifty every week. Don’t spend it on booze.”
“Um. Thanks, Uncle Stevie.”
“Mmm was’ Scott’s idea.” And with that he goes back to bed.
I went back downstairs only to be greeted by Scar less than a minute later. A white shirt over her red swim top and bottom- hair in a ponytail on the top of her head. I might have stared a bit too long.
“Well don’t let me keep you, we have to get going before Scottie gets up.”
“Ye- yeah, okay.” I replied, shyly- opening the door for her.
The moment my feet touched the sand I stopped to take off my flip flops. Being from North Carolina there are multiple possibilities by the time you’re 21 years of age to go to a beach, at least for a normal family. Disappointingly, my parents were far from normal and they loved to keep me inside the house reading college lit papers. They were the obsessive christian overprotective parents with me playing the role of the perfect only child. A role, to be truthful, I never fulfilled. Needless to say, we didn’t take many trips aside from visiting my grandparents.
Scar’s parents we quite the opposite, always partying, never sober, acting too young for their age. It’s a wonder how they can afford the nice house they have, considering that would cut into their beer money, but Scar says she had rich Grandparents. Again, not many family trips in that house.
That’s why it was an interesting experience to step onto the California sand. It was hotter than I had expected. The waves crashing, the sounds. Lovely, and then I looked over to Scarlett and she looked absolutely terrified.
“Oh my god!” She started to laugh in shock- her eyes watered.
I extended my hand to her and she took it. We set down her bag closer to the water than we had been and then ran. The waves we’re crashing and we didn’t know how it would feel. I remember thinking it would feel like a giant bathtub and being surprised by the waves.
She let go of my hand and ran further. There were harsh rocks and shells below my feet, but I kept going. About a minute later of walking and crashing- and walking and crashing, I found a soft spot in the sand and swam over to Scar.
“Um, Morgan,” She called out to me. “I think my flip flops just came off and I can’t find them.”
“You brought your flip flops into the water?”
“I could have told you not to do that. We’ll buy ya’ new ones once we get out.”
As we swam and floated and sank I could feel myself experiencing one of those moments where you know you’ll remember it forever. It seemed to be about an hour before we got out, only because we could feel ourselves turning into raisins at the hands and feet- granted, something she minded more than me. The air was still hot as we walked by the children covering themselves in sand and on their parents shoulders in the deeper parts. I felt like a small person in a big sea- because, well, I was. Scarlette was obviously getting more attention than me, people were staring at her and even more so once we had gotten onto the shore and she had taken her white shirt off.
We sat down, not before Scar had taken out a large towel to sit on. We both opened a can of beer and sipped it in silence, taking it all in.
“The children don’t even understand what they have.” She said blankly, chuckling.
“Well if you think about it, you can see some of the families leaving, and if you watch them, usually they leave because the kid got bored and wanted to do something else. They don’t understand how lucky they are to be here.”
“I think they can’t understand, if anything it points in their favor that they don’t. We’re lucky too.”
“Since when are you fighting disease? Are you in your grave? Are you without a friend or looks to get you by? We may not be privileged, but if anything that makes us appreciate things more.”
After that she stays quiet, not because I’m right- since when am I right with Scarlett? But, instead, because she’s thinking of something beyond what I say. How annoying.
“You know just because we aren’t impoverished or without our health doesn’t mean we don’t go through things those kids won’t ever have to understand.”
“We shouldn’t be angry that their happy, that would be dull.”
“Since when do I expect anything more than dull?”
“Since we came to California beach, now if you are done with your beer I would like to get your damn flip flops. If I have to carry you across the gravel to the car I will never forgive you.”
“Damn flip flops.”
We walk up the sand with me holding her packed bag. One beer left. We find a small souvenir shop near the sand and walk inside.
“Give me the money.” She almost orders- making me laugh.
I search in my bag, but it isn’t there. No fifty dollar bill and-oh.
“Uh, I don’t have it.”
“What the hell do you mean ‘I don’t have it’?”
“It’s at home. Do you have any money on you?” She digs, frustratedly through her pockets.
“Damnit Morgan! Like three dollars and some change! Why ya’ always gotta forget the important shit?”
“Its a beach shop, I’m sure we can find cheap flip flops for three dollars.”
We split up and I groan as I search through stupid plastic things on stupid plastic shelves, and really why are flip flops such a big deal? I come across a clearance box and it’s suddenly and sign of hope- hope that I won’t get cursed out on what might be the most eventful day of my life so far. I see old sandy beach boards and shrunken down kids toys before I come across them. Patchy brown, way too big flip flops. The price tag says two fifty and it seems like the only thing they have.
“Scar?” I call out to a few feet down the store.
“Yeah?” She calls back and walks up to me.
She checks out the flip flops and looks up disappointingly.
“It’ll do until I get home.”
We walk up to the register and greet a guy- roughly our age, maybe a bit older, stacking shirts on the table to the side of him. . Light brown hair, tight shirt, very tall- muscular type. I look over to Scarlette, wondering why she isn’t handing the shoes to him, and catch her staring at him. Rolling my eyes I take the flip flops and put them on the desk.
“Excuse me?” I ask to the man, catching his attention.
“Oh! Sorry.” He laughs and picks up the shoes, scanning them and as the receipt prints out he starts small talking with Scar. His friend left soon after to help another customer.
“Well it’s an interesting choice of shoes,” He comments.
“Uh- yeah,” She seemed shy- something she rarely was.
“First time at this beach for you two?”
“Yep, we’ve never gone to a beach before.”
“You’re kidding me! What type of boyfriend doesn’t take you to the beach?” I was shocked to figure out he was addressing me.
“Oh god no! He isn’t my- no, nope, no.” I laughed, slightly offended that she thought it was such an outrageous comment.
“Ya’ll seem cool. I get off my shift in a half an hour if you wanna hang out.”
By this time I was astonished by his forwardness, seeming as I had always been some what of an introvert. But, I could tell by the look on Scar’s face she was happy with his proposition- so really my options we’re chosen for me. She waited for me to respond, not wanting to agree to something that I wouldn’t want to do.
“Hi,” I extended my hand. “I’m Morgan.”
She greeted him after me, “I’m Scarlett.”
“Well, Morgan, Scarlett, I’m Sam.”