Pulled Under (Sixteenth Summer)

BOOK: Pulled Under (Sixteenth Summer)
13.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

For Carey and Terry,
who took me to the boardwalk
and taught me about the beach

June

D
ifficult questions come in all shapes and sizes. They can be big and philosophical, like “What’s the meaning of life?” Or small and personal, like “How do you know if you’re really in love?” They can even be evil (Yes, I’m talking about you, Mrs. Perkins), like “For the quadratic equation where the equation has only one solution, what’s the value of
C
?” But of all the world’s questions there is one that stands alone as the single most difficult to answer.

“Does this bathing suit make me look fat?”

If you’ve ever been asked, then you know what I’m talking about. It’s not like you can just say, “No, but your butt kinda does.” And it’s not like you can say, “Oh no, it looks great. You should definitely wear that on the beach, where every guy you know will see you.” Instead you have to find that delicate place between honesty and kindness.

I know this because I hear the question all the time. I work weekends and summers at Surf Sisters, a surf shop in Pearl Beach, Florida, where women asking you how they look in all varieties of swimwear kind of comes with the turf. (Or as my father would say, it “comes with the
surf
,” because, you know, dads.)

It’s been my experience that a great many of those who ask the question already know the answer. This group includes the girls with the hot bodies who only ask because they want to hear someone say how great they look. My response to them is usually just to shrug and answer, “It doesn’t make you look fat, but it is kind of strange for your torso.” The proximity of the words “strange” and “torso” in the same sentence usually keeps them from asking again.

Most girls, however, ask because while they know a swimsuit doesn’t look right, they’re not exactly sure why. That’s the case with the girl who’s asking me right now. All she wants is to look her best and to feel good about herself. Unfortunately, the bikini she’s trying on is preventing that from happening. My first step is to help her get rid of
it
for reasons that have nothing to do with
her
.

“I think it looks good on you,” I answer. “But I don’t love what happens with that particular swimsuit when it gets wet. It loses its shape and it starts to look dingy.”

“Really?” she says. “That’s not good.”

I sense that she’s relieved to have an excuse to get rid of it, so I decide to wade deeper into the waters of truthfulness. “And, to be honest, it doesn’t seem like you feel very comfortable in it.”

She looks at me and then she looks at herself in the mirror and shakes her head. “No, I don’t, do I? I’m no good at finding the right suit.”

“Luckily, I can help you with that,” I say. “But I need to know what you’re looking for, and I need to know how you see yourself. Are you a shark or a dolphin?”

She cocks her head to the side. “What do you mean?”

“Sharks are sleek and deadly. They’re man-eaters.”

“And dolphins?”

“They’re more . . . playful and intelligent.”

She thinks it over for a moment and smiles. “Well, I probably wish I was more of a shark, but . . . I’m a total dolphin.”

“So am I. You know, in the ocean, if a shark and a dolphin fight, the dolphin always wins.”

“Maybe, but on land it usually goes the other way.”

We both laugh, and I can tell that I like her.

“Let’s see what we can do about that,” I say. “I think we’ve got a couple styles that just might help a dolphin out.”

Fifteen minutes later, when I’m ringing her up at the register, she is happy and confident. I know it sounds hokey, but this is what I love about Surf Sisters. Unlike most shops, where girls have to be bikini babes or they’re out of luck, this one has always been owned and operated by women. And while we have plenty of male customers, we’ve always lived by the slogan, “Where the waves meet the curves.”

At the moment it also happens to be where the waves meet the pouring rain. That’s why, when my girl leaves with not one but two new and empowering swimsuits, the in-store population of employees outnumbers customers three to two. And, since both customers seem more interested in waiting out the storm than in buying anything, I’m free to turn my attention to the always entertaining
Nicole and Sophie Show
.

“You have no idea what you’re talking about,” Nicole says as they expertly fold and stack a new display of T-shirts. “Absolutely. No. Idea.”

In addition to being my coworkers, Nicole and Sophie have been my best friends for as long as I can remember. At first glance they seem like polar opposites. Nicole is a blue-eyed blonde who stands six feet tall, most of which is arms and legs. This comes in handy as heck on the volleyball court but makes her self-conscious when it comes to boys. Sophie, meanwhile, is petite and fiery. She’s half Italian, half Cuban, all confidence.

Judging by Nic’s signature blend of outrage and indignation, Sophie must be offering unsolicited opinions in regard to her terminal crush on the oh-so-cute but always-out-of-reach Cody Bell.

“There was a time when it was an embarrassing but still technically acceptable infatuation,” Sophie explains. “But that was back around ninth-grade band camp. It has since gone through various stages of awkward, and I’m afraid can now only be described as intervention-worthy stalking.”

Although I’ve witnessed many versions of this exact conversation over the years, this is the first time I’ve seen it in a while. That’s because Sophie just got back from her freshman year at college. Watching them now is like seeing the season premiere of a favorite television show. Except without the microwave popcorn.

“Stalking?” Nicole replies. “Do you know how absurd that sounds?”

“No, but I do know how absurd it
looks
,” Sophie retorts. “You go wherever he goes, but you never talk to him. Or if you do talk to him, it’s never about anything real, like the fact that you’re into him.”

“Where are you even getting your information?” Nicole demands. “You’ve been two hundred miles away. For all you know, Cody and I had a mad, passionate relationship while you were away at Florida State.”

Sophie turns to me and rolls her eyes. “Izzy, were there any mad, passionate developments in the Nicole and Cody saga while I was in Tallahassee? Did they become a supercouple? Did the celebrity press start referring to them as ‘Nicody’?”

I’m not about to lie and say that there were new developments, but I also won’t throw Nicole under the bus and admit that the situation has actually gotten a little worse. Instead, I take the coward’s way out.

“I’m Switzerland,” I say. “Totally neutral and all about the chocolate.”

“Your courage is inspiring,” mocks Sophie before directing the question back at Nicole. “Then you tell me. Did you have a mad, passionate relationship with Cody this year?”

“No,” Nicole admits after some hesitation. “I was just pointing out that you weren’t here, so you have no way of knowing what did or did not happen.”

“So you’re saying you did not follow him around?”

“Cody and I have some similar interests and are therefore occasionally in the same general vicinity. But that doesn’t mean that I follow him around or that it’s developed into . . . whatever it was that you called it.”

“Intervention-worthy stalking,” I interject.

Nicole looks my way and asks, “How exactly do you define ‘neutral’?”

I mimic locking my mouth shut with a key and flash a cheesy apology grin.

“So it’s not because of Cody that you suddenly decided that you wanted to switch to the drum line?” Sophie asks. “Even though you’ve been first-chair clarinet for your entire life?”

“You told her about drum line?” Nicole says, giving me another look.

“You’re gonna be marching at football games in front of the entire town,” I say incredulously. “It’s not exactly top secret information.”

“I changed instruments because I wanted to push myself musically,” Nicole explains. “The fact that Cody is also on the drum line is pure coincidence.”

“Just like it’s coincidence that Cody is the president of Latin Club and you’re the newly elected vice president?”

Another look at me. “Seriously?”

“I was proud of you,” I say, trying to put a positive spin on it. “I was bragging.”

“Yes, it’s a coincidence,” she says, turning back to Sophie. “By the way, there are plenty of girls in Latin Club and I don’t see you accusing any of them of stalking.”

“First of all, there aren’t
plenty
of girls in Latin Club. I bet there are like
three
of them
,
” Sophie counters. “And unlike you, I’m sure they actually take Latin. You take Spanish, which means that you should be in—what’s it called again?—oh yeah, Spanish Club.”

It’s worth pointing out that despite her time away, Sophie is not the least bit rusty. She’s bringing her A game, and while it might sound harsh to outsiders, trust me when I say this is all being done out of love.

“I had a scheduling conflict with Spanish Club,” Nicole offers. “Besides, I thought Latin Club would look good on my college applications.”

It’s obvious that no matter how many examples Sophie provides, Nicole is going to keep dodging the issue with lame excuse after lame excuse. So Sophie decides to go straight to the finish line. Unfortunately, I’m the finish line.

“Sorry, Switzerland,” she says. “This one’s on you. Who’s right? Me or the Latin drummer girl?”

Before you jump to any conclusions, let me assure you that she’s not asking because I’m some sort of expert when it comes to boys. In fact, both of them know that I have virtually zero firsthand experience. It’s just that I’m working the register, and whenever there’s a disagreement at the shop, whoever’s working the register breaks the tie. This is a time-honored tradition, and at Surf Sisters we don’t take traditions lightly.

“You’re really taking it to the register?” I ask, wanting no part of this decision. “On your first day back?”

“I really am,” Sophie answers, giving me no wiggle room.

“Okay,” I say to her. “But in order for me to reach a verdict, you’ll have to explain why it is that you’ve brought this up now. Except for Latin Club, all the stuff you’re talking about is old news.”

“First of all, I’ve been away and thought you were keeping an eye on her,” she says. “And it’s not old. While you were helping that girl find a swimsuit—awesome job, by the way . . .”

“Thank you.”

“. . . Nicole was telling me about last week when she spent two hours following Cody from just a few feet away. She followed him in and out of multiple buildings, walked when he walked, stopped when he stopped, and never said a single word to him. That’s textbook stalking.”

“Okay. Wow,” I reply, a little surprised. “That does sound . . . really bad. Nicole?”

“It only sounds bad because she’s leaving out the part about us being on a campus tour at the University of Florida,” Nicole says with a spark of attitude. “And the part about there being fifteen people in the group, all of whom were stopping and walking together in and out of buildings. And the fact that we
couldn’t
talk because we were listening to the tour guide, and nothing looks worse to an admissions counselor than hitting on someone when you’re supposed to be paying attention.”

I do my best judge impression as I point an angry finger at Sophie. “Counselor, I am tempted to declare a mistrial as I believe you have withheld key evidence.”

“Those are minor details,” she scoffs. “It’s still stalking.”

“Besides, you have your facts wrong,” I continue. “It wasn’t last week. Nicole visited UF over a month ago, which puts it outside the statute of limitations.”

It’s at this moment that I notice the slightest hint of a guilty expression on Nicole’s face. It’s only there for a second, but it’s long enough for me to pause.

“I thought you said it was last week,” Sophie says to her.

Nicole clears her throat for a moment and replies, “I don’t see how it matters when it occurred.”

“It matters,” Sophie says.

“Besides,” I add, also confused, “you told me all about that visit and you never once mentioned that Cody was there.”

“Maybe because, despite these ridiculous allegations, I am not obsessed with him. I was checking out a college, not checking out a guy.”

“Oh! My! God!” says Sophie, figuring it out. “You went back for a second visit, didn’t you? You took the tour last month. Then you went back and took it again last week because you knew that Cody was going to be there and it would give you a reason to follow him around.”

Nicole looks at both of us and, rather than deny the charge, she goes back to folding shirts. “I believe a mistrial was declared in my favor.”

“Izzy only said she was
tempted
to declare one,” Sophie says. “Besides, she never rang the register.”

“I distinctly heard the register,” Nicole claims.

“No, you didn’t,” I say. “Is she right? Did you drive two and a half hours to Gainesville, take a two-hour tour you’d already taken a month ago, and drive back home for two and a half hours, just so you could follow Cody around the campus?”

She is silent for a moment and then nods slowly. “Pretty much.”

“I’m sorry, but you are guilty as charged,” I say as I ring the bell of the register.

“I really was planning on talking to him this time,” she says, deflated. “I worked out a whole speech on the drive over, and then when the time came . . . I just froze.”

Sophie thinks this over for a moment. “That should be your sentence.”

“What do you mean?” asks Nicole.

“You have been found guilty and your sentence should be that you
have
to talk to him. No backing out. No freezing. And it has to be a real conversation. It can’t be about band or Latin Club.”

“What if he wants to talk about band or Latin Club? What if he brings it up? Am I just supposed to ignore him?”

“It’s summer vacation and we live at the beach,” Sophie says. “If he wants to talk about band or Latin, then I think it’s time you found a new crush.”

Nicole nods her acceptance, and I make it official. “Nicole Walker, you are hereby sentenced to have an actual conversation with Cody Bell sometime within the next . . . two weeks.”

BOOK: Pulled Under (Sixteenth Summer)
13.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Always and Forever by Kathryn Shay
The Program by Suzanne Young
Friends Like Us by Siân O'Gorman
The Sword of Fate by Dennis Wheatley
Baja Florida by Bob Morris
The Devil's Cold Dish by Eleanor Kuhns
Project Rainbow by Rod Ellingworth