by MJ Bujold
I stood back and scanned the beach left and right. There were lots of cute girls there on that hot July morning, in 1967, but I didn’t want to be there. My cousin Dickie was turning 16 and the family was holding a beach party. My 16th was next month and I only agreed to go because I assumed he’d invite some of his female friends that I could meet and invite to my party. His mom decided to limit the outing to family only. Totally stupid. Don’t get me wrong, Dickie is a great kid, but I didn’t want to spend the whole day playing volleyball with my Uncle Tim and Aunt Agnes.
So many cute girls to pick from that day, but all were strangers, making the hunt all the harder for me. I’d need sustenance for this quest. I went back to the half dozen umbrellas and beach blankets my family set up and picked through a cooler of sandwiches. Tuna, no, tuna breath is not attractive. Roast beef. Yeah.
“Stephen, put the ice pack back in the cooler!”
Aunt Agnes shouted from a beach chair under the furthest umbrella. Jesus, she had eyes like a hawk. I plopped the ice pack in and aligned the squeaky styrofoam lid to the cooler opening. I gave it a pound with the edge of my fist just to make sure it was closed.
Standing under a striped beach umbrella, chewing my sandwich, I surveyed the terrain, and plotted out my campaign. Babes in bikinis everywhere but most paired up with guys. I had to be careful, observant. The couple sitting on the blanket next to me were clearly hippies. His long hair was slightly tangled in a string of multicolored love beads as he strummed a guitar cross-legged on the blanket. The girl managed to barely cover her female parts with a bandana tied around her chest and the tiniest patch of cloth tied with strings on her bottom parts. She was sitting cross-legged too, leaning back and worshiping Ra, the sun god. Ugh, I had to go find my own chick.
I took off up the beach to have a closer look at three girls that were laughing under big straw sunhats and stroking sun lotion on each other’s backs. I thought I might offer my services. They looked like they could be college girls but, what the hell, it was worth a shot.
With my shoulders squared and my chest out, I approached the redhead in the blue gingham two-piece on the edge of the blanket. She had a sweet smile and a sweet rack.
“Hey, wow, I can’t believe I’m seeing you here. Aren’t we in the same Algebra class?” I said believing I was totally convincing.
All three girls giggled at once. The brunette with the pageboy and kerchief asked, “What school is that?”
“Arlington” I said.
“High School?” Kerchief asked.
“Yeah.” I answered apprehensively.
They erupted in laughter. The brunette said, “Oh, we’re from Wellesley.”
“High?” I asked, my hands now in my pockets.
“College!” They said in unison and leaned into each other, laughing.
“Go back to your momma, little boy.” The kerchiefed one said.
“Sorry, have a nice day…ladies,” I said with a tinge of sarcasm in my voice. I walked away with their laughter stinging my ears.
Clearly, I had to avoid the claws of the female species if I was to survive this day. I walked around, through and among the beach pails and lounge chairs, surfboards and coolers, seeing more types of flesh and body types than anyone should have to on any given day.
I’ll just go get Cody, my cousin’s German Shepherd, and show off my frisbee skills. Attract some girls to me instead. I went back to the group of arguing aunts, uncles, and cousins. After all my Dad’s family was Italian. If no one is yelling, something is wrong. I grabbed a red frisbee.
“C’mon Cody. Wanna play? C’mon boy.”
I ran to the middle of the beach and found a space big enough to get a game on. And there she was, leaning over an impressive mound of sand sculpted into blocks and spires and turrets all perfectly constructed into a perfect Disney castle. She was pretty and looked to be about my age, maybe a little younger. She wasn’t fully developed but had soft rounded hips and brand-new breasts under a pale pink and white striped bathing suit top. Her shoulder-length auburn hair was woven into thick braids that were all messy from the sea salt and effort she was putting into her task. Strands of hair fell across her face as she worked. I bet myself she was an Irish girl because her skin was as pink as her bathing suit except for patches of fuschia where the sun attempted to tan her and failed. Irish girls were great fun, as long as you didn’t piss them off, I remember thinking.
“Hi,” I said, leaning over slightly to speak to her. She didn’t respond but kept busily digging and patting the sand with deep concentration. “Hi,” I tried again. She just kept patting the wet sand. The only way I could get her attention was to do something impressive, make some noise. Cody, inspired by her digging, had started pawing a hole in the sand near her castle. The last thing I needed was for him to take a dump right beside her. That was not the kind of attention I was looking for. I distracted him by waving the red frisbee in front of his nose. He jumped at it.
“C’mon boy. Jump up, jump.”
Cody, jumped again, backed up and wagging his tail in excitement, pushed off and ran after me. I looked back but she didn’t look up, just kept making spires on top of turrets, looking even more determined. She sure was passionate about that castle, I thought.
I played jump and fetch with Cody, right next to her two more times taunting him to leap higher and bark louder. His tail was wagging wildly, he was panting and yelping. How could she not notice us?
She was finally finished with her creation. She got up and put her hands on her hips looking down at her handiwork and smiling. All I could think was that she was going to leave and I wouldn’t get to talk to her.
It was time for plan B. If I could get Cody to jump over, I mean sail over, her castle she would be so impressed, she’d want to talk to me. What a feat that would be. Cody was an ex K-9 dog and in super physical shape. I was totally sure he could do it. But I had to act quick, I didn’t have much time.
I backed up, judging the distance with the skill of a wannabe pole vaulter. I can do this. This is going to be epic. What a story it will be of our first meeting.
“Cody, here boy…go fetch…fetch!” I shouted.
With all my strength I hurled the red frisbee into the air. It soared directly over the castle. The girl pulled her face back and watched the red streak fly by with eyes wide open. For a second, I felt pure triumph.
“Yeah!” The second I raised my fist in victory Cody landed with all four paws in the middle of her castle, pushed off and kept going. I hadn’t factored in the number of leaps necessary to get all four of his legs past the sandcastle. I miscalculated. Badly. Fatally. I had to make a show of regret. I ran after Cody, scolding him, but miscalculating my own footfall in the process.
Standing in the middle of her decimated masterpiece, I encountered the wrath of her displeasure and knew immediately I had pissed off an Irish girl. God help me.
“I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!” she screamed, fists clenched and her green eyes wild. Her braids flapped as she tossed her head in rage.
Well, this could actually work to my advantage, I remember thinking. She ranted and shouted. I let her just go on. I waited till she quieted down to begin pleading for forgiveness. She stormed off towards the snack shack and I realized that was my chance. I would buy her some ice cream, apologize and try to get her to talk to me.
She was repelling my attempts at conversation and insulting me. I was impervious to her behavior. I’d seen it before, I knew how to play this. I learned these ropes from my Irish Mom. Wait out the tempest, maintain low tones and approach when her defenses are spent. That’s how I got everything I ever wanted from mom. I became a pro at it.
I caught up and thrust a fiver at the counter boy at the snack shack and ordered an ice cream for myself as well. She was still mad as hell but she accepted my offer. She grabbed it without thanking me and called me a jerk.
Good enough. I let her choose a seat and with slow hesitation sat down across from her. She gave me her back.
I took my time quietly unwrapping my ice cream. I was the cat watching the mouse. I could do this all day. She’d come around when she calmed down. I asked her name, made reference to some candy that sounded like her name but that seemed to anger her more. I tried to joke a bit. She was not impressed.
I just watched her eat her ice cream for a while. She was a messy eater. It was dripping down her arm as she tried to lick the edges to keep it from melting. I began to devise plan C. I asked more questions, just general information seeking, keeping my voice calm to soothe her back to earth. She began to open up. I worked my wry smile and my smirk, the one that I had practiced in the mirror many times.
She asked my name after a long silence and just as quickly made fun of it. I sensed she was returning my invitation to be playful when I asked her what her name was and she answered,” leave me alone.” I learned her name was Mary Jane but she preferred Janey.
She was getting up to leave. Once again, I had to act quick to catch this slippery fish. I watched her try to remove the ice cream that had now dried on her arm. I let her struggle with a napkin and get frustrated. Just as she was turning towards the beach to walk away, I offered a solution.
“Hey, wait, don’t leave. I know where there’s a hose. Follow me.” If she followed me, plan C would come to fruition. If she didn’t, I still had plenty of time to score some affection when I would go out that night on phase two of my cousin’s birthday party.
I heard her footsteps behind me and pretended not to notice. I knew this snack shack well and all the employees, having worked here a couple of weeks last summer. No one would say a word. If anything, they would cheer me on if they saw me with a girl out back. I took a quick glance to see if the latch of the supply shed was unlocked. It was. Plan D would happen in the privacy of that dark little shed.
She stood quietly as I unwound the hose a few feet. She didn’t seem mad at me anymore.
“Let me see your arm,” I said and warned that the water might be a little cold although I knew it wouldn’t be. I wanted to build her trust in me. I washed her arm slowly, carefully. And then with confidence and tenderness, I asked for her all-important leg. Now I would work my magic. I used the sand as a mild abrasive to stir sensation on her thigh. I worked slowly, building up momentum. I could feel her eyes on my shoulders and could hear her draw in little breaths.
I calculated my movement, stood up slowly and went right for her mouth. She didn’t react like the girls I knew at school. She stopped, went silent. I suddenly realized that this was the girl’s first kiss. She was mildly trembling. I almost forgot I was still holding the hose. We were both soaked from the thighs down. She was looking right through me now and I felt totally exposed as I slid my hand behind her head. She was a nice girl. A good girl. Something happened. I couldn’t continue. Plan D was out of the question. I didn’t know how to get out of this without hurting her feelings.
“Stephen! We’re leaving. Now!” Mom! Thank God! There was my out. I made an apologetic face and told Janey that I had to go. I don’t know why, but I apologized to her. I dropped the hose and ran to the car.
My cousin was waiting at the car looking exasperated. “Hey where were you? We were looking all over,” he said.
“With some chick behind the shack,” I said smugly.
“Cool. What’s her name,” Dickie asked.
“I don’t know. Where are we going tonight?”