Beau sat on her sky-blue plastic beach chair, watching as the waves crashed again and again against the sandy shore. It seemed to shiny up the seashells prettifying the beach as well as erase the footprints left by the walkers passing by her and the other attendees. She sighed, digging her bare toes into the lighter sand that expanded itself like a colonial empire in front, behind and on either side of Beau. I don’t want to know that I have to clean my apartment or serve ice cream or pick up Piggy’s poop or any other mundane activity anymore. It’s not that big—only a living/dining room, kitchen and three bedrooms as well as a bathroom. It’s a condominium. They’re all puny. But I don’t care if I live in a cave. I’d still have to maintain it. I don’t want to be the maintainer. I want to just …
Beau knew that the more she sat there, the more she would want to relax instead of complete her tasks. So she reluctantly dragged herself out of her chair. The everyday requirements were like the waves—coming back again full force in her life only to grab her and never let her go. Beau walked glumly, her beach chair in hand, back to the condominium. Soon, Beau was shoving the door to her condominium suit open and indifferently letting the chair bang against the wall as Beau clumsily put it in one of the hallway closets.
There was a bark, and Beau pushed the door closed absentmindedly as she bent down to embrace Piggy, her grey-coated, happy-go-lucky, slobbery four year old Silver Labrador Retriever.
Piggy was the only joy in her life besides her passion for photography. He was Beau’s best friend—the only one living with her besides her camera, beach equipment and backpack full of school supplies from University of California, Los Angeles. Beau knew he always tried to cheer the senior up with a tag wag or a friendly bark. Beau calmed Piggy down and then walked through the short, carpeted hallway to veer towards the table and chair. Like Aladdin holding the lamp carefully, maybe even reverently, Beau titled her camera down so the black square screen looked her directly in the face. She then pressed the ‘OK’ button on the right, and, instantly, the screen flashed to reveal a row of little pictures right above each selection.
“Pictures.” Beau muttered as she pressed the right arrow key. The square outline shifted from one picture to the next until it outlined a collection of puny photographs. Yes. Beau’s thumb went back to the middle button, turning the screen from a menu of options to a white bodied and grey feathered seagull with its wide wings spread out as if to challenge other birds or any animal daring to trespass on his beach. Beau looked away from the bird. I’ll print these out, make a collage to show my friends and photography professors back at school. I’ll even see if there’s a photography contest I can enter on the weekends while I attend classes during the week. Maybe if my pictures are good enough! Beau grabbed her keys from the kitchen counter to head out to Kodak.
As Beau was busy thinking about poster boards and ways to arrange her pictures onto the Styrofoam, something told her to look alive. Beau looked up, around and then noticed someone she knew from school. Beau called out to her, and the girl turned. Breaking into a happy-to-see-you smile, Betty galloped up to Beau, arms out for the seniors to embrace.
“Hey, how’s it going?” Betty asked her as they pulled apart.
“Oh, good. Hey—” Beau turned towards the printer while telling Betty all about the collage she was going to make to take back to college. When the machine made a beeping noise notifying that it had printed her pictures, Beau shuffled the huge stack on the black tray, put them in her purse and then hiked it onto her shoulder.
“So you want to do a collage?” Betty scratched her brown curly head. “I’d do something more related to photography. I mean …” She thought and sprang out with, “Hey, you know, there’s an art and photography contest going on in November! I already entered and want to display my art.” Then Betty quickly confessed, “Oh, wait, no—I didn’t. But I want to!”
She looked around herself, muttering about whether there was paper and pen nearby so she could write the contest’s name and website down when Beau interrupted by poking Betty’s arm with her iPad.
Betty spun around and then typed the information into the cell phone’s notepad. She gave the iPad back and said, “Just go there and you’ll boost your chances of becoming a better photographer. I know it’ll boost mine—my chances of being a better artist.
“Okay?” She patted Beau’s shoulder and walked out of the store, leaving Beau to wonder why Betty was here in Virginia when she lived in Michigan.
Maybe she’s looking for a job here … or something. Shrugging, Beau thought about what Betty had said about the art contest. Maybe she’s going to work here on the side as she painted for the contest and then keep her work up until she became professional … I don’t know. But maybe an art project sounds cooler and more time-worthy than a dinky collage.
Sitting at the table with her Lenovo laptop, Beau got right to the website after having had thought through and completely ditching the poster idea when she pulled into her condo apartment parking lot. She read the entrance fee and the location. $40. Los Angeles, California. Beau then went to get one of her syllabi. She walked back, flipping through the schedule until she arrived at Thanksgiving Break. Maybe I could see if this contest will be available during this time.
Beau resituated herself and then saw that the Los Angeles “Capture the Content” Art and Photography Contest was five months away. Deadline to submit photographs: November 4th. Actual contest date: November 23rd.
“Yeah! I get off school …” Beau checked her syllabus before throwing it besides the computer. “November 22nd and then return December 2nd.” Excited, she first registered and then spent time preparing for her semester ahead as she substitute taught a summer school photography class to middle schoolers. Beau also completed twice the number of pictures required by the contest, as it wanted 25 photos of some sort of beach activity. To Beau, that meant shooting children or adult eating and getting ice cream from her and other employees. Before she knew it, school rolled around, and Beau was walking from class to class while completing her assignments and receiving very high marks on her tests and other academic requirements. One day at lunch, Betty brought the contest up again.
“So you still want to enter that contest?” Beau put her tray of semi-delicious food on the table and took her place across from Betty and her book bag.
“Yeah! I really want to, but I don’t have enough money, and I don’t want to take any more advantage of my grandfather. He’s paying for my classes and books, and I want to be independent. So …” Betty took a troublesome stab at her potato salad.
Beau thought. Then she suggested positively, “I can pay for your registration. I can even drive you.”
“You don’t have to do that!” Betty shook her head firmly. “Maybe if … well, I have to get my grades up so I don’t flunk some of my classes. I talked to my grandfather about this contest, and he said I couldn’t enter it until I got my grades up to at least a B. So I’ll have to do really well on my homework and try to get extra credit until I improve academically.”
Beau took a bite out of her hamburger and chewed thoughtfully, feeling terrible about Betty’s situation. Then she swallowed and said, “The contest is November 23rd. I’m going to send in my photographs early so I can get that task out of the way. How about this? You get help with your art projects and stuff and get your grades up by Thanksgiving Break, and I’ll see about entering you into that contest.
“How’s that?” Beau waited, eating the remainder of her hamburger and carrots.
“Okay.” Betty sounded like she was less than ready for this mountainous climb. “Oh, thanks, Beau. But I really should start upping my grades.” Betty took her empty tray back to the rows of metal racks used to store finished meals and then returned to gather her backpack. Before walking away, Betty looked at Beau with something that looked like admiration.
“I’ll do my best.” Then she left, leaving her to contemplate whether Beau had seen admiration or—as Betty knew Beau was a straight-A student—jealousy over her academic standing.
The weeks before the November Art and Photography Contest came and went. Beau enthusiastically prepared for the week before Thanksgiving Day and then stepped into her car to drive half an hour away from college. Once she arrived, Beau and her backpack full of the remaining photos she thought she could bring—as she was always the person to go above and beyond requirements—and her Canon camera waited in a line in front of a booth marked Check In. Right in front of her stood a brunette with curly brown hair—the exact kind of hair style Betty always wore.
“Betty?” Beau looked around the shoulder of the woman, and she turned around.
“Beau!” Betty grabbed her friend in a hug. “I made it! I called my dad because my grandfather wasn’t there, and he told me he’s been looking at my grades.”
“So … you got the grades up!” Beau deduced, enthralled. “What about the money? Did he pay for it?”
“Uh … I did, but I’m here.” Betty looked at her like the money didn’t matter. “Let’s not talk about that. We’re here.” Before a confused Beau could start asking questions, Betty jumped around and bobbed her head at a woman sitting behind a tablecloth. As Betty bounced away, Beau sank into thought. Betty was the one who couldn’t afford the registration fee. It wasn’t extremely expensive—only $40—but still, she was so upset about possibly not—
“Excuse me, miss.”
Beau whipped her head up. “Uh—sorry!”
“Are you …” the woman peered closely at a card she held. “Beau Janson? Photographer?”
“Yes! I emailed my photographs early.” The woman checked and confirmed that she had and then handed Beau a pen. She signed in, took her contest badge and headed off towards the photography area of the contest grounds. However, Beau couldn’t shake the feeling that Betty was hiding something regarding that $40.
Time went on and Beau soon forgot about the 5th place certificate Montague awarded her. She continued photographing seagulls, pigeons and anything else she could think of that would make a picture perfect. Pretty soon, Beau had a whole resume full of interview-worthy requirements. After graduating from UCLA, Beau applied for and moved out to work at Polson High School in Montana. Relocating couldn’t, in Beau’s eyes, be better for her. She absolutely loved taking pictures of Piggy in front of her mountainous backyard and the mountains themselves while living in a small town. Beau drove daily to the school, where she helped train teenagers in photography—one of Polson High’s art class’s activities—as an assistant art teacher. Beau also collaborated with teenagers in the photography and yearbook clubs. Many of Beau’s students participated in these clubs, so they asked her to help them with their picture-taking, cropping and other needs. Yes, there was no civilization around for ten minutes, but at least the mountains and her beloved job distracted Beau from her housekeeping chores beckoning from within the flat-roofed home situated among other flat, small houses tucked cozily in a circle inside a ring of vast, gigantic mountains peaking up to the sky and possibly beyond to outer space.
One weekend, when Beau was looking out her sliding glass door at the mountains after meeting with a student about her photograph of these very mountains, her phone rang. It was Betty.
“Hey Betty. What’s going on?” Beau went over to her couch and sat down, concerned. Five minutes later, she found herself unable to pry the phone away from her ear as Betty continued spewing words of guilt and regret at her while also switching to her new pottery job.
“Betty.” Beau said importantly, wishing inwardly that the other college graduate would stop rambling and crying simultaneously. “I understand that you wanted that contest, but that doesn’t mean that you can just take—”
“I know, I know. I’ll pay you back. I’ll do anything!” Betty, Beau just knew, was going to start sobbing any second.
“Betty, I just want you to know that it is a shame you are no longer allowed to enter those contests. I can’t believe you did that! Taking my money and using it to cheat your way through the contest. Through your near hysteria, I heard you entered more contests and won them. And,” she emphasized, cutting Betty off when she tried to apologize, “adding them to your resume. I guess you’ll have to repeat all four years of UCLA, apologize to the art contest and all those other contests you illegally joined—”
“They were free—“
“I don’t care!” Beau’s voice now was nearly hysterical with anger and frustration. “I specifically asked you back at school that I could take you, that you would get your grades up and that I could pay for you. I told you that I could pay for you!”
Beau yanked the phone from her ear and jammed her finger against its red ‘End’ button. Throwing the phone down, Beau stormed over to the sliding glass door and clawed it open. Not bothering to shut it, Beau started spewing to herself.
“What does she think she’s doing, taking my hard-earned money and using it to weasel her way into the contest? Using the money I bought to buy that credit card and then …” Beau stopped copying Betty and went inside to call the contest. Picking up her phone with confidence, Beau dialed the number and waited for the call to go through to California.
“Hello?” A familiar voice began the conversation of the unfortunate reality of Betty’s cheating secret.
“Yes, Montague, this is Beau. I would like to ask you about Betty Longs, one of the contestants, who illegally registered for this contest. She took some of my money and submitted it without my permission. She also participated in this contest by evidence of her award you distributed to all 1st-6th place winning contestants on Reward Day.”
The other end was quiet for a minute, and then, “Yes, I remember you, Beau, and Betty signing in at Laura and my table. Also, I did reward you and her.” There was some typing on what sounded like a keyboard, and then Montague continued. “It looks like the monetary amount you filed into our system says $40, and it is from your credit card ending in 3367, right?”
Beau reached over the armchair with her phone pinned against her shoulder and ear to dig out her wallet and credit card from her purse. “Yes, 3367.”
“Okay, but Betty had also used that credit card. Her payment specifies 3367.”
Beau was speechless. How could Betty know those numbers? Beau didn’t even tell Betty of her credit card. So how could she have swiped it from under Beau’s nose?
Beau zipped back to the phone. “I know nothing about how Betty managed to steal my credit card money. But, she will not be able to enter another contest, especially this one again, right?”
“Yes.” Montague sighed disappointedly. “She will have her title and money stripped from her as well as from other contests she has entered.”
Beau called Betty. She told Beau how she stole her credit card information, that she lost her pottery job and had just received notice for house eviction for failing to have enough of her bank’s loans to pay her house mortgage. Her grandfather wouldn’t speak to her, and her parents were equally livid.
But fortunately for Betty, Beau graciously opened her condo home.
“You get a job, and you can stay here.” Beau made her a deal. Betty promised.
Six and a half months of calls, resume updates and interviews, and she finally landed a job at a nearby pottery shop. Gushing, Betty told an indifferent Beau all about it. She just shrugged.
“Great. Now that I am moving to Billings with my stuff, Piggy and myself, you can stay here and work there.”
Almost immediately, Beau went from mountains surrounding her to buildings and mountains on all sides. Betty visited her while she supervised and helped direct photographers and camera crew. But then Betty started to just stay in Polson, painting people’s faces and groups of people sitting or standing together at parks or school grounds on the side and selling these paintings in a nearby shop.
For the remainder of Beau and Betty’s times apart, they never really spoke to each other again. The last time Beau heard from Betty was the time Betty decided she’d just work on her art. Beau eventually founded her own company, Beau’s Beauty, and progressed to full-time photographer, shooting the mountains around her as well as anything else awe-inspiring and breathtaking.
The waves back at Virginia Beach could keep curling and eventually crashing against the sand. However, Beau had crashed into a new life and stayed there. And she never changed jobs or residencies since.