Cris had never regretted dying her hair blonde more than the fateful Sunday she decided to go to the beach.
Or maybe, she had never been more grateful.
Nonetheless, nothing could have prepared her for what would happen on the day she self consciously stepped out of her car, dyed hair in a ponytail and the sun mercilessly beating down on her.
Going to the beach alone is not a fun way to spend a Sunday, but sitting home alone is almost worse, so she decided she’d rather at least take the chance of finding shells or swimming and maybe having fun rather than being yelled at by her mom again as she would’ve been had she stayed home.
She grabbed her phone, sunglasses, and purse from her car before slamming the door and curling her toes in her run-down sneakers.
She started walking towards the sand when her foot caught on something or another and she fell smack dab on her face.
She wasn’t one for makeup, so the only thing bruised was her pride, though thankfully, no one was watching(she hoped).
She huffed and picked herself up, checked her phone for cracks, and set off again. The walk was long, the wind-nonexistent, the noise-extreme, the heat -neverending, the hair-on her face.
When she reached the sand, she had just about decided to walk right back to her car and drive herself to an ice cream shop when the look of the lifeguard caught her eye.
The brown hair was the same as she remembered, the cheekbones a little more defined, and of course, he looked older, but it was unmistakably him.
Middle school memories suffocated Cris in a blur and she nearly fell again before steeling her legs and sighing. She forced herself to look away and bit the inside of her cheek, wondering if he would remember her. Of course, she remembered him.
Middle school crushes are like that one time you might have not answered the phone, and your mom never let you forget it.
They always come back at the worst times.
Cris adjusted her fingers around her phone and wondered how much money she had in her car.
Maybe a couple twenty dollar bills.
How many pints of ice cream could she buy with that?
A light gust of hot wind blew by, reminding her how hot it was.
She brought her eyes to the lifeguard chair again, glancing for a quick second before turning away.
She would take a dip in the water to cool herself down before leaving.
That was all.
She walked with her head held up high and it took every fiber in her being not to look back at the person sitting in the lifeguard chair.
And it turned out, she didn’t need to make any effort.
He was coming down.
It was evidently the end of his shift, and he was replaced by another guy, someone in his late teens as well. Cris tried to pay him no mind as she neared the shore, setting down her towel and phone to the side. She set them down a considerable distance from the water, took her sneakers off, and then inched closer herself. She plopped down and dipped her toes in the water, which was at just the right temperature.
Of course, it would be perfectly normal for her to maybe stay for a little longer, and then go home, and that would be that.
But this is a story, and there’s obviously more.
Middle school was a very interesting time for Cris. She went through about three friend groups, braces, multiple sports, and only one crush.
His name...well, you wouldn’t believe me, but his name is Romeo.
Cris wiggled her toes in the waves, staring at her pedicured nails. Peacefully.
At least, it was peaceful until someone sat down next to her.
She was almost too scared to look to her side, but she forced herself to, and there, in sunbathed glory, was no, not Romeo, but Lorelle.
One of the girls from Cris’s first friend group.
If she wasn’t talking, she was eating, and Cris wondered if she could escape before being forced to engage in small talk.
“Hi! I’m Lorelle, what’s your name?”
Evidently, she couldn’t. Cris held her breath, wishing to become invisible.
“Are all the people from my middle school past coming to haunt me?”
Lorelle laughed, dragging her finger in the wet sand.
“You’re funny, I like you. What’re you doing at the beach?”
Cris stifled an eye roll. Classic, nosy Lorelle.
“Cooling down a little.”
“Cool, me too! I was here with one of my friends, Nova, but she left earlier. Nova’s funny too, you’d like her I think- what’s your name again?”
Cris was spared that much at least. The whole reason she broke away from the first friend group was Nova.
The girl was involved in drama like somebody paid her to do it.
“I didn’t say.” Cris tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. If she didn’t recognize her yet, she wouldn’t give her any help, that was for sure.
“Oooh, funny and mysterious. Say, do you happen to know that lifeguard over there? The one off his shift? You keep looking over and I was just wondering.”
Cris’s breath hitched.
She had been looking over?
She didn’t even notice. She forced her eyes to a specific pebble on the sand and grit her teeth.
“I don’t know him. Not- well, not really.”
“Curiouser and curiouser…” Lorelle squinted her eyes and Cris, taking in her shorts and bathing suit before shrugging and looking away. “Thought you looked familiar for a sec.”
Cris blinked twice and fixated her eyes on a new rock, pretending the almost recognition didn’t faze her.
In reality, she was scared.
She’d dyed her hair and moved to a new high school in hopes it would be a fresh new beginning. All it had brought her was a little more loneliness.
“Anyway. Don’t you just love summer? I do. The warmth and s’mores and sunsets and y’know? Everything.”
Cris found herself smiling slightly at Lorelle’s familiar 30 mile a minute talking.
“Hey, do you know the lifeguard?” Cris asked slowly, moving her eyes up to meet Lorelle’s.
“Why? He goes to my school, so I know him but not well. His name- oh you aren’t going to believe me but his name is Romeo.”
Cris feigned surprise and raised her eyebrows at Lorelle.
“C’mon, what’s his name?”
“I swear it’s Romeo! Cross my heart and hope to die!”
“Alright, alright. Think I should talk to him? I mean- no real reason, but, the more the merrier right?”
Lorelle furrowed her brows.
“Ohhh, you think he’s cute, don’t you?”
Cris’s cheeks flamed as she tried to think up an excuse.
“Kidding, silly. I’ll wave him over for you, you’re right, more the merrier!”
“Wait no I-” Cris cut herself off when Romeo looked their way and Lorelle began animatedly waving him towards them. She refocused on the pebble.
So much for five minutes.
Romeo began walking towards them and Lorelle stood up to greet him.
“Hey! Romeo, right? We had APUSH together! How you doing?”
“Yeah, you’re Lorelle, right?”
Lorelle nodded and sat back down, patting the sand next to her.
“Sit down, my friend wants to meet you!”
Romeo sat on the sand and smiled at Cris, who gave a small wave before refocusing on the sand.
“Romeo this is-”
“Cris. My name is Cris. It’s nice to meet you.”
Lorelle squinted at Cris for the second time that day.
“Say, don’t I know you? Romeo, don’t we know her? Which middle school did you go to?”
Cris froze. She brought her eyes to Romeo and felt herself turn into the shy sixth-grader she used to be.
Get a hold of yourself, Cris.
“Oh um...one in a different state actually.” The lie slipped out so fast, she barely even knew she’d said it.
“Oh! Then I don’t know you. But didn’t we know a girl names Cris in middle school? Romeo? Oh, come to think of it she was brunette I think. Romeo, you’re quiet, how you doing? How’s your summer?”
Romeo looked surprised that he had been mentioned. He obviously wasn’t used to Lorelle and her speed talking.
“That’s good, great. You know what I would kill for right now? Ice cream. Strawberry. Is there somewhere nearby?”
“Oh, there actually is. I live really close and there’s a shop near us.” Romeo said, pointing behind him. Lorelle clapped excitedly.
“Yay! We should go! I brought my purse. C’mon, we can take some pictures too!”
Cris’s eyes widened. Sure, she wanted ice cream.
But by herself.
Most certainly not with her ex-best friend Lorelle.
And even more most certainly not with her ex-crush Romeo.
“Sounds fun, I’ve got nothing better to do. Cris, was it? You coming?”
Both Lorelle and Romeo got up and stretched. Cris hesitated before joining them.
“Sure.” She looked at Lorelle as she spoke, scared to make eye contact with Romeo.
Cris wiped the sand off the back of her shorts and shoved her wet feet back in her sneakers. She was glad to find a hair tie at her wrist and tied back her hair into a messy ponytail.
“To the ice cream! Lead the way?” Lorelle dramatically pronounced. Romeo nodded as they walked back to the direction of the exit of the beach. Somewhere midway, Lorelle grabbed a purse off the ground, and Cris assumed it was hers.
“This way.” Romeo led them out and soon they weren’t on sand anymore. They walked around a corner and came up to a small plaza. One of the shops was a small ice cream parlor that looked dark inside.
“Sure it isn’t closed?” Cris said, peeked through the window.
“Yeah, it’s never closed. Come on.” Romeo beckoned them in, holding the door open. Cris and Lorelle filed into the small shop. It was slightly dark, but there was a bored-looking teen at the counter.
Practically any easy job in the area was taken by teens looking to make pocket change.
“Hi, there! One strawberry cone, please! What do you guys want?” Lorelle reached into her purse for the cash.
“Oh, um, vanilla for me,” Cris said, scanning the walls of the shop.
The guy nodded and started scooping up their ice cream. Lorelle plopped a five-dollar bill on the counter and took the cones, handing them to each of them in turn.
“Keep the change! Thank you!”
The guy nodded again, putting away the money. The three walked out, licking their ice creams.
“Ah, ice cream. Always brightens my mood.”
“I second that,” Romeo said, taking a tiny bite of his mint ice cream.
They walked over to a small bench and sat together in quiet bliss, finishing up their cones.
Cris racked her brain for something interesting to say.
It was just a boy. Anyway, she barely even knew him anymore. She decided not to care anymore. She’d imagine it was a different Romeo.
As Lorelle finished up her cone, something vibrated in her purse. She looked visibly annoyed as she rolled her eyes and dug through it, pulling out a phone.
It was the quietest Cris had ever seen her. She sat unmoving, undoubtedly listening to someone on the other end of the phone.
“Ok. Bye. Yeah.” She dropped the phone back into her purse. Cris finished up her own cone and wiped her hands on her shorts. Romeo was still half done. “Sorry guys, I hafta go.” Lorelle sighed and got up. “Ya’ll have fun, okay? Here-ummm..” She reached her hand into her purse again, pulling out a pen and paper. “Write your number down.”
Lorelle made friends faster than Friday turned into Monday. And she did it all by being ‘spontaneous’. Cris took the paper and scribbled her phone number down. She hadn’t realized how much she’d missed her.
Romeo waved a little and soon Lorelle was gone, walking back towards the beach to grab her things and leave.
“So….are you a junior?” Romeo asked. Cris bobbed her head up and down. “Me too.” Romeo finally finished the last of his ice cream. They’d been sitting with Lorelle in between them, so there was now an awkward distance where she had been.
“What school do you go to?” Cris asked, though she knew the answer.
“Oh, Spring Hill. You?”
“Oh, my cousins go there. Lorelle’s quite talkative isn’t she?”
“Indeed she is. But it’s cool, she’s fun.”
Cris fidgeted with her fingers and Romeo squinted at the sun.
“I went to your middle school.” Cris blurted and Romeo turned to look at her.
“What? But you said-”
“I know what I said. I lied. It’s just- I had a crush on you in middle school and I thought it would be awkward and surprise-surprise, I just made it awkward didn’t I? Sorry.”
For a moment, Romeo just stared at Cris, who was furiously chewing her lip as she stared at the ground. After a second though, he burst out laughing.
“Wow. I thought no one could talk faster than Lorelle. Look, if that’s what this is about-and by this I mean your general refusal to look at me the whole time we walked- it’s really no biggy, that was just middle school.”
Cris brought her eyes slowly to Romeo.
“Really? You don’t think I’m weird?”
“Nah. I had all the girls crushing on me in 7th grade,” Romeo winked. Cris rolled her eyes but laughed. He was right, wasn’t he?
It was just middle school. They were both older, much more matu-
“I’ve grown muscles no?” Romeo flexed his arms over exaggeratingly.
Boys will be boys.