“Mommy I want popsicles AND lollipops!” The small, sticky child whines.
“Ok sweetie get both,” the snobby woman says as she pulls out her matching purse and wallet that would cost me more than a few paychecks.
“Will that be all ma’am?” I hear myself ask in my customer service voice.
“Actually we will be adding the lollipops as well.”
Of course you will be.
“No problem, thanks for shopping at Surf N Shop.”
Well, there you have it, the soundtrack of my life. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy to have a job because a job means money and money is absolutely everything. Everything meaning my ticket to a different life. Oceanview is a town where the rich rule and the poor exist only to serve. And me? Poorer than dirt itself. My mom and I live on the outskirts of town in a rickety shack that is unlikely to survive the next hurricane. Maybe if she didn’t blow every last penny she made, circumstances would be different. Ever since I was old enough to work, I have been providing half if not two thirds of the bill money. All my life, her various boyfriends have been her sole purpose, I am just a supporting character in her soap opera. Beneficial when she needs sympathy or to make a scene, background noise otherwise.
I snap out of my self loathing trance to look up just in time to see my best friend of twelve years running down aisle three towards my checkout lane carrying the brightest beach volleyball I have ever seen. He drops the ball into my hands and shakes some sand out of his blonde, curly locks.
“Dom, I would really like to keep this job, not get fired for causing a public scene every time you’re here.”
He rolls his eyes as I ring up the volleyball, “Ana, lighten up! It is officially summer and that means that you are not allowed to be grumpy. It’s a fact.” He smiles at me, dimples in full swing.
“Ok, well, one, I think you need a fact check and two, I am not grumpy thank you very much. How could I be when I get to wait on the wondrous people of Oceanview for a full ten hours of my day?” I say, sarcasm lacing through every word.
“Ten hours?! You promised that you would come to the volleyball tournament after work!”
“Yeah, well, Sandy can’t come in at four like she was supposed to and I need the money, so I took half of her shift.” Dom looks like I just kicked a puppy. He doesn’t say anything though, just nods and heads toward the door. Dom’s family has a ridiculous amount of money, so he doesn’t know what it means to struggle financially, but he does get an inkling of understanding through his friendship with me, a regular ole Charlie Bucket, if you will. The Charlie before he wins the chocolate factory, of course.
“Just because you can’t come today, doesn’t mean you get to avoid all of the other fan-freaking-tastic things on our summer fun list!” He shouts as he slips through the automatic sliding doors.
“We definitely do not have such a list!” I shout at him, noticing the customers and my coworkers staring at me.
“Uh, I can take the next customer here…”
“Dominic, my man! Where have you been?” My buddy Josh asks me from his beach chair in the sand by the volleyball court. He has clearly nominated himself as referee, if for no other reason than he gets to sit on his ass and drink. This kid and I go way back, but he takes entitled to an entire new level.
“Sorry bud, I had errands to run before the game, but I’m here now! Let’s get this tournament started.” I spike the ball to get the crowd hyped up. It might also be to distract my friends because I really do not feel like fielding questions right now. I am bummed Ana couldn’t come today and I don’t want to listen to their shit about it. In the twelve years we have been friends, Ana has been able to attend only a handful of events with my friends. Going to different schools growing up didn’t lend itself to having friend groups that overlapped. Honestly, we would have never met if it wasn’t for some random luck during our childhoods. When we were younger, Ana’s mom worked for a catering company that my dad hired to serve at his company’s events. Towards the end of dinner one night, I was running around with a few cousins and saw her sitting in the back of the room alone. Naturally, as an outspoken and brave six year old, I introduced myself to her. The rest of our story really writes itself. Ana would come to the events with her mom and we would hangout. As we got older we realized Ana’s mom was using the events to pick her flavor of the week. Not a rockstar of a role model, that woman. How Ana turned out so well, I will never understand.
We end up playing well into the night and our volleyball tournament becomes a bonfire pretty quickly, a beach town tradition. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Leah sauntering over towards me. She obviously didn’t waste any time breaking out her extensive collection of designer bikinis, not that any of the guys here are complaining. I am absently wondering how much tension those teeny tiny bright yellow strings can take by the time she reaches me.
“Hey Dom, nice games.” She says as she gingerly rubs her hands up and down my arms, no shame in her game.
“Leah, what’s up?” I take a deliberate step away from her that could be interpreted as a step towards the warmth of the fire.
“I just wanted to check and see if you had any plans for this evening?” She looks up at me through her incredibly thick lashes, clearly waiting for me to accept her invitation.
“Actually, I promised my old man I would get up early to help with his fundraising event tomorrow, so I think I’ll turn in early.”
Disappointment clouds her features as she drops her hands from my arms. “Well, I’m sticking around for a few more hours, if you change your mind.” She turns and walks away from me, swaying her hips dramatically, all for my benefit. I would be lying if I said my body didn’t react to her, but I have personally witnessed the destruction that is Leah Ryder and I will not subject myself to that mind game.
I turn away and jog to my new Jeep, courtesy of my parents as a graduation gift. Just as I’m putting my Jeep in reverse, Josh comes up to my passenger side window. “Seriously, bailing already Dom? I feel like we see less and less of you everyday. We just graduated and you can’t be bothered to stick around longer than a few hours with all of your closest friends?”
“I’m sorry, but you know how my mom worries when I stay out too late,” I know it’s a lame excuse the second it leaves my mouth, but to my surprise he doesn’t call me on it. Just add liar to my growing list of traits this year.
“Alright man, whatever.” He backs away and staggers to the beach, courtesy of the six pack he’s already finished.
Relieved, I begin the drive home. Almost instantly, I am lost in thought. I don’t know what has gotten into me this year. My whole life I have known who I was and who I wanted to be. Lately, all I do is question everything. The conceitedness that rolls off of my friend group never bothered me before, now it takes all that I have not to cringe in their presence. Luckily for me, I have one friend that will listen to my ramblings about soul searching and my not quite mid-life crisis. Turning onto the road that gave our town its namesake, I dial Ana’s number and listen to the waves.
My eight turned ten hour shift eventually became a twelve hour shift. I am dragging by the time we close up the store. I pull my cell out while I wait on the cracked sidewalk for my mom to pick me up. What a luxury it would be to have a vehicle of my own, too bad my life is completely lacking luxuries, see definition: broke. A sinking feeling hits me like a rock when I see a missed call and a voicemail from my mom. I called her earlier to tell her the time she needed to pick me up was changing, she wasn’t overjoyed but she agreed. Holding my phone up to my ear, I press play.
“Hey babygirl, you will have to catch a ride home with a coworker tonight. Ted is taking me out for a late bite and then to see that new movie, you know, with the smocking hot actor I love. How could I turn that down?! Anyway, love ya, don’t wait up!”
Perfect. I would love to catch a ride with a coworker, too bad they all left for the night already. I would be lying if I said this was the first time my mom has left me to trek the three mile walk home in the dark. But this is my shit show of a life we are talking about, so picking my purse up off the ground I start walking home. I can’t manage more than a slow trudge after today’s long shift following yesterday’s evening waitressing shift. My mind wanders as I drag my feet. I would give anything to be able to watch Dom and all his fancy friends play beach volleyball instead of the reality that is Ana’s world. Even if they do look down on me and my thrifty clothing and non-manicured hands. I have handled my fair share of disdain being the poor girl in a rich man’s world. It hardly even phases me anymore.
It’s like Dom has a radar for my self deprecation, even when he isn’t directly in my presence. My phone starts ringing fifteen minutes into my forty five minute walk.
“Ana-Banana, how was work?”
“Slow and painful. I had to clean up three piles of vomit in one shift, that has to be some kind of record somewhere. When will children learn not to mix dairy products and the sun?”
“One of the many perks of working in a grocery store so close to the beach.”
“Living the dream Dom, living the dream.”
“So, we won the volleyball tournament. I wish you could have seen my mad skills on display. It would have been a super proud best friend moment for you.” I can hear the smile in his voice, so carefree and full of life. Color me jealous.
“Yeah, I am fairly certain the Dominic fan club attendance was hearty enough without little ole me.” A car blows its horn as I jaywalk to the other side of the street.
“What’s a fan club without its president,” Dom jokes. “Why did that car horn sound like it was directly beside your head? Where are you? Aren’t you home yet?”
“Thank you for the round of twenty questions, but no, I am not home yet. Mommy dearest is out with Ted instead of providing transportation for her only child. My extended shift was clearly an inconvenience to her very busy schedule. Maybe she will surprise us all and add a reliable job to her calendar too.”
“Ana, are you freaking kidding me right now? I told you the last time that she did this to call me and wait. Walking home in the dark on that road is stupid. Where are you? I will come and get you.”
“Dom, chill out. I am a big girl and I can handle myself. I am already halfway at this point, waiting for you wouldn’t be worth it. I will graciously accept a ride to my breakfast shift at the diner tomorrow though, if you really want to save the day. It is highly unlikely that my mom will be home tonight; therefore almost certain that she will forget about my shift tomorrow.”
“Fine, I will swing by your house around six tomorrow morning. Please text me when you get home tonight, I just pulled into my driveway.”
“Deal, see you in the morning, bye.”
As I hang up with Dom, I am struck with a rare feeling of luckiness. My friendship with Dom has been my north star, the singular light in this hellhole of a life. I would never jeopardize what we have. Which is why the secret feelings that I have been harboring for him, that are definitely outside of the definition of friendship, will stay on lockdown forever.
I don’t even remember falling asleep last night. After I got off the phone with Ana I came inside and started watching a show, intending to wait for her text telling me that she got home safe before I went to bed. I must have been more tired than I thought. Luckily, unlike her mother, I am reliable and set an alarm for her morning shift. Crawling out of bed to make a cup of coffee, I shut off my alarm and scroll through my notifications. Weird. No text from Ana telling me she made it home. I don’t love that she didn’t notify me, she knows how I worry. As I dial her number and the call rings through to her voicemail, I become increasingly sick to my stomach. I continue getting myself together until I am in my car on the way to her house and have called her no less than twenty times. My heart feels as though it will shoot completely out of my chest if I don’t hear from her soon. I have always had Ana, in every phase of my life. She is my constant, my safe place. She’s the girl I love. If I told her that much, though, she would roadrunner style escape from me. Her mom’s love life has forced this strange decision on Ana, that she doesn’t want any parts of that world, but dammit if I don’t regret not telling her how I have always felt right in this moment. Just as I think I can’t spiral any further into this never ending fear that something isn’t right, someone answers the call, but it isn’t Ana.
“Who the hell is this?!” I shout, feeling like I’m on the brink of something very, very bad.
“This is Doctor Martin. Who is this?”
A doctor is answering Ana’s phone. Pure and utter panic slices through my veins. “This is Dominic Trellis, Ana’s best friend. Can I talk to her? What is going on?!” I pull over on the side of the road so that I can attempt normal breathing.
“Mr. Trellis, do you have any idea of the whereabouts of Ana’s mother Ms. Maulty? She is listed as Ana’s emergency contact, but we haven’t been able to reach her. Now, I am assuming since you have called her no less than forty times at this point, the two of you are close. I’m sorry to tell you this, but Ana has been involved in a terrible accident. She was struck on the side of the road late last night, by a drunk driver. Her condition has stabilized only recently and we really need her mother here to make some tough decisions, if the time should come.”
Nothing I was imagining even comes close to the truth of what happened to Ana. My chest feels constricted and somehow I forget how to take air in and breathe. I think I might pass out, right here on the side of the highway.
“Mr. Trellis, are you still there?”
The urgency in his voice snaps me out of my panicked state. “Yes, I’m here, I’m sorry. I will find her mother and bring her into the hospital right away, which hospital is she in?”
“Oceanview Grand. Thank you, son.” The call disconnects.
I am hardly aware of the next hour when I find Ana’s mother recovering from her night out and drag her into my Jeep and to the hospital. I don’t have the strength to deal with berating her for her careless behavior or to point out that SHE is the reason her teenage daughter is lying in a hospital bed.
When we get to the hospital we are directed to floor three. Ana’s mother allows me to come with her and listen to the doctor’s reports. It is no secret, even to her own mother, that I am the closest thing to family Ana has.
After what feels like an eternity, the doctor ushers us into Ana’s room. The truth is, she might not wake up and if she does, her life will not be the same. The extent of her injuries is unknown at this point. The sight of her in the hospital bed makes me physically ill and I rush from the room for some air.
Sitting in the most uncomfortable chairs known to man, trying to get my thoughts together, I hear shouting a few doors down. Normally, I am not a nosey person; however, those shouts belong to a very familiar voice. Peering into the room I see him handcuffed to a hospital bed shouting obscenities at the nurse and officer next to him. The officer begins explaining something to him, but all I hear are the words: charges, drunk driving, and possible manslaughter. I all but fall as I grab the trash can nearest to me and throw up.
Josh is the drunk driver who hit Ana.