Beside the Sea

Submitted into Contest #4 in response to: Write a story based on the song title: "Beside The Sea"... view prompt



“Look at that!”

The surf line shone brilliant white against the distant blue.

But Margaret pointed elsewhere. She tugged at Charles’ sleeve. “No, look, Charlie.”

Charles shifted his gaze beyond his wife’s gnarly index finger and saw the sign, ‘Beside the Sea Cafe’.

“That’s it. That’s where we’re going.”

The door jingled as they entered the small, clean dining room lit by shimmering sand reflecting through the picture window. Old nets draped around the perimeter of the ceiling. They’d been catching dust for years. Radio music from back in the kitchen cut through the white noise of exhaust fans above the grill.

A faded Coppertone ad hung askew near the order counter. Another wall displayed a mural with a mermaid, painted in cartoonish homage to the Pre-Raphaelites.

In one corner, under the mermaid, sat a young man whose beard looked less a statement of fashion than of forgetfulness. He concentrated on his smartphone, oblivious to all else. A basket holding the remains of his deep fried lunch rested on the corner of his Formica table.

Across the room, a stylishly dressed young woman gazed pensively out the window, perhaps reckoning if her ship had come in or had already sailed. A large plastic cup filled only with ice, sat on a wet napkin.

Margaret and Charles selected a table with a view. Charles retrieved two menus and they sat.

“What now?” he asked. Margaret took his hand and looked into Charles’ eyes, bursting with hope.

“I don’t know. I guess we wait to see what happens.”

Not being fond of the beach, they were out of their element. Margaret felt compelled to make this journey, prompted by a text reading ‘Beside the Sea,’ she received on her phone the previous day.

Margaret was convinced their sixteen year old daughter, Marie, sent it. She’d run away several months ago. Or so they thought. She left no note. They didn’t even know if she was alive. This mysterious message, if it were sent by Marie, was the first they’d heard from her.

They just wanted to ensure she was okay and to help her, if possible.

The drive had been long and tiring. They decided on coffees and a basket of fish and chips. The order taker wore a Hawaiian shirt and a backwards hat with ‘Tony’ embroidered on the back. Charles paid Tony and returned to the table.

Tony lingered for a moment to look at the woman by the window. She continued looking to the horizon.

Charles squeezed Margaret’s hand and smiled reassuringly. But his eyes were worried. “I won’t scold her,” he said. “You do the talking.”

Their order arrived at the window and Charles retrieved it.

Margaret sighed. “Let’s enjoy our lunch and our outing. Who knows what will happen?”

They ate in silence but for occasional grunts of surprise and pleasure.

Ed, the bearded man, got up from his table, grabbed his backpack and exited. He got a text, ‘Beside the Sea,’ on his phone, yesterday. The tide had ebbed. Spurred to action by this pre-arranged signal, he walked quickly across the cool sand toward the rocky outcropping jutting into the water.

Thankfully, it was off season and there were few beach combers nearby. When Ed got to the water’s edge, he removed his shoes and pulled off his pants to reveal swimming trunks underneath. Ed pulled a pair of beach shoes from his backpack, put them on and, leaving the pack on the beach, waded into the water.

When he got to the rocks, Ed turned and extended his arm back toward the café, as if he were sighting something. He took two steps to his left, turned and continued into a cleft of the moss covered rock. 

Stopping, Ed shifted his weight, groped with his foot and reached into the water. It was shallow, but waves sometimes splashed over his head causing him to sputter and gasp. He wiped his face with a cloth and reached into the water again.

He found something. With some effort, he brought his discovery to the surface. Ed set it on the rocks. Big enough to fill his backpack, the package was wrapped in heavy black plastic and secured with twine. Ed ran his hands over its contours and then hefted it from one hand to the other. Satisfied at this cursory examination, he returned to the beach.

Ed inserted his package into the backpack and secured the straps. He swung the pack onto his back and strolled back toward the boardwalk, in no apparent hurry.

As he reached the pavement in front of the café, Ed turned right toward the parking lot about a block away. Seemingly out of nowhere, three men in street clothes began following Ed. Two others, in suits, stepped onto the boardwalk to block his path.

When Ed saw the men enter his line of sight, he turned quickly and walked into the arms of the men close behind him.

“Whoa! What are you doing?”

One of the men flashed his badge at Ed. “What’s in the pack, Ed?”

“Nothing. Can’t a guy collect some shells on the beach?”

“Pretty shells, eh? Let’s have a look.”

One of the men relieved Ed of his baggage, dropped it to the ground and unstrapped it. He pulled the package out, deftly cut the twine free and unwrapped it to reveal several banded stacks of hundred dollar bills.

One of the cops whistled. “Ooh! Pretty!”

“Hey, wait a minute. I just found that. I didn’t know what was in there.”

“I’m sure. Let’s go downtown where we can chat about it, eh?”

They cuffed Ed and guided him to a waiting police cruiser.

Cassie, the woman by the window, watched all of this unfold. She never saw such a thing happen before her eyes.

Cassie caught Margaret’s eye. “They got him. They just arrested the guy who was sitting over there.”

“Really? What did he do?”

“I don’t know. But it was five to one. He must have done something.”

Margaret and Charles exchanged glances. “Nice neighborhood.”

Cassie said, “It used to be.”

A policeman entered the café and looked around. Tony stepped up to the order window.

“Excuse me. We just apprehended a man outside. He was in here a few minutes ago. Do any of you know him?”

Everyone shook their heads.

Tony said, “I’ve seen him before. But he never spoke to me except to order food.”

Charles saw someone on the beach. “It’s Marie.” He stood and turned to the door. The police officer stepped between him and the exit.

“Where are you going?”

Charles was startled by the officer’s tone. “We’re from out of town. We don’t know anyone here. We came to meet our daughter.”

“I need you to sit while I ask some questions.”

Margaret said, “Do you need both of us? Can one of us meet her?”

Charles said, “You go Maggie. I’ll be collateral.”

The cop looked at them, at Cassie and then at Tony. “Do you know them?”

Tony said, “Never seen them before an hour ago.”

“May I please leave? I don’t want to lose her.”

The cop nodded to Margaret, who dashed out.

Charles said, “We got a text from her. Haven’t seen her in months.”

The cop looked around. “What was our suspect doing in here?”

Tony said, “Eating. He always sits and eats. And plays with his phone.”

“Is this his?” The cop pointed at Ed’s food basket, still sitting where he left it. The tissue paper fluttered weakly under the fan.   

Cassie said, “Yes.”

Margaret shielded her eyes from the sun, trying to keep an eye on Marie. It was windy and her hat threatened to blow away.

She struggled to walk in the sand, in her heels. She slipped them off.

Marie seemed so far away. But she didn’t appear in a hurry. She would stop and look at the waves or pick something up from the sand.

Eventually Margaret felt the gap between them shortening. She didn’t recognize Marie’s clothes. A stained, man sized, loose knit sweater hung loosely on her thin frame. Out of breath, Margaret came up behind her.


Marie whirled around and saw her mother standing before her. She didn’t know if to run to her, or away. Margaret repeated her name and opened her arms to her daughter. Marie melted into them. They stood together for a long time. They cried. Margaret smoothed her hair and kissed her. She offered Marie a handkerchief and slung her arm over Marie’s shoulder.

 “What happened?”

“How did you find me?”

“We got your text. We came here with no idea. Just hope.”

“I didn’t text you. I don’t have a phone. Everything is gone.”

“Can we talk? Daddy’s at the café.”

“Oh Mom. I don’t know.”

“Come on. Whatever happened, we can get through it. Where are you staying?”

Marie buried her face in Margaret’s shoulder. A few words came through the sobs.

“I’m so sorry… ashamed… lost it… lost everything…”

“You need to eat. Come on.”

Arms around each other’s waists, they walked slowly back toward the café.

The cop took the remains of Ed’s meal in an evidence bag. He got everyone’s phone numbers for follow up and left.

Charles stepped out and saw his wife and daughter approaching. He waited. When they got close, he opened his arms to them.

Cassie watched the reunion through the café window. She gathered her things to leave.

Tony said, “What are the odds?”

Cassie turned, “What? Their finding their daughter?” Tony nodded. “Yeah. Pretty amazing…”

“I saw her hanging around. But I didn’t know her story. I’d leave her a plate, out back. You know… sometimes. Just left overs. She couldn’t pay.”

 “Nice of you… I guess I’ll go.”

“If you don’t mind my asking… Were you waiting for someone?”

“Yeah. I got a text. I thought it might be from… someone I knew.”

“You got a text?”

“Yeah. Why?”

“Beside the Sea?”

“How did you know?”

“My accountant suggested it as a marketing strategy. Off season, you know, send out the name of the café randomly to people from the area…”

“You sent it to me?”

“I sent it…”


“I guess you could say that.”

“Well, that was a wasted afternoon.”

“Uh, wait. Could you?”


“Your name is Cassie, right? I heard you tell the cop…”


“I knew a Cassie in grade school. Did you go to San Luis Academy, by any chance?”

“Uhm… I did…”

“I thought you looked familiar. I could have sworn it was you, but…” Cassie waited. “Well, when I heard you tell the cop, I thought maybe…”

“Looks like you guessed right.” Cassie looked at her watch. “You aren’t stalking me, are you?”

“No! No! I would never… But… Well, what I wondered… Since I wasted your time here today, could I make it up to you? Would you let me buy you dinner?”

Cassie gave him a long look. “What… here?”

“No! I’m about to close up. I would clean up and everything. I mean… I would buy you a real dinner. What do you say?”

“What do you have in mind?”

“I know a nice place, downtown. But if you have a favorite spot, we could go there.”

“Hmm… There’s a decent dinner place on Third and Main… Do you know it?”

“Is that Vino Veritas?”

“That’s it.”

“That was the place I was thinking of. You want me to pick you up?”

“Let’s meet there.” She looked at her watch. “Six-thirty?”


“You’ll call for reservations?”

“Great. Right now.”

She looked at his backwards hat. “Tony, right?”

“Yeah. Tony Kalamata, like the olive.”

Cassie gave Tony another long look. “That sounds familiar. San Luis Academy?”

“1994. I left, when I lost my parents. This place was my uncle’s. He took me in and then taught me... everything.” Tony opened his arms dramatically, to show off his place.

“We called you ‘Pits’.”

“Wow! You did! Good memory, Cassie.”

“Okay, then. See you there at six-thirty?”


Cassie opened the door to leave. “I’ll see you then… Tony.”

They both laughed and she left. Tony pulled the shades down on the picture window. The family reunion had moved on. He turned the ‘Open’ sign to ‘Closed’.

Tony looked at his watch. “I’d better get a move on…”

He punched a number into his phone. “Hello, Vino Veritas...?”

August 30, 2019 21:46

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