It was exactly 47 degrees in the Bodega Bay Lodge on March 5th, 2021, outside room six. The wind licked goosebumps onto our bare arms as we waited. My sister, Piper, had a plain blue towel wrapped around her body like a burrito of warmth. Her chestnut hair skipped across her face. I knew she didn’t have to be here, but she followed me everywhere. I always tried to convince myself that it was annoying, but to be truthful it was flattering how she shadowed me like an old, faithful hound.
Finally, the door creaked open. My cousin, Liv, held the brass doorknob in her small fingers and beamed when she saw us on the other side.
“Don’t you like my s-swimsuit?” she said, her voice wavering at the end when a gust of chilly air twirled around her. She posed with her hands on her hips.
I had to admit, her swimsuit was ironic. Despite the freezing weather, she wore a bikini with shamrock-green palm trees and bubblegum-pink flamingos in sunglasses. Her dark hair framed her face and the light of a lamp from inside her room outlined her in a buttery glow. Oh, how Liv looked like an angel.
“I love it,” I told her, and Piper nodded in agreement, “but we should get down to the pool. Everyone else is already there.”
Liv nodded, stepped outside onto the welcome mat, and shut the door behind her. The metal “6” that was perched on the door flashed when the moon’s light kissed it. It was right then that I noticed Liv was barefoot. When I commented at her lack of shoes and stared at her chipped and sparkly violet toenail polish, she just smirked and walked up ahead. Piper tailed me as I tried to catch up with her.
The first drop of rain shattered in front of me. I skidded to a stop and Piper almost crashed into my back. I waited, patiently. The sky was the color of dimes and denim. I waited some more. Droplets nestled into my hair and zigzagged down my swimsuit. As if it wasn’t already cold enough. The rain tap danced against the concrete path. It created dot-art that could’ve been put in a museum. If only people remembered to look upwards more often.
It started to pour and my breath came out in ragged sighs. I made a dash for the pool gates, leaving Piper in the dust. I cut through the grass, already slick with rain, my flip-flops squeaking and hiccuping. I caught up to Liv and beat her to the gate. She erupted in laughter and tugged at my ponytail. Piper snuck up behind us, belted “BOO” in our ears, and slipped into the pool area. She backed up, ditched her towel, rubbed her hands on her one-piece swimsuit, and dove into the cerulean pool in a tangle of
arms and legs. My brother, Cole, and my other cousin, Ozzie, were already in the pool and in the splash zone, therefore receiving some waves leftover from Piper’s cannonball. My mom, dad, aunt, and uncle were seated in a half-circle around the edges of the hottub. My aunt fixed her auburn hair into a messy bun and rubbed at the mascara that was smudged across her eyelids. There was no one else besides my family in the area.
“The ladies have arrived,” she announced.
Liv bowed haphazardly with her hair falling over her grinning face and I slid my flip-flops off. Then, she grabbed my hand and slingshotted me into the water. I lost my breath for a second, and all the stress clinging to my skin about COVID-19 just washed away like seashells being sucked into the ocean. It was illuminated by white lights, which gave it kind of an eerie look. Reminding me of ghosts and Jane Eyre. The view from the pool was of wet marsh and long strands of grass. Cattails, silver beachweed, coyote brush. It extended past the horizon and banana-colored setting sun.
I let out a cough underwater and bubbles erupted from my lips. When I reached the surface, I found Liv watching me with a light half-smile. I inhaled the smell of salty chlorine. The rain pitter-pattered against the top of the pool and felt cold on my face. Thankfully, the water was slightly heated so when we dipped beneath it, we found a haven of tickling heat.
Cole and Ozzie began tagging each other and swimming away, thrashing and giggling when they were caught. Piper had jumped into the shallow end and was now practicing backflips and handstands in the water. She looked like a silhouette of a ballerina with the sun now set and the moon shimmering across the pool. From twenty feet away, I could detect my parents, aunt, and uncle chatting about the latest news of California fires or newly divorced couples they both knew of. The jets of the hottub bubbled in the background like little whispers. Rain fell sideways. Some moments were whole and perfect, and I was thinking this was one of them. But just like a quote from “Wildest Dreams” sung by Taylor Swift (a song I loved at the time), “Nothing lasts forever, but this is getting good now.”
The first hint of hail came when the rain started to come in patches. It wasn’t that surprising, really, considering we were in a very cold place with rain like crocodile tears. It began with little chunks of ice that melted when they collided with the toasty pool water. Liv cried out and dove beneath the surface. Piper moved over to my side and we both shielded our heads like we would for an earthquake. Cole and Ozzie tried catching pieces of ice in their heads and seeing who could find the biggest.
I felt frozen, then. Like I was waiting for someone to react, perhaps an adult to tell us it wasn’t safe to be in a pool with hail. But it never came. The air around us was blurred with darkness, rain, and icy nuggets. When Cole and Ozzie glanced in my direction, I just laughed. A deep, hearty sort of sound that echoed in my throat and caused my ears to buzz. When rocks of ice landed in front of me, I scooped them up to show the boys. Maybe it was because I am the oldest of my siblings and my
cousins, but right after that, everyone seemed to have lost all cautiousness and worry for the hail. Now it was all fun, fun, fun.
We screeched with excitement and adrenaline. I’d never seen it hail before, but this was magical. I thought we were living in our own separate pocket from the world until a light flickered on from one of the lodge rooms that was positioned behind the pool. I looked back and saw a man in only a bathrobe on his balcony, his eyes like lighthouses, searching out into the night. He grunted and glared down at the pool. I knew he was thinking something along the lines of, “Noisy kids out this late? Don’t they know it’s almost 11pm?” I hid my face amongst the waves of blue and waited for him to return to his room. Finally, he did.
I was about to go back to having a blast and planning to send a tsunami of pool water and melting mini-glaciers towards Liv, when another stranger in a charcoal-black umbrella came striding through the gate. I recognized him from the front desk. The guy who chewed wintergreen gum and always had his hair in a blond-highlighted ponytail.
For a second, I thought he was going to kick us out. The pool was supposed to close around 11pm. But he strolled across the pavement and over to the firepit. It glowed and pirouetted over hot coals. The intense hail pouring over the flames was causing them to shudder in and out of light. The front-desk boy reached behind the pit and clicked a metal button. I heard his many rings clank against it. The fire dwindled to only a spark and eventually perished in a puff of smoke. Now, only the white lights of the pool were shining.
The boy stalked over to the parents in the hottub and exchanged a few short sentences with them. He twisted the handle of the umbrella between his fingers and the outer canopy fluttered in the wind. All I could hear was mumbling with the hail colliding into the ground. Distantly, I recall also hearing rattlesnake grass as it hissed and wheezed in the breeze.
After the boy repositioned his umbrella and closed the gate behind him when he left, Cole hopped up onto the yellowing outer rim of the pool with only his feet dangling in the pool. He gently kicked up water and made little waves. Ozzie jumped up and did the same.
“What did he say?” Cole called over to the parents.
My dad cupped his hands around his mouth, “He said it’s becoming dangerous to be in the pool with lighting on the weather’s agenda.”
I frowned. The sky did look unpredictable like my sister’s temper, a swirling stew of aegean blue and anchor gray hues. The stars twinkled like post-its on a black chalkboard or X’s and O’s on an otherwise blank card.
Piper’s eyes met mine. “I don’t want to be struck by lightning.” She swallowed, and I could hear it loud and clear.
Liv dipped her head and began to float on her back, rocking to and fro like a seesaw. “I don’t want to leave the pool,” she gurgled. Her dark hair fanned out across the pool so it looked like little velvety tentacles.
I explained to her that if the lightning struck the pool, the electricity would run through the water and kill us instantly. Liv became quiet.
Finally, after a minute, she said, “It’s not fair.” I could barely see her face with the lack of light but I knew she was unhappy. Oh well.
I hoisted myself up onto the side of the pool. My shins and feet were still in the warm water, but the rest of my body that was outside was freezing. Pieces of hail knocked on the concrete around us. Tap, tap, tap. Droplets of water zoomed down my arms like race cars attempting to cross the finish line. When I shook my head to release pool water from my face, I felt my hair against my bare back. It was clumped and stuck oddly together, like pretzeled tree roots. I slowly got up and stretched my arms out for balance. There’s a disarming feeling when you come out of the water after a while and your legs have to get used to taking steps again. I felt like Ariel from The Little Mermaid, adjusting to her new feet on land. In The Little Mermaid song, “Part of Your World,” Ariel sings, “Walking around on those, what do you call ’em? Oh, feet . . .” I made this connection because we had watched the movie while driving up to Bodega Bay because my Honda Odyssey minivan had a little DVD player and screen that we only used for road trips. The Little Mermaid is a family favorite.
I swayed back and forth and eventually trusted myself enough to wander over to the parents in the hot tub. They lounged, still gossiping, but silenced when I arrived. It annoyed me a bit because I was thirteen and my parents were still keeping secrets from me. Whatever.
I glanced at the ground and tapped my feet against the pavement. It made little squishing sounds where sprits of water flew out from under my toes. “I think we should go inside. It’s already late and as the guy pointed out: dangerous.” I rubbed my arms and noticed that the hail was becoming lighter.
“Okay, honey, we’ll be there in a sec. Why don’t you round up your cousins and meet in our room to watch a movie?” my aunt asked, hinting that the parents wanted more “adult time.”
“Yeah, we’ll be up in around ten minutes,” my mom echoed. My uncle just nodded—he was a man of few words.
“Alrighty,” I confirmed, my eyes floating out to the marsh where the wind snaked through the tall European beachgrass and royal-purple thistle. It was so dark and my eyelids felt heavy like the hefty flap of a pelican. I strolled back towards the pool where Piper and Liv mumbled to each other and Cole and Ozzie free-styled laps from one end of the pool to another.
I watched them for a moment. How careless they looked, not bothering to brush hail out of their hair when it settled into it. Liv giggled at something Piper said and I observed how her dimples rose and fell like the sun, moon, or a runaway red balloon. It was like snuggling in to view your favorite scene of a movie, calming and out-of-mind.
Suddenly, when my eyelids started to droop again, I snapped out of my fantasy. “Guys, we should head back up. It’s getting late and Aunt Jeni said we could watch a bit of a movie while the parents stayed down here for a while. Does that sound good?”
Liv bounced up and down like a pogo stick. “Sounds like a plan,” she announced. Liv was always game for anything. That’s what I loved about her.
“We’re in,” Cole and Ozzie chanted in their not-so-library voice. I hushed them.
Piper faltered, “Are we sure it’s safe? And who’d be picking the movie?” She was always the one to ask questions.
I rolled my eyes all the way around to make a point, and felt a little dizzy, like I’d spent too long on a merry-go-round. Liv chuckled and reassured Piper before climbing the stairs of the pool and shaking herself off like a wet, satisfied dog. She then stole a towel off a chair and folded it around herself effortlessly like it was merely a piece of origami paper. I did the same.
Cole and Ozzie also hustled for the exit, their feet drumming against the ground, but I was already out the gate. I held my hand to the sky and felt a soft wind peck my palm with airy kisses. I felt like a sailor who used my thumbs to map my way across the ocean and the breeze to determine where it would lead my boat. This thought intrigued me, so I made my fingers into an “L” and attempted to discover Polaris off the Little Dipper. I couldn’t find it. To be honest, the stars all seemed the same to me.
Liv appeared next to me and matched my hands. She sighed and extended her tiny hand as flat as it could be, like a starfish. Then, she moved it around, like trying to connect the stars through an invisible line. I chortled but pasted my hand over my mouth.
“What’re you doing?” I inquired.
She licked her lips, “I’m imagining new constellations. See”—she directed her hand to a cluster of stars—“those look like a pegasus and those look like a lightning bolt. Oh, and that one looks like Honest Abe!”
Liv seemed truly excited and joystriken about finding Abe Lincoln in the stars. We trekked up the concrete path that was slick with melted hail and conga lines of ants. We hugged our towels closer, hoping they’d protect us from the rain. After all, we were already soaked. The hail had disappeared as quickly as it had arrived, dissolving into a soft rain. I smiled from ear to ear, bumped Liv’s shoulder to mine, and tucked a piece of stray hickory hair behind her ear. The sky swallowed us in its darkness.
I answered as Honest Abe would, “Yes, Liv, it does.”