Janey stood at the window, arms crossed over her chest. She scowled and glared, hoping to pierce the veil of the fog with her eyes. Summer vacation, right, she thought. It’s like fifty degrees out there. She felt like a pathetic fairy tale princess trapped in her castle, the big luxury hotel being the castle and the shitty weather being her existential angst. Her mom acted all chill, like this weather was a good thing, “an escape from the oppressive heat of the central valley,” she’d said. Weren’t you supposed to have oppressive heat at the beach, Janey had thought. Had she really waited all summer for this stupid vacation, only to arrive at this lame beach where she couldn’t see the ocean at all? They could be in Kansas for all she knew from the view out the window.
“Come on, honey,” her mom said, “let’s get our suits on so we can head over to the beach right after breakfast.”
“Right. Can’t wait to go swimming on this blazing hot summer day.”
Her mom looked at her, evidently trying to decide if she should engage or just let it go. She chose the latter. “I know, honey. I wish it was warm and sunny too. Maybe it will be in a couple of hours. But this is a short trip and we might as well make the most of it, right? We can bring our books and wrap up in our towels until the sun breaks through. I’ll get you a nice big cup of hot chocolate, how about that?”
“I’m not a baby, Mom.” Janey rolled her eyes, then saw an opportunity. “How about some coffee instead?”
“Janey, we’ve talked about this. Twelve year olds should not be drinking coffee.”
“Dad lets me.”
Her mom sighed. “So I’ve heard. I’m not going to comment on that, ok? What you do when you are with him is between you and your father. But when you’re with me, no coffee. Sorry.” Janey was tempted to call her a liar, knowing full well that her mother had lots of opinions about what she did when she was with her dad, but she didn’t have the energy. The fog was sucking all the life out of her.
After breakfast, they gathered the necessary gear—the fluffy towels that would soon be caked in sand, the hotel-issued ubiquitous Tommy Bahama chairs, the hats, sunscreen, books, sunglasses, water bottles. Back at home, her mom’s suggestion of bringing the old plastic pail and shovels had been met with Janey’s withering stare. So, at least they didn’t have those to carry. They stopped at the coffee cart in the lobby, her mother inconsiderately ordering a double cappuccino for herself and the stupid hot chocolate for Janey. The mound of whipped cream was a nice touch, something Janey took pains not to acknowledge. She swooped her tongue across the sweet, fluffy top, suppressed a little moan.
They laboriously made their way across the sand, arms full and chairs clanging, to a patch near the water unencumbered by kelp or other detritus. “How’s this spot?” her mom asked.
Janey scanned the empty beach. “I don’t know. Kind of crowded here.” She flung her towel to the ground. Her mom, again, refrained from commenting. She must feel like her head is going to explode with all this niceness, Janey thought. Over her shoulder, she saw the Double Shot emerging through the fog, heard the clack clack clack of the technicians testing the roller coaster in preparation for another day’s work, smelled the grease heating up, awaiting the plunge of the funnel cake batter and Oreos. Her mom was fumbling ineptly with her chair. Janey grabbed it from her, laid it flat out and then notched it back into a comfortable position. Her mom smiled and touched Janey’s arm, saying nothing.
They sat side by side, wrapped in their towels, sipping their warm drinks, watching the bit of the waves they could see lapping the shore. A swimmer emerged from the fog and they watched her peel the hood of her wetsuit back, flinging a long piece of kelp back into the water as she walked to the shore. She looked about a hundred years old. Janey wondered what some twelve year old girl sitting on the beach at the Atlantic Ocean was looking at right now. Probably some ripped, tan surfer with scruffy blonde hair and a nose covered in zinc oxide, striding from the water like a Baywatch dude. Janey sighed and opened her book. She pretended to read for a few minutes, but who was she kidding? Did they really think students wanted to spend their summer reading about wars and hardship and heartbreak? Wtf? She tossed her book on her neon pink, orange and yellow towel, the only bright spot on the beach.
“I’m going for a walk.”
Her mom barely acknowledged her, already so engrossed in her book that she’d practically forgotten that Janey was there. Typical. Why couldn’t she at least be distracted by her phone, like a normal mother?
Janey walked away from the boardwalk area and back toward the wharf and her own tall hotel. Tonight the boardwalk would be full of people playing games, riding the rides, eating cotton candy, and she’d be hanging out with her mom. Her way uncool mom. The sounds of the boardwalk gearing up for the day mercifully faded as she got closer to the wharf. Beyond that, nothing was visible at all. When she glanced back to look at her mom, she could barely see her either. Another five feet and she’d be gone. Poof.
She was making her way under the wharf, between the piers when she felt it, a sharp biting pain in the arch of her left foot. “Shit!” She fell to the sand and grabbed her ankle to see what got her. As she tried to twist her leg into the right position, a girl appeared by her side.
“Hey,” she said, “you ok?”
Janey gazed up at her. She was the most incredible girl she’d ever seen, a model’s body in an amazing yellow bikini, dark hair swept up in a messy bun, blue eyes the color the ocean would be on a sunny day, and those eyebrows. God, what Janey wouldn’t give for eyebrows like that. The girl sat down next to her, reached out to take Janey’s foot and assess the damage.
“Ooh. You’ve got a shell in your foot. I hate that.”
Janey grimaced. She was a total wimp. A lame-o. Remembering the mortification she’d experienced last winter when one of the guys broke his arm during a basketball game she was watching, she prayed that she wouldn’t pass out in front of this perfect girl. She lay back to keep that from happening, a trick she’d learned on the internet.
The girl laughed. “Are we playing doctor?” The tone in her voice gave Janey a fluttery feeling in her stomach. “I’m Aria.”
Aria, Janey thought, her parents must be way cooler than mine. “I’m Janey. Ow!”
“Got it,” Aria said. “No more shell in foot.” She rubbed Janey’s leg, just above her ankle and the flutter in Janey’s stomach moved up to her chest. “You live around here?”
“No, I live in Fresno. I’m here with my mom for a two-day ‘vacation.’” Janey said, trying to act like it was something she hadn’t actually been looking forward to for weeks. “Do you live here?”
“Yeah, just like a mile from here. I was planning to go surfing this morning but the waves suck. Where’s your mom?”
Janey had forgotten which direction she came from, but it didn’t matter anyway, the fog was so oppressive. “She’s over there somewhere,” she said, pointing vaguely in the direction of the boardwalk. “Reading her book.” Aria’s hand was still on her leg. “How old are you?”
“Thirteen. Well, almost. Next month. You?”
“Twelve. Twelve and a half.” Janey shrugged, figuring she could round up even though her birthday was just two months ago.
“How’s your foot now?”
“It’s fine.” Janey was pretty sure it was bleeding and tried not to think of all the germs in there. “Thanks for getting the shell out.”
Aria smiled at her. “You surf?”
Janey snorted and could feel her face redden. “Uh, no. I . . . no.”
“Want a lesson?” Aria asked and then said, “Actually, never mind. There’s no waves anyway. Want to just come out and float on the board with me?”
“Sure.” Janey felt like she had left her body. “Maybe I should tell my . . .”
“It’s fine,” Aria interrupted. “We’ll just be right here, like ten feet out. There aren’t even any waves.” She jumped up. “C’mon.”
Janey stood and tried to walk normally, like her foot wasn’t throbbing and her heart wasn’t beating out of her chest. She glanced back in the direction of her mother, but saw nothing. Stupid fog. She remembered getting tumbled in that huge wave last summer, the last time she’d gone in the ocean. When she’d come up sputtering and coughing, her mom was there to help her to her feet, carry her back to her chair, comfort her as she recovered from her ordeal. Today she wouldn’t even know Janey was in the water. Janey hesitated, but Aria in her yellow bikini was like a black hole, sucking her into the sea.
“Hop on,” Aria said, as if that was something a person would just know how to do. Janey, already trembling from the cold water, managed to squirm her way onto the board, lying on her stomach, aware of the gapping in her bathing suit top. She put her chin down on her hands to hide her shaking and whatever else might need to be hidden. Aria grabbed the leash and pulled Janey out to deeper water. There was kelp floating everywhere, but it didn’t seem to bother Aria. Janey wondered how deep the water was. Aria was telling her a story about some surfer who she’d seen get smashed into the rocks, but Janey had a hard time hearing her over the whooshing in her ears. She took a deep breath. Aria was right, the waves were tiny. Not at all like that tumbler from last summer.
Aria stopped swimming. She hoisted herself up onto the nose of the board, her body still in the water, the board rocking from her effort. She folded her arms just like Janey. Their faces were not more than eight inches apart.
“What’s your favorite dinner?”
“Uh . . .” Janey hated those questions. Her mom always teased her about the standard answer she gave for years: I like them all exactly the same. Janey, who’s your favorite teacher? I like them all exactly the same.
“Like, what do you choose for your birthday dinner. I always pick sushi. Do you like sushi?”
“Yeah. Sure.” Janey had never had sushi.
“What’s your favorite kind?”
She sure did ask a lot of questions. “Tuna?”
“My favorite sushi place has one called Flying Tiger. That’s the best.”
Janey couldn’t imagine what was in a flying tiger. She started to speak, but had no idea what to say in response. Suddenly Aria pushed herself up and kissed Janey right on the mouth. They locked eyes as Janey’s vision got all black and wavy at the edges, the middle tunneling into a tiny spot just like when she had passed out at the basketball game. Aria kissed Janey again, this kiss slower but more insistent, her lips parted slightly. She tasted like coconut and the ocean. Janey, eyes closed, felt a tug on the leash, heard the splash of Aria’s reentry. As Aria sliced through the water back toward the shore, Janey wondered if it could count as your first kiss if it was with a girl.
Aria splashed her. “Get off,” she said, not unkindly. They were back in the shallow water. “I’m going to find some real waves.”
Janey eased herself off the board and tried to find her footing in the shifting sand. Aria jumped on the board and started paddling out, calling “see ya” over her shoulder as Janey stood there, waves lapping at her knees.
“See ya,” Janey whispered. Aria was long gone. Poof. Janey walked under the wharf and back to her mom, more visible now in the dissipating fog. She grabbed her towel and wrapped it around her, dropped heavily into her chair.
“Did you have a nice walk?” her mom asked, her face still in her book. She glanced at Janey over the top of her glasses. “You’re wet. You went in?”
“Just a little.” She shut her eyes, hoping her mom would get the message that she didn’t want to talk. Her mom’s silence was a gift. She pulled her towel tighter around her. She was warm, but still trembling. Her foot, forgotten while she was in the water, was stinging and throbbing and she didn’t look forward to her mom having to get all that sand out of her wound later. She rubbed her ankle, trying to find the exact spot where Aria’s hand had been. She wondered if the hotel restaurant would have sushi on the dinner menu, if they would sit at a table with a view of the beach where she and Aria had met. Would the taste of the ocean in the sushi be the same as the taste of the ocean on Aria’s lips? She felt the glow of that yellow bikini over her.
“Sun’s out,” her mom said, “do you feel it?”
“Yeah,” Janey said, eyes still closed. “Yeah, I feel it.”