June 6th, 2006
In room three hundred two, a variety of sounds filled my ears: the buzzing of fluorescent lighting, the hurried scratching and scribbling of pencils, the coughs, sneezes, shouts, jibbers, and jabbers of students, the shuffles of papers, the flipping of pages, the groan of the air conditioner, the clacking of the teacher's keyboard—a perfect cacophony of discordant sound. I rubbed my aching temples and attempted, once again, to focus on my schoolwork. The assignment sheet lying on my desk before me seemed a blur of smeared ink and indecipherable letters. How was I supposed to concentrate with so much noise surrounding me? Glancing up at the clock, I realized there were only five minutes left in the period. That explained the increased rowdiness of the students in the room and the heightened volume of babble.
I endeavored to complete my worksheet once again. I brought the paper close to my face and squinted, trying to focus all my thoughts onto the questions at hand. As I scrolled my eyes across what seemed to me senseless jabberwocky, though, I felt something shift behind my chair. Three enormous, churlish boys were lining up at the door early, nearly a foot away from my desk. I tightened insecurely and found that my ability to focus vanished. Since my beginnings at middle school, I had always been apprehensive about socializing with boys my own age. I supposed it was a natural proclivity. After all, I was quite inhibited even when I was around girls. My voice quavered when I tried to communicate with others despite their sex, and I always turned into some awkward, timorous mouse in social situations. My solace had been in reading books, but—unfortunately—situations like the one at hand could not be evaded even in my pursuit of literature.
Luckily, the boys did not address me. For the five minutes they stood there, they chortled and guffawed amongst each other, seemingly oblivious to my presence a mere foot behind them. The shrill sound of the bell for once greeted my ears with considerable welcome, and I was able to collect my supplies and leave the room surreptitiously. A phalanx of students and staff crowded the hallways, jostling among one another down the corridors, all trying to get to escape the school at the same time. Timidly, I inched into the mass and searched for orifices in the bustling body of people to reach my locker.
My tour through the maze of students was plagued by my typical qualms: disturbance and nausea at the prospect of dropping my books, tripping over my own feet, or even stumbling upon the cliques who took pleasure in degrading me. In retrospect, I suppose these were events that occurred less often than I expected, but I was wary of them nonetheless. I sighed with prodigious relief when I finally reached my locker. I gathered my textbooks for the weekend, zipped my backpack, and headed for the bus. I was grateful for not just the end of another Friday or the end of another week but for the beginning of a weeklong vacation. A felicitous smile spread across my face as I drifted into dreams of what I would do with my Spring Break. Perhaps I would read the unexpurgated texts my teachers forbade us from reading in class, or maybe I would satisfy my indefatigable craving for writing at the local café.
My thoughts were scattered, however, as I distastefully recalled that I would not be reclining in the comforts of my own home or local town that Spring Break. My parents, nefarious entrepreneurs, had induced a pestilential spread of fear among local business owners in the past few months for their recent triumphs in the food providing industries. Their aggressive bargaining and cooperative nature had created something formidable for their competitors to deter. It was this unstoppable ambition that convinced my parents that our family needed to visit Florida that Spring Break in order to peruse the Orlando area in search of a viable location for restaurant premises. While I desperately pleaded with my parents to be permitted to stay at home, it was a futile altercation. My parents pithily expressed their unequivocal refusal to acquiesce to my request and mandated that I should begin packing.
I was stuck, therefore, in accompanying my parents in their trip to Florida. I avoided ruminating over the fact that my coquettish, older sister, Rae, would be traveling with us, as well. I shuddered at my locker, thinking of her detestable nature, before putting her out of my mind. Typically, it was best not to think of my sister at all. Her abominable need to flirt with everyone of the opposite sex disgusted me. We were antipodes on opposite ends of the Earth, my sister and I. I thought of this as I slung my backpack over my shoulder and trudged my way to the front doors of the school. As I exited the building, I sighed again. Did my life require such difficulties?
I must admit that to some degree my pessimistic presentiments about Florida were false. The resort home that my father had booked for my family, for example, was simply breath taking. The temporary residence seemed more like a palace with its seven opulent bedrooms, luxurious sitting areas, and—of course—private, screened-in swimming pool. I established a comfortable nook for myself on the far left side of the house on the first floor, which I should note was a predictably extended distance from my sister's chosen abode. My bedroom was also adjacent to the pool, which meant early in the morning I was able to sneak through the pocket door and unwind in a lawn chair with a delectable novel.
I failed to understand, though, why my parents, upon their waking up, insisted that our family should commute down to the local area beaches. I supposed their decision had something to do with the foundation spotting for their restaurant, but that did not stop me from exclaiming we had a perfectly suitable pool to use at the resort home. Not surprisingly, I was dictated to keep my comments to myself.
So, with a dorky, white glob of suntan lotion smeared along my nose, sunhat perched on my head, and dozens of books slipping from my arms, I trekked my way through the sands of Palm Springs public beach, flip flops slapping the entire way loudly. Rae, as usual, sported the exact opposite mood that I adopted, wearing (or, rather, I should say not wearing) a skimpy fold of Spandex that she liked to refer to as a decent bathing suit. Frankly, I never comprehended how a bikini consisting of less fabric than my underwear could consist of a decent bathing suit, but talking logically with my sister was a vain discussion. I disregarded her repulsive lack of clothing and the even more odious sight of her already flirting with the neighborhood beach boys as we settled into a spot on the dry shore.
As Rae "mingled" by the water, my parents intimated to me that they were going to go "check out the sights." I nodded, indifferent towards their motives, and soon assembled a plastic chair in which I could finally enjoy my books. I let my eyes dwindle over a few words after my parents' departure, and soon I was immersed into my latest novel. I was hardly five minutes into reading, however, when a shadow cast over the page I was reading. Disgruntled, I looked up. Rae, dripping wet with ocean water, was leaning over me.
"Do you need something?" I asked with a sincere lack of civility.
She simply stared at me for a moment, an unreadable expression plastered on her face, before she merely shrugged and said, "I just don't get you."
"What is that supposed to mean?" I barked.
"I just don't get you, that's all."
I looked up in frustration. It irritated me to no end when my sister proposed meaningless conversations like the quondam one. I glared daggers at her to convey my anger.
"Why don't you say something sensible once in your life?"
Rae merely gave a high-pitched chirp before brushing her hair behind her shoulder haughtily and saying, "Oh, get over yourself Tressa."
Another vapid rebuttal. I could see the discussion was a waste of energy to pursue so I settled instead to gaze out at the ocean shore for a moment. Rae seemed satisfied with my silence, said something else in proclamation of her triumph, and then proceeded to grab a towel from one of our bags. It might be supposed that at this point I had finally returned to the book grasped in my hand, but that was not the case. My eyes had been transfixed on an obscure figure outlined along the shore. My curiosity was piqued, and, as my sister started retreating for the ocean and the boys I restrained her.
"Wait a minute," I exclaimed, reaching out for her.
"What?!" responded Rae. Her expression of mild frustration soon dissolved into suspicious curiosity, however, as she followed the line of my outstretched arm. My tanned, slender fingers pointed toward the boardwalk, which meandered along the beach for several hundred yards. From our position on the beach, the object of my sister's and my interest was apparent: our gaze was focused on a middle-aged woman sitting primly behind a square card-table alongside the shore's pathway. The woman, clad in a billowing purple sundress, looked calmly out at the ocean. She took momentary notice of passersby but seemed content to pass the remainder of the evening watching the sinking sun.
"She's a fortune-teller or something," Rae whispered to me, as she matter-of-factly wrung the salt-water from her ponytail. "One of the boys on the beach told me she gives Paganism rituals or something… that's why she has all kinds of weird objects on her table and nobody stays by her for very long."
I didn't say anything; I knew to take everything Rae told me with a grain of salt, especially if she had been informed by recent acquaintance's distant relative's doctor's companions about this type of gossip. (I exaggerate, of course). I could not deny my fascination with the wizened woman, though. Something about her intrigued me enough that I was distracted from the lure of my book and focused on her for a fair few minutes before I looked down again. As I eventually returned to my novel, I could not help wondering who the woman actually was. A unique flair about her attracted me, and for the next few days of my vacation, a vivid image of her lingered in my mind. It was with great surprise that I should discover her in the same spot again the next time my family and I traveled to Palm Springs Beach. Soon, she became a subject of my study, my observations revolving completely around her. I began to wonder who that woman truly was…?To be continued…