.swallowing the sky.

written by

dancin-in-the-rain

Chapter Two : Life's A Beach

"I don't know, man, I'm not even sure she's breathing anymore. She's pretty comatose."

The words were followed immediately by loud, short laughter; the sound caused my nose to wrinkle. I tried to roll over, to pull my legs closer to my body, but found that this action was suddenly incredibly difficult.

"No, I know, right? Yeah, she's pretty hot. One of those red-heads with lots of freckles. Lots of leg. No, man, it's cool—we're cool. Yeah, see you in five."

When I finally decided to open my eyes it was only to glare at Craig, who had flung himself on top of my legs and was eating a bowl of cereal. He didn't even glance up at my direction; instead his gaze remained focused on the television, which was playing a rerun of The Price Is Right. I frowned and wiggled my legs. He casually raised the bowl to his lips, slurping some milk. I took that moment to produce a large, reverberating man-grunt, my legs kicking up with all their might. Craig finally looked at me, his eyes crinkling in amusement.

"Well. I didn't know we had The Hulk sleeping on our futon."

"Well. I didn't know that you actually weighed 500 pounds."

"Well. I didn't know that your mouth was the source of the flood that killed all the dinosaurs."

"Well. I didn't know you had female genitalia," I countered, wiping off my cheek which was still wet with drool. Craig laughed, raising his bowl back to his face to finish drinking the milk before finally standing up. Because he was only wearing sweatpants, I accepted the invitation to admire his half-naked body.

"Look, you may want to mop up the small river left over from your slumber, because my buddy James is going to arrive in approximately three minutes," Craig said as he put his bowl in the sink, his back to me. I dropped my head back down onto my pillow.

"What time is it?" I mumbled through the fabric, and I heard Craig's soft footsteps padding towards me.

"One o'clock in the afternoon," he replied, and I remained face-down, processing the information. One o'clock.

Shit.

I sat up like a rod, flinging what little sleeping bag I had left from my body. "Craig, I was supposed to be at my class an hour ago," I explained, and Craig raised his eyebrows at me as I tore open my suitcase which had been sitting next to the couch. "I really need a ride today. Can you help?" I asked, pausing to glance up at him before returning to my frantic search.

"Well, James will be here soon. We were probably going to head out anyways. We'll drop you off on our way to do whatever," he said, shrugging. "I guess I should probably get dressed now, then."

"Thank you, thank you, thank you," I said, sliding my pajama pants down my legs and pulling on a pair of khaki shorts. I glanced back up at Craig, who was grinning at me.

"My pleasure." He winked before walking to his bedroom and shutting the door. I finished dressing, and quickly pulled a brush through my tangled hair before hastily braiding it to the side.

I was sliding my shoes on when the door to the apartment opened, producing James. I flicked my gaze in his direction before bending back down to finish tying my shoes.

"Hot, redhead, freckles. You must be the new roommate," James said, his voice slow and deep. I pulled the laces tight before returning my attention back to him. He was smiling this goofy smile, his dark dreadlocks pulled into a ponytail fastened on the nape of his neck. One of his front bottom teeth were chipped, and his socks seemed to glow compared to the rich color of his skin. He shoved his hands deep into his pockets.

"You must be James," I responded, wiping my hands off on the front of my shorts before turning to find my backpack. "I hate to ask on such short notice, but I need a ride to this class I'm already really late to. Craig said it should be cool," I asked, swinging my bag over my shoulder and raising my eyebrows. James rubbed his chin; pulled at the scruff.

"Yeah, s'cool. Where we takin' you?"

"Um, here," I said, producing the crinkled directions. He continued to pull at his wiry, short beard, the hair sparse.

"Oh, you're all the way out past Beach Bay. Man, this will take at least forty-five minutes," he said, his voice soft and low, his eyes returning to mine lazily. "I have this thing to get to in thirty."

My shoulders fell, and I let out my breath slowly. "Really? It can't wait an hour?"

"No, brah, Craig and I got places to be. Sorry, little lady; on any other day, I would've driven you to the moon," he said, his mouth curling up in an apologetic manner. I looked at the ceiling before taking the directions back out of his hands.

"Yeah, I understand. Tell Craig that I'm leaving," I said, brushing some hair off of my forehead. "Nice meeting you, James."

"And you, little lady," he replied, raising one hand as he watched me, glancing over his shoulder. I closed the apartment door with a satisfactory thunk, and ran down the stairs two at a time. I was in my yellow jeep, the engine revving, before I noticed Craig flinging himself down the stairs even faster than I had. He ran to the side of my door, his curly hair tangled and windswept. I looked at him as he caught his breath and managed to finally speak.

"Let me take you. James can wait," he said, and I felt my eyebrows pull together.

"No, he said you guys have something to do in a half hour. It's not a big deal. I'm already late," I said, my eyes running over his unbuttoned white dress shirt, his bow tie hanging around the collar.

"Jessie, get out of the freaking seat. You'll never find it yourself," he said, and I reluctantly unbuckled and slid over to the passenger seat. Craig didn't bother buttoning his shirt before adjusting the rear-view mirror and pulling out. James was leaning casually against the guard rail of the fourth floor landing, his hand in the air, that same goofy smile on his face.

"Craig, you really didn't have to do that," I said, picking at my chipped fingernail polish. I stole another glance at his formal attire. "I feel awful."

"Seriously, Jessie, stop. It's fine. I told you that I would help you out for your first day, so—here I am. Besides, it's not a big deal. They'll be fine without me for an hour or so."

"Who will?"

"The other guys at work," he said, glancing at me before turning back towards the road. "My catering buddies."

"You're... catering buddies?"

"Yeah, I work for a catering service. Free-lance. No big deal. It'll be fine." He raised his shoulders, waved his hand. "Forget about it."

"Whatever," I said, smiling. I pulled out my pack of cigarettes, shook one out, lit it. I inhaled deeply, watching the road behind me swallow up the city. "Do you want a cigarette today?"

"Sure," Craig replied, and I gave him the one I had just lit and shook a new one out for myself.

"Wasn't sure if you smoked or not," I said, shaking some ash over the side of the door.

"I smoke in moderation," Craig finally replied, placing the cigarette back in his mouth. "But kissing a girl who smokes is like licking an ashtray," he pointed out. I turned to blow my smoke into his face.

"Oh, but honey. Kissing me is only half the fun," I replied, winking. "And truly unnecessary." His eyes were hidden behind the silver tint of aviator sunglasses, but I could see the corner of his mouth turn up.

"I'll bet," he murmured. I just smiled, looking back out at the scenery that bled together in my vision. At some point, Craig reached over and turned the radio back on. It was still set to the Jazz station, and we allowed the brass instruments to take place of the words we would've spoken. I paid close attention to the roads that Craig took, and realized that he had been right—I never would've found my own way. He finally turned off onto a sandy driveway, the entrance hidden almost completely by tall, thin, dancing grass. By the time Craig had rolled to a stop in front of the only building, I was out of the car.

"Craig, thanks again. Really. Here's my cell number—if you could just let me know who's going to pick me up, I'll need another ride by six," I said, taking his hand in mine and scribbling my number across it. I turned to go, but he held onto my hand. I moved to face him.

"You're welcome," he said, tilting his head to look at me over his sunglasses. I met his gaze before he dropped my hand, and I half-smiled before turning and walking quickly to the building.

When I pulled open the doors, a rush of air enveloped me with the unmistakable scent of dead or dying fish. The air was just as hot—if not hotter—than the heat outside that I had been anxious to escape. I took a few steps further into the facility, allowing my eyes to adjust to the dim and flickering fluorescent bulbs.

"May I help you?" I turned towards the man who had spoken, following the voice. He was sitting behind a wooden desk, his fingers poised over a keyboard. The computer monitor was massive and out-of-date, and I couldn't tell if the computer was making more noise than the fan that was trying to dry the sweat off of the man's large body. I finally found his eyes, which were waiting impatiently.

"Yeah, I'm Jessie Melch, and I'm enrolled for the summer class," I said, and he looked me up and down before turning to the computer and using his fingers to hit the keyboard.

"Jessie Melch, age twenty-one, accepted to the Ocean's Hello Day Camp. Your class started two hours ago," he said, glancing back in my direction. "They took the bus. There's really not a whole lot that you can do."

I licked the inside of my teeth, noticed his overgrown nose hairs.

"Nothing? I'm too late for the entire day?"

"I'm afraid so," he said, looking back at the computer. "Make sure you're here tomorrow, early."

"Top-notch advice." I swept my gaze once more around the tiny, dimly lit room before turning around and exiting. I sighed and sat down on the curb, trying to decide what to do. Craig probably wasn't too far gone, but I didn't have his cell phone number—he only had mine. And Melanie didn't get off work until five, and she said that she couldn't take any phone calls.

I took a deep breath, closing my eyes and drinking in the salty pungent scent of the ocean. When I opened my eyes again, I saw the sign: Beach Access.

I picked up my backpack and started to walk.

The same tall, dancing grass that had originally blocked my view of the camp now blocked the world's view of me. I felt the black asphalt slowly disappear under my feet, replaced by fine white grains of sand. I sunk to the ground, falling back and pulling off my tennis shoes. I tied the laces together and threw them over my shoulders. I considered staying right there, hidden, the tall grass protecting me from missing my first day of class, protecting me from the heat, protecting me from my past and my future. I closed my eyes before pulling myself up.

I heard it before I saw it, the waves gently shushing the earth. I climbed up the crest of the path, and when I reached the top, I paused to admire the view. The little cove was hidden, small. The beach was shaped like a horseshoe. To my right was a tall cliff, the rock harsh and brown. On the left was a steep hill, the grass broken up only by other jagged edges of stone.

Directly in front of me was what I had been waiting months to find. The ocean glittered and winked in the bold sunlight, the water reflecting the blue of the sky. As I got closer to the edge, I noticed all of the different tide pools—each one a bowl made from the same stone as the cliff. I threw my backpack and shoes on the shore before leaning over the closest pool curiously. I tucked my braid into the back of my shirt, and delicately reached into the chilly water to pick up a sea cucumber that was laying on the bottom. My fingers tingled as they slid across the smooth surface, the sea creature a curious mix of slimy and soft. I placed the cucumber back into the pool, reaching my fingers next towards a small sea anemone. It's green tentacles were waving with the gentle waves. The second that I lightly touched my finger into the ring of feelers, it closed up within itself, all of the tentacles withdrawing.

I played in the water for a while longer before growing bored and wading back onto the shore. I lay down on the hot sand, curling my toes and burying my feet. The grains stuck to my damp skin. I yawned and rested my head on my arms, allowing the sun to kiss my skin. Before too long, I found myself falling in and out of wakefulness.

When I woke up, I immediately felt for my phone in my pocket—checked it for any missed calls. There were none, and I noticed the time—6:25pm. I couldn't stop the pang of realization: Craig hadn't called.

Which meant I'd been forgotten.

I sat up slowly; noticed how the sun was painting the sky orange. I rubbed sand off of the side of my face. I looked around and tried to find my shoes and my backpack.

"A couple of assholes hid them from you," came a voice, and I craned my neck and squinted into the sun. A guy stood up and brushed his long, messy black hair out of his eyes. He took his time in closing a dirty, blue, tattered spiral bound notebook before producing my backpack and shoes from behind a rock. He tossed them towards me and shrugged before turning around and starting towards the path. I blinked a few times before grabbing my things and jogging after him. I tripped, fell in the sand, and scrambled to catch up.

"Wait, uh, thanks. Are you—well, do you... how did you find me? Who hid my things?" I said, finally a few steps behind the guy. He cast a brief glance over his shoulder, not slowing down.

"You fell asleep on the biology beach. A few of the guys in this class I'm in thought it'd be funny to hide the 'hot chick's things'. Their words, not mine."

I stopped walking for a second. "So... you're enrolled at the Ocean's Hello Day Camp?"

"That's what I just said."

"Well, me too. I just missed the first day. I know, I know, what a stunt, right?" I paused, smiled, jogged to his side as the path grew wider. He glanced at me from the corner of his eye. His face remained like stone, his green eyes flat.

"What a stunt," he deadpanned, quickening his pace. I rose an eyebrow, keeping up.

"So, I'm Jessie. Thanks for, y'know, giving me my things back," I said, still watching his face. The muscles in his jaw clenched and unclenched. He didn't say anything. I waited a few more seconds before pressing further. "What's your name?"

He finally stopped walking, still clutching the notebook to his chest. He tucked a limp lock of black hair behind his ear before turning to meet my gaze. "Look, Jessie. I'm in a bit of a hurry. You're welcome for your things, but that was not an invitation to talk to me."

I blinked once, twice, three times. He pursed his lips and pulled sunglasses from the top of his head back onto his eyes before turning the other direction and continuing out, the winding path soon swallowing him up. I stood there dumbly for a few moments longer before the phone in my pocket started to chime. I pulled it out, pressed the green button, and put the phone to my ear.

"Hello?"

"Jessie, baby! How was your first day of classes?"

I sunk to the ground.

"Hey, mom. They were great," I said, picking up a stick and drawing my name over and over in the sand. "It's going to be a lot of fun this summer." I looked back in the direction that the guy had just left.

"That's so good to hear, honey. I was worried that you'd be bored off of your ass. And we all know what happens when you get bored, don't we?"

"No, mom, we don't. Care to enlighten me?" My voice was flat.

"Oh, don't be that way, Jessie. It's not some sort of secret." I swung my backpack around, pulled out my Marlboro's, lit one. "Well, anyway, I didn't call you to fight. Just wanted you to know that Fred and I are missing you. Wanted to say I loved you."

"Well, I'm having the time of my life, so no need to worry. Love you back."

"Alright, then, baby. Call your old woman whenever you think to."

"Sure thing. Bye, mom."

I hung up; rested my head on my arms. Threw the stick. Growing restless, I stood up, walked the rest of the way down the path, and found that I was completely alone in the parking lot.

I went back to the glass doors, but they had already been locked—all of the cars that had been there in the morning now leaving the parking spaces empty.

I considered calling Melanie, and my fingers traced the phone still in my pocket. The thought only lasted for a few moments before I sat down, pulled my shoes back on, and started walking towards the road. If Craig had forgotten his promise, and if Melanie hadn't called me yet—they'd probably forgotten that they even had a third roommate.

Which was fine with me.

When I finally made it to the main stretch of road, the sun was threatening to sink below the horizon. I pursed my lips and tried to make out any oncoming traffic. When I still didn't see any, I continued to walk. I took a final drag on my cigarette before dropping it.

A car came rumbling up from behind me a few minutes later, and I held my thumb out without even bothering to look. I heard the car slow and pull over, the sand under its tires crackling from the stress. I walked over to the white truck, and the driver rolled down their window.

"Hey, baby, where you headed?" the guy drawled, wiping dirt and sweat off of his forehead. He took off his sunglasses to get a better look at me, and I observed his dry, cracked lips—contrasting drastically from the rest of his tanned and sweaty body. He was probably in his mid-twenties, and other than smelling as if he had just bathed in manure, he appeared harmless enough. I brushed my hair off of my shoulder and looked up at him through my eyelashes.

"You know the 7-11 downtown? Can I bum a ride?"

"'Course, darlin'. Hop on in." I took the invitation and quickly made my way around the front of the old truck before climbing into the passengers seat. He pulled the car into gear and eased back onto the road before starting conversation again. "So, why does such a pretty girl like you need to be begging for rides?"

"Well, I'm new in town. I'm living with my great-uncle for the summer until they get his room all ready at the new facility he's being sent to."

"Really? What kind of facility, now?"

"Well, he's blind, but he only lost his sight after years and years of meth abuse. It's really tragic."

"Oh, really? That's awful," he said, sounding sincere. I watched his face, saw the way his eyebrows crinkled with genuine concern. He believed every word.

"Yeah, it is. And when his wife died, mysteriously, he was sent to trial but they couldn't prove him guilty. Which is good, because I believe him. But now he has no one to take care of him, so I had to come up temporarily."

"Temporarily, huh? And you believe him?" I saw the concern morph into something else on his face.

"Of course I do. He's my great-uncle. But, yeah, I don't have a car, and I had to help take care of a few things in the woods back there, and now I'm on my way back home. Thanks so much, again, by the way."

The morphed concern tattle-tailed his thoughts as he licked his dry, cracked lips.

"Look, ma'am, I just remembered that I actually have to go the opposite direction of the 7-11—is this close enough?" His eyes shifted in my direction before turning back to the road. He pulled over before I confirmed or denied his question.

"Oh, yeah, of course. Look, thanks, again. So much. I didn't catch your name," I said, smiling and touching his arm lightly. I could practically read the indecision and confusion as it danced across his tanned, handsome face.

"It's Dylan," he said slowly, watching as I took my hand back off of his arm. "And it was my pleasure."

"Well, Dylan, I hope you have a safe trip to, you know, wherever," I said, flashing him a smile and opening his door. I paused, looked back, and winked. "Truly."

Dylan blinked a few times before raising his hand in goodbye and driving away quickly. I grinned, felt the familiar rush, and started walking again. He had at least taken me far enough into town that I could find my way, and I walked for twenty minutes before my phone chimed in my pocket. I pulled it out, answered it.

"Hello?"

"Oh my gosh I am such an idiot, Jessie! I'm so sorry, so so sorry. How can I make it up to you? I have a good reason, but that's not a good enough reason, and please let me make it up to you."

My stomach growled in response to Craig's babbling.

"Well, you could take me to dinner," I said, and heard Craig let out a breath of air.

"Done. Where can I pick you up?"

"The 7-11 in ten?"

"Wow, how did you get so far into town?" He asked, and I licked my lips, quickening my pace.

"I'll tell you over dinner. Deal?"

"Deal," he replied, and I hung up, flipping my phone shut and sliding it back into my pocket.

. . .

© 2011 dancin-in-the-rain