I once heard a man tell a boy the secret to success. He was tall, gangly, skinny, with glasses and dark red hair and a crooked smile that made you feel awkward for him. He put four quarters in the dimly lit game room pool table, and grabbed a cue stick, and covered the tip in a fine layer of white chalk.
I sipped on my Sprite disinterestedly, waiting for Al to get out of the bathroom. It was cold in the game room. And I felt exposed in my shorts and bikini top. The flip flops in my feet dangled beneath me on the tall stool as I observed the interesting man in question. He ran a large hand through his short hair and was surprised when a boy, probably around the age of seven or eight, came up to him. His blue eyes widened as he asked, "What is that?"
The man looked around, expecting the boy to be addressing someone else. But sure enough, the boy was talking to him. He waited for a few short seconds before saying, "Well, um, pool..."
"Awesome!" The boy gushed, "What do you do?"
The man smiled slightly, revealing he was younger than he first appeared. He was probably nineteen, or twenty, though the stuff suit did nothing to suggest it. "It's kind of a long story..." the man said, rubbing a hand in the back of his neck.
I watched with keen interest as the boy shrugged and began scuffing up his tattered sneakers. "Oh," he said a little softer. The redhead looked down then back up at the boy. "Well first..."
As he launched into a simple explanation of the game, I felt like I was intruding on a private moment. Like this was something I shouldn't be watching. But that's ridiculous, right? I tucked a strand of my blonde hair back into my ponytail. The conversation continued and I let my mind wander. Who was this man? What was his story? My thoughts were interrupted when a laugh came from the little boy. Whether he was laughing at the man or with him, I couldn't tell, but the laughter brought one of those ghost smiles to my face. The remembering kind of smile.
Chills erupted down my spine. It was really cold. I hear a loud slam and my best friend, the thunderstorm, hurricane, tornado she was stormed in in all of her dark eyed beauty. She was impatient as she grabbed my elbow, nearly dragging me out of the game room. "Hold up," I muttered, my freckled nose crinkling as I turned around, just in time to meet the man's eyes as he said to the boy, "The secret to success is to never reveal everything you know."
For some reason that stuck with me, that moment in a crowded resort game room. It stuck for a long time.
Another incident in the game room. Al (as in Alison) was loading up an air hockey machine. She grinned wickedly and began beating me at this game, with the first shot. I grinned, my blonde hair falling across my shoulders. I dressed more modestly that day, wearing running shorts and a tee shirt. I laughed as she won in under five minutes.
Looking across the small game room, I met eyes with a brunette boy with light blue eyes, wearing bright blue board shorts and a multi-colored tank top. He was very, very good looking. As soon as he flashed that perfectly white smile at me I was smitten.
My face flushed and Al looked at me curiously.
"I want some ice cream," I said suddenly, still feeling the guy's intense gaze. It was like he had a radar or something.
Al, never turning down an excuse for ice cream, shrugged and followed me out of the game room. As soon as I opened the door, I locked eyes with the man. He nodded at me.
There was something in the back of my mind I couldn't put a word or feeling to. Something that always seems to be there now.
I saw the guy again. Me and Al were about to play a round of mini golf. My hair was loose and curly, falling across the straps of my lace tank top. I pulled up the waistband of my purple shorts and went to hit the golf ball, but two people appeared behind me. I turned to see the brunette guy, and another guy.
"Wanna join us?" I said, a slight twang evident. I forgot that this is Florida, not Alabama for a second. They looked oddly at me.
"Sure," the brunette one said, blue eyes hidden behind Ray Bans. He grinned and stood behind me for a minute, before moving beside. "What's your name?" He asked me.
"Laurel," I smiled, getting an easy hole in one. He grinned, impressed.
He was all charm and smile and ease, underneath the fake palms. I grinned and words came easy. I had plenty to say yet nothing terribly important at the same time. We exchanged numbers, with the promise of staying in touch.
That night, I slipped into a bikini and went to the hot tub with Al. Cody was there, along with his friend (John, I learned) and he was all laughs and jokes and conversation. Soon, others joined us.
Rhi was wild and free and absolutely different from anything I had every encountered. She kept pink lemonade and liquor in one water bottle and vodka in another. She was half Jewish and Mexican. She flirted with guys, she flirted with girls. She flirted with Cody.
He moved to sit beside me, the hot water feeling a little too hot all of the sudden, and I flushed and she made another crude, vulgar comment as she took a swig of the vodka. She offered me some, brown eyes judging and critical. "Don't drink," I forced myself to say. But why not? A voice argued. Cody probably did. All these people did. Nothing wrong. Still I held steadfast to my moral compass, though it was difficult and maybe killing me a little.
Cody turned down the alcohol too.
"I'm a Christian," he smiled, and that niggling thing in the back of my head was set off by that smile. Too rehearsed. Too practiced. Too suave, too nice, too caring. No smile could be that smile. "No drinking for me."
"Me too," was all I said. I had completely forgotten about Al. She was chatting up John, I could see. Didn't she have a boyfriend? I brushed the info aside. Cody grabbed my hand underneath the swirling waters and grinned again.
"Want to go down to the beach?"
I gulped. "Can I go to the bathroom first?" Before he could answer I rushed to the bathroom located right inside of the resort. And coming out of the men's was the man. He smiled at me, and I felt a little ridiculous. What was I, but a teenager in infatuation, dripping with hot tub water? Living under this delusion that it was anything but that? He said something.
"I saw you in the game room the other night," he said. His voice, like I remembered, was one of those that you knew without trying. "I hope you aren't in any kind of trouble."
"I'm Laurel," I said, sticking out my hand.
He shook it. "I'm Thad," he said, the name didn't quite fit. He must have seen my confusion for he replies, "Short for Thaddeus."
Ah. I understand. He smiled and motioned to the glass door leading to the hot tub. "You might want to get back out to that guy. He looks kind of hurt."
"How do you what the right decision is?" I blurted out, suddenly, promptly.
He stopped for a minute, and looked at me. "I think it depends," he said finally. "Kind of like a current. You flow with it, but one wrong move and you're stranded. There will always be one wrong decision that will leave you stranded. Always. But will it be worth making?" He got lost in thought, and I took a step back.
"Nice meeting you, Thaddeus," I reply.
"Nice to meet you too, Laurel Holliday," he smiled, nodding slightly at me, before walking away.
There was a puddle on the floor from all the water.
I walked back outside to meet Cody. "Look, I really like you," I began, "But I need sleep because I have to go home tomorrow afternoon," I said. "Sorry."
He smiled that chilling smile again. "No problem. See you later."
I wrapped myself in a towel and went back inside. Thad was sitting in a armchair. He looked at me.
"You aren't in any kind of trouble, are you?" He questioned.
I smiled. "Not yet."
He smiled back, like it was some sort of secret code I didn't know about. "Right," he laughed bitterly.
I was confused the whole ride home back to Alabama.
It was a minute five years later when I was met with a stranger on the street. I ended up somewhere I'd only dreamed of: New York. I was struggling to get a taxi when a tall, gangly man with glasses and a suit on called one for me. I smiled in return and he said, "Have a good day, Laurel," he smiled back.
I stopped in my tracks, "How do you know my name?"
He smiled. "The secret to success is to never reveal everything you know."