Mookie Makes A Splash

The car ride dragged on forever for Rollie McCaster. He was stuck in the back of the family's SUV listening to his two younger sisters Shooey and Honey sing and laugh and carry on, excited by the family vacation unfolding before them, but Rollie would rather have been anywhere else - preferably left home alone in his misery. Of course, his mother refused his request, fearing his recent moody depression made him unsafe to be on his own.

The family rented a cottage for a week every year at Summer Beach and in the past it had been a welcomed adventure for Rollie, but this year he had no interest in good times or happy family exploits. Life sucked and all Rollie wanted to do was stew in his own despair and gloom.

The rest of his family understood Rollie's disposition of displeasure given the tragedy of the past winter but they refused to let Rollie's acting out ruin their fun and they hoped that perhaps the nostalgic magic of Summer Beach would lure him out of his semi-catatonic sense of doom.

"We're here!" Honey shouted with excitement when their father steered the car off the highway ramp, through the toll booth and toward the beach ahead.

"It a perfect summer's day! Rollie's mother exclaimed.

"I wonder what our cottage will be like this year," Shooey said with true curiosity.

The family rented a different place every summer just to mix things up and for a change of pace. It was fun to check out the new place and to take nostalgic walks past the previous cottages, now inhabited by somebody else.

The smell of the ocean came through the window as they approached the boardwalk.

"I hope we're not too far from the beach," Honey worried.

"I hope we're close to the mini-golf place," Shooey said.

Rollie stared blankly out the window but it was almost as if he didn't see anything. It was all a blur because his mind was somewhere else, almost in a different world and dimension before everything he believed in was taken from him.

Their Dad turned the SUV off the crowded boardwalk with the stores and shops on one side and the beach and ocean on the other.

"Twelfth Street?" Shooey asked. "We're staying on Twelfth Street this year?"

"I like the number twelve," Honey announced.

Their father slowed the car and turned into the driveway of 14 Twelfth Street, a gray clapboard cottage with a front porch.

"Hey, look, another cottage right behind ours!" Shooey exclaimed.

Sure enough, the driveway split into another small drive and parking spot next to a second cottage that wasn't far behind the cottage Rollie's family was renting. The second cottage was a carbon copy of the first, only it was brown shingled.

"Look, there's kids!" Honey shouted happily. "Now we'll have friends!"

Rollie glanced up from his Ipad to see a girl sitting on the front steps of the second cottage with what looked to be her two younger brothers.

"Hey, they're kind of our ages!" Shooey said with interest. "This should be fun!"

Rollie saw his parents exchange looks of surprise, intrigue, hope, and satisfaction. Having vacation friends to keep the kids occupied would take the pressure off of the adults and give them some much needed and welcomed down time as parents. Rollie groaned and rolled his eyes. The last thing he needed were three more kids to bug him and tell him to cheer up.

Shooey and Honey piled out of the car and stepped toward the kids on the stairs to exchange hellos and pleasantries, hoping to make instant connections that would last the week.

A Volvo station wagon pulled into the driveway and it parked in the empty spot next to the second cottage. A couple around Rollie's parents' age climbed out of the vehicle and began to prepare taking grocery bags from the back of the car. Rollie's parents left their car to greet the other set of parents and Rollie knew the fix was in – there was going to be unification and he was going to be stuck with these kids being around all week.

Rollie's father knocked on the window of the SUV once the family introductions were completed. "Come on, Rollie, get with the program," he said.

Rollie didn't say anything as he climbed out of the family vehicle. He helped his father drag some of the bags out from the back of the SUV, found his own, and followed the others into their cottage, ignoring the family of the second cottage.

Their cottage was clean and relatively modern – a fair sized kitchen, a half bath, a large living area, and a side screened in porch. Up the stairs were three bedrooms and a full bathroom. Rollie's room had two beds and it struck him as sad knowing that Gabe wasn't going to be in the second bed as in years past. He threw his bag on the second bed and collapsed on the bed by the window, listening to Honey and Shooey giggling and talking with excitement as they unpacked in the room next door.

Rollie's mom left to go grocery shopping and his Dad took the girls for a quick scope out of the boardwalk, Rollie declining to join in.

"Regroup your thoughts, because you're not going to spend the entire vacation in this room," his father warned before they left.

Rollie lay on the bed in a blank state until he fell asleep, awoken later by the sounds from downstairs as his mother unpacked the groceries and he heard the laughter of children outside. He sat up on the bed and glanced out the window, watching as Shooey and Honey talked with the kids from the second cottage.

Eventually, Rollie's mother appeared in the door. "Why don't you go meet those kids next door?" She gently suggested. "The older girl looks to be your age."

"I'm not interested," Rollie replied coldly.

"Sometimes, warm memories help thaw the heart, Rollie," his mother said. "You've always liked this beach. Can't you at least try? All of us have been trying with you."

"Fine," Rollie grumbled unhappily, getting off the bed. "Just don't nag me all week," he pleaded.

"If you promise to give it a try, I promise we won't ride you," his mother vowed. "Fake it if you must but please don't ruin this for everybody else as you find your way through your pain."

For a second Rollie wanted to hug his mother but the anger and pain kept him from being emotional and vulnerable so he walked by her instead and thumped his way down the stairs and out the back door.

The older girl was pretty enough but Rollie didn't care about any of that. Life was ugly and he wanted no part in being a happy go lucky sap when Gabe was six feet under.

"Hi Rollie!" Shooey gleefully greeted her brother when he came down the back steps. "Say hello to everybody."

"Hello," he mumbled, taking a seat in a wooden chair in the yard.

Shooey filled him in on the introductions with Honey providing commentary. The girl's name was Margaret but everybody called her Mookie. She was sixteen just like Rollie. Her ten year old brother was Dooley (his real name was Dennis) and the eight year old was Desi (short for Desmond). That matched up nicely with "almost" twelve year old Shooey (real name Shelia) and nine year old Honey (real name Harriett).

The second cottage family was from central Connecticut and Shooey and Honey had already told them that they were from the Western Massachusetts town of Hillsboro.

Rollie was intent on ignoring all of them and he didn't pay much attention to their conversations as they tossed around a ball and a Frisbee and chatted among themselves.

Eventually, Mookie stepped closer to Rollie's chair. "So, you going to be a prick the entire week?" She wanted to know.

Rollie glanced at her with surprise. He had never heard a girl use the word 'prick' before. She had long black hair – in two braids on this day. She was shapely and well-tanned, a little big in the hips and on the top for her age, Rollie thought. Her face was full of freckles.

"I'm sorry about your friend," Mookie offered with sympathy.

"Have my sisters told you everything about me?" He asked snidely.

"No, just that you've been an asshole since your friend died this past winter," Mookie replied factually.

"They didn't say 'asshole'," Rollie rebutted.

"No, they're too nice for that," Mookie agreed. "But I overheard your Dad telling my Dad that though."

"My Dad called me an asshole?"

"No, he said you were acting like an asshole," Mookie clarified.

"So, I'm a prick and an asshole?"

"I don't know," Mookie said. "I just met you."

He squinted at her through the summer sun. "I don't suppose you're an asshole," he said.

"Not that I'm aware of," she answered.

"You should probably stay away from me then," Rollie suggested.

"Listen, that's my step-mom in there," Mookie told him, gesturing toward the second cottage. "My real mom died when I was five so I know a thing or two about losing somebody."

Rollie looked at her with surprise. "Oh," he said awkwardly.

"Distraction is the best remedy to grief," She said. "Don't you think a vacation at the beach with a girl you just met who's going to be here the whole time is a gift from God to help you through whatever it is you're struggling to get through?"

"I don't know," he said.

"Didn't the ocean catch your eyes when you guys got here?" Mookie asked. "Doesn't the ocean send a wave of contentment over you? This is our first time here but Shooey says you guys come here every year."

"It's familiar and soothing with plenty of fond memories," Rollie acknowledged.

"I know your friend came here with you guys a few times too."

"That's what makes it really hard," Rollie sighed. "I keep expecting him to fly out of the cottage at any moment and try to put the moves on you."

"You two were competitive with the girls?" Mookie grinned, taking a seat on the grass next to him.

"No, Gabe was the lady's man," Rollie smiled. "I was more laid back and reserved."

"You mean shy," Mookie realized.

"Gabe had a way of making me feel more confident," Rollie realized.

"You're doing okay with me," She observed.

"You called me a prick," he reminded her.

"Maybe I was wrong," she replied.

The other kids were carving their initials and the year into the trunk of a nearby tree. Mookie went over to the group to check on their work and to make sure nobody sliced their finger off.

Rollie considered his options. Did he want to stew and sulk the entire week or should he try to be at least semi-functional as best he could? Rollie's Dad was a positive and supportive person and Rollie knew he must have pushed him pretty far for him to be telling Mookie's Dad that his own son was being an asshole. Was that the reputation he wanted to give others?

Rollie knew he couldn't just pretend Gabe wasn't dead or that he wasn't traumatized by the loss of his best friend but that didn't mean he had to be a prick around Mookie all week either.

He got out of the chair and joined the others at the tree. Mookie was carving her initials under SM, HM, DD and DeD.

"What's your last name?" Rollie wondered.

"Dawkins," Dooley said proudly.

"Dooley Dawkins," Rollie said. "That's a great sports name."

"Your turn," Mookie announced, handing Rollie Dooley's jackknife.

"I'm a boy scout," Dooley explained.

Rollie rubbed his finger against the tree bark and then carved RM into the trunk as a reflective smile shadowed his face. He added a seventh set of initials underneath his – GB.

"Gabe Bannister," Honey realized.

"Nice touch," Mookie said.

"He's with us in spirit," Shooey proclaimed.

"Yeah," Rollie sighed heavily as he handed Dooley his jackknife

Mookie put her hand on Rollie's shoulder but neither said anything.

"I miss him so much," Honey said sadly.

"We all do," Shooey said.