Friday, August 25, 2017

Beach Party by Andrew Miller

Sixteen-year-old Megan lets her hair down at a beach party and chats with best friend Kimberly about their future; by Andrew Miller.

Megan Conyers was surprised when Kimberly called and asked about the beach party on Saturday night. Kimberly never went to parties, hardly ever went to dances, mostly hung out with a small group that took Advanced Placement biology and history. Her parents weren't party types either; they taught at a private school in the next county, went to plays and concerts, volunteered at the shelter downtown. Not only did Kimberly want to go the party, but offered to drive. That suited Megan. This meant she wouldn't have to go alone, since she had just broken up with Benjamin Carter. Or, even worse, be asked by one of the Tyler twins, who kept showing up at the Tastee Cone, flirting with her and begging for free stuff.

Megan checked the clock on the wall above the ice cream machines. Almost ten o'clock. Kimberly would arrive in a few minutes. Penelope, who managed the Tastee Cone, never worked past closing.

"Whatdaya say, call it a night?" said Penelope, slamming the serving window with a bang, motioning Megan to shut the other one.

"Let's do it," said Megan.

They sealed up containers of crushed nuts, dried fruits, sprinkle-on candies, shoved the fresh fruit toppings into the refrigerator, turned the chocolate sauce down low, wiped the counter tops and swept the floor. The guys would clean the grill, empty the trash, mop the floors. Penelope would stick around until everything was done, empty the cash register, then lock up.

"See you tomorrow," said Megan as she grabbed her purse from the cupboard next to the refrigerator.

"Need a ride?"

"Thanks, but Kimberly's going to pick me up."

"Okay, bye."

She said goodnight to the kitchen crew, slipped out the rear door and sat on a picnic table to wait for Kimberly. No doubt Benjamin would be at the beach part with Alyssia. That would be a pain in the ass. Especially since she found out just last week that they had been dating almost a month before Benjy dumped her. The summer before her senior year was shaping up to be a real bust. First, the break up with Benjy, then the news that Kevin, her mom's latest boyfriend, was moving back. Mrs. Conyers sprang the news while setting a plate of overdone toast on the table.

"Jesus," Megan said, pouring milk onto her cereal. "I thought you were done with him." She gave the flakes a quick stir. "What the hell happened? What changed your mind?"

"There's no reason to take the Lord's name."

"Bet you talked to Pastor Anderson. He cooked this up. Said your only shot at heaven was getting married - living a proper life."

"What I do is my business, not yours." She glared at Megan. "For your information, Pastor Anderson was involved. I spoke to him personal, then the three of us talked."

"How'd that happen? Did Kevin come all the way from Memphis to meet with Anderson?"

Kevin was number three for Mom. After her biological father died in a car accident when Megan was five, her mother married a Texan, and when that ended after two years, had a string of boyfriends. Three years ago, Kevin showed up. Megan found him hard to get along with, outspoken and stubborn. And his relationship with her mother was blustery, peppered with misunderstandings and arguments.

"We did it all on the Pastor's speaker phone." Mrs. Conyers began to spread a cold lump of margarine on a piece of toast. "Kevin got into an anger management program and promised to moderate his drinking. Found the Lord, too. Now a regular church-goer." She brushed strands of hair away from her forehead. "The three of us hashed everything out. Everything."

"Did you talk about the night when you guys screamed at each other, threw shit around the house, made so much racket that the Eversons called the Sherriff?"

"That business with the deputies was one big misunderstanding. Nothing for you to be concerned about."

Kevin would return late that afternoon, while Megan was at the Tastee Cone. Supposedly back for good, but you never could tell. This had been the second time in the last two years that he pulled out, drove back to Memphis. Said he was staying with his brother, but maybe he had a girlfriend there. But it was more than his meanness and lousy personality. He was creepy. His hugs were way too friendly, his pats on the back getting lower and lower, practically on her butt. And then there was the business about him barging into the bathroom when she was in the shower. Megan shuddered. Kevin had yanked back the curtain and asked, "Need some soap?" then handed her a new bar. "Don't worry about it," her mom said later when Megan complained, "I'll talk to him." But her mother never brought up the incident again, and Megan doubted that she ever talked to Kevin about it.

Megan slid off the picnic table when she heard the high-pitched hum of Kimberly's Volkswagen. The little black bug swerved off the highway, zipped into the parking lot and scooted up next to the picnic table. Kimberly leaned out the window. "Ready for the big party?"

"I sure as hell am."

Megan jumped into the front seat. "Pretty neat," she said, patting the dashboard. "Is this yours?"

"Yep, my going-away-to-college car. Dad got a good deal; the 1970 model will have some design changes, so they were clearing out the '69s."

Kimberly dropped the transmission into low and zoomed onto the highway. Megan had ridden in Volkswagens before and really liked these little cars. Felt like riding in a go-kart or a bumper car at the fair. Kimberly let the engine wind up tight in second gear, then snapped into third. She looked over at Megan. "I brought a bottle of wine. Plus, some snacks."

"What do I owe you?"

"Five dollars will cover it, but pay me later."

They took the River Road to Lake Michigan, filled with turns and hills. They shot past overgrown fields, scraggly stands of pine, an occasional homestead. The VW seemed happy, like a puppy racing through woods. Both windows were open; wind whipped hair about their faces, bugs smashed into the windshield. When they got to the lot overlooking Lake Michigan, Kimberly parked next to a group of cedar trees. She grabbed a small cooler from the back seat.

"Everything in there?" asked Megan.

"Yep, we're set."

She handed a blanket to Megan. "We can sit on this." Then added, "Want a jacket? There's an extra one here. Might be chilly by the water."

Megan tucked both under one arm. Kimberly took a flashlight out of the glove compartment, led the way down the trail to the lake. As they got closer, they caught glimpses of a huge bonfire, sparks rising, and more than a dozen dark forms either sitting or standing around, bottle or plastic cup in hand.

Megan chatted with several people for a few minutes, avoiding Benjy and Alyssia, who sat leaning against a log close to the fire. The hell with them, she thought, I'm here to have a good time. "Let's sit over there," she said, pointing to a clear area at the base of a low dune. She spread the blanket while Kimberly opened the cooler and pulled out a bottle of Chardonnay.

"You know most of these people?" asked Kimberly, handing a plastic cup to Megan.

"Yeah, either from school, or the Tastee Cone. It's an okay crowd."

Kimberly nodded, poured wine into two plastic cups. "Here," she said, handing one to Megan.

Megan took a drink. "I thought it would be sweeter."

"Too much of that sweet stuff will make you sick." She sat on the blanket, motioned toward Benjamin and Alyssia. "What happened between you and..." she took a sip of wine.

"Benjamin Carter? We're done."

"Does it bother you to see them here, together?"

"Yeah, it does."

Kimberly jammed her cup into the sand, reached into the cooler, brought out a plastic container and a baggie filled with crackers. In the container was a wedge of soft cheese, pieces of summer sausage, and several bunches of grapes. Kimberly spread cheese on a cracker.

Megan grabbed a few grapes and two pieces of sausage. "I thought you might come with somebody from one of your classes."

Kimberly shrugged. "I've been going out with Jimmy Nicholson."

Megan raised here eyebrows. "Why didn't you come with him?"

Kimberly spread cheese on another cracker. "This isn't his thing. His parents keep real close tabs on him - they're all teetotalers. One of his uncles is an alcoholic, so he's not even supposed to taste alcohol."

Megan was about to reply when one of the guys threw an armload of sticks on the fire, sending embers spiraling skyward. The girls stopped talking and watched the flames. An onshore breeze picked up, swirling smoke into the crowd on the landward side. Some moved back, others turned their heads and waited for the air to clear. Megan took another drink. Not bad, she thought. Eating cheese and drinking fancy wine. Much better than being with Benjy. His idea of party food was warm beer and salted nuts. She kicked off her shoes, leaned back against the dune, stretched out her legs.

Two couples walked past them, headed up the dune. Megan motioned toward the woods. "Going to pee."

Kimberly nodded.

Megan stared at the flames, began thinking about Kevin. He was home right now, sitting at the kitchen table with Mom. Talking, drinking coffee, or more likely, a beer or two. She remembered that evening last March, open windows, warm winds bringing in sounds of peepers and smells of wet vegetation. That was when Mom and Kevin got into the big fight. Yelling and screaming, chasing each other around, knocking over furniture, breaking glasses, couple of vases. The Eversons, right next door, called the Sherriff.

Two deputies at their door. Heavy set guys, closely cropped hair, both over six feet tall. They were extra polite, coming on real easy, arms hanging loose at their sides, eyes wide, leaning forward, ready to go at it with Kevin if necessary. Flashing blue and red lights in the driveway, bouncing off walls, ceiling, light fixtures, refrigerator. Houses across the street all lit up, windows open, lots of folks had heard. Nobody hauled away in handcuffs, but a situation like that could go anywhere, very unpredictable. Deputies wanted to get things calmed down, then jump in their car and drive away. Their eyes drilled into Megan. She could tell they were wondering if the sixteen-year-old daughter was somehow part of this.

Kimberly nudged Megan, interrupting her thoughts. "Hey - where are you?"

Megan shook her head. "Just dreaming, I guess. What did you say?" She sat up and leaned against her elbow.

"I said, 'are you going to college?'"

"I dunno. I should, actually." Megan stared at the fire, was silent for almost a minute, then spoke. "Things haven't been too neat on the home front."

She finished the wine and set the plastic cup in the sand. Kimberly filled it and Megan continued, "It's Kevin, Mom's latest boyfriend moving back. Number three, depending on how you're counting."

"You guys don't get along?"

"He's argumentative - gotta watch what you say around him. He and Mom fight a lot. It's hard for me to study. She glanced at Kimberly. "And," I don't like the way he looks at me."

"Anything... serious?" There was an edge in her voice.

"He's grabby. Hugs me all the time, long hugs, not friendly ones, know what I mean? Then there was the business about the shower."

"The shower?"

Megan recounted the story of Kevin handing her a bar of soap while she was in the shower.

Kimberly shook her head. "That was more than weird, that was sick. And your mom said she'd talk to him?"

"Yeah, but not much came of it."

Kimberly scooted closer to Megan, gave her a quick hug. "Sounds like a good reason for leaving home ASAP, going to college."

"I don't know how to apply."

"Get some catalogues, pick out a place you like. Fill out an application, send it in. Have a couple of teachers to write recommendations and get the school to send your transcript." She poured more wine into her cup. "I'm going to Junior College."

"Madison?"

"Yeah, Madison Junior."

Megan put the cup to her lips. The wine was tasting better and better. A warm feeling started in the back of her mouth, spread to her throat, then her upper chest. She lay back again, resting her head on the dune, stretched out her legs. "Thought you'd be at University of Michigan or some out-of-state school, what with your grades and family connections."

"It was my parent's idea to go to Madison. I was against it at first, but it might work out. Both my brothers went there, then transferred to UM."

"Why didn't they go straight to UM?"

"Lousy grades in high school. They basically screwed around their last two years - and I mean screwed around. But they squeaked into Junior College, brought up their grades, then got accepted at UM."

Megan smiled. It was odd to hear Kimberly talk so casually about screwing. She had a car, knew about wine, was nice looking. Seems like better guys than mousy little Jimmy Nicholson would be asking her out.

"What are they majoring in?"

"They're getting into computers in a big way. Taking courses in programming, statistics, that kind of stuff. They said there'll be lots of new jobs because of computers."

Computers. That was something never discussed at home. "My grades aren't so hot. And, I'm not in any college prep classes."

"Don't let that stop you. Work hard this semester, bring up your grades. Talk to a guidance counselor, say you want to give college a shot." She stopped talking, watched a girl and guy trudge up the dune, holding hands, shoulders touching. "Them that pees together, stays together," she said.

"I think they're going to do more than pee." Megan had been watching them. Long, deep kissing, hands creeping around under each other's clothes.

For a long time, neither girl spoke. Megan stretched both arms above her head. The sand was cool on her skin, soothing. Another year with Kevin in the house, him sniffing around, starting arguments. The hell with that. She took a deep breath, looked over at Kimberly. "That business about my folks and the Sherriff was all over town, wasn't it?"

"Not as much as you might think. I heard about it since my parents do lots of work at the shelter. But stuff like that happens. This is a small town, people don't have much to talk about."

Megan nodded, took a deep breath, inhaling the aroma of wood smoke. Her body felt light, as though it might float up and over the dune with the next gust of wind. She felt energized, happy, like a VW, ready to race up and down a dune.

Kimberly lay back, gazed up at the stars, then turned to Megan. "Do you suppose there's life out there? Maybe even intelligent life, creatures we could communicate with?"

Megan smiled. "I never thought about it. But - why not?"

Lake Michigan was calm when they arrived. Now an onshore breeze had picked up and waves slapped the shore. They put on their jackets.

"Next year at Madison Junior, going to commute or stay in the dorm?"

"I'd like to rent an apartment. I'm looking for a roommate."

Roommate. The word lodged in Megan's brain. Kimberly would have her own place, away from her mom and dad.

"What are you going to major in?"

"Not sure, that's the reason for Junior College - I'll get a chance to make up my mind. Folks want me to get into the social work, counseling and stuff. But, I'm not sure that's for me." She rolled onto her side. "What about you?"

Megan knew she was going to ask that, and wished she had a better answer. "Haven't thought much about it, guess I should."

Kimberly started to say something then stopped. Off to the side they heard a groan, then "Glerk-glerk-glerk-blllllaaaaaat." Sounds of liquid splashing on sand.

"Holy shit, what was that?" Kimberly sat up.

"Somebody throwing up, and not too far away."

From a slightly different spot, a loud retching cough, more splashing.

"Plus, a sympathetic puker," said Megan.

"God almighty, let's move."

They grabbed everything and climbed to the top of a bluff overlooking the lake. The fire was out of sight, all they could see was a few sparks and a red glow. They spread the blanket and sat facing the water. The moon had just appeared to the west above a line of scrubby pines.

"It's getting chilly." Kimberly scooted closer to Megan, flipped the free end of the blanket over them both. "How serious were you and Benjy?"

Megan shrugged. "Pretty hot and heavy for a while. I hate the way it ended, him fooling around with Alyssia while we were still going together." She dug her hand into the sand, grabbed a handful and held it. "That won't happen to me again."

They stopped talking when they heard a burst of laughter, feet pounding on wet sand, water splashing. A couple from the bonfire ran past the bluff, stopped, then ripped off their clothes and scampered into the water. They raced in circles, laughing, shouting, splashing each other.

"Would you look at that," Kimberly said. "Guess they forgot their swim suits."

The couple sprinted along the shoreline, hand in hand, until they were barely visible in the moonlight. They turned, bolted back toward the bluff.

Megan shook her head. "That guy will hurt himself if he falls down in that condition."

The couple ran back in the water, feet kicking up spray. They stopped, pressed close and kissed ravenously.

Megan emptied her cup, set it down on the sand. "That's Beverly and Zachery, by the way."

"Want any more wine?" Asked Kimberly.

"No, I'm good."

"Anyone else in your family go to college?"

"No."

"Then you definitely need to apply. Your mom and her boyfriend will be shocked if you get into college. You'll have status. They'll be less likely to treat you like a kid. You'ill be part of something big that they don't know much about."

Megan scooped up another handful of sand, let it trickle through her fingers. Something that her parents wouldn't know about, wouldn't understand. "Yeah," she said, "never thought of it that way."

The couple stood ankle-deep water in one long embrace. Looked like they were about to get down to business. Megan wasn't that interested in watching, and sensed Kimberly wasn't either. Before she could ask more about Madison Junior College, Kimberly said, "Hey, it's late, why don't we take off?"

Megan visualized Mom and Kevin sitting at home, probably watching TV. When she walked in they would quiz her about where she had been, who she had been with. Kevin would give her that squinty-eyed look, feasting his eyes on her boobs, her crotch, her legs.

Kimberly nudged Megan. "Want to come to my place? We've got an extra bedroom. We could listen to music."

Sitting on Kimberly's bed, listening to records. Their house would be quiet. No arguments, or butt patting. "Yeah, I'd like that. Like that a lot. Your Mom and Dad won't care?"

"No, and stay for breakfast. Dad makes French Omelets on Sundays. You can call your mom when you get to my place."

The wind gusted, sending a sheaf of black clouds over the moon. The girls gathered their belongings. Megan glanced toward the lake. She couldn't see the couple, but heard thrashing and grunting. As she picked up the blanket, clouds moved on and moonlight spilled onto the beach. Megan caught a glimpse of Zachery, buttocks heaving, shining white. Beverly's legs were outspread, head thrust back almost in the water, hands buried to her wrists in the sand. Clothes strewn everywhere.

Kimberly pulled a flashlight out of her pocket and snapped it on. Junior College, Megan thought as she shook sand out of the blanket. Roommate. Kimberly was looking for a roommate. Mom and Kevin would be surprised, stunned, if she said she was going to college. She tucked the blanket under her arm and followed Kimberly up the path toward the black VW.

4 comments:

  1. Thank you for a well-observed story of friendship and the beginnings of independence. The hovering unspoken tensions were engaging and powerful,
    Ceinwen

    ReplyDelete
  2. time for Megan to break out. circumstances coming together
    to her advantage, something she would not otherwise have considered. there is more to this story than meets the eye. nicely sketched characters and observations.
    Mike McC

    ReplyDelete
  3. The narrative kicks in nicely a third way through. A little top-heavy on the academic information, but great atmosphere-building by way of in-car and al fresco description. Good for Megan, but I kind of get the feeling that Kimberley isn't going to be all plain sailing. I love the '...them that pees together, stays together...'!
    B r o o k e

    ReplyDelete
  4. A lovely scene. I care about the girls and was happy nothing bad happened to them. With the wine and some of your chosen imagery in the beginning, I was expecting something horrible. Genre would clear that up perhaps.

    ReplyDelete