~ * ~
Belinda could have turned left to go directly to the house, but she charged straight through the four-way stop. At the top of the road, before it dipped down and curved inland again, she could just make out the ocean between the blades of wheat-like sea grasses bowing toward her. Pure joy swelled in her chest and she pressed down on the accelerator.
Belinda skidded into the beach parking lot and flung open the door, her face hit by the sea breeze still clinging to winter. She jogged toward the water’s edge, jumping around on one bare foot, giggling as she nearly collapsed onto the sand wrenching her other shoe off. My, how that white, gravelly stuff was tougher to walk through than she remembered!
Belinda stopped at the water’s edge, the sand itself sending chills up her legs. But she had to do it. She had to dip her feet in the water just once. She secured her blonde hair in an elastic, taking a deep breath of salt air – and, ooh yeah, seaweed. Yuck. Belinda stood on the water mark and waited for the next surge. She closed her eyes as it rushed toward her, bunching up and suppressing a squeal as the Atlantic said hello.
“Hello!” she said back with her arms opened wide, but she dashed back to the safe zone before it could reply.
Shivering and wet and sand covered, Belinda leaned against the craggy rocks creating a natural barrier between the town beach and the rest of it. Belinda gazed out at the horizon, the silhouette of a sailboat moving along it. It had been too long since Kyle sailed. He always shot her down when she suggested it, but she would do her yearly thing and say something anyway. Her feet dried and Belinda finally trudged back to her car, brushing sand off of her feet in the parking lot. Kyle was supposed to leave work early to meet her, so it was time to go home.
She backtracked, cruising along until a familiar house peeked out from a gap in the conical topiary fence. Belinda slowed down, rounding the corner of the driveway, and passed through the open gate and down the brick drive. She parked next to her brother’s Jeep and dashed into the house.
“Kyle!” Belinda’s voice echoed in the foyer and she headed straight for the open glass door across the hall. She found him lazing in a wood lounger on the back deck with a beer, alt rock blaring out of his earbuds. “Kyle!” Belinda stepped around his legs, arching her eyebrows and waving.
Kyle jumped, ripping the buds out. “Hey, you’re early.” When his brown eyes lit up, she was practically looking into her own. The one clear sign of their twin-ness from her perspective.
“Actually, I’m late. I detoured to the beach for a minute.” Belinda grinned and they bear hugged after he stood up. “Is there anything to eat?” Kyle just offered a lopsided grin. “I’ll take that as a no.”
“I would have stocked up, but I figured-”
“You figured you would just wait and let me do it.”
“No, I was going to say I figured you’d want to get your own stuff.”
“And that you would get some other things while you were there.”
Belinda put her hands on her hips. “Am I going to regret living with you?”
“Probably.” Kyle grabbed her shoulders and spun her around. “But look at that view, eh?”
Belinda meandered off the low-lying porch and toward the edge of the property where it dropped off into the sea. It was more protected than other parts of Portside where the houses were right on the open ocean. But the wind and the currents below still tasted wild. Kyle was right. Putting up with him again was worth that view everyday.
“All right,” she said, turning around, “I can do this. But you will help me with the housework, or I’m going to tell Mom that you killed her tomatoes and we’ll see just how fast they get back from Europe.”
“You ran over them with your dirt bike.”
“Dirt bike. In the yard, destroying their finely tuned grass and tomato plants.”
Kyle hugged his chest. “They are not going to come back from Europe early for that.”
“No, but they might do something drastic like kick you out.”
“Hey, if I go, so do you.” He pointed at her nose. “I have some pretty sick stories I could tell them about you too.”
“From when? High school? Ancient history.”
“New York. Art gallery. Not so ancient.”
Belinda rolled her eyes to the blue sky, squinting in the light. “Fine. I will forget about the tomato ‘accident.’ For now.” Kyle grinned. “But don’t get comfortable. I was an adult for the whole New York thing.”
“And I was an adult for the whole running over the tomato plants thing.”
Belinda looked back out at the water. Kyle picked up on what was coming next and rolled his eyes. “Bels, don’t-”
“It’s great weather for sailing today. In fact, I saw someone out on their boat at the beach.”
“You know what. I don’t want to. Not anymore.”
Belinda’s eyes grew sad. “Mark would hate that you’ve given it up. He would absolutely hate it.”
“Well, he’s not here to care, is he?”
Belinda pursed her lips. From the flare of gold in his eyes, that was all she should say on that subject right then. “So what do we do for dinner then?”
Kyle loosened up. “We could crash Victoria’s.”
“We are not crashing Victoria’s.” Belinda thought about the other options and scrunched her nose. “Well, maybe this once. I’ll call and see if she minds a couple of extra diners.”
“I’m used to you being home already.”
Belinda wrinkled her nose, working up a retort, when someone called her from the front of the house. She turned to see a young man waving from the entrance. “Oh, no,” she mumbled.
Kyle grinned as a tall kid with bright blue eyes smiled broadly and came out to the backyard. “Belinda,” he said cheerfully, “you’re home! I’d heard talk but…you’re actually here.” His face beamed.
“Hi, Jarrett.” Belinda shifted awkwardly. She gripped Kyle’s shirt as he started to walk away, but he pulled free, making smoochy faces at her behind Jarrett’s back. Once Kyle was out of earshot, Jarrett stuffed his hands into his pockets and moved in closer. Belinda took a step back, glancing behind her to be sure of the cliff.
“I’m eighteen now,” he said.
Belinda blinked. “Oh, well, congratulations. Eighteen…it’s a good year.” For some people, she imagined.
Jarrett laughed nervously, pulling on his earlobe. “You said to, you know, try again when I was eighteen. So here I am.”
Belinda’s mouth fell open, but no sound came out.
“You wanna go get a coffee or something?”
Oh, dear, Belinda thought. Really? She just got into Portside and it was already looking like time to leave. “I just got-”
“It doesn’t have to be right now. Tomorrow, when you’re settled in and all.”
“It’s not that. I…I’m here to work. I’m overseeing our house renovation and I’ve got other plans-”
“You’re busy; I get it. But coffee, Belinda? I know you like coffee.” He flashed a smile, his blue eyes sparkling. She had to admit he was cute, and if she were his age or vice versa, well, maybe.
Belinda shook her head. “Of course I do, but Jarrett-”
“What?” His eyes narrowed ever so slightly.
Belinda wanted to just run into the house and lock the doors. Why wouldn’t he just move on already? “Maybe when you’re twenty-one.”
“Last time you said when I was eighteen.”
“Well, twenty-one is the new eighteen.”
“Jarrett, we’ve been over this. Several times. And my opinion that you are too young for me has not changed.” Belinda hooked her thumbs in her back pockets, trying to figure out how to end the conversation. “There are lots of girls your age.” There. That should pacify him.
“They’re all silly.”
Or not. And he was starting to whine.
“They’re not all silly. You just need to keep a wary eye open. Besides, you’re headed off to college. You’ll meet more girls there.”
“I wouldn’t have to if you would just go out with me.”
Belinda sighed, not mentally prepared for a debate.
“We get along.” Jarrett put his hands out toward her pleadingly. “We have great conversations. I don’t see what the problem is.”
“I know you don’t, but please try and see this from my perspective. You’re a smart guy, you can surely imagine.”
Jarrett didn’t look to Belinda like he was trying that hard, but his sour face slowly reverted back to a smile. “I don’t have that great of an imagination.”
Belinda crossed her arms. “I beg to differ.”
“Anyway,” Jarrett inched closer, “my band is practicing this Saturday afternoon. You should come. You like alt rock, right?”
How did he do that? After that whole conversation, he just glossed over it like nothing happened. No matter how mean she acted, he kept coming back for more.
“We’re not that bad either. We’ve been practicing really hard. Even played at a few parties.” Jarrett rocked on his heels.
“That’s terrific, Jarrett. But I…” Why did he refuse to be reasonable? And why did she have such a hard time telling him to get lost? “I’ll see.” Belinda slumped over.
Jarrett grinned. “You won’t be sorry.”
Oh, yes, I will, Belinda thought.
~ * ~