-It wouldn't've killed you to've talked to her.

        It's ten o clock by now and if she hasn't shown up yet there's no reason to expect that she will. That thought is gnawing at me in the stomach and it makes an acidy feeling up into my throat. I lean forward and dig my fingers into the wet cold hard sand at the edge of the water and push my hands in until a block of sand lifts up over them and breaks from the strain and crumbles off. Water is trembling up into the hole that I made and I fill it back in, cover up the water with the wet sand, and I take a little sand in my fingers and throw it and it hisses into the black ocean in front of me.

        -You've had the entire summer.

        Patrick is good at reminding me of things that I already know and that is just what he is doing now, and truthfully it is driving me a little crazy. He is talking about Brittany who I am in love with, Brittany from the Club which is where we are now, Brittany who is a year older than we are and wears a green two-piece like jade, Brittany who has skin like porcelain that should burn so easily but doesn't, Brittany who is gone now just like summer is going to be. I settle onto my back and look up at the sky, which has a full moon in it and a lot of stars too. There is a red blinking light going out over the Sound and I trace it with my finger.

        -And now look at it. What you're doing. You're ruining the barbecue and it's no one's fault but yours and look how you dragged me into it.

        He is right about the barbecue, I have to admit that, even if he's being very callous about the whole thing in my opinion. The barbecue is at the Club every Labor Day and most people come down and pitch tents on the beach and sleep there for the night. I can see the tents from here way down the sand, some with fires in front of them where kids are roasting marshmallows. The smoke is drifting down the beach on the wind and I can smell it from where we are, the sweetish ashy smell that reminds me of just this, the barbecue, which usually is about my favorite day of the year but not this year, no. So yes I have ruined the barbecue, and yes I have had the entire summer, and no it would not have killed me to talk to her and I know these things much better than Patrick does but I say

        -Listen. I thought she would be here. At the barbecue. That was my plan, to talk to her at the barbecue.

        -If you talked to her before she would be here at the barbecue.

        -Maybe she is here. Maybe we just haven't seen her.

        -Maybe you should learn something about not putting all your eggs in one basket.

        I think that is an asinine thing to say but I keep that thought to myself. Patrick likes to say things that he thinks are wise even though he is only in eighth grade like me and mostly it makes him sound ridiculous.

        I heave myself up and when I do the sand crawls down the back of my jeans and I know that will be uncomfortable later on. My hands are cold and I blow on them. It is really too late in the season to be down by the water at night and even with a sweatshirt on I feel the breeze making gooseflesh on my stomach. People are laughing from the tents and music is playing there too and I turn in that direction and I say to Patrick

        -Let's get ice cream. At the Snack Shed.

        Patrick gets up and says okay and we start walking up the beach. The sand is deep and soft once we move up from the waterline and I have to flex my toes into it when I take a step. It feels wet when my feet dig into it and that surprises me but when I check with my finger my foot isn't wet, just cold. It can be hard to tell sometimes if sand is wet or just cold. I steer a wide arc around the tents because I really don't feel much like running into anyone I might have to talk to. Really I don't even feel like going to the Snack Shed but I feel bad about ruining the barbecue for Patrick.

        We're walking up the steps toward the Snack Shed now and there really aren't many people around. They've mostly all headed down to the beach and that's fine with me. The Snack Shed is just that, a little shed, and they sell ice cream bars and soda out of it and then you sit in folding chairs out on the wooden deck. We're on the deck and all the chairs are empty except one, and I look, and it's her. She's wearing a Cal-Berkeley sweatshirt and she's eating a Strawberry Shortcake bar. Her hair is brown and polished and straight and it's pulled up loose behind her head and tied there, and she's licking one of her fingers where she must have dripped ice cream. Patrick is standing behind me and I know he has seen her too because he has stopped walking, just like me, and we are standing there and looking and then he gives me a little shove in the back to set me walking again right before he takes off down the stairs flashing me a thumbs up over his shoulder.

        There is no question that I have to talk to her but there is also no question that I have no idea how to do a thing like that and so I go up to the Shed and buy a Coke. I can barely get my voice to work even talking to the scabby guy with the gold earring who sells me the Coke and I sip at it and try to slow down my pulse and I go and lean up against the railing of the deck and look out at the beach. I guess I'm having a panic attack or something and I can't feel my legs at all and the only thing I can think of is How long does it take to eat a Strawberry Shortcake bar? because chances are she will leave the deck when hers is finished. That question keeps pounding in my head, running circles in my head, bouncing around inside my head, How long does it take to eat a Strawberry Shortcake bar? which is a question I should be able to answer, since I've eaten a lot of them, but I can't even guess how long it might take. I mean it might take five minutes or it might take an hour or two and really I have no idea which one is right. But then I think that she might even leave before she finishes and then it doesn't matter if it takes three weeks to eat a Strawberry Shortcake bar, she can finish it on the beach or back in school or whatever and suddenly I spin and I take four hard steps and then I am sitting across from her at the table and I say


        which when I say it doesn't sound stupid at all really like I thought it would. And she smiles and says


        I take a sip of the Coke because my mouth is drying out a little again and I nod a little bit and I say

        -They should really have the barbecue earlier. 'Cause this is really too cold now.

        -I know!

        she says and she seems excited and I guess this is some Common Ground, our feelings on the barbecue, which is what you're looking to find with girls from what I hear. I take another sip of the Coke and my hand is shaking a little but not very much and I say

        -I'm Conor, by the way.

        -I'm Brittany

        she says and she puts out a hand and I shake it and it's a little sticky on one of her fingers which must have been from where she was licking. But in the middle of the shaking I hear a voice from over my shoulder that says Hey! just like I said a moment ago and then from around my back steps a guy wearing a blue-and-gold jacket from the High School with Football written on the back and his name Ricky on the front and he says What's up? to Brittany and her face lights up and she says

        -Where have you been all night?

        and he says

        -Jake and some of the guys have a bottle of Jack in the tent

        and he sits down next to Brittany and says to me

        -Hi. I'm Ricky.


        He shakes my hand and says

        -Nice to meet you

        and picks his hand up and places it up under his chin and is talking to Brittany. His hand was heavy when I shook it and I'm looking at it now and it seems heavier than any other hand I've ever seen and I think wildly that he must have tremendous strength in his biceps to keep a hand like that from falling on the table from where it's sitting under his chin. He's talking to Brittany now and I'm hearing him but my head feels like it's full of water sloshing around and he keeps talking about how he has his own tent that he pitched down on the beach, his own tent for the night and that's what he keeps talking about while he leans his chin on that hand. I can't figure out why he's talking about this when there are so many other things to be talking about but all he keeps saying is that

        -I have my Own Tent

        and Brittany has suddenly become very giggly and before I know it they're both standing and saying it is nice to've met me and then they're gone just like that and suddenly it's just me and my Coke on the deck like no one else was ever there. I sit for a minute and I want to take a sip of the Coke but my hand won't work, won't get off the table like suddenly I have the hands that are heavy and not Ricky. Then I get my hand to go but it is shaking and I am thinking and then I make sense of it all in my head, a little bit, Ricky and his Own Tent and her giggling and them just leaving like that and then the water that was sloshing around in my head suddenly flashes and there is just a white mist up there while I am hurrying down the stairs and trying not to be seen, just trying to disappear and I throw the Coke in a bush and shove my hands in my pockets because I think maybe that will make me more invisible. I am striding down the beach now as fast as I can go without running or looking too conspicuous and I hope as hard as I can that Patrick is nowhere nearby to ask me what happened or where I am going. I still can't think or hear or even see that well really but outside the last tent in the row is a cooler filled with bottles of beer that have wet wrinkled green labels. There is no one around I don't think but it's more that really I don't care and I grab three of the bottles and take off down the beach, running into the wind which has switched directions, and by the time I stop I am far enough away so that I don't hear any music or laughing and as I sit down hard on the sand the only thing I think about are those hands, those heavy hands and what they might be doing right now while I'm here on the sand and what they might be making her do and frantically I pull the cap off the first bottle with my teeth. I've never tasted beer before and it tastes bitter and warm and not at all good but I sit and drink the first bottle, and then I open a second and drink as much of it as I can before I fall asleep on my back in the sand.

        I wake up when water starts lapping around my feet. I am shivering and damp and spongy. It must be hours later because the tide has come in and more importantly the sky is starting to lighten way down the beach and over the water, and I start to stand but I get dizzy as hell and I fall on my knees in the water and get sick. I can taste the bitter in the back of my throat and I think that beer tastes pretty much the same coming up as it does going down, and then I lean forward to get some water on my forehead but when I do a wave gets me in the face a little bit and some water goes down my throat and I sick it right back up again. I stay on my knees for some time, looking at the water in front of my face as the waves trickle in and pull back and it goes shallow, then a little deeper, then shallow again and very clear with little pieces of seaweed floating in it, and that makes me dizzy and I close my eyes but that makes me even dizzier. Finally I get up and I feel sore and sick and greasy and awful, and walking down the beach I cry a little bit and then I head into the parking lot and out into the road and I start walking home, and the sky is starting to lighten more but it's also raining a little bit and gusty and I look around and I don't think I've probably ever seen a day that looks more like Fall.


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