For the month of February, I want to do something a little different! I’m going to be releasing a blog-exclusive short story, free to read right here every week. It will be split into four parts — one part a week. Without further ado, I hope you enjoy…
The Way the Waves Break
by Benjamin J. Law
It’s not every day that the sun touches the horizon the way that it is today, at least not in Jack Lynn’s experience. But for now, Jack finally gets to enjoy warmth, sunglasses resting lightly on the bridge of his nose and sand finding every way possible into his baggy shorts. The high tide tickles his bare toes. The breeze brushes against his steadily burning skin. And in that wonderful, long-awaited moment, the clouds roll in and successfully swallow the sunshine. Jack, in response to the weather’s spiteful action, merely sighs and leans his head back in expression of some innate emotion.
Jack, eyes closed beneath the glasses, is unaware of his approaching visitor until she speaks in a voice Jack takes as a boy’s. “Hey,” is all she says. Jack doesn’t flinch, whether assuming the greeting wasn’t intended for him or hoping the visitor suspends her visit before he must respond. “Hey. Guy,” she presses.
Jack licks his lips and lazily rolls his head towards her, his Adam’s apple popping out grotesquely. “Oh, you’re a girl,” he answers passively. He can only infer her gender by the sun-kissed hair curling out messily from her baseball cap and the subtle shape of her body beneath her large tank-top and floral swim shorts.
“Oh, you’re a jackass,” she replies.
“Swearin’ isn’t nice, kid.”
“I didn’t swear. Gosh,” the girl spits. “You’re just like Grandma Genie.”
Jack looks again to the cloudy sky, holding out for a moment longer that the sun might return, and then he loses hope entirely. He leans back on his elbows, pushing his worn backpack beside him, and takes a deep breath. His assumption, closing his eyes once again, is that his visitor has now left. His assumption, as anyone might have guessed, is wrong. “Are you ignoring me?” She says after almost a minute of pure ocean noise has passed, and Jack nearly jumps in surprise.
“Kid, do I owe you money?” Jack snaps. “Why you hangin’ round me? I’m not much for talkin’ — or didn’t my overall lack of interest lead you on to that thought already?”
“You don’t owe me anything,” she replies.
Jack, realizing his defeat at this girl’s hands, rolls his head around on his shoulders as if circling through options. Then he releases the slightest of sighs. “Got a name, kid?”
“How old are you, Fran?”
“Fifteen, I guess,” Fran answers before a brief pause. “Grandma Genie always says age is a human delusion.”
“Marriage is a human delusion, too, kid,” Jack murmurs. “But people still partake of the bread.”
Fran plops down onto the sand and stares at Jack silently, rather intently for Jack’s liking. Jack, in turn, looks straight ahead and pretends it’s not happening. There they sit for the longest period of quiet that Jack’s gotten all day before Fran, in all her tactfulness, slowly reaches out and runs her finger along a deep scar on Jack’s cheek. Jack swats at her hand and scrambles away, whether in shock or annoyance is unclear as his eyes are still safely hidden behind the glasses. Despite his covered eyes, Fran can now tell that he’s staring directly at her and in no friendly manner. “What’s your name?” She says unabashedly.
“Why’s that any of your business, you — you–”
“Why was mine your business?” Fran cuts him off as he stutters for the appropriate insult. He clasps his mouth, holding perfectly still for a long moment before shaking his head and recognizing defeat once again.
“Jack,” he answers quietly.
“What do your friends call you?” Fran presses, to Jack’s dismay and confusion.
“Your friends,” she repeats.
“I suppose if I had any they’d call me Jack, given that’s my name and all,” Jack groans. “Why you touchin’ my face?”
“Grandma Genie says that you can only truly know a person by knowing their friends,” Fran sighs. Then, without hesitating, Fran reaches down to Jack’s backpack and pulls a small folded paper out of the side pocket, and Jack leaps for it as quickly as he can. Fran has only just glimpsed that it’s a photo when Jack’s fingers have ripped it from hers, and as if in that same moment he’s scooping his backpack over his shoulder and crossing the beach away from her. “Wait,” she calls after him, rising calmly to her feet to follow. “Who is that woman in the picture?” Jack, acting as though to answer her question, holds out his arm and crumples the picture before flicking it into the incoming wave, all without ever looking back at his follower. Fran, picking up pace now, slams her flipflops through the sand and scoops the discarded paper up. “That could have killed a fish!”
“Leave me alone, kid,” Jack grunts, continuing forward.
“Grandma Genie says that pictures hold memories we otherwise might forget,” Fran hollers louder as she loses ground on Jack.
“Perfect. Maybe I can finally forget,” he answers.
“Who is she?” Fran asks again, to no avail. “I said, who is she?”
Jack spins around on his heel, a vein in his forehead popping out like eroded desert. “Why do you care, kid?” His voice steadily rises to a shout.
“Grandma Genie says-”
“I couldn’t physically care any less at all ever about anything Grandma-freakin’-Genie might think or say,” Jack growls.
“That we shouldn’t hold in our feelings,” Fran finishes unphased. Jack stares flat-faced at her, a look Fran returns.
“Beautiful day, huh?” A large man says in a too-happy tone as he jogs by, sweat drenching his grey shirt. “Hey, Rocco,” he waves at Fran as he passes her and continues down the beach.
“Hey, Kevin,” she says with a wave.
Jack doesn’t break his stare, but he parts his lips and as monotone as he could possibly be says, “Rocco?”
“Kevin is a friend,” she replies in kind.
“Let me guess,” Jack hisses. “Your friends call you Rocco.” Fran shrugs. “Did Grandma Genie give you that name, too? And was it before or after she smoked a bunch of weed and sang into the winds about human delusions?”
“No,” Fran mutters, looking to the ocean. “My mother gave me that name before she died.”
Jack’s lips tighten, and he immediately feels the unrestful plummet of regret in the pit of his stomach. “Oh, I-I’m sorry… How did she…?”
“Drowned,” Fran answers. “Right there.” She points out to the ocean, and following her finger Jack sees a small cross stationed onto a buoy. “Kevin helped spread her ashes and says that her spirit is still on the waters, but Grandma Genie says she prays that one day a big fish will eat Kevin.”
“Why’s that?” Jack knowingly gives in to Fran’s bating.
“Because a small fish couldn’t,” she answers. Jack only stares. “Wanna meet her?”
“Listen,” Jack says, biting his tongue as hard as he can. “Grandma Genie doesn’t sound like someone I’d love to acquaint.”
“She’ll make us lunch. You’re hungry.” Fran turns away from the ocean and heads up the beach. “She doesn’t grant wishes, though. I found that out the hard way.”
Jack involuntarily feels the scar on his face, his fingers gently pressing against the soft tissue, and glances back and forth between Fran’s departure and the cross-buoy. His teeth grind together and, accepting his utter loss, he meanders his way behind Fran, who’s still talking as if there’s someone listening to her. “Better be good food,” he grunts.