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Catching Up | Sydney Atwood

We used to walk along the beach at sunset, our hands sticky from selling overpriced lemonade and our cheeks burnt from applying small drops of sunscreen. Traces of the sky could be found on the sand, and orange clouds reflected in those excess puddles left over by waves. You’d jump in them, making sure to spray the bottoms of my jeans with salt water, before taking off down the beach. I’d watch you run all the way to the white rock, to the edge of our world, but you wouldn't go beyond it without me. You’d sit on it, legs crossed, waiting for your best friend to catch up. When I did, we’d make necklaces out of shells and plan to sell them at our lemonade stand. Maybe we could make enough money to explore that world beyond our rock? We’d play pretend and imagine that we owned a jewelry store in New York City. I remember that I’d often brush my fingers against the goosebumps rising on my arms. You'd often wear your hair in two knotted braids, and the wind would usually propel them into your eyes. They’d start to water, and you'd start complaining, so we’d close up shop and leave our rock just before the sun would sink into the sea.

 

***

 

You were two years younger than me, and I was two inches shorter, so we’d usually flip a coin over who got the top bunk during sleepovers. But we’d always end up in the same bed; I’d climb down with my stuffed animal or you’d climb up with an extra pillow and pull the top sheets over our heads. Each year, your uncle’s cabin by the water was sliced open by the wind, and our secrets would slip out from the cracks in the wood. Did the seagulls ever hear my stories? Yesterday I saw Evelyn sneak a cookie into the bathroom… I heard her mom doesn’t let her have dessert at home. Last week Madison capsized her boat at sailing class and her glasses were eaten by a snapping turtle!  I wondered if the sand ever absorbed the names of the boys you liked, or maybe even your plots to win them over. Remember, Sophie, the plan is that you ask Cooper to the dance and I ask James after golf lessons on Friday. That way they’ll have to date us by the end of summer! We’d make golden sandcastles the next morning, and sometimes I’d expect to dig up scraps of paper with those names written on them.

 

I knew I told you too much, but you never shared my secrets. In fact, one day, you stopped sharing yours altogether. You traveled to a world beyond our rock, a world where everything about you would change. I wondered, would you still call me every night and tell me about your day from that place, that world separate from mine?

 

***

 

Today I walk the gray beach alone. My skin is dry and cracked, since moisture tends to leave it as soon as October ends, and the brown sand on which I trek is flat.    

 

When I see your spotless face covered with that thick foundation, I almost abandon my peaceful walk and run in the other direction. Since when did our fall breaks overlap? As you notice me, you smile and wave, inviting me to come over and sit on your towel. You laid it by the dunes where you first slept with James, the boy you ended up dating in high school. I always hated those dunes; my mom said to avoid them because they were home to ticks. But they were on the other side of our rock, that world beyond our reach, so she didn't have to worry.

 

You stand up when I reach the towel and give me a hug. It's so good to see you! How's college? You go to one of those small NESCAC schools, right?  You have a bottle of wine in your bag, and you offer me some before taking a swig. After we sit down, you cross your legs and ask me questions like I’m a kid who will only give one word answers. I respond with things like, nice to see you, good, yeah, I go to Wesleyan, and I search your face for those orange freckles I can usually find. But I can't see them tonight, and as we sit on your towel, exposed to the wind under a starless sky, you tell me about yourself. Your words are picked up by the breeze, so I awkwardly have to ask you to repeat them. You tell me that NYU is so fun, and that your classes are going so well, and that you have so many nice friends. That's good. I'm glad! But my words are empty, reminding me that I’m hungry and want to get dinner soon. You sway as you talk, and you're not complaining about your watering eyes; maybe you’ve just had too much to drink? Or maybe your slim arms just can’t hold their own against the wind? As you tell me about the grad student you’ve been seeing, you spill some wine on one of my pant legs. You apologize, over and over, covering your lips with your hand. You pull it back, now smudged with tan foundation, and mouth I'm sorry again. I tell you, it's fine, really. It's getting late anyway, I should go home. I can see a trace of your pale skin from where the makeup rubbed off; three orange freckles lie beneath your bottom lip.

 

***

 

We stand after you pack up your things. You look down at me as you say, it’s been so nice catching up, let’s call sometime! I look up and say, yeah, it was nice catching up. Your car is parked near the dunes, but mine is down the beach. I give you a quick hug, say goodbye, and walk away, hoping that you are smart enough to call an Uber home. I wonder if knowing nothing about you is better than knowing everything.


 

Sydney Atwood is a student studying creative writing and film at Wesleyan University. She is originally from Mansfield, MA, and currently lives in Rhode Island with her parents, older brother, and two pugs. She plays field hockey at Wesleyan and is a member of two on campus literary magazines.

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