He walked back up to their little encampment among all the beach goers. Debbie lay face down on her towel, oblivious to the world around. Hoss had returned and stood one foot on top of the cooler drinking the beer from it with two girls who were probably not yet old enough to drink.
“Coldplay? Coldplay? Yeah, I’ve heard that song. That band is just real music on Paxil,” Hoss said.
“Oh, you are so wrong,” the shorter of the two girls said. The other just scanned the beach, probably looking for a better source of beer.
“Excuse me” Jake said as he lifted the top under Hoss’ foot.
“My bad, Hoss Man. Hey, we’re gonna go play volleyball. You wanna come?”
“No, thanks,” Jake said, “I think I’m just going to hang out here.”
Hoss turned and caught up with his jail bait who had already made it a good thirty yards away from him.
“Why do you hang out with him?” Debbie asked eyes still closed.
“Ah, he’s alright,” Jake said lying down.
“No, he’s creepy.”
“Well, of course he’s creepy. He’s undead.”
“Yeah, he’s been certified dead before. Couple of years ago he was out surf fishing and he was struck by this freak bolt of lightning. It just laid him right out dead. Lucky for him there were plenty of people around. Someone dragged him out of the water and called for the paramedics who brought him back to life.”
“They obviously couldn’t save his brain.”
“He is a bit rough, I’ll give you that much. But he is without a doubt the most honest person I have ever met.”
“He’d steal a Social Security check from a ninety year old,” Debbie observed.
“Probably. But, the guy has no filter. It’s impossible for him to be a fake.”
“You mean a fake like Andrew Troy?”
“How about Walter White?”
Jake paused. Debbie rolled over and sat up attentively waiting for his answer.
“Well?” she said after a few moments.
“It’s tough to be critical of someone you’ve been intimate with,” he finally replied.
“Not really. He’s a snake. See?”
“Mr. Earnest. He’s a snake.”
“Because he waited five years to ask you to marry him?”
“No. He would have kept on waiting if he didn’t have an agenda. He asked me because he thought I was a desirable woman, or actually because he thought other men thought I was a desirable woman. It would be good for his image.”
“But, you still dated him for five years?”
“I told you we weren’t exclusive.”
Then he did something that was pretty out of character for him. The succession of women he had been involved with since Shelia had all left him due to his willingness to take personal cheap shots. Like anyone else, he regretted all the flippant hurtful remarks he had made. This time, that regret helped him make the right decision, he didn’t say anything cruel. “That’s true,” was all he said.
“We weren’t exclusive, but I kept dating him. I did it because I was looking for the good in him. I convinced myself there was good in him, just like I convinced myself that all those projects were good for the people I was selling them to. But I’m done with it. I’ll lie to myself no more. These last few days down here, talking and listening, it’s dissolved all I know about the purpose of communication.”
“I don’t get it. The purpose of communication is to communicate.”
“Maybe for you. I mean I’m sure it works for you. You’ve got an angel on your shoulder intent on making life easy for you.”
“Well, it’s not doing a very good job.”
“Sure, you’ve had some bad things happen, but the facts are simple: you were given a life when you moved down here and it has been easy. You were given a business, a free place to live . . . all you have to do is not screw it up too bad. In all fairness, you’ve succeeded in that. You do have a problem stumbling over the past.”
“Okay, how’s this?” he said standing up to make an announcement, “Shelia Brockwell is manipulative. She leads people like they are pets. She is not capable of really honestly loving someone without condition.”
“She’s a bitch,” Hoss said behind him.
Jake spun around with a terrified look on his face.
“I wish you didn’t hear that,” he said.
“I don’t. I’m glad I heard it. Took you long enough to realize it,” Hoss said as he pulled another beer out of the cooler and sat down on top of it.
“Where’d your friends get off to?” Debbie asked.
“Ah, they went flirting with a couple of those dudes that rent beach chairs. Should’ve known I was wasting my time. It’s just so hard to find some quality ladies around here.”
Debbie and Jake looked at each other and both broke out in laughter.
“What?” he asked.
“Nothing. Not a thing. You are right, Hoss. It is difficult to find quality ladies around here.”
The three of them sat watching the Gulf, each wandering around in their own minds. A group of a dozen or so people passed down the beach walking in different size smaller clusters. They would stop, point out a few yards in the surf, then walk a few more feet.
“What’s going on over there?” Debbie asked.
“Probably a shark,” Jake replied.
“Yeah, they run near the shore in the afternoon looking for dinner.”
“Will they close down the beach?”
“For a shark? I doubt it. No one really wants to call attention to them. You start getting beach closings, then the local news picks it up, then the next thing you know one of those babbling heads on a cable news show is talking about how there’s a grave shark threat.”
Like hurricanes, sharks at the beach were a fact of life few people seemed to be able to accept. They can’t be hunted down or boxed out. They roamed freely, as they had done long before people sunk all those fortunes into beach houses. But still people complained about it and like the weather, were helpless to do anything more.
“Sometimes, I wish I were a shark, king of my domain, take what I want.”
“Not me,” Debbie said looking up. “I’d like to be a seagull. Look at them. They don’t fly, they float. You never see them flap their wings more than a couple of times every one hundred yards or so. They live at the beach and they have only the freshest seafood to eat every day.”
Hoss spoke up then, “Me, I wanna be a groupie for the Bangles. I mean back in the Eighties when they were hot. Doin’ free drugs, traveling around the country on tours, and oh yeah, Hoss Man, sex. They could just pass me around. Those two Peterson sisters bouncing around in those short skirts, then that little Susana Hoff with those pouty eyes and succulent lips. Just when they think they’ve worn me out, they throw me to that big Amazon blonde, what’s her name? Um, yeah, Michael Steele, she’d tear me up and I’d love every minute of it.”
“You’re a rare breed, Hoss.”
The sun started to settle down on the horizon calling for all the beachgoers to end their day. The families went first, the children would race through the dunes to the steps that lead back to all the condos and houses on either side of the county road. They were carefree and full of steam despite having spent a long day running and swimming on the shore. They were followed by the parents, a slightly dragging bunch loaded down with blankets, coolers, toys, and other beach themed necessities. Even though their voices were full of sarcasm and irony, it was obvious they would rather be right there and then. After a respectable distance had been set, the teenage children followed. They would have preferred to stay indefinitely but were themselves having too good a time to waste it on confrontation with their parents’ patience resolution. Left behind were only a father and his young son working together on a sand castle. The boy, around seven, filled a bucket with sand and dumped it on his father’s head as Jake watched. The boy jumped up in a sprint trying to escape the impending revenge.
“There’s your fountain of youth,” Jake said to Debbie as the man chased his son right past her.
“Yeah, I guess it is. Well, I’m gonna head back down to Broadwalk,” Debbie said in a tone that contradicted the statement. The sun had had a therapeutic effect on her mind and, as a result, her body, too.
“When?” Jake asked doubtfully.
“Soon,” she replied without moving.
“Yeah, Hoss Man, I better get heading on myself,” Hoss said. “Gotta get ready to check out the new arrivals tonight.”
Remarkably, he had been able to produce ten empty cans in the short time they spent on the beach that afternoon. Regrettably, he had no intention of taking them with him as he got up to leave.
“Hey, Hoss, how about pickin’ up your empties?” Jake asked.
“What for? The Can Man will get them,” he replied indifferently.
“Who is the Can Man?” Debbie asked them both.
“I have no idea,” Jake stated.
“You know, hobos. They collect the cans and take them to get recycled. They get good money, too. Like fifty cents a pound.”
“C’mon, there are no hobos in Seagrove.”
“We’re all hobos in Seagrove Beach,” he said walking away.
Jake threw a muted curse to him and started picking up the cans and throwing them in the top of the cooler. Debbie, like some big cat, slowly got up in a series of stretches.
“Well, it was fun,” she said to him. “Thanks for entertaining me today.”
“You want to grab some dinner before you go back?” he asked.
“No thanks. I think I’m just gonna fix a little dinner back at the apartment.”
“You sure? There’s a good place just around the corner. Walking distance, fresh seafood. Good sauces.”
“I’m sure. If I keep on eating with you, I’ll really gross everyone out in a bathing suit,” she replied covering her stomach with both hands.
“Not possible. But I understand,” he said bending down to pick up the cooler.
“What do you understand?” she asked in a tone that gives the man it’s directed towards the chills. It was a woman’s tone that accuses, ‘There is no way you can answer this without getting in trouble.’
“I understand that . . . you’d rather eat alone tonight?”
“Ok, I’ll see you around, Jake Burns,” she said.
“That sounds like good-bye. You don’t want me to walk back up with you?”
“I’m going to take the beach down.”
“Alright then. So long Debbie Baylor.”
She began strolling down the beach as he walked back towards the dunes. When he reached the steps, he turned to watch her. She walked languidly down the shore towards the sunset, pausing every few yards to look down or out. As the sun hit the horizon almost perfectly between sea and sand, he said to her, “I hope you stay.”
RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS CONTINUE TO CHAPTER 15