This story is by Audra Juel and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Scraping up the kickstand of her bike, Samantha eyed the hot pink beach cruiser, an early birthday present when she had invisibly turned fourteen. She had felt invisible when her mom and new step-dad took the sailboat to Key West, but at least she still got postcards. She was invisible when her birthday fell on the day of the math final, and she remained invisible to KP, the cutie working behind the counter of Tasty Tropics, southern Florida’s premiere frozen yogurt stand at Rocky Point Beach. Heading there today, she slid into her flip flops, but on second thought pulled them off and stuffed the pair inside of her rolled up beach towel in the basket of her bike. A dog barked.
“Be quiet, Scruffy,” Her full lips coated with gloss sparkled in the sun. “We’re going, I promise.” She used her pointer finger to quickly wipe her two front teeth in case her lipstick was smeared. At least she would never be invisible to her mangy, four-legged best friend. She held down the front of her short yellow sundress as she lifted herself into position, and onto the white cushion seat. “Ready, Scruffy?” An elderly neighbor walked out to the trash bin next to her and with a smile of recognition waved a hand full of rolled up newspaper in a friendly salute.
She made a U-turn down the alley as the garage door slid shut by remote. The pup trotted along behind her, seeming to smile while his wet pink tongue lolled out of the right side of his mouth. “Feel like Fro-yo, Scruff?!” she yelled into the wind, hoping her dog would hear her. In no hurry she rode slowly through the neighborhood pushing the Ziploc bag of dog treats deeper into the basket, while her thoughts dove deeper as well. She hoped with all her might that the clear-faced high school boy was scheduled to work today. Even if he’s not there, Paige will be in, and she always gives Sam an extra squirt of caramel sauce. Today, she would summon enough courage to talk to him. Her thoughts swirled like the vanilla raspberry self-serve she’d soon indulge in.
KP was not usual high school flavor. He was assertive, and had bright green eyes and an even brighter smile. He always whispered something under his breath as he rang up her payment, like he was memorizing something, or had a song playing in his mind. She liked that about him, and willed her pedals to rotate faster. She knew his shop would be full of bikini clad girls vying for his attention, but she’d change into her swimsuit at the restrooms near the beach, not sure if she was worthy of wearing one.
Sam was pulled back to the present by a yell from a car that sped up quickly next to her, but staying at the same pace as her bike. “Woooohooooo! Yeeeeahhhhhh!” The fraternity-filled VW Bug honked, and then hurriedly sped off toward the ocean, leaving Samantha’s heart speedily thumping, her handlebars swaying. She smiled knowing the feeling. School’s out, nothing’s on the schedule, and she too loved the feeling of wind-in-her-hair and sand between her toes.
Rocky Point wasn’t just a beautiful sunny beach; it was the promise of lazy days and complete irresponsibility. As her shaded eyes searched the blocks of designer homes, the dunes were visible between every block they passed. Samantha loved that the air smelled of coconut oil and that one could lounge near the waves well into the evenings. How she loved to walk up the path where sand littered the cement pathways, and broken shells crunched underfoot. They passed the sold-out summer beach cottages, the big Cape Cod recently purchased by some television celebrity chef, but immediately needed to skid to a stop for a neighborhood tabby cat. Samantha stood breathless with both feet on the ground watching the cat race under a nearby car.
“Ruff!” Scruffy looked over briefly, panting, as his short legs struggled to keep up with the bicycle. Sam turned. “Scruff, you tired? Come here.” She unfolded the faded beach towel and tied it around her waist; something Mom had brought back mistakenly from one of her trips, and tucked in a corner, creating a make-shift skirt.
When Sam had made room in the basket, she bent down and while lifting Scruffy up he lunged for her face, and licked a hot trail onto her cheek. “I love you too, you little Dog Hog.” Smiling, she put his panting body into the white wicker basket on the front of her ride, grabbing the Ziplock of treats so he wouldn’t decide to eat his lunch early. Placing a corner of the baggy between her lips, and tucking in the corner of her towel more securely, she settled her terrycloth toweled rear back on her seat. It was then that she realized it was inevitable: someone was heading straight into her.
She saw someone looking down at a phone but did not have enough time to warn him. Not a second later, and out of lower peripheral vision she saw a large black tire underneath, and between the legs of a perfect stranger. She looked up just in time to see her small beige mutt lick the stranger’s hand and bark. She was inches from the face of a green-eyed boy. Surprised, his IPhone dropped with a thud, and he swore, “Oh my God!”
“Ohhmmm, ummm so sowwy!” Samantha felt her face grow warm even through the sunshine relentlessly baking her skin. She quickly corrected the swaying bicycle so her dog wouldn’t fall out, and grabbed the bag of Woofies Salmon Treats pursed from in between her lips so she could speak. Eyes wide, she couldn’t believe she was face-to-face with him! Really? The first time we meet, and I have bacon strips hanging out of my mouth, she blushed. Why was life never normal for me?
“Seriously?” KP was angry. “You stop your bike in the middle of the pedestrian sidewalk?!” He was leaning down to the ground face-first, and inspecting the multilayered mosaic of a crack that was once his screen. “Do you even know how much this will cost me?!”
Sam slowly pulled her white heart shaped sunglasses off her face. “Are you kidding with me?” she said, her anger introducing itself. “I was at a stand-still,” she quickly glanced at his phone. “And I was not going to run over a cat!” she defended herself. “You were the one not at all watching where you were going.” She immediately lost her appetite for frozen yogurt, and was deciding whether she would ever enjoy it again.
“Ruff!” Scruffy added, wiggling as he tried to lick KP’s face or hair; really anyplace that could be reached. She bent slightly and slid her hand over her dog’s mouth, silently hinting that this boy did not deserve his affection.
KP stood up and took a deep breath. “It’s true.” He leveled his gaze at her and as he silently slipped his phone into his pocket, he took a step back, and crossed his arms, fully assessing her. “I should have noticed you.” She then watched his eyes take in every inch of her, from her long legs to her beach blonde hair.
“So, Marriott, you like to steal hotel towels?” His eyes teased and she faltered. Sam realized the need to invest in a backpack, so she wouldn’t have an obviously stolen pool towel around her waist like a skirt.
She felt a mess, and wondered why life had to be so unfair. Mom should have been here to teach her how these things went with boys. Her cheeks flushed pink, yet her pretty blue eyes that hinted at irritation toward him had softened. She noticed his split-second glance at her lips.
If only Mom was here she’d know what I should say, Sam thought to herself. She glanced down at her ensemble and answered lamely, “I’m just headed to the beach.” In shyness she focused her attention temporarily at the picket fence nearby.
“Listen, Marriott,” he nodded as his eyes dropped to her unusual ensemble, “Come by the shop sometime.” He grinned again, glancing down at her dog squished between the lunch bag and the brightest flip flops he’d ever seen. “Then after my shift, we can maybe hit up the Hilton down the road.” He smiled at her again, and she returned it with a tentative one of her own. “Raspberry vanilla, right?” His eyes briefly met hers. He slowly walked around her.
She watched him take a few steps away and then turn and walk backwards for a moment while he grinned at her. For the first time in as far as she could remember, Sam felt seen. Maybe frozen yogurt was worth getting next week after all.
She didn’t want this moment to end, and giggled, “Hey Hilton, you might want to watch where you’re going.”