Your name is Alex Andrews and you are currently having the greatest day of your life! Mom and Dad - who are the best ever! – have taken you to New River Beach for your 10th birthday. You are in your favourite bright red t-shirt and black shorts, splashing around the shore as you run with your friends across the beige sand. A couple of your friends’ parents are chasing you all, every pitch of laughter echoing over the sunny bay.
“Hey!” Mom yells from the picnic table.
“The burgers and kebabs are ready!” Ciera’s tall dad calls out from the grill.
“YEAH!” You race ahead of the group in a stampede across the beach, each of you shouting with glee for food, neither the wet clothes nor the heat’s sweat could slow any of you down!
Suddenly a large, black dog runs right in front of you, causing you to jump back in surprise. The dog, with a disk in her mouth, dashes to her owner by the tide, a woman with a brown ponytail who squats down to take it from her and coos.
“Sorry!” she yells back to you with a honeyed voice.
“Alex!” stunned, you stare at them before your ears pick up the sound of everyone laughing at the tables and Dad calling you over.
“You alright, Alex?” he asks when you approach him, concern in his hazel eyes. The breeze rustles his short, black hair and white plaid shirt.
“Yeah.” you say, smiling up at him as the shock of the black dog is replaced by the smell of barbecued meat. You take the plate of kebabs and a burger from his large, tanned hands. You don’t bother to wash your hands. They are just wet, not sandy.
“That looks like a Purebred Border Collie.” Mom says from beside him, holding out a plastic plate with an empty bun and looking at the dog trotting along the sands.
“The woman must be a rich from-awayer to afford one of those.” Dad mumbles, placing a sizzling burger on her plate.
“Look at the way its walking. That looks like hip displasia...”
You sneak an extra kebab while Dad isn’t paying attention and go see your friends.
At the table, Lainey and Kira are showing everyone the sand dollars they found earlier and how they could make them into crafts. Samuel and Ciera play rock-paper-scissors at the end of the table while Paddy plays with his earplugs. Joel watches them all beside you, quietly eating his barbecue sauce-drowned burger.
“Are you okay?” he asks, licking some barbecue sauce from his big lips and shifting his curls with his other hand.
“Yeah.” you nod. The both of you look back to the beach, where the black dog jumps up and catches the disk.
“My bro Obadiah knows a lot of foko- folklore. He says that black animals like wa- ravens and cats and dogs are important.”
“Uh… I think he said that they’re mo- omens.” he says after thinking for a second.
“They mean somethings gonna happen.”
You both continue to stare at the dog for a little longer as you eat. Soon after you join in playing rock-paper-scissors until the grown-ups start singing Happy Birthday, Mom and Dad taking out the camera and a chocolate birthday cake.
“Bye, Alex!” Ciera calls out, waving to you with her smaller hand as she leaves with her two fathers and her sister, Bonnie.
“Bye, Ciera!” you wave back, beads of cold sea water running down your arm, reflecting the yellows of the sunset behind you. You watch them enter their amber truck and drive out of the parking lot. Paddy waves from beside you, also soaking wet. He is the only one of your friends still with you by now. Your parents are packing everything up in their cars. Paddy continues to wipe his freckled, sand-covered legs and amber swimming trunks using his big yellow towel. You scrunch up the hems of your shorts and twist water from them before bunching up most of your shirt, exposing your tummy.
Paddy suddenly pokes you, causing you to jump back a second time today.
“Ah! Hey!” you glare at the hair over his eyes.
“What’s that?” Paddy asks, pointing to your left side. You look down to see a small cluster of wrinkles and dimples on your cinnamon-coloured skin. Woah! When…?
“I… I don’t know.” both of you stare at the strange sight in wonder for a few seconds before your hand pokes at it, Paddy following your example. Was that there this morning? You couldn’t recall, what with it being your birthday today. The house was a whirlwind of planning, packing, and breakfast.
“Hey.” Paddy’s mom walks up to both of you, her light blue sun dress flowing. You put your shirt down before she sees anything. Paddy says she hates weird stuff. His mom squats down to Paddy’s eye level, moving a bit of her own long blond hair around her shoulder. It lets you catch a glimpse of a faint scar close to her freckled neck. “We’re done packing now, Paddy. Say goodbye to Alex.” She stands up and steps back.
“Bye, Alex. Happy Birthday.” he says flatly, waving to you with the towel and walking away with his Mom. She smiles and waves back to you as well.
“Bye, Paddy! Thanks for coming!” The two get into their car and you lift up your shirt to inspect your side again.