The Storm Spirits

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Chapter Five

That night, as I lay in bed and listened to the sound of the ocean, I couldn’t keep my mind off of Zack. The look on his face whenever I said his name kept coming into my mind’s eye, how happy it seemed to make him. As creepy as it kind of was, something in me like it.

The next morning, Nana made blueberry pancakes. I loaded mine up with butter and syrup and consumed them like they were going to grow legs and run off my plate. After that, she and I took our books out to the porch and read until lunchtime, with breaks to get new books and drinks. I didn’t even bother to change out of my pajamas, so I sat on the porch in my striped pajama shorts and an old T-shirt.

Around noon, we made sandwiches and a fruit salad. As soon as we were done eating, we changed into our bathing suits and packed the bag for the beach. I threw in some Gatorade for myself, iced tea for Nana, chips and peanuts, my book, Nana’s book, our hats (baseball cap for me), and two towels. We went outside when we were ready and put our sunscreen on on the porch while we waited for Zack.

He was punctual, maybe even a minute early. Just as I was putting the last of the sunscreen I needed on my face, he came up the stairs, carrying a small backpack, wearing black swim trunks and a fitted, white T-shirt. He smiled at me. “How’re you today?”

“Pretty good. You?”

“I’m fine.” He looked down at the chairs that were leaning up against the side of the apartment. “Do these go down with us?”

I nodded. “Sure do.”

Nana came back out of the apartment. She’d run in because she’d needed to use the bathroom. “All right. Are we ready?” She smiled at Zack. “Hello, Zack. How’re you today, dear?”

“Just fine, Ms. Cleo, thank you,” he responded, and again I was struck with how smooth his voice was.

“I told you last night, it’s just Cleo.” She kept smiling anyway, clearly flattered that he insisted on giving her a title.

Zack picked up the chairs. “Let’s go.”

I walked beside him as we walked across the boards and down onto the sand. “How was your night last night?”

“Fine, thanks.” The beach was crowded as we cleared the dunes. “Where do we want to sit?”

I pointed to a spot sort of far back from the water. “There.” He nodded and we hiked over, Nana on our heels.

We set up the chairs, and Zack spread his towel down beside my chair. “What do you want to do first?”

I turned to respond to him and found him shirtless. My eyes widened, and I felt a little embarrassed. “Um …”

His brow furrowed as he looked at me questioningly. “Is everything OK?”

“Oh, yeah, of course it is,” I managed to get out. I blinked and shook my head. “Sorry. Every time I see a guy shirtless it kind of catches me off guard.”

“I can put my shirt back on.” He leaned down to pick it up.

“No, it’s fine, really,” I said. “Really.” I cleared my throat. “A walk would be cool, I guess. Is that OK?”

“Sounds fine to me.”

I turned to Nana, who had sat down and gotten out her book already. “We’re going for a walk along the beach, OK?”

She nodded. “All right, dear. I’ll be here or down putting my feet in the water.”

“OK.” Zack and I made our way through the forest of umbrellas, chairs, toys, and holes kids were digging. We finally made it to the surf. “Is this a date?”

“Do you want it to be?”

I looked up at him, not needing to shield my eyes because it was cloudy still. “I don’t know … I guess.” My cheeks reddened a little bit.

He chuckled. “OK, then it is.”

“It’s a little bit fast to have a date after only meeting you yesterday,” I said, walking so that when the waves came up, they lapped at my feet. Sand stuck to my wet feet, only to be washed away when the next wave came through.

“I noticed something,” Zack said, breaking silence that I didn’t realize had set in, because I was enjoying all the sounds and feels of the beach. I looked up at him curiously. “You are … rather … dressed … compared to others here.” He seemed a little embarrassed.

A smile stretched across my face. “Yeah. I guess I am.”

“May I ask why?”

“Of course, but you have to indulge me, because I have a spiel.”

“Knock yourself out, Char.”

“So, I’m a firm believer in the fact that how you dress sends a message to others. I’ll use girls as an example. Say a girl says that she hates all these creeps hitting on her, but she wears a bikini while swimming and the rest of the time she wears really revealing clothes, catching the attention of the creeps. The messages contradict each other, and it’s said that actions speak louder than words, so which message are you going to believe? I would believe what she’s saying with her clothing. Now take me: I’ve got board shorts on, as well as a surf shirt. My clothing statement matches what I say: I don’t want the creeps hitting on me, and I don’t want anyone seeing what only my future husband should see. It has nothing to do with negative or positive body image, either! I gave my best friend this speech, and she accused me of not promoting positive body image. All I’m saying is that you can look and feel beautiful without showing it all off, you know?” I paused. “I’m also not saying anyone should go full-out and become Muslim and cover every inch of their bodies except their eyes. It’s just a good idea to cover up what should be covered.”

Zack nodded, clearly processing my words. “Very interesting. You’ve clearly thought about this a lot.”

“Yeah. I’m just tired of seeing people contradicting themselves.” I shrugged. “Plus Nana raised me well that way.”

“She raised you?”

“It’s … a really long story.” I looked down at the sand.

“Do you think what guys wear says a lot about them?”

I nodded. “Absolutely! Take guys who wear their pants super low, like below their butts? That says something about the kinds of girls they want to attract. Guys who cover themselves say something else entirely about the kinds of girls they want.”

“So, guys who keep their shirts on while swimming? Is that better?”

I shrugged. “It’s a social norm, and, really, I think it’s fine. They’re not showing off anything they’d want to save for their future wife.” I smiled. “If you were asking what kind of statement I thought you were making by not wearing a shirt, the statement you seem to be making is a modest one. And your trunks are pulled up far enough, so you’re good there.”

Zack smiled back. “Good to know, thank you. I’m glad you approve.” He pointed just ahead of us; a few feet away were the dark rocks of the jetty. “We made it today.”

I laughed and took off running to reach the rocks first. Zack caught on after a split second, and, with his long legs, he beat me to it. “You’re fast,” I remarked, breathing heavily when I reached him. I bent over and put my hands on my knees to catch my breath.

He laughed, and it was such a merry sound that it made me look up and smile at him. Above his head, the sky flashed once, twice, three times. I blinked, shook it off. “I am taller than you are.”

“Hey, I was on the track and field team from second grade until I graduated from high school! We won a lot of championships because of me!” I nudged him in the ribs with my elbow and was surprised I didn’t get shocked doing it. “Don’t knock me until you know me!”

His laughter didn’t fade. “I won’t, I promise.”

I sat down on a rock. “Do you like the beach?”

Zack nodded. “I do. Despite the other people here, it’s peaceful.” His eyes glittered, like thousands of sparks were going off inside of them. “I love the ocean. It’s a source of tranquility, yet it has a force and a will of its own. It’s like …”

“Like a storm,” I finished for him, gazing out at the water. The more I thought about it, the more I realized it was true. Yes, the water was tranquil and beautiful, but it was a wild animal, thrashing about, taking wherever it could and giving up very little. “Like a perfect storm.”

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