The gentle summer breeze had gained strength higher in the sky and blown away the clouds that had darkened the night earlier. Ella and Del returned to the shoreline and sat back down on the beach looking out at the ocean. A bright moon hung low in the now starry sky, just above the horizon and Ella watched intently as a thousand shattered reflections danced on the ocean.
“So, what about you?” Ella asked eventually. “What’s your story? How’d you end up here, with this crew?”
“My Dad was friends with the Boss.” said Del, keeping his face toward the ocean and searching the stars with his eyes, as if he was looking for one in particular.
“I don’t think he was part of the crew, but he must have done something for them, as they all seem to know him and have a lot of respect for him.”
There was a slight hesitation before he continued. “After he died it was just Mom and me and since she can’t work, I had to do something to survive; to get food on the table and pay the bills, you know.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry.” said Ella
“I got into a little trouble one night and the Boss ended up helping me out. I don’t know if it was coincidence or whether my Mom somehow got him involved, but there he was and I was very grateful. I tried not to get involved; with the Boss, with all of this, but you know.” And he turned and looked at Ella, “You gotta do what you gotta do. Morals are a privilege the hungry don’t have, right?”
“How did your father die?” asked Ella. She wasn’t entirely sure she wanted to know, but she somehow felt there was more to that part of the story.
“He was killed in a traffic accident. Some idiot in a Porsche talking on his phone, drifted into my Dad’s lane, hit him and caused him to smash into a truck. He was killed instantly. The guy ended up going to jail for five years or something like that.”
“Oh. That sucks. I’m sorry.” said Ella, unable to think of anything more appropriate. Death was something she had not had to deal with so far in her youthful existence. She paused a moment and then said, “I really thought you were going to say he was murdered in a drive-by shooting or something!”
And she smiled a big grin and looked up into Del’s eyes.
Del smiled back. “Ha! No, sorry to disappoint, just a sad tragic accident I’m afraid.”
“They may be fucking annoying most of the time, but I can’t imagine losing one of my parents. That must be so hard.”
“Yeah. It was. I was very angry for a long time. I’d get into fights all the time; with my Mom, my teachers, kids at school, the police. I was in a pretty bad place, but then after the Boss helped me out that night I started to get a handle on it. I hadn’t talked to anyone about what had happened, about my father. At school they’d sent me to see someone a few times, usually after the fights! A psychiatrist or psychologist or some other ‘ist’. But I would just sit there in silence. Eventually they gave up sending me. Gave up on me.”
“I’ve been to see some ‘ists’ too.” said Ella. Del noted the look of contempt flash across her face as she said it, although the feeling didn’t register with Ella.
“As I got to know the Boss a little we started to talk about my Dad and that helped a lot. Gave me comfort to know that some other people missed him too and that I could, in some small way, feel like he was still looking after me, through the memories and stories his friends would tell.” Again Del paused and looked out at the stars. Ella turned and looked up at the sky over the ocean too.
Must be like relying on the twinkle of the stars to remember the moon, she thought. And she imagined a sky, almost barren of stars as she thought about her own parents; suddenly conscious of how little she actually knew them, but yet grasping a full appreciation of that realisation.
“And then as Mom’s sickness got worse she couldn’t work and I spent more and more time hanging out with this crowd, which became a mostly permanent thing after school finished.”
Del took a big swig of beer. Ella was still lost in thought re her own parents. Eventually she said “What was he like, your Dad?”
“He was awesome. A great Dad. I wish I had appreciated that back then. He was the BBQ king type. Football on Sundays was sacred, as important as church, if not more. And in the evenings he preferred to sit and listen to Jazz and drink rum. He couldn’t stand the tv, thought it was full of shit; ‘you’re wasting your brain watching that garbage!’ he used to yell at my Mom, only half joking.”
“My Dad would certainly agree with him about football on Sundays.” said Ella. “Although his taste in music is terrible. I’ve not heard any real jazz, but I’m sure it’s better than the Country music my Dad likes.”
“Yeah, I tried to get into the Jazz thing after my Dad died. Out of respect kind of, you know. Thought it might make me feel a little closer to him.”
“Did it? Did you like it?”
“No! It’s terrible!” laughed Del. “I wanted to like it. I wanted so much, but no. I just couldn’t get into it. I like my ‘gangsta’ too much.”
“Aaah.” Ella drew out the word in her best fake Einstein thinking parody. “I see.”
“What? Too predictable for you is it? Sorry to disappoint, Snow White.” Del said labouring Ella’s new nickname.
“Ha! Ha!’ laughed Ella. “I’m in no position to criticise.” she said. “My top playlist is all Iron Maiden, Guns ’n Roses and dodgy British bands you’ve never heard of… You’d be amazed what you can find on Spotify and You Tube!”
“Cool. That’s a pretty well-developed taste for a young lady.”
“Yeah, I like music. I listen to it a lot. My Mom and Dad are always telling me to take my earphones out. But it helps me get away, like. Means I don’t have to listen to them all talking about football, or Tae Kwon Do or Mom’s work or whatever. They’re generally not talking about me, or if they are it’s something I don’t want to hear, so the music helps.”
“Yeah, I get that.” said Del.
A song popped into Ella’s head; one of her favourites, but one of the slower, more subdued songs. She mulled over the words as she went through them in her head.
’…If I smile and don’t believe,
Soon I know, I’ll wake from this dream’
They seemed to have an extra resonance tonight. She looked out over the ocean. She peered at the horizon; how great it would be to be there, and not here. She thought about how she longed to get away from here, from this place, from her family and her so-called friends. She thought back to the earlier part of the evening and the betrayal she felt. She thought about her parents, teachers and other adults she had experienced.
’…Don’t try to fix me, I’m not broken’
And she thought about how lonely she was.
Del put his arm around Ella’s shoulder and brought his hand up to her cheek. His eyes looked deep into Ella’s and snapped her out of her momentary self-indulgence. She realised that she was crying as Del softly wiped the tears from her face. He smiled a tender smile. Ella shivered. She was suddenly nervous and uncomfortable. She was in uncharted territory for her.
“It’s ok.” said Del softly. “I feel you.” And he pulled her in tight, in a full embrace, her head leaning over his shoulder. Her arms involuntarily hugged Del in a tight squeeze and she felt her eyes fill up and pour more tears down her cheeks.
“I feel you.” Del repeated. And he too felt a surge of emotion rise to the surface and start to pool in his eyes.
But Ella could not suppress her emotional avoidance tendencies for long and she suddenly left the embrace and pushed herself away from Del, turning her head to the ocean as she wiped her face.
“So, I should really probably be getting home now.” she blurted. “My parents are probably losing their shit worried about me…”. Still wiping the tears from her eyes and trying to smile and pretend that she was in control of the situation.
Del too felt suddenly slightly awkward. A strange moment to have had with a girl he just met; a young girl, a girl very different from himself and yet somehow very similar it seemed. He got to his feet and offered out a hand. Ella took the hand and they walked back toward the fire and the rest of the gang. Neither said anything as they walked.
“Snow White, Snow White” a few of the group chanted as they approached. “What were you two doing down there in the surf?” yelled one of the gang.
“Yeah,” said another, “were you guys making loooovvvveee?”
“Shut the fuck up, Gooner, you dick!!!” retorted Del. “Show some respect, you ass, she’s a fucking kid!”
He regretted saying it as soon as he heard the words coming out of his mouth. Sure enough, he felt a heavy blow to his chin as Ella swung round furiously.
“I’m not a fucking kid!!!” she spat angrily. And she swung a few more punches Del’s way.
“Sorry, sorry!” said Del as he tried to block and grab Ella’s flying fists. “I didn’t mean it like that. I was just… he was being a… I mean…”
Del managed to get control of Ellas flailing arms and the flash of anger in her subsided. They held steady for a moment and then Del let go of her.
“Am I safe?” he half-joked.
“Yes, sorry.” Ella responded “Sorry, I shouldn’t have… I shouldn’t have gone off like that. You’re right, he was being a jerk.”
Most of the crowd were watching, chuckling quietly now and very curious to see Del’s next move. But the Boss jumped in and moved the agenda along.
“Round up everyone!!!” he yelled. “Time to move on!”
He turned to Del and Ella. A momentary pause was filled with a grin, morphing into a smile as he looked at Del and then at Ella, and then back again at Del.
“Get this Princess back home Del. I think she’s seen enough adventure for one night.”
Ella grated at the word Princess, but not as much as usual. There was something less painful about the way the Boss said it. He turned to Ella.
“Well my dear, I have to say, you were a total surprise this evening, but you really made my night. You’ve got some great fight in you girl. Both literally and spiritually. I meant what I said earlier now Snow - don’t be a stranger, you’re family to us now.”
Ella wanted to say something cool, something befitting the situation, but all she could muster was “Cool. Thanks.”
The Boss turned back to Del.
“Get her out of here and take the trash with you.” he said nodding his head in the direction of the parking lot. “See you at the den tomorrow.”
And with that he turned and rejoined the crowd.
Del put his arm around Ella’s shoulder and together they walked back past the embers of the dying fire and toward the parking lot.