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My Time in the Sun

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I saw this painting, once, of a flock of seagulls. Most of them had ruffled off-white feathers and their heads all scrunched down, looking like your average seagull. There was one outcast, though, in the middle, whose neck stretched near as long as a giraffe’s, with muddy brown feathers to boot. The other seagulls squawked around it like it was some sort of alien, kind of glancing sideways at it with their eyes glaring, if seagull eyes can glare.

I would be that seagull.

Why in the world did Rochelle make me and Priscilla tag along in our bathing suits? I don’t know why we couldn’t put our shirts on, but that’s just one of those harebrained schemes that she has. When she dreams up another crazy idea, there’s not getting it out of her head. And what Rochelle wants, she gets.

I wouldn’t mind coming, not really, except that my blue suit is two summers old and smelling kind of funky, faded with salt. My legs are pale from the skinny thighs all the way down to the bony calves, and my arms stick out at strange angles by my sides. And my hair, all frizzed out from the seawater, has little sand grains clinging to it like fleas.

I’m tall here, too tall. My head feels near about brushing the ceiling, and all the chubby housewives slant their shadowed eyes at me. Even the cashier, pale from too many hours under the fluorescent lights, glances up from his sports magazine.

First his gaze flicks over Priscilla, who is fondling a bag of cookies. Then he glances at me, and I realize that he’s kind of cute. A little on the skinny side, with tangled dishwater hair, but a spattering of freckles and nice hazel eyes to make me smile. Dreamy eyes, those, the kind that always stare off into space, like he’s thinking of sparkling beaches and palm trees drooping in the breeze. Those eyes aren’t daydreaming now, though.

No sooner does he raise an eyebrow at me than Rochelle fills his view. Of course, her all sleek and smooth, those angel-white shoulders and a long, long neck. Pretty Rochelle. I can almost see his jaw drop. His eyes bug out so far I can see them from back in the bread aisle. My smile dies.
Rochelle saunters up to the register with swaying hips, a jar of herring snacks in her hand. Lord Almighty, who would ever want to eat those? They taste like pickles and liver all mixed with ocean brine. Her mother would never eat them, so I think Rochelle just made up the whole trip for a bit of fun. Shop boy tries not to stare, but he’s taking her in like sunshine in summer, and I find myself thinking of ways to make her fall flat on her face. She doesn’t like him, I can tell, not with the prim stiff way she holds her back.

Still, a boy is a boy, so all slinky-like she slips a dollar from the scooping top of her suit and nearly makes the poor guy faint. Je-sus, Rochelle, why’d you have to do that, when anyone could see you’re not interested? He’d be staring at me if you weren’t there.

And someone else is staring too, someone with a back straight like there’s a steel bar right down his spine, and his eyes all pinched together, glowering. At us. He makes the hairs on the back of my neck prick up, his face all gray and dusty just like this store.

“Girls, this isn’t the beach. We want you decent when you come in here.”

I nearly fall in a heap. My cheeks roil red beneath my sunburn. Suddenly I want to cover my bare shoulders and legs, conscious of the glower. Darn it, Rochelle! Now didn’t I tell her we’d get in a heap of trouble? Please, Lord, let her just apologize real nicely like she can, I know she can, and we can get back to sunbathing, flat on the beach where even Rochelle can’t lay her shadow over the sun.

But no, she’s royalty, isn’t she, refined.

“We are decent,” she sulks, and I can all but see her lower lip jutting out in a pout. Sure, she’ll stand up to the old gray ghost, but his eyes are drilling into me something fierce. Wish I weren’t so tall, wish I could shrink and hide behind her goose-pimpled back. C’mon, c’mon, shop boy, ring up the herring snacks already.

He finally does, embarrassed-like with his manager watching him and his eyes flicking now and then to Rochelle. I can feel the gazes of those nice pastel housewives and just out of range their muttering like the buzzing of a bee. They’re gossiping about me, I bet, about what a brazen hussy I am. I’m not, I swear, but their hisses and whispers cut like sea glass on bare feet. This’ll be the last time I walk into a store half-naked, Rochelle, you hear? I don’t care what you say about your mother.

I’m the first to back away now, not so much cowed as exhausted. I can see by the set of Rochelle’s chin that she wants to stay and win her battle, but I’m tired of this dreary store, and more than that, of Rochelle’s ivory neck and the way she smiles that condescending smile up in my face. I turn on my heel, ignoring the dust that has gathered on my toes, and Priscilla wobbles down the aisle behind me. We give Rochelle no choice but to follow.

Despite the manager’s iron stare, I risk one bold glance back at him and the shop boy. Shop boy stands all sassy with his hands on his hips and a big fierce-lion-hearted look all over his face. Right now, even though Rochelle’s nudging me to get moving, my ears stretch to catch those two crazy-a** words.

“I quit.”

If he can quit, I can too. It is my turn in the sun.




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