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The Strand Bench This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

I unfold the flaps of our Carl's Jr bag and take out two cheeseburgers, two fries, and too many packets of ketchup. My dad looks at the ten, eleven packets in my hands and chuckles while he takes a sip of his diet coke. Evening joggers and dog walkers pass by, probably mocking us for our food and its nutritional value, but we don't mind. It's not as though the fat we eat is riding low on our stomachs. He hands me my Dr. Pepper, and I chug the first fourth of it, the carbonated liquid stinging my mouth.

The sun is on the brink of falling beneath the horizon, an orange glow lighting up the coast. I curiously look at the three story mansion behind us, and see our shadows sitting on the bench on the strand. A group of tourists stop in their tracks and take a picture of themselves in front of the magnificent sight. They're probably the kind of people that take pictures of themselves holding up the Hollywood sign. My dad notices my staring and turns his head to watch.

"Might as well stamp 'tourist' on their forehead," I say and he laughs.

"Not something you see every day," he replies, finding himself drawn to his burger again. The orange glow is beginning to fade away as the sun sinks further and further, until it's only about the size of a muffin top.

"I don't know, if I was a tourist, I'd try my very hardest to be subtle about it," I explain, and he purses his lips tightly.

"Life's too short to care about what everyone else thinks. You might as well not live at all if you live for everyone else," he says. I don't speak for a while after that, just watching the people walk, strut, and jog by. I wonder what kind of people they are, what kind of lives that they lead. A young man walks past, holding a cell phone up to his ear and gripping a dog leash with his other hand. He seems frustrated with the person on the other line, but continues to walk forward.

"Isn't that everyone's problem, though? We're afraid to be alone, so we hide the craziest and realest parts of ourselves," I question. Dad looks at me closely with narrowed eyebrows, deep in thought.

"Is that what you do?" he asks. I sigh.

"And yet I still feel alone most of the time," I reply, before taking another sip of my soda. The melted ice has diluted the carbonated liquid, but I don't mind.

"You don't have to feel alone," he says quietly. The sun has now vanished, to show it's face to another side of the world, the side that has been asleep in their beds and dreading daylight to break through their curtains.

"It's easier to be alone. You aren't judged by who you associate yourself with, and you don't have to remember any birthdays. It's just the times when you watch two best friends drink milkshakes downtown, or an old couple walk their terrier, that's when I don't fancy being alone," I explain. He doesn't seem to know what to say, looking off at a lifeguard closing up the tower for the day and driving off in a beach cruiser. I have a familiar feeling, the kind you get when you say something you've been repressing and it surprises you.

"I was also very independent when I was your age. Loneliness consumed me, because I thought it was what I deserved. But now that I look back, I realize that there were so many opportunities I missed because of it. Maybe you are good at being alone, but can you say that it makes you happy?" he asks. I slowly shake my head, my throat becoming dry as my eyes absorb all the moisture. Dad puts his arm around my shoulder, and I lean into his chest as the breeze dies down and everything is still again. No one walks behind us, and our shadows no longer display themselves on the house behind us. The sky is darker than I remember it only a minute ago, and one cloud drifts to where the sun had been. We sit still as the air, holding each other close in this crazy world.

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