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“Mom said this is California,” Lexie says with a broad grin splitting her face. “You know that, Abbi?”
I only nod in response, knowing my true intent will get through to her. I don’t speak often, which makes every word I say worth that much more to my parents. “Hey,” she adds, turning back on me. “Why don’t we see who can pick up the most?” My sister grins so widely, her eyes close. I nod again, more rapidly this time.
She walks over a few feet, down the unexplored part of the beach, and begins to pick up brightly colored seashells. She shovels them into her pink bucket with the effort of digging a hole. I love summer.
I walk across the beach- in the opposite direction- the warm white sand weaving in my toes with every tiny step. The wind blows through my sun-bleached hair with a gentle combing sensation. My own purple bucket weighs my right hand down and sinks me further into the loose sand. The beating waves crash down onto the sand, barely scraping my toes. My features contort as the tang of salt slams into my face. The murky water- just inches from me- churns up the sand and blows over to reveal more colorful and pearlescent seashells, along with a few strands of muddy green seaweed. The newly cycled sand sparkles as the last rays of sun touches them for the first time. It shimmers and dances, glimmering up and down the coppery beach.
The orange sun fights to stay in the sky as colors of pink, purple, red, yellow, and pale blue push it downward to touch the ocean’s surface. The ocean water is a murky teal with golden rays of sunlight dancing atop it. The ocean is overcome with a mysterious calm. With each quiet beating wave crashing and retracting, a new seashell is uncovered from the grainy sands. New sand peeks out at the sun for the last time, next time they turn, they will see the moon’s pale blue light. The stiff wind plays with the ocean, creating sunspot ripples along it’s elegant and dark surface. I stare longingly at the beautiful scenery. The dark crashing waves, the quiet sunbursts of color along the surface, both features beg me to disturb the stillness.
Why is the water so dark and deep and angry looking? I sift through my little purple bucket and pull out one of my rare white shells. I hold it carefully against the silhouette of the water. The shell and the water together look like the moon in the night sky. A large wave rolls toward me and knocks me backward into the sand with surprise. Why is it so mean when it hits the sand? I stand and brush the pellets of sand from my pink sundress and my hair. I take a naked foot from the loose dry sand and dip it into the water experimentally. A shiver bolts through my toe and up my leg like a rocket I have to fight down. It’s so cold and salty, my little two year old brain is in shock at the new phenomenon in front of me. It’s almost like… my tiny brain sputters trying to find something that can even remotely compare to this mass of deep water. Then, in a moment of inspiration, my thoughts click into place and I have it. The ocean is like a popsicle! I nod to myself with assurance at my answer. That’s it! I pick up a pink seashell and place it in my bucket with the utmost care. It’s pretty and cold and good and fun. Then it dawns on me. It’s too icky though. It tastes nothing like a popsicle. I study the shell of the water and the way the orange blooms out into the water. I wish it did.
The warmth of the fading summer sun pulses against my back as I bend over to grab another shell. Lexie trods up to me, upturning mounds of sand in her wake, and places a handful of seashells into her bucket. She wipes her sandy hands off by clapping them together and brushing them past each other. Her sundress is a lemon yellow that clashes neatly with her tanned skin and brown hair. Once she is completely void of sand on her body, she flops down on the beach and shovels the sand around her.
“Mom,” she whines as she churns over shovelfuls of sand onto the serene beach. “Why can’t we go swimming?”
Mom walks over to us. She has on a purple sundress, darker than mine, that compliments the dark hair cascading in waves down her back. She drops two white seashells into Lexie’s tilted and abandoned bucket. I eagerly hold out my own bucket and in turn receive two white seashells, just like Lexie.
“Because it’s getting late.” Mom crouches down and cradles Lexie’s cheeks in her hands. “Plus, you couldn’t go swimming tomorrow, because your swimsuits would be all wet and salty.”
I look out at the water and imaging the playful daytime waves crashing down on me with every step out deeper. A grin splits my face.
“Whatcha thinking about, Abbi?” A smile plays on Mom’s lips as she speaks. She hopes to weasel and answer from my rare voice.
“Playing in the water,” Lexie responds at the speed of sound. Her answer for me, as usual, is not wrong. “Or some food,” she adds promptly. “She could be thinking about that too.” I scowl at her, but don’t correct her. What’s it to me if she misses slightly just once? When she acts as my voice, Lexie’s usually spot on with everything she says on my behalf.
We sit in silence for a few moments, listening to the waves break on the beach next to us. Finally, Mom breaks the silence. “I’ll tell you what,” she says in a higher pitched voice dripping like honey, one that’s reserved for speaking only to little kids. “We’ll do all those fun things tomorrow, first thing in the morning. That way you can enjoy them more when you’re not sleepy.”
Lexie purses her lips in a pout. “But I’m not sleepy!” I just nod and hobble over to my tiny pink flip-flops. I shake off a bit of upturned sand that landed on the soles and slide them on my tiny, sore feet, ignoring the grinding sensation where the strap ties the flip-flop together.
When I get back over to Mom, Lexie hasn’t budged. “Come on,” she urges gently. “Let’s go inside and count our seashells.” Lexie’s face instantly brightens at the prospect. She nods quickly and runs over to her own pink flip-flops.
Mom carries our buckets home. My arms are too tired to carry anything other than my hands. My little legs ache from the effort of each extra step. All too quickly, the terrain under my feet changes from soft sand to brittle grass. Minutes later, I am fighting sleep as Mom leads me inside, seashells in hand and ready for counting. As she leads me inside, I can feel the last soft rays of the Californian summer sun die as it succumbs to the efforts of the sky and sinks beneath the ocean.