Fifty Days of Smiles
AnnieI swatted at the swarm of nats that had been pestering me for the past ten days. Ten days that I had been out of school patiently working through summer. My long blond hair with the brown streaks laid flat on my back. And it was so long the dead edges touched the porch step I was half sitting half laying on that day. I sipped the cool lemonade my Aunt Marie had just made from fresh lemons. I faintly heard her calling me, but I didn’t have the energy to respond, neither did I care.
That day in July was never a good day for me. Two years to the date, I became a whole different person, inside and out.
My brother Mike, my parents, and I were driving to the beach for the summer to visit my Aunt Marie. My Aunt Marie lived at Landon Beach in South Carolina. We had been driving for four hours at that point only six more to go. Mike and I were fighting over…well…I don’t really know. But we were arguing. And my Dad who was driving was getting irritated because he couldn’t see out of the back of the car, between us moving around and all the bags. My Mom was yelling at us to stop when I felt a sharp swerve from the car, my dad yelled at my mom something I didn’t understand, and my mom screamed on the top of her lungs. I remember turning upside down, but feeling no impact.
But her scream was cut short when the car hit the ground. I remember feeling a lot of glass in my hair and face. I remember Mike screaming at me, “Annie! Annie, wake up!” He shook me a little before lifting my head on his lap and dragging his finger lightly down my forehead and nose. I opened my eyes lightly and I could see that the car was upside down. Mike had a few scratches and a lot of glass in his hair. I closed them again and Mike carefully put me down. He beat the car door open and stumbled out.
His leg was stained with blood and visibly hurt. He worked to get my parents doors open to help them. But there was no sound. I rolled over slightly and saw my dad with his head on the steering wheel and I couldn’t see my mom. I tried to scream but something in my throat told me not to, so I just closed my eyes. I felt tears slowly protrude from them and touch my cheek. I heard Mike running around and shrieking but I just couldn’t open my eyes to look. Soon enough I heard sirens from ambulances, and a whole lot of other stuff. I just closed my eyes and hoped that I would wake up from this nightmare.
And I did. Just not in the way I wanted to. I remembered waking up and feeling very stiff. My eyes felt like they hadn’t been opened in years. And when I looked to my left and saw Mike’s face my heart instantly throbbed. “Oh no…oh no! They’re gone! Mike get me out of here, please!” I sobbed and screamed and kicked. He held me down as much as he could. “No, no, Annie please, don’t do this…please, please!” he cried with me. I finally let my body limp and I cried over his shoulder. I don’t know for how long, I just cried. “Mike,” I ask after a while. He sits back into his chair. “Yeah?” he asked groggily. “They’re gone aren’t they? Mom and Dad. They aren’t…they’re dead.” My voice was rickety on the last word and even though I made no sounds tears trickled down my cheeks. He covered his face with his hand.
“Yeah.” He nodded gruffly. “Where are we going to go, Mike?” he shook his head and broke down. He put his head in between his legs. I wanted to do something, but I couldn’t physically move. “I don’t know.” He sobbed. “I…called Aunt Marie. I had no one else to call, I swear if I did,” but he couldn’t finish. And I couldn’t tell him that he shouldn’t cry and that everything was going to be okay. Because to me it wasn’t. I had broken my leg very badly and scared my face. Aunt Marie picked us up at the hospital two days later. She had visited numerous times and offered to take Mike home several times. But he wouldn’t.
Finally when it came time to go home, I threw up my hands in surrender. I couldn’t fight anything anymore. So I was there. And I had nowhere to go. I stood and stretched, placing my lemonade on the porch before walking off to the shore. I took off my flip-flops and walked over to the water. The wind breezed ever so slightly and my hair moved back and forth a little.
I threw my flip flops into the sand and at the water’s edge I stopped and let it come up to my toes. The cold prickled and it was sort of a comforting feeling, but I realized I was alone. And that hurt. So I sat down and laid back. I closed my eyes because of the sun and placed my hands on my stomach. You probably think I was some loser loner. But I wasn’t. I had friends, but summer always just seemed different. And that feeling never really went away. I didn’t have the urge to stand, a total lack of will-power, so I just laid there for a while.
I don’t know exactly how long, but that was the total beauty of summer. You never had a lack of time, because in an essence, there was always tomorrow. And you didn’t have to worry about tomorrow because you could always pick up right where you left off. But you never truly had to stop. Sleeping was inevitable because it seemed like two seconds and your whole body was rejuvenated. And another thing I had complete affection for summer for was that there was no inside. It even came to the point where you could sleep on the screened-in porch. Because there was no inside. And so you could be alone and think.
And that was the best because the temperature was always matching your feeling. Being calm, you never seemed to truly feel hot, but when you were angry, your face always got sticky, and red, and irritated. But just lying there, thinking, was my favorite part of summer. But not that day. Never that day. I was never the same. Every summer I had ever experienced was spent at Landon Beach. So I never grew tired of the seagulls and the sand and the sticky, salty, ocean water. But living there year round, something had grown inside of me, a little something called a lack of appreciation.
And I hated that, I even felt bad sometimes, but I would always shrug it off. Because, I guess, that’s how everyone felt. I never asked, just a crazy assumption living inside my head, slowly growing, rising, like yeast in bread, and then baking and drying into a hard rock of disappointment. Because even though the seasons always changed like clockwork, the ocean always stayed the same. Always. But maybe that was a good thing.
One thing in my life that had always stayed the same. My parents had left me. And in a sense, my brother had left me. We had grown extremely distant these past two years. We should have grown stronger. I had lost just about everything I had with my Aunt Marie.
Moving to Landon was like eating your favorite piece of chocolate then realizing there was nothing really that amazing about it. It wasn’t your favorite anymore.
I stood, finally, and dusted the sand off my light blue cut offs and the back of my white ‘Landon Beach’ t-shirt. I took the hair band I had off my wrist and bent over, my hair hung upside down. I pulled it up into a pony tail and grabbed my shoes. I walked back to the house and opened the screen door, a loud slam behind me. The music that was coming from the kitchen made me think of my mother. I tried hard to fight back tears, but one slipped away. I wiped it quickly before I walked in.
My aunt Marie was swaying slightly back and forth as she made something that smelled a lot like coconuts. She had always been very independent in a way that, she had never been married, never had a truly steady boyfriend, and never brought a man home. A slight inching remorse crept through my soul when I saw her smile and I heard her soft voice, and I admired her. Her long blond hair was already starting to bleach and the bandana tied around her head and her loose braid hanging over her back.
“Hey, sweetie.” She turned down the music. “Listen, tomorrow night, I have a lady and her son coming over for business.”
Aunt Marie trained horses for a living. She trained me to ride when I was really little and bought me my first pony, then horse. I still had both of them. And she even had me training some of her horses to now that her business was expanding. And I was paid well, so I didn’t mind. Horses were always a thing for me.
She frowned at my enthusiasm, or lack thereof, and rubbed my shoulders.
“He’s your age.” She tried. But I couldn’t find myself to jump up and down with joy. “Hopefully he’s cute. But she might just give us four horses to train. Two each. So were going to demonstrate our skills for them. Then clean up, get pretty and have a nice dinner. I want you to be nice to him, Annie. I don’t care if he’s a jerk, as long as we get these horses.” She kissed my forehead. “We need the business. So,” she handed me her wallet. “Were going to buy new dresses. Find your brother because he needs something to.” She took off her hand-made apron and placed it on the counter.
“Give me two seconds.” I ran up the stairs and opened Mike’s door. On top of my brother was a girl I didn’t even recognize. “Mike, get the alien attacking you to get out of the house and get ready to go out.” I left the door open and walked into my room. I took off my shirt and put on a tank top and my flip-flops.
“Let’s go, Mike!” I yelled. He stormed into my room. “What’s wrong with you?” he hissed. Mike used to never really yell at me. It had been all the time then. “We have to leave. We have clients tomorrow so we need to get new stuff.” He glared then walked away. I ran down the stairs and met my Aunt outside. She gave me the keys to the truck and I got into the front seat. I had been practicing a lot since I had gotten my permit. I honked the horn at Mike as he came outside, but again he just glared.
Where was my amazing little brother who actually loved me?
I started the engine and pulled out of the long driveway. I put on my sunglasses and forgot life for a little bit. She turned up the radio on the oldies station. I didn’t mind though. It had sort of been a comfort to me ever since my parents died. We both sang softly, a little louder at the chorus.
“Hey can you guys turn it down?” Mike snapped. “Oh, please, Mike just because,” “I said to turn it down.” He growled. “Michael. Enough.” She used a cold voice that Mike knew was completely authoritative. Going into town was always fun. It was small and quaint, but it was so nice. I pulled into the parking lot for the shopping center and backed the truck into the spot.
I shut the door behind me and wiped my forehead. It was getting hot. “Annie!” I heard someone call my name. I saw Lex run up to me and embraced me in a quick hug. “I miss you.” he laughed. “Have you talked to Mara lately? I tried to call her.” I shook my head. “No. But maybe she’s in Canada.” I suggested as we walked up to the emporium. “Oh, yeah, I forgot all her cousins live there. So, ugh, what are you guys doing today? Just shopping?” he asked me. His dark sunglasses looked different but natural on him.
“Yeah, Marie and I have new clients, and they’re supposed to give us like four horses. So we need something nice to wear.” Lex’s family had always given us horses to train. Ever since his sister broke her back in a bad fall she couldn’t train so we always did it for him and his family. “Oh, cool. Do I know them?” he asked Marie as he opened the door for us to walk in.
“Maybe. They live near you guys. Does the last name Cooper ring a bell?” I watched as his face fell. “Oh yeah. Just warning you, they’re kind of jerks. Well at least the mom is.” Aunt Marie rubbed her forehead. “Great.” He laughed and touched her arm. “I’m sure you’ll make a good impression Marie, you always do. And Annie, try not to scare them.” I glared hard then nudged him in the ribs. “I’m not scary.” I muttered quietly looking at a few of the racks, finding nothing in particular.
“No of course not. Just…people just have to get to know you first. How do I put this gently? You’re an, an acquired taste. That’s all.” I laughed at his choice of words. He laughed too and I leaned up against him. “Help me.” I sung pulling out two dresses from the rack and displaying them. “Hmmm.” I knew that Lex absolutely despised giving his opinion to girls, but he was always willingly honest with Mara and I. He bit his lip before answering.
“Umm, I like the white one but I don’t think it would look good on you because you’re short and it’s really long. Put the other one back.” I shrugged a little and put them both back. “How about this one?” I pulled out a light blue one that was short and very plain, just an empire waist with beads and it was strapless. “Pretty. Try it on.” He pointed to the dressing room.
I walked in and the door made a soft click behind me. I pulled on the dress and look at myself in the mirror. I hadn’t felt pretty in forever. But it slowly crept into my heart. I was pretty. My blond hair was getting really long and full of body and waves, and it was thick. But it had always been long. I had never cut it short. I had bluish eyes with a bit of a violet tint it seemed, and to be perfectly honest, I liked the way I looked. For the first time in forever.
“Okay, you need to help me zip it.” He opened the door and took the back of the dress and zipped it. “Hey, Aunt Marie did you find anything?” I yelled. “No!” she muttered back. “What do you think?” I asked him sort of swaying my hips back and forth trying it out. He leaned over and looked at the two of us in the mirror. “I think you’ve found your dress.” He smiled.
He walked out and I put my clothes back on. I handed him the dress and shoved my purse over my shoulder. “Ooh! Marie, that’s a really, really pretty,” she shoved him in the chest and glared. “Boy, you need to remember that I changed your diapers, so no flirting.” She warned with a finger pressed into his chest.
Lex’s parents were long time friends and clients of Marie’s. They bought and sold horses from the track and turned them into Eventing prospects. That’s where Marie and I come in.
Eventing is a horse sport where there are various events you have to compete in, and in, the professional division, it takes a course of three days. The three events are cross country, show jumping, and dressage.
Cross country is jumping over jumps in an outdoor course that are generally hard to focus on. It’s all about agility and pacing yourself, or otherwise your horse gets very tired.
Show jumping is jumping courses inside a ring as fast as possible. It’s all about clearing jumps at a fast pace.
Dressage is basically horse ballet. It consists of suspended movements and slow elegant strides and the least bit of movement from the rider as possible.
I wasn’t on a very high level, but Marie was. And she made practically made all her money off of it.
“Yeah, I know! Please Marie, I was just having fun.” They both laughed and she slapped his chest. “You look good Lex, I’m surprised. I mean I remember when you were younger and you were so little and lanky and,” Lex put up a hand embarrassed.
“Marie, please, we’re in public.” She had a green and yellow tie-dye dress that was long and flowing and tied at the top. “Annie I’ll need to borrow those bright yellow heels you had, the real bright ones that were kind of strappy.” I nod. “Sure, that’s cool.”
I linked my arm into Lex’s and gave the dress to Aunt Marie so she could pay. We walked out of the store, arm in arm, and simultaneously put on our sunglasses. “Ugh, it’s so hot out here!” I moaned wiping my forehead dramatically. “That’s why they call it summer and the beach.” He pointed out as he switched directions. “What are we doing?” I asked tripping a little as he pulled me along with him.
Marie was right. He had gotten bigger. And he did look good…really good. He was very muscular then and his bleached hair was cut perfectly. Suddenly, I felt like I wasn’t with ‘Just Lex’ anymore. I was with Lex Grey, preferably one of the cutest guys in school, my best friend. How did I score a hottie as a best friend like him?
One answer: Marie. Marie knew everyone in town, so that meant I did to. And that definitely had its advantages.
“You’re hot, I’m hot, just two hot people going to get ice cream. There a problem with that?” he joked and smiles and his lip twitched adorably. I almost felt myself blush, but hopefully he couldn’t see it between the sunglasses and the heat.
“Nope. Yeah, I haven’t had ice cream in forever.” I told him trying to keep myself talking. “Ha. Still mango and rainbow sprinkles like always? Not a very good combination, by the way.” He gave me a little shove and my heart gave itself a little flutter.
“Yep. And it is to, I love it. You should try it.” I offered with a little pep in my voice. He smiled down at me again and I smiled back. “Maybe I will.” His voice seemed a little small and quiet as we walked up to the parlor. He opened the door and the little jingle made my heart throb.
I remembered going there with my parents every Saturday we were there. That jingle had something on me. Lex knew about today, and I was glad he hadn’t mentioned anything. He had a way about him where he just knew my feelings like the back of his own hand. We walked up to the counter and he gave the girl a soft smile.
“Hey, Lex, I haven’t seen you. How has your summer been?” her soft brown hair matched her soft smile and it made me want to vomit. It must have been a girl from the Hills. I wanted to point out that summer had only started ten days ago and that Lex was obviously just without talking to her and all he wanted was ice cream.
But I just smiled back at her instead. “Hey, Josie. It’s been good, thanks for asking.” Josie. A Hills girl. Just like Lex was a Hills boy. The Hills was like an elite group of somebody’s that I just happened to belong to by association. And Alexander, Lex Grey’s parents practically owned half of the Hills. “And who would’ve thought Josie Arrington would ever have a job?” he cocked his head playfully at her.
“Oh, please. Like I would ever have an actual job. I’m just here with a friend and his friend’s parents own this place. So I get leeway and free stuff, you know? And who would’ve thought Lex Evans would actually step foot in this side of town unless he bought it?” she cocked her head at me and gave a half smile as if to say, ‘Or hang out with someone like you?’ I raised a brow at her then touched his arm gently.
“I have to go make a phone call. Order for me.” I turned to leave but I heard a soft voice in the back ground that made me spin right back around. “Well, Josie since you can’t do anything I’ll serve. Were supposed to be watching this place remember?”
He had amazing hair.
Then, his eyes.
Then, his body.
All of it was so…so amazing. I bit my lip and turned back around. Lex looked at me oddly for a second. “Hey, I’m Will.” He held out a hand for Lex to shake. He didn’t give me a second look. And my saving grace, Mara, made my phone buzz right exactly at the right time.
The boy looked me up and down and raised a brow before turning to Josie and Lex. “I have to take this.” I told Lex. He acknowledged me just a little and nodded. I stomped out and sat on a bench outside. “Oh, my gosh Mara.” I growled with my hands shaking. “Oh, my gosh Annie. So I met this guy…” and there she went.
Another no strings attached relationship for Mara. She would make out with him a few times, have an epic sneak out, and then she would reminisce and say, ‘Yeah, those days were nice.’ I laughed here and there when I was supposed to laugh, and her stories about her boys were always quick. Then it was my turn.
“Lex and I are at ‘Glace a la Crème’ and there’s this girl named ‘Josie’ he totally ignores me for and then there’s this super hot guy I’ve never seen before and he totally looked me up and down and gave me a, ‘What the hell are you breathing the same air as me for?’ look, so I walked out just as you called. I guess he’s from the Hills but I’ve never seen him before.”
You would never guess Mara was a Hills girl. But that she was, and she did a very good job at hiding it. She was gorgeous though, and she always had that over me. Gorgeous in a different way, so we couldn’t really compare. “Oh, God, Lex is such a jerk. He’s going to get it from me. I wonder who the guy is. So do you, like, like Lex or something?”
She asked in a carefully odd tone. I thought a second. “No, he’s just never ignored me before.” I bit my lip. “Oh, he’s coming, make it sound like you’re someone else and I’m busy or something.” I could hear her laugh. “Right,” she started loudly, I assumed she heard the jingle.
“So I would like to get my horse to you as soon as possible,” she made herself sound older, and she did a very good job of that. “Yes, he’s very bad, I don’t understand his problem.” She made herself sound totally French. I tried so hard not to laugh. I didn’t have a second glance at the odd Lex standing there with the ice cream in his hand.
“Yes, I will have to see if I have an opening, I’m getting two new,”
“Oh, no you must see him soon. Now, tonight, I need your thirty day. I need a new lesson horse and I absolutely can’t buy another one, I just can’t.” She pleaded. Her fake French accent was pretty good, but she over exaggerated a little. “Alright. We’ll see, I can go now and get ready I believe I have one opening yes, alright.” I looked at my phone to see the time. Yes’ I’ll meet you in an hour. Thank you, bye.” I pressed the end button and looked at Lex.
“Sorry, have to run, I’ll see you. I guess.” I knew my tone was curt and mean as I walked, but I felt truly guilty when he grabbed my arm. “I’m Sorry Annie.” I shrugged him and walked off. “For what?” I called turning away and walking back to the emporium. I felt a little bad but he was mean to me.
And I didn’t like that.
“Hey, Mike!” I called but he ignored me. “Hey,” I run up to him and roughly grab his arm. “Listen to me when I call you, Mike. Take me to the horse store I need a new pair of muck boots. You destroyed mine remember? You’re paying.” I demanded grabbing his arm.
He tried to pull away but I wouldn’t let him. I didn’t know why he hated me so much. We used to hang out all the time and he used to always be so nice to me. Now he was just…he was just different. He wasn’t my little brother anymore. We stepped into the store and the smell of new leather and grain made my nostrils flair for a second with a yearning in my stomach to be in the barn.
I walked over to the boots section while Mike lingered behind near the counter looking at a few model horses. I looked at all the muck boots, very slowly scanning them up and down looking for a pair in my size. I found a pair of bright blue ones with daisies on them and walked over to the saddle pads. I reached on my tiptoes for a therapeutic one for an older horse we had been using for lessons.
“Annie,” I heard him call annoyed and I peered from the open doorway. “What?” I raised a brow. “Let’s go.” He motioned with his hands towards the counter and rolled his eyes as I raised a finger at him. I grabbed two bags of treats and walked over to him. “I didn’t take that long.” I pointed out setting everything on the counter. He pulled out his wallet without giving the cashier a second look or a hello. The woman at the register handed me the bag and made a special effort to say, “Have a nice day,” to my brother but he just moaned “Uhuh.” And he opened the door.
“Mike, maybe you should be a little social.” I shoved him in the back. “Whatever Annie.” He muttered. I walked over to the car and met Marie there. I rummaged in my purse for my keys, but dropped my phone as I looked. “Hey, Mike, could you grab that for me?” I asked my sunglasses sliding forward to the bridge of my nose. “I’m busy.”
He muttered walking over to the right side of the truck and opening the door. I looked up at him and made a loud noise from the bottom of my throat. Marie picked up my phone, handed it to me, and opened the door and yelled at Mike, “Now was that necessary Michael?” her extremely authoritative tone used to make Mike retreat but it didn’t seem to faze him as he rolled his eyes and said,
“Yeah, quite frankly it was Marie.” She leaned in closer to him and glared. “You don’t ever call me Marie, Michael. I am your Aunt and you use that title. You haven’t even come close to earning my respect or anyone else’s.” She slams the door and turns to me. “Alright, let’s go.”
I stood there in admiration for her for a moment before opening the door and putting the key in the ignition. I snuck my finger underneath my sunglasses and wiped the sweat off the circles underneath my eyes and then my forehead. “So hot.”
I moaned quietly as I turned the key and the engine rumbled. “So hot. I can’t even remember a summer being like this. You guys want to go to Canada or somewhere north? I hear the weather is perfect up there.”
I laughed at her spontaneous passion. The one thing about Marie was that she never planned. She just did when the time was right. And in some ways I liked that because I almost never had to worry. We just did. And everything always seemed to be okay.
We definitely weren’t from the Hills, that’s for sure, but we weren’t like most people in town. Our parents left us a load of money. So we were able to sell Marie’s small house and stop paying rent for the space she used for the horses and moved into a much larger house that was right between the ‘flatland’ of Landon, as we called it, and the Hills.
We had a big barn and area to ride and we were right by the water so we owned that portion of it. I was amazed that we had gone from Marie’s small cottage to the house we lived in now, but we had. And I felt comfortable just being normal.
“So, Mike, what are you planning to do this summer?” she asked trying to make conversation with her estranged nephew sitting in the back with his head down and his arms crossed. “Don’t know. Hang with friends, I guess.” He shrugged quietly. “So, are you excited to be a sophomore next year?” she asked him with a little pressing giddiness in her voice.
“I guess so. She obviously didn’t have a very good year so I don’t know.” He said pointing to me. I eyed him through the mirror but he was expressionless staring back at me. “Well, Annie is a different person than you, sweetie, you might surprise yourself.” She told him matter of factly. “I just wish I was back in Kiddings that’s all.” Kiddings Pennsylvania was where we used to live. It was so long ago it seemed.