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Pedaling in Sneakers MAG
Grace doesn't wear a helmet when she rides. She says it messes up her hair, and anyway, you don't need one if you never crash. And to be fair, she hasn't crashed yet. I don't think that should stop her from being safe, but watching her pedal so confidently in her bare feet and sundress makes it hard to argue.
Timothy isn't wearing his helmet either. He says his roommate stole it, but it's still easy to feel like Casey and I have been left out of some beautiful, carefree club where nobody needs helmets or shoes.
I am wearing a helmet and sneakers. They don't match my outfit, but I was always taught to ride in sneakers. I am third in line. Grace is first, her long blonde hair flowing behind her. Her thin, muscular legs flex as she pedals, and I feel small and undeveloped as I follow Tim's gaze to the strip of her bathing suit peeking over the top of her dress.
He is only a few feet behind her, and I try to suppress my fear that they will crash into each other. And neither has a helmet on. But I'll be honest, it's nice to see the wind ruffle Tim's spiky hair. He rides shirtless, and I try to keep my eyes on the road instead of his muscular shoulders.
Casey rides behind me, and I pedal as hard as I can to keep it that way. Maybe I can't keep up with Tim or Grace, but I can beat Casey.
Grace had the idea to go to the beach this morning when we were all in my room. My roommate, Jeanine, was at orientation. We had skipped – it was optional for returning students, and none of us particularly wanted to hear the rules again, let alone what to do if we get lost on a campus we've known for two years. Grace was lying on my bed, painting her nails on my chemistry textbook. Casey was watching, sitting against the door.
“I'm bored,” Tim moaned. He was sprawled across Jeanine's bed. I would probably have to remake it once he got up.
I carefully wrote “Français” across my red spiral-bound notebook and added it to the stack on my desk.
“What are we gonna doooo?” Tim whined.
“You're not happy unless you're throwing a ball,” Grace sighed.
“That's not true!”
“No, he'll also throw a Frisbee,” I said, putting my pen in the jar on the desk. Everyone laughed. I blushed and looked away from Tim, toward Grace.
“That was good,” she said absentmindedly, blowing on her nails.
We lapsed back into comfortable silence. I unfolded my new schedule and carefully reread it.
“Guys, I'm still bored.”
Grace smiled and rolled over, holding her hands carefully out in front of her.
“Let's go to the beach,” she said.
Tim perked up. “Yeah!”
The nearest beach was an hour by bike. There was a mandatory assembly at one, and I hadn't finished unpacking or organizing my backpack. Casey glanced at me, and I could see the same doubts on his face. I looked over at Tim. He was grinning at me.
“I'm in,” I said.
Casey sighed. “What about the assembly?”
“It's not like they'll take attendance.” Grace laughed like Casey was ridiculous.
“When do we leave?” I asked.
Grace arrives first. By the time I brake by the wooden fence, her dress is hanging on it and she and Tim are halfway across the beach. I carefully pull off my sneakers, shorts, and T-shirt and put them in my bike basket with the cardigan I brought for later. Casey pulls up.
The sand burns my feet. The spot Grace selected is midway between the dunes and the shoreline, a good walk down the beach. I step gingerly the entire way. I don't know why she chose this spot when the beach is empty, but you learn not to question her after a while.
Grace lies across her towel, and I lay mine next to her. Casey and Tim settle on her other side. Casey pulls his shirt off. He's skinny and pale. We lie in the sun. Grace starts talking and doesn't stop. The boys add occasional comments. I don't hear the words, just the tone. The sun makes me sleepy, and I let the cadence of their voices lull me into a nap.
When I wake up, the boys are playing Frisbee over our heads. I'm glad I wasn't awake when they started. It's terrifying. Even though they're good, they could easily hit me.
Grace is smiling as though she's never liked anything better. I cough to announce that I've woken up. She lowers her sunglasses, as though verifying my consciousness. She settles back on her towel before speaking.
“Finally!” she says. “Boys, she's awake.”
“How long was I out?” I ask.
“An hour or so,” Tim tells me.
“We had to wait until you woke up to go swimming,” Casey says. I look at Grace and she smiles at me. Another one of her rules.
Casey bolts for the water. Tim lingers as I sit up on my towel, staring at the ocean. There are hardly any waves. The water is dark blue. It looks cold.
“You girls aren't coming in?” Tim looks mostly at Grace, who shakes her head with a coy smile.
“I don't want salt in my hair,” she says, shaking it out to demonstrate its beauty.
He turns to me. “Emily?”
I open my mouth to decline when Grace speaks up again.
“Emily and I are tanning.” She giggles. “Well, I'm tanning. Emily's burning.”
“Well, that can't be fun for Emily.” He looks at me, though speaking to Grace.
“Of course it is,” Grace says.
Tim holds his hand out to me. I look at him, look at Grace, and stand up.
“I'll come in,” I say.
“Well, don't be too long,” she says. “We have to eat soon.”
I don't look at Grace, but she must not look happy, because Tim pulls a face at her before grabbing my arm and leading me toward the ocean.
Casey beckons, and we run toward him. I stumble in the water. It's colder than I expected. I guess I haven't been in the ocean for a while. I don't really like swimming, especially this late in the day, but Grace loves a campfire on the beach.
The only way to combat cold water is to immerse yourself in it, so I dunk. Maybe I stay under a bit too long, but I am hoping Tim will pull me out – so I'll come up surrounded by his firm lifeguard's muscles.
Casey pulls me out instead. He's such a worrier. The salt stings my eyes and his hold on my shoulders is too tight. I shake him off quickly and glare at him.
I pull a piece of seaweed from the top of my bathing suit before looking at Timothy. He is unfazed. A quick glance at Casey tells me he's as aware of Timothy as I am.
I feel daring in my new red suit; even though it's a one-piece, I think it looks good. It clings in the right places and makes me look like I have more curves than I actually do. Grace is nowhere in sight – probably getting the food from our bikes.
“Hey, Tim …”
He turns, looks at me.
“Race you to that buoy!”
Casey is not a very good swimmer, and I give him a smirk as I follow Timothy out.
We aren't that near the buoy when I throw my arms out and fall backward, giggling. He catches me around the waist, then quickly lets go and swims further. I continue to follow him.
He stops when the water is at his chest. I paddle out to him; stand as close as I dare at shoulder height.
“You're slow.” There is a casual chuckle in his voice.
“I guess I am.” The truth is, I never expected to win the race. I take a tentative step closer.
“So, you didn't swim a lot this summer?”
I look at him. He's grinning, but he's clearly oblivious to me.
“What?” I ask.
“You live on the Cape, but you can't keep up with me?”
I want to tell him that I don't live on the Cape just because my family moved there last year, anymore than I'm a “rich kid” just because my parents happened to come into some money and send me to boarding school. But telling him those things would not impress him.
“I could keep up with you.” To prove my point (and perhaps for other reasons), I jump forward a little. I'm delighted to see his gaze flick briefly to my chest.
“Could you?” he asks.
I take another step toward him. “Yes.”
I swear to God that he takes a step toward me too, but then I hear a shout, and we turn. Grace, in her canary-yellow bikini, has turned up with our picnic basket. Casey, now covered with a towel, has already opened it.
“Emily! Tim!” Each of Grace's words sounds extra-long and elegant. “What are you doing?” There is a sugar poison in her voice reserved just for me.
“You guys better come out or I'll eat all your food!” Casey calls, his tone more obviously bitter.
Tim starts swimming. “Wait,” I call. I'm still feeling bold. “Race you back!”
I throw myself into the water and take off, giving myself a head start.
Dinner is sandwiches and potato salad that Grace and I made. Well, really I made the food, but Grace insists she helped. Timothy makes a fire, and we eat quickly. Too quickly. We talk a little about teachers, school, how we will be splitting the homework up this year. Timothy talks about sports. Grace tells stories from her summer. We listen raptly, mesmerized by her mature, worldly words. She went to London for two weeks. She turns to me to talk about the British boys she met, and to Timothy to mention how she hardly ever got carded. She looks pointedly at Casey when talking about how European men care about fashion more than boys in the States.
It starts to get cold. I walk back to the bikes and pull my clothes on over my bathing suit. I slip my sneakers on my bare feet and walk back slowly. The sun is going down. I follow the light of the fire, and as I draw closer, realize there is only one silhouette against it.
He turns. “Oh, hey Emily.”
“Where did Tim and Grace go?”
He gestures vaguely toward the dunes.
“Should we …?”
He shakes his head.
Oh. Okay. That's Grace.
Grace and Tim haven't come back yet. The fire is getting low, and Casey and I have run out of things to talk about, ways to pretend what's happening isn't happening. I sit staring at the dying flames and wishing I hadn't gone swimming. Connecticut nights are already pretty chilly, and I'm never going to dry. Now I've gotten my clothes wet too. Casey puts his jacket over my shoulders.
“Thanks,” I say.
We are quiet for a few seconds.
“What are they …?” Casey stops himself.
I don't know what to say. They haven't gone exploring, that's for sure. I don't want to admit it to myself, even though it's been on my mind since I found Casey here alone. Casey's not an idiot.
“You know.” I don't want to say more. I am nowhere near qualified to talk about sex with Casey.
“No,” he says. His mouth is barely moving. I can see his profile clearly in the smoke. “They're not doing …”
“Each other?” I offer.
“Jesus, Emily!” He kicks some sand into the fire.
The fire crackles. A spark falls next to my sneaker.
“You've got like, a whole other side, don't you?” he asks.
I look at him, perplexed. What does he mean? All I did was say what we were both thinking. I pick up some sand, spread my fingers, and watch it fall.
“I don't know.”
He watches me closely.
“You've never said anything like that before.”
I don't answer. Of course I haven't. It's not an appropriate thing to say.
“Do you think that way all the time?”
I'm suddenly very confused. Of course I think that way all the time. Doesn't everyone? Maybe he doesn't. I don't answer, and he doesn't ask again. In the silence I start to wonder. Do I have some different side? Some hidden, less innocent side that doesn't come out very often? A side of me that's bold and daring – that pulled Tim out to the deeper water today?
“Well, anyway, they're not doing that,” Casey says softly to himself.
I wonder for a second if Casey has a bold side. No. He doesn't. His other side is something else entirely – the part of him that glared at me as I raced Timothy away from him.
“They're not,” he mutters.
It's like he's forgotten I'm here, and suddenly I'm angry. Angry at myself for not going after them, angry with Grace for exerting her stupid power over Tim just to get back at me for feeling good about myself for once. But mostly I'm angry at Casey for not admitting how he feels and for not having the balls to stop Grace and Tim from leaving, and for lying to himself.
“Not doing what, Casey?”
He looks up at me like I slapped him. His mouth is open a little.
I do it without thinking. I know if I think about it, it will be a bad idea, so I don't. I grab Casey's shoulder, pull him to me, and kiss him.
It's nothing like I thought it would be. He kind of tastes like salt, and not in a good way. I must have been a little forceful, because our lips are pressed together really hard, and it kind of hurts, and I know I'm supposed to close my eyes, but they're open and my face is so close to his that I feel like if I close them he'll notice, and his lips are dry and it doesn't feel like a first kiss is supposed to feel, with sparks and romance and tongues and all that.
He turns away before we've officially stopped kissing. He scoots away from me and sits looking in the opposite direction. I reach down, pick up some sand, and toss it onto the dying embers. Casey glances at me for a second. I can't see his eyes, but his breathing sounds different. He looks away again, and I decide to leave him alone. I stand up, and walk back to the bikes.
It's his own fault, really. If he would just be honest about his preferences then I wouldn't have done it. It's his fault. I did nothing wrong. After all, what am I supposed to think? Sitting alone by a fire with a boy on a beach? No matter what his tendencies, it gives a girl ideas. After all, Grace had ideas. She did something about them. Who says she's the only one allowed to act around here? I took control of the situation. Is it a crime when I do it?
I wait by the fence. The sky is even darker by the time they join me. My clothes are still wet, and they stick to me. Casey doesn't look at me even as I hand his jacket back to him. Grace shakes the sand out of her hair and pulls her sundress over her head. She looks sideways at Tim, who is very absorbed in putting on his shirt. As we get on our bikes, I smile into the darkness. Grace pulls out in front. I start pedaling hard – harder than ever. Grace may be in the lead, but this time I just might catch up.