Part 5: Ben, Trevor and Gloria’s Brother

(A Fish Out of Water, continued)

I could always tell when my sister lied. Gloria avoided looking me square in the eye as she often did when she wanted to get her way around the rest of the family.  The way she pleaded to use one of the cars for the day had my suspicions growing. Usually, she wouldn’t lie to me. But something is fishy. A nudge in my mind wanted to see what she had planned, but I had more important life issues to manage.

When Trevor snuck out and took Dad’s car, her persistence hit another level. “Please, Ben,” she asked while waving the handwritten schedule. “I’m going to be late for work.”

Photo by Tommy Kwak on Unsplash

I caved, more curious than ever about Gloria’s plans. “Let’s go.” If I took the faster but bumpier route around the outskirts of town, no shore traffic or stop lights would delay my date with Sarah, and I could get Gloria to work on time.

The thought of Sarah lightened my mood. I moved the velvet ring box from my swimsuit pocket to the beach bag. The weight, though light, carried heavy significance.

I backed the car onto the road and stopped along the curbside.

“Like, what are you doing?” she asked. Her hands fluttered in the air, bringing more attention to what she thought was important–her.

She spoke with such sarcasm I turned off the engine.

“You’re making me late.”

“Gloria, we’re not going anywhere until you tell me the truth. Why lie to me?”

With a stunned expression, she sat there. I could tell from previous experiences that the story she was cooking up was a whale of a tale.

Holding the schedule at odd angles, she said in feigned shock, “Can’t be. I don’t have to work today.” Then in a rush, blurted, “But please don’t take me home. I have plans.”

Gloria blabbered on about this guy she met at the Clam Shack. She hadn’t mentioned anything about a new guy in her life. Something she always flaunted as I’d only been out with one girl. Sarah and I met in Kindergarten. Even then, I knew I’d ask her to marry me. It’s stunts like Gloria pulled today that have kept me shielding Gloria from my crazy family. Other than family gatherings where Mom threatened my siblings to behave, I refused to let her see our family’s full spectrum.

Tasting all the spices in life as my sister attempts seemed ridiculous. Gloria has always called my taste vanilla. Little does she know that my favorite is saffron. The flavor reminds me of Sarah—sweet, floral, but earthy too by the way she grounds my soul.

Yesterday, the chef ensured my job at the Lobster House had more potential than just being a line cook. Next week’s promotion to sous chef offered a higher salary, enough to secure a good life for us without holding down the day job as a lifeguard. I could return to a full-time course load at the culinary school too. I hadn’t told anyone that I was to propose to her today.

I noticed the dash clock. I’m never late, and today of all days, my sister ruined everything. I started the engine and shifted the car into drive. “You’d better be back at the diner by the time Mom stops by for you.” Realizing that Gloria had no idea about the situation she’s placed me in, I said in a softer tone, “I’ll be on the beach near the municipal pier if . . . if anything gets weird.”

She patted my arm. “They won’t. Trust me.”

Trust her. Lately, that statement and Gloria were at opposite ends.

Pulling up at Oyster and Main, nobody was waiting. Before I could advise against her meeting this guy, she had the door open. “He’s not late. I’m early. I’ll be fine.”

From nowhere, this Adonis she called Hudson slung an arm over her shoulder. Hudson was far from vanilla. With the massive arms, slim torso, and wavy, long hair, if I had to describe him as a complex seasoning, more like the cornucopia of flavors in Old Bay.

Shaking my head to clear the thought that she was going out with someone I just compared to a seafood seasoning, I shifted to drive in search of my forever after.

Eight minutes late. I’m never late. Hopefully, she still waited on the last bench along the pier where the crowd was always sparse. We would have some privacy.

Sarah still sat waiting for me. Her loose strawberry-blonde hair shimmered in the afternoon light. Her cotton dress fluttered in the breeze. Everyone else looked out to the ocean, but Sarah’s gaze was only on me as I stood before her.

Without any “I’m sorry . . . a family emergency of sorts” or “what took you so long,” I dug through the bag with the ring box open and bent one knee. Forgotten was the speech I had prepared.  Her left hand reached toward me, and the other fluttered against her chest as she said, “Oh my God, Oh my God. Yes, I will.”

Slipping the ring on her finger, I stood to kiss the pink bloom on her cheek. She had planned our wedding since first grade when I saved her from the kid who kept yanking her ponytail. We walked up the beach for blocks eating licorice and talking about our wedding before turning back. She gave the minutest details from centerpieces, the flower girl’s plaited hair, and how she wanted her hairstyle down with simple curls.

Beyond where the waves swelled, two large fish leaped from the water. I’m certain one was a fish, but the other wore the same shirt Gloria had worn only hours before. The next time they eclipsed the waves, the second fish’s scales glimmered. I doubted my own eyes.

“Stay right here,” I said, then ran to the lifeguard stand a block away. “Hey, dude. Did you see those fish? What were they?”

He finished signaling to the next lifeguard down the beach before answering. His forehead creased as he waited for the return signal. “Hey, Ben. I saw them. Not sure what they are, but we’ll get answers. Hey, are you two going to the bonfire up the beach later? I heard someone snagged a quarter keg.”

My gaze swiveled from the water to the lifeguard down the beach and then to Sarah. The signal flag waved, and horns sounded to clear the water one after another until they reached this stand. “Do you need my help?” I asked.

“No, we’ve got this,” he said before blaring the horn. “Catch you later.”

I told her about the fish and her jaw dropped. A stunned expression crossed her face.

“Why don’t we go to that sushi place we love, then hit the bonfire tonight? I asked.

“Right now?” she asked. Her voice was little more than a squeak. “I thought we were going to have the day to ourselves.”

I watched the fish as they dove through another wave. “We’ll have the rest of our lives to walk the beach together. If we leave now, we can beat the happy hour tourists.”

She clasped her hand in mine as I pulled her away from the gathering crowd watching the odd fish playing in the waves.

— By BWG member Diane Sismour

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