Hannah’s aunt lives in an old Victorian that sat on a bluff overlooking the ocean; it was very Wuthering Heights of her. As I climbed out of the car I half expected Heathcliff to come out of the fields with Catherine following close behind him.
As I stood there, staring up at the estate I feel at peace. The serene feeling from earlier on the highway washes over me and again I feel the shift, the ending of one part of my life and the beginning of another.
“What are you doing?” Hannah asks looping her arm through mine, shielding her eyes with the other.
“Oh just admiring your aunt’s house.” I smile down at my best friend and the two of us make our way up the brick path. “We are going to have so much fun,” I gush.
Hannah laughs and says, “Oh, I know. It was such a long winter – and being cooped up inside was so boring. I want to sit and feel the sun on my skin and bask in the warmth and work on my tan and…”
Hanna trails on, listing the ways she planned to spend her spring break. The front door opens as we climb the stairs, Hannah’s aunt, Emma, stands before us. She smiles warmly, opening her arms wide enough to hug us both.
“Oh look at your girls,” she cries as she rushes toward us. I shy away, unsure. I’ve never met her before and her exuberance is something I’m not accustomed to.
She folds the pair of us into her arms and squeezes. “I'm so glad you’re here,” Emma cries. “So, so, so glad. Come in, come in. I’ll show you your rooms and let you get settled in.”
I follow Hannah and Emma into the home’s foyer and gently shut the front door behind me. If I thought the outside of the house was something, the inside blew me away.
The polished wood floors were warm in the setting sun, a Tiffany lamp with a dragon fly inspired shade sits on a low table casting an aquamarine glow on the pale beige wall. I look around at the mix of vintage and modern décor, amazed at how well it worked here.
Emma led the way up the stairs, motioning Hannah and I to follow. “I have two couples checking in tomorrow,” she says over her shoulder. “But aside from that no other guests. Do you girls have plans yet?”
Hannah and I shake our heads no in unison. Yes, we had plans to veg on the beach, but other than that, the next two weeks were ours to do with as we wished.
“Well you should think about visiting the pier tomorrow night. That’s always fun. Oh and there’s the aquarium, and the boardwalk – there’s a lot of cute shops on the boardwalk. All kinds of fun stuff, if you girls are interested.”
“Thanks Emma,” I say as we stop in front of what I assume is our room. “We’ll have to check that out.”
That night, Hannah and I head out for the pier. There is tinny carnival music pumping out of speakers mounted to light poles. People are shouting, glasses are breaking, games are dinging; the cacophony of noise assaults my ears and I flinch, slowly trying to take it all in.
“Come on!” Hannah grabs my arm and the massive crowd quickly swallows us up; it moves as one – one heartbeat, one pulse, one mind. It would be interesting if it weren’t so damn terrifying. I am, as if you hadn’t already guessed it by now, more of a keep to myself and avoid large crowds kind of girl. I prefer quiet places like the library or bookstores, even an occasion coffee shop occasionally.
With her hand still firmly wrapped around my arm, Hannah drags me deeper into the crowd, right into the heart of it. For a moment, there’s this stillness where it’s calm almost. I can hear the rush of the ocean as the waves pound against the sand before being whisked back out to sea.
Then, as if I'm in a vacuum, all the silence is sucked away and the noise descends upon me once more. We break free from the crowd and I look up. Hannah and I are standing in front of a booth where milk bottles are set up in tiny, opaque triangles at the back of the booth.
“Come on,” Hannah says tightening her grip on my arm. “Let’s play!”
I follow, unwillingly, behind her mostly because if I don’t, I fear she will rip my arm off; that’s how deep her nails are embedded in my skin. I manage to free myself, standing back as my best friend brazenly approaches the counter, handing the boy leaning against the wall a crumpled dollar from her back pocket.
“Connie,” she calls. “Get up here and give me a hand.”
I slowly sidle up beside her and pick up a baseball. The leather is smooth from the thousands of fingers that have run over its surface. I want to lift the ball to my nose and inhale, just to see if it still has the leather smell that always reminded me of my father.
The guy running the booth smiles at me. It’s a wry smile, almost as if he can hear my thoughts. I slowly lower the baseball and shoot him a timid smile. He responds with a more encouraging smile and I take it as a sign. I toss the baseball without much pomp and circumstance, an errant pitch that goes far left completely missing the milk bottle set up.
Hannah laughs and hands me another ball. She attempts another throw and misses. This time I focus on the milk bottles and aim the ball at them, mentally willing the ball to knock them over. My arm goes back and as it comes forward, the ball glides off my fingertips hurtling toward the bottles.
It spins in the air like a white striped Christmas ornament caught in the wintry gust blasting through the open front door. The ball hovers there for a second before it connects with the milk bottle display.
Hannah jumps up and down and lets out a little holler. “You did it!” she shrieks.
I nod and step forward to collect my prize. The guy behind the counter smiles at me as he hands me a stuffed dolphin. The light catches his eyes; I stare for a moment as a gentle flutter in my stomach makes me feel sick.
“Thanks,” I murmur, taking the stuffed animal from him. My fingertip[s brushed his. The jolt was incredible, unlike anything I had ever felt before.
“Any time,” he replies with a smile. “You ladies have a nice night.”
Hannah drifts away from the booth, chattering away in her usual fashion. I follow her, a dreamy look pasted on my face. As we head in the direction of the Ferris wheel, I risk a glance over my shoulder. The guy from the booth is staring at me. Our eyes meet and he winks, my face floods red and I quickly turn around.
“You okay?” Hannah asks, to which I respond with a nod.
“I’m fine,” I tell her, “Perfectly fine.”