Chapter 12: Sweet Sixteen

Chapter 12: Sweet Sixteen

Twister peered up at the side of the hotel and counted the rows of balconies that marked each floor.

"Are you sure that's her room?" Sam whispered from his hiding place behind a large palm tree.

"Positive," Twister replied. "She's on the eighth floor.

"That looks pretty high up," Sam muttered.

"Look, Squid, are you helping or not?"

"I'm helping," Sam said reluctantly.

"Good, now hand me the pebbles."

"Pebbles?"

"Yeah, pebbles. I'm supposed to throw them up at her window—you know, to wake her."

"What would I be doing with pebbles, Twister? You just dragged me out of my bed in the middle of the night. It's not like I keep a supply on hand for when you decide to serenade girls."

"Watch the 'tude, dude. I know I woke you, but you're crankier than Tito on an empty stomach."

Sam rolled his eyes.

"Besides," Twister continued, "you said you were gonna be my moral support. Start supporting."

"Fine," Sam grumbled. He stalked out from behind the palm tree and began scouting for pebbles. There were none to be found in the immediate vicinity so he strolled around to the back of the hotel toward the beach. He gathered a few small seashells, figuring that they would work just as well as pebbles.

"Here," he said to Twister when he returned. "These were all I could find on short notice."

"Thanks." Twister took the shells. He hoped that Sam hadn't seen how his hands were shaking. He was hella nervous. Twister glanced up at the hotel again, took a deep breath and launched the shells at Reggie's balcony. Several of them hit the cement underside of the terrace but a few managed to clink against the glass sliding door of her room.

"Phase one complete," Twister whispered.

"You think that'll wake her?" Sam asked.

"It'll wake her, Sammy. And when she comes out to find out what the noise was, I start singing."

"What are you gonna sing?"

"Uh, good question." It was the one part of the plan that Twister hadn't exactly thought through. "Something by Shafika, I guess."

"You can't sing Shafika!" Sam hissed, aghast. "You have to sing something romantic, something from the heart."

"Romantic? Shafika's plenty romantic."

"Shafika's a pop star! She doesn't know love!"

"Can it, Squid. You're making me nervous. I'll think of something." Twister looked back up at the hotel. Reggie's room was still dark. "Do you think she heard the seashells?"

"I don't know," Sam said. He squinted up at Reggie's room. "Maybe you should try again."

"What are you two doing?" asked an all too familiar voice.

Twister and Sam jumped at the sound. They turned to see Reggie standing behind them wrapped in a towel.

"What are we doing?" Sam asked in a panic. "What are you doing?"

"Well," Reggie began calmly. "I couldn't really sleep, so I came down for a swim."

"You're supposed to be up there!" Sam pointed in the direction of her room.

"Why should I be up there?" Reggie asked.

"Because that's where girls usually are when you try to serenade them!" Sam declared.

Reggie was puzzled. For the first time she let her eyes drift over to Twister who, she noticed, was clutching a ukulele. Suddenly, without any warning at all, he dropped to one knee and strummed a chord.

"O Reggie," Twister sang loudly.

"Oh no," Reggie said, as the realization dawned on her. This had the potential to be utterly embarrassing.

"Forgive meeeeee….," Twister continued to sing, making up the words as he went along. "I'm unhappyyyyy… since you left meeeeee…"

"Uh, well," Sam said, looking uncomfortable. "That's my cue." He was about to take off running when Reggie grabbed his sleeve.

"Sammy, no," she whispered desperately. "Don't leave."

"Sorry, Reg, but this is between you two. I'm out." Sam shook loose of her grip and headed for the hotel as quickly as he could.

"O Regieeee… babyyyyy… I'm so sorryyy…you complete meeee—" Twister was cut off as Reggie abruptly placed a hand over his mouth.

"Are you crazyyyy?" she whispered furiously. "It's the middle of the night. People are sleeping!" Reggie looked around hoping that no one had seen or heard any of this. Fortunately, they seemed to be the only two people in the area.

Twister tried to say something, but the sound was muffled beneath her fingers.

"You probably want me to move my hand, right?"

Twister nodded.

"I guess this is your way of trying to apologize?"

He nodded again.

Reggie sighed. "All right, I'll move my hand and you can apologize all you want, but for crying out loud, Twister, say it don't sing it!"

Reggie straightened and let go of him and Twister got to his feet.

"Reggie, I'm sorry," he said softly. "I'm sorry I hurt you."

Reggie looked him in the eye, her gaze steady and said… nothing.

"Look, I was stupid. I got jealous. I didn't know what to do." Twister began to fidget. She watched as he shifted his weight nervously from one foot to the other. Reggie knew she wasn't making this particularly easy for him. She stood with her arms folded across her chest, effectively giving him the stink eye. "It's just that I like you so much, Reg. When I thought that you liked Lars, I guess I just kinda lost it."

Reggie arched an eyebrow at that. Kinda lost it? He'd run out into a tropical storm in the throes of a jealousy-induced death wish and he'd only kinda lost it?

"Please, Reggie, I know I messed up, but do you think you can forgive me? Do you think you'd ever take me back? I can totally do better. I can be a better boyfriend… because I really… I think I… I love you and… and I guess it makes me act dumb." Twister felt the heat well up in his cheeks. He knew that he must be beet red by now. His eyes were lowered. He couldn't look at her. Was she laughing at him? Smooth, Rodriguez, he thought, you can't even look her in the eye.

So it came as a shock to Twister when he felt her cool palm on his cheek.

"I shouldn't take you back, you know," Reggie said quietly. "I mean you were the one who dumped me."

Twister tensed. Was she angry? He stopped breathing in deference to his heart, which was about to break. Go on look at her, he thought. Look at her one last time before she forgets you and you go back to being her kid brother's best bro. Look at her. She's beautiful, even when she's breaking your heart.

Twister drew a deep breath and squared his shoulders. Slowly he raised his eyes. There was her chin, her lips, her nose and finally her eyes, which nearly stopped his heart. Her eyes were smiling at him. Twister blinked once and that's when it registered: the slight curve of her mouth, the left side quirked just so, the lips pursed in what could only be described as a grin. Twister exhaled, relieved, but he had to be sure.

"Reggie Rocket," he said, "are you gonna break my heart or what?"

"What," she answered simply, selecting the most desirable option. Breaking his heart was out of the question.

Twister swallowed hard and said the first thing that came to mind.

"Thanks, Rocket Girl." He let out a sigh.

"You're welcome, Twist," Reggie replied.

And then she kissed him.

"Just picture it," Otto said. "The sun sets as I stand at the top of the podium, holding the trophy over my head. The end. Roll credits."

"Yeah, Otto, you could've been a contender," Sam replied. "But it looks like the only footage Twister will get now is of you rolling down the hall in that wheelchair."

"For the last time, Sammy, I am not getting in that chair." Otto sulked, sitting on the edge of the hospital bed. After observing him overnight, the doctors had decided that he was well enough to be released.

"Come on, bro," Twister pleaded from behind the lens of his camera. "The doctors said it's like hospital tradition. We wheel you out the front door and then you're on your feet again."

"Think of it as a joyride," Sam added, pushing the chair over to the bed. "We'll pop a few wheelies in the hall."

"I don't need a wheelchair, Squid. I'm fully recovered or haven't you noticed?" Otto flexed his biceps. Sam rolled his eyes.

"What's the hold up in here?" Ray asked, popping his head into the hospital room.

"Otto's being stubborn," Sam explained.

"I thought we went over this, Rocket Boy. Stubborn is what got you in trouble in the first place. Stubborn is what got you disqualified from the Kona Kai," Ray reminded him.

"The juniors, too, huh?" Otto asked, already knowing the answer.

"Especially the juniors. Don't take this the wrong way Otto, but you're a poor role model for kids your age."

"Easy, Raymundo," Otto said, clutching his head. "I'm an injured boy here, remember?"

"Not a moment ago you were fully recovered," muttered Sam.

"Well then, get in the chair injured boy," Ray said with a grin. Otto frowned realizing he'd been outmaneuvered. Reluctantly, he plopped down into the wheelchair. Sam took hold of the handles and pushed Otto out into the corridor. Twister walked backwards in front of the chair in order to capture a close-up of Otto's face.

"Must you film this, Twist?" Otto ground out between clenched teeth.

"Otto-man, this is totally necessary. My surf documentary won't be complete without it."

"Yeah, well your surf documentary gets two thumbs down."

"But you haven't even seen it yet!" Twister wailed.

"Don't knock it until you try it," Sam said. "It's action-packed, especially your dramatic rescue at the hands of Lars Rodriguez."

"What?!" Otto said. He dug his heels into the ground. The wheelchair skidded to a halt just in front of the exit door.

"Lars found you after you wiped out. He even helped load you onto the sled and everything," Sam replied.

"You mean I have Lars to thank for….," his voice trailed off. Otto lifted a hand to the stitches in his scalp.

Twister nodded from behind his camera.

"Crap," Otto muttered. He'd spent his whole life with the overwhelming desire to whomp Lars Rodriguez, not thank him.

"Yeah, Rocket Boy," Twister said, "karma's a bitch."

Reggie straddled her longboard and glanced over at Toni Chase. The defending junior ladies champ squinted into the sun, one hand shielding her eyes. Toni was from Huntington Beach, California aka Surf City, USA and Reggie knew that she wasn't going to go down without a fight. There were four minutes left in the championship heat and they'd each caught two scoring waves. Toni's last run had been pretty sweet. Reggie felt the pressure. She knew that she was going to have to dig deep in order to win this one.

Back on the beach, Tito couldn't stop fidgeting. He paced back and forth across the sand stopping occasionally to sniff the air.

"For crying out loud, Tito, you're driving me crazy!" Raymundo cried. He grasped desperately at the brim of his rumpled fishing hat. At first he pulled it down over his eyes then he pushed it back from his forehead revealing the shiny dome of his balding scalp.

"I can't help it, brudda." Tito wrung his hands in frustration. "Don't you feel it? Can't you smell it?"

"There's nothing to smell. Reggie has a shot at winning the championship and if you don't stop pacing, I'm gonna strangle you!"

"Wait a minute," Sam said. He, too, sniffed the air. "Tito's right. The wind's changed."

"I think you've both had way too much loco moco," Ray snapped.

"You can never have too much loco moco!" Lola exclaimed. She followed Ray's gaze from Tito out to the ocean where Reggie and Toni sat poised on their boards.

"Look at the water, Raymundo. It's like the summer of '74 all over again," Tito said with a sigh. Sure enough the ocean danced before them in its own unique and magical rhythm. The swells increased and the surf churned with a new sense of purpose.

"It can't be," Ray said. He was squinting into the distance.

"It's coming. The hemolele kai," Tito breathed.

"No way," Otto said. He jumped to his feet. "It's the perfect wave and I'm gonna miss it!"

"Well, you should've thought about that before your masked surfer escapade, Rocco," Ray reminded him.

Otto wasn't listening, however. His eyes were fixed on the ocean.

"Come on, Reggie," he murmured. It wasn't so much a command as it was a prayer. If he couldn't have the perfect wave then Reggie should. It was the next best thing.

Out of the corner of her eye, Reggie saw Toni shift and knew that she'd seen it, too. The interval had changed and the next wave was going to be colossal. Reggie made up her mind in that instant. This was her wave. It didn't matter that the defending ladies junior champion was no more than six feet away from her on her board, that her jaw was set with determination, or that she was a formidable opponent. Reggie knew that this was hers.

She closed her eyes and felt the pitch and roll of the ocean as it rocked her board. She let the rhythm of it guide her. It sank into her blood. She could feel it humming along her veins, tapping out a gentle pulse that sounded in her ears. The ocean whispered its secrets, Tito had once said; all you had to do was listen.

Now! she thought. Reggie opened her eyes. She dropped to her board, paddling furiously toward the next swell.

Twister had a headache. It took him a moment to realize why. His hands were in his hair and he was tugging at it in nervous excitement as he watched Reggie paddle toward what looked like the largest wave he had ever seen.

"Easy, little cuz," Tito said. "You're gonna go bald."

"I am bald!" Ray snapped. "Mostly," he added. Then he realized that Tito was talking to Twister, who looked more nervous than Sam during an asthma attack.

"Twister, what's wrong with you?!" Ray shouted.

"Huh?" Twister replied. He flushed bright red.

"You should be filming this!"

"What? Oh!" It finally dawned on Twister. He'd been so nervous for Reggie that he'd completely forgotten his surf documentary. He dove into his backpack and pulled out his trusty camcorder.

Beside him Otto smirked. He punched Twister lightly on the arm.

"Come on, bro, this is important," Otto said. "Focus."

Twister switched on his camera and did just that.

The wave reared up before her and Reggie shifted her weight on the board ready to spring into a crouch, but just then the impossible happened.

"No way!" Otto screamed. "Did she just drop in?! Did Toni freakin' Chase just drop in on my sister?! That's like illegal!"

Sam could barely believe his eyes. At the last possible moment, Toni Chase had dropped in from the shoulder of the wave, shooting out in front of Reggie to cut her off.

"Uh, technically, it's not illegal," Sam said, "but it is rather unsportsmanlike."

"Unsportsmanlike? I'll show her unsportsmanlike!" Otto shouted. He would've marched right down to the surf and walked on water just to tell off Toni Chase if Ray hadn't grabbed him by the neck of his tee-shirt. "Let go of me, Raymundo! She oughta be DQ'd!"

"Hardcore DQ'd!" Twisted echoed furiously.

Ray was just as angry as the two teenaged hotheads standing next to him, but he saw something that Otto and Twister had been too worked up to notice.

"Quiet!" he yelled loud enough to silence half the beach. "Shut up and witness the wrath of Regina Rocket!"

Reggie had seen the movement in her periphery just a split second before it had become abundantly clear: Toni Chase was a lousy, freakin' shoulder hopper. How dare she? How dare she try to steal my wave? Reggie thought. But then a funny thought occurred to her. Toni Chase didn't know. She didn't know about the ocean's whispered secrets. She didn't know about the pact Reggie had made with the sea. But most all she didn't know that Reggie had leapt into a crouch and caught the wave right behind her.

Toni road high near the lip and Reggie let her. She stalled to maneuver her board out of Toni's wake and that's when it happened. The defending junior ladies champion accelerated to launch off the lip in what should have been a most excellent aerial, but she underestimated her momentum, overbalanced in the air and quite spectacularly ate it.

"Yeah!" Otto said, and pumped a fist in the air. "The Conductor just punched your ticket, Toni Chase! End of the line, you poser kook!"

Reggie cutback to avoid the tangle of limbs and board that was Toni's wipeout and slotted in. And that's when it began, her conversation with the ocean. It did most of the talking, posing currents and undercurrents like questions and Reggie had all the right answers. The golden green curl of water arced up over her as she raced along the barrel crouched low on her board, feet planted in perfect balance. She made it look easy, shredding the vast bowl of a wave so large that the crowd on the beach was nearly silent with awe.

The exception was Otto who was screaming his head off, living vicariously through his older sister. He yelled even louder when he saw her tell-tale rail grab in preparation for a move she'd been working on all summer in Ocean Shores. Reggie sped off the lip of the wave into the air. Both she and her board left the water and spun an incredible 360 degrees in mid air before she landed and resumed her phenomenal run.

"Whoa, brudda," Tito said. "Did you see that barrel roll—that aerial barrel roll?"

Ray, speechless, could only nod.

"I haven't seen moves like that since—"

"—Lauren," Ray finished, finally finding his voice. Overwhelmed, he flopped down on the sand, sitting with his hat clutched between his hands.

Reggie was exhilarated as she hauled her board out of the surf and ran on to the beach. The crowd was going crazy after her killer run and people stepped forward to congratulate her, but she made a bee-line for her family and friends. They were easy to spot, with Tito whooping so loud he was beginning to scare several bystanders.

Twister was the first to greet her, however. He ran right at her and she ran straight for him. The result was that they both went down in what could only be described as what happens when hug meets tackle. Twister looked at Reggie as she laughed beneath him, all wet hair and eyelashes, sand sticking to her skin. He ducked his head to her ear and whispered softly so that only she could hear: "I love you, Reg."

Then Otto was helping him up and Reggie sprang to her feet, her ears burning. Sam and Tito congratulated her. She was clearly the new junior ladies champion of the Kona Kai. Lola enveloped her in a warm hug and then it was Otto's turn to step forward.

"You rule, Rocket Girl," he admitted, and though he was clearly a little jealous, more than anything he was uniquely proud.

"Why, Otto, I didn't know you cared," she teased him.

"'Course I care. The way I see it, this is a victory for the both of us."

"Oh? 'Cause the way I see it, this victory is mine."

"Technically, Reggie's right," Sam said. "After all, she's the one who actually did the surfing, whereas you've been disqualified."

"Thanks for the reminder, Squid," Otto replied. He turned to Reggie and handed her a balled-up piece of orange cloth.

Reggie unfolded the cloth to discover that it was her lucky orange tee-shirt. She also discovered that there were two mysterious holes in the fabric.

"What did you do Otto?" she asked, not sure she wanted the answer.

"Well, Rocco kinda needed your shirt."

"You cut up my lucky tee-shirt to use as a mask?"

"I know. I owe you an apology. Not just for the shirt, but for everything," he said, with a glance in Twister's direction.

"What am I going to do with you, Rocket Boy?"

"Forgive?" he asked.

Reggie sighed.

"And forget, too, I suppose," she answered. "What is it about the Rocket Men? They're clueless and sometimes selfish, but you can't stay mad at them."

Otto extended his hand.

"Woogie?" he asked.

"Woogie," she replied and returned the appropriate hand gesture.

"Hey, where's Dad?" Reggie asked. Otto pointed to their father, who still sat on the sand with his hat in his hands.

"Everything okay, Raymundo?" Reggie asked, sitting down beside him. Ray quickly swiped a hand across his eyes.

"Ah, Reggie," he sighed. "You looked great out there. In fact, you looked like your mom."

Reggie blinked. She knew how hard it must have been for him to say that.

"Thanks, Dad," she said softly.

Ray leaned over and pulled her into a hug.

"My little girl's all grown up," he said. "Next thing you know, you'll be getting married."

"Easy there, Dad. I'm not even sixteen yet."

Ray Rocket took a long look at his teenage daughter trying to memorize her at this age, to keep her in this moment just as long as he possibly could.

"You'll be sixteen before you know it, Rocket Girl."

The Surfside Café looked different at night. Its thatched roof was decorated with strands of white Christmas lights and in the warm, dark evening they set the place aglow. This particular evening the restaurant was closed for a private party: the sixteenth birthday of one Reggie Rocket.

Reggie sat at the head of a long table in the center of the restaurant. With her family and friends gathered around her she was well on her way to having the best birthday ever.

"Okay, Rocket Girl, let's hear it," Ray said. "What do you want for your sixteenth birthday?"

Reggie looked thoughtful for a moment.

"My driver's license," she answered.

"Done and done," Ray said. "As soon as we get back to Ocean Shores you can take the test. What else?"

"Well, Raymundo, since you're in such a giving mood, how about a car to go with that license?"

Ray shook his head.

"Are you kidding? If I buy you a car then I'll have to get Otto one, too. And if it turns out he drives anything like he surfs…"

"Hey!" Otto said, offended.

"Try again, Rocket Girl."

"I guess there is one more thing." Reggie paused and took a deep breath. "I want to start dating." It was kind of an awkward thing to have to say to her dad, but if she didn't bring it up, he certainly wasn't going to.

Ray let out a low whistle. He hadn't expected that one, though he supposed he should have guessed. He'd been fooling himself, not paying attention, but these past couple of days had brought the point home. Reggie had grown, so had Otto. They were headed for new territory and new sets of challenges that would challenge him as well. That's the way it was going to be and there was nothing he could do to change it. He'd just have to take the plunge.

"So you wanna go out with a boy?"

She nodded.

"Well, it's okay, I guess. But there are a few ground rules. I'd have to meet the boy and I'd have to approve of him."

"You already do," she said softly.

It took Ray a moment to catch on but when he did he scanned the table, eyeballing the teenaged boys present.

"Sammy? You want to date, Sammy?" Ray said at last. "Why sure, Reg. He's a great kid."

"Me?!" Sam spluttered.

"Dad!" Reggie groaned.

"What, you think you're too good for my daughter, Dullard?" Ray asked.

"No, sir. But—"

"—Dad!" Reggie said again. "It's not Sam."

Ray was confused. He turned to look at Tito. Tito shrugged.

"Don't look at me, brudda."

"It's Twister. I want to date Twister," Reggie explained. There was silence at the table. Twister felt his face grow warm. He fidgeted in his chair as Ray looked at him hard. The moment seemed to go on forever. No one moved, well, practically no one moved. Tito couldn't keep himself from reaching across Sam to load a few more French fries on to his plate.

"Twister, huh?" Ray said finally. "Well, I guess it's about time. He's had a crush on you since kindergarten."

"He has?" Reggie asked.

"I have?" Twister echoed. "Oh yeah, I guess I have."

Reggie was stunned. This was so not the reaction she'd expected from Raymundo. "So, uh, you're okay with it?" she asked her father.

"I'm…I'm going to be okay with it," he answered. It was now Ray's turn to fidget in his chair. "So, Reggie, I guess there are a few things I should explain to you about boys. You see, when a young man enters puberty…"

There was a collective groan from around the table. Otto dove for the salt and pepper shakers and snatched them out of Ray's reach. Reggie was absolutely mortified. Fortunately, Lola came to the rescue.

"Ray, I think you should maybe save that talk for later," she suggested pleasantly.

Thank goodness for Lola, Reggie thought. She couldn't wait until Lola came to visit them in Ocean Shores. Somebody needed to keep Raymundo in check and Reggie thought that Lola might be just the person to take on that difficult task.

"You're right," Ray agreed. "This is a party and we should celebrate." He lifted his glass into the air. "I propose a toast to the birthday girl."

Everyone raised their glasses.

"To the new junior ladies champion of the Kona Kai on her sixteenth birthday," Ray announced. "May your waves always be perfect."

"Here, here!" Tito said. Glasses clinked around the table.

"To Reggie!"

"To Rocket Girl!"

"To Danger Girl," said a voice.

Reggie looked up to see Lars. He'd just walked into the café. Twister grew tense. He hoped Lars wasn't here to start trouble.

"Relax," Lars said, as if reading his brother's thoughts. "I just came by to say Happy Birthday to Reggie."

Everyone at the table simply stared. After all, this was Lars Rodriguez. He didn't just drop in dispensing gestures of good will. There had to be a catch.

"Also, I thought Raymundo might want to get a look at the trophy he lost to me in the finals," Lars explained. He held up the shiny golden statue which indicated that he had won the men's championship.

That was more like it. This was the Lars they all knew and loathed.

"Gee, thanks, Lars," Ray said. "Awful nice of you to remind me."

"Yeah, well, I'm a thoughtful guy," Lars replied. "But I can't really stay."

"We understand. I'm sure there are plenty of kids out there just waiting for you to bully them," Reggie said.

"So many kids, so little time," Lars answered. He gave Reggie a quick wink and turned to leave.

Reggie couldn't help but grin. This had turned out to be quite the birthday. She glanced at the faces of her family and friends around her and sighed in contentment. She had a surfing championship, a boyfriend and the promise of driver's license. What more could a girl possibly ask for?

Later that night Twister walked Reggie back to the hotel. He had an arm wrapped loosely across her shoulders.

"So, when did you figure out that I'm like the coolest dude in Ocean Shores?" he asked.

"The coolest dude in Ocean Shores? Hmm, I dunno, Twist. Ocean Shores is a pretty big town. And there's like Tito and Lieutenant Tice and Conroy. So, I'm not sure if you're the coolest dude in Ocean Shores, but you're definitely the coolest dude in the cul-de-sac."

"But the only other dudes in the cul-de-sac are your brother, my brother and Sam."

"Exactly," Reggie said.

Twister thought about that for a moment. Suddenly, he stopped walking. He looked hurt.

"Hey, Reggie Rocket, that's so not right."

"I'm teasing you, Twist," Reggie explained. "Of course I think you're coolest dude in Ocean Shores."

"Good." Twister grabbed her by the hand and pulled her close. "You know what else?" he asked.

"What?"

"I'm also the best kisser in Ocean Shores."

Reggie looked thoughtful a moment. "Well, since I haven't had the chance to make-out with half the town, I guess I'll take your word for it."

"You sound like you need convincing," Twister said, leaning down toward her.

"So convince me," she replied, rising up on her toes to meet his kiss.

"Hey! No kissing!" called a voice from the darkness.

Reggie turned to see Otto watching them like a hawk from behind a palm tree up ahead. She rolled her eyes. Twister chuckled.

"Can it, Otto!" they both said in unison.

It was going to be one long, hot summer once they got back to Ocean Shores.