Chapter 1: In-Flight Musings

"Peanuts or soda?" the perky flight attendant offered for the fifth time, which Otto Rocket politely declined. He peered out his small, oval window at the patchwork quilt of tiny buildings and streets that was beginning to take shape through the cloud cover below.

"Snorrk." The young man sleeping soundly beside Otto stirred in his seat. He lifted the blue, mesh trucker hat off of his face and perched it atop his mop of bleach-blond hair. The boy glanced bleary-eyed at Otto. "Otto- man, how's it hangin'?" he asked sleepily.

"Pretty good, Skylar," Otto replied. "I just wish we were there already."

Skylar nodded. "I can't wait to get in my own bed. And to see this Ocean Shores you keep talkin' up. One week, bro." He held out a balled fist, which Otto lightly punched back with his own. At that, Skylar turned over and commenced his snoring again. Otto smiled and shook his head. Skylar had taken a muscle relaxer before the flight began; he said planes made him jumpy. Now Otto wished he had taken some of the drug when offered it—he had been wide-awake and restless the whole flight. He couldn't stop thinking about all the new experiences he'd had and the familiar life back home he'd left and was soon returning to.

Here he was, on his way back to southern California to finish up a ten week tour across America with the first-ever NSSA Open West Coast All-Stars team. At sixteen, Otto was the youngest member selected in the Men's category, but he had performed very well so far, outsurfing many who were several years older in the various locations the team had competed. For two months, the team had entered surfing competitions, helped with clinics, and attended promotional events in the regions each NSSA conference was held across the United States, for two weeks apiece. They went to Virginia Beach, the Florida Gulf, Northern California, Hawaii, and now were headed back to Ocean Shores, the small town in southern California where the team would participate in the NSSA National Championships. Many team members, like Skylar, were from the Santa Monica area, and when their plane landed (they were flying into Santa Monica, as Ocean Shores did not have a commercial airport) would spend the week before the competition at their respective homes. Otto had had a blast with the guys on the trip—being surrounded by a group of older, extreme sport-loving, carefree-living guys for ten weeks had opened his eyes to all kinds of new things he had never experienced in Ocean Shores. He just hoped the guys would get along with his best friends at home—Twister, Sam, and his sister, Reggie.

Bored, the boy fiddled with a fat, blue-green glass bead attached to the end of one of his auburn-colored dreadlocks. Normally Otto kept his hair back with a green headband, but on the tour he had started letting it hang free, with glass beads decorating the ends that just grazed his bronzed shoulders. Some of the other guys with dreadlocks in the group had worn theirs in this fashion, and Otto had followed suit. To people who didn't know him, Otto's hairstyle signified an attitude of rebelliousness, a statement against social norms, but to those who did, it was just Otto. He had grown dreadlocks since the age of four, when his mother had given up forcing a brush into the unnaturally thick, bushy, reddish hair that Otto staunchly refused to have cut, desiring to achieve the look of the Grunge- era surf bums he observed on the beach. Otto had inherited his unruly locks from his mother, Anna, who had not minded forming her son's hair into matted clumps. She had sported dreadlocks herself when she was younger, around the time she met Otto's father, Ray, while surfing in Hawaii.

Otto sighed. He always felt a dull, aching sadness when he thought about his mother, which, admittedly, wasn't very often. He was just six when she died of cancer, so he was left only with short, snapshot-like memories, such as sitting in her lap in a wicker chair as she tied bits of string around his forming dreads before turning him loose to skateboard in the cul- de-sac. Anna was into extreme sports as much as the rest of her family was, and Otto smiled as he imagined how happy she would be to hear about his latest accomplishments.

As the cities and countryside grew more detailed, Otto pulled out his laptop he used for homework assigned by the team tutor. Because the tour took place during the months of April, May, and June, the kids had to get special permission from their schools to go and were required to study with a tutor. Otto had put forth a minimal amount of effort into his lessons, as usual, and mainly used his laptop as a means to communicate with his best buds back home. Now he opened his email account and reread the letter he had received from Reggie and Twister just the day before:
Hey Rocket Boy,
Reggie and Twist here. We're so stoked about you coming home
tomorrow! Bet you can't wait to hit the waves (or ramps, since
you may want a break from all that surfing) and scarf some
chiliburgers at the Shore Shack. Everybody else is excited to
see you too, even Lars. But Otto, Twister and I [apparently
Reggie had written the letter] wanna tell you something first,
before you get home. Over the past month or so, Twister and I
have felt kind of an attraction toward each other, and we've
been hanging out more on our own, what with you gone and Sammy
busy with Computer Club and some new Anime Club he's joined.
Maybe we've felt this way all along, but we just didn't realize
it. Anyways, we've decided to try dating. We knew this would
freak you out, since it is your big sis and your best bro
together. If you are totally not cool with this when you get
back, we'll stop seeing each other. Well, see ya soon, Otto!
~Reg and Twist

Otto x-ed out the page and closed his laptop quickly. He shuddered. He didn't really know what to think about this new development, except that it was, as Reggie said, his "big sis and best bro together," and that was totally weird. To his knowledge, Twister had never had a girlfriend before, and Reggie had liked that guy, Trent, for a while, but it was nothing serious. He guessed it seemed most natural for friends to get together, but every time Otto pictured his sister and Twister kissing he felt nauseous. He wanted to talk about this with Skylar or any of the other guys in the group, but it looked as though everyone else on the plane was blissfully asleep. Otto moaned and fell into a fitful slumber. He dreamed that Reggie and Twister were sitting on a feather bed covered in pillows, floating in the ocean. They were wearing frilly outfits and making goo-goo eyes at each other. Otto, who seemed to be hovering on top of the water at the foot of the bed, saw a figure coming toward him from across the ocean. It was the flight attendant. "Should we join them?" she asked, with a sly smile.

"Ahhh!" Otto jerked awake. He looked out the window and saw the palm tree- lined runway of the Santa Monica Airport.