Title: The Beach, The Book, and The Boy
Setting: The Jersey Shore, 1985ish. Mary is twelve, Brandi is five.
Summary: Mary is babysitting Brandi on vacation when she meets a smart, friendly stranger. A friendship story.
Notes: My first attempt at any type of 'In Plain Sight' story. I can't imagine pre-teen Mary is as harsh as grown-up Mary, so you only see flashes of what she's going to be like when she's older. It's a story about something that could have happened, not something that necessarily did.
Vacation was usually fun for children, but twelve year old Mary Shannon was working. She sat dutifully on the sand, watching her five year old sister, Brandi, splashing at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean on the Jersey Shore.
"Mary, come play with me!" Brandi shrieked with a giggle as the small waves splashed her at the knees.
"In a few minutes, Squish, when Mom gets here," Mary called back. She looked around for any sign of their mother, Jinx. Still nowhere to be found. One of Mary's and Brandi's numerous uncles had come to visit the night before, and after waiting for an hour this morning for their mother to appear like she had promised, Mary packed up some towels, sunscreen, some sandwiches and juice, and toys for Brandi into a big tote bag. She loudly told the door connecting the girls' room with their mother's room that she was taking Brandi down to the hotel's beach and hoped their mother was listening.
It was nearly two hours later. Mary had brought her summer reading with her, but was afraid to get too involved with it. She liked reading and often lost herself in stories about adventures in strange, exotic lands. Unfortunately, she could lose Brandi if she got too lost in Narnia, and she couldn't lose Brandi. Nothing could happen to Brandi.
They didn't get to go on vacation too often, but the way Mary understood it, another one of her uncles helped pay for the trip. Mary had more uncles than any girl she knew at school. This particular uncle had left to go to work yesterday and not returned. Another completely separate uncle had shown up yesterday evening to join the Shannon girls and their mother for dinner. Mary was not going to let this bother her. She didn't much like any of her uncles.
She picked up her Narnia book. She decided she would read one page and then check on Brandi. One more page, and check on Brandi. And she would keep doing this until her mother came, even though she knew her mother probably wasn't coming.
Mary had lost track of how long she'd been alternately reading and checking on Brandi when something hit her in the back of the head. She looked around and saw she'd been hit with a Frisbee.
"Sorry!" came a boy's voice. "I'm really sorry!"
"Watch it, loser," she said coldly, handing back the Frisbee.
The boy took the Frisbee. "Or else?" he said with a smile.
"Yeah, or else," she said, looking back down at her book.
"Or else what?" he asked.
"Or else I'll beat the crap out of you."
"Really?" he said, sounding amused.
His tone annoyed Mary and she finally looked up at the boy to examine him more closely. He was tall, but around her age. He had dark hair and blue eyes and was rather thin. His cheeks were freckled from the sun and he had on a blue swim trunks.
"Yeah, really. I could definitely beat you up," she decided out loud. The boy just nodded. He kept looking at her. "What?"
"What are you reading?"
"The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe," Mary said. "It's for school."
"I read that last summer," said the boy, kneeling next to her in the sand. "What part are you up to?"
"They just went through the wardrobe," Mary said curtly. "What do you care?"
"Just curious," the boy shrugged. "Do you like it so far?"
"Yes." Mary sometimes wished she would fall through a magical wardrobe into an enchanted world with friendly creatures and talking animals. "Why do you ask so many questions?"
"Just curious," the boy repeated.
"My mom says that it's better for kids not to ask too many questions."
The boy shrugged again. "I don't really care what your mom says," he admitted. "I like asking questions."
Mary smirked a little. "It seems that way."
"Where is your mom, anyway?" the boy asked.
Mary felt slightly ashamed and embarrassed but didn't know why. "She's in the hotel room," she said shortly.
"So who are you here with?"
Mary knew she shouldn't be answering these questions. Her mother always told her and her sister not to talk to strangers, but this boy didn't seem particularly dangerous. In fact, she couldn't help trusting him. "My sister, Squish."
"Her real name is Brandi," Mary explained looking down again at the ocean to check on Brandi, who was still playing happily with a small bucket and shovel, "But I call her Squish. Where's your mom?"
"She's over there," the boy pointed behind her and she turned her head to look. "And my dad is too. Is your dad here?"
"No," Mary said quietly, staring at the pages of her book.
"None of your business," she snapped.
"Whoa. Sorry," the boy said, holding up his hands.
She felt a little guilty. "Sorry. It's just that he had to work and I'm kind of mad about it," Mary lied. She wasn't going to tell this total stranger about her father and how he was just gone.
"Too bad," the boy said, "It's a nice day."
"Do you want to play Frisbee with us? I was playing with my dad."
Unlike most of the kids she met at school, this boy seemed very interested in her. Mary would have given anything for her mother to show up so that she could stop watching Brandi and have some fun of her own. It wasn't often anyone showed much interest in getting to know her.
"I can't. I have to watch Brandi until my mom comes," she said seriously.
"Okay. I could stay with you until then if you want," the boy smiled.
Mary was shocked by this generous offer. Other kids didn't usually want to hang out with her when she was babysitting Brandi, which was all the time. "Okay," she said, "But it's not that interesting and there's not much to do."
"It's okay. I can watch her for a bit. You can read."
They sat quietly for a few minutes, but Mary didn't read. She stared out at Brandi in the water, and periodically glanced at the friendly stranger by her side. Finally, she closed her book. "So what are you doing here?" she asked.
"We're on vacation."
"Where are you from?"
"Here in New Jersey, but not the shore," she explained, careful to avoid telling him too many details. "What about you?"
"Cool. But why would you ever go on vacation to New Jersey?"
"Well, we were visiting my uncle in Philadelphia and then we're going to New York City, but we stopped at the beach for a couple of days," the boy explained.
"You go on vacation to New York and Philly?" Mary asked incredulously. She had been to each city a number of times and couldn't imagine either being a great vacation spot. Neither had any beaches.
"I've never been to New York. I'm excited. There's so much to do and learn in New York and Philadelphia, I don't know how I'm going to remember it all," the boy said enthusiastically. "I brought a camera, and lots of pen and paper to take notes with –"
"That sounds more like school than vacation," Mary commented.
"I love school," said the boy. Mary looked at him curiously. She hated school most of the time, except for English when she got to read stories about interesting people from far away places. She must have been looking at him strangely because he said, "I know, I'm weird. You think I'm weird, don't you?"
"Only a little bit," Mary said with an apologetic smile. He smiled a little bit too, much to Mary's relief. "I don't like school too much. I only like English and I don't have many friends there."
"I don't have many friends either," the boy admitted. "If you want, I'll be your friend."
Mary thought about it for a minute. A friend? Really? "Okay," she said finally.
They sat quietly again for a few minutes, Mary still watching Brandi splashing twenty feet in front of her. Finally, the boy said, "Did you know that the Chronicles of Narnia are an allegory?"
"What's an allegory?" Mary asked with confusion. She had never heard of an allegory.
"It's when a figurative story is used to convey something beyond the literal," the boy explained. Mary merely blinked at him. He blushed a little bit. "It's a story with made up things that actually represent something else."
"Oh. Like symbolism?"
"We did symbolism in English last year."
"It's a little bit bigger than symbolism but it's a lot like it," the boy said.
"Cool, I guess. What is this book an allegory of?"
"Christianity," the boy said knowledgably.
"How is it about Christianity?" Mary asked.
"Well, Aslan is supposed to be Jesus and all the kids are referred to 'Sons of Adam' and 'Daughters of Eve.' Peter is a lot like St. Peter. Edmund shows how people are redeemed through Christ's sacrifice, and a bunch of other stuff," the boy said.
"So who is Mr. Tumnus?"
"I don't know. I'm not sure all the characters are in the real Christianity."
"I don't know much about Christianity," Mary admitted, though she didn't really like it. She felt rather dumb compared to this boy. "But this is kind of stupid. If he wanted to write about Christianity, why didn't he write about Christianity and not make everyone guess?"
"I don't know. It's kind of fun, though, don't you think?"
"Well, maybe not fun, but I like the story, and this is kind of interesting."
"Mary! Mary!" came Brandi's voice. Mary looked up. Brandi was hobbling up the beach with tears in her eyes and blood running from her knee down her shin. Forgetting entirely about allegory, the book, and the boy, Mary sprang off her towel and met her sister half way.
"What happened?" Mary asked, supporting dripping wet her sister back to her own little towel. "Squish?"
"Fell," Brandi sniffled, "It hurts!"
Mary pulled out another towel out of the big bag she brought and wiped up her sister's knee. It wasn't too bad, but the salt water probably stung and it did require a band-aid. As Mary dug through her things, she was vaguely aware that the boy was still there, watching them.
"Oh no!" Mary exclaimed after a thorough search of the bag, "I forgot the first aid kit!"
"I can help," said the boy, and without waiting for Mary to say anything, the boy scooped Brandi up and started walking off with her. Mary got up quickly and followed.
"Where are you going!? Be careful with her!" Mary said as she trailed him across the sand.
"I will. Don't worry, I'm just bringing her over to my blanket. My mom always has band-aids."
He stopped in front of a woman that Mary guessed was his mother. Sure enough, he put Brandi down on the blanket and said, "Hey Mom, can we have a band-aid?"
"Sure, honey. Who are your friends?" his mother asked, going through her purse and pulling out a small, slightly crushed box and handing them over.
"I'm Brandi," Brandi said boldly. The shock of being picked up and carried off by a stranger had startled her out of her tears.
"I'm Mary," Mary said. "My sister scraped her knee."
"Yes, I see that," she said with a pleasant smile. "She's being awfully brave though."
"I'm tough," Brandi squeaked. The adult woman laughed.
Mary watched the boy. He pulled a band-aid out of the box and pulled the paper off of it. He knelt in front of Brandi and placed it carefully over her scrape, patting it down gently so it stuck.
"Feel better?" he asked. Brandi nodded and wiped the last of her tears away.
"What do you say?" Mary asked.
"Thank you," Brandi said to the boy and his mom, blushing shyly. She looked at her sister. "Mary, will you play with me now?"
"Yeah, Squish, I'll play with you now. Thanks," she said to the boy's mother.
"Any time, dear," the woman said.
Mary held Brandi's hand as they walked back across the sand to where their things were. The boy followed. Brandi went to get her shovel and bucket as Mary watched. The boy stood next to her.
"Thanks," Mary said quietly. "For helping just now, I mean."
"What are friends for?" asked the boy practically.
Brandi came back, and they had only been sitting in the sand for twenty minutes when Jinx came rushing out to the beach.
"There's my baby angel," she said, bending over to kiss Brandi's head. She didn't even notice the band-aid on her knee. "Did you have fun today?"
"Yes Mommy! I found a shell!" Brandi held up a little shell from her bucket proudly.
"That's wonderful sweetheart," Jinx beamed. "Mary, how was your day? Did you get any of your reading done?"
"It was fine. And yeah I did," Mary said, not bothering to tell her mother her day babysitting hadn't been the much fun at all and her reading would have gone better if she hadn't been afraid of losing her sister and didn't have to look up at the end of every page. It wouldn't change anything.
"Good. Well, Uncle Randy has offered to take us all to dinner, so you two had better get back inside to take showers and get all clean and pretty for the restaurant," Jinx smiled, picking Brandi up off the ground. "Pack up this stuff and come along, Mary."
"Yeah, okay. I'll be there in a minute."
Jinx left with Brandi in her arms, who was babbling away about all the different rocks she'd found and the sand castle she wanted to build.
Mary started to pick up the things she'd brought with them and repack them in the bag. The boy helped her fold the towels. When they were done, Mary turned to the boy, who had seemed to have gone unnoticed by her mother. "Well, I guess I have to go," she said glumly. She'd only had a real friend for about two hours and now she had to leave him behind to eat with another strange uncle who didn't care about her or her sister at all.
"It's okay. Maybe I'll see you around here tomorrow?"
"Maybe. I don't know how long we're staying here. I probably should have told you this already, but my name's Mary."
"Yeah, I heard you tell my mom."
"What's your name?"
"I'll look for you tomorrow if I come back. Bye Marshall."
Mary lifted the bag off the sand and watched the tall, thin, smart boy walk away, back towards his own family. She had the feeling she wouldn't see him again, but she knew that if she did, she'd always have a friend. Mary smiled.