The Sand In My Shell
Fingers brushing the edges of the image in his hands, the young man twisted it across his fingers over and over again. It was really late, or really early, depending on how you looked at it, he supposed. And for the first time since making the decision to quit surfing as a pro, he couldn't sleep. He'd thought that he'd found the cure to the restless feeling in his skin and his running around brain. But, six months into his trip, and he was again facing a sleepless night. Again.
"Edge, man, what are you doing up?" The voice drifted over to him across the crackling of the dying camp fire between them. A head full of tousled dark hair popped up out of a green sleeping bag. "You planning on going for a midnight surf?"
"It's way passed midnight," Edge responded, folding another piece of the photograph in his hands back down. He had folded and refolded it so many times, lines of white were starting to pop through the ink, marring the image of a perfectly sunny day spent by seven kids on the practically pristine shores of Blue Water Beach. It was the kind of picture that evoked a stream of memories one Dean Edgely never wanted to forget, though he had spent a considerable amount of time trying during the last year.
"What's wrong?" His traveling companion, and official photographer to boot, wiped some of the sleep from his eyes, shoving the sleeping bag down around his waist so he could see Edge clearly.
"Just go back to sleep, Heath." Edge had finally folded the pieces of the photograph down so that one person in particular was highlighted in the glow of the embers. He palmed the picture so that Heath couldn't see what it was he was looking at.
"Come on. If you can't talk to me, who're you going to chat with at..." Heath paused to check the time on the phone kept just in reach by his sleeping bag before he continued, "three in the morning? Edge, we have to get up in two hours to catch our bus. Why are we up now?"
"We don't have to be up," Edge countered, sounding like a petulant child. "You should go back to sleep." He rubbed his palms together as if creating some warmth for his hands, but all he felt was the crinkling of the photograph against his skin.
"Why would I do that? I'd miss all of your wonderful conversation skills," Heath deadpanned.
Heath had never been one to let things go, and he had always been able to take bad attitudes in stride. And in the last two years, he'd had plenty of practice dealing with a surly Edge. The best way to deal with him was simply ignore the fact that he was upset and pester him as usual. Eventually, Edge would blow up, yell at him, do something stupid, and then he'd go right back to normal. At least, that's what the track record showed. This pensive Edge who wasn't throwing anything at him in the middle of the night was a little different. But then, maybe Edge was just growing up. Finding out the dream you had worked for since before you could walk wasn't really what you wanted could do that to a guy. Heath knew that first hand.
"Well," he finally said, making a big show of stretching and pretending to wake himself up a bit more, "Since you're up, I'll get the coffee on."
The two young men didn't say anything more until they were full of trail mix, beef jerky, and plenty of coffee. They had run out of their supply of vegemite and dried fruit two days before and hadn't made it to any stores yet. Of course, since they were nowhere near Australia, vegemite was something they probably wouldn't see for a while. Not that Heath was complaining. It wasn't exactly his favorite. It just reminded him of home. All he knew right now was that they were somewhere on the South American coast, and when he and Edge went and picked up their check for their most recent portfolio of within the curl, top quality, surfing photographs, they would be buying plane tickets for Hawaii, where Heath had an actual job to do, instead of just submitting freelance pictures to local magazines and hoping he'd get good money – he was one of the photographers in a women's competition sponsored by some small American swim wear brand.
And it wasn't until they were seated at the back of a crowded bus behind a pair of smelly old men who didn't speak any English, their bags carefully stored in an overhead compartment, along with their bagged surfboards, that Edge asked Heath, "d'ya think I'm doing the right thing? Giving it all up?"
"You mean the cute surfer girls, the winners' parties, the prize money, the all expenses paid comps, the nice hotels for the sponsored surfers? Pssh. Who would want any of that?" Heath joked with a lazy grin. When Edge didn't respond, just kept playing with the piece of paper in his pocket that he didn't think Heath knew about, Heath put on his serious face. "No, mate, I think you're doing what's right for you. You know, surf for the love of the sport, see the world, and if you change your mind in a few years, you can always get back in the scene, see if you still got it." Privately, he thought this might have been a question Edge should have asked him six months ago when he called him up out of the blue to say he wanted to take some time off for a surfing safari.
"Pretty sure I'll still have it," Edge shot back with an answering smile of his own, but it didn't reach his eyes, and they both turned away.
The engine of the bus turned over with a growl, and the wheels shot off on dusty streets, almost lurching them out of their seats. Heath took a moment to appreciate the view with the rising sun, but when it became obscured by the stirring dirt on what passed for a road, he turned his gaze back to his seat mate.
"I think we both know this isn't about the comps."
Edge's head snapped back faster than Heath would have thought possible. "What are you talking about?"
"Come on, mate, you really expect me to believe that you flew all the way back to Blue Water on your own after skipping a bunch of comps just to spend some time with Simmo and his new recruits? If you wanted to stay out of trouble with Solar Blue, you would have avoided Simmo altogether. And as much as you like Fly, I don't think you went back just to see her either. And you could have lounged around on the beach anywhere to clear your head." Heath waited a beat, allowing time for his words to sink in. "I think you went back because you were looking for something else at Blue Water." Heath raised his eyebrows and inclined his head, hoping that Edge would get his meaning without him having to spell it out.
No such luck then.
"Face it Edge, you went back to Blue Water hoping you would run into Bec."
Edge gave a look that was clearly supposed to one of surprise, all wide eyes and mouth open in shock. His whole posture changed, but Heath, master of defense, knew that it was the kind of posture meant to deflect the words just aimed at him. Leaning back in his seat, arms crossed, knees pushing hard into the seat in front of him, Edge was quite obviously poised for denial.
"You thought... you were having all of these problems at the comps, and you thought Bec could pull your head out of the sand. I get it."
Edge deflated, slumping in his seat, leaning his forehead against the back of the head rest in front of him. It smelled spicy, kind of like some sort of weird cheese. He didn't let the strange smell, or the guy who was turning around and saying something angrily in another language that sounded vaguely like Portuguese, but Edge wasn't sure, distract him from the conversation. "I guess... I just don't like the way we left things. I haven't talked to her since she went off to school." He hesitated, not used to having this kind of heart to heart talk with another guy. "I miss her," he mumbled into the seat. Back in school, it was always one of the girls who made him talk about the things he didn't want to talk about.
"Yeah," Heath breathed. "I get that too." He and Fly had never been what Edge and Bec had been. They were friends. Just friends. But that had been something he had to remind himself of hourly when around her. And he still felt a pang of regret every time he thought about the girl he had briefly dated after leaving Blue Water, the girl who wasn't Fly, the girl who had broke up with him the second he'd decided to leave his job behind to travel the world's surfing spots with a friend.
"That's why you stayed, yeah? After the finals? You stayed and looked for a job in Blue Water cause you knew Fly was going back?"
"What? No. I-" Heath scratched his neck awkwardly, deciding that if Edge could be honest, so could he. "I guess I did." He chuckled and nudged his companion in the arm. "I guess we're just a couple of saps, huh?" Edge laughed his agreement, and Heath took the opportunity to ask something he had always wondered about. "Why Bec though? I mean, don't get me wrong, I love Bec like a sister, but you guys fought like cats and dogs when we started training. I thought one of you would kill the other before you were ever, you know, together."
"Me too," Edge agreed with a chuckle, but it died when he leaned back in his seat again and found Heath still waiting expectantly for him to say something. "You really wanna know?"
Drawing in a deep breath, Edge reached back into his pocket to pull out his picture. The photograph was after one of their first comps all together, and he kept it clenched in his hand, folded into that tiny square that he had been so sure Heath couldn't see until now. He thought for a minute, unsure how to explain himself. "I'm not really sure. She's just Bec, you know?" Edge shook his head a few times and tried again, eyes drifting over to a woman flirtatiously giggling with a much older man a few seats away. She nervously twisted one perfect white spherical earring as she spoke in rapid Spanish, and he remembered a lecture Matt had given him once for their biology class. "She's like sand."
"You lost me."
"Like... sand floats around in the ocean, just going with the flow. None of the fish or anything notice it, yeah? Cause it's always there. It's just a part of the water and the salt."
"I'm guessing the other guys in Blue Water are the fish," Heath cut in, trying to work out just what Edge was driving toward.
"Well, yeah, sure." That part of the metaphor hadn't really occurred to him. "But, you know, sometimes, little pieces of sand, they get caught, by accident, on the edge of shells. Most of the time, those shells are two pieces, closed as tight as they can be, not letting anything in when they're threated. But sometimes, the sand can work its way between the two pieces, yeah? And once the sand gets in, it's there for good. Nothing gets rid of it. And it just pushes and pushes at the soft part on the inside of the shell, being bloody annoying. And the shell just figures it has to deal with it. But... it can't."
Heath, who'd heard the same lecture from Matt was finally starting to understand where this was going. "Right. So, it tries to wrap the sand up to protect itself better."
"Exactly." Edge's face is more animated than Heath has seen it in days, weeks even. " It works on it, trying to trap it, smooth it out, so it can't be so irritating. And eventually, all that work to protect itself from this little bit of sand backfires, because together, the sand and the shell make this new awesome thing that everyone else wants."
"Yeah." Edge nods. "But you know what the thing is about wild pearls?"
"The oyster has to die for the pearl to come out."
"Yeah." Edge is quiet again, his gaze back on the woman twisting her earring around and around, his fingers mimicking her movements with his photograph.
"I think you should call her. See how she's doing. Tell her you're crap at keeping in contact, and we're going to Hawaii. See what she says." Heath says it all matter of fact like, as though his idea is the most obvious one in the world, as though Bec isn't going to tear Edge a new one when he gets her on the phone.
"It's been a year."
"So? It can take years for an oyster to turn that piece of sand into a pearl. She'll be happy to hear from you."
And so saying, Heath figures it's settled. He turns in his seat, leans his head against the window and tries to sleep, but it's impossible with all of the bumpy dirt roads and hair pin turns, and he almost vomits once they've actually reached their destination.
Edge watches their bags, sitting on a bench by the side of the road while Heath finds a washroom, and then tries to get their money out of the bank. To avoid the street vendors passing by, he pulls out his cell phone. He's only used it three times in the last six months: once to talk to his parents about whether or not he's still alive, once to check in with Fly because he promised he would, and once to call Heath when they got separated in Tahiti. It's expensive to use it outside of Australia, and he usually just turns it off and buries it in the bottom of his bag. But now, he's thinking he'll use it. Just this once.
He dials the number he knows by heart, even though it's been over a year since he was the one who called her. She picks up on the first ring.
"This better be really good because you haven't called at all, and I have an exam in the morning."
Crap. He forgot about the time difference. "I just wanted to say -" He wants to apologize, but that doesn't seem like enough, so he starts again. "You know what Rebecca Sanderson? You're the sand in my shell."
A/N: It feels like it's been forever since I've written anything, and my plans to participate in NaNoWriMo this year were kind of derailed. But this idea was something I had jotted down forever again, and I wanted to get it out. I hope you Blue Water fans liked it.