"Well," Angela said with a sigh asj the front door swung open and we peered inside the dimly lit front room of the beach house, "this is it. This is our home until September tenth, when we can move in the dorms."
I waited for my best friend to enter before me, and followed her in, hoisting my duffel bag further up on my shoulder as I took in my surroundings, once she turned on the light. The room was as dusty as the air was stale, having been shut up and closed off during the fall, winter, and spring seasons on Tybee Island, Georgia. There was a faded red couch set against the far wall of what looked to be the den, with the 36" television set up in an old oak entertainment center facing the sofa. There were old rocking chairs set on either side of the room, each with a small end table and personal lamp that made me want to automatically curl up with a good book. The floors were wooden, but not the polished type wood; it was rustic, and held prisoner grains of sand from the beach right outside the sliding glass door on the other side of the eat-in kitchen. The kitchen itself was simple, it had a total of five cabinets, painted a faded canary-yellow; a double sink; and a round table with five chairs sitting placidly around it. The refrigerator was smaller than average, and the attached freezer even smaller. The stove was electric, thank god. This house was furnished for a vacation home, not for a long term settlement, but Angela and I would be fine, I knew this. After all, we would be official residents of the Savannah College of Art and Design in September.
Tybee was a summer getaway for people far and wide, and as Angela and I were set to attend college in the nearby city of Savannah, we were soon to be neither far nor wide. Soon, Tybee would be a part of our home, and by the way I felt the excitement in my gut at the thought of feeling the sand between my toes, I could see that I would be a repeat offender on these pale sanded beaches. I loved the way the little township was set up: all the tourist shops and bars and hotels established only along the shoreline, with real life and the routine nestled safely behind all the loud music, drunken partiers, and screaming children with a blistering sun burn.
Our beach house was on the north side of the island, located near the lighthouse and the old battlements of Fort Screven. One could climb to the top of Tybee Lighthouse and see clear across to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, and every ship, tiger shark, and bottle-nosed dolphin in between. It also seemed to be the part of the beach that tended to house more locals than party-time tourists. It was quieter, more low-key, and hidden away from Hwy. 80 by a series of twists and turns through the township; the tourists settled near the pier on South Beach, where every major hotel on Tybee was located. There were also beach houses there, obviously, but when Angela had sat down in April of that year to make our two-month reservation for July and August, she had decided to opt out of the tourist section.
"We're moving there, we should get to know the locals," she'd said with a wise tone, and I had merely shaken my head at her.
Now we were here, about to begin the vacation before the Beginning of Life, as we had jokingly come to calling the start of our first semester in college.
"Bells, which room would you want?"
I turned toward to where her voice sounded from the back of the little house on stilts, the weight of my bag now noticeably heavy on my shoulder.
"Whichever room you wouldn't want, dear!" I called back to her in a sing-song tone, walking back to where I saw light flooding the otherwise dark hallway.
I found Angela standing in the middle of a smallish room with faded lilac wall, and an old full size bed standing up on merely a frame in the middle. The window faced the water, which meant the east, which meant the sunrise, and I decided then and there that this was Angela's room, as she was by far the more chipper of us in the mornings. "You can keep this one. I'll take the one across the hall, no big," I said nonchalantly, shrugging the shoulder not weighted down with fifty pounds of crap.
Angela's eyes narrowed behind the black frames of her glasses. "Why? Is there something wrong with this room?"
I gave her a wide-eyed look. "No. Why would there be?"
Angela looked from me to the bed, and back again. "It's because the bed is too small, isn't it?" she asked accusingly, and I shook my head.
"What does that have to do with anything?" I asked her, watching as she set her own bag down on the bed in question, anyway; she would keep this room.
"You're planning on fucking every girl you bring home from the beach," she said matter-of-factly, and I scoffed at her presumptions.
"No, Angela, I am not 'planning on fucking every girl I bring home from the beach'," I said, slapping a hand against my chest in a gesture of how retarded that statement proved.
"Bella," she said in an exasperated tone. "I just wish you would admit you have an addiction to women. The first—"
"—step to recovery is admitting you have a problem," I finished for her, both of us grinning at our little joke.
I wasn't addicted to girls; girls were addicted to me.
But… hypothetically, if I were addicted to women, I would have to say that it got me to where I was now standing, because the portfolio I turned in with my SCAD application and my transcripts was mostly comprised of still-life drawings of women that I had done. Some were nudes, some were not; some were mothers, others were daughters or sisters. I saw a beauty in femininity, the womb, the giver of all things life, and it was that essence I aimed to address when I drew portraits, be it of one of my lovers or my friends.
But hours later, after we had picked our rooms, and I stood in my own room, looking at the light blue walls, and at the equally bare full size bed that manned it, I found myself gazing out of the window at the sight of the lighthouse as it grew into twilight, and the light that slowly came to shine. I felt my head start to capture the moment, and before I knew it, I was seated at the end of the mattress with a pencil and my sketch pad, studying the light and dark effects of shadows from the setting sun behind the massive white and black structure, and colored pencils chosen carefully to reflect the several colors that made up this particular Georgia sunset. I was born and raised in this state, yet I had not known such beauty lie in its coast, as I grew up on the piedmont of the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains; too far away from the Atlantic, but not quite close enough to the mountains. I knew pine trees and red Georgia clay, not palm trees, and old oaks covered in Spanish moss. Savannah held an untapped magic for me, something mysterious to be found, and I felt that by the time I graduated and I moved on to New York, that I would know the city and all its secrets.
We set into a routine, one that took all of a week to form. We would be up by nine, and out exploring by eleven, finding all there was to find on the tiny island, before venturing into Savannah itself. We drove through downtown Savannah, oohing and ahhing at the old architectures of the buildings that lined Bay Street and River Street, indulging ourselves in domestic seafood proudly served in the pricey restaurants there. We shopped for things for our dorm room that we were to be sharing in the fall, we shopped for things for our beach house we currently called home, and we attended some bars just to have a look at the young night life here. I set my sights on several pretty girls, and the third night out, got a phone number from one.
"Bella, you are hopeless," Angela chided to me on our drive back down Victory Drive towards Tybee.
"What? I told her I was new here, that I was going to SCAD, and she offered to show me around the city," I said innocently, and that made her roll her green eyes.
"Did you even manage to catch her name?" she asked me, and I opened my mouth to reply before it hit me.
I indeed had forgotten that minor detail.
"Mmm-hmm. That's what I thought," Angela said with a smug look that I wanted to wipe off her face.
"What about Benny, or whatever his name was?" I asked her, referring to the clean cut preppy guy with too much tan, and too-big muscles that had come up to Angela right when we had come through the door.
"His name was Ben, and he seemed nice enough," she answered, unmoved by my attempt at knocking her for a blush of embarrassment.
I ignored her for the rest of the ride, and let down my window once we passed into Thunderbolt, the little town that rests between Savannah and Whitemarsh Island, so I could smell the brine of the salt water creek we crossed to access our abode.
"We should get a cooler of beer, and sit on the beach tomorrow," Angela said suddenly, as she shut off the car in the garage below the house.
"…okay?" I said uncertainly, wondering where this blast of idea came from. We had yet to spend more than an hour on the sand, due to the fact that Angela couldn't swim and was no fan of the water, hated sand in her hair or her shoes, was terrified the seagulls would eat her flesh, and had a phobia of old men with too much body hair with no shirts on.
"Well, you know… Ben might or might not have mentioned that he and some of his friends would be playing volleyball on South Beach tomorrow, next to the pier."
I scoffed and rolled my eyes as I opened the door to get of her little silver Civic. "I should have known a penis has something to do with this," I said to myself as I jogged up the seventeen steps to the front door, searching my key ring for the key to get in.
"There will be girls there," she called up to me as she walked across the gravel from the driver side of her car. "And Ben said two of them are completely gay, and added that it was a crisis for men everywhere, because they are so good-looking."
"They're probably together, is what he left out of that bribe," I told her flatly, once we were both in the house.
"Nope, because they're cousins," she informed me, and I gave her a look as I pulled open the fridge and reached for a can of Coke.
"How much did you two talk about me?" I said with a chuckle, and Angela shrugged as if it were nothing.
"You're my best friend. If I am getting some, I have to make sure there's something there that can peak your interest, as well. So… are we flush, or what?"
I leaned against the counter beside the sink and popped open the tab of my soda, not taking my eyes off of Angela as she poked her bottom lip out and gave me the best puppy look she could muster. Angela never really asked me for things like this, she was usually too shy to pursue guys, and the fact that she was going after this one intrigued me. I didn't have a conversation with him, but if his bulging biceps and taut pectorals had a say, he was definitely more brawn than brains, and that was not Angela's type at all. But she seemed eager enough to get to know him, anyway… "All right," I said with a heavy sigh. "I'll come along on your little beach date. But—those two gay chicks better be worth it," I added jokingly, pointing my finger at her.
"Well, as I have never seen them, I honestly couldn't say. But hey, we'll have fun, regardless, right?" she said optimistically, and I couldn't help but smile at her. Angela was a bright light in my rather dull life. She helped to remind me that there were other things out there, a world outside of Atlanta's metropolis, and that it was waiting for us to come and live it. I didn't know what I would do without her.
"Yeah, we will," I agreed, holding my can up before taking a swallow in honor of our plans the next day. "But uh… what time do we have to get up for this rende'vous?"
I felt a twinge of forebodence when Angela bit her lip and averted her eyes. "Um, well, Ben said that it would have to be kind of early, because they wanted to be able to snatch up the net, and a few of them want to catch some good wind for parasailing," she began slowly, not meeting my ever-increasing scrutiny. "So, I think we might have agreed on… ten a.m.?"
My eyes widened. She knew I was no good for strangers until after noon, at the earliest, and she was throwing me to the wolves here, not one person, but a group of people I had never met. "Damn it, Angela. I'll have to be up at seven just to be coherent enough to deal with people," I complained, throwing a hand up in frustration.
"Bella, please, for me? He's really sweet, and he seems smart, and god, he's gorgeous," she gushed, and I felt a slight wave of nausea roll through me at her demeanor. I'd never seen her like this for a guy, not in the entire span of our nine year friendship.
"You know I will," I grumbled, deflating when her arms crushed me, and I begrudgingly hugged her back.
"Thank you, Bella, you're the best," she said softly, and I found myself blushing, unable to take the compliment, as always.
I laid in bed that night, awake and thinking about Angela. She had always been a quiet, shy genius with her only vocals resting in that of her art. She was gifted in several areas: drawing, painting, photography, graphic design. She was exceptional with web site design, and photo editing. I didn't begin to compare with her range of talent, I was a mediocre artist with a flair for the female anatomy and the roles of women in life, death, creation, devotion; of every shape and size and color. But it was also my rut, as it was a habit of which that I had yet to break free, despite the random landscapes, such as the lighthouse drawing from my first night on the island. Perhaps Angela was right about me being addicted to women, as she was so often right about other things pertaining to what made Bella Swan.
She knew me better than anyone on the face of the planet, it was like a special ability she came equipped with when we entered the same middle school in sixth grade. A year of homeroom, English, Math Concepts, and gym later, we were inseparable, and remained so until this day. I found solace in her friendship, a rock for me when I felt I wanted to die just for who I am… she was the only one who really never balked at my coming out as a lesbian in our sophomore year. It was her shoulder that felt my tears when I faced the truth and its consequences in all aspects of my life. Even though time had healed the wounds, and even strengthened some of those aspects of myself I once thought lost, I would never forget it was Angela who stood by me when no one else did. That's why when I left the country for three years after graduation, she came with me. She was there while I fucked my way through London, Paris, and Rome, at least one girl in each city, one that catches my attention for a while, but it never lasts. She had joked about there being "the one" in Savannah, the one that could break me and tie me down, one that I would not fight against, and willingly give in to.
But maybe that was a future she saw for herself in our travels, as she never had affairs with the men as I did with the women, and now that we had finally decided we had enough culture for the time being, that it was time to go to school like we had promised our parents. The beautiful part of it was that it was the school of our mutual dreams. We had wanted SCAD for years, but I had a "pre-life crisis" after graduation, and to assuage my nervous breakdown, Angela agreed to the trip, and in lieu postponed Savannah.
But I worried for her, about this guy… so fast…
She liked this guy, despite all the insanity it brought into my mind, and she had only talked to him for a couple hours. Now I had to wake up at the ass crack of dawn just so she could go meet up with the fuc—fellow at the beach "to able to snatch up the net", or whatever it was. I snickered at the thought of Angela playing volleyball, if he coerced her into trying to play. That alone would be worth the wake up time.
We decided to go straight to the beach the next day, opting to let Ben buy the beer that he and his friends liked to drink so that we would be contributing somehow. Angela met up with Ben immediately after exiting the vehicle, leaving me to pay the parking fee and stick the ticket in the window. I watched as he waved his hand dismissively at the money Angela held in her hand, and gestured to several coolers waiting on the sand next to the back tire of his truck. "… it's more than enough for all of us, and if not, we can always hit up a store later," I heard him say as I drew even with the two of them a moment later.
"Hey… Bella, right?" Ben said as they looked away from each other and to my approaching form.
"Yeah," I laughed, taking in the guy from head to toe. He was shirtless, of course, with black swimming trunks tied around his waist, low enough to see some curly dark hairs sticking out from the top, and he was wearing aviator sunglasses, not too different from the ones I wore. He had a nice, friendly smile, was clean shaven, chest was hairless(though I suspected he shaved it), and his dark hair was cut close to his head, but long enough on top to gel down over his forehead. He really wasn't a bad-looking guy, but I couldn't just trust him not to break my best friend's heart just because he knew it.
"Angela says you are the key to her heart, so I am going to make it my duty to make you happy," he said jokingly, and Angela elbowed him, smiling. "Two of my good friends are coming today, but they're not here, yet…" He trailed off and looked across the parking lot. "Well, scratch that, here comes Katie now," he said, and I turned around to see another truck pulling into a space not far from where we were parked for the day.
I supposed this girl jumping down from the cab of the truck was one of the lesbian cousins that Angela had bribed me with the night before. I took her in from a small distance, not really sexually, just more like sizing her up, just as I do to everyone I first meet. She was tall, long-legged, blonde, and had a light caramel skin tone, one that didn't scream "tanning bed". This girl was outdoorsy, liked the sun, and judging by the sticker on her back glass that read "Salt Life", I'd say she was here quite a bit.
Ben looked around, counting under his breath at the group that had converged near each other, most of them sipping water and goofing off, and nodded to himself. "Including you two, we have enough to play," he said, and I did a double take when I realized what he had just said.
"W-what? No, I don't do sports," I laughed, shaking my head at the mere thought. If Angela was bad, I was terrible, and I just did not feel like showing off my non-skills. I opened my back pack and pulled out my sketch book. "I'm just here for the scenery."
"Fair enough," he conceded, but then looked at Angela with a questioning look. "Are you gonna play?"
"Oh, yeah, definitely, but... um, I'm not..." She trailed off as he smiled gently, shaking his head.
"It's fine, it's not like we're professionals. We're just having fun," he said in a comforting tone, and I automatically began to like Ben. He seemed like a genuinely nice guy.
"Okay," Angela replied, her tone more confident. "I'm in."
"Great! And Bella, if you walk down to the jetties, you'll get a great scene of the waves on the rocks... I have several black and white shots I took there," Ben told me seriously, pointing down the beach a bit.
I followed his finger and looked down to see the giant rocks beside a white sign with red letters that read "Keep Off Jetties". With the tide up as it was at the moment, it indeed was a nice little crashing scene. I hummed to myself in approval of Ben's tastes. My "Like-Ben-O-Meter" went up another notch.
"Thanks, man," I said, giving him a grin. "I'm going to go give it a try. I'll see you guys later." It was an out, a way to avoid being introduced to eight people at once, and Ben provided it, so Angela couldn't say anything about it.
I trekked down the beach in the sand, each step bringing more and more shell sediment into my sandal, so that to avoid cutting the bottom of my foot, I would stop and shake it out every twenty feet or so. I felt like an idiot, how out of practice with the beach I was, and tried to play it off best I could with sporting the wear: a pair of blue and yellow swimming trunks, a tie on bathing suit top beneath a white wife beater, and my trusty sandals. I looked the part, now I just had to get used to the role of beach bum.
Once I reached the jetties, I saw exactly what Ben had meant when he said the scene was great. When you looked down the line of boulders, it was like you were crashing head first into the water over and over, every time a wave broke against the end. I put my bag down in the sand and slipped my sandals off as I took the hair tie from around my wrist and twisted my dark hair up into a tight bun. I figured if I were going to be getting some sun while I was sketching out here, then I may as well do it right and limit the weird tan lines. I shed my tank top off and placed it into my bag as I dug around for my pencils. This would remain a black and white, I didn't want to use color for this drawing just because it seemed so forbidding and damning. It was like a rocky ride into a watery hell. I wanted to capture that, and I wanted to do it before the sun rose too high and killed the tide and the shadow play.
I worked for an hour, only ever looking up or around when I was trying to analyze an angle or the sweep of a wave, purely involved so that I forgot that I had even come here with Angela, much less that there were people I was supposed to be interacting with at some point. My neck was stiff, and I had to stand up from the indian-style position in which I had spent that time frame, feeling my muscles ache with the stretch. I groaned with the feeling, rolling my neck on my shoulders, then looked at the finished drawing in my sketch book. I smiled to myself for the effort, because I really liked it. I really liked how it was as heart-felt as my portraits, and that it seemed as if there might yet be hope for me to climb out of my female rut.
I looked around me, taking a deep breath of the salty air, appreciating the constant call of one gull or another, or forty as they converged on some poor idiot stupid enough to bring a bag of chips onto a beach. Tybee was beautiful to me, and I had begun to fall in love with the place from the moment I saw the light brighten in the top of the proud lighthouse my first night here. Tybee was the place that was going to set me free, and I could just feel it.
"Hi," a voice said behind me, and I started at the sudden presence of someone else.
When I turned around and looked to see who had snuck up on me in my reverie, I saw a small girl with short black hair, glowing topaz eyes, and a knowing grin that told me she was as confident as they come. She had that same tan as the rest of them, and something about the way she held herself, wearing a bikini top and cut off jean shorts, told me she was an islander just as much as the rest of these guys were. It was a natural look for her that lulled me in, seeing sincerity in just her stance. Did I mention she was probably the most beautiful girl I'd ever seen, in all my travels? Here, in Tybee, existed the epitome of what I think I might have been looking for all along...?
I realized I had been staring at her without replying for some time now, and I noticed it as soon as her grin began to fade into an uncertain frown. "H-hi," I said shakily, trying to smile. She had shaken me, for sure, and now I was trying to recover before the conversation started, as I didn't want her to think I was a blubbering fool.
Apparently my efforts were enough, for the smile hitched right back onto her face, and she took a couple steps forward, her hand outstretched in greeting. "I'm Alice," she said, grinning even wider when our hands gripped each other's, and I felt a tug somewhere in my gut... a good tug.
"I'm Bella," I replied easily, concentrating on evening my breathing; her touch had made me forget to take a few.
"I know," she said, grinning again, and I found myself really liking it when she smiled. "I'm friends with Ben, I met your friend Angela. She sent me down here to get you for lunch. We're going up to this Mexican place a few blocks away... you want to come?"
"Sure, just let me pack up my stuff," I said, snatching up my pencils from the rock and stuffing them in my pack. I looked up toward the volleyball net and saw it abandoned, making my brow crease. "Where's everyone else?"
Alice blushed a little, a sheepish look on her face. "Well, you see, they sent me down here about fifteen minutes before I actually said anything to you... I was watching you draw. They've already left for the restaurant."
"Did Angela expect me to walk?" I asked, astounded she had left me with a stranger, and choosing not to comment on the fact that she had been watching me. She seemed embarrassed that she had admitted it, and I felt no need to further any discomfort. I wanted her to be comfortable. I had found my One in Savannah.
"No," Alice said with a giggle. "I offered to give you a ride," she added with a flirty smile, and I couldn't help but return it, feeling that little tug again.
Oh, dear. I had found Tybee's Treasure, and it was a pixie of a girl named Alice.