We headed down the boardwalk. Beachy hair waves – check. Cute sundress – check. I was ready if we happened to run into Aaron Wheeler, or any of the lacrosse team for that matter. From numerous Facebook and Twitter pings, we knew other grads from Sherwood High would be at Funland before fireworks.
Grad week at Ocean City wasn’t turning out what I thought it would be. After six days, I was still looking for that first hand hold, first kiss, first non-familial male acknowledgment I was cute, special, pretty or just somewhat attractive. My best friend and prom date, Mitch, was at my side, also hoping someone on the lacrosse team would notice him. He may have had a better chance than me.
Mitch was known as the class cut-up, hysterically funny, spunky and self-assured. I was his side-kick, sarcastic straightman, or straight-woman. We could make our rounds at the Friday night parties, welcomed but not embraced. We were good for a laugh.
Each day that Grad week, we sat out in the Sherwood section of the beach, setting our chairs and towels in between the band/choir gang and the football/lacrosse/cheerleader territory. We never really fit into any high school pack, so we were stuck in limbo.
I tried hard to break the barrier into lacrosse land. I used my graduation gift cards on pretty bikinis.
“Bikini?,” Mitch had exclaimed the first day when I took off my cover. “You’re not a bikini babe! That tummy has never seen the light of day!”
I didn’t wear my bikini with the same confidence as the cheer squad. My curves weren’t as curvy, my body not so toned. I tried to walk by the boys playing frissbee or corn hole, dipping my toes into the surf and holding my face up to the sun for dramatic effect. But the damn cheerleaders were doing back flips and handstands. By the last days, I just sulked in my chair, my torso covered in tshirts hiding a sunburned belly.
We made our way into the arcade, grateful for a small burst of air conditioning once we were a few feet beyond the open bays to the boardwalk. It was Mitch’s turn at pinball. I stood beside watching the paddles hit, and the ball get tossed into bells and buzzers.
He grabbed ahold of my shoulder and spun me around. I looked up into Aaron Wheeler’s adams apple. He was all pectoral muscles pushing against a collar-turned-up polo shirt, biceps and beer breath. “Hey. Oh. Dang, Jessie. You looked just like Sabrina from the back. You seen her anywhere?”
“Uh, no,” was all I could get out before he patted my shoulder and cocked his head to look over the crowd and leave me, breathless.
“Close your mouth, girl. You look desperate,” Mitch chided.
“He knew my name,” I looked at Mitch in awe and through the open entrance to the beach, a red firework pierced the navy blue velvet twighlight sky.