A Lesson at the Beach

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
May/June 2014

Chloe Montague
a lesson at the beach children at the beach

Bella ran up the beach after me. “What’s wrong?”

Underneath the fluffy white clouds that rested peacefully in the cheery blue sky, the waves pushed me and my boogie board in to shore. Riding the white water was better than anything I dreamed of doing this vacation. Since the moment I first splashed into the waves hours earlier, I hadn’t come out; there is nothing better than riding your boogie board on the waves with your cousins!

Mom, Dad, and I always jump on any opportunity to escape from the seasonal sloppy-slop of Oregon. This time, we’d taken a trip to California to visit my cousins, Bella and Joey, and their parents, my uncle and aunt. On this late June afternoon, our gang had landed at the beach. When we arrived here, no worries were lurking about. It was just a gorgeous California day, and I was happy. Very happy.

I would wait for the wave, rush toward the shore, come back out to the waves, and do it again. Bella, my nine-year-old cousin, wasn’t too far from me. Sometimes we would shout, “Ready… GO!” and we’d be riding the waves next to each other. I was having the best time ever.

On my ten-millionth wave, I jumped on my boogie board at the perfect time, just in time for the perfect wave of this perfect day. White and bubbly, this was sure to be the wave of the week. I rose, higher and higher, and my smile was as big as the sun. Then, just as I was about to shout, “Whee!” I plummeted down. Uh oh.

I squeezed my eyes shut, but even so I could feel the dark blueness around me, like a thunderstorm, like the nighttime rain that always wakes me up at midnight. But this time I wasn’t in my bed. The waves were rolling over me with a huge force, pulling me down into the rock-hard sand. Ow. And then, in addition to all that, I felt something slip off my wrist.

Once the waves calmed down, I got up and opened my salty eyes. I looked at my right wrist, and a horrible feeling swept over me.

Tears streaked down my face as I dragged my boogie board up the beach. I passed kids building sand castles and laughing. I passed people relaxing on beach chairs. How could anyone be so carefree? How could I have ever thought that the clouds looked fluffy? How could anything, even the sky, look cheery? The sand wriggled in between my toes, like it was trying to reassure me that it was OK. The afternoon heat warmed the back of my neck, and rays of sun wrapped around my body, trying to comfort me. But I didn’t feel any comfort.

Bella ran up the beach after me. “What’s wrong?” I didn’t answer. I shook my head and plopped down on the hot sand. I had to admit that it felt so good compared to the cold, biting water. “Are you OK, Chloe?” Bella asked, sitting by me. I shook my head again. “Tell me, what is wrong?” I ignored my younger cousin and stared out at that awful ocean. I couldn’t believe what had happened. My face was hot with tears, and thinking about my bracelet made even more tears streak down my face. “Tell me, what is wrong,” Bella repeated, this time more of a command than a question.

So I told her about my special bracelet that I was sure I had lost, the purple one that Nannie, our grandma, had given me. It was made of brightly colored hairbands that were braided together. I had been wearing it for months, and I wore it everywhere. To school. To dance practice. To bed. I never took the bracelet off. It was very special.

“Hmmm.” Bella stared into the ocean, then hopped up onto her feet. “I’ll go look for it. Wanna help me?”

I got up and followed her down toward that mean ocean, forgetting to be happy or thankful that she was helping me. I wanted my bracelet.

We looked for the bracelet for a long time, walking up and down the beach. It was nowhere to be found. Bella and I were both sure that the bracelet had disappeared into the ocean, but I didn’t tell her because I didn’t want it to look like I was giving up, and Bella didn’t want to tell me because it might make me really sad. Bella’s younger brother, Joey, even came down to help us look, but the ocean had no doubt swallowed it. Eventually, I shook my head. Bella and Joey walked with me back to our campout, away from the dark, mean water. The waves chased after us and nipped at our heels like a playful puppy, but I didn’t want anything to do with the ocean ever again. In fact, I would never go in it again!

Joey went back to playing, and Bella and I sat down on the sand. It was warm, warmer than the seawater. I began to scoop it up and bury my legs with it. It calmed me down a little bit. Bella said, “Will you be ready to boogie board soon?”

“No,” I replied, halfway done with my right leg. “You can, but I don’t want to go in the ocean.”

“Why not?” asked Bella.

It would be silly to tell my cousin that I was afraid of the water because it was mean to me, so I just said, “Just a bit longer on the sand. Please?” I was done with my right leg, and onto my left.

“Look, it is getting to be afternoon. More people are arriving, and the water is going to get too crowded to boogie board. Can we go out?” Bella asked me, with a pleading look on her face.

“Not yet. The water is cold. The sand is warm.” I was done burying both my legs in sand. I felt like I was under a fuzzy blanket by a crackling fire. Aaah. How could I ever get out of this?

“C’mon, Chloe. The water isn’t cold! It’ll be fun.”

“Well,” I looked around for another excuse, but found none. I didn’t want to go, but Bella definitely did. I stared out at the ocean. As far as I could see in both directions, people were laughing and having fun in the water. By staying on this warm sand, I was robbing both me and Bella of that fun. I really didn’t care whether I stayed or went. “Fine,” I said, “let’s go.”

Bella hopped to her feet like a jumping bean and grabbed her boogie board. I trudged after her, breaking my warm blanket of sand, and we headed down to the water. My cousin ran right out into the waves, but I lingered on the edge of the sand. Did I see a fish swimming around with a circular purple thing? A purple thing! Could it be…?

I waded ankle deep into the water and reached down to grab my special bracelet, then pulled my hand back. The fish. How could I get it away from the fish?

I smiled. I didn’t need it. The fish must need it for something, and I should not get so attached to a bracelet. Other things were so much more important. Like Bella’s feelings.

I splashed into the water. Bella rushed in toward me on her boogie board. “What took you so long?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I said, smiling. “But I did take long, didn’t I?” I really had taken a long time to realize that Bella was more important than a bracelet.

The clouds were fluffy again. And the sky was more cheery than I had ever seen in my life. I knew nothing had really changed, but in my heart, something had.

The rest of the day, I played with Bella in the water underneath those fluffy white clouds. Now, when I think of California and that interesting day, I don’t think of losing my bracelet, or that awful dark moment when I got pulled under. I think of the beautiful water and the fish that will love my bracelet. I think of the lesson I learned. But most of all, I think of Bella, because she mattered most that day at the beach.

a lesson at the beach chloe montague

Chloe Montague, 11
Portland, Oregon

a lesson at the beach samira khan

Samira Glaeser-Khan, 12
Chicago, Illinois

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