I’m awakened by my dad, who is gently shaking me. I’m tired, so I just turn over in my warm bed. My dad whispers, “Kat, wake up. We’re going to the beach.” I grumble in response, and my dad tries harder to get me to wake up. “Kitty cat, you love the beach. Remember? You can build sand castles and play in the water and, um… look for crabs… uh, eat hot dogs…” his voice faded off. I know he’s trying, but really? Eat hot dogs?
First of all, I don’t love the beach. Maybe I loved it when I was seven, but that was five years ago. It’s always foggy and cold there, even if it’s the middle of summer. And the water is freezing. Besides, sand crabs freak me out.
But that’s how I end up in our Honda minivan, strapped in next to my talkative six-year-old sister, Anna. As if that’s not bad enough, Anna’s about to lose her breakfast. No matter how hard I press my iPod’s headphones into my ears, I can still hear whimpers of “my tummy’s rumbly” every so often. The three-hour drive on twisty cliff-edge roads is starting to make my stomach feel like a washing machine, too, so I’m relieved when I see the beach.
* * *
My dad pulls into a sandy parking space and stops the car. Anna clicks off her seat belt and jumps out of her seat. She gallops down the dunes, kicking up piles of grayish sand. Finally, she stops, waves her arms, and shouts, “Mommy! Hey Mommy! C’mere!” My parents and I unpack the car and stroll down toward the water, where Anna is waiting impatiently.
My parents unpack our bag, and I sit on a beach towel to read my book. Even though I’m wearing a sweatshirt and jeans, I can’t stop shivering.
Then, I hear Anna’s voice. She calls out to me, “Hey, Kat!”
“Come here!” I look and see that Anna is standing knee-deep in the water and waving at me. She is completely soaked.
“Aren’t you freezing?”
Anna shakes her head vigorously, making her blond pigtails fly back and forth. “Nope. It’s… um… warm.”
I don’t believe her, not for a second. Anna turns around again and starts dripping some wet sand through her fingers, and I go back to my book.
* * *
A few minutes later, I close my dog-eared book and stand up; I’m stiff and pretty much frozen. I walk over to where my mom is sitting and reading. I say, “Hey, Mom? I’m going for a walk, ’K?” My mom gives me her consent, and I leave.
Before I walk three steps, Anna rushes out of the water. “Kat! Kat! Where’re you gonna go?”
I sigh. “Nowhere.”
“Can I come? Pleeeeease?” Anna is jumping up and down with elation.
I look down at her. “All right. But I’m not going in the water.”
“Yay! Thanks, Kat!” Anna gives me a big (and very wet) hug.
I meander down the beach, Anna skipping in front of me. She talks nonstop. “Kat, wanna build a sand castle? We can play fairy princesses! What color will your 1princess dress be? What’s your favorite color, Kat? I like pink. My swimsuit is pink. Ya see my swimsuit, Kat? I’m hungry. I want ice cream. I like strawberry ice cream. What kind do you like, Kat?” And so she continues, never stopping for anything. Anna has the thinking process of a butterfly.
* * *
Finally, I stop walking and look around. My parents are two tiny dots far away. All around me there’s just water, big mounds of sand, and gray sky. And Anna, who is currently trying to dig a hole to Australia. She looks up from her freshly dug ditch. “Kat, dig with me. Please?”
“Fine.” I step into her hole and kick into the side. But the sand doesn’t give like I thought it would; instead, my foot hits something sharp and spiky. Ow. I reach down to pull the sharp thing out, expecting it to be a broken plastic toy or a rock. But instead, I yank out a big, sand-covered seashell.
I look at the shell more closely. It looks like a conch shell, the kind you see in magazine pictures. It’s dirty white, and dotted with tiny barnacles. But under all that, I can see how perfectly shaped it is, smoothed down by the ocean. I turn the shell over and see the inside, which is a light, glassy pink. The pink shines brightly, even though there’s not much sunlight.
I turn to Anna, who’s busy digging the hole. “Hey, Anna, look what I found!”
“Huh? What is it?”
I hold the shell up to her. She strokes it carefully. “Pretty. Now do you want to play princesses?”
“Um, maybe later. Hey, I think I’m going to head back to where Mom and Dad are.” I jump out of Anna’s hole and start walking. Anna trails behind me, talking on and on, but I only half-listen. I’m too busy looking at the seashell. It’s beautiful, with its inside and its symmetrical shape. The pink is the color of a sunset. It’s smooth as glass and almost looks wet, but when I run my finger across it I can feel how dry it is.
Something about the shell makes me feel good. Maybe it’s the light pink inside, the perfect shape, or the fact that such a beautiful thing could come out of such a… not-so-beautiful beach. But the shell evokes warm beach memories, happy ones, like when I was eight and went boogie boarding, and the time when I was five and tried to empty out the whole ocean with a plastic shovel. Those were some of the times when the sun shone over the beach, and when Anna was only a toddler. The brightness of the shell makes me remember about the other side of the beach, the side with the sand fortresses and treasure hunts and eighty-degree days.
* * *
I’m lost in these pleasant daydreams as I head back to my towel. The afternoon suddenly seems brighter, the water sparklier, and Anna more enjoyable. A little while later my family rolls up our beach towels and heads home. I hold the shell during the car ride, and I’m amazed at its beauty for the whole way.
When I get home, I stick the shell on a bookcase in my room, between my old soccer trophies and a clay bowl I made in preschool. As I’m placing it, Anna walks into my room and looks up at me. “Hi, Kat.”
“Hi, Anna Banana,” I answer.
“Guess what? I made friends with a seagull at the beach. It flew next to me, and then it ate my sandwich.” I laugh. Anna pauses to think for a minute.
“Didja have fun today?”
I think of the fog and the cold weather, and I start to shake my head no. But then I look up at the beautiful shell on the shelf, and I know the answer.