From Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul on Love & Friendship

Waves of Good-Bye

In the highway breeze, Adie’s hair whips her cheeks like a dozen inky horsetails. Most of her mane has fallen out of her upsweep, the strands flapping wildly around her face, around her exposed shoulders. Alongside our Jeep, the beach yawns, waking with its seagulls and surfers. Adie turns up the radio, and we belt out the chorus in our best high notes until our voices drown into the ocean air. It is senior ditch day, after all, and we have much rejoicing to do.

We were both Leos, and our manes, we reasoned, were direct extensions of ourselves. It sounded very sensible, even a little mystical, lending justification to our nicknames at high school: the two good witches. Adie and I would do everything imaginable to our locks: curling, straightening, knotting, weaving, teasing. Adie’s hair was so much more alive with possibility: Her black hair cascaded lazily from her scalp, and when the sunlight hit it just right, it had a way of reflecting silvery pools in its loose waves. My hair, a kind of dusty orange, had an unmanageable thickness about it, a dull frumpiness that took a backseat to Adie’s slicker twists and braids.

With her foot still planted on the gas pedal, Adie manages to stand up in the Jeep. Her head is peering over the windshield, high above the roll bars. Even in her rashness, she is graceful—a statuesque performer balancing upon the spine of a Lippizan.

“Adie!” I holler. “You’re insane! Get down!”

“Come on and live a little,” she sing-songs. “We’re nearly done with high school! Can you believe it? I mean, can you beee-lieve it?”

Adie collapses back to the seat, exhilarated with her feat. She mutters something about trig class, only I am far away now. I glance to the seamless shore and think, for the first time, about after high school, and everything becomes the hollow sucking sound of the sea in a conch. Come fall, Adie will be at a university in San Diego, and I will be navigating my way around a campus in Santa Barbara. One shore, two separate cities, an entire world away.

Her hands come off the steering wheel and reach toward the sky in an utterly free stretch. My hands are suddenly curling nervously around my kneecaps.

We have our usual spot, between lifeguard stands 11 and 12, which we have methodically stalked out over four years, finding it to be the spot for the best-looking lifeguards. Our towels are unfurled, the radio antenna elongated, and the baby oil is at the ready.

“Adie?” I ask. She is dousing herself in oil, which gives her a ubiquitous sheen. “Have you thought about what college will be like?”

“Mmmmm, not really,” she answers. The question seems to slide off her back like the oil itself. “I guess I’ll just find out when it happens.”

“Right, right,” I say, half-assuredly. “That’s how I feel.” Only I don’t. Horrific images of wandering, lost, in a sea of people—mature people with bills and rent—streak across my mind. I worry about the notorious bike paths I was warned of at orientation, about devilish seniors careening and forcing me off the road, and about who my roommate will be, and if she’ll have lousy taste in music. “Isn’t it funny how we know all of the same words to the same songs?” I ask.

“What? Are you day dreaming again?” Adie replies. “Here,” she continues, handing me the baby oil, “can you coat my back?” With the sun striking her, she already appears perfectly bronze, a stark contrast to my pale skin mottled with freckles.

She is lying with her belly to the sun and a towel over her face. “You know,” she says, removing the towel for a moment, “I bet you’ll be the only one in your dorm with red hair.”

As if I weren’t self-conscious enough! No amount of good-witchery could mask the peculiarity of my hair.

“You’re lucky,” she continues. “It’s what makes you, you,” and the towel goes back over her eyes.

“I think it’s time to flip,” Adie announces. We roll over, repositioning ourselves perpendicular to the sun, when a deep voice overhead startles us.

“Hi ladies. Hard day at the office?” He is tall, almost unbearably tan, and his hair falls over one eye.

“The hardest,” Adie responds, propping herself up on one arm. She usually takes the lead in these things, while I wait to chime in. Sometimes I wait eternities.

His hands are on his hips now, angling his torso and flashing ripples of muscle. I think about how I look. Should I lean on one arm? Is my stomach in? Am I showing cleavage? Do I even have cleavage? Adie seems to be doing everything right. Her body is relaxed and firm at once. I seem light-years behind. “Well,” he says, “I’m headed out to catch some waves,” and he heads toward the breakers.

“Now this,” Adie mumbles, “is how I imagine college.”

And then he turns around, looking straight at me. “You coming or what?”

Steve. It’s an older name. A real guy name. The water is up to our chests, lapping haphazardly at our throats. When the sun hits, it blinds us temporarily, and then we laugh, trying to keep our balance in the ocean.

“So I take it you don’t work,” Steve questions. “How about school?”

I nod. This is uncharted territory.

“UCLA?” he asks. “No, wait, you look like a Pepperdine girl.”

My nodding gets wilder.

“Which one?”

“Ummm. Neither.”

“Oh, a private school, then.”

Our high school is private, I reason, agreeing with him. And then his hands are about my waist.

“Watch this,” he whispers, and then tosses me up out of the ocean, and I crash back in through the water, submerged with a deep sloshing of water. I force my way back up to the surface, gasping. “Pretty good,” Steve boasts, only I have no idea about what’s so good about any of this.

My eyes rove the shore and I see Adie there, and she sees me, giving an exaggerated wave. Maybe this is like college, I think, my being on my own—floating—and Adie somewhere further off, wondering where I’ve gone. It has always been me waving back at Adie, watching her flirt, wondering when she will come back to land, or if she will. Now, I am my own element of surprise. I wave back to her, just barely, unassuredly, holding up my hand like a hesitant bicyclist unsure of the proper signal.

“You seem close to your friend,” Steve inquires. “Same school?”

Yes, I answer, but not for long. When I finally tell him that we are just two girls, two seniors, ditching school, he isn’t as repulsed as I feared. In fact, he becomes a little too anxious to give advice about college, about the freedoms and the friendships, about the failing and forgetting, all of the “f’s.” “It comes in waves,” he says, and then, smiling, he splashes water into my face. “Get it?”

This time I nod genuinely, I get it, and, with my body chilled from the coolness of the ocean or maybe just from the coolness of everything, head back toward the shore where my best friend is soaking in the sun, soaking in everything, still waving to me as I wander back to her.

Jennifer Baxton

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