Look back last week for part 1. This is a series of blog posts for my fiction writing. This is a story I wrote a couple of years ago and is accompanied by some of my personal photographs.
“I want to go to the beach” Sophie whined
“I do to” replied Lara kindly “what do we need to do before we can go to the beach?”
“Go to the store” Sophie sulked
“And what kind of attitude are you going to have from here on out?”
“A good one.” Sophie looked up at her mother from under those long dark eyelashes, a pout still tugging at the corners of her mouth. Lara reached down and kissed the top of her nose. “Alright Ladybug, let me see that good attitude on your face.” the corners of her mouth began to twitch and a soon a smile replaced her pout.
“All right now” said Lara as she stepped into the sunshine, holding her children’s hands, and with a light swing in her step, that always came in the sunshine and something to look forward to. “Let’s see where we need to go.” and she pointed her small herd in the direction of the front office.
A little bell tinkled as the door opened. Behind the counter a kindly, middle aged woman looked up from her book. She was very much like her hotel. Economical and yet with an air of elegance, kindness and friendliness. Her short thick hair was steel gray, her eyes, blue, face tan and lined, but in all of the right places. She adjusted her glasses and said with a smile “Well, hullo there! I’m Mrs Gerald, my night desk clerk told me about you when I came in this morning. That was quite a pour-down now, wasn’t it? I hope you got a good night’s sleep. Lord knows you must've needed it driving all that way. And how were your rooms? Is there anything I can get you?”
“Our rooms are perfect," replied Lara "really, you have a wonderful place here.”
Mrs G smiled warmly and looked over her glasses at the children “And now what are all of your names and ages?”
“I’m Clara and I’m 8 and I just finished second grade. My sister’s name is Sophie, she is seven.”
“I’m almost five!” said Connor enthusiastically.
“And your name?” asks Mrs G.
“I’m Connor James McMullen. My Daddy died.”
“You have my deepest, deepest sympathies for your loss.”
Mrs. G looked up at Lara “You have such a beautiful family Mrs. McMullen.”
“Thank you so much” said Lara with a proud smile, “and please, call me Lara”
“All right then Lara, so you’ve come from Georgia have you?”
“Yes, just south of Atlanta.”
“How nice, are you from there?”
“Yes, for the most part.”
“So, are you passing through? Staying for a few days? How long do you think you’ll be with us?”
“I think, for now, we’ll just take it day by day. We don’t have any definite plans, at least, not the moment.”
“Well then, I hope you enjoy your visit very much, and stay just as long as you’d like.”
Lara got directions to the nearest grocery store and headed for the door.
“Now you make yourselves at home and if there is anything, anything at all, that you need, you let me know.”
Mrs G. looked very directly at Lara with a soft, kind look in her eyes
“anything at all I can do to help. Now don’t be shy.”
Lara nodded with a smile and darted out of the office after her children.
Lara and her little brood wandered up and down the isles of the little grocery store, buying only enough for about a day. Some pre-cut watermelon, raisin bagels, milk and juice boxes, stuff for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Lara's kids were in a hurry to put their feet into water and, if she was honest with herself, so was she. They deposited their groceries in their room and made a bee line for the beach.
Before long Lara was walking along the beach with her three little ones, who stopped to inspect anything and everything interesting along the way. They walked until they found a good spot, dumped their stuff into the soft warm sand and ran for the water. The children ran into and away from the waves, letting the water wash around their ankles. Lara just stood there. Sun on her back, ocean breeze on her face, waves rolling over and around her feet, and she cried. Part physical exhaustion and pent up nerves from the last twenty-four hours of travel and part gut-wrenching grief from the disaster that had been the last twenty months. She cried from soul weariness and tired-of-life-ness. The weight of the world on her shoulders. But then, here came Sophie bounding towards her with her newest most beautifulest shell. And there was motherly Clara, helping little Connor wash sand off his shell.
Lara smiled, even as she wiped away a tear. Here it was. Sadness and joy all bundled up together, occupying the same space, happiness and grief stacked tip to toe in this funny thing called life. And just as we are dipping our toes in despair (or barely coming up for air) there are those perfect moments that turn the world right side up again, if only for a moment. A second that makes getting up in the morning make sense again. So Lara wiped away another tear on the back of her hand and exclaimed “Well, look at that!” with genuine joy, a proud smile and a kiss for the top of Sophie’s head “It’s beautiful - just like you.”
Lara, Clara, Sophie and Connor declared their love for the beach over and over and said that they never ever, ever wanted to leave. But eventually their stomaches disagreed and they packed up, heading back to their room. They showered and changed. Lara put their wet things in the washing machine, grateful from the bottom of her heart that this suite was so well equipped. The kids enjoyed their watermelon and sandwiches. Lara enjoyed the quiet and solitude, this moment. Their little family - not at her mother’s kitchen table, no one hovering in the background. Weary and broken-down as she was, a shipwreck of a woman, but a mother, their mother, here, now. With the ocean outside, a breeze blowing through the open patio doors, and her children, three perfect miracles. Moments later she might be screaming, they might be fighting and acting like hooligans, but now, this moment, it felt perfect and finally Lara felt a little like she was at the beginning of being okay again. Maybe.
Half an hour later Lara found herself in the middle of a heap of her children, watching TV. Clara curled up under her blanket on one side, Sophie on the other, Connor asleep in her lap. Lara closed here eyes and let herself fall asleep. Content.
The next few days were pretty much the same. Breakfast, beach, lunch, naps. After naps they sometimes enjoyed the pool at the hotel, sometimes went off exploring, sometimes in the car, usually on foot. Then they walked to the grocery store, bought something for dinner if they hadn’t stopped anywhere else, paid for another night at the hotel, played on the beach for an hour or so as the sun set. Lara would fold laundry while her kids watched something on TV before bed. After the kids were in bed Lara texted her mom and sister and checked her email. Before she had left for Florida she had submitted an entire month’s worth of content to the various blogs, websites and magazines she contributed to so there wasn’t much work to do, just a few emails mostly. She kept in close contact with her editor and best friend Marleigh and there was usually something from her to reply to. Lara began and ended her days in the same way. On the patio, eyes closed listening to the ocean, the crash of the waves her lullaby.
Lara sat on the balcony sipping her coffee. This morning was particularly clear and bright, the ocean blue, the sky clear like the whole world had suddenly decided that it was time to start over. Even the birds seemed a little less raucous this morning and called to each other in a symphony of oceanic glory. Lara had her own reasons for feeling a sense of renewal. Her monthly check from her late husband's social security had automatically deposited into her bank account and her financial month had started over today and she felt the freedom to do whatever she liked and she felt giddy with the idea of planning out the next month.
At the end of the first week of her stay at the beach Lara had inquired at the office about a weekly rate and paid for another week, and then another, and then another until one morning she realized that they had stayed nearly an entire month in this little hotel and this tiny bit of beautiful beach. They had barely made it past the barrier islands, and Lara thought maybe they should venture farther.
At breakfast that morning Lara spread marmalade on an english muffin and asked the kids what they thought of her plan “I was thinking it might be fun to explore some other beaches? Maybe see what the beaches on the gulf of Mexico are like. I’ve heard that the sand there is white. Or maybe we could drive down to the keys? What do you think? Does that sound exciting?” Sophie was the first to pipe up “Can we go to the pool today? My new friend Emmanuel, he said that he’d be at the pool today, in the morning. He’s leaving tomorrow so I really want to play with him today.” “Sure Sophie, that would be just fine.” replied Lara, swinging between amused and frustrated. Clara, in her typically cautious, noncommittal manner offered “Visiting another beach could be fun.” Connor quickly added “But after we visit a new beach we’ll come back here, right?” he was carefully examining his bowl of cereal, scooping out every last bit of banana that he could discover. “I think we could do that” said Lara smiling and something inside her clicked, like a puzzle piece finally fitting into place. They were staying.
A few hours later Lara was at the pool, watching her children play with their friends old and new. Well, really they were all new friends. Some were just newer than others. Sophie had found her friend Emmanuel, Clara was with a girl her age who had arrived yesterday, Connor was playing with his newest “best friend” whom he had met a matter of minutes ago and who’s name he did not even know. Mrs G. came around to sit with Lara for a few minutes. They chatted about the kids for a minute or two.
In all honesty Lara had half-expected Mrs. G to come knocking on the door any day to announce that she had reservations for this room and that Lara would need to pack up and leave. Mrs. G, equally, had expected Lara to check out any day. She had never come across anyone quite like Lara and her little brood. Usually people had plans. Usually people paid for the number of days they were going to stay and then left. Rarely had she ever seen a vacationer fall in love with this little piece of beach and this ramshackle old town.
It had once been a pretty piece along the A1A, a bustling strip of mega-motels, but that was nearly a decade ago and with the nearby cities paying a small fortune in advertisement, and being closer to the interstate, this little town had felt the full effects of the recession and little of the recovery. Most of the nearby hotels had converted into low-rent condominiums, filled with commuters working in the neighboring attraction-filled cities. Mrs. G had a handful of regulars, a steady stream of guests during prime months - enough to keep her doors open, but not much more. Over the last few weeks Mrs. G had developed a soft spot for Lara and her sweet little family, and it grew day by day. She was just heading into her busy season, such as it was, but had already made up her mind that she’d bend over backwards to make sure that this sweet family could stay every day that they wanted to... Not that it had been a struggle, even in the thick of her busy season there were usually plenty of vacancies.
“I’ve been thinking,” began Lara “about possibly exploring some more of your beautiful state.” here it comes thought Mrs. G already feeling disappointment that they’d be leaving, “But” continued Lara "when I asked my kids what they thought about that idea, they were mostly just concerned that we be able to come back here.” A cloud of confusion crossed Mrs. G’s face “So I was thinking, it if was possible, I’d like to pay for an entire month, up front. to keep our room. Don’t worry, we won’t leave it vacant more than a day or two at a time. I was just thinking maybe seeing the Gulf, or oh, I don’t know. But we all love it here, so much. It’s been so good for all of us...” Lara’s voice trailed off a bit, but she snapped back into reality “of course, if it’s too much trouble or the room is already reserved or something…” Mrs. G interrupted her, put her hand on Lara’s knee and said “No worries, my dear. No worries. We are more than happy to see you stay here just as long as you like.” Lara smiled and let out a happy sigh. “Let me ask you just this one thing?” asked Mrs. G in a very low, motherly tone, “Of you don't mind my asking - what does your family think?”
Mrs. G nodded
“I don’t think they understand, but I guess they are coming around. My mom didn’t like the idea of me going. I moved back in with my parents for about year after my husband’s accident, and it was wonderful, especially at first, but you know, here, just the four of us, it feels right. For now anyway.”
Mrs. G patted Lara’s knee again and stood up. Stood and turned to walk away, but turned again. “I do really love having you here.” and she walked away.
Lara expected a show-down of epic proportions with her mother over her decision to stay another month in Palm Coast. She did not expect her mother’s response.
After a long pause her mother simply said “All right then.” Another long pause “You’re?”
“We’re fine mom. We’re really fine. It is really really nice here. It’s good for the kids to get all of this sunshine and fresh air. And well,” Lara let out a little sigh “it’s been really good for me too.”
“I’m glad to hear that, Lara.”
The next day she sent an email to Lara asking to arrange to come visit them in a week or two, and for an address to forward the few bits of mail she’d received. So Lara spent the day setting up a Post Office Box and getting a library card and she felt like an official temporary resident.
I'll post the next part of this story next Thursday night. If you want my story to land right in your inbox please subscribe to posts in the sidebar! (if you're viewing on mobile you may need to scroll to the bottom of the page and tap "view web version"). Thanks for reading!