It had been years since she’d come to this beach. So long it blended in with every other beach she’d ever been to. There was warm sand and sun and dune grass and waves crashing against the shore to her left as far as she could see in either direction. There were almost no people. It was getting late and the sun was sinking down into the waves, or so it seemed to Harriet.
As she walked, she reached her hand into the pocket of her light sweater and pulled out the paper, looked at it, and put it back. She’d done it so many times now that the fold lines were becoming wrinkled and warn. It was just a piece of paper, she told herself. It didn’t really matter. Just the address of the meeting place where she was to attend her interview and the map to get to the small bistro.
Her dad had already called three times in the past day to see if she was entire ready, entirely prepared. He even went as far as to ask what she was planning to wear and what she was going to order. When she told him these things, he told her to wear a light blue or a blue-grey instead so as to look more professional. Wear your hair up, he said. No fluffing, no spray, just up. And be sure not to wear too much make-up Hattie, he said, not enough to be noticeable.
“Get a hold of yourself Hattie.” She hissed to herself.
When had she become this paranoid…blob?
But despite her own scolding, the fear still filled her. If she blew this interview there were no more internships, at least not at the level she needed them to be. She dressed the way her dad told her and they talked for a long time over the phone about all the different ways the interview could be conducted and how to act in each one. Her dad was coming home from a conference in San Francisco this afternoon and she would come home and give him a full run down of the interview and he would tell her what sort of chance she stood of getting the internship. She could relay nothing less than the best for man who’d raised her so high into the world when he did not have to.
Harriet took the paper out again and looked over the map and the address. She had only come to the beach to breathe and think before the interview and so far it wasn’t helping. She would leave soon to go back home and bathe and get into the professional looking blue dress laid out in the dry cleaning bag on her bed. Her mother would do her hair and help pick out some jewelry and maybe give her a bite to eat—before getting dressed of course at the risk of getting food on the dress while also leaving enough time for her stomach to settle. She needed to be hungry enough to eat, her father said, but not enough to make her more interested in the food than she was with the interviewer.
She twisted the hand holding the paper to look at her watch. Yes, she should really go now. The gentle, lazy wind picked up at that moment so suddenly that Harriet didn’t have time to tighten the grip on the paper and it went flying off.
“No!” She cried in despair as the paper rolled along the sand, over clumps of dried seaweed, barreling toward the white seafoam along the waterline and the waves beyond. She chased after the paper as fast as she could, but it was difficult with the wedges she was currently sporting. “Come back!”
It was a useless cry, but she watched in horror as the address and map flew to its doom in the ocean waves.
“I got, I got it!” A man’s voice shouted like an announcer at some sporting event or other which she had never attended. A man came flying out of nowhere from her right and dove after the paper right before it reached the water. He grabbed it, but lost balance in the project and gravity claimed him. He went down, twisting so his back landed in the wet sand. He raised the paper high up in his hand. “Safe!”
Only he wasn’t saved from the waves as one washed out right over him before pulling back and leaving him drenched and covered in seafoam. He looked startled at first but began to laugh, still holding the paper high like a flag, completely unharmed.
“Thank you sir.” She said breathlessly as he stood up. She gripped his hand and helped haul him to his feet. He was a tall man, thin but not boney. His brown hair was curly and his sharp face was covered in sun-born freckles.
His eyes were bright and green and laughing as he said, “Oh don’t sir me like I’m some old man. Now what is this here?” He looked down at the paper he had saved, unfolding it, the sand falling from its over-warn creases. “An address to Louie’s Bistro, a time, and a rough map drawn in red pen. How mysterious.”
She didn’t know how to respond to his teasing, but she was saved by a young boy with glasses who came and stood next to her. He had black hair in tight curls and was looking at his feet. Harriet glanced at him, but he didn’t look up.
“It’s for an interview.” Harriet said, trying to ignore the boy. Did this man know him?
“For what?” He asked, handing the paper over.
“Internship. It’s incredibly important. If I want my application to stand out in a host of other med students—”
“You’re a med student?” He asked with a smile. “The naughty nurse type or—”
“Surgeon.” She interrupted, not liking the gleam in his eyes. She was not familiar with teasing and had no idea how to react to it. “Or I’m hoping to be.”
He let out a low whistle and the boy shifted, still staring silently at his feet. “That’s impressive. Here I was thinking a business degree was hard.”
“You’re a student too?” She asked.
“Yep, but I’m not anywhere near as stressed as you seem to be. Have you eaten at all today? You look sort of pale.” His demeanor changed and he almost looked concerned. “Me and Quinn here are going to the pizza place out on the wharf later. Maybe you could meet us after your extra important surgical interview?”
“I’d like to, but I’m busy for the rest of the day.” Busy stressing and dressing and stressing some more until the interview came and went. Then more stressing under her father’s eye as he listened to every detail.
“You sound as if you’re busy for the rest of your life.” He smiled and grabbed Quinn, who Hattie assumed was his little brother. “What’s one afternoon?”
“I really can’t, I’m sorry.” She tucked the paper back into her pocket, securing it. “It was nice to meet you. And thank you again for saving my paper. I don’t know what I would’ve done if I lost it.”
He smiled and put a hand on Quinn’s thin shoulder who was still staring at his shoes. “You seem like a smart girl, I’m sure you would have figured it out.”
Harriet sat on the rocks surrounding the garden, staring at a pebble on the ground that looked a bit like Texas. She’d been starring at it for the last twenty minutes. She’d come out here after the interview and found the first seat she could find. The rock was a bit dusty and covered with spots of lichen, but she’d sat down anyway, needing the earth to stop spinning more than she needed to keep her dress clean. The poor article had served its purpose, all in vain. She could barely feel her feet or her hands for that matter. It wasn’t even five in the afternoon yet, but everything was already ruined.
God, but she didn’t understand it! Everything had gone perfectly. She’d been perfectly formal and professional and ordered the right food and everything. The woman had even complemented her dress! But for all the advice her dad gave her, for all the work she had put into this… She’d started college at the ripe age of fourteen, she’d graduated early, she’d been working towards this thing her entire life and to have it all fall apart for one internship! She’d be upset if she could feel her body, if she could feel any emotions at all. She knew the material like she knew her own name. She had excelled in every class her entire life.
Yet at the end of the interview the woman had given her a sympathetic smile and said that she was very impressed by Hattie’s young age and everything she had accomplished, but they were already considering giving it to someone else. When she’d asked if there was a way to change her mind, the woman had just said she was sorry and that maybe another internship would open soon.
Then she’d paid her part of the bill and left the Bistro, leaving Harriet sitting with a stunned expression, her food only half eaten.
She’d come out here and found this rock and had been sitting here ever since.
She frowned at the scuff of dirt on her heels. They weren’t even especially nice shoes, Hattie thought. They were office shoes, not the kinds that someone would wear out. Not that Harriet ever really went out. She’d had a few boyfriends in the past, but none had been able to keep up with her busy schedule. Or accept a woman who was on track to become more successful than them. She’d try to make it work, but none had ever stuck around too long. Her father was intimidating and her mother was judgmental with frown lines.
She was toeing the little Texas pebble when a man’s voice spoke from behind. “It’s later now. How ‘bout that pizza?”
She whipped her head around to see the man from the beach and the strange silent boy beside him, still looking at his feet. It was hard to judge him when Harriet had been doing the exactly same thing. She blinked up at them. “How did you know where to find me?”
“The address on the paper, remember?” He said with a smile. “Besides, I’ve been here a couple times before. Usually too fancy for my tastes, but the steak is great.”
“I wouldn’t know.” She had gotten a chicken salad. She had planned for a regular salad, but when she heard the interviewer order a cut of lamb, she decided to go for something slightly more substantial. No dressing though, she made sure of that. It wouldn’t do to have it drip onto her dress. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway, she supposed, the lady had known going in that they were giving the internship to someone else.
“Come on doctor,” He said and held out a hand. “Pizza awaits. A big greasy one and some Cokes in glasses they only wash once a week. Maybe followed up by a banana split with extra chocolate and less banana. What do you say?”
She looked at the extended hand and let out a sigh before taking it. “It sounds perfect.”
The girl had barely smiled the entire time they were at the pizza place. She was nice and never cold, but she didn’t smile easily. She picked very daintily at her slice of pizza. She’d only managed to eat one in the time they were there while he was on his fourth and Quinn was finishing his second. Even Andy’s little brother had warmed up to the woman whose name, she said, was Harriet Thatcher. Andy knew he’d warmed up to her because he was he was actually speaking.
“Did you know owls can’t actually turn their heads all the way around?” Quinn said as he started on another piece of pizza, eating it backwards and upside down like he always did.
“Can’t they though?” She asked.
“Only two-hundred seventy.” He said with conviction. “Did you know owls eat other owls?”
Harriet thought about it for a minute. “You know, I think I did. Kind of gross, huh?”
“It’s the circle of life.” He says. “You would eat other people if was part of our diet and you wouldn’t think anything of it.”
“Quinn.” He warned. God, if the boy could just stop talking about owls for two minutes maybe be would have a chance to talk to this doctor-to-be. Only that didn’t seem like it was going to happen. In fact, Harriet didn’t even look annoyed as most people did when Quinn wouldn’t shut up.
“Very true.” She said and ate a pepperoni off the pizza. “Did you know owls have three eye lids?”
“I did.” Quinn smiled and nodded happily as if impressed by her knowledge. It reminded Andy of the way a teacher got all happy when someone answered a question right.
“You know, I got to dissect one once.” She said, finally taking a bite of the pizza itself and not just picking at it.
“Really?” Quinn asked all excited and pushed his glasses further up his nose. Andrew had tried to get Quinn to wear contacts before as he did, but his brother would always run around asking kids if they wanted to see him pull his eyes out. He meant the contacts of course, but they had to give him back his glasses so people would stop calling the principal.
Harriet nodded. “My dad and I went out on a nature stroll once and found one. We brought it home and dissected it on the kitchen table. It turns out it had broken its neck. We never did get to find out how because my mother came home screaming about her table.”
“I wish my dad would do that with me. I like your hair stick thing.” Quinn said, changing the subject just like that. He reached for her hair. It was golden blonde and currently done up in a severe French twist stuck through the top with a simple blue hair stick. One which
Quinn reached out to grab.
“Quinn.” He said sharply and his brother glanced at him. “What have I said about personal space?”
Quinn pulled his hands back but his face twisted with anger and he slammed a fist on the table that sent the dishes rattling. A couple other people looked over, but they all looked away quickly to keep from being rude. Quinn glared down at his wrist like he was squeezing the life out of something and Andrew knew they had a few minutes of silence.
“So what’s so important about this internship thing anyway?” He asked.
“Well,” She started, taking a last glance at Quinn. “It’s sort of a requirement for med students. And my dad…he’s put so much time and money into this and I don’t want to disappoint him or seem ungrateful somehow. I mean, med school… It’s a lot of string pulling and money.”
“And you’re worried about him paying for it? Is he working double time for it or something, because you look a little high class? $hit, no offense.”
For the first time Harriet smiled a bit. “That’s alright. We are pretty clean-cut, I know. But it’s mostly that he was a doctor and even my mom was studying to be a nurse before… I just don’t want to disappoint him when he’s given me so much. He’s getting home from San Francisco later and he’s going to want to hear all about it. God, he’s going to be so upset.”
“If it makes you feel any better,” Andy smiled and gripped the hand she had lying out on the table in solidarity. She had long fingers with clear coated, perfectly cut nails. “My parents have been disappointed with me all my life. I mean, business? My dad’s a total blue collar.”
“What sort of business are you looking into?” She asked and took a sip of her soda, grimacing at the musty smell of the cup. He wasn’t joking earlier when he said they were rarely washed. Rinsed maybe, but still.
Quinn began giggling a bit, though he was still looking at his closed fist. Andrew glared at him before looking back to Harriet. “Fashion mostly.”
“Fashion?” She asked with a pointed look. “As in… clothing?”
Andy nodded. “One day it’s my dress you’re going to be wearing to your interviews.”
Harriet held the look a moment longer before bursting out into laughter. She had a beautiful laugh. When she smiled her whole face lit up the way a twenty-two year old’s face should. Then she seemed to draw back again and covered her giggles with a hand before they stopped completely.
“I’m so sorry.” She said, sobering up quickly. “I don’t know what came over me.”
“I do.” Andrew said, looking over her embarrassed face. “It’s funny.”
“It is.” Quinn said. “Mom’s always yelling about it until she needs a new dress because some lady up the street has a nicer one than her.”
“True, all true.” Andrew said with a chuckle.
Quinn began eating again as Harriet went, “It’s just not what I was expecting is all.”
“Stick around Harriet Thatcher, I’m full of surprises
A loud clank filled the room as Quinn dropped his half eaten slice of pizza on his plate as if it had caught on fire. His blue eyes were bright and wide behind his glasses as he look at his pizza with shock and maybe a bit of anger.
”What’s wrong?" Harriet asked, looking concerned.
“Seminar’s decided my pizza’s a good place for a nap.” He whispered sounded upset.
“Who?” Harriet asked.
“Tell him to get off so we can finish up.” God, not here, not in front of poor Harriet.
“He’s napping. That would be rude.” He said and held up a finger to his lips. “Seminar gets cranky if you wake him up.”
“Then how about you get a piece that Seminar ISN’T sleeping on or eat that.” Andrew hissed. “Or better yet, go wash up. Dad should be here soon to get you.”
Quinn just continued staring at his pizza in annoyance.
“My friend Veronica once had an imaginary friend too.” Harriet said, trying to make light if the conversation.
Quinn looked up from his pizza and blinked at her under those thick glasses. “He’s not imaginary. He isn’t even real at all.”
When his dad came to pick up Quinn, Andy told him that he was going to go see if the youth group campout needed any help and probably wouldn’t be home tonight. Harriet heard the last part of the conversation as she came out of the restroom. Thank God his dad didn’t notice her. The last time Andy had stayed out late with a girl his parents nearly had an aneurysm. Since then he’d always been more secretive about his exploits.
Quinn played along beautifully just as Andy had taught him. He just stared at his blue sneakers and didn’t speak a word as they left the pizza place. Andy had taught Quinn a long time ago to keep his head down in public. It was better to have him silent and awkward then having him shout and hit things and terrorize the public. Andy had told him to do the same thing after Quinn had been hanging around with one of Andy’s female friends.
“If you can’t lie,” Andy had told him once a long time ago. “Don’t say anything at all.”
But Andy knew there would be a price for the silence, there always was. Quinn might be weird, but he wasn’t stupid. Andy made a mental note to take him to the zoo after school tomorrow. It was his little brother’s favorite place.
“It’s nice to know both of us still live with our parents.” Harriet said after they left.
“Is that a joke I detect?” He raised his brows in mock surprise and she blushed. Wow, she was not used to this flirting thing at all. He wondered if she had ever been able to work a boyfriend into her busy schedule.
“Are you planning on kidnapping me then?” She asked, looking to the door his father just left through. “Or is there really a youth group camp out?”
“No kidnapping intended.” Andy smiled and tucked his hands into his pockets. “But how about a party in an old parking garage?”
“Are you serious?”
Andy laughed at her stunned expression. “Serious as a heart attack doctor.”