Authors: Sara Hooper
For years, he and Amanda had enjoyed living in the area. Despite the memories that met him on every street corner, he wouldn’t move. Friends had told him it was part of the healing process, a positive part. Today, one such memory would surface again; she had watched his team play volleyball just two days before she died. He pushed these thoughts to the back of his mind as he parked his Porsche in an open space next to Don’s Hummer.
“Hey, Dude,” Don called to him. “Glad you could make it. This team we’re playing is one of the best around here. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
“Really?” Shane answered, pulling his polo off and changing into his mesh tank top. At thirty-five, his abs and arms were just as impressive as they had been in high school. No one could miss the sight of his flexing muscles as he removed the heavy beer cooler from the back seat. He hoped today would mark the beginning of a new time period for him, a switch from the old to the new, so to speak.
“Yeah, man.” They walked together through the parking lot and out to the beach. As usual, the strand was active with sunbathers, children playing in the sand and surfers riding the waves. “We’re on the second court,” Don said, as he pointed down the beach. “So, how’ve you been, Shane?” he asked his friend. “Things going well for you?”
“I’m doing okay, but not great,” Shane answered. “Just had Max put to sleep this morning.”
“What?” Don asked in surprise. “Old Max? Nah!”
“It was time,” mumbled Shane. “He could barely walk anymore, his hips popped out of socket; he was miserable. It was time. Besides, I promised Amanda he would never suffer. Guess it’s the end of a chapter,” he mused.
Don put his hand on Shane’s shoulder. “I’m sorry to hear about Max, Shane, but you’ve got to start living a little, too. Come out of that cave you’ve buried yourself in for too long. She wouldn’t want it any other way.”
“I know. I’m going to try,” Shane replied.
The rest of the team was already there, two of them having a cold beer already. They all came to meet the two new arrivals, happy to see their star player with Don. The team had played together for years, and they had greatly missed Shane during the past few months. He easily took his spot at the server’s block and began to play with the same talent and accuracy the team counted on. It would be a good game. Today, they would play 25-point games, best of three, meaning the winner had to win two of the three games. It would be tough going for Shane’s team; they were playing the top-ranked Newport Beach.
Precisely at three o’clock, both teams took their positions on the sandy court. Onlookers settled into chaise lounges around the parameter, beer coolers ready, favorite teams chosen. Shane looked around him as he stood at the line ready to serve; he could see the vision of Amanda’s face smiling back at him.
Yes, she wouldn’t want it any other way
, he thought to himself as he held the ball in front of him and drew back his hand to hit.
I’ve got to start living
It didn’t take long to accumulate a five-point lead before his team-member missed a hard return from a giant on the Newport team. As the rotation progressed around, Shane fell into the game, just like old times. The score was tied at 10-all when he centered on the net where he was at his best, spiking the ball on return. The volley seemed to last forever, hit-for-hit it crossed the net between the evenly-matched teams. He saw it coming, the perfect set up for the perfect spike. As his muscular legs pushed him up from the ground, he raised his strong right arm to meet it. Hit! Down went the ball directly to the center of the opposition’s back row. Bam! It landed on the chest of the beautiful Indian girl that held the spot. Down she went, grabbing her chest as the neck strap of her bikini top fell forward. Shane saw that she was falling at the same time his feet were landing back on the sand. Her team mates quickly gathered round her; she was stunned by the hard blow of the ball and took a minute to recover. As they helped her up from the sand, her eyes met Shane with a cold stare, but she quickly tied the top back around her neck and returned to her position. “Nice boob job!” someone called from the crowd causing others to laugh. Shane could see the blush forming underneath her olive skin. It made her even more beautiful. But, she wasn’t smiling.
They won by three points. As the crowd dispersed and the teams gathered up their things, Shane noticed the young woman pulling on her beach shirt several feet away. He pulled two beers from his cooler and walked toward her, but she turned her back to him as he approached. “Hello,” he said to her back. “I owe you an apology for that hit. It was totally unintentional. Honest it was. And, I’m sorry it embarrassed you.” She ignored him. “Beer?” he asked, holding it toward her back. When she still didn’t acknowledge him, Shane turned to leave.
“What kind is it?” she suddenly asked. He quickly reversed his steps, noting the slight accent in her voice. As he faced her straight on, her smile captured his immediate attention; flawless white teeth, a perfect set of lips and long, black hair blowing in the warm breeze made for something more beautiful than Mona Lisa could ever hope to have. He was immediately captured by her - it wasn’t just her beauty, either, there was something else about her that registered with him. She had an aurora that drew him in; he had only experienced this once before.
“Pardon me?” he asked.
“What kind is it? The beer. What kind of beer is it?” she answered, still smiling, standing with her hands on her hips.
“Ah, kind? It’s a Blue Moon. A nice beer,” he answered, holding it toward her again. “Try it.”
She took the beer, put it to her lips and guzzled a long swig. Once the bottle was removed from her mouth, she smacked her lips, looked up at the sky and rolled her eyes, as if it were truly a test taste. Shane smiled at her smooth personality. “Not bad,” she said, licking her lips. “Not bad at all. Must be expensive.”
“Yeah, well, a little compared to some brands. Hey, I’m really sorry about hitting you.”
“Are you?” she teased. “I thought it was intentional, or maybe even personal, considering the density of the hit.” Another swig of the beer, then a direct stare at him.
“Personal?” he quizzed. “I don’t even know you. How could it be personal?”
“Just kidding,” she quickly said, but not before Shane noticed the flash of concern cross her face. She zipped up her tote, picked it up and started to walk away.
“Let me carry that for you,” he said, reaching for the bag. “I’ve got to gather mine up over there, and I’ll walk you to your car.” He scooted across the sand, grabbed his bag, holding the beer in one hand. With both his and her bags on his arm, Shane rejoined her. “Ready?” he asked, smiling at her.
“This is such a beautiful beach,” she said, as they walked the distance back to the parking lot. “I’ve only been here twice, but I love the excitement of Manhattan and the wonderful crowds that enjoy all this volleyball. You from here?”
“Yeah,” Shane answered. “I’ve been here for several years. I work here. Came here straight from college and haven’t left since. It’s my home, mostly because I love this darn game so much.”
“I’ve only been living in Newport for two months,” she offered. “Moved there from San Francisco where my father works for Stanford, the university. I graduated from there last year and have set out on my own. Finally!”
“Oh?” Shane questioned. “Is he a professor?”
“Not really. He is a tutor for the ethnic and cultural studies program. He is deeply rooted in cultural studies, so that’s a perfect career for him.”
“That must be interesting. Where are you parked?” he asked, off-topic.
“Sorry,” she said. “I’m over here, the brown Nissan. That’s me.” Shane followed her to the car, waited while she unlocked the doors and put her bag into the back seat. She downed the rest of her beer and handed him the empty bottle. “You’re forgiven,” she said, smiling with those pearly whites again. “I’m Gina.”
“Thanks,” he smiled back. “I was sweating the forgiveness there for a minute or two. I’m Shane. Shane Ryden.” He offered his hand for her to shake, but she gently squeezed it instead.
“Behave yourself, Shane Ryden, no more boobie attacks!” she chuckled to him. “See you around.” Gina waved goodbye as she backed out of the parking place.
There was something about her smile and the ease of her personality that stuck with him on the drive home.
Yes, I need to live a little
, he said to himself.
Amanda would want that
In America, Amlan Singh’s tutoring position at the university was considered “working class,” while in India, relatives saw him as a successful teacher. Certainly, he had the degrees and the education to be a professor, but to reach that level of professional academia in the U.S. would require him to return to school for further studies. There was neither the money nor the time for him to do so. Any extra money that came into the home was spent on educating his two daughters.
Gina’s college years had been time consuming; she had no time for social activity except for playing volleyball. As a high school student, it had been her one luxury, and she was very good at the game, making All-State three years in a row. Still, when she wasn’t on the court, Gina had to bypass the team gatherings and outings in order to keep up with her heavy course load. Living at home, it was also difficult to get out of the house without an hour long discussion about where she was going, who she was going with, and that ever present warning about mixing with other cultures. “Stay Indian,” her father had repeatedly said. “Remember your roots,” he warned. “Keep yourself in line or the payback will come,” he had indirectly promised. Gina had secretly prayed, in her own way, that one day that voice would be silent in her life. She didn’t even know how she meant that prayer, either.
With her new freedom now, she could play as much volleyball as she liked, especially on weekends. She intended to pursue the activity with gusto. Gina could also let her heart loose to explore relationships, to feel emotions that were certainly harbored there. As she pulled out of the parking lot in Manhattan that day, a glance in her rear-view mirror reminded her that she had those feelings.
I can’t rush things
, she said to her heart,
but I get your message
. A sixth sense told her that she would see Shane again.
Being on her own in Newport was a new world for Gina in many ways. Her dual degree in marine biology and environmental science had landed her a wonderful job at the Back Bay Science Center. She worked as a researcher studying the effects of water runoff from the city on the protected wildlife of the cherished bay. It was her dream job of the moment, and it would definitely pay the bills as she pursued her master’s degree, the ultimate goal of her life. She knew the center’s director was retiring in two years; she wanted to manage the center where she had interned her last year of college. The Master’s Degree in Marine Science would make that possible, so she had her work cut out for her. She had to keep everything in her life balanced in order to be ready to step forward for the job.
As she drove along the Pacific Coast Highway, her favorite route to take anywhere on the coast, Gina’s mind drifted back to the awkward moment when her top had come unfastened from the slap of the ball against her chest. Although she was highly embarrassed by the situation, her teammates rallied around to prevent her from being ridiculed; it was this comradery that her family didn’t understand when it came to the American people. In India, she would have never been in public dressed in a bikini top and short shorts, much less playing volleyball in mixed company. Nonetheless, she smiled to herself as she thought of the man who had inflicted this awkward moment on her and she laughed out loud to herself as she reflected on his subsequent quest for forgiveness. He was the most handsome man she had ever seen. And, she couldn’t deny the unspoken message that had passed between them. It wasn’t the first time Gina had felt this sort of current, but it was very different. Something was different about the feeling, and something was definitely different about the man.
That evening, back at his sprawling, empty house, Shane gathered the remnants of Max together in a black garbage bag. What a conflicting day, he said to himself. Putting an old friend to sleep was ending another life that had been so much a part of his. Meeting Gina had offset that sadness with a form of renewal. Her flawless, brown colored skin was unlike much of the regular complexion of persons whom he had ever seen. It intrigued him. For the first time since Amanda’s death, he felt a glimmer of hope that he would be able to step out of his grief and live again. It was premature to think that, perhaps, but he anchored on it. One day had to be a new beginning; he sincerely believed that day had come.