Authors: Amber Rides
One Week Of Summer
By Amber Rides
Copyright 2014, Amber Rideau
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof
may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever
without the express written permission of the publisher
except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Cover Art by Sprinkles On Top Studios
I squeezed the sand between my toes, marvelling at how good it felt.
I put down my notebook so I could dig them in further.
A tiny smile – which to me was the equivalent of an excited squeal – touched my lips.
I yanked down my big, straw hat so it would cover my face and I glanced around nervously before remembering that I wasn’t inside my high school. I wasn’t even in my home town. Not anymore. Not ever again if I had anything to say about it.
I’m done with that. Done with there,
I told myself firmly.
To prove it, I slipped my hat off and set it down on the towel beside me. I reached up to take off my oversized sunglasses too. As I did it, though, my fingers brushed the jagged scar at the edge of my lip and I stopped short of pulling them off completely.
I was far away from my life – my
life – but that didn’t mean it no longer existed.
What I needed was a distraction.
So I picked up my coil-bound notebook and my thick, triangular pencil and stoically refused to grab my hat. No matter how badly my hands itched to do it.
So much had changed in the last three months.
I’d finished high school. I’d lost my grandmother – who had been my sole guardian for the last four years – and inherited the little beach front house where I now sat.
I stared out at the ocean, which was a scant ten feet in front of me. That alone was proof enough of how far I’d come, both physically and emotionally. Three months earlier, I wouldn’t have been able to get so close without shaking.
It wasn’t true aqua phobia. Not according to the head-doctors who’d treated me as a younger teenager. My fear was simpler, they said. More direct. Created when I was fourteen years old and my father, the only parent I’d ever known, drowned.
Easy peasy to fix, they told my grandmother. Therapy and acceptance and time would heal me. But I didn’t take to therapy. Or it didn’t take to me. And in the end, I kept my fear, and my grandmother stopped trying to take me to both the therapist and the ocean every summer.
All that had to happen was that someone else I loved had to die too, and I can sit by the water all I want.
I stared out at ocean, and in just a few minutes, my pencil began to move and I was able to lose myself completely.
The horizon appeared on my page first, punctuated by the outline of the landmass in the distance, and a few evergreen trees too. I brushed out the soft lines of the waves with several quick strokes. The whole thing curved on the edge, creating a panoramic view –
view – of the water.
I worked in the details. I fleshed out the subtle bits of shade and the tiny details that sought – and failed – to elude me. Everything flowed out naturally, almost like an extension of my mind, and I worked for a long time before I paused to review my handiwork.
I was surprised to see that the setting sun had appeared in the background of my drawing.
My eyes shot up and I confirmed that yes, the sun actually was going down.
It distracted me for a moment as I considered whether or not I should pack it in. I hadn’t eaten in hours and for sure my sunblock had lost its effectiveness.
But the idea of leaving faded quickly when I noticed I’d missed something in my drawing. An oddly shaped tree, just up the beach and barely in the corner of my vision.
In an unconscious reaction to the dimming light, I pushed my sunglasses up onto my head so I could better see the tree.
I was fully exposed now. But I didn’t care. I was totally caught up in the momentum of my sketch.
The tree took form on the very edge of my work, but even its awkward, sideways position on the page couldn’t hide how central it was. The small amount of space taken up by the gnarled branches didn’t detract from the fact that they were becoming
subject of the drawing.
The waves. The skyline. The faraway mountains…They were all secondary. Background. Something to distract the viewer until she or he could focus on the beat-up tree instead.
It was often like that with my art. I would start out thinking my focus was one thing when in fact it turned out to be another entirely.
It had happened the one and only time I’d been commissioned to do a portrait. A girl at school – new to town and as of yet unaware of the stigma attached to my name – heard somewhere that I had a particular talent for drawing. Maybe a teacher told her, or maybe another student did as some kind of joke. I never asked.
Either way, she invited me to come over and draw her in charcoal. A gift for her mother’s birthday. And she was going to pay me.
I obliged, thinking how thrilled my grandmother would be when she saw the money. Two hundred dollars. Groceries for half the month. Maybe more.
And maybe I was hoping, just a little, that if I did it right, it would bump up my social standing. Because no matter how many times a sixteen-year old says she doesn’t care what her peers think, that she doesn’t want a boyfriend or a best friend, or that being unable to walk down the hall without a jab or a pinch…She’s lying at least a little bit.
Unfortunately for me, my glimmer of hope fell flat.
When I finished the portrait, the pretty girl wasn’t at the forefront at all. Instead, it was a tiny dog who took center stage. The girl’s mother’s beloved pet, who I thought was sleeping, but who turned out to have died.
The girl didn’t pay me my two hundred dollars. She accused me of knowing the dog was dead as I drew. And she told anyone who would listen exactly what she thought.
Her popularity skyrocketed.
I earned the nickname Necromancer. Which morphed into Necrophiliac.
The second, sickening name was spray painted onto my grandmother’s garage. Three times.
That particular torment lasted from September to December. It wasn’t until another teenage girl came home pregnant after a Winter Break spent in Mexico – which thrust her into the mocking limelight rather than me – that it stopped. At least for a while.
I ran my finger over the gnarled tree on the paper in front of me. My grandmother always said it was a talent – the ability to see more than what others did. But I was never sure. I still wasn’t.
I frowned into the distance, thinking about it.
“You got a staring problem?”
I jerked back from the sudden interruption and forced my eyes to focus on the asker of the question. I half-expected to see a child, just based on the juvenile nature of the question. But it was a girl about my age.
She had beautiful, caramel skin, thick waves of jet-black hair, and she was button-cute. But her smile was cruel. I knew the look well. I’d been on the receiving end of it too many times to
recognize it for what it was.
The look of a queen bee.
“You a lesbo?” she prodded in that same, dare-you-to-answer, dare-you-not-to tone.
My gaze panned out, looking for her entourage.
There they were, wetsuits folded down to show off bikini-clad breasts and jewelled belly buttons. Make-up on and miraculously still perfect in spite of their water-slick hair and dripping body boards.
A blonde. A brunette. And a redhead. When they stood beside their raven-haired leader, they looked like one of those fashion magazine ads that’s doing its best to fake diversity.
“Bex asked you a question, bitch,” stated the blonde venomously.
the question, Bex?” asked the redhead in a tone that told me she knew exactly what Bex had said.
Bex’s smile didn’t falter. “I asked her if she was a lesbo with a staring problem.”
The redhead laughed. “Right.”
“Well?” Bex said in a too-perfect-to-be-real voice. “Are you?”
“We’d totally understand,” added the redhead. “If
were lesbos, we’d stare at us too.”
“Maybe that’s a little bit too far, Kirby?” Bex asked sweetly.
“Let the girl answer,” added the brunette.
But I kept my mouth shut. My experience had taught me that almost every question this kind of girl asked was a leading one, meant as the perfect segue into another, meaner question. And that question would lead to another too, and eventually I’d be spiralled expertly into a corner that would only give them the answer they wanted anyway.
Like trendy, plasticized lawyers.
They all stared at me. Waiting.
I said nothing.
The blonde gave up first.
“Whatever,” she grumbled. “Even if she
a lesbo, she’s obviously a retarded one. Might as well forget about getting an answer.”
I didn’t dare exhale in relief. If I betrayed the hope I felt at even the
that they might just let the whole thing go, they’d all jump right back on the torture bandwagon.
But the brunette wasn’t ready to let it – me – go yet anyway.
“Yeah,” she added snidely. “She’s a retard who
Obviously, I knew her statement was false. But when all of them turned their eyes to the opening of my dress, I couldn’t help but look too.
I don’t know why I did it. Over the last four years of torment, I’d taught myself not to react. But I shuffled my knees closed, even though there was nothing more than a few drops, probably leaked from my water bottle, to cover up.
And once I’d done it, I couldn’t
do it and I couldn’t make them un-see my quick glance either.
“She checked,” snickered the redhead – Kirby.
Too late, I realized I reacted just enough to trigger a response. Just enough to inspire a mini-mob mentality.
Bex’s mouth turned up even more, exposing a row of perfectly even, perfectly white teeth. She took an unpleasant, predatory step toward me.
“Maybe the retarded lesbo wants some help getting cleaned up?” she suggested.
I needed to move. To defend myself. Even if all that meant was that I got up and ran away. But as I attempted to stand, I realized I’d been sitting too long to force myself to my feet with any kind of speed.
It didn’t stop me from trying.
I got as far as my knees, and there I wobbled. When I put down my hands to stop myself from falling over, the blonde rushed to one side of me and the brunette to the other.
The duo lifted me up and I knew what their intention was.
I stifled a whimper. Because while it might seem like a show of fear would gain me a little sympathy, I knew for a fact it would do just the opposite. Any sign of weakness would be like digging spurs into a wild horse. And like the horse, each of these girls would be more than happy to knock me over and kick me while I was down.
So I held it in, even through my terror.
It’s just water,
I told myself.
You shower in it. You drink it.
But it didn’t help.
That’s the nature of a phobia – even an unofficial one. It’s not logical, so it doesn’t respond to logic. Instead of listening to the perfectly sound, totally reasonable voice that told me not to be afraid, my mind kicked and screamed. It dug its ferocious heels in.
Unconsciously, my feet did the same thing.
The sand was too soft, though, to offer much resistance. And of course the girls holding each of my arms sensed that I was fighting back and they redoubled their efforts.
I held my notebook out in front of me like it might shield me from the water.
It was a mistake.
Kirby spotted the notebook right away, and faster than I could blink, she snatched it away.
I momentarily – incredibly – forgot about the water. It was around my ankles, lapping at them insistently, but I didn’t care.
Kirby turned the pages of my book, examining each drawing, one by one. Her actions moved in slow motion for me, one long blink between each flip.
I wasn’t sure what was worse – her brief, intense stare at each drawing, or the casual, uncaring way she moved on to the next.
I didn’t want her looking at them. But I didn’t want her dismissing them so easily either. Because they were like tiny glimpses into my soul.
In high school, after the dog incident, I’d carefully hidden away my art supplies. I didn’t take them with me. I couldn’t trust that my locker wouldn’t get broken into yet again. And I never drew in public. Ever.
But this beach hadn’t seemed public.
I was wrong. So wrong.
“What’s in the book?” Bex asked Kirby. “Lesbo love notes?”
“Nothing that interesting,” the redhead replied derisively. “Garbage drawings that no one could care about.”