Kim pushed the crosswalk button then turned to look at her unusually quiet friend. The walk back to the hotel had been accomplished in silence; Dorthea keeping her thoughts to herself while Kim struggled, but failed, to come up with just the right words of support.
"I don't want to go sit in the hotel room," Dorthea suddenly announced as she stepped off the sidewalk when the traffic signal changed. "I need to go someplace I can scream my brains out," she said, her voice strained with suppressed emotions.
Kim followed Dorthea across the street. "I'm sure we could… find someplace," she said reaching into the pocket of her jeans. She let out a mental sigh of relief when her fingers curled around the set of car keys. Her mind raced as she tried to think of a proper designation for Dorthea to do as she wished. A smile replaced her look of concentration when she remembered something she had noticed earlier when looking at the maps of the area. "Come on," she said when they reached the opposite sidewalk.
Without question, Dorthea followed Kim to the station wagon and slipped into the passenger seat as soon as the door was opened. She collapsed against the seat and closed her eyes.
Kim started the engine then turned concerned eyes toward Dorthea. "Sweetheart, are you okay?" she asked softly.
Dorthea eyes remained closed as she nodded her response.
Not convinced, Kim backed out of the parking space and eased the car through the parking lot to the street. When a reasonable break in traffic occurred, she pulled onto the street heading west.
Thirty minutes later, Kim was looking for a place to park the car. Spotting an empty space, she carefully pulled into the slot and turned off the engine. "Honey," she said placing her hand on Dorthea's arm. "I don't know if this is what you were looking for but I think it might work."
Dorthea slowly opened her eyes to see a wide expanse of sand in front of the car. She sat up looking first to the right then to the left as her eyes absorbed the seemingly endless stretch of sandy beach. Then she looked straight ahead. "Is that the ocean?" she asked in awe of the brilliant blue that spread to the far horizon.
Kim grinned. "Sure is."
"How'd you find it?"
"Wasn't that hard," Kim answered proudly as she looked through the windshield at the inviting beach. "I remembered the map showed the street in front of the hotel was a straight shot to the beach. I just turned right and drove until we got here. I figured if we'd have to hit water eventually."
"It's so big."
"How about we get out of the car and get a closer look at it?"
Dorthea was already pushing the door open. She stepped out onto the paved yet sand dusted surface of the parking lot then walked to the front of the car where Kim joined her. She turned to Kim and smiled. "Thank you."
"It's the only place I could think of."
"It's perfect." Dorthea looked across the beach to the knee high waves crashing on the shore then turned back to Kim. "Come on, I want to see what the ocean feels like."
"Think it'll feel different than any other water?" Kim asked as they stepped off the pavement.
"We won't know until we stand in it."
The women struggled to move through the thick layer of sand, its fine granules refusing to hold together under their shoes.
"Damn, it's hard walking on this," Kim grumbled.
"I refuse to let that stop me," Dorthea declared as she fought her way across the beach.
Being late afternoon, they found themselves moving in the opposite direction of other beachgoers who were heading back to the cars and home. More than a few of the locals cast the pair looks ranging from amusement to consternation as they plowed fully clothed through the sand.
Halfway to the water, Dorthea stopped to give her legs time to rest. She watched Kim continue past her, smiling at the look of determination on her face. "Oh, am I going to pay for this tomorrow," she moaned reaching down to rub her stressed muscles. She straightened when Kim called to her.
"Hurry up. It's easier to walk when you get out here."
Dorthea forced her protesting legs forward. Happy to discover what Kim already had-the sand that was washed by the incoming waves was compacted and much easier to walk on than the dry, loose sand. She quickened her steps to the water's edge but was quickly forced to back pedal when a wave deposited its liquid load on the shore. She retreated only as far as necessary to remove her shoes and socks without getting them wet then, leaving them on the dry sand, she ran into the water. "Oops."
Kim laughed when Dorthea looked down at her wet jeans. She removed her shoes and socks and placed them next to Dorthea's then bent over to roll up her cuffs.
"No fair," Dorthea protested making no movement to leave the water even though her pants were soaked almost to the knees. "You can't have dry pants when mine are soaked."
Kim laughed. "Lucky for me, you went first," she said as she walked to where Dorthea was standing. "Well? Does it feel different?"
"It feels good."
"Not really." Dorthea bent down letting her hands dangle in the water. She straightened and lifted a hand to her lips, taking a hesitate lick at the droplets on her skin. "Tastes different," she said shaking the remaining drops off.
"I'll take your word for that." Kim gazed down the beach. "Want to walk?"
They had walked almost a mile before turning around. The sun was starting to set, coloring the sky in deep reds and oranges. And most of the sunbathers had left for the day leaving the beach to the pair of women walking at the edge of the surf.
"Sure hope we can find where we parked the car," Dorthea commented searching for familiar landmarks but seeing none.
"We'll just wait until every one else leaves, our car will be the only one left."
Dorthea chuckled. "I suppose that's one way."
"Don't worry, we just need to find our shoes," Kim said unconcerned.
"Oh, gosh. I forgot we left them. I hope no one took them."
"They're only a pair of shoes, honey. Not too important in the grand scheme of things."
"I suppose not. What do you think those are for?" Dorthea asked of the regularly spaced structures that lined the beach. They looked like small changing huts but were elevated on stilts above the beach and accessed by a steep wooden ramp.
"It says lifeguard on them so I'm guessing they're for lifeguards."
"Oh, sheesh, how'd I miss that?"
"Maybe you had other things on your mind," Kim offered gently.
Dorthea sighed. "I guess I do."
"Ready to talk about it?"
Dorthea nodded. "But let's find our shoes. I don't want to be looking for them in the dark."
"I do believe that would be them," Kim said pointing a short distance down the beach. "Yep, that must be them, there's the car," she moved her arm to point across the beach to the parking lot.
They quickly retrieved their shoes then started back across the sand, passing close to one of the guard towers. The lifeguard had vacated his post and the tower was locked for the night.
Dorthea stopped and looked up the wooden ramp. "Do you think we could sit up there?"
"I don't see why not," Kim said then shivered, her skin cooling in the salty breeze blowing off the water. "It's getting chilly. Why don't you go up there and I'll go back to the car for our jackets."
"I'll come with you. I could use a drink of water."
"You don't have to." Kim knew how tired her legs were and was sure that Dorthea's were even more so. "I'll grab the jug."
"Okay," Dorthea agreed. "Be careful."
"I will. I won't be long."
Dorthea waited until Kim was halfway to the car before she carefully made her way up the steep ramp which had no handrail. Her progress was made easier by the cross sections of wood nailed every foot along the otherwise smooth plank and providing a firm place to plant her feet as she moved upward. It was only after she had reached the top and was looking around the corner of the elevated hut to check on Kim's progress that she noticed a ladder on the side of the tower. "Probably wouldn't have been able to drag my tired butt up that anyway," she muttered as she settled on the deck. She was surprised to find the extra height made the view of the shimmering ocean and setting sun even more enjoyable. She leaned back against the rough wood siding, glad for the opportunity to rest her legs-and to unscramble her thoughts and feelings before Kim rejoined her.
"That sucker is steep," Kim panted after making her way up the ramp.
"There's a ladder."
"Now you tell me. Here," she said dropping a jacket into Dorthea's lap. She set the jug of water down then sat next to her and began emptying her pockets. "Crackers, what was left of the cheese, and Oreos. We definitely have to restock before we head home."
Dorthea pulled her jacket on and zipped up the front against the cooling air. She leaned back nibbling on an Oreo. "We can do that in the morning."
"Tomorrow?" Dorthea nodded. "You're done?"
"There's nothing else to do… is there?"
"I thought maybe… We still don't know."
"Maybe that's the way it's meant be."
Kim slumped back against the hut. "Is that what you think?"
"Fifty years is a long time to try to untangle in a few days. It was a long shot at best."
"But maybe there's someone-"
"No." Dorthea pulled a slice of cheese from the plastic bag and placed it on a cracker. She handed the tidbit to Kim then prepared a similar one for herself. "I'm ready to go home," she said after swallowing. "It's over."
Kim scooted around, tucking her legs under her, so she could face Dorthea. "Honey," she said as she grasped her hands. "I know it had to be really tough finding Paul like he is but maybe we've missed something, or someone, who can provide the answers."
Dorthea smiled sadly and shook her head. "I love you for saying that but enough is enough. We tried. It's amazing we managed to find Paul at all. But too much time has passed. Maybe if I had started this twenty years ago it would have turned out different. But I didn't know anything about Esther or Cedarwood or the tornado back then." She turned to look out at the ocean. "Maybe it would have been better had I never found out," she said softly.
"I don't believe that and I don't believe you do either."
Dorthea sighed turning her head back and meeting Kim's searching eyes.
"You're really ready to give up?"
"I… We gave it our best shot." Dorthea tenderly cupped Kim's face. "Let's go home. We have a life ahead of us and I don't want to waste another minute of that."
Kim smiled. "Okay. Let's go." She started to push herself up but was stopped by Dorthea.
"Unless you're in a big hurry to go fight traffic back to the hotel, can we sit here for a while?"
Kim scooted back against the hut wrapping her arm around Dorthea's waist when she shifted to sit beside her.
"I don't think I've ever seen a more beautiful sunset," Dorthea said.
"Me either. You don't think it has anything to do with the company, do you?"
Dorthea laughed. "I think it has everything to do with it."
In comfortable silence, they watched the sun drop below the horizon.
Dorthea didn't know if it was the constant gently lapping of waves on the sand or the growing darkness that encased them but she suddenly felt a need to release all the emotions of the past several months. Tears streamed down her cheeks and her body shook with quiet sobs.
Kim tightened her hold. No words were needed as she surrounded Dorthea in love.
"I really thought it would turn out okay," Kim told Dorthea who had cried herself out some time earlier. They remained snuggled against the hut in each other's arms.
"That I would find Paul and he would answer all of my questions," Dorthea murmured between sporadic sniffles.
"Did you really think that?"
Kim was surprised by the question. "Didn't you?"
"I think I convinced myself that they'd be a happy ending but deep down I think I always had some doubts. Sort of it's too good to be true sort of thing." Dorthea looked down the beach where a pair of lights bopped erratically. "That can't be a boat, can it?"
Kim turned to look where Dorthea was pointing. "Don't think so. Looks more like a car's headlight."
"Wonder what a car is doing on the beach?"
"Got me." Kim pulled the last Oreo out of the bag and carefully separated the cookie. She handed one of the pieces to Dorthea.
"You're giving me all the filling."
Kim grinned. "I'm already sweet enough."
Dorthea leaned forward to kiss Kim. "That you are," she said when their lips separated. She entwined her fingers with Kim's and placed their joined hands over her heart. "No matter how this turned out, I want you to know that the past few days have been the best of my life. Being with you… Seeing the world through your eyes… Re-discovering just what a wonderful and fantastic person you are… I am so much more in love with you today than I ever thought possible." She lifted Kim's hand to her lips and tenderly kissed her fingers. "I am so glad that you are in my life."
Kim felt a tear trickle down her cheek. "I'm so glad you're in mine."
They sat content to hold hands and gaze into each others' eyes until the sound of a car engine drew their attention to the beach. The mysterious headlights had suddenly materialized on the front of Jeep that was bouncing over the uneven sand.
"Uh oh," Kim muttered as the Jeep veered toward the guardhouse.
"Who do you think it is?" Dorthea asked.
The women were abruptly bathed in the beam of a spotlight, the intense brightness forcing both to raise their arms to shield their eyes.
"Who are you?" Dorthea called out to the unseen occupants of the Jeep.
"Beach Patrol," a deep voice answered.
"Are we doing something wrong?"
"That depends. What are you doing?"
"We're just sitting here," Kim responded. "We didn't think anyone would mind."
The spotlight dimmed but remained focused on the guardhouse and women. A man stepped out of the Jeep and walked to the bottom of the ramp. Dorthea and Kim lowered their arms and stood.
"Technically, sitting up there constitutes trespassing," the man said.
"Oh, goodness. We had no idea. We're not from here," Dorthea explained. With the light lowered to a reasonable level, she could see that the man wore a uniform with a Beach Patrol patch on the sleeve and a shiny badge on the pocket.
"I gathered that from the-"
The guard laughed. "I was going to say clothes-you don't see too many people wearing that much on the beach." Dorthea and Kim looked at each other then grinned. "Where are you from?"
"Iowa," Dorthea answered while Kim gathered up their things.
"That's quite a distance. First time seeing the ocean?"
"What do you think?"
The guard nodded. "I'm sorry ladies but I am going to ask you to come down."
"That's okay. It's time we found our way back to our hotel," Dorthea said, stepping to the top of the ramp. She froze. From this height, the ramp appeared to be even steeper and with no handrails she wasn't sure she could make it.
"I'd suggest the ladder," he told her but I don't think that's a good option at night. It's too easy to miss one of the rungs and it can be a long way to fall."
"Well, we have to get down someway."
"Follow me," Kim said as she stepped in front of Dorthea then sat down on the edge of the deck. Bracing her feet on a cross bar, she inched her way down until she could reach the next cross bar.
"That'll work," the officer said.
After Kim had worked her way down a few feet, Dorthea sat and followed her example. Moments later they were standing on the beach.
"We'll give you a ride to your car."
"That's okay," Kim quickly said. "Our car is just over there."
The guard smiled. "It's good to be cautious. How about we leave the spotlight on? It can be tough walking on this sand in the dark."
Dorthea groaned. "It's tough walking on it in the daytime."
"You get used to it after a while. Have a nice night."
"Thank you," Dorthea said then turned to follow Kim who was already moving toward the car.
True to his word, the guard left the spotlight on them until they were securely in their car then it was turned off and the Jeep moved off down the beach.
"I don't think I'll have any trouble sleeping tonight," Dorthea said as Kim started the engine.
"Right with you there. Between walking in the sand, squinting at the sun, and the salty air, my body is screaming for a nice bed." Kim backed out of the parking space then steered for the lot's exit. "I just hope I can remember how to get back to the hotel."
"I thought you said it was a straight shot from there to here."
"It was until we got here. The last little bit involved a couple of turns." Kim stopped at the exit and studied her options. "I'm pretty sure I came down that street."
Dorthea chuckled. "Go for it, babe. If we get lost, I have no problem asking for directions."
Kim grinned. "Babe, uh." She eased onto the street and merged into the night's traffic. "I like that."
Return to the Academy