Thursday, February 10, 2011

Friday Fiction for February 11, 2011

Has it really been nearly two months since I participated in Friday Fiction? It’s hard to believe it’s been that long. My absence has been primarily due to being away from writing anything since mid December, but this week I jumped back into “Precocious by Consent.” I’m pleased to post one of the chapters I wrote this week, in which Katya, still posing as adopted orphan Cathy, accompanies her friend Rikki to a beach in La Jolla.

You can find more Friday Fiction over at Homespun Expressions, hosted by Karlene. Feel free to jump in and participate, if you have some short fiction or an excerpt you’d like to share.

Chapter 31

Friday afternoon

The warm sand pushed between her toes and all around her feet with each step she took, while the repetitive sound of the surf rushing ashore competed with the noise of the beachgoers playing their games. The breeze coming off the Pacific carried a different smell than the wind through the city, and hinted of kelp forests and fish beneath the surface just a short distance offshore. There were beaches near Los Angeles, but I don’t remember ever being taken to one, Katya thought. For that matter, this is the first bathing suit I’ve ever owned. The Agency made sure we all knew how to swim, but that was to protect their investment in us, not for our own enjoyment.

Rikki dropped her boogie-board on an open spot of sand, and spread a towel out as a ground cover. Flopping down on the towel, she reached into her tote bag for a tube of sunscreen, and began to apply it liberally to all her exposed skin.

“Don’t forget your back,” Rikki’s brother said as he carried his surfboard by her. “I don’t want a repeat of last time, when Mom busted my chops because you got a bad burn.”

“Don’t worry,” Rikki shot back. “I don’t want a repeat of that burn, either.” She held the tube up to Katya. “Would you rub some of this on my back, Cathy?”

Katya knelt on the towel behind Rikki, and slathered sunscreen on the pale skin of her shoulders and back. “I take it, you sunburn easily?”

“Are you kidding? I’m a redhead. Mom says I can burn just by thinking about the sun.” She took the tube back, and applied the lotion to her legs. “You’re pretty pale, too. I don’t know if your Russian skin will tan any better than mine, but if it’s been a long time since you’ve been in the sun, you should probably put some of this on, too.”

Katya rubbed some of the sunscreen into her own exposed skin, and sat down to let Rikki apply it to her back.

When they were done, Rikki stood up and picked up her boogie-board. “Are you sure you don’t want to go back to the car and get a board, too?” she asked.

“I’m sure,” Katya replied. “I’m not a real strong swimmer, so I think I’ll just keep close to shore.”

“Okay,” Rikki said, and then ran towards the water with the board. She splashed a few steps in, and then threw the board down in front of her as a wave washed past her, flopping down on it to skim a few feet farther out.

Katya remained seated on the towel for a while, watching both Rikki and her brother paddling out beyond where the waves broke, and then riding waves in. Rikki held to her board with both hands, resting her upper torso on it as the surf pushed it shoreward, while her brother stood on his board and executed twists and turns along the slope of the waves. From time to time, Rikki would pause and wave when she reached the beach, before paddling back out to wait for the next wave.

A strange roar caught Katya’s attention, and she looked down the beach for the source of the noise. A middle-aged man was flying a brightly colored kite on short lines, making it turn and spin by pulling one line or the other. When it spun, the volume of the noise would increase, though the only time it was near quiet was when he took it far to one side or the other. The man wore headphones, and after watching him for a few minutes, she realized he was dancing with the kite. What a fun idea; I want to try that someday.

Feeling warm, she decided to cool off in the water. The wet sand had a different feel to it, and the first wave to rush around her feet made the sand seem to come alive beneath her. It flowed away from her soles, letting her feet sink a bit and covering them with swirling eddies of liquid sand. The water was colder than she expected, and she hesitated to go any deeper, until a large wave wrested the decision from her by crashing in and splashing her thoroughly.

“Just get in,” Rikki yelled from a few yards up the beach. “It feels a lot better once you’re fully in it.”

“It’s cold,” Katya yelled back.

“Oh, c’mon! You’re from Russia! This should feel totally warm to you!”

“Romania,” she corrected. “And contrary to how it’s shown on television and the movies, neither Russia nor Romania are constantly buried in snow.”

“Wimp – just get in.”

She took a few more steps out, and nearly fell over when the next wave reached her. She squeezed her eyes shut, and tried to rub the salt water from them with her wet hands, to no avail. Another wave caught her unaware, sweeping her feet from beneath her and sending her sprawling into the foamy water. Tumbling in the moving water, she fought to get her feet beneath her, but couldn’t seem to keep enough purchase on the sandy bottom to stop the surge from tossing her about. Swimming was a futile effort; her simple strokes were pointless against the strength of the surge. She needed to breathe, but by that point, didn’t even know which way led to the air, and which way led to the bottom.

Great; I come out here to help catch a serial killer, and instead I’m going to drown on my first ever trip to the beach.

A hand clamped around her arm, and pulled her up. Her feet found the bottom, and she stood coughing, blinking away the discomfort of the salt in her eyes.

Rikki’s brother stood next to her, holding onto her arm still. “I don’t know how my sister expects me to teach you to surf,” he said, with a chuckle. “If you can’t manage to stand up in three feet of water.”

“Learning to surf is Rikki’s idea. I think I’m better suited to holding the towels down.”

“Haven’t you ever been in the ocean before?” he asked.

“Never.”

“Are you kidding? Never?” He moved slightly to block the force of an incoming wave from hitting her. “Look; don’t let it get you down. Lots of people with lots more time in the ocean, still end up losing their footing and getting disoriented in the waves. It may not look like it from the shore, but there’s a lot of energy behind every wave. Couple that with the undertow of the water going back out to sea, and it can throw you for a loop if you’re not ready for it.”

She held to his arm as the receding water pulled at her legs. Despite the surging ocean, he seemed steady and immovable, and the smile he gave her was amused, but not mocking. He looks so young, she thought, and then shook her head at the irony of the thought. Look who’s talking about looking so young. At least he comes by it naturally, and will eventually grow out of it.

“You’re not okay?” he asked, concern in his voice.

“Huh?”

“I asked if you were okay now, and you shook your head.”

“Oh, sorry. I’m okay. I just didn’t hear you ask.”

He snorted. “Rikki sure knows how to find ‘em. Think you can stand on your own now?”

“I can try. Maybe next time I fall under, it’ll be a cute lifeguard that comes to my rescue.”

“Like you’d know what to do with a cute lifeguard if you had one.”

You’d be surprised what I know how to do, and if Gary were anywhere close, it would be very tempting to break character and spend a night with him. She shot him a coy smile. Play the precocious flirt – that’s what the killer looks for, isn’t that what Powell told me? That he might be watching me at any time? She poked Rikki’s brother in the chest. “I may not know much about the ocean, but I know enough about boys.”

“The lifeguards that I see are all men, not boys.”

“Trust me – deep down, they’re ALL boys.” She turned back towards the shore, and walked back to the towel on the beach. She plopped down, thankful for the seawater dripping from her hair and the salty irritation in her eyes. There were subtle skills to playing a role, and one that had always been stressed in their training was the ability to force true emotions into the background, and only let those show that fit the role.

Pressing her towel against her face, she dried her eyes and emerged again as Cathy. With a little more time to compose herself, she again braved the surf, and before long, was splashing comfortably in the cool Pacific.

3 comments:

Debra Ann Elliott said...

Glad to see you back. You left me wanting to read more!

Carole L Robishaw said...

I've missed you! Good chapter.

Sharlyn Guthrie said...

I wondered what had become of you. I enjoyed this chapter.