Playing Stories — Chapter 5: Good Vibrations

Chapter 5: Good Vibrations
from the unfinished 1967 album “Smile” by the Beach Boys
posted 01:23, 17 January 2019

Close my eyes, she’s somehow closer now
Softly smile, I know she must be kind
When I look in her eyes, she goes with me to a blossom world

Julia’s smile is the first thing I remember.

There were a lot things about Julia’s smile that defied logic. The lips bent like everyone else’s did, and the eyes crinkled like you’d expect them to. But there were bits of it that made you look a second time when she smiled at you. There was the finger on the nose, that slight tap on the bridge that she did when she noticed you and found you interesting. (Always you: never a singular action, never a stray thought you had. Just “you”.) Then there was the slight showing of her big teeth underneath, a speck of pale in between the pink. And then you looked out a little more and noticed the auburn hair that framed the face, that curved round her cheekbones in a million chaotic ways. Usually when people looked at me, I’d immediately look away, scared of what they might see, and even with friends I usually had to remind myself every thirty seconds to keep eye contact. But I found that Julia’s smile always invited you to look a little more.

And here it was: that face which I’d seen so much in the past six months, crinkling out that smile as we sat side by side on the fence, staring at the sea, listening to the roar of the waves together. Her hair was still damp from her dip beneath the waves, so I could still smell the sting of the ocean far from the shoreline. A small snicker next to me: she was giggling once again.

“Why are you STILL laughing, for Christ’s sake,” I said, trying to shake out the sand from the wet towel. “You’re the one who slipped, and that was like half an hour ago.”

“Yeah, but it was FUNNY, Ev.” Being funny meant so much to Julia. No matter where she was, she never hesitated to call something funny or amusing. She was brilliant at finding out that kind of stuff. “The look on your face when I went under was priceless, I tell you.”

“That’s because I was genuinely concerned that you’d sprained your ankle or something. I can’t explain to your mother how her daughter drowned while heroically laughing at the ocean.” She was giggling again, so obviously I pushed home the advantage “I mean, she’d understand. But still. ‘I’m sorry about this Mrs. Creighton, but your daughter is at the bottom of Cheshunt Bay because I pulled a weird face while trying to reach her. Oh, don’t worry, she was positively BUBBLING with laughter, even to the end.’ Can you imagine the look on her face?”

I counted off the seconds as she tried to stop chortling. “Dear God, I’m never going to hear the end of it,” she said at long last. “But come on, you’ve got to admit you’re hilarious when you panic. That little squeal when I tripped on that sandbank? I’m gonna have that in my head for days.” She stared at me with widened eyes that sparkled brightly, the moisture glinting in the sunlight.

“Yeah, that was because I was genuinely scared you were going to drown or something!”

“Relax, it was just a little dunk into the deep end. And I came out of it smelling like a water nymph, didn’t I?”

“Only you could make mortal peril sound like a walk in the park,” I sighed. “I mean, when was the last time you — okay, this isn’t working,” I said, holding out the towel. “Help me with this?” She took the towel from me, flapped it a few times and then rolled it up. “Yeah, thanks a lot, Julia,” I muttered, stuffing it into my bag.

She winked and breathed a sigh, looking back out towards the shoreline. The sea breeze was picking up slightly, but it was a warm gust that lightly tickled our backs and blew on our heads and which made Julia’s long hair sweep out from behind her. A short struggle ensued, but she soon gave up and allowed the wind to blow out a network of auburn that streaked across the skies and the sands behind her. A few strands fell onto her lips, and before I remembered what I was doing, I brushed them away for her. She looked at me and smiled, a smile that struck so deep and quick that you didn’t even notice you’d felt something for what would seem like an eternity. After that eternity, I noticed that my hand was still hovering next to her shoulder, and I told myself to put it back. I grinned back nervously, and she nestled just that bit closer to me, so that our bare arms were almost touching. She rested her head against my shoulder, and I felt the saltwater bleeding into my shirt and her smooth hair rubbing against my neck, cascading down towards my lap. And for God knows how long we just sat there, not talking, enjoying the sound of the wind and the waves as they called and responded to each other, a stuttering rhythm that started and stopped, started and stopped.

A tinny melody from some sixties surf song floated down the beach. I found myself tapping the beat on my lap. Julia turned to look up at me briefly.

“Beach Boys?” she murmured.

“Yeah,” I said. “‘God Only Knows’. Your favourite.” I felt the rich harmonies of the song floating by, teenage bliss captured in a collage of instruments. Did the person playing it know what was going on here?

“Didn’t think that the people here liked the Beach Boys,” said Julia. She sounded as if she was about to drift off, so she was really enjoying herself, getting lost in the music. “They must be in a bit of a happy mood.”

“I mean…” I waved at the scene unfolding before us. “How can you not love all of this? Look at the sky, the sea, the birds, the colours of the huts… the TEXTBOOK definition of picture-perfect.”

“More than perfect,” Julia said dreamily. She sighed and allowed her head to fall a little down my shoulder. “God, I wish we could do this every day… going to the beach, taking long walks…”

I turned to look at her. Her pale face stared back at me, her features solemn. “Winding down life and learning how to kick back? Yeah, I’d like to keep doing that — but wouldn’t this, I don’t know, lose its charm after a while though?”

“Evan, I don’t know about that, really,” she said, raising her head and looking me in the face. “I don’t just mean THIS, you know,” she said, sweeping her arm across the horizon. “I mean just being able to explore the city. Loving life. Getting together with people you love. That’s what I love about the summer… you get more time to do that. And yet to have to return to all that… to go back to the city where all that shit awaits…” She sighed and sat down on the sand. “I don’t know. It just spoils the fun, having to think about that.”

I sat down next to her. It was only now, when she’d said it, that I realized how much it stung. She blew out her cheeks and grimaced. “Anyway. Let’s leave that for later, shall we? Don’t want to spoil the day.”

I patted her on the shoulder. “Hey, Jules, you know that you’re not alone in hating all that? I hate the stuff I have to do as well. But we’re in the same classes and courses. And you have us.” I shrugged. “And you’re definitely clever enough to deal with everything — you’re probably acing the class, come on,” I put in, which didn’t fail to give her the inevitable guffaw. She never liked to admit how brainy she was. “Just tell us when the going gets tough, okay? I’m always there and everything.”

“Yeah,” she said, and she was looking at me. “Yeah, that too.” And then I was staring into her face, and after a moment where even the wind had seemed to die down, I put my arms around her. The hug took way longer than I thought we would. It was me who disentangled first, and for a moment I caught Julia at her nadir, the point before she jumped back up again into the sunshine. Then the corners of her mouth curved upwards, and in an instant, the status quo was re-established. “You know, you’re better at this than I thought you were,” she said, straightening up and looking back up at the sky. “That’s why I like being with you, you know? You always surprise me.”

We stood up, and we caught each other’s gaze just at the moment the sunlight flooded back in, no longer bound by the shade of the fence. I noticed the corners of her mouth upticked at the corners, those little curved cul-de-sacs that capped off the ends of her mouth and sent you looking back at the full picture again. And her smile, slowly blossoming into something that radiated expectation and hope, that gave you the confidence you hadn’t known you needed as well. It was at that moment that it hit me: those little peeks at her in class, admiring the curve of her shoulders and silhouette and the way she answered every question with aplomb, the way we always found each other out for thoughts on the Brontë sisters and William Shakespeare and Paul McCartney and Taylor Swift and baking and rock-climbing and a thousand other little things that had built up our message count and made us wait for each other in class and helped us know the other as if there’d been a bridge between our minds since the day we were born. I realized that all those little things weren’t culminating in just friendly feelings, not if they burnt from the very centre of your body and made you feel like bursting into euphoric song — they were the sign of something stronger.

She was waiting for an answer. “I guess that you’ll have to spend a lot more time with me then,” I said, trying to return the smile. “To get to know me even better.”

It sounded weird the moment I’d said it, but Julia only laughed, a soft giggle that shattered my eardrums. I might have even jumped a little. “I guess I should,” she said. Her hand reached out, and she gently brushed aside the hair falling between my eyes. “I guess I will.” Her fingers tingle on my skin, travelling down the edge of my cheek, and we stand there, doing nothing but gaze at each other as the sunbeams flow around us, an aurora of yellow and white dancing around the orange and red of her hair, an explosion of colours that frame her beautiful face, the eyes, the nose and that gorgeous tilt of her mouth.

Without taking her eyes off my own, she gets on her tiptoes and gently kisses me on the lips. Her mouth against mine, the smile melting through like a baptism. It takes me a while to respond, but soon I realize the unimaginable happening, and I kiss her back. It’s a long time before we finish — maybe two seconds, maybe the rest of my life. “Thank you for telling me, Julia Creighton.”

“Stop calling me by my full name, Evan Harris,” she says, and the warmth in her voice and the smile on her face stays within me as we hug on that beach, taking flight together to the above and beyond.

I thought I might try something new. I love this song a lot, and I thought a love story wouldn’t hurt to celebrate it… I guess I’m a romantic at heart and everything.

Hope you’ll come over soon. Café’s gone quiet these couple of days now that the Christmas and New Year people are gone and I’ve got long stretches of time when it’s just me in the room. It’d be great to have someone around.

See you soon! — Q

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