The Pink Palace was silent. I meant to relish the quiet in my room, but as I moved through the kitchen, an envelope on the table caught my eye.
There was a messy pile of mail there, obviously left to be read later, but one was addressed to me in our housekeeper’s curly handwriting. Deep in her seventies, Joan avoided computers and so it wasn’t unusual for me to get letters from her while we were away. But we’d left less than forty-eight hours ago and this particular envelope bore a same-day delivery stamp.
I ripped it open. Inside was another envelope, this one with a post-it stuck to the front. A note from Joan.
“Honey, this came for you just after you left. Made sure to camouflage it so you could read it first. Love, Joan.”
A smile crept onto my face. She knew my mother too well. Mom would assume that any important mail addressed to me was surely also meant for the woman who had spawned me eighteen years ago.
I crumpled up the post-it, lest my mother should find it, and looked at the hidden envelope. The return address was the admissions office at Western University.
And there, I faltered. My hands trembled. My fingers left little sweat fingerprints on the envelope. How long did I stand there, contemplating the feel of the paper beneath my fingers?
The envelope was still sealed. Joan hadn’t read it. I could let everyone believe I’d been rejected and run away to Europe. Or to California. Or Mexico. Or New York City. The simple act of running away was something I ached to do with every fiber of my being. End the struggle that was school and tests and studying. Find something else to define me. My thumb brushed across my name printed on the envelope.
It was no use. Inside me, deeper than the desire to run away, was a little part of me that wanted to be accepted, too. Needed to be accepted. For my own self-respect.
I took a deep breath and ripped the envelope open; I unfolded it with shaking fingers.
“I regret to inform you …”
My stomach slid to my feet. Apparently that form dismissal wasn’t an urban legend. Those words did exist in real life. And they hurt more than any book or movie could portray.
I stopped reading. I didn’t need to read that my GPA had been too low. That other kids were smarter than me. More talented than me. Could play basketball or softball without tripping.
The threat of tears stung my eyes. Why does this hurt so much? I hadn’t even thought I cared! I was furious with myself. Had I been harboring this secret fantasy of going to Western all along? Going to the school my parents wanted me to go to, going to school with Josh Watson and lusting after him for another four years? Or was I just afraid of the looks I would get when my parents found out?
The last thing I wanted was to be caught crying by my parents. It was a habit very much abhorred by my father. I crumpled the letter and threw it in the trash. Then I pulled on a sweatshirt and left.
I needed to put as much space as possible between me and that horrible letter, those hurtful words and that shockingly pink house.
I walked quickly, without much care for where I wandered, and I soon found myself amid that mess of red cabins again.
The cabins were all uniformly painted—red with white trim—and seemed to be chipping and fading in unison. People buzzed in and out of the little cabins. Several fathers bearing beer and mothers with children in tow swirled around me.
My eyes stinging with those unwanted tears, I nearly bounced into an old man with a metal detector. He gave me a scornful look, but I quickly lowered my gaze and strode on.
Eventually the activity and cabins died away, too, and I came to an unkempt area of beach with seaweed strewn about. There were no people here, and behind the beach the dunes had given way to rocky hills.
Just a little farther on, I spotted a tiny run-down pier. It was a short wooden thing raised on piles, with a wide walkway of wooden slats. But it also looked old, the dark piles rising along the sides like crooked teeth. It extended into the ocean a few yards, the end sloping and shifting ominously in the waves.
I sat down in the sand before the pier, tired of walking but not courageous enough to test the strength of the pier itself, and wrapped my arms around my legs. The angry ocean waves roiled and crashed into each other, spraying my face with cold droplets. And here, quite alone, I dared to cry.
The tears came in a torrent. The last two days had been the longest of my life, cramped in the back of the car with three months’ worth of junk and a worrisome dog that thought every car ride ended at the vet. My mind had been boiling with the last year’s buildup of thoughts as we stopped at antique store after tiny store along the highway. But here on the beach, I felt far away from everything I’d left at home. The best friend. The best friend’s new boyfriend. The almost-but-never-was-mine boy friend. Not to mention school.
It had all felt so far away for a few hours. But that letter had followed me. That was it—my one reserve. Gone. Still, that familiar feeling of waiting wasn’t gone yet. That vague but completely familiar feeling followed me all the way to this beach, so far away from my blue room in the suburban house where I cried myself to sleep when I got wait-listed at every private college in the Midwest and when Josh Watson declared he didn’t like me and where I sat alone weekends when Rosie went out with Steve.
And just when I had managed to sort through all that, I saw it. Something in the water.
My thoughts raced immediately to ashrays. In my mind, they were big blue things that resembled sharks. But this seemed too round to be anything menacing, perhaps a sea lion. I got up to take a few steps closer and squinted my eyes. And then a wave pushed the head above water, and it became clear that the creature wasn’t a seal at all.
It was a person. A very wet, very puffy person.
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