Between Shores

Read the finalists for the Write It Your Way competition.

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Between Shores

Postby TheIntern » Wed Jul 25, 2012 12:46 pm

Between Shores
Virginia summers are hot and endlessly wet. Stepping outside is like getting
slapped with a damp and molding paper towel. So, when the bodies of Kaylee and her
younger sister Hannah were found caught in an eddy of a river, it seemed like maybe
they’d stepped in for a dip. They were floating, side by side, still faces gazing at the hazy
blue sky.

Kaylee was my lively friend who loved horses, butterflies, and wrote notes with
me through English class. Her was life choked out of her by a man they wouldn’t catch
for five long years.

Most summers my family escaped with a tent to Colorado and, after Kaylee’s
murder, I was desperate to leave. Instead, my parents bought a security system — a
Doberman puppy named Kylie. They hoped she would grow into a man eater. It felt like
a crummy trade. I wanted to tell my parents that a dog, even a Doberman, would not
protect their daughters from a killer who abducted pretty teenage girls with brown hair.
Three years later when Kylie only barked at her reflection and fancied herself a 90 pound
lap dog, we gave her away.

Already locked in my own despair, I was now chained to this graveyard town just
so we could care for a puppy. I didn’t think my parents had to worry about me. At fifteen,
my brown hair was an untamable bush; braces and oversized glasses completed the
picture. No one would mistake me for pretty. Not like Kaylee.

I couldn’t cry. Even standing in front of her heart shaped tombstone, picturing
her under my feet, I couldn’t cry. In place of tears, a fever burned me from the inside out,
turning me into a girl shaped vessel with nothing inside. And I was just a friend. What
must her now childless parents feel? The rumor was Hannah had not been a target, that
she likely got in the way of Kaylee’s abduction — collateral damage.

My parents did their best, but when your kid has never lost anything more
significant than a gerbil, it’s hard to know what to say. One July evening, we were eating
dinner on the deck and swatting mosquitos when my mom spoke up.

“Girls, I know you’re disappointed we couldn’t take a big trip this summer.”

“It’s okay,” my older sister Molly, replied. I caught her sneaking a glance at me.
She’d always wanted a dog.

“Well, your dad and I thought we could get away for at least a couple of days.
Maybe board the dog and go to Chincoteague?”

I practically choked on my spaghetti, trying to reply, “For Pony Penning Day?”

“Yeah.” Dad smiled, his voice quiet, “Would you like that, Bea?”

This trip was for me. Having hashed over every horse book known to man with
Kaylee, Misty of Chincoteague was one of our all-time favorites. I felt about Pony
Penning Day the way most kids did about going to Disney World.

I could rattle off facts about Chincoteague at machine-gun pace: Chincoteague is
an island off the coast of Virginia; it is buffered by Assateague Island, which is inhabited
solely by wild ponies; the residents of Chincoteague hold an annual pony roundup and
auction to benefit the Volunteer Fire Department; mounted salt water cowboys herd the
ponies on Assateague before swimming them across the narrow channel between the
islands.

My parents made the plan to escape to Chincoteague way too late to get a hotel
room. So at 1:00 a.m. the day before Pony Penning, we piled into our aging van and
rumbled off into the darkness with cicadas and tree frogs singing us goodbye.
My sister touched my shoulder. “Excited, butthead?”

Translation: I love you. I’m happy to watch these stupid horses swim if it makes
you feel better. “Yeah!” I nodded vigorously. She grinned, put on headphones, and curled
up in her bucket seat and fell asleep. I envied her ability to sleep anytime, anywhere.
I pressed my face to the window and peered into the night, remembering the day I
saw Kaylee ride in a competition. She was so polished and confident on the back of a big
chestnut horse, taking jumps in a fluid motion. Later, she bounced out of the ring with a
blue ribbon fluttering from her hand and I was there to hug her.

Choking down a sigh, I tried to squash the hot shards of sadness pushing from
every pore. How did you cure grief?

I wrenched my thoughts back to Chincoteague. It was a favorite weekend getaway
for us, we’d just never made it to Pony Penning. You could cruise around Assateague on
a bike while ponies regarded you like a bizarre flightless sea bird. Kaylee would’ve loved
it. She would’ve understood the beauty in the wild, storm-beaten islands.

My parents took shifts on the four hour drive. At one point, Mom reached back
and squeezed my knee, her blue eyes glinting. I had heard stories of her as a kid riding
her bike, switching it with a stick, and urging it into a gallop.

We got to Chincoteague around 5:00 a.m. — plenty early to get good positions on
the shore. My sister awoke with a groan, “Can I stay in the car?”

Mom cut her eyes to me.

“I don’t care.” I shrugged. This moment was mine.

“I’ll stay here with her,” Dad volunteered all too eagerly. “Wake us after and
we’ll go get breakfast.”

“You’re going to miss out,” Mom scolded, but it was halfhearted.

She and I left, weaving our way through the growing throngs of watchers. With a
little direction from locals we got the scoop on the best place to wait. We slipped off our
shoes and waded into the shallows. The sun was coming up, washing everything in pale
gold, and a pleasant breeze rippled over the ocean, carrying scents of the warm day to
come. Time slipped by, and all eyes were trained on the opposite shore. Suddenly,
someone shouted, “Here they come!”

Ponies and cowboys surged up to the beach. Hundreds of hooves danced across
the sand. A few sharp words from the herders and they all plunged into the water. In that
instant, the ponies transformed into something elemental: air and sea-foam and sandy
turf. The light burst over their necks and shoulders, spray flew around them. Heavenly
creatures. A gift from Kaylee.

I rolled my shorts up and waded deeper. A well rose inside me, flooding the heat
of my grief. My inner tide finally crested and tears coursed down my face. I heard myself
quietly call out, “You can make it.”

Mom stood by my side. “You can make it.” She wasn’t looking at the ponies.
The day grew brighter as though the ponies pulled the sun with them. They
powered across the channel, snorting salt water. There had never been a morning so
brilliant. Everything that would come later flashed through my mind: waking Molly and
Dad, breakfast, the end of summer, the start of a new school year. I willed myself out to
those horses, caught between two shores, between earth, sky, and water.

“You can make it.”

My4Ms
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Re: Between Shores

Postby My4Ms » Thu Aug 23, 2012 11:43 pm

Excellent and insightful. With this short of a story, it is rare for me to feel like I know the characters so well. The translation of the "sister language" made me laugh out loud. The mother's insight and sensitivity far outweighed the brevity of her last, wise statement. The narrator's level of vocabulary and understanding of what she was experiencing was spot on for her age and developmental level.

Thank you for touching my heart.


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