“Mom, is it a hurricane?” Sue asked, staring out the window.
“No, just a bad summer storm,” replied Mom, as she folded the last of the dinner napkins.
“Feels like a hurricane,” Diane added, looking up from the book she was reading in her favorite wicker chair.
I had read about Florida hurricanes. They can make a real mess. With winds over a hundred miles an hour, they can break windows, uproot trees, topple signs, even lift the roofs off houses.
According to the World Book Encyclopedia, which I found on the bookshelf in the front room, the last big hurricane to come through Florida was in 1960. Hurricane Donna swept across the Atlantic from the west coast of Africa, cut a path of destruction through Cuba and the Bahamas, and landed in the Florida Keys with winds over 140 miles an hour. It moved slowly, crisscrossing the state with high winds and torrential rains, until it headed out to sea around Daytona Beach.
But that wasn’t the last of it. Donna stayed active as a hurricane for over two weeks, inching its way up the East Coast until it sputtered out around Long Island.
I had never been through a hurricane, just read about them. But I wondered what it would be like. The howling winds of this summer storm must be nothing compared to the raw force of a hurricane. As I thought about this, someone started banging on the front door.
“Hurry, let’s go,” Tim said, as I opened the door.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“Boat…capsized…people…drowning!” Tim sputtered.
Upon hearing this, Diane and Sue jumped up and ran to the door, too.
“What? A boat capsized?” Sue asked.
“Yeah, a small charter boat,” replied Tim, catching his breath.
“Mom, can we go see it?” Diane asked.
“I don’t know,” Mom replied, not sure it was a good idea.
“Please,” Sue begged.
“Well, okay, but just for a little while.”
We grabbed our jackets and headed out the door, running to catch up to Tim who had already taken off for the beach.
The sea looked like the inside of a giant washing machine, with waves churning in all directions. Spray stung our face. Seagulls struggled above us, whiplashed by strong currents of air. A dozen or more people stood around on the beach, several pointing toward the churning waves.
“Look, there!” Sue shouted over a gust of wind.
We squinted and saw the hull of a boat bobbing up and down in the surf just beyond the breakers. A Coast Guard Cutter patrolled the waters farther out, looking for a way to get closer.
We ran down the beach toward a crowd of people milling around the water’s edge. As we approached we could see a couple of people wading into the water. What we didn’t see, until we got closer, was the person lying face down on the beach in front of the crowd of onlookers.
It was a man. His skin was gray. His hair matted. He wore a pair of pants, but no shirt. As we stared at him, the people in the water struggled back onto shore carrying something heavy and lifeless. It was a woman. Her dress was torn at the shoulder. A cloth shoe clung to one foot. Strands of seaweed knotted her hair. The three men carrying her laid her body on the sand next to the man. She didn’t move.
Diane winced, and walked away.
So did Sue.
Tim and I stayed until two fire trucks and an ambulance arrived. We watched the medics check the bodies for a pulse, but you could tell from their bluish-gray skin that the couple was dead.
After the medics loaded them onto a gurney and carted them to the waiting ambulance, we turned and headed up the beach. We hadn’t gone more than a hundred yards when we heard someone calling after us.
“Tim,” a voice called, floating above the wind. “Tim!”
I looked around and saw a girl approaching. She was wearing a loose fitting dress, topped by a worn leather jacket. A ponytail of thick, blond hair danced in the wind.
“Hi, Tim,” she said, stopping in front of us.
“Hi, Mae Beth,” Tim replied.
“What’s up?” she asked.
“A boat capsized, two people washed up on shore, but the medics took them away already.”
“Hey, are you going surfing?” she asked, unfazed by Tim’s report.
“I don’t know. It’s really rough today.”
“Ah-hmm, excuse me,” I interrupted.
“Oh, yeah, Mae Beth, this is my friend Billy.”
“Hi,” I said, noting that Tim had referred to me as his friend.
“Hi,” Mae Beth replied, then quickly turned back to Tim.
“Want to come to the surf shop and hang out this afternoon?”
“Actually, I have to help my dad this afternoon.”
“Well, maybe another day,” Mae Beth said, then turned and walked away.
“Who was that?” I asked when she was out of earshot.
“Mae Beth? Oh, she’s the daughter of the local surf shop owner.”
“She likes you,” I said.
“What? Well, actually, you’re right.”
“And you? Do you like her?”
“Sure, why not?” Tim replied. Then added, “Hey, I really do have to help my dad this afternoon. See you later?”
“Yeah, see you later,” I replied, watching him hurry away.
All of a sudden I had a pang of hunger, so I turned and headed to Buddy’s Burger Shack, which was just as it was advertised—a hamburger joint shaped like a giant hamburger. The drive-in area was almost empty, just a couple of cars pulled up under the canopy, and a boy standing outside the front door talking to a girl.
Girl! I thought, looking closer. That’s no girl. That’s my sister!
Diane was standing by the entrance of Buddy’s Burger Shack talking to a boy who had his arm around her waist.
“Ah, hello,” I said, clearing my throat as I approached.
“Oh, hello,” Diane replied, surprised by my sudden appearance.
The boy straightened up, taking his arm from her waist.
As I looked closer, my head started to spin. The boy with his arm around my sister’s waist was…Shark Man!
I just stood and stared at him.
“Who’s this?” the boy asked.
“Oh, just my little brother,” Diane replied.
“Did you reel in two sharks at the pier the other day?” I asked, ignoring my sister’s remark.
“Yeah, that’s right.”
“Weren’t you scared?”
“Scared? Nothing to be scared about.”
“Nothing to be scared about! What about the sharks you reeled in?”
“What about them?”
“You were swimming with them!”
“Yeah, I know, but if you know the ocean,…I mean, really know it, know the tides and currents, you’ll know everything you need to know.”
I stood dumbfounded, trying to grasp what Shark Man had said, as if he had just revealed some great universal truth.
“Hey, I’ve got to get back to work,” the boy said suddenly, glancing at his watch. He gave Diane a little nudge, turned, and headed back into Buddy’s Burger Shack.
“What are you doing here?” Diane asked, her face flushed.
“I wanted to get something to eat before heading home,” I replied. “What are you doing here? With Shark Man?”
“Shark Man?” Diane answered. “You mean Jesse.”
“Is that his name?”
“Well, it certainly isn’t Shark Man.”
Maybe not, I thought, but it appeared he was pretty good at catching things.