It was a good week or so before I saw Tim again. Actually, I saw Mae Beth first. I was walking along the beach one afternoon, looking for shells, bits of coral, anything of interest, when I saw Mae Beth with some friends horsing around in the water.
“Hi, Mae Beth,” I called, as I approached.
“Hey, Billy-Boy,” she replied. “What are you doing?”
“Nothing, just walking, looking for stuff.”
“Did you hear a hurricane’s coming our way?”
“Yeah, I heard it on the news.”
“Mae Beth,” I said, after a long pause, “want to go for a walk?”
“Sure,” she replied, waving goodbye to her friends.
We walked for a while without saying a word, until I got up enough courage to speak.
“Mae Beth, I’m…I’m sorry about the bridge incident.”
“That’s all right, Billy-Boy,” Mae Beth replied, looking at me.
It’s funny. I never like it when Sonny or Tim calls me Billy-Boy. It seems belittling. But coming from Mae Beth, it was sweet, almost tender.
“I don’t know what got into me,” I said, not knowing where to start. “I just don’t like the way Tim treats you.”
Mae Beth smiled, but didn’t say anything.
“I guess I never liked the way my stepdad treated my mother either,” I said after awhile, picking up a small piece of driftwood and turning it over in my hand.
“Is that why you came here?” Mae Beth asked.
“You mean to Florida? I guess so. It all happened so fast. After my stepfather chased Mom through the house with a gun, we grabbed our stuff and took off.”
Mae Beth didn’t say anything. Then, after a long silence, she asked, “Did your stepfather ever hurt you?”
“Sure, I mean, nothing too bad,” I said, tossing the piece of driftwood into the water as I spoke.
“Nothing too bad?” Mae Beth replied.
“Well, you know, it’s kind of like he had his rules and we were supposed to follow them.”
“And did you?”
“Most of the time.”
“And if you didn’t?”
“If you didn’t, he’d hurt you.”
I just shrugged and kept walking.
“You know, you sure gave Tim quite a scare the other day,” Mae Beth said suddenly, breaking the silence.
“Yeah, I know. He hasn’t called since.”
“He’s pretty bummed. His father grounded him for two weeks.”
“Yeah, but he didn’t tell his father that you did it.”
“No, he said he did it, horsing around, trying to impress his friends.”
“I don’t understand Tim at all,” I said, picking up a piece of coral.
“I don’t either.”
“You know he likes you.”
“Yeah, I know,” replied Mae Beth, nudging a shell with her toes.
“Do you like him?” I asked, not really wanting to hear the answer.
“Sometimes I do. Then again, sometimes I don’t.”
It wasn’t the answer I expected, but it was a whole lot better than the one I thought she’d give.
We kept walking, neither of us saying a word.
As we walked I felt a burning sensation inside of me. But it wasn’t anger or rage. I just wanted to hold Mae Beth. I wanted to draw her close, not roughly the way Tim had, but slowly, gently.
No matter how far we walked I knew that the burning sensation inside of me wouldn’t go away, so I reached out for Mae Beth’s hand, but before I found it a voice shattered our world.
“Hey, look what the sea’s washed up?” Tim said, as he caught up to us from behind.
“Trying to snag my girl are you, Billy-Boy?” Tim scoffed, thrusting himself between us.
I stood dumbfounded, unable to speak.
“What if he was?” Mae Beth said, pushing Tim away.
“What if he was?” Mae Beth repeated, raising her voice. “What would you do about it?”
Now Tim was the one who couldn’t speak. His face reddened. His eyes narrowed. He turned and stormed off down the beach.
I watched Tim for a few moments, then turned toward Mae Beth, “Why did you…“
Mae Beth put her finger to my lips so I couldn’t finish the sentence. Then she took my face in her hands and kissed me.
“Surprised?” she said.
“But isn’t that what you wanted to do before Tim appeared?”
“Well, yeah, sure,” I said, sheepishly.
“Good,” Mae Beth replied, “then it’s done.”