The next day, with Mom at work and my sisters already out of the house, I decided to play croquet in the side yard by myself. After picking up branches downed by the storm, I set up the croquet course. I was just about to take my first swing when Mae Beth rode up on her bicycle.
R-r-r-ring. R-r-r-ring. Mae Beth’s bell chimed as she approached.
“Hi, Billy-Boy,” she said, jumping off her bike. “Looks like you could use another player.”
“Sure could,” I said, beaming.
Mae Beth grabbed a mallet and a ball and joined me at the starting posts.
“I heard you ran into Shark Man yesterday,” Mae Beth said, knocking her ball toward the first hoop.
“Tim and I saw him on the pier, so we stopped to talk to him,” I replied, giving my ball a whack.
“Yeah, Tim told me,” Mae Beth replied, taking another swing. “What’s this about, If you know the ocean, know the tides and currents…?”
“Oh, that,” I said, knocking my ball ahead of Mae Beth’s. “It’s just a little piece of advice Jesse, I mean Shark Man gave me when I saw him at Buddy’s after he had reeled in the sharks.”
“You plan to do some shark fishing of your own?” Mae Beth asked, glancing her ball off of mine.
“No, I’d never do that, but I do think that Jesse is pretty smart about reading the ocean,” I replied, as Mae Beth took a bonus shot.
“Well, maybe it will come in handy for the surfing contest,” Mae Beth said, waiting for me to take my turn.
“Surfing contest?” I replied, looking up from my ball.
“Yeah, the South Florida Surf Club is holding its annual junior surfing contest here in a couple of weeks.”
“You’re kidding?” I replied.
“No, I’m not kidding, and I think you should enter.”
“Me?” I said, dropping my mallet.
“Well, yeah, I think you showed everyone the other day that you could compete with the best of them.”
I grabbed Mae Beth and kissed her.
“You are so sweet, Mae Beth,” I said, holding her by the shoulders.
“You, Billy-Boy, are crazy.”
“It just needs your John Hancock,” Sonny said, as I finished filling out the entry form for the surf contest.
“Do you really think I have a chance?” I asked, handing him the completed form.
“As good a chance as anyone,” he said, checking my entry. “Now, let’s pray for waves.”
The contest was in two weeks, and although there were no hurricanes on the horizon, a low-pressure system hovered over the Bahamas. And that meant swells. But how big, we wouldn’t know for a few days. As I contemplated this, Tim opened the front door.
“Hey, Billy-Boy,” Tim blared, as he walked into the shop. “I’ve been looking for you.”
“Hey,” I replied, barely looking up.
“Say, what’s this?” Tim continued, pointing to my application that Sonny had laid on the counter.
“Sonny’s helping me fill out the entry form for the surfing contest,” I replied.
“What?” Tim laughed. “You think you have a chance to win?”
“As good a chance as you,” Mae Beth countered, as she slipped through the curtain of beads from the back room.
“Don’t tell me you’ve entered, too?” Tim shot back.
“Yep,” Mae Beth replied, smiling.
“Well, I sure hope I’m in your heat,” Tim fired back. “I’d love to beat you.”
“The feeling’s mutual,” Mae Beth countered.
I’d love to surf against Mae Beth, too, I thought. Anything, except compete against Tim.
“Sounds like we’re going to have a real contest,” Sonny said, chuckling. “But if I were you, I’d put more of energy into practicing than boasting.”
As Tim and I turned to leave, Mae Beth called out, “Hey, not so fast. Let me get my board and I’ll join you.”
“Sure,” I said, beaming.
“Why not,” Tim grumbled.
When we got to the beach, the soup had sorted itself out, and three-foot rollers greeted us. Nothing radical. Good for a practice round.
We headed out into the surf, paddled past the break, and waited for the next set of waves. Tim caught the first one, gliding steadily, even conservatively, along the face of the wave.
Mae Beth and I caught the next wave. Mae Beth was first. I followed, closer to the break. I could have used that advantage the way Tim did earlier in the summer and caught up with Mae Beth. Perhaps surprising her from behind, but I stayed my distance and watched her.
She was smooth, real smooth, just like Sonny, maneuvering up and down the face of the wave. Sometimes it looked like she was going to kick out over the back of the wave, but then she’d crank a hard turn and drive back down into the trough.
I followed her, trying to do what she did. I guess I must have been watching too closely because I forgot to pay attention to the break, which was gaining steadily on me.
When it caught up to me, it knocked me off my board, and I fell headfirst into the water. Mae Beth kept carving up the wave, unaware of my fate. Tim, meanwhile, was paddling back past the break and saw the whole thing.
“Hey, lover-boy,” Tim snickered, “better watch the waves instead of my girlfriend.”
“She’s not your girlfriend,” I stammered. “You don’t own her.”
“Yeah, we’ll see about that,” Tim replied, paddling past me.
After I had retrieved my board I headed out again, only I didn’t head toward Tim and Mae Beth, I stayed by myself several dozen yards away.
Another set of waves broke the horizon. Tim began paddling to catch the first one. So did I. Tim caught it first, stood up, and pivoted his board toward me. As I caught the wave, I did the same. I stood up and pivoted my board toward Tim.
We were riding the same wave, but going in two different directions. Not away from each other, but on a collision course toward each other.
“Bail out,” Tim screamed when he saw me coming at him.
“You bail out,” I yelled back.
“Bail!” Tim shouted.
But I held my ground and headed straight toward Tim.
I don’t remember much about the collision, but when I surfaced Tim was yelling at me.
“Look what you did,” Tim shouted, pointing at a large gash in his surfboard.
“Sorry,” I said, looking around for my board.
“Sorry? Is that all you have to say?” Tim exploded.
As we sparred, Mae Beth sailed past us on a wave. She rode it until she caught up to my board, which was drifting toward the beach. She stopped, turned my board around, and started paddling, keeping my board beside hers.
“Thanks, Mae Beth,” I said, as she approached.
“Oh, great,” Tim scoffed. “You get lover-boy’s surfboard. When have you ever gotten mine?”
“I’ll get yours after you fall during the competition. It’ll be the least I can do—after I beat you.”
“Beat me?” Tim sneered. “You’ve got to be kidding.”