They met at the beach to talk. His girlfriend had broken up with him and he needed a friendly ear. She was dating his best friend but was thinking of breaking it off because he was boring. They had double-dated a month ago to the Junior Prom and often chatted on the phone. This time he needed an ear at his happy place: near the water.
“She doesn’t get me,” AJ said, with a big sigh. “She thinks that sailing is dumb and that I’m wasting my time working at the marina. She wants me to be “cool” and deliver pizza. She says she wants to “fix” me.”
“Fix you? Doesn’t she know that you are one of the best Laser racers on the Bay?” Holly asked, incredulously.
“She doesn’t care about boats. And she’s so beautiful that I can’t get her out of my mind,” he answered.
“She’s a spoiled, country-club snob that doesn’t deserve you,” is what Holly thought, but instead said to him, “Give her some time. You’re good-looking and smart and funny. She’ll see that she can’t get anyone else as great as you.”
“You’re so awesome. You always know just what to say, Holly,” AJ replied.
AJ leaned into Holly, putting his head against hers. For a brief instant she thought he was going to turn and kiss her. She sat perfectly still, eyes closed and holding her breath. She was certain that he heard her heart beating fast and furious beneath the windbreaker. Then the moment passed and he patted her knee and stood up, offering her his hand.
“I’ve got to get going. I’ve got to study for the English test or I’m going to flunk out.”
“I could help you. English is my best subject,” she said, disappointed.
“Aw, thanks. I’m sure you have better things to do than hang out with a broken sailor who needs fixing.”
“You’re not broken,” she playfully punched him on the arm, “You’re perfectly flawed.”
She didn’t want him to go, but she couldn’t think of anything else to say so she just watched as he laughed, repeating, “Perfectly flawed” and walked away, hands in his pockets and shaking his head as she shuffled through the sand.
Good God, she was tired. Working full time, raising two teens and going to college to finish her degree left nothing for her at the end of the day. After submitting her history essay online she opened her Facebook account and saw the little highlighted symbol that showed she had a new private message.
“Are you the Holly Bunting that went to Sunset High School?” asked Andrew Stone.
She peered at the tiny picture of a man about her age playing guitar. Andrew Stone? Why did that sound familiar? Andrew? Andy? AJ! AJ Stone! Whoa, she hadn’t heard that name in over 20 years.
“Yes, that was me back in the day. How the heck are you, AJ?” She typed.
“I’m good. How are you?” came his reply
“Good. Busy. Working, teenage kids and going to school. How about you?” she replied.
Almost a minute went by and she almost closed the computer for the night when the symbol lit up again.
“Working. That’s about it. I’m a slow typer. Here’s my number. Give me a call and let’s catch up,” he wrote.
Holly held on to the number for two days before making the call. It rang three times and she was just about to hang up when he answered.
“Hell -o,” he said in the same voice she remembered from decades ago, stretching the greeting into two separate words. Holly smiled.
“Hi, AJ, it’s me. Holly.”
“Holly! Great to hear from you! Are you still in Emeryville?”
“Actually, I just moved back last year after my divorce. How about you?” she said.
“I’m living with dad in Vallejo, but working in Berkeley and I stay on his boat a few times a week. Divorced a few years ago myself.”
“So, are you still racing?” she asked.
“Racing?” he questioned. “Oh, you mean sailboats.”
“Uh, yes, what other kind of racing would you do?” she asked.
“I haven’t raced since high school, but I get out sailing a few times a year,” he answered.
“A few times a year? Wow. That’s not the AJ I knew. I have a little Ericson 23 that I taught myself to singlehand and I go out almost every Sunday,” she said. And then, without thinking, she asked him if he’d like to go sailing that weekend. They made plans to meet at the marina and hung up.
Holly had her boat ready to go when he called to say he was at the gate. They backed out of the dock and headed up the channel, raising the sails for a tack across the Bay. They chatted about their jobs, her kids and his dogs, keeping the conversation light. Holly brought lunch as they’d planned a sail to a sheltered cove for the afternoon. Once the anchor was set they relaxed on the cockpit cushions and she laid out a lovely selection of salami, cheese, crackers and fruit. AJ had brought a bottle of wine and poured into stainless steel cups.
He raised his cup to hers for a toast, “To old friends!”
“Who you calling “old”?” she laughed.
“Okay, then to new friendships,” AJ smiled, moving to sit next to her.
Holly felt her heart beating faster. She wasn’t a schoolgirl anymore, but he made her feel young and carefree.
“To new friendships,” she whispered, suddenly losing her voice.
“I should have kissed you on the beach,” he said. “I’d like to kiss you now.”
Holly closed her eyes and leaned into AJ.
“You’re sure you want to get mixed up with a broken sailor?” he asked.
“You’re not broken, just perfectly flawed.”
Written April 2018 for To Live & Write in Alameda’s “Shorts” (formerly Story Slam).
Picture circa 1981; Aaron and his prissy country-club girlfriend, Leslie, on the left ,and Heidi and Aaron’s best friend, Tommy, on the right … double-dating at the Alameda High School Junior Prom. Photo by Aaron’s mom in their Alameda home.
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