I watched as Mindy squatted barefoot in the sand, occasionally tugging at her little green and yellow polka-dot bikini bottoms. I’d fought her on those, but she’d insisted everyone wore bikinis and that if she didn’t have one, “she would just die.” I was hearing that a lot these days. Apparently many things would kill my ten-year-old daughter; like not having a Justin Beiber poster, or having the wrong pair of jeans on the first day of school.
Mark was laying on his stomach, snoring lightly. His pale back reflected the sun and I leaned over and smacked a glob of SPF 50 on his back. The beach used to be a lot more fun for me, I thought. I remembered the days when I was the one in the bikini bottoms, and Mark and I would play volleyball. He would tackle me and carry me, screaming with laughter, into the ocean if I won.
Mindy was burying her friend Adrienne in the sand. Adrienne was now a staple on vacations, because, and I’m sure there’s no surprise here, Mindy would “just die” if Adrienne couldn’t come with us. I often wondered if Mark and I should have tried harder to have a second child, but we had used up our savings on three rounds of IVF.
So instead, we had Adrienne, our little surrogate daughter. She was a quiet child, a born follower. Her mother, if I’m being honest, was a bit wild. She’d had Adrienne young, and wasn’t even 30. She would show up at school for bake sales and the PTA in her tight jeans and skimpy shirts and Adrienne would blush and stammer, trying to hide her. I’d think; I wouldn’t mind adopting Adrienne. She even looked like me, red hair, freckles, a long nose. Mindy was fair and pale blonde, she looked like Mark, but I could barely see myself in her.
It was no surprise to me that Adrienne was the one being buried in the sand. She followed Mindy everywhere she went. I worried that someday soon, my little daughter would turn on her for not being outgoing enough, or well-dressed enough, or fun enough. I could already see it happening. Adrienne was an introverted child; she liked to write and draw, and would sit down and have conversations with me like an adult. Mindy kept telling her that the things she was doing were “lame.” How a ten-year-old could already know what was lame was beyond me.
But for now the two girls seemed content, playing in the warm sand on one of the last days of summer before school would start again.
That night, we walked along the boardwalk. Mark had bought ice cream for the girls. As usual, Mindy had ice cream running down her arm, and had to lick the mint chocolate chip from her elbow. I carried a wad of napkins with me, and occasionally handed one to her. Adrienne was taking neat little licks, making sure that it didn’t melt too much. As we walked along, Mindy spied an arcade and nearly dropped her cone in excitement.
“Can we go,” she begged Mark, tugging on his arm. He looked at me and shrugged.
“Sure” I said. I checked my purse but I had no change. “Let me just get a few quarters.” Mindy squealed and ran off, hauling Mark behind her and leaving Adrienne and I standing alone.
“Off you go,” I said, gesturing for her to follow Mindy.
“I’d like to stay with you,” she said shyly. She noticed that her cone was dripping and gave it another lick.
“Oh, sure. That’s fine,” I said. “Let’s go get some change.”
I saw a change machine across the boardwalk, and began to head towards it. A moment later, I felt a warm, slightly sticky hand reach out and grab mine. I looked down and saw that Adrienne had put her hand in mine to cross the street, and my heart melted a little.
“Mrs. Gray, can I ask you something?” Adrienne said, as we walked over.
“Go ahead,” I said.
“Do you think I’ll be okay in middle school?” she asked, so sincerely it nearly broke my heart.
“Of course you will,” I said, gripping her hand in mine more tightly. “You’ll be great. You’re so smart, you’re going to do really well.” She frowned, staring at her ice cream.
“Do you think Mindy and I will stay friends?” she asked. I looked down at her and saw that she had tears in her eyes. “Mindy has a lot of other friends, and I don’t have any,” she continued, a sob rising in her throat. Suddenly I was on my knees in front of her, wrapping another woman’s child in my arms and holding her as tightly as I possibly could. Across the boardwalk, I could see Mindy pause and look at us. She cocked her head to one side and appeared confused. I wondered how old she would be when she would realize just how important having a friend like Adrienne was. A teenager? An adult? In my experience, people lose a lot of friendships to carelessness before they wise up.
For now, all I could do was pat Adrienne’s back and say, “Of course you’ll be friends. It will all be okay.”