TITLE: Sara's Summer of Truth
By Celeste Ammirata
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The first chapter introduces Sara and gives a small glimpse into her past. A few other characters are also introduced.
SARA’S SUMMER OF TRUTH
Sara’s skin glistened in the hot classroom, and as she sat on the hard seat of her desk, her thoughts were of the Cape Hatteras National seashore. She would be going as soon as school let out the next week, and spending her summer there. She couldn’t wait.
But right now she had to concentrate because Mrs. Characid was reviewing what would be on the history final tomorrow. An A or B would guarantee a B for the course. Luckily, this was the only final for tomorrow so she could focus all her efforts into this test. Not that she had anything else to do.
Glancing around the room, her eyes rested on Mike Mulligan, the captain of the football and baseball teams. She could look at him all day. With his jet black hair, and dark exotic eyes, he looked part oriental or Hawaiian. She loved his mouth, full lips, and perfect white teeth. It was that mouth she was staring at when she noticed him looking at her. He smiled and she quickly looked away, feeling the heat in her cheeks, hoping that no one else noticed. Luckily, there was a small chance of that, since no one ever noticed her. Though at this moment, that was a good thing. Mike was a year older than Sara and would be graduating next week. What a shame. He was one of the few bright spots of her long miserable days at Steinbeck High School.
Mrs. Characid was finishing up, and Sara was confident she had enough information to study to do well on the test. Gathering up her books, she was able to sneak one last peek at Mike before joining the hordes of students in the halls. At her locker she grabbed her Algebra II book. Fighting the masses she made her way to her last class of the day.
She hated this school. It was as if she didn’t exist. Admittedly, her own shyness was part of the reason. She was so terrified of saying the wrong thing, or of being mocked, that she avoided talking to the other students.
Hours later, in her bedroom, Sara stood up from her desk and slammed her history book shut. She could take no more! If she didn’t know enough to ace this test by now, she never would. She walked to the bathroom, rinsed her face and splashed cool water on her neck and chest.
Staring at her reflection in the mirror she studied her face. Large dark brown almond shaped eyes stared out at her. She didn’t like that she had such a round face, but her high cheekbones helped thin things out a bit. Her nose was small and slightly upturned, with a tiny smattering of freckles. She had perfect teeth, and so was spared the agony of braces. Her lips were a light shade of pink, so she never had to wear lipstick. They were a little thin, but her mouth was okay, she guessed. Her hair was the color of sand with golden highlights. She had to admit that her face was kind of pretty. She knew she had a nice shape. Her legs and arms were toned; her waist, hips and back side were small. Her breasts were round and full. She looked pretty decent in almost everything she wore, so, it wasn’t her looks that kept the guys at school from getting to know her.
It was her own fault. She was shy, always was. Except for her friend Ray, who had been in her art classes since middle school, if a guy were to talk to her, she wouldn’t know what to say or how to act. So, she was the quiet one, she even heard people say that she was stuck up.
That’s why she loved Cape Hatteras; there were no labels and she was free to be herself.
No one there knew that her mother killed herself when Sara was only ten years old; or that her dad was a kindergarten teacher who had never gotten over losing his wife.
Leaving the bathroom, she almost tripped over Duke, her dog, who followed her everywhere. Duke was a mixed breed, black with white paws and a white patch around his left eye. “So, what do you say we go for a walk to the park, Duke?” Duke jumped up from his spot at her feet, shook all over, and started running in circles around the room. Taking that as a yes, she smiled, opened the basement door, and grabbed his leash from it’s’ hook. Duke was proof that God thought about Sara once in a while.
He had come into her life the night that her mom had finally succeeded in killing herself. She had gone to the park to get away from her dad, knowing she shouldn’t be there after dark. But watching her dad was more than she could bear. How could he actually be in so much pain? You’d think he’d be relieved. Her dear old mom had tried two other times, and afterward would cry and tell Sara and her dad that she was sorry, that she loved them both so much. Oh, please.... You don’t hurt people you love like that. Although Sara would never admit this to anyone else, she was glad it was finally over. The heaviness and sadness that had filled the house when mom was there was gone. Sure it would be pretty tough for a while, but once the sadness went away; there would be no more repeats.
That night, years ago, as she walked along, deep in thought, Sara was startled by rustling in the bush in front of her. Her mouth went dry and her heart hammered loudly. She started running, and then stopped when a dog rushed out from the bush, toward her, barking happily. It was love at first sight. Duke followed her home. Sara used her dad’s guilt and sympathy for her to get him to agree to keep the dog, until they could find his owner.
The next day, while her dad went to the funeral home to make arrangements; Sara’s aunt Kellie and her cousin Colette took her to the pet store to pick up supplies for Duke. Sara’s prayers were answered when no one responded to the ad that her aunt had put in the newspaper’s lost and found section. She had conveniently forgotten to put up signs around the neighborhood, as her dad had suggested.
Duke instantly became Sara’s best friend. He curled up next to her and put his head in her lap when she cried. He slept in her bed. On her worst days he was there, giving his unconditional love. In time, even her dad grew to love him.
Sara was going over what she had studied as Duke happily pulled her along the street, towards the park. Looking at him, she smiled, thinking about how lucky she was that he came into her life when he did.
“So, what’re you so happy about?”
Sara stumbled at the intrusion of her thoughts, then turned around and stared into the gorgeous face of Mike Mulligan.
“Um, what do you mean?” She stammered, and then thought Smooth response, Sara! She kept on walking, as she had no choice, with Duke pulling her forward.
“You’re smiling, what are you so happy about?” Mike said, matching his pace to hers.
“I was just thinking about my dog.” She answered, too stunned to say anything but the truth.
“Oh, yeah? What about your dog?” he asked. He was standing there, grinning at her with his hands pushed into the front pockets of his jeans.
She felt the heat in her cheeks and could swear that he heard her heart pounding. “I really love him. He’s been a real blessing to me.”
“What do you mean by a blessing?” Mike asked looking at her like she had grown a third eye.
“Well, you know, a gift from God”
“God”, Mike said, turning his head to follow a red Firebird that was going by. “I don’t believe in God”.
“Oh.” She couldn’t think of anything else to say. Duke stopped to sniff a large bush and leave his mark on it. Sara prayed he would not make a mess that she would have to pick up with Mike watching her. Catching the light scent of honeysuckle and closed her eyes and breathed in deeply. When she opened her eyes, Mike was studying her with a strange look in his eyes.
“What’s the matter?” She asked, feeling defensive.
“What are you doing?” He asked
“I love the smell of honeysuckle” she told him, wondering why he cared.
“Boy, you love a lot of things don’t you, your dog, honeysuckle, and drawing. Anything else I should know about you?” The way he was looking at her made her uncomfortable. But the fact that he knew ever a little bit about her was exciting.
“How do you know that I love to draw?”
“I saw your work in the cafeteria. And sometimes it’s in the halls. You’re pretty good.” When he smiled at her and leaned over to pet Duke, Sara resisted the urge to pinch herself to see if she was dreaming.
“Thank you.” She answered. Then she started chewing on the right side of her lower lip.
Come on now, Sara, even though he likes your art, and he’s talking to you and petting Duke, he definitely is not interested in you. He’s probably just bored, with nothing else to do. So, just calm down and don’t do or say anything stupid.
“Those pictures of the lighthouse are really good. Have you ever been there?”
“Yes, it’s at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. I go there every summer. When I see something I like, I make a quick sketch, then work on them more when I get the time.” Duke took off, dragging her with him. Mike stayed right with them.
“Do you ever sketch Duke?” He asked
“Yes, I’ve done a lot of pictures of him.”
“How about me, did you ever sketch me?” He was grinning at her and Sara knew that he knew that he was embarrassing her. And he was getting a kick out of it.
“No, Mike, I’ve never sketched you. I told you I sketch things I like.” She said, trying to sound cool.
“But I’ve seen you looking at me. Like today, in history class.” He locked his dark eyes on hers.
“So, you were looking at me?” She asked innocently, trying to embarrass him.
No such luck. “Yeah, I was.” His lips curled into a playful smirk.
Okay, so now I know, he’s just playing games with me. He knows I like him, and he’s just trying to make a fool of me. What a jerk!
Angry now, she looked away from Mike, and called Duke, pulling on his leash. “Come on now boy, we have to go.” She felt a little guilty because Duke loved these walks. If Mike wasn’t here she probably would have stayed out for at least another half hour.
Mike looked confused. “Hey, what’s the matter? Why are you leaving now?”
With out looking at him, she said, “Nothing is the matter, I just have to get home. I have to study for our History test.” She turned to leave, but Duke had other ideas, he wouldn’t budge from Mikes’ side. She tried to coax him. “Come on Duke, you want a treat?”
“I want a treat.” Mike said.
She couldn’t help but smile, “Sure, here” she said handing him one of Dukes favorite pleasures. ”I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you were a dog biscuit kind of a guy.” Okay Sara, just play it cool and see what happens.
“Thank you” Mike said, taking the treat. “Here, buddy,” he gave it to Duke, who ate it in less than two seconds. Looking back at Sara he said, “But I didn’t mean that kind of treat.”
Determined not to show her embarrassment, she looked him in the eyes and asked, “What kind of treat did you mean?”
“I thought maybe a kiss.”
She laughed and rolled her eyes. “Oh, please, a kiss? Where did that come from? All year you were in my history class and never said a word to me. Now, after gracing me with your presence for ten minutes you want a kiss?”
Mike laughed too. “Well, I guess that was a bit forward. Actually, I have noticed you. But you’re so quiet, none of the guys had the guts to come up and talk to you. You seem different outside of school, though. Not as shy. I really didn’t mean it about the kiss. I just wanted to see what your reaction would be.” He reached out and moved the hair away from Sara’s eyes.
She prayed that he couldn’t hear her pounding heart. She was so nervous and wished he would leave. But she didn’t want him to leave.
She caught herself chewing her lower lip and stopped. Not knowing what to say or do, she allowed Duke to pull her along. When he turned onto the trail that cuts through the woods, she wondered if they should go. She said a quick prayer, knowing that if it was dangerous she would get a feeling of uneasiness.
Sensing no threat, she followed Duke onto the trail. Mike stayed right with them. She loved everything about the woods, the smells, the animals, the trees, bushes, and wildflowers. These walks with Duke were her favorite time of the day. She always felt a bit closer to God on these trails of vibrant colors.
“Do you always walk through these woods alone?” Mike asked.
“I’m not alone, Duke is with me. I love it here.” She lifted her chin up to breathe in a sweet aroma as it drifted by, carried on a summer breeze. “Can you smell the honeysuckle?”
Mike inhaled, “Yeah, I guess it’s pretty nice.” Looking around, he said, “I don’t think it’s safe, even with Duke, you can’t see what’s around the corner with all the trees and bushes.”
She was feeling playful. “Mike, don’t tell me a big strong guy like you is afraid of the woods.”
Now it was his turn to blush. “No, I am not afraid. I just don’t think it’s a safe for a girl all alone, that’s all.” His eyes darkened. “Bad things do happen sometimes.”
He clearly looked upset, and she felt bad for him. “I know they do. I just love it here too much to stay away because something bad might happen. I say a quick prayer for protection before I turn onto the trail. If I’m to die on a certain day, staying off the trail won’t change that.”
Mike shook his head. “That’s just stupid. Being killed isn’t the only bad thing that can happen to a girl, you know.”
“I know that. If I get a bad feeling, which I have at times, then I know my guardian angel is warning me to stay away. I always listen to my gut feelings.”
“Did you pray tonight, just now?” He asked.
“Yes, I got no bad feelings, so I knew I could trust you.”
“You can.” He nodded solemnly. Turning around he took in his surroundings, then looked straight ahead, “Do you think everybody gets those gut feelings?”
“Yes I do.”
“Then why do people sometimes get hurt?” His jaw clenched and a raw pain shown in his eyes for just a second before disappearing.
“Well, I think that sometimes people ignore it when they get a bad feeling. They try to rationalize or ignore their fears. They just don’t understand where the feelings come from.”
“You mean from angels?” Mike asked, with no sarcasm in his voice.
“Yes.” She nodded.
“So you think that nothing bad will happen to you if you listen to guardian angels? If that were true, then nothing bad should ever happen to good, God fearing people, right?”
“No, that’s not true. Bad things happen to everybody. Even to people in tune with their angels. Sometimes bad things just have to happen. I don’t know why, Mike. I’m not an expert, but I know that God exists, and that he uses his angels to help us here. I can’t help but think that when bad things do happen, even if someone ends up getting killed, that God is with them, and he takes away some of their pain and their fear.” She paused. “Does that make any sense?”
He shrugged his shoulders and said, “I guess, but I don’t know. I just know that if God does exist, he doesn’t care about us.” He paused, “At least not about me.”
They came to the end of the trail, and when Mike walked over to a picnic table, Sara followed. “He does care about you Mike. Have you ever seriously thought about all you have been blessed with?”
He laughed, but sadly. “I haven’t been blessed with anything.”
“No? What about your athletic talent? You were offered a scholarship in both baseball and football. Michael, do you know how many kids in school would do anything to be you, with your good looks and abilities?”
He sighed and let out a long breath. He sat on the table with his feet resting on the bench. Sara sat next to him. There was no one around so she let Duke walk freely. Watching him, tail wagging and happily sniffing everything in sight, she smiled. “I know that I have more going for me than the average kid, you know, and that’s cool,” Mike said as he raked his hands through his hair.
“But….” Sara said for him.
“But, I don’t think it’s from God. I mean, I believe that he is the creator of the universe. But, I can’t believe that he cares about us. We are insignificant in his eyes.” Mike said, looking at her as if willing her to understand.
She thought that there was something that he wasn’t saying; and was wondering about the pain she had glimpsed earlier, when someone called his name. Sara turned and looked behind her to see Sammy, a friend of Mikes walking toward them.
“Mike, there you are, I tried calling you but you weren’t home. Hey, who’s this?” He asked, looking at Sara. Sammy was a teammate of Mike’s. “Aren’t you Sara, the artist, from school?” He sat down next to her and extended his hand. “Hi, I’m Sammy. It’s nice to finally meet you.”
She took his hand and shook it. “Hi, Sammy, it’s nice to meet you too.” She said, and absentmindedly started chewing her bottom lip.
Mike didn’t look happy to see Sammy. “What did you want?” he asked.
Sammy was looking at Sara, “What?”
“You said you called my house. What did you want?” Mike leaned forward, with his hands resting on his knees.
Sammy pulled his eyes away from Sara and glared at Mike. “I wanted to know if you wanted to go to the field for some BP.”
Sara was confused, “What’s BP?” she asked.
“Batting practice.” They answered in unison.
The night was just getting too weird. “Well, guys, I have to go. It was nice meeting you both.” She stepped down off of the picnic bench and called Duke. Mike and Sammy jumped down off the table.
“You don’t have to go. It’s too dark now for BP anyway.” Mike was next to her, petting Duke, who was resting his head on Mike’s thigh. Lucky Dog!
Sara hesitated, and said, “I have to finish studying for the test tomorrow.” The evening had been wonderful, and she wanted to get out of there before she said or did anything to embarrass herself.
“I have to take that test too, want to study together?” He put his hand on her arm. Sara drew her breath in at the feel of his touch.
“Mike, you’re acing that course, why do you need to study for that test? Come on. I’m starving; let’s go get something to eat.” Sammy said, standing next to them. Mike’s dark eyes shot daggers at Sammy, who held up his hands up in defense, “What?”
With his hand was still on her arm, he locked his eyes locked on hers. “I can help you study, Sara.” Sara was unnerved by her reaction to him; and knew these feelings were way out of her league. She had to get back to her comfort zone and clear her head.
She heard Sammy say to Mike, “Yeah, Mike, like studying is what you want to help her with.” He held up his hand in resignation. “We’ll be at the quarry when you’re finished.” He looked at Sara, “See you Sara, take it easy.”
“Bye, Sammy.” She smiled at him, but was very aware of Mike’s nearness. “Mike, I appreciate your offer to help me. But I study best when I’m alone. I have a little system worked out. Thanks anyway.” She looked over to the parking lot, where Sammy was getting into his car. “If you hurry, you could still catch up with Sammy. I have to get going anyway.” She pulled her arm away from Mike’s touch, and reached down to pick up Duke’s leash.
“I can walk you home.”
Sammy’s words were coming back to her. “Like studying is what you want to help her with.” What is up with him? “No thank you. I know the way.” She didn’t try to keep the sarcasm out of her voice.
“You’re mad. Why? Sara, I only offered to walk you home.” He was clearly confused.
“What did Sammy mean?” She turned to face him. “What exactly do you want to help me with?” She was so bad at confrontations. Her cheeks were hot and her heart was pounding. “Mike, I know you think I’m some stupid girl, but I’m not. I can’t help but wonder why, after three years at the same school, with not so much as a hello, you are now so interested in getting to know me.” She reached down to pet Duke, trying to get control of her emotions.
He was angry now, his eyes dark with emotion. “First of all, Sammy is a jerk. He’s jealous because I got to talk to you first. Secondly, like I told you before, I’ve noticed you in school. I just never had the chance to meet up with you. Thirdly, I wanted to help you study, because, yes, I do want to get to know you better.” He reached out, put his hand on her arm, and pulled it away. Shoving his hands into his pockets he went on, “What is so wrong with that? You seemed nice, like someone who is easy to talk to.” His eyes softened, “And I wanted to walk you home because I wanted to make sure you were safe.”
“Oh. Thank you.” Boy, this guy is good. Sara, you have to be very careful with him. She gave him a lopsided grin. “I’m sorry if I insulted you. I just don’t understand your interest.” She started walking toward the parking lot.
“It’s okay. No hard feelings.” He hesitated. “I still want to walk you home, though, if that’s okay.”
“Sure, thank you.”
“Are you always so polite?”
“Usually, does it bother you?”
He grinned at her. “No, I think it’s nice.”
“Thank you” She smiled back at him.
They walked for a while in a comfortable silence, and were at her house much too soon. “Well, this is my house. Thanks again for walking me home.”
Once again, she felt the heat of his touch on her arm. “Sara, can I have your phone number? So I can call you some time.”
She thought about it. “I’ll tell you what, you ask me for my phone number tomorrow, and I’ll give it to you.” She tipped her head up to him and smiled sweetly.
Mike stood close and rubbed her forearm with the side of his thumb. “Wow, your tough!” He tilted his head slightly to the side and smiled at her. A sexy, definitely practiced, oh so nice smile.
Butterflies invaded her stomach and she went weak in the knees. She was alarmed at the thought that me might try to kiss her. She never kissed a boy from around here before. What if she was terrible? Sure, she had kissed a boy while down at Hatteras, but she had known him for a while. She hardly knew Mike and definitely was not going to kiss him. Suddenly desperate to get away, she turned away from him and unlocked the front door. “Well, Mike, goodnight. Thanks for walking me home. I have to get Duke some water. It was really nice talking with you. See you tomorrow.” She knew she was rambling, but couldn’t help it. She only dared looking at him after she had closed the screen door between them.
“Okay, well, good night, Sara. See you tomorrow.” He smiled, and with his hands in his jean pockets, he turned and walked down the steps. She watched until he was out of site. He even looked great from the back.
Well, that was fun. Sara walked into the kitchen, and filled Dukes water dish with fresh water. Then, she took out a saucepan to heat up some milk, knowing she was going to have a hard time falling asleep. Warm milk usually did the trick.
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