The morning was still, in sharp contrast to the thunder storm that rolled through the night before.
Piles of tangled brown seaweed and broken shells littered the beach, washed in on uncommonly high waves during the storm.
Mark climbed the ladder to his post and tucked a rolled up towel holding his belongings into the narrow chair. He settled himself beside the towel, and pushed his sunglasses higher on the bridge of his nose. Mark had a perfect view of the ocean. The water sparkled in brilliant gem tones of emerald green near the shoreline, easing into sapphire blue as it deepened.
There were only a half dozen sunbathers on the beach. Tuesday mornings were usually slow. Mark didn’t see Daniel yet. He showed up every day and hung around the lifeguard station. He talked almost nonstop, and it was beginning to wear on Mark’s nerves. Daniel was in the special education class at the high school, and was considered to be mentally slow.
Mark watched a couple wading along the water’s edge. They carried their flip-flops and chatted back and forth, stopping occasionally to examine something in the sand. Just beyond them, a figure clomped awkwardly down the beach. Mark watched intently. It was Daniel, right on time.
As he drew closer, Mark could see him shaking his shoulders and moving his arms from side to side rhythmically. Daniel often wore headphones and danced unashamedly to his private music. Mark thought it was an embarrassing public display.
Daniel reached Mark’s station and called up to him. “How’s it goin’?”
Mark didn’t want to encourage conversation with Daniel. He mumbled a one word reply.
Daniel squinted up at him. “What’d ya say?”
“Good, man, good. I’m going to take swimming lessons, you know. When I get real good, maybe I’ll be a lifeguard, too.”
Mark heard this same conversation every day from Daniel. He couldn’t ever imagine Daniel being a lifeguard. He was flabby and uncoordinated, and certainly wouldn’t be able to pass the written test.
Mark retrieved his suntan lotion from his towel and smoothed the creamy white lotion over his well-muscled arms and shoulders. The rich, sweet scent of coconut filled his nostrils.
Daniel shaded his eyes from the sun and looked up at Mark again. “That suntan lotion?”
“It’s some coconut stuff.”
“Bet it smells good. I’m getting me some of it. That storm sure messed up the beach, didn’t it? I imagine I could get a job with the city cleaning up the beach.” Daniel had trouble sticking with one subject for very long. “Hey, look out there.”
Daniel pointed to a shrimp boat coming in. Seagulls circled above it, their shrill cries piercing the air. The boat turned sharply and headed toward the pier, the gulls following along, waiting for a chance to filch a shrimp. “Those birds sure are loud, huh?”
Mark just nodded.
Daniel sat down on the warm sand. “I might go out on a shrimp boat. My uncle used to do that. He’ll teach me. I bet I’d be great at it, don’t you?”
Mark raised his eyebrows almost imperceptibly. “Who knows?” He again noticed Daniel’s out of shape physique. Shrimpers worked hard. There was a lot of physical labor involved. He doubted Daniel could handle it. In fact, he really didn’t know what he could handle. One thing he did know is that Daniel was very good at pestering him.
“Hey, you need any help?” Daniel looked up at Mark anxiously. “I could go down the beach and see if everything’s okay.”
Mark saw an opportunity. He could ask Daniel to walk down the beach and get rid of him for a while. Looking down, he saw hope in Daniel’s eyes. Something niggled at his conscience. Sending Daniel down the beach would give him a break, but it would do a lot more for Daniel.
He shifted in his chair. “Tell you what, Daniel. Walk down to those dunes and check things out for me, okay?”
Daniel’s eyes lit up. “Sure. Better take off my shirt. I’ll get hot walking that far.” He removed his shirt and exposed pasty white skin.
“Hey Daniel. Put some of this on first.” Mark tossed the bottle of suntan lotion down to him.
Daniel couldn’t hold back a grin. “Thanks. I sure will.”
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