Monica didn’t come right out and say it, but Sandy was the reason she didn’t go overseas that summer. Her luggage, mental rather than material, had already been packed. She had already taken stock of the places she would go, the adventures she would have, her various erotic crusades. Each were imagined in such detail that even up to the moment she cancelled her flight they had seemed all but inevitable.
“If it wasn’t for this fucking physics class, I would be with him right now.”
“Who?” Sandy asked.
“It wouldn’t really matter who he is. Just so long as he’s not one of the lame guys you find hanging around our campus. A Greek maybe. In the classical sense, with well-oiled muscles.”
The idea of going overseas again privately bored her, but she had been resigned to going anyway. Because she was young, because she could, and because it was routine. And absent an impulse to break a routine, a routine in motion remained in motion. What broke her routine, what made her unpack her luggage, mental and otherwise, was the picture of herself and Sandy alone together on the beach in the middle of another boring South Florida summer day.
“And not just any physics, either, but physics for fucking humanities students. How dumb do you have to be to fail physics for humanities? But you know doing some classes in the summer might not be a bad thing. I’ll get ahead, get to take some classes off next semester. And, thank God I have you to drag me kicking and screaming through this. Not a bad thing for the soul when you think about it.”
It was a beautiful day in Pompano Beach. Unusually cool, yet still hot enough that both Sandy and Monica were sweating without even having moved from their place in the sand.
“Uh huh,” Sandy said, listening while trying not to. She continued her mission of luring one of the egrets toward her. They had been hanging around their blanket all afternoon, begging for bread.
Monica watched as Sandy played with the birds and wondered why the egrets were the source of so much amusement.
“You love those things, don’t you? You know you’re going to feed your entire sandwich to those birds. It’s a shame, you know. You’ll feed it your entire sandwich and then you won’t have anything left for yourself. You should study birds, you know that.”
“I study biology.”
“I know, but they should have like a bird major or something. As for birds, all you need is me to fly away, sweetheart. You and me, next summer. We’ll be out of this sweltering hell hole.”
“I like Florida, remember. I’d take a summer in Florida over a winter in Michigan any time.”
“Yep, and it’s even colder in Alaska, and none can compare to Europe in the summer, babe. I’m already making plans, and next summer it will be Grecia and Greek men. We’ll do the train tour thing. Hit on strong Germans. You can’t wait, can you? I can see it written all over your face right now. Don’t try to deny it.”
“Uh, huh,” Sandy didn’t take her eyes off the tiny egrets.
“You’re listening to me, right? You can’t say no to this. You can’t chicken out at the last minute.”
“I don’t know. Sounds expensive. I’m on financial aid. I’m pre-med too. I have to do things that look good on a resume. Volunteering and stuff. Extra classes might not be such a bad idea. So, I don’t know. Don’t pencil me down for anything.”
“Sandy, in case you haven’t realized it, my parents are fucking rich. My dad practically owns the hotel we’re staying at tonight. Like I would let you stay in the dorms alone by yourself next summer. And I can’t fail liberal arts physics forever. Muscular Greek men, Sandy. Don’t the words alone just make you want to touch yourself?”
Sandy laughed. “Leave me alone. Why don’t you go consume some Cosmo-crap magazine or something?” She said it jokingly, but she knew that taking money from Monica would open up a world of potential problems, sources of leverage over her.
Monica opened a bottle of water and took a long drink. “Don’t even try to deny it: you love me. I didn’t bring any Cosmo today, no Star either. It’s just you and me.” Sandy watched with interest as the bird came closer to eat the bread.
“Kill me now,” she said with a laugh.
Monica chucked some water from her bottle in her direction, which caught Sandy off guard. She let out a yelp of surprise.
“You deserved that. Now, I’m going to leave you alone with your new friends. What is your fucking fascination with those birds anyway? You’re the kind of girl that has a collection of dolls at her house back home I bet.”
“That’s not true.”
“Maybe, maybe not. But anyway, you’re going to make some overbearing control freak guy very happy.”
There was a long pause, then finally Monica said, “You’re my best friend, Sandy. Do you know that?”
Sandy felt both awkward and proud. She hadn’t had a best friend since middle school. Though heavy in her own mind, the thought of being someone’s best friend also made her feel safe and at ease with the world. “Thanks,” she said. “You’re the best Cosmo-reading, shit-for-brains friend I’ve ever had too.”
“I’m not above burning my best friends with cigarettes you know. Sleep with one eye open tonight if you know what’s good for you.”
As soon as she was sure Monica’s eyes were closed, Sandy began to chew on her knuckles. The egrets began to leave, sensing there was no more food, and she stared out into the ocean. She thought briefly about skimming through the biology text she had brought with her, but then became content to just look out at the ocean for a while.
Next to her, Monica’s eyes closed behind her sunglasses. Her mind became satisfied with thoughts of Sandy and next summer. Her thoughts were so comfortable Monica wrapped herself in them and, despite the heat, drifted into a cool comfortable sleep.