Entry #3 in the third DotQ writing challenge.
One month ago, the sky was blue, and so was the ocean. The sun glimmered in a million spots, and the sand was bright and yellow. Santa Monica glistened in the indian summer heat.
“Enough about me, Alex. What’s new with you?”
Alex leaned on the railing, hunched over, chin up. Gazing out at the ocean.
“I’m still waiting.”
“How long, now? Two years? Three?” Russ shook his wrist, swirling the dregs of a can of Mountain Dew.
“And many more to pass.”
Seagulls screeched excitedly as they fought over morsels on the midday beach. A strong wind rustled through the palm stands. One particularly supple tree threw an intermittent shadow over the two. Alex’s tie fluttered in the breeze.
“How long are you going to play this game?” asked Russ. “Listen, lunch break’s almost—”
“Maybe I’ll quit.”
Russ snorted. “Good one.”
“I’m serious.” Alex stood straight, stretched, and cracked his neck.
“Yeah, and then what’ll you do? Go soul-searching?” Russ snickered, then chucked his drink at the nearest blue recycling bin. The can bounced off the rim and onto the pavement.
Alex walked over to the discarded can, picked it up, and deposited it in the bin. He turned back to Russ and shrugged.
“What do you call someone who waits? A waiter?”
“I call him a dumbass.” Russ put his hands in his pockets and began walking back toward the office. “C’mon, daydream hour is over.”
Alex tucked his shirt in and followed him.
Yesterday, the sky was white, the ocean gray.
“You should get lunch with your colleagues more often,” said Russ.
Alex raised an eyebrow. “I’ve always had lunch with a colleague.”
“I don’t work here anymore.”
“You’re still my colleague.”
Russ smiled and rolled his eyes.
“Very funny. You should eat with the people you work with. Socialize, network…”
“Lunch anywhere else would feel weird.”
Next to the blue recycling bins, overlooking the beach below a man-made cliff. The railing was rusty, the cement of the parking lot darkened with mist. A Subway sandwich bag blew by the bumpers of a line of cars.
“Man, if only they’d fired you instead of me,” sighed Russ. “I could use the income; you look like you could use the break.”
The roast turkey tasted like sawdust to Alex, so he unwrapped it and deposited it on the ground for the seagulls.
“I could use the break.”
Russ chuckled. “Tired of waiting?”
“I don’t know. Maybe I’ll quit.”
“You’re serious this time, aren’t you?”
“I was serious a month ago, I’m serious today. Let’s just take off somewhere, Russ.” Alex looked at Russ’s face. “Let’s do it.”
Russ smiled and squatted down to take an olive from the sandwich.
“Let’s do it.”
This morning, the sky was black and the ocean was invisible. The light of the city hid all but the brightest stars, and the moon was a sliver in the corner of the world.
“Where are we going?”
“As far as this tank of gas takes us.”
“We’re really doing it, huh.”
“You should know better than to ask.”
Alex drove onward, chasing his headlights up the Pacific Coast Highway. The two said little as they cleared Malibu. They were in Ventura when the sun rose, Russ sleeping in the passenger seat. Glenn Gould’s Goldberg Variations played softly on the car stereo, sometimes obscured by the road noise.
“We’re going to the ocean,” Alex said.
Russ turned over in his seat. He mumbled. “I thought we left the ocean.”
The music stopped and Russ opened his eyes.
Theirs was the only sedan parked in a huge lot; the only other vehicles were a couple SUVs. Through the windshield, they could see dark spots in the water, the earliest of the early bird surfers.
Alex got out of the car and opened Russ’s door. Russ slowly unbuckled his seatbelt, letting the entire length slide across his hand before shifting his weight forward. The air was chilly, the wind invigorating.
“Where are we?”
Alex stood at the edge of the lot, gazing critically at the waves. Russ passed him, then turned back.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Do you like this beach?”
“You wanted to stop here, right?” Russ pointed toward the sand, the water. “Let’s walk around.”
They stepped out onto the sand and walked along the shore. An old burly surfer with a big mustache greeted them. Russ replied cheerfully. Alex stared at the water. It roiled blue, green, and gray and faded to white in the distance. The tops of the Channel Islands peeked through the fog, a deep blue with a touch of pink residue from the sunrise.
“Let’s get back on the road.”
“You’re kidding,” laughed Russ.
“Alrighty, man. You call the shots.”
Alex had the engine on before Russ even opened his door. Glenn Gould came back on automatically, and Alex silenced him.
“What do you feel like?”
It was Friday.
“Gotta get down,” said Russ.
“Perfect.” Alex smiled and handed the Zune to Russ. “I leave it to you.”
They bopped back onto the highway and continued driving north. Russ DJed—when Rebecca Black stopped singing, he moved on to Gaga, Tiësto, Haddaway, Hanson. Alex smiled at each pick. The two took turns singing along, sometimes seriously, sometimes in mockery of the music. Sometimes both.
“So where are we headed?”
Russ turned down the volume as he asked his question. Alex turned it back up using the master control in the steering wheel.
The road curved right, to the northeast, following a convex bend in the shoreline. Everywhere around them was ocean. To the north, to the south, to the west. A blue sheet dancing in the mid-morning sun. The divide between their car and the ocean was comprised of one lane for southbound traffic, a flimsy metal barrier, and a few shrubs and sharp rocks.
“We’re here,” said Russ, switching the song to U2’s “The Ocean.”
“Yes, I think.”
“I want to get closer.”
“Alex. The only way you’ll get closer is by driving into it.”
“Sucks for you,” said Alex.
“You’re kidding.” Russ didn’t laugh.
“Yep.” Alex glanced at Russ, burst out laughing. “Don’t worry, man. We’ll figure something out.”
“Something as in…?”
The song, a mere minute and a half in length, came to an end, and Russ hit the pause button.
“Answer my question.”
“You’re seriously spooked,” chuckled Alex. “Don’t worry, man. What’s the next song?”
“‘A Day Without Me.’ But I wasn’t planning on running through the album. I was trying to make a point.”
“Both songs make fabulous points.”
“Focus on the road.”
Russ flipped back to Lady Gaga as the road curved inland.
This afternoon, the sky filled with clouds but the ocean stayed blue.
“We’ve been sitting here for three hours.”
“For some reason, I thought we’d go farther.” Russ drained the last few sips of Mountain Dew from a bottle they’d purchased at a gas station.
“So did I.” Alex’s pick-me-up, a bag of beef jerky, lay practically untouched in his lap. He held between his teeth the first and only piece missing from the package.
“Is this it?”
“I don’t know, Russ. Do you like this beach?”
They sat on the hood of Alex’s car, facing the water at Pismo Beach.
“You asked me that in Santa Barbara.”
“And your response was the same back then.”
“Is there a problem with that response? You know I like beaches.”
“I guess.” Alex hopped down and stretched. “Well, we’re full on gas and sunshine. Shall we get back on the road?”
“Three hours in silence, that question, and then we’re back on the road?”
“You can take the wheel if you want, Russ.” Alex held out the key. “We can drive back to Santa Monica. Or further south. Neither of us has anywhere to be.”
“You’re the better driver.”
“But I’m not so good at destinations.”
Russ chuckled, slid down the hood, and threw away his soda bottle.
“Whatever?” Alex asked. “Okay, then. The ocean it is.”
Russ shook his head as he got back into the car but said nothing.
This evening, the wind blew the sky and ocean away, leaving only billowing fog and rocking waves. The Berkeley Marina was desolate save a young woman walking her pug.
“Can we even stop here?”
Alex was already on the passenger side, opening Russ’s door. “We’re not going to get a ticket.”
“Fair enough,” said Russ. He stepped out and turned his collar up against the wind. The waves broke on the rocks, flinging spray across the walkway at the two. “Man, this isn’t even a beach.”
“Is that weird?”
“After eleven stops at eleven beaches, yes, Alex, it’s a bit weird.”
“I just felt like it.”
“You’ve been going with your gut all day.”
“Is that weird?”
“I mean, this is great and all, but what do we do now? Enjoy the scenery? I can barely see anything in the dark. You know that.”
“We didn’t need to go on a trip just to see the ocean, Russ. We see the ocean every day.”
Russ didn’t bother asking for an explanation.
Alex kept talking.
“I didn’t quit, Russ. I just took a day off. I need to be back in the office on Monday. Until then, though, this is your road trip. What do you want to see?”
Russ took Alex’s hand in his.
“You’re cold,” said Alex.
“I think,” said Russ, “I think I get it.”
Alex laughed. “There was nothing to get.”
“Hm…” Russ squinted into the darkness, savored the spray on his face. “Oh! It just occurred to me, Alex.”
“We missed lunch today. Didn’t do our little ritual.”
“So—how’s the wait?”
“I think I’m done waiting.”
“Huh. What were you waiting for, anyway?”