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Between Salt Water and the Sea Strand

Chapter Text

 

 

 

The afternoon sky was overcast, with a chill breeze coming off the ocean. The mild surf broke noisily on the beach, with occasional, louder crashes bringing a muted roar from the rocks at the far end. There was a youth wearing board shorts and shirt standing near an old shed, the only building at the beach besides the vandalised bathhouse. The kid was tall and slim with long red hair in a braid, maybe about 16 years old. The shed door had a hand-lettered sign:

 

The dirt parking area held only one car, which had a surfboard on top. Scanning the beach, Laurence saw no one else present. The youth was staring out at the waves, fingers tucked in the small pockets of the shorts. Laurence walked over. “There’s no surfing at this beach,” he said.

The youth looked at him, frowning slightly. “I know.” Hazel eyes flicked over him, then turned back to the waves.

At the sound of the kid’s voice, pitched higher than he’d expected, Laurence revised the age estimate down a couple years. Perhaps the car didn’t belong to the kid. He looked along the beach again. No heads bobbing in the waves; but down by the far end, sitting on the rocks, was a figure he hadn’t noticed before. The guy was pretty well camouflaged in dark, dirty jeans and a dirty, dark gray hoodie. He had his arms wrapped around his legs and sat hunched over like just another rock. He was watching the waves, or perhaps the gulls that swooped and soared, crying out to one another.

The man looked more like a bum than a surfer, though. Inwardly shrugging, Laurence moved past the kid to knock at the shed door. It opened under his hand. Inside were a woman and a man, both about Laurence’s own age. The woman was maybe a year or two older, or that could be the scar puckering the left side of her face making her look older. The man was maybe a year or two younger, or it could be the streak of sunburn crossing his cheeks that made him look younger. He was taller than Laurence himself but gangly as all get out. Both of them had dark hair worn short.

“Hey, Harcourt!” greeted the woman to the youth, who had come in behind Laurence with a soft ‘excuse me.’ “You must be Laurence,” continued the woman. “I’m Roland, and this is Granby.”

“Hi,” said Laurence. “Nice to meet you all.”


“We go by last names because I can’t stand my first name,” explained Roland.

“That and at our previous station - the main one at Hollow - there were about three or four Johns,” added Granby. “I’d just as soon be ‘Granby’ as ‘John G’.”

“Sure,” said Laurence. “‘Laurence’ suits me fine.”

“We’ll give Chenery a few more minutes to show up, then we’ll get started,” said Roland.

Laurence nodded and took a moment to look around the office. Roland was lounging on a sofa which might have been green at one time and now sagged under squashed cushions. It looked and smelled like something scavenged off the sidewalk in front of a frat house. Harcourt sat neatly in the opposite corner from Roland. Across from them Granby’s long limbs were slumped in a large upholstered armchair. It had been some sort of tartan at one time and now was mostly patches of brown. It might have been another thrift find, or possibly lifeguards were just hard on their furniture.

In the corner there was an old wooden desk supplied with a folding chair. A filing cabinet stood next to it. The other side of the room consisted of a kitchenette, including a small table with a couple more folding chairs. Carved out of a corner of the kitchenette was a small room, which Laurence guessed was a bathroom/changing area.

While he had been looking around, the quiet conversation between Roland and Granby had become more heated.

“I can’t believe you refused Little!” cried Granby.

“Of course I did,” replied Roland. “I was looking out for you.”

He sputtered. “What? How’s that!?”

She tilted her head and squinted her eyes, and spoke slowly as if to a young child. “Because you’d never see each other, except possibly on weekends if you were both scheduled for the same shift. And while you two are super-cute together, it’s probably best if you be cute on your own time, not while working.”

“Oh. Right.” He looked a little abashed.

Roland turned towards Laurence. “Surprisingly, he’s a pretty good lifeguard, but not the brightest bulb in the box.”

“Hey!” Granby objected.

Roland smiled broadly, and Harcourt’s lips twitched.

“Well, I’m done waiting on Chenery,” said Roland. “Laurence, you wanna take a seat? You’re making me nervous, standing about in that tall looming way.” Sprawled along half the couch and several square feet of floor, Roland didn’t look in the least nervous.

Laurence walked over to the desk and snagged the folding chair, turning it to face the others. He sat down carefully, making sure it would hold his weight. The others all eyed him as the chair creaked and settled.

“All right, then,” said Roland. “You all know that I’m the supervisor for this station. Laurence will be shift supervisor for the summer.”

This provoked another exclamation from Granby. “What?! How’s the newbie get promoted over me?! I’ve been working the beaches around here for seven years - where have you been a lifeguard before?” This last was posed rather aggressively to Laurence.

Somewhat taken aback, he replied, “I, uh, I haven’t, technically.”

“What the actual fuck --” started Granby, until Roland spoke over him.

“The newbie’s got other relevant experience, so shut the fuck up, Granby.”

“Other relevant experience my ass,” he muttered. “You mean he’s blond and built and--”

“Yo, Granby, another word outta you and it will be your ass - handed to you on a plate by yours truly.” Roland spoke quietly but firmly. Granby subsided.

“What is a shift supervisor anyway?” asked Harcourt. “I mean, there’s only going to be one of us on duty at a time, right?”

“Two on weekends, otherwise only the one, yeah,” answered Roland.

“Shift super means you get half again what the rest of us peons earn,” said Granby, obviously still resentful.

“I don’t even earn half again as much,” stressed Roland. “Shift super gets more hours and a slightly higher rate of pay than the rest of you. Also he gets to be on-call for emergencies and deal with the shit y’all dish out and the paperwork I don’t wanna do.”

“Which is all of it,” retorted Granby.

Roland grinned. “Hell yeah. I got better things to do. Surf’s up at Hollow!” She turned to face Laurence. “Speaking of, your first task will be to write up this week’s schedule. The two of us get no more than thirty-six hours, and make sure that includes office bullshit and paperwork time. The rest are part-timers and they get no more than twenty hours - make that closer to eighteen or nineteen. Be sure to allow fifteen minutes at the start of each day for opening, another fifteen at the end for closing, and say fifteen minute shift overlap. Got it?”

“Sure, no problem,” agreed Laurence.

“The Friday evening shift - which starts in about ten minutes - is considered weekend. Laurence, you get to work tonight, and, you lucky dog you: You get to pick one of these two dweebs to work with you.”

Granby scowled at him, evidently not over his resentment. Harcourt was facing away and seemed nervous. Laurence sighed inwardly. He’d rather give Granby some time to get over himself, but Harcourt seemed so uncomfortable and Laurence wasn’t sure why. New to lifeguarding? Probably better to work with Roland in the midday shift tomorrow, in that case.

“Granby can stay,” Laurence decided. At least he knew what Granby’s deal was; better not to appear like he was avoiding him.

“Excellent!” said Roland. “I’ll see you tomorrow morning then, Harcourt. Need a lift?” The youth nodded and they both got up to leave. “Oh, Laurence - assuming Chenery shows his face at some time tonight, smack him upside the head for me, will you?”

“Sure.” He smiled. He liked Roland; he expected to enjoy working with her this summer.

Granby stalked out after Roland. Laurence waited a beat and followed. “Set up the chair, will you?” he called. “I’m going for a swim.” He stripped off his sweatshirt and the long-sleeved tee he’d worn under it and placed them neatly in a pile with his shoes and backpack near the shed. He headed straight into the ocean, diving under the water when he was up to his thighs.

The water wasn’t much colder than the air. The mild swell made swimming fairly easy and enjoyable. The beach was mostly sand, turning to rounded rocks as he got to about head height. The slope was fairly shallow. Out from shore, the slope got a bit steeper, but still not much. Laurence didn’t swim too far out this first visit. He focussed on learning the currents, the pockets where the bottom deepened, what the ground was like.

He swam the length of beach and back again. When he emerged from the water he noticed a few more people had come to the beach, though none were in the water. Some couples strolled along the tide line; a small family group was building castles in the sand. Granby was sitting in the chair, rescue buoy stowed underneath, whistle around his neck, arms crossed, and scowling at the world.

Laurence grabbed his towel out of his pack and dried off. Towel draped around his neck, he went over to Granby and told him what he’d noticed about conditions and current. “Does that sound about right?” he asked.

Granby shrugged with one shoulder. “I guess. This beach has been closed for ages; no one’s supposed to have been swimming here.”

Laurence nodded. They were both quiet a moment, watching the other visitors. “Well,” he said finally, “I’m going into the office to work on the schedule. Let me know if anything exciting happens. You know, like someone actually goes in the water.”

Granby nodded, looking off in the distance, not acknowledging Laurence’s (admittedly poor) attempt at humour.

Laurence sighed, and headed into the office.

 

Working up a schedule wasn’t too hard. Laurence had written up duty rosters hundreds of times, with much more challenging restrictions than the ones he had now.

Through the open door he heard raised voices, including Granby’s, which was starting to sound a bit shrill. Laurence went out to see what was up.

A large man, likely the father to the three children around him, had been trying to start a small campfire. Granby was telling him, correctly, that no fires of any kind were allowed at this beach. The man was more or less ignoring Granby. “Look here, kid,” Laurence heard the man say, “stick to watching out for the little ones, hey? Then there won’t be any trouble. I know what I’m doing.”

Laurence walked over to the group. Neatly side-stepping through the kids, he stood next to Granby. “Lighting fires is not permitted here,” he said quietly and firmly.

The man squinted up at him, sighed, and stood up to face him. Laurence looked back levely, shoulders relaxed, unimpressed. “Son, I’m just trying to have a nice picnic here at the beach with my kids, okay? Look around you,” the man said, gesturing at all the sand, the ocean a dozen feet away. “I’m not gonna start a wildfire or anything, jesus.”

“Fires are not permitted,” repeated Laurence. He kept his gaze and voice even. Unobtrusively, and unconsciously, he worked his feet on the sand to ensure a good purchase.

“For Christ’s sake, this is ridiculous!” the man exclaimed. His kids were starting to look around at everything except the adults. One was playing with a stick in the sand a few feet away.

Out of the corner of his eye, Laurence noticed Granby mimicking his own stance. Good man, he thought. Out loud he said nothing, but kept watching the father.

“Jesus fucking christ, fine,” the man muttered angrily. He kicked the stone circle apart, unconcerned when the rocks hit Laurence’s and Granby’s ankles. Neither of them reacted. The man finished scattering the sticks and twigs and turned away. “Come on, kids. These dickheads don’t allow fun at the beach. We’ll have to go home to eat.”

“Can we come back after?” asked one of the children. Laurence couldn’t hear an answer.

“Thanks,” muttered Granby. “Sorry ‘bout that.”

“No problem,” said Laurence, confused by the apology. “It might take a while for people to get used to the rules here.”

Granby nodded and went back to the chair.

 

The rest of the evening went by fairly quietly. Couples strolling about, a few little kids splashing in the water as the waves flowed ankle-deep up the shore. Some young people climbed about the rocks at the far end, but as long as they didn’t try to swim near there they weren’t the lifeguards’ concern. Technically the rocks were out of the guarded area altogether, but Laurence expected to warn swimmers away if they started at the beach but got too close to the rocks. One other group tried to start a fire but they were dissuaded without difficulty.

Shortly before sundown a tall young man with straight straw-coloured hair came strolling down the beach. Laurence thought nothing of it until he heard Granby call out, “Hey, dumbass!”

The man smiled and waved back. “Yo, Granbites, what’s up?”

Granby snorted and said, “You missed the first meeting, is all, fucking space cadet.”

The man looked genuinely surprised. “Oh, damn. I thought that was tomorrow.”

Granby squinched his face up sceptically. “It’s always on a Friday, douche.”

“Fuck - today’s Friday? I thought it was Thursday.”

Laurence couldn’t tell if it was an act. He supposed if you weren’t working or going to school, one day might seem much like another.

Granby was shaking his head and laughing. “What a tool. Hey, let me introduce you to your new boss. Laurence, this is Chenery.”

“Pleasure to meet you,” said Laurence, shaking his hand.

“Likewise. But I thought Roland was in charge?”

“She is. I’m just the shift super,” explained Laurence. “She sends you a smack upside the head, by the way.”

“Ow,” said Chenery, rubbing the side of his head as if he’d actually been hit. Maybe he had been in the past, or maybe he could imagine it. Laurence almost winced in imaginary sympathy. “Well, I deserved that, anyway. So, shift super, huh? Don’t suppose you can tell me the first shift I work? Looks like the two of you have tonight covered, eh?”

“God, Chenery, you’re such an ass,” muttered Granby.

“And you love my ass,” smirked Chenery.

Laurence cleared his throat. “I can tell you your shifts, in fact. You have tomorrow evening. Roland and Harcourt are working the day.”

“Excellent! I’ll excuse myself now before our dear Granby thinks up any more epithets for me.” He strolled off as casually as he arrived, to the accompaniment of all the insults Granby could muster. They apparently served only to cause Chenery’s gait to exaggerate the sway of his hips, and finally Granby gave up. Not before enjoying the sight, however, to which Laurence also gave his own considered attention.


The evening wore on, families carting home their cranky children and couples huddling together for warmth. At ten o’clock Laurence tried to send Granby home, but he frowned back and told him not to be ridiculous. “I’ll stay and help you close up.” There wasn’t much to do: put the chair and rescue buoy away, lock the shed, flip the sign to display “No Lifeguard - Swim At Own Risk”.

Before leaving, Laurence took one last look down the beach. The growing chill after the sun went down had sent even the most romantic of lovers to warmer places, and the beach appeared empty. Granby said good-bye and Laurence waved him off. Out of curiosity he walked down the beach until he could see the rocks. The city lights reflecting off the overcast sky meant there was never a true darkness here.

The guy in the hoodie and jeans was still there. He was perched on one of the higher rocks, his legs bracing him below. He seemed to be enticing one of the birds - not a gull, an osprey? Some kind of raptor, Laurence thought - to come to his gloved hand.  He considered trying to warn the guy off disturbing the wildlife, but thought better of it. He was just a lifeguard. He wouldn’t make any friends by nosing into other people’s business.

 

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