“Come on, girls! Rise and shine! Wakey wakey, let’s go!” I popped my head into their room at the crack of dawn. It was my first day off in a while and I had promised them a trip to the beach. The beach I wouldn’t stop boasting about to them when we first moved into this place. They’d been bugging me to do something fun with them and pointed out that the beach was only a short walk down the trail from our house so I had no excuse not to go with them. I wanted a chance to spend time with them properly before they turned eighteen and moved out to start their music careers, too.
“Ugh… Alton, the sun’s not even fully up…” Aqua groaned, blearily crawling out of bed with sleep-filled eyes.
“Hey, you’re the ones who wanted me to take you to the beach. It gets crowded later in the day.”
“Yeah, but not at six in the morning…” she yawned, stumbling into the kitchen with Turquoise.
“I’m up at six every morning for work. It’s not that bad. Grab breakfast and get dressed. We’re out of here by seven.”
* * *
“Vixen, relax! You can run around free once we get there,” I told the dog who was struggling eagerly against her leash. The girls had run ahead of me to get in the water, first. What happened to their whining about being up so early? Well, at least they were happy. I was worried they would miss the rest of the family too much to do well here, but I was glad they seemed to be adjusting well. Mom calls sometimes. She always asks to talk to me but I always refuse. The twins tell me stuff about what’s going on with them back in Sunset Valley and I try to act disinterested. Mom and Dad have both gone grey and wrinkly, Lake and Brook just started school, the triplets are crawling around on their own now. Wade’s getting promotions faster than anyone can blink.
I had just come around the bend to see the beach sprawled out in front of me when a certain singer performing on the sand made me drop Vixen’s leash in my shock. I immediately felt my hands grow clammy and my throat go dry.
It was her.
“Alton! Come on, the water’s great!” Aqua shouted to me from the water, waving, but when I didn’t respond, she frowned and ran over to me with Turquoise. “What’s up? Where’s Vixen?” Turquoise asked. I just nodded my head towards where Macie was performing. Sea Gods, she was practically naked in that little bikini… and she was really attractive. I tried not to stare, but I couldn’t help it. Vixen obviously recognised the nice woman who had paid attention to her the last time they’d met and ran up to her, wagging her tail.
“Who’s that?” Turquoise asked as Aqua gasped with wide eyes.
“Oh my Sea Gods… is that her? That Macie girl?!” she squealed. I numbly nodded, still unable to take my eyes off her. Aqua shoved me forward and I stumbled a bit. “Well, what are you standing here gaping like a big dummy for?! Go ask her out!”
“Ask her out? I only met her once!” I protested, feeling my face go hot again.
“Oh quit being a big baby! Go for it before that other guy does!” she argued with me, pointing out another man who was watching Macie’s performance with intense interest. I don’t even know why, but I felt a flare of jealousy… but that was ridiculous! I couldn’t just walk up to this beautiful, talented woman I’d met once and who had liked my dog more than she liked me and just ask her out on a date! She’d laugh in my face! I kept shaking my head and Aqua sighed and put her hands on her hips.
“Well if you won’t do it, I will! You’ll thank me later,” she huffed, running up to Macie as she finished her performance. Turquoise followed her sister and I wanted to turn into a flamingo and stick my head under my wing to hide from the world. I was probably pink enough to be mistaken for a flamingo.
I don’t know what in the ocean possessed me to keep watching my little sisters destroy my dignity, but I couldn’t take my eyes away from the train wreck unfolding before me. Aqua walked right up to Macie, who was petting Vixen now that she’d finished her song. “Hello again, sweetie. Did you run away from your owner again? Aren’t you a sneaky girl,” she crooned sweetly, scratching the dog behind the ears. She looked up with a smile when the twins approached her. “Can I help you?” she asked.
“Actually, you can!” Aqua chirped with a grin that probably only looked devilish to me because she was embarrassing me at the moment. “See our big brother over there? He thinks you’re cute, but he’s too shy to come over here and talk to you.”
“We decided to do it for him,” Turquoise added before the two of them burst into giggles… and Macie joined them.
“Does he now? He wouldn’t happen to be the owner of this sweetheart here, would he?” she asked, glancing in my direction while she continued to scratch Vixen behind the ears.
Okay, that was enough. They’d done more than enough to humiliate me and make me consider moving to Appaloosa Plains and changing my name. Again. I couldn’t take it anymore. My face burning brighter than the sun beating down on us, I ran over to the three of them and the dog. I was going to drag my sisters home and hopefully escape Macie with some kind of dignity, but I wasn’t very hopeful about that last part.
“So we meet again, Mr. Alton Sword,” Macie said when I approached. She was smiling. That was good… right?
“Uh… y-yeah…” I stuttered stupidly, my mouth feeling dry again. “Sorry about the dog… and my sisters. They don’t know when to shut up.” I sent them both a nasty glare which they only returned with smug looks. Why did I want to take them with me when I moved out, again? Macie started giggling again and I started fiddling with the drawstring on my swim trunks. Why did I have to be so shy and why did she have to be so pretty?!
“I think they’re sweet, actually,” she smiled at the two of them. “There isn’t much of a crowd to sing for here right now and I could use a cold drink to cool off. Do you three want to head up to the lounge with me for a while? I might as well have my drink in nice company,” she offered. I tried to swallow my disbelief that she’d still want anything to do with me or my sisters or my dog and formulate a reply but Aqua beat me to it.
“Yes we sure would! Right, Alton?” she asked me with a wink. She was lucky I didn’t have anything in my hands to chuck at her head. I just swallowed hard and nodded.
* * *
“So you’re taking care of your sisters by yourself?” Macie asked me a little later by the juice bar while we cooled off with some drinks and the twins played pool. They were both terrible at it and I doubt they even know the rules of pool. It looked like they were just trying to see who could hit the most balls into the holes, but they looked like they were having fun, anyway.
“Yeah. We come from a big family with nine kids. My brother and I came back from boarding school, then my mom had a set of triplets and… it was just too crowded and hectic. Our mom needed more space, so I took the girls and the dog and moved here. I thought there’d be more opportunities here for all of us,” I gave her a brief explanation. I left out the less-than-pleasant details. Somehow, I don’t think hearing about a big fight where I called my mother a whore would impress Macie. It didn’t impress me any, either. I wasn’t exactly proud of myself for the way I left, but every time I picked up the phone to call my mother and apologise, I ended up hanging up as soon as I heard her voice on the other end. I was still so angry.
“That must be hard. Taking care of two teenagers on your own so young,” she looked at me with… mingled admiration and concern? Maybe I was just being hopeful about the admiration part. I just shrugged and took another sip of my drink.
“Not really. I’m kind of used to taking care of all my younger siblings. I’ve been doing it since I could walk and talk. Aqua and Turquoise are good kids, anyway. They generally listen to me and do what I tell them… when they’re not embarrassing me in public…” I added with a nervous chuckle.
“They look like good kids,” Macie smiled, watching the two of them laugh over one of Turquoise’s flubbed attempts at shooting the yellow ball into the hole. I couldn’t help smiling while I watched them, too. Yeah, they’re a pain in my ass a lot of the time and there are days when I wish they had remote controls with a mute button on them, but they’re still my baby sisters and I love them. I’d die for either of them if I ever had to. I found myself nodding in agreement with her.
“So why Starlight Shores? The glamour and glitz of showbiz attracted you like a moth to a flame, like it did me?” Macie asked with a little laugh as she took another sip of her drink. Everything she did looked graceful, even the little things like that.
“Sort of,” I admitted. I started to relax a little bit. Maybe it was the calm atmosphere or the fact that this woman actually seemed to be enjoying talking to me, but I wasn’t stuttering and creating awkward silences anymore. I considered that an improvement from an hour or two ago. “My sisters are both really talented musicians. They can sing, dance and play a bunch of different instruments. I thought they’d have a shot of going somewhere with all that talent here. There aren’t a lot of opportunities like that back in Sunset Valley.”
“And what about you? What dream are you chasing for yourself?” Macie leaned against the juice bar with her drink, giving me a look I couldn’t quite read, but I think it was an interested look. I hope so, anyway.
“Well… to see my sisters succeed. That would make me happy,” I told her. “As for my own goals for me, I’m working my way up the corporate ladder here. Being some big hotshot CEO of a mega corporation, living in a big mansion in the heart of Starlight Shores seems like a pretty good dream to me,” I grinned, picturing it in my head. I actually had a chance to do that now without worrying about looking after eight younger siblings. I just have the twins with me and they’re nearly eighteen now, anyway. I could finally focus on me and work my way up to being someone great in a place where no one knew the Waverunners. I’d make my own name for myself.
Macie’s expression softened and she smiled, setting down her empty glass. “That sounds like a wonderful dream… especially your dream to see your sisters succeed. It’s rare to find someone so dedicated to their family these days, especially in a place like this.” I shifted a little uncomfortably. I wouldn’t exactly consider myself dedicated to my family. I left most of them behind in a glorified shack. “So… am I going to get a chance to see you again after today, Alton?” she asked me with a coy smile. Was that a hint that she wanted me to ask her out? I had no idea. My experience with women was uh… limited. I glanced at my sisters over by the pool table. Aqua gave me a smug ‘I told you so!’ smile and I scowled at her. The little sneak! She’d been eavesdropping on us the entire time!
“Uh… i-if you want to, sure,” I started stuttering again. Dammit, how could I be so good at being a charismatic leader inside a board room and so bad at having a conversation with a nice, pretty girl at the beach?
“Flying V’s Coffeehouse at eight o’clock on Friday night?” she smiled.
“Yeah,” I was probably grinning like an idiot. “Yeah, that sounds great.”