A Creative Short Story by Zoey Joseph
You know when you meet that perfect person? The one part of your life that you didn’t know was missing until it was found? That’s what it was like meeting Julie.
My parents had taken me down to the beach for the summer. That meant seven whole weeks of mom drinking wine and complaining about how she wasn’t happy. Seven whole weeks of dad eating his feelings and secretly lowering my moms wine supply. Seven weeks of just me. Don’t get me wrong, I love being an only child. I have everything to myself: time, attention, quiet. Sometimes though, at times like these, I could really use a brother or sister to hang out with. Someone to walk with me along the boardwalk, sharing fried Oreos and ice cream. Someone to have a catch with. At least I get to surf down here; it’s the one thing I love more than soccer. But that was all before I met Julie. Before everything changed.
I saw the wave over the horizon before it even lifted off the surface, and I was under the water before God himself had a chance to form it. I broke the surface and inhaled the salty air, the warm atmosphere welcoming me back to the Earth I was born into. I gripped the sides of my board, steadying myself, timing the ripples coming towards me. I closed my eyes and tried to focus, something I’m not always good at. My mind has a tendency to wander, except for when I’m in the ocean. It was one of the only things I was able to connect with. I always found it interesting, how unpredictable it was. Its beauty was blinding to most people, leading them away from depths of the dangers that lie under the surface, waiting to suck you in.
I was in my own world, just me and the waves. With the rushing of the water in my ears, I looked up to find Mother Nature standing over me, casting me in a world of darkness. I turned my back to the monstrous wave, hoping, praying it would cradle me instead of sucking me into its deadly mouth. I got lucky, like most times, although it was all a matter of science and timing. The wave crashed over me and I was enveloped in a tunnel. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion. I watched as day turned to night, the deep abyss of the ocean cascading over me. Then the sun came back and I welcomed it, watching as the water thinned, matching the sky and melting into a warm blue. I smiled, closing my eyes once again, feeling the light spray of the ocean cleanse me. This was my favorite part: becoming clean by the water as it faded into a dull, foamy white.
I could see the opening of the tunnel, and was blinded by the light on the other side. I strained to see the world outside of this one. I was close. So close. I reached out, desperate to feel the warmth of the sun again. The ocean, however, had other ideas. I had leaned too far out and was pulled back onto my board. I felt a bump and was sucked into an airless sea of salt. When I had finally resurfaced I was on the beach, face down, coughing up what the sea had shoved down my throat. As I gasped for air, I felt the sun go away again. I looked around, the tips of my fingers still yellow from the sunlight but the rest of my body covered in a shadow. When I looked up, I saw her. Julie.
“Um, are you ok?” she asked, half giggling. I was so dumbfounded by her beauty that all I could do was stare. The breeze was blowing around us, moving her blonde waves into thousands of tiny cascading mountains. When she smiled, it filled me with this warm feeling I couldn’t even begin to describe; a feeling I had never felt before. She reached out her hand toward me and smiled. Oh god, that smile. I pushed myself up and took her hand. As soon as the sand traveled from my fingers to hers, I felt a shock. Not an electrical one—a real one. Like some of my actual energy had just gone to her. She must have felt it too because she jumped and looked from me to her hand, which was still holding mine.
“So, you are ok, right?” she asked again, with a smaller smile this time. She raised a perfect eyebrow, revealing an almost challenging gleam in her eye. I realized that I still hadn’t answered and stood there trying to focus on anything but her lips.
“Uh yeah I’m...I’m fine. Sorry. I just…I got caught off guard by the, uh, wave, and the crash, and the woosh…and the pow and the…” I trailed off, and noticed I was making hand gestures to go along with the noises coming out of my mouth, which I’m sure made them sound even more stupid.
Did you really just say woosh and pow? a voice in my head asked. Choosing to ignore it, I stood there, my hand still holding hers, waiting for her to walk away, or to call me a freak or something. But she didn’t. She just laughed. Cocking her head slightly to the right and looking me up and down—studying me—like a confused puppy. She took her other hand and held it out for me to shake.
“Ok then. Well, my name is Julie. Julie Bartlett,” she said. “And you are?” She stood there waiting. I almost expected her to try and guess it right then and there, but it seemed like she was going to turn away so I quickly answered.
“Scott. I’m Scott Hutson. It’s nice to meet you, Julie Bartlett.” I smiled, hoping I didn’t look stupid all covered in sand and probably peachy-red from blushing and the sun. After a moment, we realized that we were still holding both of each other's hands. We let go, laughing nervously. I looked down at the ground not sure what to say next. As I was working on digging little holes in the sand with my big toe, I heard someone call out her name. I looked up and saw Julie facing the other direction, waving at someone in the distance.
“Well, that’s my mom. I…I have to go, but maybe I’ll see you around? Ok?” She said it like a question, but I hoped I would. She didn’t give me a chance to answer as I was once again speechless, only able to watch her turn and run away, disappearing into the jungle of umbrellas that were laid across the beach.
I headed back to the house after the water became too cold. The one good thing about the house was that it was right along the beach. I stepped inside and got into the shower, rinsing off the sand that had covered me during my wipeout. I scrubbed until my skin became raw, hoping my awkwardness would wear off with the ocean smell. When I got out of the shower, I went onto the balcony for some air. The sun was just setting, casting an array of sun-kissed oranges and pinks across the sky.
I decided to go for a walk on the beach before dinner. I skipped every other step, almost falling into the kitchen. I stopped myself at the railing when I heard the faint yet familiar voices of the one and only Mr. and Mrs. Hutson, at it again.
“I don't care if we are ‘on vacation,’ that’s enough wine Abigail!” I peaked around the corner to see my father swiping at a wine bottle my mother was holding to her chest for dear life.
“Oh, like you know about ‘enough.’ Look at you! You’re a thousand pounds.” I watched him, expecting his face to fall, but it seems as though it doesn't affect him anymore. I guess she has used that insult one too many times. He makes one final attempt to swipe the wine from her grasp, which results in the bottle crashing to the floor.
I stepped around the kitchen, going out the back way, hoping they wouldn't hear me. I had been in such a rush to get out of the house that I had forgotten shoes, but I didn’t really mind. The sand was cold against my feet and it was almost soothing. I shoved my hands in my pockets, deep in thought when I tripped over someone's legs. I was again, for the second time today, lying face down in the sand when I heard a girl speak.
“Hey! Watch where you're go…oh my gosh! We have to stop meeting like this!” The girl giggled again and I immediately recognized the voice. It was Julie. Why must I fall every time we meet? I groaned and pushed myself up, laughing a little. She moved over on the towel she was sitting on and looked at me. She slowly moved her hand to pat down on the spot next to her and I crawled over to sit down. I saw her hug her knees to her chest and shiver. I took the light sweatshirt I had on and put it around her. She blushed and said thank you. We sat there in silence, watching the waves crash over the sunset. It was now a dull yellow with orange glowing at the edges. We must have sat there for at least an hour or two, watching it disappear over the horizon and melt off of the edge of the world.
Suddenly she turned to me. She didn’t say anything. She just stared. I wasn’t sure what to do so I stared back. I stared deep into her bright green eyes, which mimicked that churning, passionate green that the ocean turns during a storm. I watched them dart back and forth, searching for something. Somehow, suddenly, I felt like she could see into my mind, and I knew she was looking for something. I didn’t know what, but I didn’t want her to find it. She sighed, obviously not satisfied with her soul search, and laid back, putting her hands behind her head.
“Do you believe that everything happens for a reason?” she questioned, looking up at the sky. I wasn’t sure what to say or how to answer, worried she wouldn't like it, so I decided to go with the truth.
“Sometimes,” I stated blatantly, sounding more disinterested that I meant to.
“Well I do.” She paused, thinking for a moment. “Do you believe in miracles or perfect things at least?” This time I knew the answer she was looking for just by the sound of her voice. But still, I decided to go with the truth.
“To be honest, no. I think that most things that seem perfect are too good to be true. That they aren’t real; they are just an illusion. Something we want them to be so badly, that in our heads we make it exactly that.”
The funny thing was, I had never said that out loud before. Mostly because no one had ever asked, but also because I thought it was crazy. Saying it out loud though, in the open, the breeze taking it and accepting it, made it hard to see any other outlook on the subject. Julie, however, didn’t feel the same way. She shifted awkwardly on the towel, facing me, propping her head up on her bent arm.
“How could you say that? There are plenty of perfect things in this world! If you can’t see that then your life will be so unfulfilling, it won’t even be worth living!” she yelled, out of breath. She seemed excited and surprised at her herself. Realizing what she had just said, her face reddened as she looked to the ground. “Oh. I’m, I’m sorry. I didn't mean that. I meant…it’s just that…” She looked up, her eyes looking into mine once again, hoping I would forgive what she had just said. What she didn’t know was that it didn’t phase me. Staring into her eyes didn’t make any of the words matter.
When she said there are perfect things in life, I smiled, thinking of her. She was the perfect thing in my life. The girl I met on the beach. Suddenly, before I knew what I was doing, I leaned in and kissed her. She kissed me back, surprising me a little. We laid there under the sky, the waves around us. It was perfect.
As human beings, we need necessities to survive. Those necessities—in the scientific sense—are food, water, shelter, air, and warmth, among other things that keep us alive. Alive, a word used so often that no one really knows what it means anymore. Or, if they do, then they are probably using it wrong. What is being alive without living? We need the scientific necessities to survive—but not to thrive. What scientists miss, or choose to ignore, is that we also need comfort, compassion, and most important, love. Although we don’t need it to keep our hearts beating and our blood flowing, we crave the very taste of it. It acts as a savior to all mankind. One breath and we’re hooked. We find ourselves depending on it, needing it, wanting it more and more. No matter how much we have, we just can’t seem to get enough. It is our air, and we trick ourselves into thinking we need it because something that good must be a necessity. At least that’s what the fools think.
When I got back to the house, it was around 1 a.m. I snuck into the shower once again and when I got out, I laid in bed for a while thinking about her. I couldn’t stop picturing her laying on the beach, her hair waving back and forth, mimicking the waves. Her lips on mine, tasting the salt from the ocean. I so badly wanted to see her again, but I didn’t know how to find her. I cursed myself for not asking for her number.
I grabbed the sweatshirt she had used and went to hang it up when something fell out of the pocket. It was a crinkled little piece of paper that read, “Julie—215-620-0459.” Her phone number! She actually gave it to me! I immediately put it in my phone but didn't text her yet. She was probably sleeping. I wanted to wait until after breakfast.
When my parents finally woke up the next morning, they were too hungover to notice how fast I was scarfing down breakfast. I was out the door before they could sober up from the coffee. I took out my phone and texted her.
Me: “Hey! Whats up?”
Julie: “Hi! Nothing much right now.”
Me: “You wanna hang out?”
Julie: “Yea! I’d love to, when?”
Me: “How about tonight? I’ll meet you at the rides.”
Julie: “Great! See you around 7!”
Me: “See you then.”
I spent the rest of the day surfing and thinking about tonight. At around 5pm, I went home to take a shower and get ready. I spent more time on my hair than on my clothes and shower combined. I stared in the mirror until my eyes started to glaze over and everything but my pupils started to blur. I had to look, well, amazing. At 6:30 p.m. I headed over to the rides. I stood at the ticket shop, waiting for her. I constantly caught my feet mimicking the tune of the overly-played boardwalk music as I tried to breathe. I caught at least four other couples staring, probably thinking I got stood up. Eventually, I started to believe the thoughts surrounding me—until I heard my name ring out over the rides.
There she was, standing in the middle of the park. The red and blue lights bounced off her, making her look animated, like a hallucination, an illusion. She ran over to me with that gorgeous smile I craved so much. I smiled back before asking her what she wanted to do first. We must have ridden all the rides there for what felt like a thousand times each. We didn’t stop until we felt the cotton candy and corn dogs bubbling in our stomachs.
The whole night was a blur. I mostly remember the lights, the music—and her. How she danced in the middle of the park like nobody was watching. How her laugh made everything so much funnier, even when it wasn’t. How beautiful she looked, even when we were being whipped back and forth on some stupid ride she loved. And especially how she grabbed my arm and held me close every time she got scared.
The next few weeks of the summer went the same way. I was in a daze 24/7. Always with Julie, on the beach, at the boardwalk, at my house. I was in a world of my own. Just the two of us. I had become obsessed with her ideas and positive outlook on everything. How she saw the good in everyone, no matter their actions. I was amazed at how easily she gave people second chances and how trusting she was. No matter how ugly a person's intentions were, she just couldn't see passed the mask that hid their true colors. She wanted everyone to be good and pure. She wanted everyone to be equal and happy. She was so innocent, almost naive.
Most nights, I would lay awake thinking of her. Replaying every date and encounter we ever had, and thinking about how differently things would have turned out if she hadn’t seen me fall that day on the beach. My life without her seemed different, plain, dull. She had come into it and in just five weeks had painted it with new colors; bright ones that blind you no matter where you look or what you do.
As I lay alone in the house, the only sounds were my breath and the subtle creaks of the floorboards. Again, it was at a time like this that I wish I had siblings. It was just too quiet. It was just me and my thoughts—and I never liked to be alone with them. I would become obsessed with certain things, ideas, and words. I would rethink conversations over and over again, trying to imagine different meanings hidden behind what people said and what they actually meant, and usually, I could. But there is one that I’ve never been able to crack: that conversation I had with Julie that first day on the beach. She asked me if I believed in miracles, in perfect things. How could she? I didn’t, and I told her that. Then again, she is living proof to me that perfect things exist. That’s what I don't understand.
I had always believed so strongly in my philosophy, and all it took was one girl coming into my life for a few week to completely turn that upside down. How was that even possible? It wasn’t. It couldn't be. It was too good to be true. She was too good to be true. I couldn’t be as naive as her; I couldn’t let myself fall into the hole that every other person was trapped in. I had to stay smart, stay in my world. The right world. The real one. My world.
The morning I found out was like any other. I came downstairs; my parents were not awake yet. I scanned the kitchen, looking for broken glass or plates, which is usually what I find when I wake up. Today, however, I didn't have to step carefully. It seemed as though things were finally turning around for my parents. I made myself a quick breakfast and went for a run.
One mile down and I already felt my low endurance catching up with me. I tried to focus. Focus on anything but my lungs, which were burning with each step. I looked down, concentrating on the boardwalk and how the different shades of brown melted into each other, becoming one smooth surface. I focused on each nail, uneven and digging into my worn out sneakers. I focused until I got dizzy. Then I heard the sirens.
I was able to hear them before I even got close to the beach. It was covered by hundreds of people and police surrounding something. I decided to go see what all the commotion was about hoping to see a whale or some animal. As I pushed my way through the crowd I was blocked by yellow tape and flashing red and blue lights. I flashed back to mine and Julie’s first date at the rides, knowing we would never be able to do that again.
What happened next was something of a blur. I was pushed back by a cop, his hands gripping my shoulders. Even now, as I think back, I can still feel the pressure of his hands forcing me away. His lips were moving but I couldn’t hear what he was saying. All I saw was the girl behind him, over his shoulder. I immediately saw the blond waves on the ground that belonged to Julie. My Julie. The person that lay lifeless on the ground, however, was nothing like the Julie I knew. She was pale. There was no life in her, no color, except for the faded blue that had taken over her lips. How was this possible? How could this have happened?
They said they found her in the middle of the ocean but that didn’t seem right. She should have sunken to the bottom or been taken away by the current. She shouldn’t have been found, not like that. They lifted her lifeless soul and began to zip up the body bag. That was the last glimpse I ever had of her. And as quickly as it had come, the color that she had created started to drip away from my life. Everything was dull again, it was so familiar—and almost nice.
I hope she understood why this happened. Nothing in life can be perfect. There are no miracles, just coincidences. Nothing perfect, only illusions. As soon as you start to believe in miracles and perfect things, you start to melt into that plastic reality. The reality most people already live in, too afraid to see the world for what it really is. Not me. I wasn’t going to be blinded. Never again would I let this happen.
I have to admit, though, she was gone too soon. I wanted more time with her, but I was leaving in three days. I would never see her again. So I texted her and told her to meet me at the beach at 1 a.m. She didn’t even question the time. She came, smiling and giggling. I told her to come surfing with me, I wanted to show her something. Something magical, something I knew she would want to see. I told her to sit on my board behind me. We started paddling into the middle of the ocean and waited.
I was one with the waves and I could feel one coming. The water pulled us towards it, and I got ready. I told her to hold on and we stood up. We road it at the last second. We were under it and in a tunnel again. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion; the deep abyss of the ocean, melting into a warm blue and then fading into a dull foamy white. I could see the opening, the light on the other side. I was so close. I reached out, desperate to feel the warmth of the sun again, hoping it would drive away the cold that was eating away at my insides. This time though, I turned around and grabbed her, pulling her in with me. When I resurfaced, it was dark. Darker than I remembered. I looked around and couldn't find her. I screamed out her name once, twice. Then, there she was, right in front of me. She came up gasping for air. Seeing my face, she smiled and started to laugh.
Before she could take another breath, I grabbed her shoulders and pushed her down again. I saw blood surface from her panicked hands. She scratched every part of my body, desperate for air, but I couldn’t feel anything. The water had turned cold and I was numb from head to toe. She resurfaced again after successfully moving away from my arms. For a split second, I stopped. I waited to push her down again, knowing this was the last time I would see her—alive at least.
I stared into those green eyes, the ones that made you hope and made you believe in things you shouldn't. I used to love staring at them. Except for right now, when they were wide and frightened with mascara dripping underneath them, reminding me of everything I was against. She uttered a cry, reaching for my face, but I was too quick. I pushed her under for a final time, gripping her shoulders hard. I could feel my nails digging into her shirt. I squeezed harder, pushing her further down. The water muffled most of her cries, but I could softly hear the distorted screams. I waited until all the bubbles disappeared and let go of her now lifeless neck.
She floated up to the surface, face down and still. I went under the water myself and just stayed there. I let myself sink down as far as I could go before my own lungs burned. When I had finally resurfaced I was on the beach, face down, coughing up what the sea had pushed down my throat. As I gasped for air, I felt the sun go away again. I looked up and saw nothing. Only gray. I crawled onto the sand and breathed in. The air burned as it went down. I thought about Julie.
Everyone is filled with darkness. It consumes the human race. It consumes all of us. For some people, it hides in the shadows, waiting for their host to hit rock bottom before taking over. For others, it’s already inside us. The young ones forget it’s even there until it’s too late. No matter when it comes, and what it does, it’s always there. Waiting, watching, consuming. Some choose to ignore it, get rid of it, destroy it.
But darkness cannot be destroyed, only used. I used mine for good. I destroyed the mask of hope and perfection. Most people, the ones living a lie, fear the darkness. They fear what lurks under the bed and in the shadows. They fear the unknown. They don’t know that the real danger is the world they choose to live in. They walk blindly into what they think is safe, what they think is happy. Idiots. They’re all idiots thinking they can escape the darkness. You can’t. After all, it’s already inside you, and you can’t run away from your own shadow.
You know when you meet that perfect person? The one part of your life you didn’t know was missing until they filled it? That’s what it was like meeting Julie. My folks had taken me down to the shore for the summer. Seven whole weeks of mom drinking wine, and dad making jokes about it. Seven weeks of just me. This was all before I met Julie, before everything changed.
I forgot to mention that I never liked change very much. I liked things the way they were. No color, no hope, no miracles. If you don’t expect anything, you will never be disappointed. It’s as simple as that. Everything in my world makes sense because it’s sensible, it's real, and it’s tangible. Why believe in something you can’t see, something you can’t prove? It’s my own little world, the real one that I’m all alone in because I’m the only person willing to live in it. I don’t mind, because even though it’s not perfect, it’s mine. There are no distractions, no one to question my thoughts. Julie almost took that from me. She wouldn't understand my world. No one would. She almost ruined it, but I knew the truth. She was my illusion, the one thing I had almost dared to believe was perfect. No. Nothing is perfect. It’s impossible.
That’s why I had to do it.
I lay alone on the sand, watching the sun grow and seep into the sky. As the world got brighter, mine got darker. But no one knew the truth. That little world of mine, the gray one with no color, is the real one. It’s the one I prefer to live in. The other, perfect world? It isn’t real. It’s all a lie because nothing—nothing—can be perfect.
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