Paul threw himself on the sand, almost hitting a rock. Some of them were quite sharp; others had pointy sides. Like spears.
He left behind a pathway of determined strides, leading from the picnic area, down waterfront steps and landing heavily onto the beach. He tried to block out what mom had just said. The anger began a few minutes ago in his toes and by now worked up to his kneecaps.
A massive headache was beginning to overwhelm him. Mean thoughts about his dad dashed back and forth. If only his father was here now, he'd really tell him off. Paul's dark and cloudy mood seemed to attract a few nosey seagulls. Their shrieking and his thoughts seemed to mingle together.
Only mom knew what was going on. She was a short distance away chewing on her lip, and finding it hard to smile. He knew she was proud of her son and loved him so much.
"Why couldn't his father be here?" she'd be asking herself, sharing her son's sadness. She would also understand his disappointment building like layers of onionskin. Tears must be running down her cheeks as she felt his same pain. "In case he doesn't make it today, for the picnic," she had said. "He wants you to have something." And she showed Paul, the gift.
"I don't want it," Paul had said, flinging it on the picnic table. Then shaking his head in frustration, he had headed back to the Stewiacke River shore. The water was his escape, where he felt most comfortable.
Now he lay on the rough beach mixture of pebble and grass. He thought of his dad. Why couldn't he be here like the other fathers? "It's always the same," he said aloud. But no one was listening. Sounds of excitement came rippling down the bank. It seemed everyone was having fun except him.
Reluctantly Paul dragged himself back to where a crowd of children and adults were playing in a circle.
"Paul!" someone shouted. "Over here!"
It was James. What does the little twerp want? Sometimes though, Paul wished he were just like James. They had met at church last month. How come he's always so happy? Paul wondered. Even though he didn't feel like it, Paul was coaxed to join in some of the games.
"Hey," James said, "I need a partner." First there was badminton. Paul thought it was stupid hitting a 'bird' over a net. All he seemed to do was miss the other court area. Or shoot too high. Even the wind was against him. Then they played horseshoes. "I can barely lift them," James said.
Paul was a stocky young teen and didn't seem to mind the weight. He even got a "ringer." It must have been pure luck, he figured. Everyone lined up for water toss. Adults and kids joined in. Of course Paul slipped on the wet grass. Why did he have to lose so soon? Everyone was pointing at him flopped on the ground. He noticed James wasn't joining in their laughter.
Most people decided to go for a swim after working so hard at the games. Paul and James had permission to use Mr. Lawrence's two-man rubber dinghy. After snapping on life jackets, they waded through a foot of water and climbed in.
"The water's too cold for swimming," James said.
"Don't be a chicken," Paul answered. Then he gave his friend a playful splash.
"Hey! Stop that! James shouted. Or, I'll go back to shore."
Paul stopped. He really wanted a little company. After paddling around awhile, he jumped out then lay in shallow water that barely covered his back. The coolness soothed his itchy mosquito bites. "Hey, come on and join me," he called. James finally did. In a few minutes the boys were chasing each other through the water. "Let's swim underwater," Paul said.
"Are you scared or something?" Paul asked.
Paul couldn't believe his ears. You mean he was better than James at something? Usually James was good at everything. Even making friends. "You're saying you're actually afraid of the water. It's not even over your head standing up, you know."
"I said, I'm afraid. Okay?" Then everyone was being called back from the shore. The "Scavenger Hunt" was about to start.
"Which one is your dad?" Paul asked as they climbed the riverbank.
"What do you mean? James asked.
"You know, where's your dad? Everyone's dad is here except mine. He's too busy to come. All he seems to do is buy me gifts, especially when he breaks a promise."
"At least he's alive," James said quietly.
"What did you say?" Paul stood back and looked at his friend. "You mean, your dad's dead?"
"It happened when I was just a little kid," James answered. "I don't want to talk about it right now, okay?"
Paul was thoughtful as he followed his friend back to the group. He didn't say much as teams were picked. But, he did try to end up on the same team as his friend, except he didn't.
Captains led each group to a series of trails where they had to follow clues. And search for hidden red tape. Then one runner from each team had to bring in all the discovered items. As luck would have it both friends were the last to run on each team.
Paul noticed his friend couldn't run as fast as himself as they both headed for the finish line. In fact, James was a bit of a 'klutz'. The younger boy even tripped over his own feet, allowing an easy win for Paul and his team.
After the game, James flung himself on the wet grass. He didn't mind if he got wet, he was still in his bathing suit. He was really tired and his right leg hurt, especially his feelings for letting his team down.
Paul sat down beside him. He had candies to share from his team winning the 'scavenger hunt.' As both boys sat quietly, Paul knew this was not a good time to tease his friend.
Shouts of "time to eat" brought some life back into their tired bodies. Both boys raced to the barbecue site. Paul felt good letting James win. Before long, each had a hotdog in one hand and a can of pop in the other.
Between mouthfuls James said, "You're a lot faster than me, you know."
"Yah, but I'm a year older," Paul answered. "Hey, I have an idea." He jumped to his feet, "Follow me," he said. James did, all the way to Paul's mom. She was sitting at a picnic table with James own mom.
"So what are you two up to?" they asked.
"Nothin'," came from both mouths at once.
"Mom? Where's that present from dad?" Paul asked. "Quick. Please, I need it."
Surprise registered on her face. Then a smile broke up the serious look his mom had. In a few moments, she was back from the car and handed over the new fishing rod and reel, the gift from dad.
"Let's go fishing!!" Paul said to his new friend.
And they did just that.
* * *
Richard & Esther Provencher 2004
My wife, Esther and I really enjoy writing. It is an excellent salve, in addition to prayers, a great wife and family during my continuing recovery from a stroke/aneurysm. You can contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org re comments on our work. We live in Truro, Nova Scotia, Canada. Pray for others.