Worth the FallBy: Claudia Connor
“You ever notice that hot, mostly naked chicks don’t really show up in a snow-covered train whenever you pop open one of these?”
Matt McKinney glanced over at the dripping beer bottle his cousin, Rob, held out.
“I mean isn’t that some sort of product misrepresentation?” Rob asked, pointing to the picture on the silver foil.
“Write a complaint to the company.” Matt pushed back in his beach chair and closed his eyes. He focused on the constant low roar of the surf, the backdrop of white noise, and dug his heels deeper into the coarse east coast sand.
“Hell, man. That’s a good idea. Might get some free beer or something.”
Or something. Normally Matt would have laughed at his cousin’s thought process. Normally he would have laughed at a lot of things. Lately? Not so much.
“Uh, excuse me.” The female voice came from a towel near his feet. “Talking about naked girls other than us is just, like, rude. Did you forget we’re laying, like, right here?”
Matt sighed long and hard. If only that were possible.
Three days ago he’d found his cousin sitting on the curb outside his home. “Come on, man,” Rob had begged. “I need to get to the beach. You gotta help me. She could be ‘the one.’ ”
Turned out, Rob had needed more than a ride. He’d needed a wingman.
Sure, fine, whatever. How bad could it be?
Less than forty-eight hours in their presence and Matt knew exactly how bad it could be. He glanced at the divas stretched out in the sand, man-made breasts—too big for even his large hands—spilling out of their tiny tops.
Brittney looked up at Rob from her towel. “If you want hot women on a train, why don’t you drive your little choo-choo on over here?”
“Honey, my choo-choo is not little,” Rob corrected.
She gave Rob a knowing glance. “That’s true.”
“Too bad for you, Matthew. This is a one-way train,” Kimmi said, still pissed at his refusal to sleep with her last night.
“Or one-man,” Brittney added.
Here we go. Matt wished himself somewhere else. Anywhere else.
Kimmi flipped her oiled body over to bake the other side, the bright orange sequins of her top nearly blinding him. She’d been sloppy drunk by the time they’d left the bar last night, not that it would have mattered. He’d outgrown her type. Though, given his job, he didn’t have a lot of options.
They continued with train innuendos, going through tunnels and what they could do for him if he got off track, until Matt couldn’t take it anymore. “I’m going for a walk.”
“Man, you are spending way more time walking than you are sitting,” Rob said. “You need to relax.”
If you call this relaxing. “Back in a while.”
“Bye, Matthew,” Kimmi said, doing a fluttery finger wave. “Thanks so much for asking if I wanted to go.”
Matt kept walking.
Families crowded the beach, getting in one last trip before school started. A pack of teenagers raced into the water, brightly colored rafts under their arms, and a baby off to his right tasted sand. The seagulls screaming above his head reminded him of his brothers and sister fighting over the last cookie.
He’d gone less than ten yards before he was drawn to the water like the Navy SEAL he was. With strong, even strokes, he cut through the rolling waves of the Atlantic, pushing himself, swimming faster, kicking harder, as if he could prove to his commanding officer he was more than ready for active duty. Prove to him it’d be wrong to sideline him because of a knock on the head. Idiotic medical bullshit.
The cool water brushing past him did nothing to quiet his mind. This final week of mandatory recovery could have been relaxing, but already on edge, his beach companions were driving him to the brink. At thirty-four, what had once been sexy seemed sleazy. Bold and assertive felt more like desperate and aggressive.
He liked sex. He didn’t like being mauled.
Matt continued moving parallel to the shore, catching glimpses of colorful umbrellas and the six towering condos that made up the resort. He preferred the water, but running back under the midday sun would likely burn off more steam than swimming.
As he approached the shore, a small football landed off to his right with a splash and he glanced around for the thrower. No one was anywhere near him in the ocean, but a little boy stood at the water’s edge, watching him.
Matt squinted against the reflecting sun and waded onto the beach, NERF ball in hand. “Here you go.”
The boy looked to be around five or so and stared silently up at Matt as he took his ball.
Deed done, Matt turned to go. He hadn’t taken two steps before something wet hit his shoulder. He sighed at the small blue and yellow football at his feet.
When he looked back, the expression on the kid’s face reminded him of a dog after dropping a ball at your feet for the tenth time.
You probably don’t want to play with me, but I sure wish you would.
Matt lowered his head for a second, debating whether to applaud the boy’s tactics or scream in frustration. What he wouldn’t give to be a kid again with kid worries. To want nothing more in life than someone to play with.
Matt picked up the ball with every intention of walking away and tossed it underhand to the boy. It sailed right through the kid’s outstretched hands, bounced off his bony chest and back toward Matt.
He shook his head, hating himself for thinking it, but he’d grown up with five brothers. You didn’t drop a ball without hearing a jab.
The kid ran over to retrieve his football and stopped short. He glanced over his shoulder and waved at a woman sitting in the sand with three other children. “That’s my mom.”
Matt couldn’t see her face, but she raised a hand at her son, clearly keeping an eye on the situation. Matt waved back.
The boy took a step closer to Matt, stared at his toes and dug them into the sand. “I can’t catch,” he mumbled.
Based on that one throw, the kid was right, but Matt wasn’t going to say so. “You’ll get it. You just need to practice. Maybe your dad could throw with you or something.”
“Nope. He can’t throw. He’s dead.”
The kid dropped that bit of info like he was talking about the color of the sky. Matt’s gut twisted. Another person dead. He ran his fingers through his hair, pulling at the ends in frustration. And he’d been jealous of this kid.
He closed his eyes for a second and rubbed at the headache hovering behind his right eye. The one that had been gathering strength all morning. He didn’t have anywhere else to be and he sure as hell wasn’t in a hurry to get back to playing cabana boy.