By WENDY HODGE
Today was day five of our beach trip, and like every other day here the weather has been just perfect. For today’s activities, the men planned a golf game. They’ve dusted off their clubs, dug their golf shoes out of the back of the closet, set a tee-time for 11 a.m. and pretended to each other that 16 holes of golf were not going to wreak havoc on their respective aging bodies. Right on time, they piled into one car full of predictions of who would beat who. Neon Girl sped by just as they were leaving, which led to a close call with another distracted driver. Heads turned, horns blared and Neon Girl never missed a step. Skinny people can be so oblivious.
We ladies waved them off and promptly set about our plan for the day. Our itinerary read as follows:
1. Gather around the pool with a good book and snacks.
2. Meander down to the beach and spend some time dozing and snacking while getting browner by the minute.
3. Lunch — Fresh tomato slices on pillow-soft bread covered with mayo, salt and pepper with a side of crackers topped with summer sausage and cream cheese.
4. Resume our positions by the pool with snacks and drinks.
5. TALK!! (Step 5 is to be done simultaneously with Steps 1-4.) This talk was a day-long conversation interspersed with laughter, filled with warm confidences and interrupted only when someone dozed off for a moment.
And the sun continued to shine on us all day long…
I must interrupt here to let you in on exactly what my skin does when I emerge from an office lit by fluorescent lights and spend any real-time in direct sunlight. I don’t tan, at least not at first. I get a little red. Well, actually, I get very red. Okay, the truth is, I burn. Burn and peel.
It was just this afternoon that I realized that, although my arms and legs are a nice shade of crimson, it is my lips that are taking the full brunt of the sun. My lower lip, to be exact. When we paused for lunch, I could feel the familiar tingling begin. By the time we came inside to get ready for dinner, it was so swollen I could actually see my lower lip just by glancing down. “Have you had Botox?” asked a 70-something-year-old lady whose t-shirt read ‘Retired Super Model’ as we passed each other on the sand. “No, ma’am. I’m just hungry.” I answered. She shot a look over her shoulder as if she feared for my sanity. My best friend’s mom suppressed a giggle, but only barely, until we were safely inside.
As it turns out, tonight was our designated “dinner out” night. The fact that this coincided with Mens’ Golf Day, Ladies’ Day in the Sun and my enlarged lip, created a perfect storm for my little group. We planned to have the men return to the house, get ready for dinner and all head to a lovely night out looking clean and fresh and oh-so happy.
We planned, and the gods laughed.
Around 4 p.m., the ladies were gathering on the porch, waiting for the men to return with triumphant stories of record-book scores and at least a half dozen holes-in-one. But as we stood there primping and discussing the restaurant we had settled on, the first of a flurry of phone calls from the men came in.
“Wendy? Hey. We’re running a bit late … (unrecognizable mumbling in the background) … I’ll call you right back.”
“Hey, Wendy? Sorry, I don’t have a good signal. Can you hear me? Hello??”
“Hey. What restaurant are we going to? Wait. Dad’s saying something. (More unrecognizable chatter.) Lulu’s? Are we eating at Lulu’s?”
“Hey. Call keeps dropping. Sorry. None of us like Lulu’s. Can you call and find somewhere else without such a long wait time?”
“Just stay put. We’re coming home first. I need a shower and some Ibuprofen.”
The other ladies were having similar simultaneous conversations with their significant others. Apparently, all the men needed a shower and a dose of pain relievers. We all shot looks at each other, sighed deeply and started calling surrounding restaurants. A few minutes later, I texted my best friend the following, “We’re going to Sea and Suds. Come home and take a shower. I’ll wait for you. The others are going ahead to get in line to wait for a table.” Just as I hit send, I got this text from him: “I’ll see you in a few minutes. We’re fine with any place other than Sea and Suds. See you soon!”
Two or three hours later, we are all seated around a table for 12, with plates that hold the remnants of our seafood dinner. Sea and Suds, it turns out, was perfect after all. Everyone has pushed back from the table and reclined slightly in their seat, full and drowsy from a day in the sun and a feast from the sea. Ibuprofen was passed around the table the moment we sat down. The men, apparently, aren’t as indestructible as they’d like to think. And not one hole-in-one was mentioned. I’m not sure which hurts more — sore muscles or bruised egos. But they, like we women, had a day full of laughter they will not forget.
There’s an atmosphere that settles over a table full of people who are relaxed and content when the delicious scent of dinner still lingers, and there’s a sip or two left in the bottom of glasses wet with condensation. And in that delicious, suspended moment, my best friend takes my hand and smiles at me. That smile, so easy and warm, takes my breath away. Every single time. “Did you get enough to eat?” he asks, and I know that in his language that means, “I love you and want you to be happy.”
“Yes, I had way too much. It was delicious,” I answer.
“Good day by the sea, wasn’t it?” he leans in to whisper and then asks, “Have any more Ibuprofen?”
One by one, we all stand and make our way out into the warm night. We will head back to the house and begin to pack in preparation for our departure in the morning. Suitcases will be piled into trunks. Food will be divided and stored in back seats. Loaves of bread and packs of hamburger buns will be passed like a hot potato from car to truck and back again because who really needs 196 pieces of bread? Kids will curl up with pillows and adults will set their GPS. This trip will be a memory soon enough. But for now, right this minute, I am taking my best friend down to the beach for one more moonlit walk by the sea. Neon Girl is not invited …