Whenever I mention that unforgettable day at the old swimming hole at Forest Creek, Marty McPherson snorts that he doesn’t care. He never cared. Why would he care about a
stupid, beautiful sandwich? He couldn’t care less. He never thinks about it. Ever.
On that day, Marty, Clyde and I were sitting in our lawn chairs in the sand staring blankly at the sparkling water, which was surrounded by lush green bushes and tall deciduous trees, when Clyde—in his neon orange swim trunks—jumped up, eyeing a bird perched in a branch across the stream, and said, “If I had my sling shot, I’d down that kingfisher right now.”
“You’re the hunter,” I said.
“I’m the hunter!” he said, pointing a steely finger at the bird.
“But I don’t think that’s a kingfisher,” I said. “That’s a magpie.”
Without turning his head away from the bird, he whispered, “You’re mine, Maggie, all mine.”
That’s when Marty jumped up in his Hawaiian-print swim trunks, with rolls of fat dancing around his center, and pointed at the entrance of the beach area. “Look. Look over there. That’s Sarah Prescott.”
“Do cheerleaders come here?” I asked, leaning forward in my lawn chair to see around Marty’s mid-section.
“And look at that red cooler she has,” he said. “What do you think’s in it?”
Ignoring his penchant for food, and thinking of this situation as an opportunity, I said, “You know, Sarah Prescott’s in my biology class. I should ask her to the Sadie Hawkins dance next Saturday.” I don’t usually make an effort to attract girls. It generally doesn’t go well. But I felt differently about Sarah Prescott because when Mr. Cronbach, our biology teacher, paired us together in class to dissect a worm, I felt a connection with her, even though at the time all I said to her was that “formaldehyde reeks!”
Single-minded as usual, Clyde interrupted my thoughts by shouting at his feathered foe, “I’m the hunter, Maggie!”
As long as I can remember Clyde hunted anything and everything. It’s something he usually did on Saturdays with his dad. I only met his dad a few times, and that was pretty much enough for me. He was the type of guy that gave off a quiet yet boorish presence, someone not to upset. I think Clyde’s mom was the opposite when she was younger, because she had moments where she chattered prettily like a small, colorful parakeet. But, unfortunately, these days she spoke very little, dressed in encumbered clothes, and looked past most people, except for Clyde. She loved Clyde dearly. I eventually saw why, when I helped him get his mom safely away from his dad. Beyond all of Clyde’s gruffness, there was something about him that was deep, that presented great potential.
Clyde’s outburst at the bird caused Sarah Prescott to lift her head toward us with raised eyebrows, as she began to place her belongings on the sand. In response to her staring in our direction, I quickly leaned back in my chair, outstretched my legs, and titled my head to the sky to catch the warm rays of the sun. If there is one strategy to impress a girl, I’m sure it is to be nonchalant. Cool. Hard to obtain. My older brother told me that girls love a challenge. It makes them want the guy more. Sarah Prescott therefore must have been drooling, I thought, to finally get a chance to talk to me outside of class.
Given this surety, I calmly stood up in my sporty swim trunks and slowly sauntered over to the other side of the beach area—all the while skipping rocks on the surface of the water to appear casual. Nonchalant. Cool. A challenge. By the time I got there, she had spread out her towel and was lying on her back reading a magazine. While everyone knew of Sarah Prescott and her family, I don’t think anyone truly knew them. Her dad was a lawyer and a politician. Her mom ran a large charity. They seemed to be the model family. But, they also had their dark secrets, which didn’t come out till later. They were similar to a glittering diamond necklace behind a glass case—very visible but untouchable. At least until Clyde’s dad broke the glass case.
Peeking at Sarah Prescott out of the corner of my eye while standing at the shoreline, only a yard or two away from her, I thought, I can do this. Just because she was the most popular girl in school didn’t mean anything. Not a thing. I flexed my arm and chest muscles, envisioning myself to be a Mr. Universe champion, and turned my head toward Clyde and Marty for the chin-nod that signifies, “go for it.” Clyde, however, was standing in the creek with water swishing calmly around his knees. Apparently, he was set on swimming to the magpie. And Marty was nowhere in sight—which for him was slightly unusual. No matter, I thought, this is a job best done alone.
I twisted my body to face Sarah Prescott and opened my mouth to let the smooth, velvety sound of my voice draw her attention to me. But suddenly I heard a loud noise coming from the green bushes nearby: “Psst!”
Thinking the noise came from me, Sarah Prescott lowered her magazine, leaned on her elbows, and crinkled her eyebrows: “Jake?”
“Argh,” I said to Sarah Prescott, “Will you excuse me for a second?” I marched over to the bushes.
“Jake,” Marty whispered, eyes peering between two large green leaves. “Get her to open the cooler. I must know what’s inside it.”
“I’m not helping you,” I said a little more forcefully and loudly than I meant to. “You have to do it yourself.”
Sarah Prescott sat up, crisscrossing her legs, and closed her magazine.
“Do you always talk to plants like that?” She asked.
Turning around to her, I said, “You know, our biology teacher says it’s good to talk to plants. But all I hear from them is ‘water me, water me, water me!’”
After a conciliatory “hmm,” Sarah Prescott reclined on her towel again and returned to her magazine. Realizing the moment had passed to ask her to the Sadie Hawkins dance, I slowly retreated to the lawn chairs, where Clyde was seated in deep concentration with his head in his hands, and pearls of water dripping from his legs. I guess hunters aren’t swimmers.
“She’s taunting me,” Clyde said, staring at the magpie, which was shaking its head back and forth.
Ignoring Clyde’s obsession with hunting, I said, “I don’t know how to ask Sarah Prescott to the Sadie Hawkins dance.”
“Girls ask guys to that dance.”
“Really? I don’t think so.”
“Whatever. Just remember this: every animal wants food. You lure them in with it and then catch’em.”
“But I don’t have any food.”
“Not my problem,” Clyde said. Then, he lifted his head to the bird. “I’m the hunter, Maggie. I’m the hunter!” Clyde stormed off to find a rock to throw at the bird.
As I watched Clyde stomp away, I glanced back toward Sarah Prescott and saw that Marty was standing by the red cooler saying something to her. My heart pumped quickly and I ran over there fast, with little explosions of sand following each of my footsteps. I was no track star, even though I tried out for the high school track team every year, but seeing Marty talking to Sarah Prescott required immediate attention.
“So, do you eat a lot?” I heard Marty ask her. “That’s a pretty big cooler.”
“Marty,” I interrupted. “Can I talk to you for a moment in private?”
We moved several paces down the creek as Sarah Prescott tilted her head to the side in a way that reminded me of a poodle that hears a strange sound.
“Marty, I need to get into that cooler.”
“All right! Now we’re talking. And whatever we get, my share is 60/40.”
“Sure, sure, just go distract her.”
Marty stepped past me. “Hey, girl,” he called. “Do you want to see a salamander?”
“What?” Sarah Prescott asked.
I shook my head at Marty. Marty was not the brightest child in his family. He had seven or eight siblings. I forget the actual number. Each of them was heavy-set, with his parents being the largest ones in the family, but all of them reminded me of teddy bears—very soft, warm and kind. Marty was the middle child of the bunch, which probably was the reason he could to talk to anyone and everyone, and given their limited economic standing—Marty’s dad was a mail carrier—combined with so many mouths to feed, it was understandable that Marty always seemed to be hungry.
Marty smiled at Sarah Prescott and tried again. “I said: Do you want to see a Salvadorian flower?”
“Okay,” Sarah Prescott said, and surprisingly walked over to us. Her strikingly blond hair curved fashionably around her ears and down to her shoulders, where the breeze made it flutter as she moved. Her swimsuit was a canopy of color in red, orange, and pink and fit perfectly around her slender, supermodel-like figure.
Stereotypical beauty, I thought. She had to have her flaws. For one, I found out later that she really wasn’t a blond. But I guessed correctly too that she had more serious flaws that I hadn’t seen yet. I considered flaws, especially in her case, to be a good thing. My reasoning was that if she were perfect, we would never get together and I knew that we would. I just knew it.
As Marty and Sarah Prescott strode toward the lawn chairs, I snuck over to the red cooler in order to quietly lift up the top. It stuck at first. But with a soft grunt and a little elbow grease, I popped it open. Looking inside, I saw bottled water. No. Carrot sticks. No. Green grapes. Maybe. A big sandwich. Yes. With an ear-to-ear smile, I pulled it out and raised it above my head as if it were the trophy of a superstar athlete. I imagined flashbulbs clicking from salivating paparazzi and adoring fans. I’m a winner, I thought.
“I see you,” Clyde yelled. “I’ve got the perfect rock now, Maggie.”
Clyde’s verbal blast at the bird startled me, making me stumble over the red cooler and land face down in the sand with my arms outstretched holding the sandwich just a few inches off the ground. Marty and Sarah Prescott then turned around to spot the disturbance. As they trotted over to me, I quickly stood up and hid the sandwich behind my back.
“You okay,” Marty asked, as Sarah Prescott leaned over to straighten the cooler a few feet away.
“Look at this,” I whispered.
“Wow, it’s huge. That’s the most beautiful sandwich I’ve ever seen. 70/30, right?”
“Sure, sure, I only need it first to ask Sarah to the Sadie Hawkins dance.”
“Don’t girls ask guys to that dance?”
“No, man, just leave me alone.”
I strutted over to Sarah Prescott, who smiled at me like one does at a clown in a parade.
“Are you okay?” She asked.
“Yes, thank you,” I said. “Are you hungry?”
“A little, I guess.”
I pulled the sandwich from behind my back and presented it to her as if it were a single stem, long red rose. I was a romantic, I know.
“That looks a lot like my sandwich,” she said. “Did you steal my sandwich?”
“Oh,” I said, thinking quickly. “Is yours from Susie’s Sandwich Shop, too?”
“No, that’s my homemade bread!” Her tight lips and blazing eyes signified to me that she was less than impressed. How was I supposed to know that food was more important to her than it was to Marty? At that moment it was not hard to see that the game was over. I regretfully outstretched my arms with the sandwich in my hands, hoping she would just take it with a smile and we could forget the whole thing.
However, Marty quickly lumbered up and knitted his eyebrows. “Hey, we’re supposed to go 80/20 on that!”
Then, Clyde bumped into me after throwing a rock at the magpie.
“Dang, I missed,” he said.
The magpie suddenly spread its wings and flew into the air. We all tilted our heads skyward following its flight pattern and, as soon as the magpie was directly over us, it squawked menacingly. Then, a very large, white, pudding-like substance suddenly emerged from the bird and came plummeting in our direction. Our eyes widen in horror and I wondered which one of us was going to feel Maggie’s wrath. It should have been Clyde. He’s always disturbing the peace. But nature rarely concerns itself with one individual. Instead, the gooey stuff splattered directly on the sandwich, spraying all of us with spots of unpleasantness.
“Ew!” We shrieked in unison.
Then, Marty bawled, “No, no, no, not the beautiful sandwich!”
As may be imagined, Sarah Prescott immediately grabbed her belongings and vanished up the trail to the parking lot. Marty, Clyde and I sluggishly returned to our lawn chairs and slumped down in them staring blankly at the sparkling creek water.
“Magpies aren’t big game animals, anyway,” Clyde said.
“I wasn’t hungry, anyway,” Marty said.
“I don’t like to dance, anyway,” I said.