The weekends were the best time to go fishing. I didn’t have to be anywhere in the mornings, and my curfew was later in the evenings, so I could go wherever I wanted in the town and fish for as long as I liked. One of my favourite spots was a beach near the bridge. It was quite small, and far away from the roads, so it wasn’t really the beach of choice for most people looking to spend a day by the sea. The fish there were very active though – you could see them on a clear day teeming just below the surface, making it the ideal spot to go if you wanted to get a catch. Which I did.
The path to the fishing spot was long and windy, since the beach itself lay at the foot of a steep hill. Usually when I came there was no one else around, so I could be completely alone with my thoughts. I was pleased to find that this was again the case today, and I would be able to enjoy several uninterrupted hours of quiet fishing. Excited at the prospect, I sped up to a quick jog as I made my way down the path.
The morning had been an unusually busy one at home, with preparations going on for a lunchtime family barbecue – our first since Aidan had moved out. As a result, I hadn’t been able to get away until the late afternoon, so I didn’t have nearly as much time to myself as I would have liked. I stood by the water for a moment when I reached the shore, drinking in the beauty of the ocean view and the stillness of the world around me, the only sounds the soft lapping of water against the sand and the gentle breeze lifting my hair. All was quiet and peaceful, and just the way I liked it. Perfect.
I pulled out the rod and fishing box I had carried down with me, baited my hook and cast my line into the calm water where the fish were waiting. It wasn’t long before I got a bite, and I felt the familiar tugging on the other end of the line. Before I could reel it in, however, I was startled by a shout of laughter coming from the other side of the beach. So startled, in fact, that I almost dropped my rod. I whipped around, searching the beach for the culprit. Who could be here at this time? I had been so sure I was alone five minutes ago.
Within seconds I spotted them: two kids, with hair so blond it shone almost white in the sun, playing tag together by the water. One was a small girl in overlarge boots and overalls; the other, a boy around my age, who was a little more shabbily dressed. I guessed from their identical shade of hair and the closeness in the way they interacted with each other that they were siblings, but I couldn’t place their faces. I had certainly never seen them around here before.
The boy, who had been bent over trying to catch his breath, looked up suddenly and caught my eye. I turned back quickly to face the water – I didn’t want him to think I had been watching them… even though that’s exactly what I was doing. The rod I had been fishing with a few minutes before, I was now holding loosely in my right hand. The line was slack again. I cursed, realising that I had lost my catch, and started reeling the line back in to recast it.
Several hours passed, and the sun had almost set. I was not as relaxed as I usually was, since I had been too busy trying to ignore my fellow beachgoers to focus much on meditation. It irritated me slightly, but after all this was a public beach. I had no right to ask them to leave, even if I might have wished it. I was on the point of giving up and just going home when I heard the crunch, crunch of small footsteps on the sand behind me.
I turned around to find the small girl from earlier, looking up at me expectantly with wide, green eyes. The intensity of her stare made me nervous.
“Um… can I help you?” I stammered, trying to meet her steady gaze. I had never met a child quite like this before.
She shook her head, and smiled at me. I relaxed. “I just thought I’d come over and say hello,” she said. “You’re really pretty,” she added. I was shocked, but flattered. No stranger had ever told me that before. She didn’t give me time to respond before she continued. “When me and my brother were playing earlier, you looked at us and then you wouldn’t look again. I thought you might have been annoyed ’cause we were making too much noise. Sorry if we were making too much noise. It was a really fun game, though.” She smiled again to herself in recollection, and I couldn’t help but smile with her.
“It’s fine,” I told her. “I wasn’t really annoyed.” Yes I was, but I wasn’t going to tell her that. Besides, I was feeling less irritated by the second.
She grinned at me, then her eyes fell on the fishing rod in my hand. She pointed to it. “What’s that?” she asked.
“It’s a fishing rod,” I told her.
“I knew it,” she responded smugly. “I asked my brother before, and he said you were catching fish. Do you catch them with that?” I nodded. “How do you do it? Could you show me?” she asked eagerly. I couldn’t keep up with answering all her questions. Thankfully, I was saved at that moment by a male voice calling out to us.
“Tyler! What are you doing?”
The girl looked over at her brother, who was a few metres away and jogging towards us. “I was just asking her about fishing,” she told him. “I want to know how the fishing rod works!” She turned back to me.
“You can show me how it works, right?” I nodded again. “By the way, what’s your name?” she demanded, looking at me expectantly.
I laughed a little, realising we hadn’t even introduced ourselves to each other. “I’m Bianca.”
Her brother smiled at me, but wrapped a protective arm around his sister’s shoulders. “I’m James,” he told me, “and this is my little sister Tyler. We just moved here from Sunset Valley.”
Tyler shrugged off his arm and frowned at him. “I was about to tell her that!” she said indignantly, turning back to me. “My name’s Tyler,” she repeated proudly. “We live in that house up on the hill. It doesn’t really have much of a yard, so we come here to play most of the time.”
That puzzled me, since I had never seen the two of them here before. At least not before last weekend, I corrected myself, remembering that I hadn’t been to the beach since then.
James, obviously noticing my confusion, interrupted again. “We just moved here on Tuesday,” he supplied. That made sense, although I briefly wondered why I hadn’t seen James around school in the past week if that was the case. I was about to ask why they had moved, when he addressed Tyler again. “Come on Ty, we have to be home soon. It was nice meeting you, Bianca,” he added.
I just had time to nod before he took his sister’s hand and the two of them ran back up the way they had come. Tyler threw me a wave and a smile over her shoulder as they left. James didn’t look back.
I left the beach soon afterwards, and was home and in bed well before 11. Around midnight I could hear the sirens and see the flashing lights of a police car on the street outside. Clearly, my sister was out after curfew again.
I heard the opening of the front door and my parents’ muffled yelling in the next room, but my mind was elsewhere, busy mulling over the events of the evening. There was something about James and Tyler that was different to the other kids I knew. Maybe it was because James’ protective attitude towards his sister seemed closer to that of a parent than an older sibling. Maybe it was the fact that his clothes were faded, and looked like they hadn’t been replaced in ten years. All I knew for sure was that there was something about those two that set them apart from most people, and I wanted to know what it was. I wondered if they would be at the beach again when I went down before school tomorrow to fish.
Something in the atmosphere suddenly changed, and moved me from my thoughts. It took me a few seconds to realise that it was because the yelling outside had stopped. Realising that Bridie would be coming to bed soon, I decided to feign sleep rather than listen to her recount all of the exciting things that had happened to her that night, and was in bed with my eyes closed by the time the door opened and my sister came tiptoeing into the room. I heard the rustle of discarded clothes and the creaking of the bed as she climbed the ladder to her top bunk.
“Goodnight, Bianca,” she whispered. I didn’t respond. It wasn’t long afterwards that my lack of sleep caught up to me, and I drifted away into unconsciousness.