On the first Monday morning after school ended, Tina’s alarm went off as always. Her eyes opened blearily, staring at the clock like it had personally offended her. She reached over and slapped it before getting up with a grunt. It took her a full five minutes to realize that she didn’t have to go to school. Summer was here and college was a few months away. Glancing at her desk she saw the acceptance letter to Rutgers. She had managed to score a full ride scholarship thanks to her grades, which honestly was the only way she would have been able to go to college. She knew her parents would do anything to make sure she had the best chance at a good life, but tuition wasn’t possible for any of their kids.
Too awake to go back to bed, but too sleepy to want to do anything, she grabbed a book and headed to the living room to read. Gene and Louise were still asleep, but her parents were in the kitchen talking quietly.
“No Bobby I told you, she needs to have this summer. It’s her last chance to be a kid! I don’t want her stuck in the restaurant.”
“I get that Linda but I need her. We can’t afford to hire help and summer is always our biggest time.”
“It’s not right. At least pay her something for once. She’ll need the money for school…”
“I know. I feel bad but we don’t have a choice. We’re behind on rent again and the fryer is busted…”
Tina frowned, quietly returning to her room. She had assumed that she would be working over the summer. It was tradition. Later she would just go downstairs and help her dad open as always. Problem solved. Sitting on her bed she cracked open her book, but instead of reading her mind wandered into fantasy.
It was a clear summer day with wispy white clouds. A nice breeze kept the heat and bugs away as she walked through a well kept garden. Tina was admiring the flowers when the whinny of a horse caught her attention.
“Good morning Tina,” Jimmy Jr said, smiling down at her from his seat on the back of a mighty stallion. His hair was long, romance novel cover long, and he was wearing a peasant shirt that revealed his chest. Without looking she knew his pants would be skin tight.
“Good morning Jimmy Jr. What brings you to my garden?”
“I seek the loveliest flower here. I want to make it my own, and cherish it always.”
Tina smiled. “I have many flowers. Take your pick.”
Jimmy Jr. leaned down and held a hand out to her. “I pick you.”
With a giggle she was pulled up to ride behind him on the horse. They galloped away into the woods to do things that Tina, despite being an old hand at writing erotic friend fiction, wasn’t ready to think about.
With a sigh she opened her eyes and glanced at the clock. She had less than a hour before opening, so she grabbed a shower, dressed, and went to get some breakfast.
“Hey there my sweetie girl! Sleep well?” Linda asked as she put down a plate of eggs and toast on the table.
“Pretty well...Mom, are you and Dad going to be ok while I’m at college?”
“Of course! What makes you ask honey?”
“It’s just that Dad relies on me for the restaurant, and I don’t want to leave you in a lurch.”
“Tina, no. We’ll be fine! Honestly. Besides, college is important! You’ve got to get that high end power job with a suit and all that so you can pay for our retirement,” Linda laughed.
“Mom, I’m going for writing. We don’t get ‘power jobs’ for that.”
“Eh, so long as you make money you can do whatever you want.”
Tina thought about this as she finished her breakfast.
“So what are you going to do today?”
“Open with Dad.”
“No! Nuh uh! You, young lady, are going to go have fun! It’s summer. Go to the beach, see your friends, have fun!”
“Nope! No butts! Today you are free as a bird! Now go! Leave the nest my little hatching. Fly free!”
Tina knew better than to argue so she went to her room, grabbed a fresh journal, and headed out...to the restaurant downstairs.
“Hi Dad,” she called when she entered, her voice mingling with the bells tied to the door.
“Tina...hey...uh, your mom said-”
“Yeah, she told me.”
“Soooo why are you-”
“You need me here.”
“Dad, Gene and Louise won’t be up for another hour at least. I figure I can help you till then.”
Bob smiled at his eldest. “Thanks kiddo. Mind slicing up some veggies? I’m doing ‘I can’t believe it’s not a burger’ burger.”
“A veggie burger? Bold move.”
He chuckled. “Yeah, but you know me. I love breaking the rules of the burger business.”
They worked together for a little over an hour before anyone else entered the shop. By then Tina had taken care of the vegetables, wiped down the counters, and spot checked the bathroom.
“I’ve got it sweetie. Go have fun.”
In a surprise move, Bob gave her $10 from his wallet. “It’s not much but-”
“It’s great. Thanks Dad,” she grinned. “See you tonight!”
“Be good! Don’t get in trouble...and don’t eat at Jimmy Pesto’s!” he called as the door swung shut.
Tina wanted to cheer. She had some cash in her pocket and a beautiful summer day to do nothing if that’s what she wanted. Her first thought was the beach. This time of day it would be practically empty, so she dashed upstairs to pack what she needed for a nice day by the sea. Before she could blink she was coasting down the street on her bike, wind whipping her hair.
“I should write about this,” she thought. “The smell of the ocean, the crashing of the waves…”
She brought her bike to a stop next to the rack to lock it up. There were already three bikes there, and she recognized them all.
“...the breaking of my heart…”
She secured her bike, grabbed her bag, and headed to the beach. Tina already knew what she was going to see, so it didn’t hurt...that’s a lie. It hurt, but she didn’t do more than let out a soft grunt of annoyance. Near the waterline were three shapes. Two were laughing and playing in the waves, the third swimming on its own. Tina put her bag next to the three towels that were laid out and approached.
“Good morning Jimmy Jr...Zeke... Rebecca …”
“Oh, hey Tina.”
Jimmy’s greeting was half-hearted at best because his attention was on Rebecca. She’d transferred in six months ago and immediately stolen Jimmy Jr’s heart. She was a trained ballet dancer, with especially long legs and equally long eyelashes. She could charm anyone with a wink and a smile, and often did so. Tina couldn’t recall a single time she’d paid for her own meals or games on the boardwalk. If the vendor wasn’t giving in to her wiles, all it took was a flip of her soft chestnut hair to make the boys cough up their allowance.
“Dumb pretty hair,” Tina mumbled.
Rebecca’s looks didn’t bother Tina in the least. She knew that she had it going on, but Jimmy Jr. was too busy making goo-goo eyes at the new girl to give Tina any attention. It didn’t help that Rebecca was constantly showing off her ballet skills, something that drew her crush like a moth to a flame. Rebecca, in turn, adored the attention and having someone to dance with who wasn’t ‘untrained trash like the other guys’. It wasn’t fair.
Zeke’s voice broke into her thoughts as he lumbered through the water to grab her and swing her around in a crushing hug, acting like he hadn’t just seen her two days before.
“Glad you could join us! I didn’t know you had the day off,” he said excitedly, glad that he wasn’t alone with the love birds anymore.
“I didn’t, not till this morning. If someone had told me you’d be here though, I would have come no matter what.”
She looked pointedly at Jimmy Jr, but he was frolicking with Rebecca. Tina sighed, tired of begging for attention that would never come.
“I don’t think I feel like swimming anymore. See you guys later.”
“Ok, bye,” Jimmy said, not really paying attention.
Zeke looked between Tina’s crestfallen face and Jimmy’s distracted one. He rolled his eyes. His best friend was a complete idiot.
“Hey! Wait up T-Bird!”
He gathered up his stuff quickly, barely earning a question from Jimmy Jr or Rebecca. Zeke raced up the beach to catch up with Tina, giving her a big smile when she turned to look at him in puzzlement.
“I hear it’s going to be a scorcher today. Maybe being on the beach ain’t such a ‘hot’ idea.”
He laughed at his own pun, but stopped when he saw Tina wasn’t joining in. An awkward silence fell as they walked back to their bikes. He rubbed the back of his neck and tried to think of something to reassure her.
“He’s an ass. I don’t know why I want to be with him!” she huffed, kicking the tire of her bike.
“There’s others out there...better guys…”
“I guess...I just...I wish…” Zeke watched her look back at the ocean in longing. “I just wanted one perfect summer before we all disappear into the world, you know?”
“I know it’s cliche but I should have that, shouldn’t I? How can I write about love and romance and butts if I haven’t had those things?”
“Uh, I can’t comment about the butts, but I agree with the rest.”
“Why can’t Jimmy Jr. look at me like he looks at her ?”
“What’s so great about J-Ju that makes you ladies treat him like he’s catnip?”
“Ugh, you wouldn’t understand Zeke.”
“Maybe? He’s got some mean dance moves, and he can wiggle his hips like Elvis. Ladies love a man who can dance. He’s creative too!”
Tina gave Zeke a surprised look. Maybe he did understand…
“But...he’s also selfish and egotistical. Sometimes he’s not a good friend. Maybe that’s not the kind of guy you should want to be with?”
She rolled her eyes. “So who should I be with?”
“Me.” Zeke immediately backpedaled when Tina didn’t respond. “I mean that you could date me to get back at J-Ju! He’d see how great of a girlfriend you are. I bet he’d drop Rebecca in a heartbeat!”
She thought about it as she unlocked her bike. “You think that would work?”
“Sure! He gets jealous pretty easily.”
“...but why would you help me?” she asked, clearly confused.
“Rebecca is stuck up. All she does is talk about her dancing and how great her old life was. Every time I try to wrestle Jimmy Jr. she gets all huffy! You’re way more fun than her girl!”
Tina blushed a little. It was probably one of the nicest things he’d said to her. “Thanks Zeke. Um...yeah, I think I’d like to try your idea.”
He looked way more excited about it than she thought he should be.
“Great! How about I pick you up at your place at 6?”
“Wear something comfortable! And sneakers!” he said eagerly as he hopped on his bike. “See you tonight T-Bird!”
She watched him pedal away, wondering how on earth he’d planned a fake date so quickly.
“Maybe he goes on a lot of fake dates,” she mused to herself. For a moment she thought about calling him back and cancelling the plan, but then Rebecca’s laugh caught her attention. Her eyes narrowed.
“Nevermind. Fake date is a go.”