a short story for a newspaper contest
Out on Santa Monica Pier by SG Young
I shook my head at her. “The thing about Santa Monica Pier is its location.” I’d been trying to get her to take the drive for a while now.
“You mean . . . in Santa Monica? I think I knew that, thanks.”
If looks could kill I’d have been dead years ago. I’d have been Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. Run over, kicked off cliffs, impaled on picket fences, drowned in wet cement.
She knew we’d have to take the freeway, and she doesn’t like freeway driving. It’d be over an hour on the freeway. ”We’ll throw some things in the car, take a few minutes is all. On the drive you can tell me about senior year, your plans and opportunities and everything.”
She never said yes—it’s just not a word she likes too much. Best you usually get is her head tilt. So the actual drive was about what you’d expect. Didn’t hear anything about senior year. She had the headphones in but her eyes were open,and she even glanced up from her phone a few times.
Found a spot on the street, next to that big green park with the trees, and you could just see that retro arch with the name on it. There were two guys pulled in next, turned out to be French. They’d seen her, and they started chatting her up right away. I walked ahead. Heard her laugh, glanced back. She’d pulled out one earbud but kept the other one in. That’s how I knew she liked them.
They’d driven the whole way, from Chicago. American road trip, baby! They’d hired a Mustang, a convertible, taken turns at the wheel and had all the Rt. 66 stuff to look at. Two thousand miles, and she’s at the end.
They walked her all the way to the end of the boardwalk, where that little aquarium is, and by the time they were leaving it was almost getting dark. I’d been hoping to stand on the pier and at least look at the ocean with her, but it was hard to compete with Marcel, the one who spoke better English.
“Why can’t we do a cool drive like that, instead of just—the lame stuff we always do?”
Because I only get two weekends a month. Instead, I said, “I thought you didn’t like road trips. You hate the freeway.” We were back in the car now.
“You are so lame. I don’t hate road trips. Only boring ones.”
“Why’d the French guys drive all the way to Santa Monica? From Chicago.”
“It’s an adventure, Dad. They planned it for a whole year, did cool stuff along the way . . .” Sometimes she just trails off. “Met a bunch of fun people . . .”
“Like you.” She didn’t want to look at me, but I knew she was listening. “Can I see your selfie?” Sometimes she won’t show me, but this time she held her phone out at arm’s length, and I could actually see it. We were at a light. She’s standing between the two French guys, ocean behind, beaming that smile like the happiest girl in the world. She’d already sent it to Marcel, and he’d answered back, COOL.
“So, Marcel, huh?”
“Uh huh. But they’re not from Paris. They said they’d only been there once. I guess— it’s expensive? They’re from somewhere else. If I was in France I’d go to Paris. Every weekend.”
“How would you get there?”
“Drive. They have cars in France, Dad.”
“But you don’t like freeways. Might have to drive on the freeway.”
“But, Paris!” It was a one-word explanation.
“Right. But you know what? The guys could have gone to Paris. And instead they flew to Chicago and took the freeway to Santa Monica. And I just bet,” now I was trying not to smile because I knew I’d lose her, “I bet right now they’re wishing they could get to Santa Monica every weekend. Meet cool American girls.”
“You are so bogus.” Ear buds in.
Birthday’s coming up again. Screwed that up last year. Fat gift card to a sweet-shop. Just as she went low-carb. With her Mom. If I got her a Paris Metro map her mother’d kill me. “Why—do you—encourage her?”
Frame it up real nice, at that DIY place. For her dorm room.