Contest Winners Pen Short Stories about Beach Life
Disappear into this piece of fiction that takes place in Rehoboth.
(page 1 of 2)
You have GOT to be kidding me!” Alex stood and slammed her hands down on the desk that separated her from attorney Bob Ross.
Bob’s mouth turned up slightly at the corners and his eyes twinkled.
“YOU helped him do this, didn’t you?! You were part of this!” Alex grabbed her bag from the chair beside her and marched out the door in two strides, slamming it in her wake. It opened a second later when she blew back in.
“Unbelievable! You two…”
At this point, the attorney could contain himself no longer and he began to laugh. Alex grabbed the red envelope from the desk and shook her finger at him before flinging herself back out the door once again.
On the street, she plowed blindly into a tall blond gentleman, knocking a stack of photographs from his hand.
“Oh, God, I’m so sorry!” Alex stooped to help him collect the old black-and-white photos now scattered on the sidewalk.
“If you wanted my number, you just had to ask.”
“What?” She finally looked directly into the piercing blue eyes of her victim, who happened to have a huge smirk on his face at the moment.
“Kidding! Just kidding!” He stood up, put his hands in the air, and stepped back when he saw the scowl on her face.
Alex thought his face looked familiar, but couldn’t place him.
He continued to smile at her, waiting patiently for her to say something.
“I, um, I need to…” Alex handed him the photographs she had collected and walked quickly away.
Can you believe this?” Alex was still angry from the day’s events.
“Alex, stop. Just stop.” Her friend’s voice on the phone was calm and reassuring. “I don’t think you’re really that upset about this; I think what you’re really upset about is the fact that he’s gone.”
“Oh, Keira,” Alex’s voice broke, “I just…I wish…one...more…day.”
“I know, honey, I know.”
A few weeks prior, Alex’s beloved grandfather, Sam Montgomery, had suddenly died. He’d lived in Rehoboth his entire life and while he absolutely loved everything about the little beach town, his true passion was its history. As a child, Alex spent summers with him; then, when her parents were killed during her senior year of college, she decided to come live with the only family she had left. Over the years, he had tried to pass on to her his love of the town’s history, but she rebuffed him at every turn. Being in marketing, her interests ran more toward the latest trends, not the dusty ol’ past. Now he was gone. She gladly would have memorized every last document in the Rehoboth Beach Museum to have him back once again.
Three weeks after Sam’s passing, his good friend and attorney, Bob Ross, had asked her to come to his office in regard to the will. Since Poppa, as she had affectionately called him, had always been upfront about how he would distribute his wealth, the last thing she had expected was the red envelope.
Sam left her the bulk of his estate, just as she had anticipated. The remaining funds were to be given to his favorite cause, the Rehoboth Beach Historical Society. Alex was already financially well-off for someone just 29 years old. Thanks to Sam, the monies she’d received following her parents’ passing had been invested wisely. While not ungrateful for how her grandfather had provided for her in his will, Alex really only wanted one thing. What she truly desired and longed for the most was his home. Their home. Sam Montgomery’s wonderful and charming Rehoboth beach house.
It was the classic Sears bungalow, with a big front porch, sloped roof, dormer windows, and hardwood floors. Just two blocks to the beach, it had been one of the happiest parts of her life for as long as she could remember. But before she could inherit it as her own, she had to solve the puzzle inside the red envelope.
The attorney explained that the envelope contained a clue involving some element of Rehoboth’s history that would lead to another envelope with another clue, and so on. Once she’d followed the trail and solved the riddles, he was authorized to grant her the deed to the house. Not able to engage her in Rehoboth’s history in life, Poppa had found a way to teach it to her from the other side.
Alex rocked slowly in the big swing that hung on the front porch of the beach house. There was a lovely breeze coming from the east. She closed her eyes and felt a tear tiptoe its way down her tan cheek. She missed him so much it felt like her heart would break in two. She opened the screen door and expected him to call out, “There’s my favorite girl! Welcome home!” It was hard to wrap her head around the fact that she would never, ever, hear his voice again.
Alex leapt out of the swing so fast she knocked over her empty wine glass. The tall blond, somewhat familiar-looking man was standing on the stairs that led up to the porch.
“I came to apologize for the other day,” he said, “I’m sorry to hear about your grandfather.”
Alex finally remembered who he was. His name was Michael, and his grandmother had founded the Rehoboth Beach Museum. If she wasn’t mistaken, her grandfather and his grandmother had been an item once upon a time.
“Thank you—it’s been a rough couple weeks,” she said, and then, remembering her manners, she asked, “Would you like a glass of wine?”
“Sounds great.” He eased himself into the rocker while she went inside for another glass.
“Michael, isn’t it?” She handed him a glass of her favorite Malbec and sat back on the swing.
“Yes!” he said with a laugh. “Wasn’t sure you recognized me the other day—then my grandmother told me what had happened.
I felt bad for teasing you, even though you ran me over.”
She smiled for the first time in days.
“Did you know my grandfather?” Alex unconsciously pulled the band from her thick chestnut hair, combing the strands with her fingers.
“I did, actually. Even though I’ve been in DC for the past several years, whenever I visited my grandmother at the museum, I’d run into him. I loved hearing his stories about growing up here; he seemed to know everything about this place.”
You have no idea, Alex thought. She remembered how her Poppa’s face would light up when someone asked about a piece of Rehoboth history. She so wished she had given him more opportunities to do just that.
Michael stood to go. “Thanks for the wine. I’m really sorry about your grandfather.”
“Michael, how well do you know Rehoboth’s history?” Alex’s hazel eyes lasered on him and he quickly sat back down.
“Are you kidding? My grandmother grills me every time she sees me! I tease her about it, but actually I think it’s pretty cool. I love that she wants all the stories she knows to live on and on.”
“How good are you at riddles?”
She told him about the red envelope, and afterwards they’d sat on the porch and talked for hours, chatting like two old friends.
Michael had the easy laugh and quick wit of his grandmother, and he was a terrific listener. For the first time in weeks, she felt some of her grief subside. When at last they said goodnight, they’d agreed to meet the very next day.
A9 a.m. sharp, Michael bounded up the stairs to the porch, just as Alex was coming through the front door. With the red envelope clutched in her hand, she sat down once again, in the middle of the swing. This time Michael didn’t take the rocker, but sat beside her, nudging his hip against hers.
“Scoot over,” he said with a laugh, “I gotta see this.”
The envelope was sealed with a blob of wax. Pressed into the wax was the outline of a starfish. Alex slipped her finger under the flap and managed to open the envelope without disturbing the seal, knowing somehow that she would save it forever.
Inside was a small piece of yellow parchment paper that said:
Starlight, star Bright…will you dance with me tonight?
“What the…” Anger flitted across Alex’s face as she stood up out of the swing.
Michael burst out laughing and followed suit.
“What’s so funny?” she demanded. “This isn’t a clue, it’s a joke.”
“Miss Montgomery, may I have the pleasure of offering you the first history lesson in our new adventure?” Michael turned to face her directly.
“Fine,” she said in a flat voice.
Already, he knew something that she didn’t. Alex was very competitive and wasn’t sure she was ready to eat humble pie this early in the game.
“Star BRIGHT probably refers to William Bright, one of the founders of Rehoboth Beach, and…”
Frustrated, Alex cut him off and said, “But dance? Is this a joke, because I’m not finding it very funny.”
“I’m sorry, but are you…is that…a pout?”
Michael was totally mocking her, and short of stomping her feet like a 5-year-old, she really was in a snit. When he burst out laughing, she turned away before he could see the corners of her mouth turn up. She crossed her arms defiantly.
He came up behind her and gently put his hands on her shoulders. “Alex…are you really upset?”
She turned around and, without thinking, buried her face in his chest. He held her close for a moment, until she stepped back and looked up at him.
“You know…I really, REALLY miss him. And I’m sorry that I didn’t get into his history lessons and I guess I feel really bad about that now, like I disappointed him.”
“Alex. I met the man. Trust me when I say there wasn’t a single conversation we had without your name being mentioned so he could brag about you in some regard.”
That got a smile.
“OK. Fine. Tell me about Mr. Bright.”
“As you know, OK, maybe you don’t, but you will now...” He wagged his finger in her face like a schoolmarm and she laughed.
“When Rev. Robert Todd of the Methodist Episcopal Church of Wilmington visited Ocean Grove, N.J., he was impressed with the peaceful seaside religious community that Methodists had established there. He returned from his visit, determined to do the same on Delaware’s coast. In 1871, he and a group of like-minded Methodists formed the Rehoboth Association, and the following year they purchased 400 acres of land about five miles south of Lewes. In January of 1873, they formed the Rehoboth Beach Camp Meeting Association of the Methodist Episcopal Church.”
“Does Mr. Bright make an appearance anytime soon?” Alex asked sarcastically. She enjoyed giving it right back to Michael.
“I’m sorry, but did we not just establish that your grandpa’s goal was to teach you some history, young lady?”
“Yes.” Alex giggled behind her hand.
“Then in his sacred memory, pray, let me continue, will you?”
“Please, kind sir, please continue.”
“They decided to call their town Rehoboth Beach. They built a sanctuary that would seat about 500 people, and constructed several small cottages, which were referred to as ‘tents.’ There were also two hotels, the Surf and…drumroll please…the Bright House.”
“Mr. Bright, at last!” Alex’s eyes lit up and she clapped her hands together.
“Ahem.” Michael cleared his throat in playful exaggeration.
“Oh! So sorry. Please continue.”
“As I was saying, the Bright House was built by Mr. William Bright, one of the founders and president of the association.”
“But what…” Alex was about to ask where the dancing came in, but Michael immediately put a finger on her mouth and shushed her.
“Mr. Bright was a Wilmington real estate developer who helped the Methodists acquire the land. Despite being located in a religious community, the Bright House allowed card playing and dancing, and while the hotel didn’t actually sell liquor, patrons were encouraged to bring their own. This didn’t sit well with some of the other prominent members of the association. When the members discussed closing his hotel, Mr. Bright (who conveniently was president at the time) managed to steer them away from following through with their wishes.” Michael paused and looked at her expectantly.
“What? Why are you looking at me? What should we do?”
“Well, I’m thinking that the clue is referring to Mr. Bright’s hotel, the Bright House, but I’m not exactly sure where that was.” Michael pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and dialed.
“Gran! We’re on the history trail and we need to know where the Bright House stood!”
He smiled when Alex mouthed, “The history trail?”
“Yes, I know they allowed dancing and that was considered scandalous! OK. Thanks!”
“On Maryland Avenue near the boardwalk!”
Alex took off at a run, and a moment later, she and Michael were racing down Stockley Street. At the boardwalk, Michael stopped abruptly and said, “Wait!” He reached his arm out and grabbed her shoulder.
“Wait? What? Michael—we need to go to Maryland Avenue!”
“She’s in on this. My Gran. Something about the tone of her voice—she’s IN ON THIS! Oh, man, this is too GOOD!”
“What?” Alex looked incredulous while Michael bent over laughing, his hands on his knees. When she thought about it, it did make sense. It didn’t take much imagination at all to think of her Poppa and Michael’s Gran as Rehoboth history co-conspirators.
“C’mon!” Michael had recovered and grabbed her hand as he took off again toward Maryland Avenue. When they got there, he relaxed his hand as if to let go, but Alex held on. It felt … nice.
The Atlantic Sands Hotel now stood at the south corner of Maryland and the boardwalk, and the Boardwalk Plaza was on the north corner. Alex slowly spun around, looking in every direction for a clue of any kind. Then, suddenly, she headed toward the lobby of the Boardwalk Plaza to see if her friend Jim was working the front desk.
“Hey, Alex!” Jim’s familiar face broke into a smile. Like her, he was one of several generations of Rehoboth residents. Her Poppa had been friends with both of Jim’s grandparents. Alex introduced him to Michael and wasn’t surprised to know that they knew “of” each other; Rehoboth was, after all, a small town.
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