Honey and the Starfish

Honey got out of her car ignoring the whining and screaming of her daughter. Melina was in one of her moods, the kind of mood that only four-year-olds experience after too much sugar and not enough toys. Honey could still hear her through the glass of the car window, singing her song of sorrow, wanting attention, needing it. Melina’s arms stretched in every direction, for Mom, for her brother, Dylan, for the sky, the ocean, the seatbelt. Melina struggled with her seatbelt and frowned the child-frown she’d grown accustomed to lately. It would be quite the afternoon for Honey.

Dylan kept his nose buried in his Gameboy, unwilling—or unable—to satisfy his sister’s need for help or attention. Melina started to cry. The tears shimmered down her face, her eyes pleading. Honey wished she could just lie on the sand and let the breeze blow by, let the sand erode tiny rocks or shells around her, let the water wash away her cares and thoughts—and fears.

But that was beside the point. Honey was at this empty beach for the kids. Well, she was and she wasn’t. She was here for the star, the star on the rock, placed there what seemed like ages ago when her husband, Brad, left for the other coast to set up their new life in the east.

This day was very much like that day, six months ago: windy and a little cloudy, but still warm enough to wear a tank top and actually enjoy the breeze, not worry about catching cold. Honey looked down at her goosebumps. Maybe she is cold, or maybe just a little nervous, hoping that this time she’ll find the star with company, quickly, and she can go home, back to the warmth of the house, and enjoy some peppermint cocoa with her kids. Brad left her four cans full of that oh-so-wonderful cocoa mix, and it was almost gone already. Already… as if the past six months were just the blink of an eye.

Honey opened the back door and pulled Melina out of her car seat. She hugged Melina close. The crying stopped almost immediately. Ah, a mother’s touch. “Are you going to stop whining and behave for Mommy?”

“Yes Mommy. I’m sorry Mommy.”

“It’s okay, just be a big girl for Mommy and walk with Dylan for a bit, okay? Dylan! Stay close, do you understand me?”

“Yup.” Dylan’s nose remained buried in the Gameboy.

“Yes, not ‘Yup’!” Honey grabbed the device and chucked it in the backseat, slamming the door after it. “Let’s go. Walk by the water.”

“Why are we here again? We come here every week.”

“Dylan, we are not here every week. Would you stop complaining, please?” Honey stepped over the wood curb into the sand, helping Melina down behind her. Nearby, a huge K-9 sat watching them, next to a deserted sand castle. The dog was panting, but licking his chops, staring at them. Melina stood frozen in her tracks.

Honey whispered harshly, as if the dog couldn’t pick up the noise. “Melina, get over here, now!”

Melina’s eyes bubbled in fear. “But Mommy! The doggy!”

“The dog is over there and you are over here. There is nothing to be afraid of, just come over here, please.”

Melina walked, slowly, padding up to her mother. Melina’s eyes never left the dog. The K-9 stretched, no longer interested in the little family. He yawned, enough to swallow the earth. He suddenly trotted towards them, brushing the sand and grass with his paws. He walked right over the sand castle, dusting it away with his large body. Honey glanced at the K-9, and her pace quickened. She ushered Dylan along ahead of her and held Melina’s hand. Melina struggled.

“Mommy, you’re walking too fast.”

“Well if you would look where you are going you could keep up, now come on.”

At that very moment, just when that very phrase left her mouth, K-9 barked, a thunderous roar echoing off the waves at Point-To-Point Beach. Melina screamed, her piercing wails causing the K-9’s ears to peel back at the new threat, until he began to growl. He barked again, and again. He lurched forward, now ten, now seven feet from them. Good God, the end of our lives at the teeth of a K-9? Honey tried to think of her last pet, a 5 pound Chihuahua who used to roam the streets next to her home as a child, a good little doggy that would do nothing but yelp at the site of her, only to jump into her lap and, on occasion, pee on her legs.

Now that was a dog you could love, but still, she had always resisted the kids’ pleas to own a pet.

K-9 was closer, four feet away, growling, drooling, slobber flying about. Honey yelled, screamed out—she didn’t even know what. Melina screamed in terror. The dog made a last lunge, barking its lights out when—

Honey snapped back to reality, walking along the water, Dylan and Melina ahead of her, hopping in the wet sand. Melina’s pants were now dirty; her shoes are goopy with muddy sand. Honey looked back at the dog who, incredibly, was still yawning, eyes falling asleep as it watched her. The dog stood to stretch, his ears perched back. He climbed down the set of rocks behind it, its’ bushy tail the last bit of fur Honey saw disappear into the earth. She wondered, for a moment, what kind of person would let their dog run virtually loose on the beach. But Melina was cowering into her mother’s leg, Dylan down at the water’s edge looking back, wondering why Mommy just won’t keep walking.

“Melina, what is your problem?”

The little girl pointed at a bright purple-clear jellyfish on the sand. Its body pulsed and quivered as the end of the waves brushed underneath and around it. Honey skirted in a semi-circle around the jellyfish.

“What is it, Mommy?”

“It’s a jellyfish, sweetheart.”

“What kind of jelly?”

Dylan, ever the smart-ass, said, “It’s not real jelly. Does it look like jelly?”

Melina started to pout, her face contorted into the pre-cry shivers. Honey picked Melina up and hugged her. Maybe they should just go home. Maybe they’re better off in their house trying to call him. But she promised she would continue to come to the beach until they were reunited.

But what was the point? The starfish, the beautiful orange starfish that was there last time, and the time before that, and on and on, would still be there. It will always be there. That was the promise made by Brad when he first placed it on the under side of those rocks, many months ago. Now that was a day to remember. It had been just the two of them, Honey and Brad, alone for the first time in a very, very long time. Alone together, that is.

It’s the day before he left. Brad is somber, but he still tries to crack a joke every chance he gets. They walk down to the water together and see more seashells than a dog has hair. “She sells she shells–she shells–she sells sea sells–aww, forget it, you know what I’m getting’ at.”

Honey just laughs. “Yeah, and how long did it take you to memorize that one?”

“Years of schooling for this brilliant mind. Can’t let it go to waste, know what I mean?”

“I know that something was lost in all those years. Did you forget how to walk on the beach all of a sudden?”

Brad looks at his feet–his sneakers are sandy and soaked, covered in the muck that sand becomes under water. “Ouch…well, now you owe me a pair of shoes.”

“I don’t owe you jack, Mister.”

“How about a kiss?”

“Why should I?”

“You kiss me, right now, and I call the whole thing even. Shoes and all. I’ll even get my pants a little wet, too.”

“Oh, will you now?”

Honey just smiles. This is the guy. This is my guy. He smiles that smile, he has that look in his eyes. He knows how to present himself just as people see him, and then turn things around. Sure, he was all right with the kids, too, but with time, he would call them his own.

Honey stared. She stared hard at the star shape under the rock, and she wondered She wondered why the star has been there so long, just how many waves had come by and missed it by oh-so-close, how many kids or other animals have walked by and just left it there, not even glancing or wondering how it got there.

She wondered, most of all, where the starfish had gone.

There remained only the shape of a shadow of a star, a shade darker than the rest of the gray rock. Honey wanted to cry, but the kids were around. The kids never see her cry. Honey doesn’t cry, it’s as simple as that. Mommies aren’t supposed to cry. That’s what her own mother used to say when Honey was a child. Honey was always getting hurt, hopping in puddles and slipping in rain, bruises and cuts wandering over her face throughout the summer. She cried every time, and yet when her mother would get hurt, from the car accident that they never mention anymore, from the fall down the stairs that permanently left behind a limp in her leg, Honey’s mother never cried.

“Mothers don’t cry, Honey. You’ll learn that sooner or later.”

“But why not?”

“Honey, after you’ve had a kid of your own, there isn’t anything in this world that will hurt more, or make you happier, than giving birth.”

Honey never thought much of it, and lately, when the thoughts and tears did invade and she cried herself to sleep, she would simply forget the tears by morning and only think of Brad’s face. She trained herself constantly to think of only the good things that memories of Brad had to offer: the smiles, the goofy laughter, and the way he flailed his arms when he tripped. His frown when he was angry and the cute dimple that formed on his forehead when he was thinking of the answer to a question, usually, “When was our first kiss, Brad?”

Honey couldn’t face the fact that he was 3,000 miles away without thinking of how much she missed him, and therefore she didn’t think of that fact until sunset, when they said, “Goodnight, I love you, talk to you in the morning,” for five minutes before one of them finally had the courage to hang up the phone.

Love lasts for miles and miles, and years and years, but it’s the distance that keeps it growing. The glass is half full, that’s the way it is.

Honey grabbed Dylan and Melina. The wind on the shore began to pick up, and clouds were over-casting the day rapidly. “Come on,” she said, trying to hold back the tears.

Dylan looked at the rock, worried. “Mommy, where’s the starfish? The starfish is gone.”

“I know that, Dylan, but we can’t do anything about it right now. It’s going to rain soon. We have to get back to the car.”

“But Mom—“

“Dylan, please don’t argue with me, not right now.” Honey’s eyes, the glistening stars around her pupils, told Dylan that he should listen, just this once, to his mother.

So he listened.

She tried to walk on, but she felt weak in the knees. Not, “Love’s first kiss” weak like their first date. No, this was, “I can’t go on” weak. She put Melina down and Dylan automatically grabbed Melina’s hand. He used a stick in the other hand to help himself walk to the waves, knowing with a child’s instinct that his mother needed this moment to herself.

Melina giggled as the waves grasped at her feet, tickling her ankles. Honey wiped at her eyes. She removed her hair from the ponytail, and wrapped her hair-band around her wrist. What else could she do?

She closed her eyes to remember their first date, so many years ago, just as Dylan turned 4. Brad spent two whole months waiting outside her restaurant every night, only to be rejected by her—every night. Finally, Honey stopped to have a cigarette when she locked her keys out of her car. Normally, she wouldn’t have stopped moving, would have tried to walk to the bus stop and take the bus home. But that night, with the stars the way they were . . . it was so tough to find such a clear night in Bremerton.

She couldn’t resist the offer from Brad to light her cigarette. She knew enough about him, through his visits and through friends, that he wasn’t a bad guy, wouldn’t try to take advantage of her. And it had been so long since someone treated her like a lady. She looked at him as he struggled with the Zippo lighter. Obviously, this was his first time.

“You know how to work that thing there?”

“Totally.” He flicks it, and there’s the flame, stretching only a little above the lighter’s body. He brings it close, but it slips, falls to the ground, the flame sputtering out as the lid closes. “Sorry, let me just . .  .”

He flicks it again, holding it with both hands. Honey is giggling so hard, the cigarette falls from her mouth. “Damn,” she says, still laughing, “that was my last one. What is a girl to do?”

“May be a sign.”

“What, that I should bend over?”

That catches him off guard. He turns serious. “No, I mean, that you should quit. I mean, if you want to bend over, too . . . not that I want you to, that that’s the only thing I want —”

“So you don’t think I’m attractive enough to bend over?”

“What? No, wait, what do you mean?”

“Relax, Romeo, I’m messing with you.”

“I know. I’m not an idiot, just a goofball.”

“At least that’s something I don’t have to tell you twice.”

Honey and the kids moved quickly back up the shore. The K-9, somehow sensing that they would be back right at this moment, whimpered, his head low, pacing back and forth. He appeared to be apologizing, as if ashamed.

Or maybe he knew a secret. Honey felt just like the dog.

She felt as if she was on a leash, and she was just yanked back a thousand yards, about six months. That starfish had meant the world. She glanced at her ankle and tried to look away. But she couldn’t help herself. She bent down to scratch the horrible itch, and stared, hard and long, at the tattoo that wound its way around her ankle: a starfish with “Honey ❤ Brad” wrapped around it, as if wearing a prize ribbon from a beauty pageant.

Honey let a tear fall, and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. She felt drops on the back of her neck, and sat on the sand for a moment, enjoying the first few dashes of rainfall. He heard the dog bark. Her eyes closed. She waited for the cry, the howl of Melina as she would certainly become frightened in the next three seconds.

But there was only laughter. Melina’s laughter, the innocence of the moment enjoyed in every bone, down to the marrow, and every nerve ending, right down to Honey’s toes. She found herself smiling. She had a moment of fear as she opened her eyes to the mammoth dog leaning its head right into Melina’s neck, and realized that there is no blood, there is no screaming. The K-9 began licking her neck.

Honey looked to Dylan, standing next to his sister, mouth slack, looking past the dog to the mound of rocks that was hiding its leash just a few moments before. Honey followed the line of sight from his little blue eyes. Standing at the top of the rocks was a figure, massive but with legs pale and thin, holding up a somewhat larger torso. The man, standing on the rocks, had his military standard issue hair cut, short, against his skull. Honey could see the smile, the glasses, and the goofy dimples at the sides of his mouth. Her breath caught in her throat.

Honey bit her lip as two tears fell, symmetrically, down her suntanned face. She sat back, laughing to herself, crying to herself, and savored the view of Brad jogging down the rocks. All that Honey heard were the waves on the shore, the slight rumble of thunder in the distance—and laughter, children’s laughter, blowing in the cold wind. She watched as Dylan’s eyes lit up at Brad’s hand, and Honey saw the plastic Starfish that was glued to the rocks so many months ago.

Her husband was home—is home—and he is home for who cares how long. He will be in his wife’s arms tonight, and there is no place he would rather be, no other place she could imagine him being.

He pets the K-9. “This is Louie. Louie, this is your new family.”

Louie the K-9 comes to Honey, he sniffs all over her, and Honey just watches. The moment she pets the dog’s neck, Louie’s tongue darts to her face, and his tail wags. She shuts her eyes, fighting back a new set of tears. Brad picks his daughter into his arms, kissing her on the cheek.

“Daddy, there was a jelly-fish on the sand.”

“Jellyfish? Where, sweetpea?”

The sun peeks through the clouds on this moment, lighting up this family gathering. Honey opens her eyes. Brad is still here.

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