Sydney and I wrestled in my bedroom until I giggled so hard my insides ached and his barking made me deaf.
I crossed my arms on my chest and said, “Freeze!”
He stopped in motion, panting. His head tilted, eyes glued on mine, while he waited for the next command. I always made sure Sydney got to be a regular puppy. Even when he became someone’s service dog, he’d still have playtime.
Momma’s voice boomed through the door, “Trina, are you packed?”
“Sort of.” I gave Sydney the release word, “Okay,” and he pounced at me. I threw my arms around his neck, buried my face in his freshly shampooed, red, brown, and white-freckled fur, and breathed in his clean vanilla scent. His trainer’s words echoed in my mind, “Trina, you’ve done a terrific job with your first dog. He’s ready to return to my kennel for his final months of training.”
My stomach did cartwheels. I sucked in a breath and fought to hold down my breakfast. This week at the beach would be my last with Sydney.
Using the bottom hem of my pajama top, I wiped the wetness from my eyes before I retrieved my duffel bag. While separating last year’s summer clothes into two heaps, my dirty pile grew larger than the clean, minus one sock. “Syd, where’s my sock?”
He darted back into the closet. Strutting out, his little stub of a tail wiggled as he dropped the soggy sock on my lap.
“You’re so smart, Mr. Sydney.” Everything he did was a game.
Staring at my small stack of clean clothes, I shrugged, twisted a wild curl that didn’t want to be included in my pony tail, and looked into his golden eyes. “You won’t care if I wear some of these a few times, will you?” His tail jiggled.
I dressed in my regular jean shorts and concert T-shirt with the words PINK & PURPLE swirled across my chest. The front of my T was purple and the back pink. My best friend Sarah’s was just the opposite. We always wore these matching tops on special outings. Three years ago our parents had attended the band’s concert and surprised us with the shirts as souvenirs. As ten-year-olds, we wore them as long tees with leggings. This year Sarah had grown so much, hers fit like a t-shirt should. Mine stayed a longer T. But we still matched.
Minutes later, I rolled the bag into the garage.
Sydney’s floppy ears drooped. During his year with me, he’d learned that the duffel bag meant a trip somewhere and he wasn’t always invited. “Surprise, Sydney. You get to go!” His mouth stretched over his teeth like a grin as he spun in circles. Skidding into his learned Sit, he waited for the next command as I opened the car door.
His eyes locked with mine. Pointing at his face, I counted one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three in my head, and then said, “Okay!” He leaped to the backseat. I climbed in and he nuzzled his forehead with mine. This summer we’d explore a dog-friendly beach, and I’d make Sydney an expert water dog.
Our parents spent every weekend together, but Sarah and I hadn’t hung out since soccer season started months ago. Every time her team won, they moved on to the next level, eventually winning the championship. I had stayed busy training Sydney in public places, working at the barn, riding, and missing Sarah’s company while feeding the horses apples at night.
Dad drove Momma and me down the street to Sarah’s to caravan. As we went up her driveway, there she stood dribbling her soccer ball and wearing a baby-blue tank top layered over a green one with lace at the bottom. They matched the blue and green sea shells along the cuffs of her white shorts. I gasped, and my eyes widened.
She must have outgrown her PINK & PURPLE shirt entirely.
Sarah looked bizarre kicking a soccer ball in such a fancy outfit. Darby, her black and white Springer spaniel, chased the ball, barked, and wagged her stub of a tail. Sydney and I wedged our heads out the window. “Wow. You’re all dressed up? Where are your soccer clothes?”
“Gone.” She tittered, fluttered her eyelashes and twirled, flinging her blond French-braid. “Mom took me shopping.”
Her eyes matched her top, but I kept that to myself. No reason to add to her new coolness. Going to the beach had never required worrying about clothes or my red hair. But today, no way could I let on that my bathing suit was under my T and shorts. Somehow, I just knew hers wasn’t under those new fancy clothes like every other summer, and changed the subject. “So are you and Darby riding with us?”
“I will. Darby can go with my parents.” She climbed in with her backpack. “Hi, Mr. and Mrs. Ryan.”
“Hi, Sarah.” Momma turned around. “You look very pretty.”
Sydney wiggled onto Sarah’s lap, but she gently pushed him off. Bending her head, she said, “Thanks, Mrs. R.” and plucked dog hairs from her clothes.
With the air conditioner gusting and the radio blaring, Dad backed down the driveway. “Let’s hit the road.”
“Yay! We’re off to the beach, Syd.” Excitement spiked through my arms and legs like electric currents. His front legs stretched across my lap, putting weight on my thighs. I chuckled. “Look at you. Already sensing I need your calming techniques. That’a boy.” I stroked his back and twisted towards Sarah. “Remember last year? How we buried each other in the sand. That was so much fun.”
Sarah looked straight ahead. “Well, not this year. I just want to lie on the sand and work on my tan.”
“Really? That’ll get boring, quickly.”
Sarah stared out her window. I used both hands and scratched behind Syd’s ears, waiting for her response. Nothing. “Sarah, we need to learn to surf? Or boogie board? Even ride a wave runner?” My eyes pleaded with the back of her head.
Slowly she turned to me with a questioning scowl on her face. I swallowed. Had she changed this much?
Her head moved side to side. “Hmm... First, I’ll have to see how cold the water is, or how many jellyfish I see on shore.”
“But you know I can’t go to the beach without swimming.” When Sydney lifted his chin, I rubbed his neck. “The realtor said this house was kind of old, but right on the beach.”
“Oooo! Being on the beach will make it easier to stroll up and down.” Sarah’s eyebrows rose and gave me a sideways smirk. “And meet guys.”
I stared at her as if she spoke a foreign language. “Do WHAT?” Before blurting out something else crazy, I caught my breath and remembered back to the last day of school, only four days ago. Sarah and her class friend, Clayton, had huddled in a corner, talking, and passing pieces of paper. I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised. “But Sarah, this week is supposed to be about you and me, and our dogs.”
“Oh. Trina.” She gave me a bright, cheery smile. “It’ll be the perfect place to meet guys. No one will know us there. So it won’t matter if we goof up and say the wrong things.”
I scrunched my nose. Yuck. What a waste of time.
Sarah unzipped her pink backpack and pulled out a new pink cell phone. “Look. Here’s my present for staying on the honor roll?”
“Wow. Let me see. I still have Mom’s old phone. Why didn’t you text me?”
“You’re always busy with Sydney so I waited till today. Now you can see all my awesome apps.”
It had never mattered that my phone was for emergencies while at the barn and an occasional text to Sarah. But I leaned closer and whispered, “It’s almost my birthday. Maybe I’ll get one that does all that fancy stuff.”
I tapped Momma’s shoulder. “Look what Sarah got.”
Momma laid her book on the seat and turned around. “That’s very nice, Sarah.”
“Thanks Mrs. Ryan. It helps when I look stuff up for school and has a
GPS. Now Mom knows wherever I am.” Then she
snickered. “That part’s a bummer!”
Momma eyed Sarah and gave me an apologetic smile. “One day, Trina,” and returned to her book.
Sarah handed me her phone over Syd’s head. It chimed, so she jerked it back. “Just a minute.” She leaned over, started texting, and giggled.
Hmm. She can ignore me all she wants. I reached into my purple book bag, pulled out my book, Socializing Your Australian Shepherd and pretended to read. My eyes darted back and forth, hoping Sarah would talk with me.
Sydney moved between us and slept on the seat.
When Sarah set her phone on her lap, I asked, “Who was that?”
She exhaled, tilting her head towards her left shoulder, blinking her eyes, and drawing out the word, “C-L-A-Y-T-O-N,” and then her phone chimed again.
This time I bit my lip and twisted the same straggly curl around and around.
The realization hit the pit of my stomach. Sarah was different.