Missing Sunrise in Charleston

A Midsummer Tale ~ Second Place
Christina Hallis


Sprawled across Tripp’s dirty dorm room floor at 2:15 a.m., we’ve thoroughly broken the rules. Had we left three hours ago, we would be blameless and probably ordering our third round of hash browns at Waffle House while digging around for another quarter to listen to “Raisins in My Toast” on the jukebox. Again. But we didn’t do that, so I’m lying on the cold tile with a Georgia Tech blanket on my lap saying I want to go to the beach. And I’m more surprised than anyone that these words make it past my faulty filter to escape my lips.

“Say I won’t do it,” Tripp drawls, as is his way.

“It’s the middle of the night,” I backpedal, internally amused, as timing is not even the issue. In Boiling Springs, North Carolina, where the springs don’t boil anymore, because some punk undergrad blew them up before we were born, we’re hours from the coast, and I can’t come up with the closest beach anyway. It seems, though, that I’m the only one semi-capable of conjuring logistics.

“Say I won’t do it,” he repeats.

Katie, down from Raleigh for the weekend, and Chris, from down the hall for the night, look like they are wordlessly watching a slow-motion tennis match.

I’m not sure what I plan to say as I open my mouth to speak. Slowly and lowly I mutter it. “You won’t do it.”

Tripp sighs and stands up. Defiantly, and with a hint of a smile, he glares at me.

“Let’s go,” he shrugs, pulling on a sweatshirt. Not remotely sure where we will go or how we will get there, all I know is that I can’t back out. Sneaking out the side stairwell, Katie and I stifle giggles then let them loose on the wet grass. My Nikes are soaked by the time we reach my dorm where the boys will pick us up in five minutes.

The roommate/soccer goalie is not amused when I flip on a desk lamp to search for my Chapstick. “Wanna go to the beach with us?” I ask, rhetorically.

“What the hell? No,” she grumbles emphatically, then, “Who’s us?” When she hears Tripp’s name she rolls her eyes and laughs, condescending even at this ungodly hour. I ignore the implication and tie a turquoise bandana around my greasy hair, looking in the mirror for the first time since what is, officially, yesterday. I decide that it wouldn’t be a terrible thing to reapply a little makeup, and Katie laughs as Tripp impatiently throws rocks at the window.

I’m the one laughing getting into the Italian Stallion, Tripp’s ancient, faded-rust Chevy Celebrity. I don’t think anyone knows why we chose his car.

“Five minutes?” He raises one eyebrow and I slide onto the passenger’s seat, pleased at the assumption that it would be mine. It’s nearly 3 o’clock now. “Think we can make it by sunrise?”

It’s not until we hit Spartanburg, South Carolina on 85 that we realize we haven’t discussed our destination. My first college friend, Tara, is visiting her parents in Charleston over the weekend, and I’ve been there a few times before. I think I can remember the way to the beach.

Chris flirts with Katie and I realize they could be the same person inside very different bodies. I think of the weekend before ninth grade when we camped out in Paul’s backyard farm. I sang “Run Around” with John Popper on the CD player and silently hated Katie for being so typical. She intentionally left her jacket at home so that some unsuspecting boy could lend her his. I was 13 and the passive damsel thing lit a rage that made me feel guilty—I didn’t understand why I hated her. I wanted to believe it was because her act was manipulative, but really I think it was because it worked. Boys always followed Katie around. At 13, I didn’t realize they weren’t the boys I wanted. That revelation didn’t come until years later, after those same boys learned those same skills from Katie and turned them on her. Regardless, I was annoyed. In the middle of the night, when we finally went to bed, Katie conveniently remembered she forgot her sleeping bag. I muttered sarcasm into my pillow as she snuggled up with a high school lacrosse captain and I sweated in my professional grade sleeping bag.

Now, five years later, I’m amused as the staggering southern twang I can never understand makes Katie twitter. Last semester, Chris aimed to win Joy, the junior who drove me home to Maryland for Christmas. Joy and her hair were blunt and no-nonsense, and I wasn’t sure yet if I admired her honesty or if the overtones of cattiness overpowered it. All I know is that I howled as Chris recounted the night he lay with Joy on her bed, talking for hours. He gained confidence through the night, and felt strong when he leaned in to kiss her. She sat straight up and blocked his face with her hand. “No,” was all she said. Embarrassment propelled Chris off the bed and out of the room and they haven’t spoken since. I laugh every time I think about it. But I’m fairly sure that’s not what he and Katie are talking about now.

Back on the front seat, Tripp and I talk about faith and baseball and dreams and marriage and goals. My stomach tingles as I listen to someone else voice thoughts I never say. He mocks my use of the phrase “you guys” and complains that I talk entirely too fast. I mention that in fourth grade, a much shyer version of me earned the name “Turbo Tongue.” We laugh at the more mature implications I hadn’t considered until now. I impatiently attempt to finish his sentences because he talks so much slower than I know he thinks. But I fail because we aren’t there yet.

We settle into periods of silence and listen to Caedmon’s Call and Pearl Jam and 7 Mary 3. My face reddens in the darkness with the line, “If I stay lucky then my tongue will stay tied, and I won’t betray the things that I hide.” I wonder if I’m the only one thinking it and I wonder if he notices I’ve stopped singing.

The sky lightens and we are delirious as we whiz by North Charleston. And, although feigning confidence, I can’t believe I’ve gotten us this far on fuzzy memory alone. Crossing the Cooper River Bridge, we snort and cackle our fatigue and pretend the sky isn’t entirely too grey for a proper sunrise.

We screech up to the sand on Folly Beach and pile out into the wind. It’s so much colder than May is supposed to be down here. We act like this is exactly what we expected. Until Tripp starts giggling. Tripp’s laugh is the most infectious I have ever heard. It almost always ends with a roomful of tears and coughing fits. He’s right, though. It’s early enough to be sunrise and, at 7:09, probably a bit too late, but the sky is a threatening grey. The water is tornado-sky-green and a disgusting brown foam coats the shore and the dock. Katie and I flank Tripp, dripping tears and choking back laughter as Chris tries to stand still enough to take our picture. I squeeze Tripp’s arm tightly, with the excuse that the wind might knock me off the post. He squeezes back, with no excuse. He never has an excuse.

Racing back to the car, we head for McDonald’s and can’t swallow our breakfast for giddiness. Nothing compares to a sleep deprivation-induced hangover. None of us can believe tomorrow is already today and we have to start the last week of this year tomorrow. And we know we can’t drive back yet.

We decide to bum showers off of Tara’s parents, under the guise of surprising her. Crowding around the front door of the house (please, she once begged me, never tell anyone, but it’s modular), we stun Tara who stands speechless in front of us in her nightshirt and retainers. “Mom!” She whines, “I can’t believe you didn’t warn me!” She runs up the stairs, two at a time, while we clutch our stomachs and try to catch our breath. Faith, her overwhelmed pseudo-Southern mother lets us in, and I imagine what my own mother would do under the same circumstances.

“I’m sorry,” she’d say, horrified, “But my house is a mess. There’s no way you’re coming in.” And still drunk with possibility and lack of sleep, I resolve to myself that I would rather be this type of mom. Even if her accent is fake. Katie and I shower and put our rumpled clothes back on and Tara tries her best to act like our coming here was a nice surprise instead of like she’s angry that the weekend went on without her. The monologue in my head continues and I muse that her perception of things is something I don’t think I’ll ever understand.

“You sure no one wants to ride with me?” She winces as she climbs into her ’89 Camry. It has a car alarm, built-in CD player and fuzz buster, but sometimes it doesn’t start. We all act like we don’t hear her and snicker our way back into the Stallion. Because no one wants to break this up. The seating chart doesn’t change and our philosophical ideology from the night before goes from incoherent to slurred to non-existent.

“You sure you’re awake?” Chris worries from the backseat where Katie snoozes on his lap.

“Naw,” Tripp chuckles, “Not really.”

We take a break to switch seats, and I don’t tell anyone my eyes are blurry. I drive the Stallion so fast it shakes while I sing softly and watch Tripp sleep, his arm flung out so his hand brushes my thigh. It’s ridiculous, I think, embarrassed, the little things that seem so exciting when there is nothing to go on. Tara flies ahead of me, and there’s no way I can catch her. The Stallion’s speedometer only goes to 85. Later I’m sure we’ll apologize for nothing.

We stumble slowly out of the car when we get to my dorm, the sky the same color of our sunrise this morning, and I feel like I’ve been gone for several really fast days. Chris and Tripp hug Katie, who will return to Raleigh tonight. Chris waves at me, stepping backwards, and Tripp shrugs and offers an awkward hug. “Thanks for the adventure,” he says softly and winks. I smile at him and wonder if it really is that lucky for my tongue to stay tied.

After Katie leaves my mom calls and asks what I did for the weekend. “You’re not going to like it,” I blurt out. Amused and knowing she’s imagining various atrocities, I preface the story with, “It really could be a lot worse.”

She calls my actions irresponsible, reckless, stupid and dangerous, and finally I respond with, “You know, I didn’t have to tell you.”

The tone on her end changes because I don’t realize yet that my statement is true. But she does. She also knows this conversation will be the last of its kind, as it begins to seem more important to appear responsible than actually to be.

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Christina Hallis is a technical writer and editor by day and strives to be a bit more exciting, in her writing and otherwise, at night. She earned a B.A. in English from Gardner-Webb University and will begin the M.A. in Professional Writing Program at Johns Hopkins University in the fall. This is her first entry to Toasted Cheese. Probably not coincidentally, however, toasted cheese day was her favorite in the cafeteria in elementary school. E-mail: cmhallis[at]hotmail.com.

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