Under the indigo sky, punched like tinware with the light of a million stars peeking through, the shrimp boats line up on the horizon, out past the sand bar; the lights on their small masts twinkling against the water appearing like a string of café lights hanging in the distance. John has labored over the fire in the fire pit, up on the top of the ridge where the grass ends and the sand begins. The smoke refuses to float out toward the sea, insisting instead on coming back to the crowd of friends clustered under the porch; Kirt lying on the lawn couch, paperback in hand, his leg hanging casually over Linda’s golden brown knee. Children run across the sand, across the cropped green token of grass, across tiled floors, their arms and ankles bejeweled with glow stick bracelets and necklaces Sue Ann had spread across the dining table when dinner was done. The kids scampered to the table like crabs on the shore, scurrying and grabbing and twisting the plastic bands, releasing neon yellow, violet , pink, chrystalline, and chartreuse strips that bounced across the dark night as we watched them run off, giggling, shouting rules for night games as they ran, their energetic voices trailing off, buried under the throbbing pulse of the waves and the chatter of friendships old and new. The Smiths have taken the baby home to bed. We paused and wished them well from our various places. Christian sits on a lounge chair out by the fire, his face glowing in the reflected light of his iPod. Neal has just finished telling us about his risky encounter with that man who stole Sue Ann’s iPhone last year. We take turns looking over the ID card Neal convinced the man to give him in the store.
Ash stands at the kitchen sink washing off his grilling tools, a granite countertop between us, telling us he’s a blend of Fijian, Irish, Welsh and something else. He tugs at his shirt to prove he burns like the rest of us, even though he was raised on a hot tropical Fijian island. Someone walks by with a stack of plates, the residue of barbeque and fresh fruit falling into the trash bin, forks clanking in the sink. Annie, sore and swollen from her sun rash and weary with her pregnancy, decides to head back to the beach house two doors away. We kiss her cheek and tell her we’ll soon follow.
Out by the ridge we stab long sticks with soft white marshmallows, poking them into the radiant glow of the logs winking in the fire pit, exclaiming when they accidentally hit the wood and burst into flame, lifting them to our faces and blowing in a fervent attempt to save what we can. We take our charred sweets over to the hot tub and lay them atop chocolate bars placed on graham crackers, lay another cracker on top and pull the sticks out like swords out of the mouths of circus fire eaters.
Our bellies full; the flames reduced to embers; we shift to the porch, sliding our chairs into the circle. I listen to the music of conversation. Someone picks up a guitar and the soft gulf breeze carries the notes in and out of our conversations, the sweet soft music like the breath of a newborn against our necks. The sound invites us unconsciously to find a place to be still, to rest a minute, to slow the pace of the evening winding down. The descending tide down on the beach lulls the tired ones to settle in, the stinging of the day’s sunshine on their cheeks coming gradually to their consciousness, the cool night air against sun tinged skin causing goose bumps to rise on their arms and legs. Little Anna crawls into my lap and asks for a blanket. Timothy leans his weepy head over on his mama’s soft legs, overcome with the impending sadness that always comes when he realizes his cousins have to go home tomorrow.
We convince John to sing us his car song. Little Ruby walks around shouting Hi to everyone as her daddy sings, finally crying that she needs her blankie. We all search the piles of beach towels and blankets strewn over the place. Finally we spy a corner of it on the Bailey couch. McKay shifts his weight, stands up from his spot smashed between his mom and his little sister, and produces not only her blankie but Ellie, her ragged old beloved pink stuffed elephant. Mama Ashley thanks him for keeping them warm! The Robinsons come through the screen door, carrying their empty plates from the potluck dinner. We call out to them, wishing them a good night, thanking Ash for grilling all that shrimp and chicken and hamburger. Maddi, tired out from night games, finds Sue Ann’s lap. We examine her toe, relieved to see her scrape healing over. Ruby’s mommy and daddy gather their children and thank the Harris’ for a great evening. Dave lifts Anna from my lap and does the same. We hug and kiss and whisper good nights to our friends. Sophie takes my hand and we walk through the starry night across the short cool grass, over the slate porches, carefully through the sandy spots, unsuccessfully attempting to keep the sand out of our sandals. Finally we come to the porch at our own home-for-a-week. The kids shake their sandy hair on the porch, take off their clothes and get into their jammies. Parker is so tired he cannot reason, sobbing that he simply cannot leave tomorrow, he really, really needs to stay two more days. He collapses on the couch in his parent’s bedroom. Even Ruby’s insistent cries will not stir him. I sink into the soft fabric couch and three little ones curl into me. We read two books. By the second one Bella has slid from my lap and bunched her legs under her belly, face down on the floor, sound asleep. Her daddy carries her to her bunk bed. My daughter and my son retrieve their oldest children from beside me, leaving me exposed and chilled in the cool night air. We whisper good nights. I move to the computer. Find a word.
All is still, the only motion is my fingers tripping across the keys of this computer, the light of the screen casting an eerie glow in this dark room; the only sound the rhythm of the fountain outside the front door, the clicking of the ceiling fans as they rotate above me, and the gentle, pulsing lapping of the ocean under an indigo sky.