Judy spotted him the minute he walked in. Young and beanpole lanky, he reminded her of a storybook Viking with his long yellow hair and straggly beard. Dressed like a combination hippie and beach town slacker, she felt sure he’d knock over a display or topple the soup cans as he bumbled through the tiny campground store. By the time he came to the counter she had him pegged as one of the endless migrating surfer “college” students who roamed the California coast every summer in search of the best waves, the best parties, the best drugs. He probably had a third-hand van (either rusting or outrageously painted) planted on one of the campsites, pup tent beside it or maybe just a rolled-up mat and sleeping bag.
“How ‘ya doin?” he asked, revealing even white teeth.
She put on her best ‘old country gal’ grin and exaggerated her drawl. “Just fine. How ‘bout you?”
“I’m doing great!” His smile stretched to take up his entire face. “God’s given us this beautiful day—who wouldn’t feel blessed?”
A “born again” surfer “college” student, the most obnoxious of all the gypsy kids who frequented their campground.
She rang up his purchases. Batteries, orange juice, and a package of disposable diapers.
“You have a baby?”
Maybe it was her astonishment, but he blushed the way only young people can, his whole face red, like a lantern suddenly switched on.
“Sara,” he said, “our little girl. She’ll be a year-old tomorrow. We came here to celebrate her birthday.”
This meant he had a female counterpart in tow—a baby between them—and she really didn’t care to hear about it. Judy flipped him his receipt.
He gave her a twenty. “Would you like to come?”
She looked up and met his eyes.
“We’re having the birthday party on the beach tomorrow, about noon. We’re inviting the whole campground. We’re going to sing, dance, and make a joyful noise onto the Lord!”
He must belong to some cult, she thought, speaking all biblical this way. Like an old fashion revival meeting, invite everyone and then preach at them to join too. “So what?” Mama would have said. “Let’s go!”, and then she’d have baked a couple pies and shown up.
Judy almost snickered, almost hooted, “I don’t think so!” But something about the boy’s eyes stopped her. Maybe because they were soft robin’s egg blue, like she’d first seen in Kentucky years ago when she was a little girl who loved to climb trees and peer into nests come the early spring.
She handed him back his change. “You don’t want an old hillbilly like me at your baby’s party.”
Again, that smile.
“Come on. We’re having a barbecue.”
She could just hang a sign “Closed for the Afternoon”. Being raised hard-shell Baptist was like a vaccine again other preaching, anyway. What the Hell.
Okay, Mama, okay.
“Your baby need birthday cakes for her party?” she asked. “I can bring some of those Little Debbie’s.”
Shera Hill grew up in California and has written short stories, poetry, and novels, since she was a child. She recently retired as a library branch manager and has published short fiction and poetry in such journals as the First Literary Review – East, Everyday Fiction, and Ancient Paths Online.
Photo credit: “Open Sign” by Brian Hawkins, Flickr.com (modified by Veronica McDonald).