A short touch on the shoulder was detected, but not heeded to. It could have been a muscle twitch or some other body anomaly with no accompanied significance. If that were the case, then why should he fall from the serenity that so tenderly engrossed him at the moment? No, it will not be heeded to. It can't. It wouldn't. It-
It happened again. This time, two taps in rapid succession signaling that Mitch's attention was desperately needed. Sorry bud, back to reality.
His eyes opened slowly to let the light in gently, but the sunlight still took the liberty of burning his tender corneas. The energy he saw he could also feel. He was warm, but the early evening made sure he wasn't too hot. The mellowed sun was waning quickly. Soon, it would retreat behind the distant waves and entertain the other side of the earth with its blaze.
"Ba grr nu hu-wang?" A muffled voice gave a source to the shoulder tapping. Annoyed but not appalled, Mitch removed his earphones.
He then turned his head and found the source of disturbance to be a plump, sandy boy squatting on the dune above him. He held his knees tucked closely to his chest and balanced on feet that he had already drilled into the sand. He was an immovable talking boulder.
"What are you doing?" the boulder asked politely.
"What are you watching? Your eyes were closed."
"They used to be open, but then I closed them because I wanted to focus on what I have to do next."
"Focus?" The boulder unraveled and transformed into a small tree stump with two branches. "How do you do that?"
"Your problems aren’t big enough for you to worry about that yet. But, someday, when there’s some kind of obstacle that you have to overcome and you know you need to get your thoughts straight, it will come naturally." Mitch's words were miles above the small boy's head, but it seemed to satiate him nonetheless.
"So you're like a ninja?"
Mitch narrowed his eyes and stared deeply into the boy's astonishment. "Pretty much."
"Okay!" The tree stump had a sudden growth spurt and sprouted two ill-proportioned legs. They uprooted from the sand and ran down the small bank to carry their master on other daring adventures. Mitch shoved his earphones back in.
Watching. What was he watching? He forgot by now, but then again, there was nothing to recall. The watching served as the essential prerequisite to his time of focus, that's true. But it was spread so thinly with significance that nothing was necessarily remembered. At first he began with the usual lazy scan of the environment around him, the start of his fall from reality. His eyes grew unwilling to move, weak almost, as he closed in on a steadfast object to dedicate his gaze to. Then came the tunnel vision. He seemed to no longer be himself, as if no other activity surrounding him any longer affected him. He became an entity, a shadow of the old Mitch that sits back and allows life to go along its merry way before him. Once he started to think about his mission, his eyes closed.
Only the image of the steadfast object was burnt onto the unseen side of his eyelids, but it was fleeting and soon disappeared. Mitch was in the zone.
A voice said, ‘this is going to suck. Maybe you shouldn't do it today. It's really hot and you are going to be sore afterwards, just leave it until tomorrow. You deserve a night off, you have worked hard enough already.’ Mitch has battled with that voice every single day of his life. It had become his familiar enemy, and a formidable one at that. But then came another voice, shorter and sweeter. Shut up and do it. Mitch trusted that voice, and it came with a side of confidence.
"Shut up and do it," Mitch mouthed to himself as his eyes shot open with full purpose. There was no fall from the trance this time, only fuel from a pure source. With the volume cranked up on a pulse-pounding electronic song, he began his trudge through Pacific sands on his two-mile beach loop.
Mitch Kroy was conditioning and shaping up for two-a-days. As the star running back for his high school, he was an athlete. But the three-week summer respite from all-things football had made him soft. Not surprising when a picturesque beach front in Santa Monica, California was his all too available backyard. It was a nice compliment to the small, salty beach house that managed to hold a family of four. Some would call it American squalor, but it was home to Mitch.
It was also something to remind him of his priorities. There was always something to accomplish, some goal for him to surmount.
On this evening, Mitch ran for not only the progression of his physical abilities, but for the comfort of his family. Jay and Mara, his parents, were songbirds. Though they were wonderful at their art, they were not financially blessed. That's just the way the cookie crumbled for their family, and Mitch had long since accepted that. So when he ran for his family, he ran for a scholarship.
It was the summer of 2020, and he was going into his final season. Soon, he would be out in the big mysterious world doing big miraculous things. Very soon indeed, he would begin a new life where money wouldn't be a problem. But time was of the essence, and every second that he put towards preparing for the season would bring him closer to his goals.
Half way through the loop.
The air was thick with ocean spray. The sun flirted with the horizon and threatened Mitch to keep a good pace or he could find himself running without eyes. His lungs burned and his legs grew heavy, but he embraced the sensations. He knew how much he could improve from a few weeks’ work, both mentally and physically.
The pain made him slip from his focus for a bit, so he dug deep to stabilize his morale. His focus took the stage by storm once again and dominated his attitude, even ameliorating his aching body to the slightest degree. His thoughts narrowed and soon it was just a matter of stride, stride, breathe in, stride, stride, breathe out. His rhythm matched the beats of the songs harassing his ears. He continued on, headstrong and driven. He mindlessly concentrated on another steadfast object in the distance that allowed him to maintain the ideal state. Stride, stride, breathe in, stride, stride, breathe out.
Eventually he found his towel and bag, took a pleasant swig from his water bottle and placed his earphones in a side pocket. The water beckoned him and his body heat defeated him, so he soon found himself knee-deep with legs of pudding in the friendliest waters he had ever experienced. He dove in headfirst. The cool waves washed over his shoulders and back, cleansing the sweat from his skin. Mitch surfaced and gulped in a fresh breath, pushing his long, dark bangs back over his head. After wiping his eyes, he put his hands on his head and stared out at the endless blue. Pink and red clouds streaked the sky and the moon whispered her presence. He sunk back under water a final time and skimmed the ruffled ocean floor back to shore.
Mitch needed to ride his long board a mere two blocks to get back to the house. A smoky essence of mesquite wood and cooking meat drifted through the air and caught his attention. Heck yeah, barbeque tonight. He accelerated towards his house, fueled by the aroma.
His father Jay was at the grill on the side of his house.
"Hey big man! How was the run?" he waved Mitch over with his spatula.
"Feels good to be doing something again. What’s cooking?”
“Nothing less than the best chow in South Hondo! Go wash up and get ready for dinner, it'll be done in no time flat." Mitch dropped his board by the air conditioning unit and headed back to the front of the house. He heard ambient chatter radiating from inside the house and saw faint silhouettes of heads conversing through the window curtains. They were drawn. Mara never drew the curtains.
One of the heads must have caught a glimpse of him walking by the house, as a hush fell about the crowd inside and the lights were killed. Mitch stopped for a moment at the front door, attempting to picture what could be happening inside. Robbers? No they wouldn't rob us. Police? No, I sent the taxes in on time. Random family reunion? The bolt was unlocked, so he opened the door cautiously, amazed at the ability of any amount of people to disappear that quickly in such a miniscule space.
All at once, the room exploded with life and shouts of "Happy Birthday", "Surprise!" and "Blah! Mitch!” Our victim staggered backwards a step with his fists up, spooked even though he knew extraneous people were in his house. His mother Mara and little sister Sarah led the procession of hugs and were the first to embrace him. Oh yeah, Mitch thought. I guess it is my birthday.
"Sup guys?" Mitch asked coolly even though he was thoroughly and pleasantly surprised.
"Happy Birthday wittle Mitch!" Mara smothered his cheeks with kisses, recklessly embarrassing him.
Jay rushed in, "Happy Birthday son! We invited some old buds and babes over for dinner and a party!"
"Yeah no kidding," said Mitch with a punch to Jay's shoulder. Mitch immediately searched for any of his friends, but came up empty handed after a moments worth of scanning. One must understand that he and Sarah were the only young guns below the age of 30 in their community of washed up surfers and old sailors. The average age of the fifty closest houses' residents was 37, and that was two years prior to tonight. "You Jay and Mara's boy?" Mitch was constantly asked even at age four. "Can you sing? Play the drums? What are you good for?" Some of the older salty dogs like Mr. Kurbady vetoed the responsibilities of raising children after the Iraqi War. Therefore, babbling toddlers were like a new species altogether. After another moment's inspection, there were officially no close friends of his present.
"Well thank you all for coming, but I really need to take a shower!" Mitch yelled to whoever would lend an ear. He sifted through the small sea of people, shaking hands and returning hugs all the way into the kitchen where he dropped his pack on the counter.
The house was humble and small, but quite homey. It smelled of the ocean on the inside, but Mara kept it bright and fresh with a few original lamps and now colorful party lights throughout. Mitch walked back past the partygoers in the living room to get to his bedroom. He closed the door behind him and plugged his iPod into some speakers. He chose a softer, acoustic song and adjusted the volume accordingly to fit the atmosphere. I guess you can call it a family reunion.
Mitch shed his sandy shirt and threw it to the tiled floor. The moment it struck, a spontaneous explosion erupted just behind him. A single high pitched squeal projected into his ears as the closet doors burst open and a young woman tumbled out. Mitch jumped back onto his bed and made an awkward flailing motion that was the bastard child of a stiff arm and an albatross flapping a broken wing.
The girl that was moments before an immediate threat to Mitch's life turned out to be Kali, his best friend. Kali was choking on her laughter and clutching her stomach from her success. Mitch's adrenaline eventually ran itself off and he hopped down to admit defeat and embrace her in a bear hug.
The two of them were close. Very close. When Mitch entered high school, Kali was the first person to befriend him. By senior year she was the first person he'd lay down his life for. They could tell their secrets to each other and talk about home life. Mitch never thought he would tell anyone the junk he told her, but he found her to be his only concrete outlet other than when he could run off his frustrations on the field. They went to movies and studied together, she went to his football games and he attended her gymnastics competitions. They knew each other more deeply than their own family members.
Mitch had even, a few times, considered taking their friendship to the next tier. A relationship. Her messy chestnut hair and dazzling green eyes above high cheeks and a fit, sun-kissed body has elicited temptations for many years. However, whether something small tipped him off or his gut just told him it was the wrong thing to do each time, the advancement never took place. And so they remained the best of friends- nothing more, nothing less.
"You get the prize tonight," Mitch said as they unlocked from their clasp.
"For what? It's your birthday! You've earned it!" she replied sweetly.
"I don’t really have a choice if it's my birthday or not, do I? I meant for scaring me, you probably should have gotten that on camera."
"Oh! Well who said I didn’t?” she let out a devious snicker. “Now please take a shower, you smell like a Neanderthal," Kali gave him a royal ‘shoo’ with her hand and sent him on his way.
"Straight away Ms. Ham!" Mitch gave Kali that nickname after she won her first gymnastics competitions in San Francisco during their sophomore year. Mitch had to drive her up because her father was boozed out and her mother was working overtime. Kali was an only child, too young to drive, and out of options, except for Mitch. He drove her up in Jay's rusty Volkswagen van and watched her blow the competition out of the water to win gold. Mitch offered her dinner on him, and she chose IHOP, complaining that she hadn’t eaten breakfast that morning because she was so nervous. It wasn't until they ordered that Mitch was completely surprised. Kali ordered a pancake platter with a fruit cup and three sides of breakfast smoked ham. Each side contained four slices of ham, and when she finished her first helping, she asked for Mitch's spare side of smoked ham.
"What?" she innocently asked Mitch whose chin was on the table in astonishment. "Girl needs her protein!” She became Ham from that day forth, and Mitch made sure to prepare a hearty helping of the stuff every time she came over for breakfast.
Mitch closed the bathroom door, shed his swimsuit and clambered into his shower. He turned the heat up until it was nearly uncomfortable. His cramped chamber soon turned into a four-star sauna. Mitch sat down in his tub and let the scalding droplets fall on him. He closed his eyes and found relaxation at last.