She is 15. It is summer; school’s out. At dawn, she sneaks out and meets her friend. They stick their thumbs up and hitch a ride in a sheep truck, where the warmth of dirty wool tickles their skin. Near the edge of the sleeping town, they run to catch the slow train up the coast, jumping off an hour later, near their favorite beach.
Now, she walks in long, sure strides along the crowded shoreline. The sun is August-hot. She wears a large T-shirt, out of modesty, over her one-piece bathing suit. The foam is cool underfoot. The girl whispers secrets to her friend. The Atlantic is all shades of blue, whipping back and forth, back and forth.
A young man bumps into them.
“Hey!” he says. “My friends told me to give you something.”
He grabs the girl’s breasts with both hands, roughly.
A row of guys sits a few feet away, laughing.
The girl boils.
“Come,” urges her friend, dragging her away.
They sit on towels and sip warm water. The girl’s breasts hurt.
“Forget them, they’re losers,” says her friend.
She is shaking. She stands back up.
The burning beach swallows her feet; she feels heavy as cement. Her heart pounds in her throat and waves roar between her ears, and, for a moment, she is sinking in the sand.
She lifts her face and tastes salt in the corner of her mouth. Behind her swollen eyelids, shut tight, she sees nothing but the redness of fire ants.
She has lived these moments too often before.
She shakes her hair, long and loose, and brushes the sand from her elbows with several swift swipes. She sets her gaze on the broken horizon and takes a step.
She walks down the beach.
She stops in front of the men, the waves crashing behind her — the force of an ocean.
“Hey,” she motions to him. He stands up, grinning. His friends still laugh.
“I have something for you, too.”
He towers before her, two heads taller.
A smirk in his eyes.
Unexpectedly, her friend joins her, slipping her hand into hers.
She is not alone.
The girl raises her right hand and slaps the man hard across the face.
She and her friend run into the ice-cold surf, the girl’s hand sizzling from the sting of his cheek as if she hit a jellyfish.
They leap over the first swell, feet dangling midwave, feet above the ocean floor.
They dive deep below an oncoming crashing crest, into a tangle of algae.
The girl’s heartbeat slows, the water drops like sweat.
She screams into the silence, her friend roars back.
She will not be undone.
Lorraine Allen is a German-American art therapist and freelance writer focusing on parenting and childhood development. She is also the mother of a daughter. Lorraine grew up surrounded by misogyny and oppression, from Egypt to Morocco and Haiti, and is a strong supporter of human rights and gender equality. She is currently working on her first book. She also blogs about cooking at MixPlayEat.com. You can find more about her writing on her website.
Photo: “Santa Monica Shoreline” by Michele Raphael