Excerpt from the Forthcoming Novel “Nightwalkers”
Monmouth City, New Jersey
Steve Fitzgerald was frustrated and regretting that he’d come back to school a week early, until he realized that he had almost missed the girl.
Over the Labor Day weekend Steve had trawled the New Jersey Shore between Union Beach and Point Pleasant, looking for a little action. He’d approached over a dozen promising-looking chicks, but had gotten nowhere. Even the ones boldly wearing two-piece bathing suits on the boardwalk—which meant they were loose and probably up for some action—hadn’t panned out. When he spoke to those girls they either got all stupid-giggly-shy or acted offended, even though they were the ones asking for it by wearing legalized underwear in public.
Now it was Monday evening—the end of the holiday and the beach season—and he’d begun to think his dorm mate Gary Wysocki had been lying about meeting a woman from Delaware on Memorial Day weekend and going all the way with her under the boardwalk in Asbury Park. Wysocki’s bragging about getting laid before summer break had been salt in the wound of Steve’s envy of the jerk. Last year Wysocki had beaten him out for their school’s starting quarterback position.
Steve figured that if Wysocki could get laid once, then he ought to be rolling in chicks. After all, more than one person had told him that he resembled Ricky Nelson, while on a good day Wysocki looked like a college-age version of Barney Fife. But he’d had no luck. He’d come back to school early hoping to have something to brag about to his classmates, and nothing had panned out. With the day and the weekend coming to an end he’d been ready to give up hope.
The setting sun streaked the lower western sky with fire and tossed a blanket of deep amber over the Monmouth City boardwalk. Some beachgoers were leaving, making their way to their cars. Steve decided to give it one more pass, and if he had no luck, call it quits.
Because he was hot, tired and frustrated he walked the boards without hope, looking out of habit but not really seeing. And then realization struck him with a jolt of clarity, the way a previous night’s forgotten dream leaps out of the darkness of the subconscious into the light of memory.
He must have seen the girl standing near the boardwalk rail but not registered it, and kept walking another dozen steps. Then something in his awareness lit up, replaying what he had seen but failed to recognize. Without looking back he knew exactly where she was. He stopped and turned around, and sure enough, she was standing in the golden gloom at the boardwalk rail, gazing out at the beach.
She looked about college age, no more than in her mid-twenties. She wore her dark hair pulled back into a braded ponytail that fell in a thick rope to the small of her back. A sleeveless white blouse and tangerine Bermuda shorts showed off her lean figure and long, shapely legs. Though large, dark sunglasses masked a third of her face, Steve could tell she was pretty.
She stood with her hands clasped behind her back like a soldier at parade rest, or, he thought, like royalty surveying her subjects down on the sand. Steve’s defeated hope struggled to its feet and dusted itself off.
Standing stock still in the middle of the boardwalk, Steve was only peripherally aware of the curious and irritated glances he received from several of the moving throng as they had to weave their way around him. His attention was on the girl, and he only moved to lean to and fro to keep her in view through the passing swarm of humanity.
Someone roughly bumped Steve’s shoulder from behind as they passed: a guy with his wife, each holding the hand of a little boy who toddled between them. The guy glowered back over his shoulder at Steve and said, “Hey buddy, this ain’t a parking lot. Move to one side.”
For the duration of the flick of an eye Steve’s attention was pulled from the pretty girl to the irritated father. When he looked back, the girl was looking in his direction. Her dark sunglasses hid her eyes, but he thought she was looking right at him.
With his hope refreshed, Steve smiled at her and tilted his head in question: Are you looking at me?
She didn’t smile back. Her expression was blank, unreadable, as impassive as a mannequin, and yet Steve had a feeling that she welcomed his attention. Though her face was vacant and she made no gesture he sensed her invitation, pulling at him. But that couldn’t be right. How could he know that? He thought the pull he felt must be his wishful thinking.
Then she must have turned her head ever so slightly, because the lenses of her sunglasses caught the radiance of the dying sun and glimmered with such brilliance that he had to squint. And he was no longer standing still. Steve found himself shouldering his way through the mob of beachgoers, making his way to her even though he had not yet decided that he would or should, as if his legs had made the decision before his brain. As he moved to the girl he tried to remember one of the witty and charming salutations from his arsenal of come-on lines, but his head felt fuzzy and unfocused, and he couldn’t recall a single one.
He needed to slow down. He’d moved too fast, and if he approached her with nothing to say he’d look like an idiot and blow his chances. He was already halfway to her. He decided he would angle to the boardwalk rail a few yards from her as if that had been his destination, cook up a line, and then approach her. But he didn’t, because something strange happened.
For a crazy instant as Steve looked at the pretty girl he saw what he felt certain had to be a trick of the day’s fading light. It seemed that the gleam on her sunglasses wasn’t a reflection of the sun, but star points of radiance that originated behind and shone through her dark lenses. As his rational mind told him that what he thought he saw could not be, the chill breath of apprehension prickled the skin on the back of his neck. However, before he could further consider what he was seeing, the girl turned her gaze back to the beach. Immediately Steve thought that he must have been mistaken, that what he thought he’d seen was no more than a sunset-created illusion. But he didn’t go to the rail some distance from her. He went directly to her, and as he reached her side his unease was erased and forgotten.
Because she was so pretty.
By way of greeting and because he still couldn’t recall any of his standard lines he said, “It’s a nice day, huh?”
“A beautiful evening,” she replied.
From a distance she had seemed ebony-haired and milky-complexioned. But up close Steve saw that her hair was the deep, rich brown of tree bark and that her skin had a translucent cast—as if made of glass—with a rosy undertone. It reminded him of the ceramic ballerina on his grandmother’s mantel, except that this girl’s skin looked pillow soft.
He said, “I’ve never seen you here before. There’s no way on God’s green earth I would have forgotten you.”
As soon as the words left his mouth Steve felt certain that he’d come on too strong. But rather than give him a kiss-off response she replied, “Why would you not forget me?”
She spoke with some kind of foreign accent. Maybe this would be easier than he’d hoped. Foreign chicks were supposed to be less inhibited than American girls. At least that’s what his friends said. “Well, because you’re so pretty.”
Her smile was a cautious one, just an upturn of the corners of a mouth, but for Steve it was a flower bursting into full bloom to expose its true, hidden beauty. Just like that, this girl, who a minute earlier he hadn’t known existed replaced Sandra Dee as his ideal. He liked the innocent type. And this girl wasn’t on some movie screen on in a photograph in a magazine. She was real and standing next to him on the boardwalk.
“That is very kind of you to say,” she said. “What is your name?”
Maybe her accent was Spanish. Whatever it was, it sure sounded sexy.
“I’m Steve. I’m down here for school—college. Classes start next week.”
“It is nice to make your acquaintance, Steve. If you are here for school, where is your home?”
“I’m from Massachusetts, like the president.”
“Ah, your Mr. Kennedy.”
Her engaging him in conversation encouraged Steve. He leaned on the upper rail, edging closer to her. “So where are you from? You don’t sound American.”
The pretty girl looked back toward the beach. “Spain.”
“You’re here on vacation?”
“I am visiting friends.”
Steve straightened up and looked around. “Oh, they’re here?”
“No, I came alone. I love the sea. It is always beautiful, and so romantic.”
Steve considered saying, “Not as beautiful as you” but figured that might be pushing his luck. He’d already told this chick she looked good. If he said it again he might come off sounding like what his girlfriend Holly called a horny toad. Holly liked to call him that while she was giving him a hand job, teasing him, like, “Do you want me to stop, you little horny toad?” That really got on his nerves. He had a nickname for Holly, too: Hand Job Holly, though he never spoke it out loud. Holly had moon-eyed dreams that they’d get married after college, but it wasn’t going to happen. Who wanted to marry a girl who gave hand jobs?
He planned to dump Holly before she got too carried away with the marriage thing, as soon as he could find another girl who was okay giving hand jobs, or hopefully more. Maybe this girl would be the one. Weren’t foreign girls supposed to be less hung up about sex?
“So, I didn’t get your name,” Steve said.
“I am Linares.”
“It is an old family name—a tribute to my ancestors.”
“My last name’s Fitzgerald. Obviously Irish, right? Me and the president.”
A couple of hours earlier, as the tide had begun to push at the edge of the beach and the undertow became dangerous, lifeguards had whistled the swimmers in. Now, as twilight gave way to night and sun-blazed clouds darkened to bruised purples and blues, the last of the beachgoers—shadowy apparitions on silvered sand—gathered up their blankets, lawn chairs and umbrellas and trudged like a procession of ghosts to the boardwalk steps.
Standing next to Steve, the girl pushed her sunglasses up on the crown of her head, and again he felt apprehension crawling along the base of his neck. But when she looked at him he saw no odd silvery glimmer, but translucent pools of brown framed by thick black lashes. Even in the low light Steve could see the deep depths of maturity in her gaze, an awareness that meant that she probably wouldn’t be as easy to seduce as he had hoped.
“By your name you are not so obviously Irish,” she said. “Your people originated in…” Though the summer evening weather was in the eighties and humid, the pretty girl shivered, and her arms dotted with gooseflesh. “…in Normandy.”
“Catch a chill?” Steve asked, and in spite of the heat wished that he had a jacket to drape over her shoulders so he could play the knight in shining armor. Whatever might work to impress this gorgeous babe.
“My apologizes, Steve. I have not eaten in a while,” she said. “I am a little weak.”
“No need to apologize. Let’s get you something. There’s tons of stuff to choose from on the piers so come on; let’s go while they’re still open. It’s my treat.”
Encouraged that he could play the hero after all, Steve led the pretty girl to the south pier, which was conveniently near where he’d parked his Triumph Spitfire. In spite of the weekend’s frustrations, it looked like things were starting to work in his favor. He might get laid after all.
Linares allowed the boy named Steve to guide her down the boardwalk to the south pier.
“Have you ever been to Italy?” he asked as they walked.
Though unnoticeable by human ears, the timbre of the boy’s voice had changed, had become richly colored with masculine desire. His passion quickened his powerful heartbeat, and his sexual hunger brightened the essence of life within his blood like a bellows blast making embers glow red hot.
So much life, Linares thought. “Yes, I have traveled to Italy often, and lived there for a time” she said.
“Then I guess Jersey’s Italian food won’t impress you. So I say we go American, grab some burgers and fries and shakes.”
“You’ve never heard of milkshakes? Boy, you’re in for a treat. There’s this place on the roller coaster pier—the Atlantic Grill. They make great burgers, and shakes so thick you might need a spoon instead of a straw. Come on; it’s down here.”
The boy reached to take her hand. She allowed him the contact, and let him guide her onto the pier.
She was so hungry.