Robert Moses' Jones Beach water tower and the Wantagh Parkway, Long Island, NY
My novels The Paranoia Club and Suburban Outlaws are Hitchcockian thrillers with strong comedic undercurrents, but the short stories I'm running here periodically will be little slices of life that my fictional characters experienced before their harrowing adventures in my books! Walk on the Ocean showcases The Paranoia Club's Sean Wilder, Claire Dennerlaine, and their families. Both constructive criticism and lavish praise are welcome. J Enjoy!
Sean Wilder checked his watch for the third time since he’d sat down to wait for his girlfriend, Claire Dennerlaine. Ed, Claire’s dad, had had to take a phone call in his study while Claire got dressed in her nearby bedroom, so Sean had the Dennerlaine living room to himself. He realized he could hear what Claire and her mother Marcella were saying as long as he kept quiet and paid close attention.
The Dennerlaine Girls’ conversation came in loud and clear. Clear, anyway. He heard moving around and soft sounds like fabric being either packed or put on, probably Claire trying on her new bathing suit. Soon he heard Marcella’s throaty, cultured tones: “It’s a lovely suit, darling, but isn’t it a little, well, mature for you?”
“Define ‘mature,’ ” he heard Claire say in That Tone. The tone that sounded casual and bantering to the layman, but Sean knew better. Ever since he and Claire had met as kids, that wary tone would always creep into her otherwise sweet voice whenever she sensed that Marcella was about to criticize her.
“It’s the skirt,” Marcella said kindly. Well, her idea of kindly. “It makes the suit look like the kind we wore back when I was modeling in the 1950s, for goodness’ sake.”
“Well, retro looks are hot right now,” Claire said. “Besides, Mother, bathing suits were more like corsets in your day.” As a qualified Claire Expert, Sean heard that subtly defensive undercurrent. Gears shifted as Claire’s voice warmed: “Then again, you’re lucky. You’ve always been able to rock any look with ease.” Good save, Claire, Sean silently applauded her. Her family nickname wasn’t “The Little Diplomat” for nothing.
“Why, thank you, darling,” Marcella cooed. It occurred to Sean that Marcella and Claire accepted compliments differently. Beautiful though she was, Claire always seemed genuinely surprised that anyone would even notice her, let alone be so impressed with her as to pay her a compliment. So Claire’s thank-yous always sounded eager and heartfelt, like she’d been lost in the desert for days and had at long last been offered a swallow of water, while Marcella seemed to have an endless supply of champagne. The tone of Marcella’s thank-yous sounded gracious enough, but Sean couldn’t shake the impression that beneath the graciousness Marcella was thinking, I know I’m the most glorious creature on Earth, you fool. It’s about time you finally acknowledged it. Not for nothing did Sean sarcastically call Marcella “Attila the Honey” in private.
Sean’s thoughts were interrupted by the rest of Marcella’s answer: “But it’s your figure that concerns me, Claire. I mean, if I were young and pretty like you, I’d be wearing those sexy little thongs and such.”
“Mother, you’re the Queen of Fashion. I’m surprised you don’t know skirted tankinis are hot right now.” Sean heard the defensiveness quotient rising. “Anyway, would you rather I showed off my lumpy thighs?” A little sarcasm crept in there, too: “I know how much you love those.”
Now Sean realized what this was really about. Since Claire’s Type I diabetes had been diagnosed two years ago when she was 18, Sean had seen her four-times-a-day injections gradually change her thighs, abdomen, and buttocks from creamy white curves to what she called “living, breathing mounds of cottage cheese.” Lumpy or smooth, as far as Sean was concerned, every inch of Claire was lovely and lovable. Claire wasn’t nearly so accepting, though, especially in summer. She loved beaches, she loved pools, but she hated wearing swimsuits. She could find suits that covered her tummy and tush. However, she had yet to find a suit that covered her thighs which, being her favored injection area, had gotten the worst of it, “cottage cheese”-wise. Now, from what he was hearing, Claire had found a suit that solved the problem, but it wasn’t meeting with Marcella’s approval.
It was times like this that Sean wished Claire would be rebellious, like everyone else their age. More than once, he’d playfully said, “C’mon, Claire, some girls get tattoos, some girls pierce their noses and any other body part they can think of. Drive your mother nuts by wearing a bathing suit she doesn’t like.”
Back at the Summit Meeting, Marcella had a theatrically hurt tone as she said, “Oh, come now. My daughter doesn’t have lumpy thighs.” There was a pause in the chat, and Sean heard that fabric sound again. “Oh, my. I had no idea they’d gotten that bad.”
“Exactly,” Claire said, almost hotly. “So why are you giving me a hard time over the first swimsuit I’ve found that solves the problem while still looking halfway decent?”
Sean groaned internally, rolling his eyes. “Halfway decent?” I bet before Attila the Honey opened her mouth, Claire was crazy for the damn thing. The Marcella Brainwashing has begun, I can tell.
Marcella adopted a theatrically hurt tone. “Now, Claire, don’t make it sound like I’m so terribly mean. I’m only thinking of you. Do you think I want you to feel self-conscious out there in your little skirt while the other pretty young girls cavort around in their little bikinis? And don’t you think Sean would like to be able to admire a pretty figure, too?”
Fuck you, bitch! Don’t use me as your lame excuse. Claire’s perfect. For the umpteenth time since he’d known Marcella, Sean’s hands clenched into fists, wishing he could ram one of them into Marcella’s Toothpaste Ad smile. But seeing Claire on Visiting Day at Riker’s after being tossed in the slammer for assault wasn’t Sean’s idea of a hot date. He was dying to at least barge into Claire’s room and tell off old Attila the Honey, but that wouldn’t exactly get the beach trip off to a good start. Anyway, experience had taught him the hard way that, with Claire’s determination to stay on Marcella’s good side—such as it was—she’d only get more upset with Sean than she’d been at Marcella to begin with. All worked up with nowhere to put it, Sean just glared at Marcella’s Lenox figurines, fantasizing about “accidentally” breaking a few.
Meanwhile, Claire answered Marcella in a tone colder than a skinny-dipper in the Antarctic. “Not to crush your hopes, Mother, but I’m happy to say Sean loves me and my figure as is.” Sean grinned. Yeah! You tell her, Claire!
Before Sean could hear Marcella’s response, Claire’s dad, Ed Dennerlaine, came back into the living room. He raised one graying eyebrow when he saw Sean. “Good grief, are my girls still gabbing? Sorry, Sean.” Ed knocked on the bedroom door. “Claire, Sean’s here, and he’s been waiting a while.”
Claire swung the door open, looking a lot happier than she’d been with Marcella. Especially when Sean swept her into his arms for a nice long kiss, holding it as long as possible, just to make sure Claire realized Marcella was full of shit. Yeah, he knew he ran the risk of giving Marcella something else to get on his case about. Sean could imagine what Marcella would say to Ed after he and Claire left for the beach: “Did you see how he was pawing our daughter? Just disgraceful!” But he knew Ed liked him and would defend him in his wry way. Anyway, Sean was there for Claire, not Attila the Honey, so the hell with the bitch.
Claire, ever the model of decorum, was the one who finally let the kiss end in a big smile. “Hello to you, too.”
Marcella stood composed and perfectly coiffed in Lady of the Manor mode. As Sean’s eyes met Marcella’s, polite smiles broke out like war. “Sorry to keep you waiting, Sean, dear,” she said in the syrupy tone that he always thought just missed sounding sincere.
“It’s okay.” He took Claire’s hand. “Claire’s always worth waiting for.” He turned to smile at her, and that was when the swimsuit caught his eye. Well, not the entire suit; just a blue-green sparkle peeking out from the yellow camp shirt which Claire now wore like a jacket. The thighs that Claire’s tankini was apparently meant to hide was being hidden even better by an almost knee-length pair of blue denim shorts. He had a feeling she’d wear them all day if he didn’t give her an opening: “Is that a new swimsuit under there?”
Claire brightened. “Thanks for noticing.” She began shrugging off her shirt. “Here, I want you to see the whole ensemble and tell me what you think.”
A few lewd witticisms leapt to mind, but Sean kept them to himself in front of Ed and Marcella. As the shirt slipped off and Claire pulled down the fly of her shorts, Marcella rolled her hazel eyes ceiling-ward. “Really, darling, there’s no need to perform a striptease. Sean can see your bathing suit at the beach, like everybody else.”
Thus spake Ed, Doting Dad Extraordinaire. “Now, dear, let Claire have her fun. You got to do your share of modeling when you were her age.”
“At least I got paid for the privilege,” Marcella sniffed.
It was indeed the same one Claire had shown him in that swimsuit catalog she’d gotten a couple of months ago: a turquoise tankini that brought out the blue-green hues in Claire’s hazel eyes.
Come to think of it, that had been when he’d admitted to Claire his deep dark secret about his childhood crush on Kristi Yamaguchi.
(“Want me to wear skates to bed?” she’d joked at the time.)
But this swimsuit looked a lot more user-friendly than Kristi’s elaborate get-ups:
Thin, easy-to-remove Spandex, tantalizingly slim shoulder straps, a skirt falling in a soft ruffle, barely covering Claire’s dimply upper thighs while leaving the rest of her legs smooth and exposed for the admiration of all.
The suit’s finishing touch was that light sprinkling of tiny aquamarine rhinestones he’d noticed; just enough to catch sunlight without making Claire look like a Las Vegas
Not that Sean would necessarily have minded.
He made a mental note: Come Halloween, suggest showgirl costume to Claire.
“You look hot,” was all Sean could say.
She dimpled. “Do you really think so, Sean?”
“It’s lovely, sweetheart,” Ed said. Sean wondered if his own remark had made him sound like some lust-crazed beast. Claire obviously hadn’t minded, and Sean had long since stopped caring about Marcella’s opinion of him. However, since he liked Ed and vice-versa, Sean really wanted to stay on Ed’s good side. Gentleman Ed just smiled at Claire in his warm Proud Papa way as she put her top and shorts back on.
“Well, Claire, obviously the intended audience appreciates it,” Marcella said dryly. As if in rebuttal, the intercom buzzed. Ed, being nearest to it, buzzed back, called out a greeting, and held the Listen button.
“Hey, you Dennerlaines!” The natural rumble of James Fratarcangeli’s voice was augmented by intercom static. “Is Sean still up there, or did he and Claire elope?”
Thus reminded that Sean’s sister Cori, husband James, and their four-year-old daughter Greer were waiting for them outside, goodbyes were said and the elevator was summoned. When they were inside and the elevator finally began its long descent, Claire sighed. “So how much of my little chat with Mother did you actually hear?”
“All the good parts. Thanks for sticking up for me.”
A grin tugged at Claire’s little rosebud mouth. “Thanks for sticking up for me, too.” Now that they were alone, Sean slipped his hands under the denim shirt and pulled Claire closer. Passion and the slight, pleasant stickiness of Claire’s lip balm glued their mouths together. Meanwhile, Sean’s hands kept busy wandering up and down Claire’s back, enjoying the contrast between the soft, natural smoothness of her skin and the taut, synthetic smoothness of her tankini.
When they came up for air, Claire laughed. “Not that I’m complaining, but what if someone else comes in?”
“They won’t mind.
All the world loves a lover, y’know.” He kissed her again and added, teasingly, “Besides, we better hurry up before I get distracted by all those so-called ‘pretty figures’ at Jones Beach
Claire narrowed her eyes and pursed her lips. It looked enough like the mock-pout she’d do when she was kidding—the one that reminded him of Myrna Loy in one of their favorite classic movies, The Thin Man—that Sean figured she’d taken his crack in the playful spirit that he’d intended. “Oh, please. You know I didn’t take what Mother said seriously.” That sounded enough like a light scoff to put Sean at ease.
“Good. Keep it that way.” After another kiss, Sean dropped the playfulness. “I love you, not some ‘figure.’ ”
She picked up the playfulness he’d dropped. “You’d better, or no cottage cheese for you.”
“Not even a lick?” Sean slipped his tongue into her mouth. Their tongues danced a tango until that familiar bell rang, warning that he and Claire were about to get company. By the time the doors opened and let in the young mother carrying the alert little baby, Sean and Claire were standing in a thoroughly G-rated pose, holding hands and chatting. “I gotta say, hon, you’re taking this pretty well. You’re usually a lot more upset after one Marcella starts in on you.”
“It’s no big deal, really.” Claire was talking to Sean but making eye contact with the baby, who’d apparently become fascinated with the sparkles on Claire’s tankini. “You know how Mother is. She always starts these conversations, like, the minute I have to leave.”
“ ‘Conversations’? Don’t you mean ‘arguments?’ ” For the tot’s benefit, Sean touched his tongue to his nose—a sure-fire Greer-pleaser—but the kid’s attention was on Claire. Sean couldn’t blame the kid. Too bad the baby’s mother had her back to them, missing all the excitement.
“I don’t know if ‘argument’ is the right description, since she takes it for granted I’ll agree with her. They’re more like conversations where she does most of the talking.” A rueful smile crept onto Claire’s face. “Once, I asked Dad why he thought Mother always starts these last-minute conversations. He said it was because then she’d be more likely to have the last word.”
“Good way to keep from losing an argument, too.”
Claire made the Myrna Loy face, much to the baby’s amusement. “Anyway, when the conversation started taking a wrong turn, I promised myself I wouldn’t let Mother ruin my day.” She squeezed his hand and smiled. “Our day.” The elevator doors opened on Lobby, and they waved goodbye to the baby as they left.
* * * * * * * * * *
“And they say you’ve gotta keep an eye on kids
every minute,” Sean muttered to himself.
It seemed like only a moment ago that Claire had been beside him on the beach, helping Greer build a sandcastle.
After mama Cori applied multicolored zinc oxide to Greer’s fair skin, warpaint-style, Greer turned the sandy project into a series of sand tepees, molded from a handy paper cup.
Then, when Sean looked up again—after Greer had declared herself Chief of the tribe—Claire was nowhere to be seen.
On one of the more crowded parts of Jones Beach
, Sean wouldn’t have been surprised, but here at the quiet, underpopulated West End
, Claire shouldn’t have been that hard to find.
“Hey, Pocahontas!” boomed James’s Long Island-accented male voice behind Sean and Greer, momentarily startling Sean out of his worry. “What about lunch?” James scooped Greer up, and she burst into the kind of squeals and laughter usually reserved for rollercoaster rides. Come to think of it, Sean mused, being whisked to the top of six-foot-five James’s broad, sunblock-slick shoulders probably was like going to the highest point on a rollercoaster track for a just-turned-four-year-old. Greer had her own ideas about the luncheon menu. “Cold cream?” she asked eagerly.
“Ice cream, kiddo,” Sean corrected her. Actually, he liked Greer’s version, but he figured that as her uncle, her godfather, and a writer, he was honorbound to teach the kid the right names for things, if only so people wouldn’t look at her funny later in life.
“After lunch, Greer,” James said, nicely but firmly. “You hungry, Sean?”
“Not right now, thanks. Did you see where Claire went?”
“Last time I looked, she and Cori were swimming. Hey, here’s one of our mermaids now.” Sure enough, Cori was heading towards them, her long wet auburn hair dripping and drooping like red seaweed. James tossed her a towel. “Hey, babe, weren’t there two of you when you first went out there?”
“Yeah, Claire wanted to frolic in the surf a while longer.” Cori dried herself, adding, “Personally, I think she’s really looking for a spot deep enough to cover her thighs and shallow enough for her to stand in and still be able to breathe.”
Sean’s heart sank. “What, she’s feeling self-conscious again?”
“She wouldn’t come out and say so, but you know how sensitive Claire can be, especially after a session with that mother of hers.” Cori began re-slathering sunblock on herself. Considering none of the Fair-Skinned Fratarcangelis were even tanned, much less sunburned, Sean figured that sunblock must have had an SPF of 300 or so. “Sib,” Cori continued, “why don’t you dog-paddle on out there and tell your beloved to relax? I’ve seen Sports Illustrated swimsuit models who don’t look as good in Spandex as Claire does.”
“They come pretty damn close, I’ll tell you that,” James was saying wryly as Sean hurried off in the direction Cori pointed out.
Since the West End
beach usually wasn’t overly populated, especially during the morning hours their family preferred, Claire wasn’t hard to find. Of the handful of hotties on the beach, Claire was by far the hottest, in Sean’s hopelessly biased opinion. There she was, several yards ahead, just a short swim away.
Sean started doing the breaststroke, so he wouldn’t have to put his head underwater and risk losing sight of Claire.
Claire had her back to Sean, and she looked pretty alone out there. Hell,
she looks pretty, period.
Maybe once he caught up with her, they’d have enough privacy to see if making love in the ocean was all it was allegedly cracked up to be. He remembered James’s bachelor party, when their pal John Melendes, upon hearing that James and Cori were honeymooning in the Caribbean
, started a debate over
what was better, sex on a waterbed or sex in the ocean.
While housesitting, Sean and Claire had tried Gordie’s and Rachel’s waterbed.
They’d found it hard to keep their, well, footing, for lack of a better term. And Claire’s stomach had felt queasy afterwards.
Well, maybe this would be the day to see if the ocean was any better.
As Sean got closer, he was surprised to see that the water was only up to Claire’s shoulders. She wasn’t even treading water. This far out, shouldn’t it be deeper?
The mystery was solved as soon as Sean realized Claire was standing on a sandbar. “Hey,” he said.
“Hey,” she said. Sean heard the catch in her voice seconds before he saw her teary, red-rimmed eyes. “I hate people who can’t keep their promises, don’t you?”
I knew it. Damn. Sean wasn’t sure what to say, only what to do. He drew Claire close and her arms tightened around his body.
“Oh, don’t mind me,” she sniffled, her cheek against his chest. “I’m just being a jerk, I guess.”
“Y’know, every time you’ve ever said that, it’s always turned out someone else was being a jerk to you.” He kissed the top of her wet head. It tasted salty and smelled of the sea.
Claire let out a short hot sigh. “I swear, I pick the worst times to get insecure. I was having a perfectly fine time swimming, loving my new tankini, when I saw a bunch of other girls in thongs. One of them started complaining about her cellulite, and then I couldn’t help thinking of Mother’s reaction when she saw my lumpy thighs. They weren’t even talking to or about me, yet I took it to heart anyway.” She wiped her eyes and nose with the back of her hands, trying not to get salt in her eyes.
Sean’s arms flowed around Claire like the water itself. “You know Marcella’s full of shit. Why do you listen to anything she says?”
“I don’t know.” She managed a laugh. “If you figure it out before I do, let me know, okay?”
Sean felt Claire’s body relax at the same time her arms were tightening around his waist. Sean could have stood on that sand bar forever, just enjoying the feel of Claire in his arms, the sun warming their damp skin…the cool salt water gently swirling around them…his cock hardening against Claire’s navel….
Shit, Wilder, you’re such a idiot. The girl you love is down on herself, and all you can think of is sex.
Behind him, Sean felt Claire’s hands moving, her hug coming undone. I knew it. She hates me now. Quick, Wilder, think of baseball. Say it’s the cold water. Whatever!
Both of Claire’s hands slipped around to Sean’s front. One hand gently grasped the elastic waistband of his swim trunks and tugged…allowing Claire’s other hand to gently grasp something else….
As Claire began massaging Sean’s dick, she looked up into his face. He was happy and relieved to see her smiling. Not the pretty little all-purpose smile she used when she was in Little Diplomat mode, but her real smile. The warm, incandescent one that would just burst onto her face, too full of joy to be repressed. The one that was in her eyes as well as on her lips. The one that never failed to make Sean so crazy with love for her, he couldn’t see straight.
“You really are turned on by this bathing suit, aren’t you?” Claire said.
Sean couldn’t help smiling back as he lowered his face towards Claire’s. “Yeah,” he said, “but only because you’re wearing it.” Then his lips sealed hers while his hands slipped under her shoulder straps.
“Careful, my love.” Claire’s voice was as playful as the fingers now fondling his rear. “This beach isn’t that secluded.”
“No problem. We’ll cry ‘Shark!’ and get the place to ourselves.” He savored the salty taste of her skin as his lips made their way from her shoulder to first one breast, then the other, accompanied by the music of her sighing happily in his ear…especially when their swimsuit bottoms ended up down around their ankles.
While they made love weightlessly and undisturbed, only one non-Claire-related thought flittered briefly through Sean’s head before evaporating: Who needs Kristi Yamaguchi?