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Always Say I Love You (A Buzby Beach Novella) Part 01

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DW is a veteran, a father, a husband, and a teacher. He's published 9 YA/NA novels thus far. The story you're reading might be next.

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The sixteen-year-old bristled when his mother’s voice rang out over the backyard, “Willy! Quit messing with that truck and come in and wash up for supper.”

Will groaned and pulled his head out from under the hood of his 1979 F-150. “I wish she’d quit calling me Willy. I’ve been begging her since I turned thirteen.”

“Then you might as well give up,” Mari told him for what might have been the thousandth time. “You’re always going to be her little Willy.”

Will stretched to his full height of five feet eleven inches. “I might be a lot of things, but I ain’t little.”

Mari picked up a grease rag from the fender of the old truck and started wiping her hands. “No, Will, little is not the word for you.” She laughed and added, “Scrawny, spindly, gristle and bones, maybe, but not little.”

Such a description coming from anyone else would get Will’s blood up. When Mari - whose real name was Maribella - said it, she said it with love for the boy she was describing.

Mari’s family had lived two houses down from Will’s family since before either of them was born. Their dads worked together at Corning, and their moms were best friends. Mari was one week older than Will. They’d grown up doing everything together.

Mari had two older sisters who were epitomes of young southern ladies. Mari’s dad was hoping so strongly that she’d be a he that he’d turned her into a Tomboy. He taught Mari to hunt, fish, camp, play football, basketball, baseball, and work on cars.

Will was the middle child in his family. His older sister was the brainy one. His younger sister was the pretty-in-pink princess. Will did okay in school but preferred to spend his time fishing, hiking, camping, or tinkering with something mechanical.

Will’s father preferred to spend his free time in front of the television, watching sports and drinking beer. As a result, Will spent a lot of time with Mari and her dad doing things the three of them enjoyed. No one was surprised they grew up closer to each other than to any of their siblings.

Will and Mari went to the same elementary school, middle school, and high school. When summer ended, they’d both be starting their junior year at South Hanover High.

It was while they were students at South Hanover Middle School, during those years when girls start to notice boys and vice versa, those years when physical changes begin to make the differences between boys and girls more apparent, that subtle changes began to occur in the way Will and Mari regarded each other.

Will’s height soon outpaced most of his peers. Rather than scrawny as Mari described him, Will grew wiry and strong. His voice deepened, and he began to grow hair where before he’d had none.

Mari began to change, too. Her body adopted curves in interesting places, and her t-shirts no longer fell flat against her chest. During middle school, her changes were subtle. By the end of sophomore year, they were noticeable enough to draw boys’ attention other than Will’s.

Will and Mari had always been open and honest with one another. More open and honest than their parents would probably be comfortable with had they known the extent of it.

The two friends were only seven-years-old the first time they played show-me-yours-and-I’ll-show-you-mine. They were eleven the first time they kissed and discovered they enjoyed kissing each other. Shortly after turning fifteen, they went all the way together for the first time. Not reckless, they used a condom Will “borrowed” from his older sister’s purse.

Their ever more deeply involved love affair was kept a secret from their families and friends. When they were around others, Will and Mari never behaved as if they were anything more than friends, with very few exceptions.

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Using a clean shop rag, Will wiped off the handle of his socket wrench, the extension, and the socket he used to tighten down the last hex screw on the valve cover on the right side of the V-8 engine of his old truck. He and Mari spent most of the afternoon replacing the valve cover gaskets. Will was convinced the previous owner never had.

While he cleaned up, he said to Mari, “Are you going to stay for supper? Mom’s making chicken cutlets with green beans and mashed potatoes.”

“I can’t tonight, hon,” Mari answered, using an endearment she only dared use out of others' hearing. “Kitty goes back to college tomorrow, so we’re all going out to dinner tonight. In fact, I should probably head home and make myself presentable.”

Before leaving, and after checking that they weren’t being watched, Mari gave Will a quick kiss on the lips. “Love you, hon.”

“Love you, babe,” Will replied.

Mari left. Will closed the hood of his truck and went inside for supper.

Will finished his supper and asked to be excused. “I’m gonna meet Mark at the pier and see if we can catch some Spot.”

“Just make sure you’re back in this house by midnight,” Will’s father warned him.

“I will, Dad,” the boy assured his father.

“Make sure Mark takes home anything you boys catch,” his mother instructed him. “You know your daddy don’t like the smell of fish frying in this house.”

Will was used to hearing his mother’s words on the subject. “If I catch anything big enough to keep, I’ll let Mark have it.”

Will didn’t tell his mother that he and Mark threw back most everything they caught unless someone else nearby on the pier wanted it.

Will and Mark met in sixth grade at South Hanover Middle School when they were assigned the same homeroom teacher. Their shared hobbies of camping and fishing made them instant friends.

Both boys saved money from their part-time jobs to buy and fix up their old trucks and purchase annual passes to Buzby Beach Pier. From Will’s driveway to the drawbridge at Buzby Beach was only a five-minute drive. Will loved to fish and loved to eat fish, but his dad wouldn’t allow it in the house.

Will and Mark on the pier

Mark was one of the very few people who knew the truth about Will and Mari. As a result, so did Mark’s girlfriend, Angela. It was a good thing for Mari and Will that Angela and Mari became tight.

Mark and Will found a spot on the pier about half-way out on the north side. From what they could see, there wasn’t much biting.

“The tide’s starting to come in,” Mark observed as he began to prep their rods. “High tide ought to bring some fish in with it.”

“What was it Scout said?” Will asked while attaching a double-hooked rig to the end of his line. “Last night, they were catching spot and croaker.”

“On shrimp,” Mark replied, confirming that Will heard Scout - the old soldier who worked the bait counter - correctly.

Will attached a piece of shrimp the size of the last joint of his pinky finger to each of his hooks and cast his line. The three-ounce sinker attached to his leader let him cast a good way out from the pier.

Mark shook his head and said, “I don’t know why you bother casting so far out. You know you’re gonna catch most right up next to the pier.”

To show he took his own advice, Mark gently cast his line just a short distance from the pier.

The boys then sat down on the bench to wait.

“So, where’s Mari tonight?” Mark asked.

Will tightened up his line and said, “Kit leaves for college tomorrow, so the family took her out to dinner tonight.”

“I’m surprised you weren’t invited,” Mark commented as he lifted his rod and let it fall against the pier railing. “I mean, you are practically family.”

Yeah, well, tonight didn’t include ‘practically’ family.” Will turned the question back on Mark. “I thought you and Angie had plans tonight.”

Mark sighed and frowned. “We did. She wound up working an extra shift at the restaurant because somebody didn’t show up for work. Being the owner’s daughter sucks sometimes.”

“Sucks for you and her. I just appreciate that your dating Angie landed you, me, and Mari jobs at the Trident.”

“After the situation Angie’s dad had with those guest workers last year,” Mark said as he tightened up his fishing line, “he was glad to find local kids who wanted the jobs.”

Will’s rod picked that moment to begin to show he had a bite. He tightened the line carefully, and when he was sure the fish was on, pulled hard to set the hook before reeling in his catch.

“Whatever you hooked, it’s not fighting like a spot,” Mark pointed out. “Not unless you got one on each hook.”

As Will brought the fish close to the pier, both boys could see he’d hooked a flounder. “Let’s hope it’s big enough to keep,” Will said as he worked to land the flatfish. “Mari's dad would love some fresh flounder."

Will landed the flounder, and Mark measured it. "Sorry, Will. You flounder is an inch short."

"Throw it back, and maybe I'll catch it again when it's big enough."

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He put more shrimp on his hooks and cast his line back out. An hour later, after several fish were caught and thrown back, Will turned to Mark.

"Are you getting thirsty? I'm getting thirsty."

Mark nodded. "I could use a cold beverage. Are you going to go get them?"

"I fly, you buy," Will replied.

Mark pulled out his wallet and handed Will a five-dollar bill. "Mountain Dew for me."

Will left his rod for Mark to watch while he hustled up to the pier house to get their drinks. He returned a few minutes later to discover Mark reeling in a sheepshead.

The older fellow fishing at the next bench out called out to Mark, "That's a good size, son. You gonna keep it?"

"Nah, I was going to throw him back less you want him," Mark replied as he took the fish off the hook.

"Just toss him in my cooler there," the older man said. "Much obliged."

Mark baited his hooks, and the two teens went back to fishing. They sipped at their sodas while waiting for the next bite.

"Are you working tomorrow?" Mark asked Will after throwing back a pinfish.

Will finished the last of his Nugrape and then said, "I'm working eleven to five. You?"

Mark grunted. "Five to close. Which reminds me, I better make sure I've got a clean white shirt and black khakis to wear."

Will laughed. "You busboys have to look pretty. No one cares how I look running the dishwasher."

"You're not supposed to call us busboys anymore, remember," Mark reminded his friend. "We're bus persons. Besides, your girlfriend is a bus person."

"Mari's a perfect example," Will declared. "When she's all made up for work, she's the prettiest girl on the island."

Mark couldn't say Will's claim was wrong. Mari looked like a real tomboy most of the time, what with her ponytail, jean shorts, and t-shirt. All dressed for work, even if it was just in a white blouse and snug-fitting pair of black khakis, Mari was a knockout.

Another hour passed, and their supply of shrimp began to run low. Will checked his phone and saw it was almost eleven-thirty.

"I better get going," he told Mark. "My dad's serious about the whole midnight curfew thing."

"I'll stick around and use up the rest of our bait," Mark said. "See you tomorrow when I get to work."

"Right," Will replied. He picked up his gear and headed to the pier house and the parking lot beyond.

Will got home with fifteen minutes to spare and found his father asleep in his recliner, snoring lightly. Will nudged his dad enough to let his old man know he was home on time and went up to bed.


Will and Mari's story continues in Part 2

© 2020 DW Davis

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