Home > Never Vacation with Your Ex

Never Vacation with Your Ex
Author: Emily Wibberley

Two Years Ago
I hold the volleyball out in front of me, visualizing the impeccable form I want for my serve. The precise height I have to jump, the spin I need to put on the ball by tucking my hand over the top, the curve I want to capture to send the shot down onto Malibu’s pearl-white sand.
There’s so much to remember. So much to get right.
I breathe in, preparing to exhale with the movement as I toss the ball up, and—
“I knew I’d find you here.”
I smile despite the distraction, letting the volleyball drop in front of me. It’s instinctive whenever I hear his voice, this flicker of warmth in my chest. Facing the direction of his words, I find Dean walking down the sand.
The night wind plays gently with his dark hair. His shirt hangs loosely on him, his pants cuffed. Where other guys in our grade haven’t quite gotten used to teenagerhood—unshaven, gangly from their growth spurts—Dean is uncommonly graceful. The moonlight over the ocean makes his face glow, or maybe it’s just the smirk lighting up his features.
“Now”—he comes up to me, playfully scrunching his expression, pretending to unearth something deep from the recesses of his memory—“was I confused, or did we just spend pretty much the entire day, including dinner, at someone’s favorite sushi restaurant, celebrating the news someone is going into her sophomore year the cocaptain of the varsity volleyball team, the youngest in her school’s history?”
In my sheepish silence, the wind whispers over the peaceful water. Nighttime in Southern California is unimaginably serene. Except for me swatting volleyballs on the sand, of course.
Dean comes up next to me. “Kaylee,” he says, sincere now. “It’s nine p.m. on our summer vacation. Everyone’s relaxing in the house. There’s no possible reason you need to be out here training right now. I’m no . . . sports person, but I’m pretty sure you’ve just proven you’re the number-one volleyball player in our grade. Probably our entire school.”
“Yes, exactly!” I reply, half-indignant. He doesn’t realize he’s hit right on what compelled me to haul my volleyball bag dutifully onto the sand to hone my serve while our families play Pictionary in the house.
I wish I felt like I could just be proud of myself instead of ever-fixated on proving more, on being everything, but I don’t. Not with the spotlight I feel following me every day. I love the warmth of it, the light, I do. But some days I wish I could escape the searing way it exposes every corner of my life, every choice, every uncertainty. Every insecurity.
“Everyone’s going to doubt whether I’m good enough,” I say. “Or if I only got the title because of . . . my mom,” I finish.
When Dean doesn’t reply, I pick up the volleyball, preparing to change myself into rhythm in motion, interlocking every detail of my form honed over practices since I could walk. Pulling my hand back, I bend my knees, preparing to jump—
He catches my fingers in his.
Instantly, I still. He’s just stopping me from serving, I rationalize. Yet—for the first time since we were kindergartners crossing the street with our parents—Dean, my best friend, is holding my hand.
“No one could ever doubt how incredible you are,” he says.
He drops my hand, nodding to the ball like he understands my mind is made up.
I hear his compliment echoing over the sea, but I straighten my posture, preparing to begin again. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Dean grin, then hold up his phone. “Can I photograph you?” he asks.
I feel my cheeks flush. Dean doesn’t realize just how many people at our school would go weak in the knees at that question from him. But I know he’s not flirting with me. Or not just flirting with me. He’s gotten really into photography and is working on convincing his parents to buy him a real camera.
“I’d like that,” I tell him. He raises his phone’s lens.
With the memory of his hand lingering on my skin, I can’t stop smiling.
Brianna picks over the remains of the wraps we got for dinner while I flick through the photos she took on the beach earlier today. Me, serving the ball while wearing one of the sweatshirts a local sustainable clothing company sent me to promote to my Instagram’s half a million followers.
I quickly hide the stress beginning to stretch over my face, because this isn’t Brianna’s fault. She’s not a photographer. She’s my current sand volleyball partner—soon to be former sand volleyball partner since I’m a junior and she’s a senior, about to graduate high school and move for college, which I can barely bring myself to think about. She’ll be playing for Stanford next year instead of being my teammate.
We’ve been friends since I started on our school’s varsity team in my freshman year. Though only in her sophomore year herself, Brianna was one of the strongest players. It meant the world to me when she instantly embraced her youngest teammate. Since, she’s been the kind of world-class friend who would drop everything to be my photographer for the day despite having no experience whatsoever. I didn’t really expect her to pull off the perfect shot.
Still, I need something to post. People have expectations of sports photography, even unconscious ones. If I’m in the middle of crouching instead of springing up with sharp form for the serve, I’ll look off-balance, ungainly, contorted. No one likes to see every frame of the effort involved. Just the perfect moments.
On instinct, I start mentally rehearsing my expressions of enthusiasm for Brianna, who is impatiently fiddling with the charm on the necklace her boyfriend got her, the garnet winking against the deep-brown skin of her collarbone. There’s still some sand from the beach in one of her black braids. I press on through my camera roll, evaluating the photos with the eye I’ve trained over years of developing my social media presence.
They’re . . . fine.
Swipe. Fine. Swipe. Fine.
Just okay. Swipe.
My head starts to hurt, pressure making my pulse race. I’m no longer very hungry for my fries, despite the small, cottagey Sun Spot Café near Easton’s Beach being our favorite spot. The truth is, none of these photos are up to the caliber of my account.
Brianna must read the disappointment on my face. “I told you. You know what you have to do,” she says dryly.