AMELIA'S BEACH by DouglasM
Sully Hetman recognized the phone number, but not the area code: 011–689, "Where the hell are you!" He barked into the phone.
"Well hello to you too Sully," Greyden half chuckled into his static filled phone. He dropped his shoulder bag to the airport floor and looked out the large bay window in front of him. The airfield still glared bright white through the large tinted pane of glass. "I needed to get out of the city for a few days, so I bought a ticket for the first flight I could find leaving La Guardia." He wiped his face slowly with his other hand, and blew out a short breath as he waited for his agent to explode.
"You did what? Why you miserable, pussy bastard…", Sully slammed his phone on his desk twice. A quick glance to see if he’d broken it, then he continued, "You have an off game, so your solution is to run and hide?" His client hadn’t really had a bad game - he’d had a career marking debacle. Every sports news outlet in the free world was showing highlights of his once famous quarterback client throwing eleven interceptions on Sunday - In New York City no less… Now all the media pukes were screaming at him to get a comment from Greyden Hightower.
"Who’s hiding? I’m waving at somebody right now. " He waved at a baggage handler fifteen feet away. "Sully, you and I both know what was going to happen today - New York fans will want to stomp on my frickin’ balls. If they liked my balls as much as I do, they’d realize I’m going to put them some place safe for a few days. Just handle things for a couple days and I’ll…" He jerked the phone away from his ear when Sully bellowed.
"Listen up you wimpy bastard! This isn’t something that can be handled by saying "no comment". You chose to play for New York, and you damn well knew what you were getting into when you signed to play in front of these whiny bitches last year. They’re paying you $15 million a year to play for them. So get back here, take the spanking they want to give you and move on." Sully gripped his phone so tight his knuckles were turning white.
Greyden groaned a bit as he rolled his shoulder. His throwing arm felt like it weighed 200 pounds. He’d been playing professional football for 14 years, and he knew when he’d signed with New York that his arm was approaching its expiration date. He’d even told them this, but they begged him to come play for their team that was ‘so close to winning a world championship’… What a line of B.S that had been. The team had paid him so much, they’d had to trade, release, or let walk half the offensive line and wide receivers. The fastest pass catcher on the team was an overweight tight end who ran pass pattern in slow motion, and his hands were more like hams at the end of his arms. "Just handle things Sully. It’s what you get paid 7% of everything I make to do. Look, we have a bye-week , so I don’t have to be back at practice for eight days. I’ll call you in a few hours. I need to find a hotel and get some sleep." He ended the call, not waiting for a response from his long time agent and friend.
Sully stared at his phone, his temper boiling over as he threw it across the room. It shattered against the door of his office. Greyden walked out into the tropical sunlight. He squinted as he fumbled for his sunglasses in the inside pocket of his sports coat. He was still dressed in his post-game attire. Smiling at the memory of bribing two stadium security guards to sneak him out through an employee exit, he hailed one of the three beat up taxis waiting at the curb.
The first cab in line pulled up a few feet, and the taxi lurched from side to side as its driver wriggled out the driver’s side door. Greyden stood staring at the enormous man in a flowered shirt-shaped tent walking toward him. "Son of a b…" He whispered to himself, as he wondered how the man even fit in his small Toyota cab. He had to be at least 6’ 8" tall and weighed around 380 pounds.
"How you doing? Welcome to the island man. Where you going today?" He said with a big, toothy grin. The big man’s smile slowly faded as Greyden continued to stare at him. "You OK man? The sun ain’ got you yet does it?"
Hightower shook his head and walked slowly to the now open cab door. Once he got in, he leaned forward in his seat to watch the big man get back in the car. The cab rocked violently for half a second as the driver slide back in. With a single motion, he slammed his door shut, stepped on the gas and headed into the light airport traffic.
"Hey man, I’m Goolie." He reached over the back seat to shake his passenger’s hand. "Where can I take you?"
"Goolie?" Greyden noticed the man’s hand completely covered his. Coming out of college as a number one overall draft choice that year, Greyden was considered big by most quarterback standards. At 6’4" and 228 pounds, he wasn't a small guy, or at least he didn't think so. He’d been around pro-linemen for years, and none of them seemed as big as his new friend Goolie.
"Well, not really. My mama gave me a big long name none of us kids could say that good. One day some kid asks me my name and even I couldn’t say it." He gave a big chuckle that wiggled the car from side to side as it rattled down the dusty highway. "So my big brother shoves me out the way, points at me and says "His name is Goolie". It stuck and so that’s who I am."
Greyden grinned at the explanation as he looked out the side window. It was summer here, and he realized he was sweating. He slid off his sports coat, and piled it on his carryall next to him on the seat. "You know any good hotels Goolie?"
After a quick glance over his shoulder at his passenger, he looked up at the tattered cab’s ceiling for a second in thought. "I guess it depends on what good mean to you. Good can be bad too. You know what I sayin’?" Goolie nodded to the road ahead at this sage piece of wisdom.
"OK, why don’t you take me to where you’d stay if it were up to you." Greyden studied his cell phone for a second. He scrolled down the list of text messages. There were four from his head coach, two from his position coach, one from the team’s owner, twenty-seven from Sully, fourteen from the P.R. firm he’d hired when he moved to New York, and another 70 or 80 from teammates. The rest were from reporters. He deleted all the reporters’ messages without reading them.
Goolie pondered things with a half turn of his massive head from side to side. "You want to go local or fancy? Lots of fancy here." He tried to look at Greyden through the rear view mirror taped to the dash board. He drove down the road with his body sort of hunched over to the side trying to see his passenger as he drove with one hand on the wheel, the other arm out the window holding onto the roof. Every now and then a vehicle going by in the other direction would honk. The cab would waggle as Goolie waved to whatever friend had gone by.
"How about some place quiet on a beach?" Greyden said with his head cocked to the side as he tried to see Goolie’s eyes in the dash mounted mirror.
"I gots’ just the place for you… You’ll dig this. Goolie guarantees." Now the cab began to bounce up and down as Goolie nodded his head. Greyden started to feel sea sick. Then Goolie yanked the steering wheel hard to the right, and the cab sprinted down a roughhewn dirt road. "You hold on back there now. The road goin’ get bumpy real soon," Goolie said as his smile grew wide and dust pounded in through the open windows. Twenty ground pounding minutes later, the little cab bounded over a small rise. The car took flight, and Goolie whooped. "That’s what I’m takin’ ‘bout!" The tiny car bounced off the dirt road when it landed. Goolie slammed the steering wheel to the left hard as they sped around a tight turn. Greyden had no idea how Goolie could see where he was going; the road ahead clouded by dust. Slamming on the brakes, the car lurked to a stop. "We’re here man! What do you think?" Goolie held both arms out wide to show his passenger.
Greyden straightened his sunglasses that had been dislodged after his head had bounced off of the car’s roof for the sixth time. When the car stopped, his head had flown forward, striking Goolie’s massive shoulder. Dazed, he tried to focus out beyond his driver’s wide flung huge arms. "Throw a flag ref. That’s roughing the passenger!" He tasted grit in his mouth, and wiped his lips with a hand. Just as he was about to congratulate Goolie on his "Beat the tourist to death with a road" joke, the dust began to clear. The mild on-shore breeze parted the dust, wheeling it to either side of the cab.
"Wow!" It was all Greyden could think of to say. Stretched out in front of him was a beautiful beach. Scratch that, he thought. This was paradise. Goolie had already squeezed himself out of the taxi. Greyden could hear him talking to someone, but he couldn't take his eyes off of the beach. He wrenched the creaking door open, and half stumbled out of the cab, not noticing that someone new had joined them.
"Well welcome to my beach strange man." A female voice said from a few feet behind him.
Greyden slowly turned to see an attractive woman in shorts and a dirty tank top. She stood next to Goolie, who had one of his enormous arms draped over her shoulder. She had to be over six feet tall, her eyes at the same level with Goolie’s ears. Lithe looking as she stood next to the cab driver, but Greyden thought an elephant would be slender next to the big man. He guessed she weighed around 170 pounds as he continued to look at her from behind his sunglasses.
"What you looking at strange man? " She took a half step away from Goolie, spinning around so Greyden could see the rest of her. "You see enough yet?" She said with her head half turned, a mischievous look in her eyes.
"You lookin’ at my sister like that ‘ain good, I’m tellin’ you…" Goolie stepped toward Greyden, his eyes turning from friendly to those of a demonic giant.
Greyden took a step backward and began to stammer, "No…I didn’t mean to… Your sister?" Just as he was about to attempt an escape, both Goolie and the woman began to laugh.
The smile returned to the big man’s face. "This ‘ain my sister man. This is Amelia, and she own’ this whole beach. What’s your name anyhow?" Goolie had launched himself forward and gave Greyden a bone cracking bear hug.
Greyden could have sworn he felt a few of his vertebrae give way. When Goolie released him, he winced, waiting for a streak of pain to shoot up his spine. Nothing happened. In fact, he actually felt better. Along with the 11 pass interception he’d thrown the previous night, he’s been sacked a team record 11 times. He decided he hated the number 11. The pounding his body had taken, coupled with an 18 hour plane trip – along with a taxi ride from hell - should have had him paralyzed, he thought. But somehow he felt better than he had in years.
"Pleased to meet you Amelia, I’m Greyden." He extended a hand to shake. It was knocked aside by his newest friend in favor of a warm hug.
"We don’t shake hands on my beach Mr. Gray Man. So why are you here? You here to play… or rest maybe?" She studied him with a discerning eye. She glanced at Goolie, and made a small twirl motion with her hand. The big man grabbed Greyden and spun him around until Amelia gave another wave of her hand. "Rest I think, with a little bit of hiding in there, yes?"
She had a soft accent Greyden couldn't place. It made him wonder if this island had anything to do with Samoa? He remembered some of few Samoan football players he’d known, and liked their laid back speech affectations. But neither she nor Goolie looked all that Samoan? Amelia’s "hiding" comment bothered him. "I’m not hiding. I’m just looking for some peace and quiet." He kicked the dirt as he spoke. He decided on a subject change, "So is there a hotel on your beach?
Amelia and Goolie exchanged glances as they smiled. "Hotel is what you want, is it? No hotel on this beach, but we do have comforts. You come with me." She link and arm under his, then turned to Goolie. "You comin’ for some food later?"
Goolie smiled wide. He began to walk back into his cab. "Come get your suitcase." He motioned for Greyden to walk back to the car. As he handed out the small carryall, he whispered "You take care now. Amelia is one tricky one."
Greyden frowned. If Goolie told him she was some kind of island witch doctor, he decided he’d make a leap for the back seat of the taxi. "So, exactly what does "tricky" mean?" His voice tinged with a tired, giddy laugh.
"She’s "Ari'I", so watch yourself. Don’t get too grabby either, or she’ll feed you to the sharks." Smiling all the while, Goolie slid into his taxi and sped off.
"What’s an Ari'I anyway," he yelled at the cab as it disappeared down the road. He jumped, and fought his flight response from the voice of Amelia, who had appeared right next to him.
"It means I’m a noble person, that’s what. You ever have dinner with a noble person Gray Man, or do you just eat with people you hide from?" Her sly smile returned. Taking his arm, she led him back toward the beach.
"The name is "Grey –DEN", not Gray Man." He watched her roll her eyes. He had a feeling he would be Gray Man whether he liked it or not. "I’m not hiding from anyone…Well not any one specific person anyway…" He shrugged at this half-truth. He was hiding from an entire city, but he really didn’t know all that many of the people who lived there."
"Suit yourself Gray Man, but hiding ain’ no way to go through life." She released his arm as they approached a group of small, well-kept beach cottages. They stood on pylons about six feet above the sand at the edge of a thick tropical forest. She guided him up the wooden stairway of the first building. "This is where you’re staying." She slid a lattice screen door aside on the balcony.
Another "Wow" slipped passed his lips. While the cottages didn't look like much on the outside, the inside was amazing. White washed rattan furniture was tastefully position around the room. On a foot high dais, there was a king sized bed, mosquito netting acting as canopy and side curtains. He walked into the bathroom, and found a tub and shower. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw the toilet. Some things are a must, he told himself. "This is great! Can I rent it for five days?" He was already dreaming of his own personal beer commercial - Lounging in a hammock, while beautiful island women brought him ice cold beverages. Maybe a native girl with a palm frond fanning him?
"You can stay for one night. We’ll see about the other four days later." She stood watching him for a few moments. This man swayed on his feet as he looked around the room. Poor man she thought. So tired, and so alone... Amelia watch as he walked over to the bed, stumbled on the small step up, and fell face first on the soft the coverlet. Amelia pulled the netting closed around the bed, and silently left this new stranger to his sleep.
Greyden opened his eyes and groaned. His vision was blurred, and his mouth felt dry and gummy. He propped himself up on his elbow, and he looked down from the netting to the foot of the bed. He screamed.
Standing at the foot of the bed were four huge bare-chested men in native garb. They wore hideous masks over their face as they stood staring at Greyden. Then they all pointed at him and said, "EAT!" in a bellowed harmony. He threw his bed covers aside, and made a dash for the screen door. He cleared the doorway, looking over his shoulder as he ran. Forgetting the cottage was on stilts, he hit the balcony railing and toppled over it end over end, landing hard face first on the sandy beach below. "Son of a…" he groaned, as tried to scramble to his feet.
Sand in his eyes, he screamed again when someone standing right next to him said, "You naked as a Jaybird Gray Man." He did his best quarterback scramble, running away from the voice and into the waiting ocean fifty feet away. He didn’t stop running until a small wave hit him, throwing his body backward. When he found his footing, he stood in the two foot deep surf at the edge of the ocean. As water drained from his ears, the sound of laughter broke through his confusion. He looked toward the cottage. Amelia stood on the beach as she gestured to the four men, who were laughing on the balcony, to come down. They’d removed their masks, and Greyden could see one of them was his now former friend Goolie. All of them pointed at Greyden, some bent over from laughing so hard.
He selected a universally well-known finger on his right hand, and extended it to the group on the beach. He sat down in the surf, saltwater and sand washing over his lower body. Shaking his head, he looked down and noticed he wasn't wearing anything. "How the hell…?" He didn't recall removing his clothes. In fact, he didn’t remember going to bed either.
Carrying a large towel, Amelia walked up to him as he sat in the surf. "You kind of a racy guy, aren't you Gray Man?" She choked back her laughter, covering her mouth with her hand as she turned away.
"Racy? Not really, but I rarely miss an opportunity to flee naked when the chance arises. Tell Goolie I’m renting a car…" Wrapping the towel around him, he walked toward the four man tribe.
"You’re pretty damn white all over, you know that right?" Goolie observed as he continued to chuckle. The other three men with Goolie introduced themselves. Greyden groaned as he learned they were Goolie’s brothers. They loved to scare Amelia’s. Last week they’d frightened a man and his wife from National Geographic magazine. One of the brothers, O’Henry, recounted the story of how the wildlife scientist had tried to talk to them in a native tongue. He’d told the man to "shut right up and give us your wife". The two had fled their little bungalow, and they hadn't seen them since.
"Nothing better to do than scare my guests away," Amelia said as she smacked one of the brothers on his enormous arm.
Greyden noticed that Goolie appeared to be the runt of the litter. His three brothers were each at least two or three inches taller than him, and weighed at least twenty pounds more too. One of the brothers walked over to a beat up pick-up truck. Reaching in the cab, he produced a tattered football and tossed it to Greyden. He caught it, and then realized Goolie and his brothers knew what he did for a living. Looking at Goolie, he said, "How long have you known who I am?"
The big man laughed, "I knew who you were when I picked you up at the airport man." We watched you get beat up the other night. Tough game for you, but not to worry." He elbowed one of his brothers who grinned widely.
Greyden thought he recognized him. "Didn’t you play for…" Greyden started to ask.
"We all played football in the states. My brother O’Henry there was an All-American lineman two years ago. Johnny-Carl there and Walter both played too. I played for…" Goolie snatched the football out of Greyden’s hands and signaled one of his brothers to go out for a pass. He lofted a wobbly throw out twenty yards, and his brother Johnny- Carl snatched it out of the air with a single hand.
A light went on in Greyden head, "Damn! You guys are the Samtu brothers?" He felt his chin drop. He’d read the stories in the news about this group of brothers, all phenomenal linemen. One was a tight end as he recalled? They’d walked away from careers in professional football, and had never told anyone why. All of them had disappeared shortly after graduating from college.
"That’s us Gray Man. Feel like throwing the rock around a bit? How ‘bout a little three on three. You being the big stud pro quarterback; you can have O’Henry and Johnny-Carl. I’ll take Walter and Amelia, OK?" Goolie smiled, "But we ain’ playin’ with a naked Gray Man, so grab some shorts." He ran down the beach to join his brothers in a game of catch as Greyden slowly nodded.
Amelia took him by the arm, and slowly walked him back to his cottage. "You knows the boys? They like you for some reason. They usually don’t like anyone much."
"It’s probably because I’m not too proud to show that they scare the crap out of me," He said.
Amelia shook her head. "Everyone’s scared of those boys if they don’t like you. Mus’ be how fast you run. You run that fast in clothes Gray Man, or just when you Jaybird naked?" Her sly smile returned. She reached over, and wrenched away the towel Greyden had tied around his waist, then took off running for the cottage.
He stood stock still, but a smile began to grow on his face. He looked up at the clear, brilliant blue sky, then out at the tropical beach and surf. He felt some unseen weight being lifted from his soul. He walked after Amelia, who stood waving his towel at him from the balcony. Climbing the stairway, in slow measured steps, he felt his body rejuvenate. He walked across the deck, giving Amelia a small nod as she watched him walk through the doorway. Her smile widened, and she dropped the towel off the balcony; a gust of ocean air causing it to hang suspended in the air for a moment before fluttering down to the sand.
Over the next few days, their three on three beach game grew into five on five, then eleven on eleven by the fifth day. The teams’ ranks were filled with former football players, along with battle scarred Rugby stars from the island’s many teams. Small crowds started to show up to watch on the second day, and by the fifth day the local newspaper was reporting the games.
When the sixth day rolled around, Greyden awoke to a new terror standing at the foot of the bed he now shared with Amelia each night.
"You stupid son of a bitch! I came all the way down here to drag you home, and you’re shacked up with…" Sully didn’t finish the sentence.
The woman Greyden shared the bed with had lithely slid out of the bed, holding a sheet in front of her with one hand, and a machete in the other. "Uh,beg pardon... I didn’t mean to imply that… Greyden, wake the hell up!"
He was too stunned to talk, but seeing Amelia backing the hardnosed New York super-agent across the room made him laugh. "Don’t show fear Sully". "Bul-a, mattu-bul-a!" He shouted at Amelia who turned back to him, an odd look on her face until she saw Greyden wink.
Her eyes twinkled as she half turned back to the intruder named Sully. Pointing at him, she said, "Walla-mombo? No kill-kill?" She slashed the machete through the air in front of Sully’s face.
"Hell yes…Er, uh, I mean No! No kill-kill!" Greyden held his smile in check. "Sully, give her something shiny. Give her your watch!" He knew Sully’s watch was a commemorative Rolex given to him by a team owner, and he loved it more than life itself.
"My watch? The hell I will…" Sully turned to run out the door. It was blocked by Goolie, who’d been listening. "Oh my God…" Sully said, then he fainted.
Out on the deck a half hour later, Sully sat on a lounge chair sipping a glass of juice Amelia had brought him. She and Greyden sat on a chair across from him, still re-describing the look of fear on Sully’s face. He took a long gulp of the juice as he shook his head. He’d been watching Greyden for the last few moments. His client of the last 14 years seemed happy for the first time since the move to New York. "OK, fun and game are over. Tell what you’ve been doing?" Sully waited for an explanation with his hands clasped across his ample belly.
"I’ve been resting. It’s like I told you on the phone the first day. I needed to get out of town for some peace and quiet." He looked at Amelia for approval, but she held a hand out in front of her and waggled it side to side, like she wasn’t buying all of his explanation.
Sully shook his head, "You know your little beach football games are the talk of every Sports outlet in the the U.S., right? The owner of the team you are being paid by called me. He was actually screaming, wanting to know why his star quarterback was playing beach blanket bingo – his words – and not back in New York getting ready to play Pittsburgh. Someone on the island sent videos, and they’ve gone viral. Everyone’s saying you look ten years younger, and the losses so far for New York can’t be your fault… Who’s the big receiver you’ve throwing to by the way? I’ve had ten calls from teams wanting the names of half the players from your beach games."
Greyden was still trying to wrap his head around the fact someone was videotaping the games, let alone sending it to the media vultures back home. He felt a nudge from Amelia, who smiled at him and nodded. "You did it? Why?" He felt betrayed.
"Oh Gray Man, the world only thinks of who you were. I just wanted them to see who you are." Smiling, she got up to walk down the stairway to the gathering group on the beach for the day’s game. "You’ll be thinkin’ of leavin’ today I expect, so I’ll tell the game has been postponed due to stormy skies. I’ll let ’em all know there’s bright, sun shiny days ahead though…" Still smiling, she walked away.
"Well damn…" He toyed with the idea of not leaving. He had plenty of money from all the years of letting his body get pounded. The last couple day had brought him back to the game he loved so long ago. Playing the game next to a broad ocean horizon gave a context he’d never had before. It was a game, but it was such a small thing in this wide world. He slowly shook his head, "Sully, that is one amazing woman."
‘So we're going home?" he leaned forward in his lounge chair…
Four days later, the Sporting world was shocked by the news Greyden Hightower - the star New York quarterback – had retired from football. His agent read a statement from his client.
"I’ve been honored to play the greatest game in the world for the last 14 years. I’d like to thank Sully Hetman for all he’s done for me. To me my teammates, just know if I thought my playing on would help you win, I’d be there right now. But that isn’t the case. Someone I met recently accused me of hiding something. I thought she meant I was hiding from the media and fans. I guess I was, but that’s not what she saw. I now know I’ve been hiding from myself; from the person I am right now, not who I was at different times during my career. The last game I played showed me I’ve played past my time, but I wouldn’t believe it. The fans deserve better, my teammates deserve better too. You may have seen me playing the game of football on a sandy beach lately. For the first time in years, I played the game for fun alone and it showed me what the game is to me in its purest sense. It’s ironic that I had to run away to find it. If any player ever starts to feel the game slipping away, I hope you’ll find your own version of Amelia’s Beach…"
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