She’s trying to forget the fiancé who cancelled their wedding…
until she sees her ex on the beach.
“Ex On The Beach”
By Lisa Scott
The Insanity Tour…Save Me From My Trip…Vacation S.O.S? Heather Parker thought of suitable names for her summer vacation—had it been a reality show, instead of her real, ridiculous, life. It’d been five years since her family took a trip together, and now there were two new spouses, five new children, and more suffocating parental enthusiasm than ever, in one way-too-small rental house.
She squeezed closer to her sister so they could all fit into the family photo her father insisted they take. She hung off the end of the group like a stray comma, an afterthought—a mistake. As the youngest child in the bunch, she often wondered if she was. Who knew how responsible her parents had been with birth control back in the 80’s? Did they even have the pill back then? Or did they use… She wrinkled her nose.
Dad must’ve seen the look of horror flicker across her face at that thought. “Heather, smile! This is the start of a new tradition. The first annual Parker family reunion.” He spread his arms wide. “It’s a beautiful day on the Cape, everyone’s here—we need to capture the moment.”
But, everyone’s not here. She should be standing next to her husband, Nick. Only, he’d broken off the engagement a month before the wedding last summer. Not for another woman. No, it was much worse than that. It was something entirely humiliating and gossip-worthy that would only happen in her world. She swallowed back the pain. Again.
Her father hurried to join the group before the camera timer went off. “Say Gouda!”
“Gouda,” she mumbled through her fake smile. She looked around at her four brothers and sisters flashing big, happy grins. And why wouldn’t they be smiling? They were all married with good jobs, beautiful homes, and three of them had kids already. She felt like the disappointment of the family, living single, with nary a cat in her dumpy apartment. She figured her parents planned this whole darned trip to distract her from the fact that she should be celebrating her one-year wedding anniversary this week; like a trip to the beach with so many happy, married people would make her forget. It was like taking someone with a peanut allergy on the Planter’s factory tour.
The group broke up after the camera snapped a few shots. Her father collected his gear and turned his attention to the big cardboard box on the back deck of their rental. “Kids, this is a two-in-one trip—a super-fun family vacation and a great marketing opportunity for my latest invention.”
Someone groaned and Mom flashed her knock-it-off-or-get-knocked-off look. Not that she’d ever laid a hand on one of them, but the threats always seemed real enough, despite her one-hundred-ten pound frame, dimples, and tidy, blond bob. Then she turned on the great, big, Mommy-says-have-fun-or-else smile. “Children, you’re going to love this.”
Dad nodded. “Once the world gets a look at this, we’ll have our very own beach house. We won’t need a rental. This,” he announced, “is going to change everything.” And with great flourish, he pulled something out and held it up over his head for all of them to see. “This is the Port-A-Party hat.”
Any remaining grumbles turned to giggles as they stared at the bright orange ball cap equipped with drink holders, clips, loops, pockets, and zippers, emblazoned with “Parker Family Reunion” in front.
Heather bit her lip, glad for a moment that Nick wasn’t next to her.
Her sister, Tina, took a deep breath. She was Dad’s biggest cheerleader, but even she seemed to be struggling with this one. “What is this, exactly?”
He held up a finger. “I’m glad you asked. This hat lets you take the party with you. Let me demonstrate. Two drink holders and straws. You want a beer and a soda? We’ve got room in the Port-A-Party.” He tucked two cans into the holders next to the brim and slid the hat onto his head. He sipped from the straw dangling by his mouth.
Tina sniffed. “That’s really nice, Dad.”
“But that’s not all.” He was using his TV pitchman voice, and it was just so hard not to break out into unstoppable laughter; that was catchier in the Parker household than the flu.
Her mother stepped forward with a tray of goodies and Dad grabbed a snack-sized bag of chips. “What’s a party without munchies? Just attach them to these handy clips.”
Mom hung a tiny bag of Lay’s over Dad’s ear and a bag of pretzels on the other side.
“And we can’t forget cleanup,” he said. “There’s room for napkins, hand sanitizer, mini-condiments, or whatever you’d like to tuck in the pockets along the side.”
Mom added more items onto the hat. A tiny jar of mustard glinted in the sun near the back of Dad’s head.
“We’ve got loops for bigger things, too.” He turned around to show off the back of the hat.
Mom tucked in a package of plastic silverware, then slid in a travel-sized bottle of sunscreen and bug spray. “Ta-da!” she said, stepping aside with a majestic swirl of her arm. “The Port-A-Party! Perfect for a day at the beach, concerts, sporting events—you name it!”
Heather’s sister, Sherry, blinked. “This is even better than your gum-on-a-rope necklace.”
“And the doorbell answering machine,” Heather said.
“Perfect when someone stops by, but you’ve stepped out,” the kids said in unison. Nick had thought that was genius, and convinced his father to invest in the prototype. Both families had been pleased with the profits. Just one more thing that bonded the families before their breakup.
But not all of Dad’s inventions caught on. This one could go either way.
Her brother coughed, undoubtedly covering a laugh. “You should sell a lot of those walking around the beach this week, Dad.”
“You betcha we’re going to sell loads of these this week, because I’ve got one for each of us!”
Dead silence greeted that idea, but Dad started passing out the hats, while Mom distributed goodies to insert.
“These are really bright,” Tina said, squinting at the hat she held at arm’s length.
Dad snapped his fingers, then pointed them like a gun. “That’s the idea! No one will miss you in one of these.” Dad gave them each a handful of business cards. “I’ve got hundreds ready to go, and thousands at home in the garage. Take a bunch to sell when you’re down on the beach. Fifteen dollars each or two for twenty-five dollars.” He rubbed his hands together. “With all of you involved, I can write the whole trip off my taxes.”
Mom squeezed his arm. “You’re so smart, honey. Isn’t he kids?”
They nodded and congratulated him on his latest venture, while Heather thought of a more appropriate title for her trip: Stay Away From My Vacay! She slid sodas into the holders and her brothers and sisters and their spouses did the same. Even her nieces and nephews had kid-sized caps. There was no arguing this, not with the way Dad was beaming.
But the darn seagulls circling overhead certainly seemed to be cackling at them.
“I don’t believe it.” Mom shaded her eyes under the brim of the hat and pointed to a couple walking on the beach. “Yoo-hoo! Tilly? Walter? Is that you?” She waved madly while Heather’s stomach did a freefall.
The Hicks, her ex-in-laws-to-be, spotted her mother and rushed toward her.
Mom and Dad hurried down to meet them. They’d become best friends during Heather and Nick’s relationship. They took the break-up almost as hard as Heather had. She’d dated Nick since junior year in high school, and that was a long time for their folks to bond over games of Bridge and Canasta played while waiting for the two of them to meet their midnight curfew. Often, Heather had fallen asleep on the couch waiting for them to finish visiting.
They’d got on so well, they started going out for dinner and dancing. They’d become best friends in the seven years Nick and Heather had dated. Their two families had even spent a week together in Maine one summer, and many weekends camping throughout New England . Then of course there was the business venture with the doorbell answering machine. The two families had so many plans for the future. Getting married just seemed like a formality. When the wedding was called off, her parents had lost not only a future son-in-law, but their best friends, too.
She watched her parents hugging the Hicks, then Dad took off his hat, probably launching into the sales pitch. Soon enough, the rest of the Hicks’ clan came walking down the beach.
Even though they were fifty yards away, Heather didn’t need to squint to know Nick was down there, too. At six foot four, he towered over the rest of the group, and his red hair was unmistakable.
Heather pulled the brim of her hat over her eyes and stomped inside.
Her ex was on the beach—during her forget-my-ex vacation. How perfectly rotten was that?
Tina followed her into the house. “You’re kidding me, right? You’re going to hide? Let him ruin your vacation?”
Heather crossed her arms. “No. Not at all. I just have no desire to talk to him.”
Sighing, Tina patted Heather’s arm. “We were all upset for you, but he’s not a bad guy. The breakup was amicable, right?” She paused, scrunching her eyebrows. “Well, you did throw a shoe at him. But it just didn’t work out. He didn’t cheat, he wasn’t leaving you for another woman.”
Heather nodded. “Right. He left me for a pack of birds. Not mortifying at all. Why should I get worked up?” Her chest heaved and she clenched her fists.
“But it was some important graduate study thing.”
“Why are you defending him? We dated for seven years and he suddenly decides a month before the wedding that he wants to spend the summer on a rock in the Atlantic studying puffins instead of marrying me?” Her voice hit a high pitch and she started laughing. There really was no way to tell the story without laughing.
Even baby Nora grinned as she chewed on her fist. Tina switched her from one hip to the other. “Would you really have wanted to be Mrs. Nick Hicks? He saved you from a lifetime with an embarrassing name. Every time you made an appointment, you’d hear giggling on the other end of the line.”
But Mrs. Nicholas Hicks sounds awfully nice, she thought to herself. However, there was no room in her heart for hoping or reminiscing. “Right. Good point. He did me an enormous favor.” I didn’t want to wear that beautiful ivory Vera Wang dress, anyway. It looks fab hanging in the back of my closet.
“You should thank him. Go down there and show him what he’s missed while he was on that rock, researching. See him, get it over with, and get on with your vacation. And your life.” She nodded like a commander sending a foot soldier off to battle.
Heather straightened her shoulders. “You know, I will.” She patted Nora’s head for good luck. Then, sliding the patio door closed much harder than she meant to, she marched down to the beach where her parents were chatting with Nick’s family.
She kicked an inflatable raft out of the way and almost tripped over a pair of flippers. But maintaining her grace wasn’t the biggest concern with a bag of chips flapping against her ear. Hazard orange turned out to be a good color for the hat, after all. It was a good warning for Nick to duck and cover; it was about to rain the wrath of Heather. And that was never a pretty thing.