Summer by the Sea

By: Cathryn Parry


SAM LOGAN’S SUMMER plans were turned upside-down in a single phone call.

Twenty-four hours later, his eleven-year-old daughter, Lucy, stood in his tiny bachelor kitchen, surrounded by her suitcase, her iPad, and a ragged and well-loved stuffed bear that he hadn’t even known she still slept with.

Sam stared at it—and her—in shock. Seeing that teddy bear made him realize he really had no idea what was going on with his daughter. He felt completely inadequate to the task of being Lucy’s full-time dad.

Ironic, considering Sam worked with kids her age every day. He taught environmental science to middle school students. Sam was known as a laid-back teacher. A guy who could handle whatever came his way without getting his feathers ruffled or ruffling feathers. It was his great strength, his inner Zen.

But the panic rose from deep in his chest and clutched at his throat, affecting his ability to breathe. This must be what swimmers felt like when they were caught up in a giant, sucking rip current.

Sam had never been caught in a rip current himself. As a professional lifeguard at Wallis Point beach in summer, he knew the signs and avoided the trap. A few times per season, he rescued people caught in the grip. He even taught the younger guards—college-aged men and women—to notice the signs so they could warn others, too.

Avoidance of danger had always been key in Sam’s world.

Sam wiped sweaty palms on the back of his shorts. Lucy was here, sitting at his kitchen table, pushing her light brown hair from her eyes and staring at her luggage, probably as uncomfortable as he was. Her mother had decided to head to Alaska for the summer to work as a singer on a cruise ship, so Sam was now responsible for her. For ten long weeks. Alone. During lifeguard season.

Shaky, he wondered what he should do with her—feed her lunch, maybe? Usually she came to his house for two Saturday afternoons per month—had ever since she was a toddler—and before they left for whatever fun activity he’d planned that day, Lucy always sat and ate a peanut butter sandwich and drank an orange soda. That was their tradition.

So he opened his refrigerator door. No orange sodas. Instead, one whole shelf was filled with a batch of craft brew he’d made earlier in the week. He bent and felt past the beer bottles, finding two cold cans in the back of the fridge. “Luce,” he said, straightening, “I’m out of orange soda. Would you like a ginger ale?”

His daughter regarded him stoically. “Yes, please. I’ll make my own sandwich.”

“Okay. Good.” Feeling a little more hopeful, Sam popped the two cans open then passed her one. Without any drama, she stood, got a plate, bread, peanut butter and knife and began making lunch for herself.

He should calm down. He and Lucy would be fine—they could figure out this new arrangement as they went. He saw her often enough to know the basics of caring for her according to the rules Colleen had insisted upon since Lucy was a baby.

Sam had been blindsided when she’d been born. Though he and Colleen hadn’t been together anymore and Sam had been a young father—just twenty-one at the time—he had coped. He would have preferred to see Lucy more often, but the lawyers had told him what was best for the three of them, and Sam had rolled with it. He would roll with it now.

He seated himself across from Lucy and took a long drink of the almost medicinal-tasting ginger ale. Even if he had no idea what he was going to do with her for the next ten weeks—and he couldn’t take Lucy to a movie or a museum or a theme park or even his brother’s house near Boston every day, like he usually did when he had her—he wasn’t going to freak out. Neither was he going to put the burden on Lucy. The situation wasn’t her fault. Sam didn’t want to be like his own parents and force inappropriate decisions on her the way they had with him and his brother when they were kids negotiating a difficult divorce.

Be Zen. Be detached. Stay cool.

That’s what Sam had learned young. Dealing with other people’s kids in the public school system reinforced the lesson for him daily. It was best to keep calm under pressure. Have non-emotional and non-threatening conversations. Use humor whenever possible.

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