R.W. Van Sant
He was slightly nervous, heading for his first real dive. The equipment rattled and bounced in the rusted back of Ted’s truck. Jerry watched out the rear window, mentally identifying each piece with some degree of personal satisfaction. Regulators, diving cylinders, hoses, and gauges—he was familiar with them all.
Ted pulled into the first open parking space. The beach was crowded, and they were fortunate to find a place to park near to the water. Ted practically bounded out of the car. He climbed into the back and separated the equipment into two piles, one for Jerry and the other for him.
“Lesson time, schoolboy,” Ted said.
Jerry started to climb into the creaking metal truck bed, then changed his mind and sat on the lip. They sat there, soaking in the sun and looking at the beach goers as they put on their gear. Ted quizzed Jerry on hand signals as he struggled with his wetsuit. The hand motions reminded Jerry, more than anything else, of the Indian hand signs he had learned as a child at summer camp in the Jemez Mountains. Jerry felt that the entire procedure was ridiculous. He had just passed the tests and gotten his license. If he got into trouble, he could just blow a lot of bubbles out his regulator and frantically wave his hands. Even Ted might get the idea.
Jerry stood up to put on his tanks just as a glass bottle came flying through the air, striking the side of the truck where he’d been sitting, shattering to pieces. The brown shards scattered around the truck and everything suddenly smelled of beer.
“Hey Teller, go to hell where you belong.” An angry gruff voice yelled from a moving car. Jerry couldn’t make out the face of the man who had thrown the bottle, he was sure from Ted’s expression, however, that his brother recognized the voice. Their assailant climbed quickly back into the window of a tan sedan as it sped past and disappeared around a corner.
“Damn, he almost hit me. We should call the police.” Jerry brushed off some of the glass, revealing some reddish smudges on his skin “Son of a bitch cut me.”
“Are you okay?”
“I think so. What the fuck, Ted, you know that guy?”
“Then let’s go report him, the bastard almost brained me.”
“I think it would be best to let him be. We shouldn’t let apes like him distract us.”
“What did you do to him?”
“I didn’t do anything. His brother disappeared shortly after I got into town. He’s still missing.”
“They blamed you?”
“They questioned me, but he pitched a real bitch when they had to let me go.”
“You were interviewed? By the police? Why?”
“Because I was new to town, and I’m a Teller.”
“I don’t know about you, Ted, but I’m still a Lujan.”
“I’m sorry Jer, I should have warned you. They blame us for every lost dog around here.” Ted’s voice sounded unusually bitter. “There were unexplained disappearances back in the day. They stopped when the captain disappeared.”
“Does everyone here feel that way?” Ellie’s last statement rang in his ears.
“Not all, just a few loud morons. We just have to grin and bear it.”
“Why put up with it?”
“Once we’re rich, they’ll be falling at our feet,” Ted said.
“Yeah, sure.” Jerry had put up with intolerant idiots his whole life, and it irked him. No matter how hard he tried to let it ‘roll off his back’ as his grandmother would have said, it just made him angry. Jerry understood that Ted didn’t want to make waves, still. When all this was over, he’d get Ted to tell him who that jerk was and file a police report. Unlike his brother, he believed people like that need to be taught they can’t get away with it.
Jerry and Ted helped each other into their gear, channeling their outrage into something more productive. Ted “ooh yawhed” to get his brother “psyched” for the dive. Jerry returned it until both of them were hell-bent for water. Then they stood up, and with their flippered feet, waddled together toward the sea, helping stabilize each other.
Jerry found that walking into the surf was harder than walking on the sand. In the sand, all he had to do was walk with his weight primarily on his heels. When he got into the water, the oversized rubber duck feet that Jerry wore to aid his movement fought him with each step. The heavy gear on his back was pulling him down as the flippers did their best to trip him. He wasn’t sure how he looked, but he felt ridiculous. Taking one step at a time; trying to stepping heel to toe, heel to toe with the rubber flippers splashing up the surf as he went, he made his way into the Pacific.
The waves crashed against Jerry’s legs, forcing him to adjust his balance with each step. He risked a look upward, afraid that a more massive wave would catch him unaware and sent him tumbling onto his back, a pathetic looking turtle man. Instead, he saw Eleanor, in a one-piece, light blue swimming suit, coming out of the surf directly in front of him. She looked even better than the bikini-clad sunbathers he saw on the beach. Jerry waved at her, forgetting to watch his footing as he did so. His flipper caught on something beneath the water, and he went down face first into the Pacific Ocean in plain view of all. It was only with the utmost skill that he managed to land with his hands in front of him to break his fall, receiving his first taste of salty ocean water.
Ellie was laughing as Jerry rose to his knees, groaning. To his surprise, she was smiling and waving back. When it came to Eleanor Foster, he would never catch a break. The beach was full of women; he fixated on the one he couldn’t have. With any luck, a few of the others might have missed his acrobatic display, or maybe one might take pity on him and teach the poor desert boy how to move in the water.
Ted helped him up, and stayed close, keeping him steady as they walked together deeper into the water. He was sure the entire town would soon hear about how the clumsy Teller come lately had made a fool of himself in public. In a small town, gossip was viral. It passed from the lips of one bored idiot to another until the whole area knows. Then what? Well, he’d be rich, and the rich aren’t foolish—they’re flamboyant.
The two novice divers stood hip-deep in the cold waters of the Pacific Ocean as the waves lapped at them. Ted inspected Jerry’s tanks and hoses for any damage he might have done to them when he took his face dive. He gave the okay sign and went face first into the water. Jerry put on his mouthpiece and followed into that strange darkened world.
The beauty of the sea life was stunning. On the ocean floor, Jerry could see several new species of plants. Small fish scattered before him and below in the rocks, and crabs scurried as the divers approached. He tried to put names to the fish and plants only to discover that his knowledge on the subject was woefully inadequate. It was indeed a world as alien as any he’d ever seen in the movies.
Jerry tried to catch up to his brother, who appeared as an indistinct blob ahead of him. Ted had taken classes from a real pro. Jerry hoped that the training had included basic rescue techniques. It was evident by the ease with which Ted was moving through the water that he had been practicing. Jerry floundered behind, feeling like an injured seal. Ted was staying in shallow waters, which was okay with him; Jerry didn’t want to push his luck on his first time out.
Jerry enjoyed the sensations of floating as he explored the threshold of the vast undersea universe. The anxiety subsided, and it dawned on Jerry that maybe he’d found his calling. Whatever he was meant to do with his life, scuba diving would be part of it. He relaxed and stopped fighting the water. There was no need to catch his brother; he didn’t need to be next to his older brother any longer for protection. Jerry started to move more freely among the fish and rocks.
Ted slowed and waited for Jerry to catch up. He motioned to his tank’s pressure gauge. Jerry looked at his gauge. The oxygen tank was nearly empty. Losing track of time in the weightless paradise was easy. Together they swam back into the shallow water and waded out of the ocean. Jerry stopped while still hip deep in the Pacific and removed his flippers. The last thing he wanted was a repeat of the earlier face flop.
“Yes!” a familiar feminine voice cheered. Jerry fought the surf that pounded him back. Ellie just smiled. “The boy can be taught. So how did your student do?”
“Not too bad,” Ted said.
“Remember, you are still pretty new at this yourself.” She told Ted. “Personally, I would have warned him about walking in swim fins. But seeing as you had yours on also…”
“We learn best from our mistakes,” Ted said.
“Let me help.” Ellie took the tanks off Jerry’s back. He was grateful for the assistance; out of the water, they had begun to feel a little like lead weights. She slung them over her tanned shoulder as quickly as a windbreaker.
“Looking to steal my student?” Ted asked.
“Maybe,” she said.
“You teach?” Ted was right. She was way out of his league.
“I teach a little when I have the time.” She set the tanks down on the sand.
“Her uncle owns the dive shop.” Ted removed his tank and set it beside the other in the hot sand. “She’s taught me a lot.”
“Right, Paul’s your uncle?”
“Yep,” Ellie said. “Go for a walk with me?” She pointed down the beach. “Do you mind?”
“Go ahead, have fun. I’ll take these back to the shop for a refill. Meet you there. Okay?” Ted grabbed a tank and lugged it toward the truck.
“Okay.” Jerry felt the hot tingle of hope.
“I’ll drive him back. He’s staying with you, right?” Ellie called to Ted.
“Yeah,” Ted grunted as he swung the first tank onto the bed. “Have fun kids, don’t be too late.”
Ellie walked next to Jerry as they made their way slowly down the strand. He felt a little foolish wearing the wetsuit, but she didn’t seem to mind. The sun was setting, and the cooling sand felt pleasant between his toes.
“First of all, this isn’t a date.” She announced suddenly. “I didn’t want you to get the wrong idea. I just wanted to talk to you about something.”
“Alright.” His heart dropped.
“You’re in college, right?”
“There aren’t many people around here who go to college.”
“Thanks okay, there aren’t many where I live who can scuba dive.”
“I teach for my uncle, and the waitress thing to raise money for college, and because my parents own the place.”
“There’s always financial aid,” Jerry said.
“I’m trying to qualify. My parents claimed me as a dependent.” She said. “Between the shop and the restaurant, my parents are mortgaged to the hilt. They can’t pay for college. So, I’m staying with my uncle, to maintain a separate address for a year, until I qualify as independent.”
“Sounds like you’re on the right track.” Jerry knew quite a few people who went that route. It took a couple of years, but it paid off.
“How did you do it? Pay for college, I mean?” She asked.
“Oh,” Okay now that he knew what she wanted, he could put her interest into its proper perspective. “Well, at first I got loans, grants, I did some tutoring, and worked at the library shelving books. I inherited some from my grandmother. Not sure exactly what it’ll do to next year’s determination, though.”
“Can you help me with student loan applications?” she asked.
“You really should have had those done by February. It may be a little too late to get some of the grants. Where are you planning to go?”
“I don’t know yet. What good would it do to get into a university that I couldn’t afford to attend?”
“The forms require that you list all the universities you are thinking about attending. The trick is to pick places you think you can get accepted. They send your financial aid information to each one. When you get accepted, they already have your file waiting.”
“I was going to apply at Long Beach.” She said.
“I’d do it real soon,” Jerry said. “You’d be amazed at what you can do with a fax and overnight express.”
“Really,” She smiled.” I need to know about dorms and well, all of it. No one in my family has ever gone to college.”
“We have that in common.” The sun was about to touch the water. Jerry stood and just watched, half expecting to hear it hiss. “I was the first in my family, too. How dark does it get on the beach at night?”
“Afraid of the dark?” she asked.
“No, I just don’t want to wander off into the ocean on the way back.”
“It’s simple enough, when your feet get wet, go the other way. Can I ask you a question?”
“Another one? Fire away.”
“Ted told Uncle Paul that he owns the house at Teller’s cove.”
“Yeah, Ted owns it. We both do, I guess.”
“Both of you? Then the rumors are true?”
“I didn’t know I’d been here long enough to cause any rumors.”
“That you and Ted are… Tellers.” She whispered, as though saying it aloud might make the air split apart.
“No, “Jerry whispered back.” We’re Lujans, but I guess our grandmother was a Teller. Ted and I were her only heirs.”
“So that’s why you might stay.” She said. “For the property.”
“I might. I don’t know yet.”
“And why you might soon be rich. If you want my advice, you and Ted should sell the place quick. It’s a terrible place.”
“You believe that crap?”
“We all grew up on the stories of Old Man Teller. Grandpa told me that nothing good ever happened to those that lived there.”
“Define ‘nothing good’?
“They died young or disappeared.”
“Well, I don’t believe in ghosts. I’m only going to be here a week, and I don’t see what can happen in that time.”
“So, you’re not going to stay.”
“I don’t know. I’ve got finals in a couple of weeks. I may come back. Look, Ted has me pretty booked up, but I think I can manage to free some time to help you with your paperwork.”
“Thanks.” She said. “How about some ice cream? There’s a place down the street.”
“Sure.” Jerry followed her to a little red Nissan. The tightness of the wetsuit made it difficult to squeeze into the small car. Ellie barely hid her amusement. “Do you have my number?”
“Uncle Paul does,” she said, starting up the car as the last rays of the sun spread across the ocean.
“Why don’t you call me later and I can coordinate sometime between the stuff that Ted has planned.”
“Hell if I know,” Jerry said. “I’m just playing it by ear, but we’ll find some time.”
“Sure thing,” she drove out of the parking lot and down the strip to the ice-cream parlor.