When I arrived at Oak Street Beach, I was fatigued. Sweaty from the exhaust-blasted bike ride, I wanted to take a dip in the lake, but I didn’t have a lock, so instead I bought a bottle of cold water and sat on the concrete step leading down to the sand. Probably because of where I was, Beach Boys songs kept playing through my head. “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” kept playing. But I really liked “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and didn’t want to play it so much I got sick of it, so I switched to “Little Deuce Coupe” and then to “Catch a Wave,” even though there were only tiny waves on Lake Michigan that day. Then, while scanning the beach, I saw her, and the songs went silent. She was sitting under a rainbow-colored beach umbrella. Most people on the crowded beach, except small children, were sitting on towels or blankets in the sunshine. People would hop through the hot sand to the water, wade out, then hike dripping back through the sand and plop down. Maureen remained in the shade of the umbrella. The light lake breeze flipped her glistening red hair across her white shoulders. Black sunglasses hid her blue eyes. She wore a black bikini, which was showy for her, but she kept a towel over herself for extra protection against the sun. She often wore loose clothes, to conceal her thinness, I believe, but she looked toned and glamorous in her bikini. As she sat up I could see her taut stomach muscles tense, see her ribs, occasionally a long, svelte, white leg would emerge in a flash from under the towel. She looked like she could have been beachside in Saint-Tropez, she looked like a movie star—but this was Oak Street Beach on the lakefront in Chicago. She gazed out at the shimmering lake, leaning back with her arms propped straight behind her or sitting forward with her elbows balanced on her knees. I debated approaching her. I was grimy from the bike ride. Then she began speaking with a girl I recognized as one of her sisters, either Kathleen or Colleen, and with the added rationalization of not wanting to interrupt, I did not approach. I remained at the beach longer than I’d planned—that is, until they began gathering their things to leave—and then I quickly straddled my bike and stealthily pedaled away. I hated that I wasn’t able to approach her—that my shyness, or whatever it was, didn’t allow me to—but loved that I’d had a sighting of Maureen Fitzpatrick.
Keith was bent under the pool table, adjusting screws at the base of the legs. He rose up on one knee and rolled the cue ball: it curved across the green-felt surface, as if across a putting green. As he made the adjustments, the curving seemed to become more pronounced. Keith was my friend, Maureen’s older brother. He said, “Do something useful and get us sodas. The refrigerator upstairs.” So I went upstairs. No one was around. An odd silence in the normally hyperactive Fitzpatrick house. I opened one of the doors of the massive refrigerator, peered in. Then a female voice, behind me. “Help you with something?” Mrs. Fitzpatrick smiled. She reminded me of a curvy, middle-aged Maureen O’Hara, with a softer, less severe beauty. That’s a bit of a cop-out for a description, but that’s what she looked like.
“Keith said I should come up and get sodas,” I said defensively; I felt I’d gotten caught at something—stealing food, maybe.
“Sodas are in the door, honey,” she said.
“How’s school going, Jack?”
I felt as nervous as if I were talking to Maureen. An older version of Maureen.
“And how are your mom and dad?”
“Good.” I wasn’t aware she knew my mom and dad.
“You’re a shy one, aren’t you?”
“I don’t know.”
“That’s okay, I like shy boys. Loudmouths are a dime a dozen. Do you have a girlfriend?”
“A girlfriend? No.”
“Sweet on Maureen, are we?”
“Yes,” I said. “Maureen is sweet.”
She laughed. “All right. Interrogation is over, run along.”
I dashed down the stairs. Keith was leaning over the table with a cue stick, slowly shooting pool balls, which rolled nearly straight now, wobbling a little as they came to a stop. I handed him a can.
“Thought you got lost,” he said.
Not an impossibility in the Fitzpatrick house.
“You tell your mom I like Maureen?” I said.
“She asked if I was sweet on Maureen.”
“She didn’t hear that from me.” Then: “Are you?”
“How would she—?”
“I don’t know. My mom just knows stuff. It’s rolling straighter now, right? Let’s play.” He set the triangle rack on the table and started piling in the balls. “I’ll break, since I’m the one who straightened out the table,” he said.