She did not want to be at the beach stumbling through stinging sand, searching for a dog, especially not when a rainstorm was coming. She hadn’t wanted to go to the beach, anyways, regardless of the puppy and rain. The idea—popular among most young women—of lounging in the blistering sun, getting sand in every fold of material and every bite of lunch, and knowing that all the men who looked at her desired more clothes not less were just some of the reasons why a beach vacation never had appealed to Meredith. Plus there was the issue of swimsuits. Instead of complaining about her five or six extra pounds, she ate a large bowl of ice cream every night, snacked without shame, and sneered at diet Coke. The only time she regretted these decisions was at the beach. But beach vacations were easy enough to avoid unless her brother chose the destination.
Meredith was not against pets in general, but she was not the least interested in having one of her own. Steve, on the other hand, loved animals and had recently bought a puppy: Daisy, a black lab who loved to play fetch. When Steve had decided to go on vacation, Meredith told him she didn’t want to keep the puppy. “Alright,” he had said, “we’ll all go on a trip instead.”
“All” included Steve, his wife Lilly, Meredith, and Daisy. Meredith had simply rolled her eyes. It would have been too much work to argue because she knew her brother would win regardless of what excuse she would give.
“Good. We’ll go to Sleeping Bear Dunes,” Steve had said.
“The beach? In northern Michigan?”
“Yeah, it’s supposed to be beautiful and warm in August.”
“I hate the beach.”
“You won’t need to swim, Meredith. You can sit on the blanket and watch Daisy.”
That’s exactly what she did. To protect her fair skin Meredith was covered with a thin shirt, lightweight cargo pants, and a floppy, wide-brimmed hat. Daisy sat with a straight back, her ears flopping in the onshore wind. Sulking beneath her sunglasses instead of noticing the red roofed lighthouse, Meredith stared aimlessly at the gray sky and rolling, crashing waves. They leapt onto the shore and churned beautiful stones along their foam, but she was too preoccupied by brushing the brim of her hat out of her face to notice the kaleidoscope of foam and rocks before her.
“Looks like we’ll get some rain tonight,” she said to Daisy.
Daisy wagged her tail, ears perked, and glanced from Meredith to Steve in the water.
“That’s right. Don’t have to argue with you. You don’t know any better so you have to agree. Steve would probably say it’s going to blow inland like he always says.” Meredith grinned, looking at the puppy and itching under Daisy’s blue collar.
Meredith thought back to their conversation in the car. They had been driving for a half hour and Lilly was sure that Steve had missed the turn.
“Just pull over for a minute, Steve, so I can look at the map and figure out where we are.”
Meredith was tucked between the cooler, beach bag, and Daisy in the back seat of Steve’s Mini Cooper. She could only see her older brother’s eyes in the rearview mirror but she knew he wasn’t happy. Shaking her head and looking out the window at the passing summer homes squished on the narrow yards between the road and a little lake lined with birch trees and paddleboats, Meredith couldn’t believe she was once again going to a beach. She leaned away from the window when she noticed Lilly looking at her in the side mirror.
“So how’s the job searching going?” Lilly said.
Meredith sighed and tried to be polite, knowing full well that Lilly didn’t care one iota. “It’s coming. And I’m still at Starbucks. It’s not my first choice for a long-term career but it’ll be fine for a while.”
“You make good drinks, Meredith,” Steve said. “Lilly told me the other day that the vanilla cappuccino you made her was the best she’d had in weeks.”
“Steve, please won’t you just stop so we can look at the map? Or why not just go back to Frankfort? The beach there is just fine.”
“Meredith and I were here a hundred times growing up, and Mom always found Petoskey Stones at this beach and we never saw them in Frankfort. I want to find a Petoskey Stone for you,” he said, smiling at Lilly. But she was too busy looking at the map to notice.
“Steve, do you think we should save the beach for another day when it doesn’t look like it’ll rain?” Meredith said.
“No, it’ll be fine. We already have plans for tomorrow and it’ll probably blow inland anyways.”
Eventually, Steve had recognized Platte River, and they turned around. After finally finding Point Betsie Lighthouse and the beach below it that overlooked Lake Michigan, Meredith sat with Daisy and the cooler while Steve and Lilly rushed into the waves.
Meredith kept glancing at the gathering clouds and telling Daisy that it was going to rain. Steve and Lilly were oblivious to the weather, and Meredith laughed as Lilly’s petite frame once again tumbled into the water. Meredith took off her sunglasses in the darkening light to better see what Lilly had found.
Steve motioned for Meredith to join them. Meredith tucked Daisy’s leash beneath the beach chair then, sighing, stepped lightly down the beach in an attempt to prevent the grains of sand from invading her socks.
“A rock? That’s all I came down here for?”
“You didn’t have to come over.”
Of course, I didn’t but your husband actually likes me.
“Lilly found a Petoskey Stone,” he said.
“You could have shown it to her later,” Lilly mumbled, adjusting the hip strings of her bikini.
Steve dipped the rock into the water. It emerged with fossilized imprints engraved on the sides. “Usually you can’t tell what it really is until you get it wet.”
Meredith took the rock from Steve and ran her thumb over the rough, fossilized indentations.
“Yeah, that’s a nice one,” Meredith said, handing it back to him. As she turned toward her chair Steve touched her arm.
“Meredith, where’s Daisy?”
The beach chair was abandoned, and the puppy had disappeared.
“You lost our dog?” Lilly took the Petoskey Stone from Steve and started wading toward the beach.
“No, I didn’t, and you didn’t like her anyways,” Meredith called after her.
“Meredith, why don’t you look by the car while we search the beach?” Steve said.
“No, I will look by the car,” Lilly said, turning around. “If I don’t see her, I’m getting in the car and going to wait until you two find her cause I don’t want to get wet.” She motioned toward the sky.
Meredith shook her head as she watched Lilly march to the blanket, dry off with a towel, and gather her bags. “As if she isn’t wet already.”
Steve sighed and looked from Meredith to the clouds.
“Earlier I was going to say that it’s going to rain, but I knew you’d argue with me. Daisy seemed to be the only one who listens to what I say.”
“Yeah, and now she’s gone. Alright, you look down the beach and I’ll go toward the lighthouse. If I don’t find her there, I’ll follow you.”
Meredith shrugged. Slender beach grass bent beneath the stiffening wind and the pulse of the waves drowned out the sound of the other people on the beach who were hurrying to gather their blankets before the downpour began.
She leaned into the wind and tottered as the sand shifted beneath her unsteady steps. The fishing boats that had been bobbing off shore were racing south to reach the marina. Meredith called the puppy several times then abandoned that strategy when she couldn’t yell above the gusting wind. The sand leapt up from the beach against her ankles like electric shocks.
Then it began to rain. Kamikaze raindrops soaked her thin clothes. Secured by a string, her hat drooped pitifully on either side of her head until the wind caught it, blowing it straight back like an unfortunate umbrella. The beach sloped upwards and rose to a steep hill covered in beach grass, bushes, and beach peas. The random cottonwood trees flashed the shimmering undersides of their pear-shaped leaves, waving as if appealing to her to turn around.
As she stumbled across the sand, leaning against the gusting wind, Meredith thought back to her breakfast Coke and two cans of Mountain Dew she had finished since arriving at the beach.
This would be so much easier if I wasn’t so fat. She imagined herself working out like she did in high school. Running? Hard on the knees. Biking? Her bike was in the shop from May a year ago. Swimming? Meredith looked at the water on her right. She had always loved swimming growing up. Before college. Before life got overwhelming and too much of a hassle and she became careless about her weight. I’m not that out of shape. She shook her head realizing how she could have easily stayed in shape like Lilly if she had wanted to.
Since Daisy was a black lab, Meredith scanned the waves to see if Daisy was playing in their midst. No puppy. She turned her eyes back to a grove of these trees and bushes ahead of her close to the edge of the water. It had been riddled with logs and sticks blown up from a previous storm. Amidst the gray mass, a thin blue line flapped in the wind.
The leash trembled and Meredith watched as Daisy wiggled her way through the debris and put her front feet on the dimpled sand. Her black fur was matted to her body and her back half was tangled in the brush.
“Aww, poor puppy,” she said rubbing her ears. “How are you caught in here?”
She peered through the branches. The wind caught up her hat then threw the brim down over her eyes. Pulling it off and tossing it to the ground, Meredith felt her mascara begin to run down her cheeks. She couldn’t see the end of the leash but could tell it was on the opposite side of the brush. The hill sloped down to the beach in such a way that Meredith knew she would be forced in to the water to reach Daisy’s leash.
She glanced over her shoulder to see if Steve had abandoned his search. No one was on the beach. Meredith sighed. She yanked off her tennis shoes and socks and didn’t bother to roll up her saturated pants. As soon as she was knee deep in the water, a wave sneaked up behind her and threw her face first into the water.
Meredith looked up to see Daisy on the near side of the brush, ears perked up and tail wagging. She whined and pulled at the leash.
“I hear you, I hear you,” Meredith said, dragging herself onto the sand. You’re the only one who listens to me, so I’ve got to listen to you.
She pried the bushes apart and untangled Daisy’s leash. As soon as she was freed, Daisy burst from the bushes and into the water. Meredith laughed.
“I want to be on the sand and all you want is to be in the water,” she said, shaking her head. She picked up a stick and tossed it through the subsiding rain into the water. Daisy swam out to it, bit at it playfully, and swam closer to the beach.
“Come on, Daisy, let’s go,” Meredith called. “Oh, for crying out loud,” she said. “I have to get back in there?”
Meredith waded back in the water and stood still. The waves crashed into her thighs and waist and the rain fell lightly on her head and shoulders. Daisy gnawed at the stick and pushed it against Meredith’s hand. She smiled and let her body be swayed back and forth by the roll of the waves. Every few crests, a large one would build and splash up to her shoulders. She watched Daisy rise and fall as she rode the top of the crests, still gnawing at the stick.
“Ok, puppy, I’ll play with you.” Meredith waited for the next large crest then dove straight into the peak. She emerged dripping and laughing. Taking Daisy’s stick she tossed it farther into the water and raced Daisy to reach it. They continued to play catch, diving into and floating on top of the waves as the rainstorm ended. Meredith laughed and didn’t hear Steve call until she saw him waving his arms from the sand. She tossed the stick closer to shore and they swam toward it so she could hear him.
“Meredith, what are you doing?”
“We’re playing,” she grinned.
Steve smiled and picked up his sister’s shoes and hat as she and Daisy waded out of the water. Meredith explained where she had found the puppy.
“I talked to Lilly,” Steve said as they began walking to the car. “We can’t bring Daisy. She won’t let me put her in the car since she’s so wet.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know. Walk back with her I guess. You and Lilly can take the car.”
Meredith looked down at her dripping clothes then at Daisy scampering along, nipping at the leash. “I’ll walk her back. I could use the exercise.”
“What?” Steve looked questioningly at his sister then smiled as he watched her— shoeless and drenched to the skin—walk an equally wet puppy.
“We’ve been having nice conversations together and have a lot in common.”
Meredith took her hat from Steve and spun it on her finger. They were walking toward the lighthouse and its beam scanned the rolling waves, rain-dimpled sand, and empty beach. Meredith smiled and tucked her arm in her brother’s as Daisy pranced beside them.
After studying literature and creative writing at Mount Vernon Nazarene University, DAWN REED now resides with her husband near Cleveland, Ohio. She has a passion for using the natural world as a key element in her stories. The inspiration for these locations is often the national parks and lakeshores Dawn has visited in Tennessee, Maine, Wyoming, and Michigan. The beach and lighthouse in “Like a Petoskey Stone” is one such place in northwest Michigan.