Author: hah
Rating: PG
Disclaimer: I really wish I'd thought of Roswell first.
Feedback: Please don't make me beg.

        I was able to smell it long before I saw it. I was sitting in the driver's seat of Maria's Jetta, the window down and the wind blowing through my hair. Maria sat next to me and Liz was in the back seat. Behind us on the road were Max, Isabel and Alex in the Jeep and Kyle and Tess in his flashy red car. We were two days out of school and more than eight hundred miles out of Roswell, New Mexico.
The eight of us were on a road trip to celebrate the end of another school year. We all needed to blow off a little steam and forget our troubles. Our little trip to Las Vegas earlier in the year had proven that. I laughed to myself. This one was even Valenti-approved. He'd called together the Evanses, the Whitmans, the Parkers, and Maria's mom for a little parental pow-wow. They had discussed the idea and agreed. Probably reluctantly. Mr. Parker had even agreed to give Liz, Maria, and me a week off.

Now that I'm on my own I didn't need to worry about permission; I could've taken off at any time. But this wasn't a trip I wanted to take by myself. It wouldn't have felt right, so I was glad that Valenti had helped organize this. Even though it wasn't a planetary emergency.

Surprisingly, we had all agreed on a location rather quickly. Surrounded by the desert twenty-four seven, a trip to the beach sounded pretty damn good.

So here we were, somewhere outside of San Diego, California. I could smell a change in the air. It was, I don't know, tangier, or something. And a little wetter, maybe. Anyway, it was different from the dry, hot air of Roswell.

It was late afternoon, our second day on the road. The sun was almost directly in front of me and even with my sunglasses on it was hard to see. Maria was in charge of directions. Passenger seat duty. "Oh," she said suddenly, " turn right at the next exit." The next exit was less than a quarter of a mile away and I barely had time to signal before I was off the main road. No time to even scowl in her direction. I checked my rear view mirror. Max, who had been driving the safe-driver-manual-suggested-distance behind me, made the turn, as did Kyle.

Maria continued to call out directions based on the signs posted alongside the road. A few more twists and turns and I heard a roar in the distance. It was like nothing I'd ever heard before. And yet, it was familiar. It was the sound of the wind rustling through the trees in Frasier Woods. The sound of wild animals I'd only seen on TV calling to their mates. The sound of my pulse racing each time we faced a new threat to our existence.

Another mile and we were there. I pulled into the parking lot. It was a good thing it was nearly empty; I could barely focus on parking the car. I was too enthralled by the sight before me. This was it. The Pacific Ocean. My wildest dreams couldn't compare to the reality.

I didn't wait for the others to park. Or to even get out of the car. I simply couldn't. I pushed open the door and stumbled out onto the pavement and headed in the direction of the water. There were a few families still on the beach, children laughing and shouting, but I was barely aware of them. All my senses were focused on the water. I stepped onto the beach and sand trickled into my shoes. I stopped and stared down at them.

Liz was the first one to catch up to me. Her sandals dangled from one hand. "Take off your shoes, Michael," she encouraged. She was the one who had spent the last summer in Florida so I took her advice. I braced one hand on her shoulder to keep my balance and unlaced my sneaker. Once my shoe and sock were off, I tentatively lowered my foot to the sand.

It was…warm. And soft. And it kinda tickled as it ran through my toes. I switched hands and bared my other foot. Both feet in the sand, I scrunched my toes and reveled in the new sensation. A laugh escaped me. Then another. Soon Liz and I were both standing there laughing like loons. "If you could've seen your face, Michael. You looked so surprised. And so happy."

The others caught up with us. They had all removed their shoes just before they stepped onto the sand. I guess everyone had been to the beach before but me. A feeling of loneliness washed over me but I shook it off. I was not going to allow anything to spoil this day for me.

"C'mon, let's go." Maria grabbed one of my hands and Liz grabbed the other. The two of them dragged me down the beach, towards the water. My feet shifted and slid through the sand as we walked.

Within a few feet of the water the sand changed. It was cold and wet and harder. And much easier to walk on. The girls stopped just inches from the water. Just then, a frothy tongue of water surged over the sand. It swirled around my toes and then rushed back the direction it had come.

It was followed by another. And then another. I looked up to find both girls watching me.

"Ready for a swim?" Liz asked. Liz reached down and pulled her dress up over her head. I nearly passed out before I remembered we had all changed into our swimsuits at the last rest stop. Maria let her dress slide off her shoulders and I realized the others had joined us. Everyone was down to their suits but me. I tugged my t-shirt over my head and let my jeans pool in the sand. I kicked my clothes out of reach of the waves.

Max, Isabel, Alex, Kyle, and Tess all raced by us into the water. The guys dove headfirst into the next oncoming wave. Isabel and Tess were a bit more cautious, moving from ankle deep water to their knees, then their waists. Tired of waiting, Max dunked Isabel while Kyle pulled Tess under the water. Soon the five of them were splashing and shrieking.

I stood on the beach watching. "Are you ok?" Maria asked.

I hated to admit weakness but now that we were here…. "I'm not that great a swimmer," I mumbled. "Max and Isabel taught me the basics, but I, uh, never really had the chance to practice."

Liz nodded in understanding. "I'm sure it will all come back to you, Michael. Just take it slow. You'll be fine."

I sucked in a deep breath and took my first step into the water. It was colder than I expected and all the air rushed out of my lungs. Maria and Liz moved to take my hands again, but I shook them off. I wanted, no, needed, to do this myself. This moment had to belong to me.

My next step took me into water halfway up my shins. I strode through the water. Probably not as gracefully as the hardbodies on Baywatch, but soon I was in water up to my chest. Imitating the others, I dove into the next wave.

And thought I was going to die. My eyes stung and my mouth and nose burned. Frantically my feet sought the bottom and my head broke the surface. Max grasped my shoulder and helped to steady me as I coughed and choked. "Okay?" he asked.

I coughed a couple more times but managed a nod. I licked my lips before I spoke and tasted the salt of the water. "Not quite like the pool," I rasped out. Everyone laughed and I smiled.

Once I figured out how to balance against the waves I felt a lot better about being in the water. Before I could talk myself out of it, my hand skimmed across the water and splashed Isabel.

"Oh! You beast!" she shrieked and proceeded to use her powers to send water flying at me.
I sputtered as the water hit me in the face. "Hey, no fair! You can't use your, uh, powers out here. What if someone sees?" This was supposed to be a vacation. I didn't want to be ID'd as an alien while I was on vacation.
"Michael," Isabel said, "the closest people are all the way down the beach." She pointed to a group of small figures. I hadn't realized how far we had drifted. "Besides," she continued, "the waves themselves would cover anything we do. Short of a geyser."
I laughed and used my power to squirt water at Tess. She aimed at Alex and from there it became a full-fledged water fight. The humans were at a disadvantage so we ended up forming teams. Kyle and I faced off against Max and Alex, Maria and Isabel, and Tess and Liz.

It was crazy. It was insane. It was fun. I hadn't had fun in a very long time. Not since I was a really little kid, I think. I was always too busy worrying.

I don't know how long we spent in the water. My skin was all wrinkly and I was starting to get a little chilled. But I didn't want to be the first one out of the water; I wanted to be the last.

Tess was the first one out of the water. Kyle was close behind her. Maria, Liz and Alex were next. They held hands and skipped through the water. Then it was just me and Max and Isabel. The way it had been for so long. I grabbed them both in a hug. They stiffened at first; I understood, I'm not normally the most demonstrative guy, but then they relaxed. It felt good to be so close to them, to my family.

We broke apart slowly. Max and Isabel moved towards the beach but I remained where I was. Max and Is looked back at me. "Go on. I'll be there in just a minute." They were reluctant to leave me and I knew why. But I wouldn't be separated from them this time. "I'll be just a second. Promise."

They turned and walked back to the beach. I turned away and just looked at the ocean. The water went on for forever, it seemed. I felt small and unimportant. I kinda liked that feeling. I don't know how long I just stood there, staring at the horizon. Then I took a deep breath and turned back to the beach. There, just on the edge of this vastness, stood the most important things in the world to me. My family, my friends.

I made my way out of the water. Alex tossed me a towel Max had swiped from his parents' linen closet. The evening air was cold on my wet skin so I hurried to dry off and slip back into my abandoned clothes. They, at least, were warm from sitting there in the sun. We had all brought blankets along and the others had spread them out on the sand while I had dressed. A few were left to protect us from the cool night air.

"Hurry, Michael," Liz called. "You'll miss the sunset." She lifted the edge of her blanket and I settled into the space between her and Maria.

The beach was quiet and empty as we watched the sunset that night. Swirls of color filled the evening sky and played along the surface of the water. It was an incredible ending to an unforgettable day.

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