Ethan's Heart (4) - Space Coast
"Look! An alligator!" a small voice shrieked over the buzz of the airboat's fan. A little girl, about 5 years of age, stood, pointing over the edge of the boat as the floated along the murky waters of the Florida marshes. A reptilian creature with rugged, mucky-green scales emerged from beneath one of the mangrove trees. Water dripped from its eyelids as they rolled open to reveal large, glowering brown eyes. The passengers in the airboat looked at the creature with wide eyes and mouths agape.
Ethan was fiddling with his thumbs while the rest of the passengers reveled in the lurking beast’s presence. The alligator snorted in a peevish manner and sank back into the swamp waters. Owen tugged on Ethan’s T-shirt sleeve and whispered, “Man, didja see that?”
“Hmm?” asked Ethan, looking up as though he had just been awoken.
Elina turned her attention back to Ethan, her face somber. “The alligator,” said Owen, furrowing his eyebrows.
“Alligator?” Ethan asked. “Oh, I think I missed it,” he said, glancing over his shoulder at the water. He shrugged his shoulders and returned to fiddling with his thumbs.
“Crikey, mate! Do you need me to dive into the waters and wrestle that beaut for you?” Elina asked in an exaggerated Australian accent. That got Ethan’s attention right away, along with the attention of many other passengers on the airboat.
Ethan looked as though he would burst. He kept his mouth tightly sealed but his eyes lit up and his shoulders began shaking slightly. Owen was laughing hysterically, along with others who were laughing. Ethan began to laugh as well, and Elina’s face turned beet red. “It’s an alligator, not a crocodile, Aunty,” said Ethan, through gasps of laughter.
Elina forced a smile at the laughing passengers and received a comment from the tour guide. “Well, ladies and gentlemen, it seems we have Steve Irwin aboard.”
The laughter climaxed and Ethan was doubled over, laughing uncontrollably. Elina looked at her nephew and smiled.
After a few minutes, a stable structure was visible up ahead. It was a building; a food shack with the words: Lone Cabbage painted in white on the wooden walls. “Look, Eath,” said Elina, gently tapping Ethan’s knee. Ethan was silently scratching at a small dirt stain on his basketball shorts. He looked up when his Aunt patted his knee. When he saw the building they were nearing, he gave a very small smile.
Elina’s smile stretched even wider as she said, “Isn’t this exciting?”
Ethan nodded his head. “Yeah, just don’t get too excited and mimic the Crocodile Hunter again,” said Owen, chuckling quietly. One of the passengers in front of Owen, a woman with red hair, looked back at Elina with a jocular smile.
Elina’s cheeks turned slightly red as she said, “Don’t worry, I won’t.”
Ethan returned to scratching at the small spot of dirt. Elina gently patted his knee again and then picked up her shoulder bag that she had placed on the airboat seat between herself and her nephew. As the airboat neared the dock, the passengers prepared to get off.
At last, they were walking towards the Lone Cabbage. Ethan walked slowly between Owen and Elina, forcing the two to walk slowly as well. “Come on, Eath,” said Elina, grasping his upper arm. Ethan gently pulled his arm out of his aunt’s grip. Elina’s smile melted from her face and she glanced sideways at Owen, who bit his upper lip and looked away.
As they reached the entrance to the Lone Cabbage, Ethan stopped dead in his tracks. He leaned against one of the brick pillars that supported the overhead shade. Looking up guiltily at his aunt, he asked, “Do we have to?”
Owen remained standing on one side of Ethan while Elina stood in front of her nephew. She looked at him, concern clear on her face. “What’s wrong, love?” she asked.
“I don’t have much of an appetite right now,” said Ethan. “Can we skip lunch?”
Owen looked to Elina for her reaction. Elina creased her forehead, put one hand on her hip and looked towards the door of the building. Then she looked at the airboat. The tour guide was still standing near the boat, casually smoking a cigarette. “Are you sure you don’t want to try eating?” Elina asked Ethan. She looked at him and explained, “The boat will not be leaving for a while.”
“I just don’t want to go in there,” said Ethan.
Elina’s shoulders subtly rose and fell in an inaudible sigh. “Alright,” she said. “Owen, you must be hungry.”
Owen nodded his head vigorously but then he abruptly stopped. “But, it’s okay,” he dryly said.
Ethan continued leaning against the pillar, arms folded, looking down at the ground. Owen looked at his friend and said, “Really, it’s okay.”
“Well,” said Elina. “There’s not much to do outside of the restaurant but…” She stepped out from underneath the shade of the building. She looked her left and to her right before turned back to the boys. “I suppose we can just sit and enjoy the fresh air. Or we can walk about. There isn’t much walking space but…”
Ethan wasn’t paying attention to her. He was still looking down at the ground and Owen was staring at the restaurant entrance. “Owen, would you like me to take you inside to get something to eat?” she asked him.
“It’s okay,” Owen reluctantly said.
“Go ahead,” Ethan permitted. He didn’t once look up to speak to his friend.
Elina walked back under the shelter, placed her hand on Owen’s upper back and said, “Okay, Ethan. I’ll be right back.” Ethan nodded. As Elina prepared to walk away she stopped and a bright smile appeared on her face. “How about we go to the beach?” she excitedly asked.
Ethan slowly looked up at her and then shrugged his shoulders. Elina’s shoulders drooped and she looked at him with pleading eyes. “Come on, Eath,” she said in a quiet, gentle tone. “We can get some hotdogs and stuff while we’re there.”
“Sounds good,” said Owen, turning towards Ethan again.
“Okay,” said Ethan. He nodded and finally managed to put a smile on his face.
“Good,” said Elina, also nodding her head.
~ * ~
“Bet I can eat twice as many hotdogs as you,” Owen proclaimed loud and clear. The trio approached a hotdog stand atop the pier overlooking the sandy beach.
“You realize if I ate two hot dogs, you’d have to eat four,” Ethan said. He sounded incredibly bored.
“Four is a piece of cake, I’m starving.” Owen waved his hand like he might shoo away a pesky insect. “I can eat twice as many hotdogs as you, twice as fast. I betcha twenty bucks.” He shoved his hand into his pocket and pulled out a wad of bills.
“Yeah? Well I could eat four hotdogs easy,” Ethan said with a devilish smile.
“Why don’t you put your money where your mouth is,” Owen challenged.
Elina put her hands on her hips and turned to the two boys. “I don’t think I’m okay with paying for thirteen hotdogs.”
“You’re on!” Ethan said, as though he didn’t even hear Elina. “I’ll take four!” he told the man behind the hotdog stand.
Owen half turned toward Elina and winked. The biggest smile covered her face, crinkling the corners of her eyes, and she mouthed the words thank you.
Moments later, Elina, Ethan, and Owen found a spot on the end of the pier where they could sit and eat. The boys both had two hotdogs, and Elina had one. Ethan was half finished with his first in only a few bites, but Owen beat him in the hotdog eating contest by a long shot. His second hotdog was gone shortly after Ethan had finished his first.
“Owen, the vacuum cleaner, ladies and gentleman!” Ethan called out, and Owen shot up from his seat, bowed twice with his arms outstretched, and let out a deep belch.
Despite the fact that it was noon on a school day, the pier was rather crowded with people. Elina turned red in the face, but she didn’t stop smiling.
“Thanks for the food.” Owen sat down on the bench and leaned back against the railing. Twenty feet below, the ocean sparkled in the bright sunshine.
“Thank you for coming,” Elina said. “What should we do next?”
“I wanna go swimming!” Ethan jumped up and gazed over the railing in the direction of the beach.
“Swimming, Eath?” Elina frowned at Ethan’s back. “Are you sure?”
Ethan rolled his eyes and hung his head over the railing. He studied the waves crashing against the pier’s support beams.
“Of course we’re going swimming!” Owen jumped up again and put his elbows on the railing beside Ethan. “You can’t come to Space Coast and not go swimming.”
Elina took the section of railing on Ethan’s other side. “If you really want to, then I suppose it’s okay, but you have to take it easy out there, okay?”
Ethan slowly turned to look at his aunt. “I really wanna, and I will, okay?”
“Okay.” Elina nodded. “You start to feel tired and you come in right away, and no swimming out to the buoys or anything crazy like that, okay Owen?”
Owen turned toward Elina and Ethan with an incredulous frown. “Why am I always the crazy one?”
“Says the guy who was probably thinking about jumping off this pier,” Ethan said with a smile on his face.
Elina stuffed the rest of her hotdog into her mouth to keep from laughing.
~ * ~
“You only have about an hour until we need to head back, so try to give yourself some time to get ready, okay?” Elina had settled down under an umbrella with a book. “I don’t want my car seats to get wet because you two were in the water up until the minute we need to go.”
Ethan and Owen didn’t seem to be listening. They were both removing shirts and kicking off sandals. Owen dug into the pockets of his swim trunks and found his wallet and sunglasses. “Hold onto these for me?”
Elina nodded and Owen dropped his belongings on the edge of Elina’s towel.
“And please take it easy out there, Eath,” Elina said.
Ethan turned toward the water, and without answering, he started to jog away.
“Walk, Ethan!” Elina shouted after him.
“I got it,” Owen said. He ran after Ethan and barreled into him, so that Ethan had to stop running in order to catch his balance so he didn’t fall over. Owen got Ethan in a headlock. “Aunty says you’re running too much.”
Ethan pushed Owen away. “I’m always doing too much of something. If we can’t swim to a buoy, then what’re we gonna do?”
“Scour the waters for hot chicks to hit on.” Owen put his hands to his eyes like huge binoculars and whistled shrilly. “There she blows!” He pointed off in the distance at a young girl building a sand castle near the water. She was probably only five years old.
Ethan just shook his head and picked up the pace toward the water.
“We can dive for money!” Owen jogged to catch up with Ethan’s quicker pace. “I have some quarters in my pocket.”
“Sure. Okay.” Ethan reached the water’s edge and hurried in. Within minutes, the two boys were out where they couldn’t reach the bottom, treading water. “How many quarters do you have?”
Owen dug into his pocket and handed Ethan a few quarters. Ethan tossed the money a fair distance away where it plunked into the water.
“I’m going for all three quarters in one dive!” Owen took off after the money. As soon as Owen dove down to retrieve the money, Ethan turned to his back and floated effortlessly. The waves rocked him to and fro as he stared up at the bright blue sky. A few clouds caught Ethan’s eye, and he studied them as the waves continued to lift him up and drop him down and send him drifting away.
By the time Owen resurfaced with the quarters in hand, the waves had carried Ethan about fifteen feet away. Owen rubbed the salt water out of his eyes and looked up. “Hey, E.T?” He spun around in a circle. “Where’d you go? Ethan!” Owen’s voice went shrill with alarm.
Twenty feet away, Ethan continued to float on his back as the waves carried him farther out to sea.
Ethan's Heart is an online story written collaboratively by Kaltopsyd and ACSutliff. Hubs will be published on Thursdays alternating between ACSutliff's hub and Kaltopsyd's hub. To make sure you don't miss the next installment, go follow ACSutliff today! And as always, thank you so much for reading our online stories. Comments are most welcome!