Summer in Oak Harbor can average a warm 75°F, but it’s the inescapable, near-palpable humidity that makes it feel hotter. That’s how it works on Whidbey Island in the summer which sees a mix of rainy days and the excessive humidity of sunny days. It is, as people like to say, a muggy heat that follows you into any shade from the sun.
It’s 1988. Many people don’t have air conditioning in their homes and just have to tough out the hotter days with electric fans, swimming pools, or trips to the beach. Some escape to the comfort of the theater or supermarkets for the air conditioning. In the evenings after dusk once the temperatures begin to drop, folks emerge from their homes and drink in the cooler air for a bit of relief. Until then, though, it’s far better to stay inside and play games.
Amber Lee McMartin was pretty, wore designer clothes, and knew just about everyone worth knowing at school. At 13 years old, next year will be her final year in middle school at the peak of her popularity, and she’s not concerned about starting over in high school as she became best friends with her neighbor, Tammy, who will be a senior by then. This summer is going to be a breeze.
Amber Lee started her day like she starts everything else: when she wants to. It was already late in the morning, and her family’s housekeeper, Debora, made a small breakfast for Amber to eat. She took a few bites while sitting at a small vanity table with a classic rotary phone before calling up her best friend Tammy.
“You should come over,” she told Tammy during the conversation. “I’ll have Debora make us some virgin margaritas and invite a couple boys over to join us at my pool.”
“That is such a good idea, Amber,” Tammy said with veiled excitement. “I could use a good drink. Let’s call it a brunch.”
Brad Jacobson is a tall, 12-year old kid who plays football and whatever other sport he can get into at middle school. He is often seen with a sports jersey of himself or his favorite national teams and players. Unlike most jocks in school, he is more humbled, open-minded, and willing to do right by others. He may on occasion spend time with his dad helping him and other firefighters at the local fire station, but—with school (and thereby sports) being out—it’s going to be a long summer.
Brad was in the middle of a game with his little sister Shelly on their Atari when the phone rang. His mom picked up the phone and called out to him. “Brad! Amber Lee is on the phone!” Brad popped up from the floor, patted his sister on the head, and leapt over the couch to take the phone from his mom.
“Hey,” Brad started.
“‘Hey’,” Amber Lee mimicked. She retorted playfully, “Is that all you’re going to say? You knew it was me.”
“Hey, Amber,” Brad said in a more corrective tone. “How’s it going?”
“Oh, pretty good. Do you want to come over for brunch at my pool? Tammy’s coming over, too,” she said as if making the decision for him already.
“Sure! Can I bring my buddy Jimmy Jon?”
She paused for a moment. “Fine, whatever. I’ll see you soon!”
Brad hung up the phone and leapt back over the couch. “One more game, Shelly. Then I’m gonna head out.” After he finished a match, he set down the joystick and stood up to head towards the phone. He saw that his mom was already on the phone talking to someone.
“Mom,” Brad said after politely getting her attention first with a shirt sleeve tug. “Can I use the phone?”
She looked at him while pivoting the phone on her ear from her mouth to her neck. She mouths with a smile, “two more minutes,” while holding up two fingers towards him. Brad was slightly dejected but nodded and leapt over the couch to play another game.
Two matches later, he saw his mom was still on the phone. It must have been one of her friends as she was heard chuckling a few times in the background.
He got up again, and she saw him head towards her. “I’ll call you back. My son’s been wanting to use the phone.” After a few exchanges, she hung up the phone. “Sorry, honey. Don’t be too long, please. I want to call my friend back.”
Jimmy Jon Jeffries was a 12-year old farm-working kid with messy, wavy blonde hair, worn overalls, and a nice pair of boots his dad gave him. Despite his unkempt appearance, he was drawing the attention of girls by the time the school ended for summer break. Maybe it was his freckles or his charming smile, but he had more important things to think about. With his dad gone (left or otherwise) and older brother now graduated out of high school and hardly at home, there’s work he needs to do on his family’s little dairy farm, and it’s going to be a good summer without the distraction of school.
The phone was ringing, and Jimmy Jon was still cooking lunch for himself and breakfast for his mom. He yelled, “MOM! ANSWER THE PHONE!” He can hear a blow dryer blasting down the hall.
Jimmy Jon quickly washed and dried his hands, but it stopped ringing before he can answer it. He turned back to the kitchen before it rang again. He spun back around and picked up the phone.
“Yellow,” he said as a greeting.
“Hey, Jimmy Jon,” Brad said over the phone. The two talked on the phone for a bit—their moms both work at Patty’s Diner—before Brad asked, “Want to come over to Amber Lee’s house to play in her pool?”
“That sounds like a swell idea,” he told his football teammate and newly made friend. “I need to finish making food for me and mamma. I’ll swing by after I drop her off at the diner.”
It was just after noon. Brad and Jimmy Jon were playing in the pool while Amber Lee and Tammy were stretched on chairs at the end of the pool nearest the sliding glass doors of the house. A small table was between Amber Lee and Tammy with their drinks on it. They occasionally talked to each other while sipping their virgin margaritas.
“Let’s see who can impress them,” Jimmy Jon challenged Brad.
“You’re on,” Brad accepted!
They both climbed out of the side of the pool. It wasn’t a very long pool so they weren’t that far away from the girls. Jimmy Jon waved at them to get their attention, took a few steps back, and sprung forward towards the pool. Brad quickly followed suit.
Jimmy Jon launched himself in the air, tucked his knees up to his chest, and turned to the girls to give them a smiling wink. Brad noticed this and was just moments behind him. As Jimmy Jon splashed into the water, Brad was also in the air copying but upping his friend by extending an arm out to pistol point at them.
However, when Brad landed in the pool, he hit the water just right to splash a wave of water directly on Tammy. She immediately stood up shocked and completely soaked. The boys popped up and saw her standing up and screaming, “you little SHIT heads!” She picked up a long towel, wrapped it around herself, picked up her water-logged drink, and marched into the house.
The boys were a bit stunned at first, but it wasn’t until she got inside when they started breaking into laughter. Amber Lee was angry at first but couldn’t resist a good chuckle herself.
Her chuckle was interrupted when a pigeon caught her attention when it landed on the seat of Tammy’s chair. It turned to look up at her, cocked its head a snap, and asked, “food?”
The boys chuckled some more thinking Amber Lee was mimicking Tammy, but they saw her holding a hand to her chest and staring at a bird. It asked again, “food?”
Another bird landed on the table and stared closely at her bracelet on her wrist. “Shiny!”
She let out a short scream, and Jimmy Jon leapt out of the pool and ran inside to get someone. The birds flew to the side of the pool on the grass. They were adjacent to Brad who was already working to get out of the water himself. He instead reached out to grab one of the birds.
“Help,” screached one of the birds. “Help!” Brad had his hand cupped over the back of the bird which held its wings in place. He can feel the feathers, muscle, and bone as the bird tried to free himself.
He then noticed a tiny amount of molting in the back of its head with a vertical column of stitches. Before he could come to terms with what he was seeing, the other bird flew into his face and flapped its wings wildly. Brad lost his grip on the bird and flopped into the water to protect his face.
Both birds flew out of the yard and into the sky.