No one knew who they were.
Wasn’t all that unusual for a walk along the beach. A surfside stroll isn’t about people you see or meet, but enjoying the beauty of the ocean and the calming repetition of the waves crashing toward land. Of course, neighbors sometimes run into each other as they walk off the final rust of a night’s deep sleep, or at day’s end as they try to shake loose the vestiges of a rough eight-hour shift. And with many Californians, a friendly “Hello” is far from uncommon as people, wandering in opposite directions, meet and then pass on by.
So no one took notice. And they were just fine with that. The early morning sun, still not yet having topped the hills, pushed the haze of morning aside, and warned of a day filled with bright sunshine. The forecast had said the thermometer would inch its way into the 80s, so as the sun edged closer to peeking over the ragged outline of the hills, it was already obvious the future held the trappings of a grand day at the beach.
From a distance, the two women wandering barefoot on the surf’s edge could have been a couple of neighbors out for their daily morning stroll; perhaps friends who’d arranged an early-morning walk. Much like everyone else wandering their way along the half-mile of ocean-drenched sand, there was nothing that made the pair stand out.
Barefoot with their jeans rolled up just below their knees, the two wandered a curvy path along the wet sand. Aimlessly moving seaward, daring the waves to spill onto their path, they slowly walked with heads down. On those rare occasions when the ocean took their dare, loosing a larger wave, shoved by unseen forces somewhere beyond the horizon, which rolled toward them, threatening to wash high above their ankles, the women would lazily move toward drier sand. The impending deluge would fall short of sweeping over their legs, collapsing as if falling into despair for not having been the victor.
At one point, they stopped and stared toward the horizon. And then one spoke.
“I guess I don’t quite understand, Pamela,” she said in a quiet voice, nearly drowned out by the crashing waves that reached to slide over their feet.
“I don’t really understand it either, Amber,” Pamela replied in an equally hushed tone. “Honestly, I didn’t forsee this happening.”
As though they realized talk would do little to change things, the pair looked toward the ocean for a few seconds, and the turned and continued along the beach. Steps leaving an aimless path of footprints, they eventually reached a rocky outcropping and stopped.
With the waves now ceaselessly smashing into the rocks in an increased crescendo of noise, Amber silently looked around, found a small, flat raised area and sat down. Motioning Pamela to share her perch, Amber slowly slipped her arm around the shoulders of her friend. After a few seconds, she let her arm slip.
“What does this mean for us,” Amber whispered, a tear slowly slipping over her reddened cheek.
“I suppose it means that for the first time since we were 9, we won’t be together,” Pamela answered, her quivering voice faltering. “I suppose … I guess ….”
They leaned into each other. From a distance, a glimpse might have given a passerby the impression the women were chilled by the blustery breeze that was coming inland; seeking warmth. But with their now tear-drenched cheeks pressed firmly together, it was obvious it was an intimate moment the pair was sharing.
“Have you said anything to your family?” Pamela asked in a voice she was having difficulty finding.
“Not yet,” Amber choked. “I will. Probably tonight.”
“I can’t imagine they will be surprised,” Pamela continued. “After all, things have been different for quite some time. Surely they have recognized the signs. They can’t possibly have not seen this coming.”
“I wouldn’t think so … at least, I’m sure the children could see it, but I don’t know about Russell,” Amber said, pulling her head up and letting her eyes once again find the ocean. “Russell will be devastated.”
“Curtis was almost ambivalent,” Pamela mused, a smile pinching the ends of her mouth. “At least once he got passed the initial shock. I can’t help but think I saw a sense of relief in his eyes.”
The women sat, watching the spray from the waves reach toward them. The frothy, foaming water settled into pools on the rocks. After 10 minutes of silence, Amber stood, stretched her arms above her head, then gently wiped her hands across her eyes. “We better get going. I’ve got dinner rolls that need baking.”
Stepping carefully off the rocky outpost, the women were startled when a dolphin, swimming less than 10 feet off the shoreline, splashed its tail on the water’s surface. Clicking its own surprise at them, the dolphin suddenly dove out of sight.
Recovering from their initial shock, the women began to retrace their steps, or might have begun retracing if those steps hadn’t succumbed to the perpetual beating of the waves. Though sadness creased their faces, they walked with a lighter step.
After an hour, the friends stepped up onto the boardwalk, followed the windy pathway a short distance before ending up in front of a small building. Though the salmon-colored paint and seafoam green trim was weathered, the building still held an appeal that could easily be termed, “charming.” The pair stood silently, gazing at the building that once was termed, “As inviting as Grandma’s house,” in a newspaper review. Maybe it was the white hand-stitched gingham curtains, or the white picket fence that ran the length of the building providing a brilliant contrast to the colorful row of flowers that grew before it.
Pamela slipped her hand into Amber’s, and then with her other hand, pointed to the top of the building where a large sign reached across the roof. Her voice quivered, but eventually found strength as she said, “I can remember when that name meant everything to the residents and visitors of this community. And I remember thinking, one time a few years ago, ‘We’ve made it, and we are here to stay.'”
“I remember thinking that, too,” Amber said. “But I’m almost certain that thought was preceded by, ‘I can’t believe she talked me into that sign.'”
They broke into loud laughter, and then fell into a hug. And as soon as their embrace was complete, the tears began flowing again. After a few minutes, Pamela reached up and softly stroked her friend’s hair, and whispered, “We better stop this. What will the regulars over at Barnacle Bill’s Bar think.”
One last hug, and then they headed toward the front door. Just before entering, Pamela turned to Amber and chuckled, “That sign? What do you mean? Girlie, I can’t believe I let you talk me into that name!” Looking up, the pair stared at the sign, its bright orange lettering on an equally-bright yellow background spelling, “Ambela’s.”
“Come on!” spouted Amber. “I know it’s quirky. Maybe even corny. But you have to admit, it fit perfectly for where this place was located. Right along the boardwalk … where people ambled by, looking for a great place to eat.”
“It’s a lot corny, my friend.” Pamela answered, her smile gleaming. “Now let’s get inside and make Ambela’s last day one of its best.”