Chapter Excerpt

Chapter 2

I need to find Shrimp.

I went looking for him at Ocean Beach, at sunset on the last day in September before school started. I sat on the long concrete ledge separating the beach from the parking lot, layered in sweaters and tights and combat boots, but warm at the thought of reclaiming my lost love. And like clockwork, right after the big red sun dropped over the horizon, all the tourists hanging out to see the Pacific sunset ran to their cars cuz they were freezing their arses off in the San Fran chill. The tourist march was soon followed by an army of wet suited surfers emerging from the ocean, all hot bodied and scrumptious, toting their boards at their hips. The surfer dudes dispersed to stand at the back of their trucks, where they shivered as they changed from their wet suits into their regular clothes in the parking lot for all to see. Too bad for the tourists, who had all raced away in their rental cars and missed the truly great view that Cyd Charisse got to witness.

I searched for the tiny one among the battalion of surfers walking past the trucks and toward Great Highway, the locals who lived nearby and would walk home and hang their wet suits over their porches or balconies, but I saw no Shrimp, not even a Java. Not like I could have missed Shrimp anyway, the shortest dude with the spiked hair and platinum blond patch at the front. The two of us have some kind of cosmic connection, so even if I hadn't seen him, I would have sensed him. And no way would I have thought he would miss the last day of surfing before school started back up, especially with the extra high waves on account of a recent tsunami in Taiwan or wherever that had all the surfers at their trucks raving about the bitchin' curls.

This girl who was sitting on the ledge several feet away from me with a sketch pad on her lap yelled over at me. "You looking for Shrimp?"

I nodded, suspicious, thinking maybe this stranger girl was the famous Autumn who was a prime reason, I believe, for Shrimp deciding at the beginning of this past summer that he and I needed a relationship time-out. But Autumn was a hippie surfer chick, and the girl jumping off the ledge and walking toward me was a hefty Asian girl wearing army fatigue pants, black combat boots, and a white T-shirt with a picture of Elvis shaking President Nixon's hand, tucked in with a belt that had a Hello Kitty buckle. I admire big girls who wear hip-hugging pants with leather belts and tight shirts displaying Republicans; that is one rockin' look that no hippie girl burying her curves under faux Indian saris would ever dare. Also I could never imagine someone named Autumn having a crew cut of black hair with copper dye in the shape of a hand on top of her head.

"Do you know where Shrimp is?" I asked the girl. She had moved over to sit on the ledge next to me.

"Shouldn't you know?" she said. "I thought you two were inseparable."

I was about to sayWho are you to be knowing my businesswhen I recognized her -- I knew her. She was in my history class last school year at theécole Des Spazzed-Out Enfants Terribles,the "alternative" private school at which my mother enrolled me last year after I was kicked out of the fancy boarding school back East. The arty school for popularity-challenged freaks like me turned out to be not so bad, actually, even though I didn't show up at it as often (like, daily) as my mother thought (blame, Shrimp). The school is definitely better than any snooty New England prep school, though -- but let's remember it's still aschool,which in my opinion is a crap institution that is just a massive conspiracy hazing ritual. Those people who say "High school was the best time of my life" I am (a) very suspicious of and (b) convinced they are full of shit. Lucky for me, I've finally reached senior year, then freedom forever. Nine months to go and I can be set loose upon the world. Watch out, world.

Last year at school this girl had long black hair like mine that draped over the side of her desk when she fell asleep during class, a sleep that always ended up with her thumb in her mouth and drool falling onto her desk beside me. Her name was...I don't remember. Last semester was all about deep intoxication with Shrimp. I couldn't tell you about anything or anyone else that happened during that term.

"We broke up," I said. More like, he dumped me at the beginning of summer vacation because I was supposedly harshing his mellow when I accused him of fooling around with the Autumn chick while I was grounded to Alcatraz, formerly known as my room, for spending the night at Shrimp's. But true love is a force that cannot be denied, and I know that one way or another Shrimp and I will be together again.

And I am way more mellow now.

But where the hell is Shrimp? Call-by's to the house he shares with his bro have resulted only in answering machine pickups, and he hasn't come by to see our mutual bud Sugar Pie at the nursing home since the end of August and she doesn't know where he is.

"That hella sucks," the girl said. Helen! That was her name, just like my favorite famous dead person, Helen Keller. "You two were all over each other last year. I'm surprised I even recognized you, considering your face was always sucked into his every time I saw you at school. I heard Shrimp is off surfing in the South Pacific and he's, like, coming back to school when he gets around to it. Wanna go over to Java the Hut and find out for sure?"

"No," I said. The first time I see Shrimp again after our summer apart, I don't want our meeting to be in his brother's Ocean Beach café where Shrimp and I used to work together, that same spot where I developed this unquenchable side order PURELY PLATONIC crush on Shrimp's brother, Java, real name Wallace. Java is a taller, more filled out version of Shrimp who just so happens to also be a vision of physical perfection. He may be a coffee mogul, but Java's no Shrimp. Java's the guy you have sex fantasies about involving hot tubs and licking chocolate off body parts, the kind of fantasies you would probably go "Yuck" to if the actual opportunity ever presented itself. Shrimp's the guy you want to wake up spooned into for the rest of your life and not even worry about having a breath mint handy at first morning contact.

I glanced down at Helen's lap at the sketch pad, which had a charcoal pencil drawing in the style of a comic book, picturing a short old geezer wearing a leather jacket, cowboy boots, and a bandana tied around his neck, and a long, salt-and-pepper, pointy beard hanging down from his chin. He was digging through a patch of trees, and the side view of his hunched-over body displayed the words ball hunter on the back of his leather motorcycle jacket.

"What's that supposed to be?" I asked her. Ball Hunter man looked familiar.

"It's this comic book I am trying to develop. It's about this senior citizen superhero who hangs out at the golf course at Land's End hunting for golf balls that get lost in the trees. And, like, maybe solves mysteries and stuff."

"I've seen that guy!" At the top of the steep cliff that is Land's End, where the cliff overlooks the point at which the Pacific Ocean meets the Golden Gate (and where Shrimp and I first got together in his brother's hand-me-down Pinto, parked under the dripping trees at the crest of the windy road), there is a beautiful museum called the California Palace of the Legion of Honor. The museum is built in a neo-something or other design with a Rodin thinkin' dude sculpture in front. The Legion of Honor is also famous for being in some old Hitchcock movie starring some boss blond lady with freaked-out eyebrows who wasnotplayed by my namesake, that other Cyd Charisse, the fancy movie star-dancer with the long beautiful legs going on into forever. One time I sprang Sugar Pie from the home and we visited the museum together and she pointed out this gnomelike guy digging through the trees on the golf course outside. Sugar Pie said everyone in The City knew the guy had some kind of supernatural power, and that's why he was never kicked off the course for hunting for the balls.

Helen was my new sorta idol. Aside from the fact that Shrimp is an artist and so I am naturally inclined to dig painting-'n'-drawing types, I truly admire people who can create life on a blank page where only white space existed before. I can barely draw a stick figure. My talents are more in the economics, customer service, and cute-guy-finding areas.

Helen said, "Well, the other thing I remember about you was that when your face wasn't attached to Shrimp's it was attached to a coffee cup. Wanna go grab a coffee in The Richmond, seeing as how you don't want to scope out Java the Hut for your boy?"

Helen got up from the ledge and headed off toward the cliff up to Land's End on the road leading into The Richmond District, clearly expecting me to just tag along.

I am a man's woman. I've spent seventeen years on this planet going from Sid-daddy's girl to ragdoll-toting tomboy to boarding school lacrosse captain's girlfriend to the one true love of the hottest pint-sized artist-surfer in San Francisco. Making female friends has never been a priority -- for them or for me. The only real female friend I've ever had is Sugar Pie, who is old enough to tell tales about spiking the punch at USO dances during dubya-dubya-two and then taking advantage of a few good men. But this past summer, my newfound favorite (only) older brother, Danny, had told me Sugar Pie only counted for partial credit, that I needed to branch out.

So I got up from the ledge and followed Helen up the cliff toward The Richmond, where the dumplings are better than the coffees, if you really want to know, but where apparently my first prospective friend who was a girl my own age was inviting me.

Copyright © 2005 by Rachel Cohn

Excerpted from Shrimp by Rachel Cohn
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