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Just You and Me: A Beach Romance

By Jo Huddleston

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Chapter 1

Panama City Beach, Florida—July 4, 1958

Driving at a creeping pace in the Starfish Motel parking lot, Allison Turner squinted through her sunglasses against the blaring late afternoon sun beating on the windshield. “I can’t half see with the sun in my eyes! Ginny, help me find our room.”
“There it is! Number 132. That’s it,” Ginny Palmer pointed and called from the passenger seat.
“Okay. Now, help me find a parking spot close to our door.”
Soon, Allison eased the car into an empty spot a few cars down from their motel room. She and Ginny gathered their smaller things to take inside. Allison closed the trunk lid and pushed her damp blonde hair away from her face. “We’ll come back for the suitcases later. I want to get inside our room and turn on the air conditioner.”
“Yeah, and I want to stand in front of it for an hour!”
The two friends stepped up onto the narrow sidewalk and turned toward their room. As they neared the door marked with the number 132, Allison picked up her pace. “Hey!”
Two men wearing T-shirts and Bermuda shorts huddled near the room door, baggage set at their feet. They looked up without speaking, then returned to their task.
The two guys continued their attempts to unlock the door. “Hey, you two!” Allison said. “You can’t go in there. That’s our room.”
The men stood shoulder-to-shoulder, preventing the girls from approaching their door. The taller one spoke, “Nope. Not leaving. This is our room. Says so right here on the key.” He swung the key above his head. It was attached to a green plastic fob bearing the motel’s name and a room number.
Allison set her cosmetic bag and purse on the sidewalk and placed her hands on her hips. “We’ve been driving nearly five hours. We’re tired, sweaty, and hungry. We’ve got the key to that room. Get out of our way, or I’ll go get the manager.”
The shorter of the two guys had black hair cut military style and took a step closer to her. “I’m sure he’d really like to hear your complaint. He’s busy with that crowd of people trying to check-in, and besides, you’d have to go to the end of the line. By the time you got back here, we’d already be inside the room, calm, cool, and collected.”
His buddy also took a step closer and stared at Allison with the deepest blue eyes she’d ever seen. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to gaze into those eyes every day?
“Ma’am, let me see your key, and we’ll settle this right away,” the taller guy said. “Ma’am, did you hear me? Ma’am?”
Ginny poked Allison in the ribs, and she jerked out of her trance. She looked again into those blue eyes, then lowered her own. “What did you say?”
“I said, let me see your key, check the number on it. We’d like to start our weekend instead of standing on this blazing-hot concrete in the sweltering heat. Come on, let me see your key.”
She quietly handed over her room key, all her fiery words stilled for the moment.
The two men examined Allison’s key. They looked at each other and then turned their glances toward the women.
“What? What is it?” Allison asked, hands again on her hips.
The men looked at each other for a second time. The taller one laid Allison’s key and his key in the palm of his hand to examine them side-by-side.
“The cat got your tongue? What is it?” Ginny asked.
Mr. Blue Eyes handed Allison’s key back to her then held his key at eye-level for them to see. They leaned forward to better decipher the numbers marked on the key fob. They read 232. “Your key’s to Room 232 on the second floor!” Ginny said. “We told you this was our room.”
Both men stammered under their breath and shuffled their feet. “I guess we owe y’all an apology,” Blue Eyes said. “We were in a hurry to unload our stuff and hit the beach. Didn’t pay close enough attention to our room number. Sorry about that.”
“Apology accepted,” Allison said, making eye contact directly with Mr. Blue Eyes.
“Before we go upstairs, maybe we should introduce ourselves.” The taller, blue-eyed man nodded toward his shorter companion and said, “My friend is Hank, and I’m Jim, G-E-M.”
Both girls snickered at his last bit of information, and Jim gave them a smile.
His little-boy, mischievous smile produced a handsome dimple on each side of his face. “I’m Allison, and this is my best friend, Ginny.”
The four of them exchanged hellos.
“Where y’all from, and how are you so lucky to have ended up at the same place we are?” Ginny asked.
“We’re stationed at Eglin Air Force base near here,” Hank said. “We both got a pass for the long weekend, and here we are. How about you guys? Where you from, and why are you here?”
“We’re from Auburn, Alabama,” Ginny said.
“There’s a college there, right?” Jim, G-E-M, asked.
“Yes,” Allison answered. “Without the college and its students, the town of Auburn probably wouldn’t exist. The school’s about the only thing there.”
“If nothing’s there, how do you make a living?” Hank asked.
“We both work at the school—Alabama Polytechnic Institute,” Ginny said.
“Really?” Jim asked, raising an eyebrow. “Y’all teach at the college?”
“Do we really look like professors?”
“Well, no, you don’t. If y’all are professors, I’ll enroll at the college soon as I get out of the Air Force,” Jim said, smiling at Allison.
“No,” Allison said, “we’re not professors, but we do work on campus. We’re secretaries in the administrative offices in Samford Hall.”
“Look, y’all, I’m about to melt here,” Ginny said. “I need to get inside and turn on the air conditioning.”
“Me too,” Hank said.
“Y’all want to check out the beach later?” Jim asked. “We could walk over there together.”
Jim’s suggestion caused Allison to smile. “Sure. That sounds good. Give us about thirty minutes, okay?”
“Great, we’ll wait for you by the pool,” Jim said.
Once inside their motel room, the girls sat on the side of the bed closer to the door and let the air conditioner’s cold air caress them. Adequately cooled, they brought in their luggage from the car. They hung up a few items from their suitcases and placed others in the dresser drawers.
The empty counter in the vanity area soon filled with their hair and beauty products. As they placed their things on either side of the sink, Allison looked at Ginny’s reflection in the mirror. “Before we meet up with Jim and Hank to walk to the beach, let’s get something straight. I’ll be with the one who has the deep ocean-blue eyes.”
Ginny nodded at Allison’s mirror image.
“Wanted to make sure of that,” Allison said.
“I figured as much. The way y’all looked at each other, seems like you and Jim already have a head start on the fireworks display tonight. He is gorgeous. I think Hank is cute, so I’ll keep my hands off of Jim. No need to worry about me getting in your way.”
“Okay, so that’s settled. You know, ever since Jim introduced himself, I’ve wondered why he told us his name was Jim, G-E-M.”
Still standing before the mirror, Ginny ran a brush through her hair. “If you really want to know, just ask him.”
“I know that’s what you’d do, but I’m not as outspoken as you.”
“It’s just a question. Go on and ask him. If Jim thinks you’re nosy, there’s no problem—you’ll probably never see him again after the weekend.”
“Oh, Ginny, I hope you’re wrong. I wouldn’t mind looking into his blue eyes every day.”
Ginny finished putting up her ponytail. “Are you serious? You just met this guy.”
Allison shrugged. “I know, but I’m really drawn to him. I mean, I’m really interested in him.”
“Uh-oh, be careful, Allison. Or are you already beyond the point of no return?”
“Maybe.” Allison turned away from the mirror. “Let’s get out of these pedal pushers and into shorts before we meet Jim and Hank. And we should tuck some money in our pockets just in case we might eat someplace before returning to the motel.”
♥♥♥
When Allison and Ginny left their room and walked to the pool, the men were already there, waiting for them. They’d both exchanged their T-shirts for short-sleeve button-up shirts. Jim wore a blue one, and as the girls drew closer, Allison noticed the blue of his shirt enhanced his dark blue eyes. She was sure her heart skipped a beat.
Their motel was not beachside, so they had to cross the heavily trafficked two-lane street. As the four of them waited for a break in the stream of cars, Jim took Allison’s hand and guided her in their dash to cross the street. Jim’s hand was strong and protective as it wrapped around hers.
When Allison and Jim stood safely on the beachside of the road, he didn’t release her hand. Delighted that his hand around hers promised safety among the holiday weekend activity, they waited for Hank and Ginny to join them.
“Sure are a lot of people around,” Jim said.
“Yes, the Fourth of July at the beach is always crowded with vacationers. Jim?”
“Yeah.”
“Why did you introduce yourself earlier as Jim, G-E-M?”
“Oh, that.” Jim smiled. “I sometimes add that to break the ice when I meet someone new. But, really, when I was young, my mama used to say I was such an easy child to raise, that I was her little gem.”
Ginny and Hank bounded toward them, Ginny’s brown ponytail swinging after rushing across the street. “I thought that guy in the white car might hit us,” Ginny said.
“Nah, he was just a smart aleck. We were safe,” Hank said. “You guys ready to check out the beach?”
Public access to the beach area was a few blocks away, and they walked in that direction. With a hand on the small of Allison’s back, Jim moved her to his right side, and he walked closer to the street traffic. He again took her hand. Reaching the sugar-white sand of the beach, they all removed their shoes and carried them.
They made their way to the moist, hard-packed sand near the water and walked parallel to the ocean. Roaring waves slapped the shore, making conversation difficult, so they walked in silence. They saw a pier in the distance.
“Want to walk to the pier today or save it for tomorrow?” Jim asked.
“Maybe tomorrow, okay?” Allison answered.
“Okay by me.” He yelled over his shoulder, “We’re not walking to the pier this time. Maybe tomorrow.”
Ginny and Hank agreed, and they all turned around and walked back to where they’d started. Sun-bronzed young men dressed in red swimming trunks monitored rentals of sturdy beach chairs and large sun umbrellas along the beach.
“In the morning, we’ll see about getting us four of those chairs and a couple of umbrellas,” Jim said. “While we’re here, we might as well take advantage of the sun and sea.”
So, he planned for them to be together tomorrow. The possibility caused a warmth to rush through Allison that didn’t result from the afternoon heat. Jim looked down at her and squeezed her hand. She smiled up at him, and he gifted her with a good-looking smile of his own, those deep blue eyes prying into her soul. Allison had never been as quickly drawn toward a man as she had to Jim in all her thirty years.
It was way too early to form an attachment to Jim, but she already trusted him to be kind to her and protect her. As they continued to walk, he obviously shortened his stride, so their steps crunched on the sand in unison. Noticing his willingness to walk beside her rather than walking ahead of her, she appreciated his gesture.
“Anybody else besides me getting hungry? Want to look for some chow?” Hank said to no one in particular.
They all agreed they’d look for a place to eat a light supper. Eventually, they found a local burger place and joined the line of hungry beach-goers waiting outside the building. Finally seated in a booth and given their order to the harried waitress, Jim stretched his long legs under the table.
Hank and Ginny carried on a spirited conversation to be heard in the crowded, noisy room. Jim leaned over and spoke close to Allison’s ear. “I’m sorry the place is unruly. You probably prefer a quieter place to eat.”
His consideration of her impressed Allison. “Ordinarily, yes, I would. But Panama City is not a quiet place on holidays. Everybody here is probably on vacation, so I don’t resent their having fun.”
The waitress appeared and set their Cokes on the table, saying she’d bring the burgers in a bit. Elvis Presley’s voice blasted from the jukebox singing “Jailhouse Rock.” A few couples crowded onto a small, empty floor space and danced the jitterbug. Ginny pushed Hank from their side of the booth, and they joined the dancers.
“You and Ginny seem to have completely different personalities,” Jim said. “How’d you get to be best friends?”
“Well, they do say opposites attract each other. But just like opposites sometimes marry, their marriage survives because each person has attributes the other doesn’t. The mixture compensates for the other’s lack. For example, Ginny and I have an apartment together—at mealtimes, Ginny cooks, I clean up. And it works. Like you said, that’s the way Ginny and I are—we’re totally opposite in some ways, but we’re as close as sisters.”
Jim took her hand in his and leaned closer. “I’d venture to say you don’t lack anything. I wouldn’t change a thing about you.”
“Oh, Jim, G-E-M, is that a pick-up line you use on all the girls when you’re off the military base?”
His face sobered, and he released her hand. “That was no line, Allison. But I apologize for being so bold as to speak those words to you. I didn’t mean to sound flippant. I meant what I said. Sorry.”
Why had she questioned his words? She had offended him and should be the one apologizing. She laid a hand on his arm. “No, I apologize. I shouldn’t have accused you of using a line on me. Look, I’m really sorry. Okay?”
“I’ll admit your words hit me pretty hard. I meant what I said to be a compliment, but apparently, my words came across differently to you.”
“Let’s back up and create our own do-over,” Allison said. “Please lean closer and say those words again.”
Jim studied her a moment, then a smile slowly crossed his face, producing those dimples. He took her hand in his. Leaning closer, he repeated his earlier words.
She kissed his cheek, tightening her grip on his hand. “Jim, thank you. That’s the most caring thing anybody’s ever said to me.”
Allison gazed at him until she felt she was drowning in Jim’s sparkling blue eyes. The noise around her faded away until Hank and Ginny bumped the table as they scooted into the booth.
“Where're our hamburgers?”
The waitress arrived and placed their food on the table as if she’d heard Hank’s complaint.
“All right, thanks,” he said to the waitress. “Let’s eat.”
Jim and Allison eased back into reality. Allison chanced a glance at Ginny, whose expression seemed to say, “Are you okay? What’s going on?”
Allison sent a smile in her friend’s direction, and Ginny’s frown relaxed. They all dug into their meal, Allison feeling like she moved in slow motion. What had just happened between her and Jim? Had he experienced an instant attraction to her as she had to him? Could she ever know for sure? Kissing his cheek was an unfamiliar move for her. She couldn’t offer him more until she knew whether he felt the same about her as she did toward him.
After eating, they walked along the street back toward their motel. Ginny and Hank kept up a steady conversation interspersed with laughter. Although holding hands, Jim and Allison walked without words. Seagulls screeched from overhead, invading the silence between them. Jim probably remembered how she accused him of using a pick-up line on her earlier. Maybe he’s quietly planning how to ditch her and look for more girls. After all, most of the weekend remained.

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