One Small Act of Repentance
As he came closer to the young girl in the red tank-top and bleached jean cut-offs, she could see he was deep in thought, he didn’t notice her or the water as it glided passed his ankles before rushing back out to sea. When he was within ten yards of her, he stopped, turned and placed both of his hands on his hips and looked back to where he had apparently started.
He had carried his sandals in his hand and his three-quarter-length sleeve, casual jacket slung over his shoulder. His sandy brown, custom cut hair, not quite shoulder length, allowed the wind to play through it, giving him an almost Kennedy look of sincerity. He walked carelessly near the rippling water’s edge of the Southern California beach. Both cuffs of his off-white summer slacks were folded high enough to keep them dry.
Without a concern for time he laid his jacket out on the dry sand away from the water and sat on it. He wrapped his arms around his knees and sat staring out to the ocean’s horizon. He seemed to be mesmerized by the rhythmic percussion which came from the waves as they drum-rolled across the surf.
The girl’s name was Wendy and she was a pretty, stringy- haired, blond, fifteen year old. Her home was three blocks from the ocean. She came here often in the late summer afternoon because the ocean fascinated her and because there were times she needed to put distance between herself and her twelve year old brother, Nathan.
Wendy was convinced Nathan had a sort of perpetual pass when it came to invading her private space, her room, specifically, sometimes even the bathroom.
Nathan was okay about half of the time and a good portion of that was when he was sleeping. The rest of the time he made it his mission to bug her. It was why she ended up down here a lot.
Her mother, divorced from her father five years earlier, instilled in Wendy the necessity of being respectful of her elders and having patience with her younger brother. She encouraged an independence in Wendy, but based it on the tenet of not abusing her right to expression. The results of this mutual trust were prominently evident.
Wendy interacted with just about everybody and was a joy to be around. She was open, bright, conversant and naturally inquisitive. It was normal then, for her to approach the man and question him about... well, about anything her spirit felt was necessary.
"Hello," he said, gazing seaward.
"How far down the beach have you walked?" She knew he’d come south from somewhere up the beach.
"I, ah... I suppose close to two miles."
"Oh." She eyed him with increasing curiosity. He was still looking at the horizon. "You look sort of lonely, are you trying to make up your mind about something?"
"I’m sorry... what did you say?" He looked at her now.
"I just asked if you were lonely or had something on your mind?" Wendy said.
"I guess I needed to leave where I was," he said.
Wendy crouched, put her arms on her knees and rested her chin on one arm. She looked like a timeless, younger, blond version of a village lady squatting to wash clothes in a river. She picked shells from the sand and began stacking them in a small pile between herself and the man.
"That’s funny," Wendy smiled and said, "I had to get away from my little brother. He can be a total creep sometimes."
"I guess little brothers can be that way at times." He picked up a couple of shells and tossed them towards her pile.
"Do you have a brother?"
"No. I don’t have any brothers or sisters." He looked momentarily saddened and swung his eyes once again, toward the horizon.
"That’s not so bad," Wendy said. It wasn’t really an apology though it may have sounded that way. "What’s your name?"
"My name is Evan."
Wendy worked for a while on her pile of shells and Evan, still on his jacket, twisted himself and crossed his legs then began giving the pile of shells his attention.
"Mine’s Wendy. Pleased to meet you."
"Likewise." He smiled briefly for the first time. "Being an only child isn’t always easy."
"Why’s that? At least you don’t have someone bugging you all the time and playing stupid tricks."
"Yeah, you’re right, I didn’t. But when you’re the only kid, sometimes you get blamed for things simply because you’re handy." Evan let the sparkly sand trickle through his fingers. "Sorry, I guess we all have stories we wish we understood better."
Wendy suspected Evan might be reluctant to say anything further.
"Oh yeah... well actually I like it here. I guess I’d probably be down here even if Nathan didn’t bug me." She grinned this time.
"I know," Evan said. The tide was coming in. The sound of the waves crashing on the surf and the rocks was close and louder. He stood, picked up his sandals, shook his jacket of sand and threw it back over his shoulder. "Well, it was nice talking to you, uh... Wendy. I better get back before there’s no more beach to walk on."
The sun would soon vanish beyond the distant horizon. It set nearer to seven in the late-summer evenings. Wendy knew she could enjoy the quite of the day for about twenty more minutes before having to get home herself, before dark.
She wondered what Evan’s story was.
She was in the house at five after seven.
"Cuttin’ it kinda close, aren’t you sweety?" Her mom asked.
"What? The sun isn’t down yet." She faked a pout.
"I know, I was just commenting on your good sense of time." She gave Wendy one of her special looks. It was a universal Mom thing Wendy supposed. The warning was subtle to the teen, and the sense of loving care was predominant.
"Mom, you were an only child, was it easy or difficult?"
"A little of both I suppose. Why?"
"Oh, I don’t know, I guess I was just wondering what it would be like if sweet, little Nathan wasn’t here." She stole a look over at the living room where she could see her brother playing one of his video games.
"Sorry kiddo, you guys are a package deal, no partial rebates or returns." Her mom glanced at her from the corner of her eye as she stirred the gravy for the mashed potatoes.
"Yeah, I know. I just wondered how much different things would be." Wendy reigned herself in intuitively. Moms weren’t permitted to display favoritism, it wasn’t a place where Wendy should go.
"Is there something you need to talk about? Do we need a council meeting?"
Council meetings were required for settling family crises, trips and disputes, anything not solvable in the normal course of family business. They were vetting and venting sessions and sometimes quite loud. Wendy could see no benefit to invoke her council privilege.
"On the grounds I might incriminate myself, I pass," Wendy said.
Mom gave her another one of her special looks and called for Nathan to wash his hands and come to dinner.
The next day, Friday, Nathan was still at a friend’s house for a sleep-over and would be home later. Wendy’s mom had to work late at her job. She was a computer technician for Qualcom, one of the leading employers for the City of San Diego. Wendy scratched out a note and left it on the kitchen counter, Mom, going to beach. Love Wendy.
She walked up to the corner, took a left and then straight down to the beach. The last cross street was Highway 1, which years ago was part of Highway 101. There were only pieces of it left since the completion of Interstate 5 which was about a half mile east of their house.
There were a few people on the beach, but it was so overcast some of them were walking either up towards Oceanside or down here at the road entrance where Wendy always came. Most of them chose to go up on the walkway to sit on the benches and watch the ocean from there. Wendy liked the feel of the sand, the walkway above wasn’t her idea of the beach.
She’d been there a few minutes when she saw a familiar figure coming toward her. Evan was wearing jean cut-offs, like her, a white shiny t-shirt, and he had sun glasses on.
As he came into earshot she said, "Hi, Evan."
"Hi Wendy. You spend a lot of time here don’t you?"
"Well it’s summertime and we live close. Most of my friends go away for vacation. Besides, I like it here."
"Yeah, I guess school will start soon, right?" Evan seemed less preoccupied today.
"Too soon for me!" Wendy joked.
"Come on, I bet you’re a great student."
"I do okay I guess," she said, "Can I ask you something?"
"What was so bad about being an only child? My Mom was one. I think she liked it. She said she was probably a little spoiled till she married and had me and Nathan. Did your parents spoil you?"
Evan’s expression clouded and he looked at the sand mounding around his feet for a minute before he answered, "No, not really."
"You said yesterday, "everyone has a story inside." Does your’s have something to do with your family?" Wendy’s curiosity about Evan made her go beyond what her Mom might call polite. But if he didn’t want to tell her anything she would respect that.
Evan removed his sunglasses, his blue-green eyes were reddened, perhaps as though he’d been crying. He looked directly into her eyes and then away. She had a strange feeling he wanted to tell her his story, but the words he needed to find were hard to put together correctly. Finally, he said, "Look, I don’t think you need to hear the story I could tell you. But, I can say this... give your brother the same opportunity to know you as you would give to someone you just met, like me. You didn’t know me, but you took the time to ask me about myself. When’s the last time you sat and talked with Nathan?"
"I guess it’s been a long time, I... I can’t really remember." Wendy was a little embarrassed. Evan didn’t tell her anything about himself, but he did tell her something about herself. She wondered why she’d never really thought about her brother as being someone to talk with.
She was aware she hadn’t said anything for a while and Evan was just looking at her, she asked, "Does your story have something about having someone to talk with?"
Evan smiled the best smile she’d seen so far. "In a way, I guess." Then he was serious again. "Having people to talk with is important and, well, look at it this way... Nathan bugs you because he doesn’t really know how to open a conversation with his older sister. See what I mean? Look I’ve got to go now, I probably won’t see you again. Maybe you could bring your brother down here sometime. I’ll bet he likes the beach same as you."
Evan got up and took a last look at the ocean and breathed out as though he wanted to imprint the whole scene, like a living, breathing post card, with sound, into his mind. Wendy knew that because she had the identical feeling about the ocean.
This time Evan didn’t walk back up the beach. He went up on the walkway and disappeared from sight in only minutes.
That same evening, her Mom arrived home too late to cook, so they all went to eat at a crab shack about a mile up the coast highway. Her mom kept watching Wendy as they ate. She seemed to know Wendy had something she wanted to say but didn’t know where to begin. Finally she just said it, "Hey Nathan?"
"You want to go to the beach with me tomorrow?"
Wendy could see her mom’s eyes widen just a little and then one of those special Mom looks that said ‘I’m so proud of you at this moment I could cry with joy.’ Wendy was pretty sure her mom’s eyes watered up.
Saturday Wendy and Nathan left for the beach around ten in the morning. They walked and they ran and swam. An amazing thing happened; they had a fantastic time, even when they just sat and talked. Nathan explained to his sister how the cities of Oceanside, here in Carlsbad and all up and down the coast were doing studies with the counties to find ways to save the beaches from erosion. When he grew up, he said, he was thinking about being a marine biologist. If they still lived near here, maybe he could become a member of one of the groups which were trying to save the beaches.
Wendy was astonished, she told Nathan how she wanted somehow to be involved in politics. She wanted to be a part of government, to help people see how important things like saving the beaches and parks were. She was getting some information about political science courses at San Diego State and some of the other colleges and universities in the area.
Before they knew it they were making a pact to help each other reach their goals. Their mom came down to the beach about one-thirty in the afternoon and she brought sourdough-bread, cheese, soft drinks and fruit for a picnic lunch.
As they ate, Wendy watched and smiled to herself, she had only made the suggestion to honor an obligation she felt to Evan, someone she might never see again. But, it was one of the best things she’d ever done, she felt great about it. She had a brand new friend; her little brother.
Sunday morning was the usual, it was just as hard to get up and get ready for church, but Wendy forced herself to do it.
The minister’s sermon was interesting to her for only a few moments. He’d spoken briefly about the need to repent one’s sins. He said, "Even the worst among us can gain entry into the Kingdom of God with an act of kindness and repentance." Wendy wondered if he was talking about a sister who waits so long to find out her brother is a neat person.
When they got back home Wendy decided she would go back down to the beach and asked Nathan if he wanted to come. He was engrossed in his video games, but said she could play too if she wanted. No, she said, but sat in the room watching him for a while.
After a few minutes she was bored and started to stand up, her right hand was pressing on the front page of the Sunday Blade Tribune. As she looked down to move it, so as not to tear it, her eyes fell upon the picture of someone she recognized.
She picked the paper up and read the clip. The blood drained from her pretty face... she knew why Evan didn’t think she needed to know his story.
Her eyes welled and she began trembling. Nathan, she thought, oh my god!
She could hardly imagine how she might be able to tell her mom, though she knew she must.
UP-Sat- Carlsbad, Ca.- Police were called to the home of Evan Wilkins who had called them and confessed to the brutal murders of three teen-age boys over the past year. By the time investigators had arrived, Wilkins had taken his own life, shooting himself with a hand gun purchased the day before. He left a note saying, "I can not live with what I’ve done." ....See story c-8 [end]
What are the various levels of Repentance that could be discussed with children, if any, where this story is concerned?
Does the story appear to be written to shock for the thrill factor or for its educational value? Is it possible to do both as far as attempting to educate?
Are there specific negative aspects of this story which would cause you discomfort by allowing your children to read it?
What would be the appropriate age group for the reading of this short story?