Crowded into the miniature Ocracoke Coffee shop, Amanda stood in line between auto repairmen and young mothers with strollers. While she waited, she listened to the espresso machine whoosh foam into her latte and thought about why she had decided to take this trip all by herself. She didn’t know. Why had she?
Her best friend, Bess, wanted to go to Myrtle Beach and party. Myrtle Beach bored Amanda. She couldn’t golf. She’d never met a guy there who wasn’t a bar crawling creep. She didn’t even like the beach. About the only thing she did like about Myrtle was drinking margaritas and listening to the old bands.
Amanda picked up the local Ocracoke newspaper and her latte and chose a table. As she sipped, she scanned the advertisements. Meehonkey: Whimsical clothing and accessories. Could be interesting. What else? Every second ad beckoned her to rent a bike, hire a bike, buy a bike. Bikes. Bikes. Bikes. Fine. She’d rent one. It seemed she had little choice.
Her foot found the right pedal and pushed down and forward. Her left foot fumbled for the other pedal, found it, and she wobbled about ten feet. She concentrated harder, and her ride straightened and muscle memory took over. This might be fun. She took off.
Meehonkey presented itself around the first corner. What had the paper said? Whimsical clothing and accessories. What did that mean? Did the tee shirts come with wings? Did the earrings light up? Might as well find out. Amanda walked up the steps of the cottage store. The screen door banged behind her as she entered.
Well, now she knew what whimsical meant. It was tie-dyed stuff. Hippie stuff. Donavan sang through the stereo system. She remembered her mom playing Donovan. Burning incense made her nostrils twitch. One look at the patroness and Amanda figured that she, like the clothes, was stuck in the sixties, too. Kinky gray hair created an aureole around her pink-cheeked face. “Have a look around,” the woman said.
Amanda smiled at her. Everyone probably smiled at this lady. She was that kind of person. “Meehonkey? Did you make that up?” Amanda asked. “No, dear. It’s a real word, or at least it used to be. I learned it from my grandmother. It’s what they used to call the game hide and seek.”
“At least here on Ocracoke. You know, Ocracoke has a dialect all its own. Books have been written about it.”
“Really?” Amanda said, trying to feign interest as she chose some earrings and placed the card holding them beside her face as she looked in the mirror sitting on the counter. She liked them. She handed them to the woman with her Visa.
The woman talked more about island history as she completed the transaction and handed Amanda’s card back to her. “Oh, my, I didn’t mean to give you a lecture. Once I get started . . .” and the store lady waved her hand through the air to show Amanda what her conversation did once she got started.
“I always liked playing hide and seek,” Amanda said.
“So did I. I wonder if it might be a metaphor for my life,” the store lady went on.
“You mean you’re a seeker?” Amanda tried to keep up her end of this conversation, but this lady made her feel off kilter.
“Or a hider.”
Now Amanda felt uneasy. She wasn’t in the mood for introspective kinds of conversations. She decided to end this now. “Well, thanks for the history lesson.” Amanda took her earrings and banged out the screen door.
“Come see me again,” the lady called as she left.
The better she got at riding the bike, the more she lost herself in it. She just rode and rode. Flat streets, low speed limits, and colorful houses made riding a joy. The air smelled of ocean, bike oil, and SPF40. The breeze rippled her hair.
As she pedaled through somnolent residential streets, the conversation in Meehonkey kept coming back to her, especially what the lady had said about hide and seek being a metaphor for her life. Amanda wondered if the same was true of her. Was she more of a hider than a seeker? Did that explain why she usually followed Bess’s lead? Was she hiding behind Bess? If she was, why did she do that?
She gave a moment’s thought to Bess in Myrtle Beach and felt sorry for her. She was probably baking on some beach right now, worrying that her hips were too big for her bikini, and paying way too much for an ocean-front room. Amanda felt proud for resisting. She should follow her own inclinations more often.
She also missed Bess. No matter how pushy she might be, Bess was lots of fun to have around. Amanda could hear her low easy laughter just thinking about her. A growl of hunger reminded Amanda that she was burning lots of calories and not even thinking of it as exercise. Bess would like that, too, if she were here.
Now that Amanda had more confidence in her riding, she headed for the commercial street by the harbor to find a place to eat lunch.
Amanda crunched onto the white rock parking lot next to Harbor House and pulled up to the bike stand. When she brought her left foot over the bike to hit the kick stand, it got caught. She lost her grip and the bike lurched away from her. The contents of her basket scattered on the ground. She heaved the bike upright and steered it into the bike stand. Then she gathered up what had spilled. She took a breath to regain her composure and went on in to Harbor House.
The small cafe was built over the water so that her footsteps thumped back at her as she walked to a table. Only a railing separated the space from the harbor. Amanda took a spot close to the railing and watched a pelican on a post less than five feet from her. She could hear the gentle lap lap lap of the water against the post. The smell of brine cleared her head. A waitress called her honey and slid a plastic covered menu under her nose.
“Did you lose this?” Amanda looked up to see the lady from Meehonkey holding out the little bag containing the earrings she had bought. The name of the shop and a picture of a little girl with her hands over her eyes, probably playing hide and seek, decorated the bag. “I found it in the parking lot.”
Amanda thanked her and explained about the bike falling over.
“May I join you, or do you have a date with the pelican?” she said.
Amanda smiled and gestured that the lady should sit down. They sat in silence for a little while, watching boats bobbing with the water’s movement. The folksy waitress returned and took their orders.
Then, the woman from Meehonkey asked, “Why did you come to Ocracoke?”
Amanda didn’t really want to get into the whole Bess thing, not going to Myrtle, and all that; but in spite of herself, she did.
“So do you think you came just to make a point to Bess?” asked the lady.
“No. I came because this is where I wanted to be,” Amanda said.
“Good reason.” The woman took a sip of water. “My name’s Louisa, by the way.”
Amanda hadn’t meant to reveal so much. Now she was embarrassed and turned the attention back on the woman, “So why did you say that hide and seek is a metaphor for your life?”
“As a young woman, I ran away to California to be a hippie. You may have guessed.” The woman’s self mocking tone invited Amanda to mock her, too. Only Amanda didn’t want to. Amanda felt a mix of emotions for the woman: sympathy, admiration, even irritation, but not mockery. She wanted to hear her out. “I’ve never been sure if I was looking for something or running away. Hiding or seeking. See what I mean?” Louisa added.
“Well, it seems to me most actions could be interpreted as both. It just depends on your perspective.”
Louisa thought about that and then she shrugged and laughed, “We sure are getting serious for such a beautiful day. It’s my fault. I started the whole hide and seek thing.” She thought a moment and then she asked, “Are you having any fun?”
Amanda told her how much she liked bike riding. She hadn’t planned to do that when she came and it seemed like a bonus.
“You should come back here to Harbor House tonight. They have live music after eight,” and she looked at the bulletin board, “and tonight’s special drinks are margaritas. They’ll seem like a bonus, too.”
“Maybe I will.”
Louisa stole a look at her watch, “Oh, I’ve got to get back. There’ll be some tourist waiting on my front steps.” She wrapped her sandwich, which had only just arrived, in a napkin and tucked it in her purse. “I’ll be here tonight if you come to listen to the music.” She waved goodbye and thumped out.
As Louisa left, Amanda’s cell phone rang. She looked at the screen to see Bess’s number. “Hi,” she said with real warmth. She listened. “Uh huh. Well, I’ve been bike riding. It’s so much fun. I’d forgotten I even knew how.” She listened again. “You mean you want to come here?” Pause. “Well, sure, you could be here by tonight. There’s live music and margaritas if you make it in time.” She listened one last time. “Well, I’ll see you later then. Bess, I’m glad you found me. Can’t wait to see you.” Bess’s call threw her off balance. Bess had come looking for Amanda, not the other way around, not the way things usually happened.
That evening, Amanda and Louisa sat at the pelican table sipping margaritas tasting of summer and late nights and listening to The Island Band do a respectable version of “Your Lying Eyes.” When the lead sang that line about hiding those eyes, he hung on the word “hide,” elongating it and playing with it. Amanda speculated about what he may have been hiding. For just a moment he caught Amanda’s eyes and held them with his own. “Could he be flirting with her?” Although she wanted to dismiss the thought, she felt herself blush.
When Amanda saw all the men at the surrounding tables swivel their heads to take a look at a newcomer, Amanda knew Bess had arrived. She strutted right through the middle of the room, head held high, and straight to their table. After hugs and kisses and Bess’s “Oh, I love those earrings,” she went up to the bar to order a drink.
Louisa spoke to Amanda, but she looked at Bess at the bar, “Well, if she’s the one you’ve been hiding behind, I can see the temptation. She’s pretty hard to resist. Now you’ve put your friendship on a more even footing. Who knows? Bess might like things better this way, too. It’s Meehonkey. Hide and seek, like I said.” And with that, Louisa bade her goodnight and told her to bring her friend around to the shop tomorrow.
Hide and seek, huh? Amanda knew she’d sought and found something here on Ocracoke. She’d found a little piece of independence for herself; she’d found a new friend; and she’d found a new side to an old friend; but perhaps even more interesting, she’d found a new place to drink margaritas that tasted like the ocean, where the lead singer flirted with her, and where she could hear great old music that promised her a good time.