Up before her parents were out of bed, Paisley sat in a white plastic chair on the patio outside their hotel bedroom. She tried to be very quiet opening the sliding glass door, but it screeled when its rollers skidded across the accumulation of grit in the tracks.
Paisley, not big enough to pick up any of the chairs, had pulled hers across the concrete floor, its legs squealing in protest. She made hushing noises as she climbed up on the seat and peered out over the wide beach leading out to the lapping waves.
Her lips were chapped and her skin sticky from the salty breezes that blew up from the Gulf. Her nose had begun to peel where she got a sunburn the first day they were at the beach.
Her legs weren’t quite long enough to touch the ground, so when she swung her feet just the tips of her toes brushed the patio floor making little swirls in the sand that had settled there.
Seagulls were making touch-and-go landings at the water’s edge, snapping up tiny coquina clams the tides stirred up. Paisley sat back, delightfully entertained by their raucous cawing. It reminded her of lunch time at school with the big kids from Miss Emma’s fourth-grade class.
Paisley liked the beach because her parents didn’t fight when they were there. There was no job for dad to rush off to, no chores for mom to rush through. They played with her. Daddy made sandcastles and mommy helped her fly the butterfly kite they bought at the toy store on the boardwalk.
Paisley shut her eyes and wished that they never had to leave, that they could stay at the beach forever.
From nearby, she heard a solo gull chirping. Opening one eye just enough to peek at the bird. It stared back at her, cocking its head until it was almost upside down. Paisley knew it must have heard her wish and was there to make it come true.
Paisley closed both eyes again, squeezing them tightly shut. She crossed her fingers and legs, twisted her arms together, and wished harder. She was still holding that pose when a knock came to their suite front door.
She tiptoed in passed her parents, wondering why they were still in bed so late in the morning. Leaning against the door, Paisley pressed her ear against it, and in a loud whisper asked who was there. Through the muffled answer the only word she could make out was, “officer.”
Later, sitting alone on a stark, cold plastic chair at the noisy police station, Paisley wanted to be back in her sun-warmed seat outside. She worried that the magic seagull took her wish for her family to stay at the beach too literally.