A pair of fishing rods slung over his shoulder, Charlie exchanged a grin with Kipp as they rode a speedboat further into the ocean, sun shining above them. The briny scent of the ocean possessed soothing familiarity for Charlie, a reminder of many afternoons of fishing with his parents’ friend.

The engine’s rumbles trailed off and they sat comfortably in the ocean, a faint breeze wafting across the water’s surface. Kipp heaved himself to a bench opposite Charlie, and opened a box at their feet, revealing a mass of wriggling worms.

Charlie passed Kipp his fishing rod, and they both attached a worm to their hooks. Facing opposite sides of the boat, they cast their lines and started waiting.

“Hey Kipp, is that a new tat? On your arm?” Charlie ran a hand through his hair, sneaking a glance over his shoulder at Kipp. A deep inhale- brine, algae, salt on the tongue- exhale. Watch the bait.

“Yeah. Had the guys over at Authentic Arts do it. Was in the appointment when that gas attack hit the sewers. Poor guy felt so bad when he realized that halfway through my tat he changed the design from a skull to this weird collection of crossed lines, but it looked good enough I told him not to worry. Still got a discount, though.” Kipp let out a loud belly laugh, adjusting the faded cap on his head with his newly-tattooed arm.

Charlie hummed, tilting his head side to side in consideration as he stared at the lure bobbing in the gentle green waves.

“Looks pretty sweet. You take me up when I graduate?”

A startled snort, the tilts almost precariously before settling again.

“Your mother’ll kill me. Your father’ll hold me down.”

Charlie spent a brief moment imagining his 5-foot-maybe mother harming a fly, or his 5-and-a-half foot father holding down the 6-or-more-foot mass that was Kipp Keppler. He snorted, but somehow it seemed accurate.

“C’mon old man! Be an awful influence! Get the athlete some tats!”

“Not happening, kid. You know the drill.”

“No tattoos until I’m not living with my parents, and Kipp isn’t allowed to be a bad influence without at least one parent’s approval. I’m 16, not 6! I play football! Of course I’m getting a tat!”

“Are you playing football in college, Charlie? Are you going to try for the NFL?”

Charlie didn’t have to hesitate.

“If I get an athletic scholarship I’ll play football. NFL’s just not happening.”

Kipp hummed.

“You sure about that? You’re not exactly the biggest, meanest kid on the field, but I’ll be damned if you aren’t the fastest and slipperiest. Whenever that Adams kid on quarterback passes you the ball, it’s like you’ve gotten across the field before the other team has even started to respond.”

That was true. Charlie felt- justifiably- proud of his record of career line goals. But, still…

“Football hurts, you know? That shit messes you up long term, Kipp. College is bad enough, but I’d like you to point me to a single retired pro who came out unscathed. I don’t want to do that for my life- I want to study history. I want to run an international museum. Learning about the past, celebrating it, showing it to other people, fostering their own appreciation- that has meaning. That’s what I want to do. What do pro athletes, beyond the likes of Michael Jordan, ever achieve? You make money, your career ends, and then what?”

“You could use fame to jump start whatever you decide to do after, y’know. You don’t have to just retire to obscurity after.” Kipp argued.

“It’s just… going pro is for people where it’s their life. Football’s not my life. It’s something I enjoy, it’s something I’m good at, but it’s not my life- and in the end, I think that’s what I should pursue. Flag football back in the playground was fun. Running circles around my classmates, around other schools, that’s fun- but I don’t want it to be my life for the next eight years.”

Kipp took a breath to say something, paused, and started reeling his line back, struggling against the pull of whatever fish had taken a bite. Rapid, small waves shot around from his hook, and with a heave, he brought his line up, to reveal a hook with no fish. With a gentle smile, he shrugged, and attached a new worm to his hook.

“How was that party you got invited to, Kipp?” Charlie asked, a smile tugging at his lips.

Kipp smiled in return, eyes softening.

“Didn’t you already hear all about it from your little darling? Her daddy was the one throwing it, after all.”

Charlie shrugged, reeling back his line.

“Eliza saw a lot of the organization and planning but managed to beg out of actually going- I think she told her dad if she was coming she was bringing me along, and Mr. Richards and I both know I’m not exactly the best of people to bring to a fancy place like that.”

Kipp laughed as Charlie inspected his newly-empty hook and attached a new worm.

“If you’re not exactly the best to bring, I’m certainly not!”

“Yeah, but Mrs. Keppler is. She’s well-mannered, dresses excellently every time-Mr. Richards got her that fancy dress five years ago in celebration of your partnership, right?- and has the right bearing and smile. Besides, you own and run the bait shop on his harbor. You’ve been business partners with him, to an extent, longer than I’ve been alive. You aren’t expected by his peers to be polite, presentable, or dignified.” Charlie argued.

“Are you calling me an uncouth ruffian?” Kipp laughed.

Charlie shrugged.

“If the shoe fits.”

Kipp roared with laughter, slapping his knees and making Charlie adjust his seating so he didn’t fall off the boat.

“You aren’t wrong, Charlie. You aren’t wrong. But what does that have to do with you not going along with your little Eliza?”

Charlie smiled.

“I’m dating his daughter. He approves- invited me to come, even- but I didn’t want to come in to a culture that’s not me until I’m better able to handle it. Eliza’s been helping, and so has Mrs. Richards, but we all agreed that I’d probably make a fool out of myself, so Eliza and I went out to see a movie that night instead.”

“Fair enough. Let’s actually catch a couple fish, aight?”

“You’re on, old man.”