Chapter 48 – Shemayim (שמיים )(sky) – July 2032
Tali walked slightly behind the others on the beach. The family was with the McGees at the condo in New Jersey for the Fourth of July holiday; ten days of fun in Sea Isle City. She watched the others; Anthony and Katie were walking hand in hand as were John and Rivka. Beth, Charles Palmer, and LJ were walking along the tide line, looking for shells and other treasures from the ocean. Uncle Tim and Aunt Dee were at the water's edge so that she could put her feet in the surf. Ima and Abba were in their own world as usual, side by side on one of the beach blankets.
At eighteen, the world was just beginning for the young adult. She'd been accepted into Georgetown University and would begin classes as a junior in less than two months. Her declared major was linguistics and she intended to minor in psychology. Tali gazed up at the blue sky, cloudless and open to all possibility. Her current world was about as free and open as the sky above her.
She looked back towards her siblings and cousins ahead of her. Anthony and Katie seemed to be a forever match; they were always together from the time they were little. John and Riv also had a soul connection. While they were not holding hands openly as the others, Charles seemed to be Beth's future life partner. Both had been overly happy when Abba suggested that the Palmer teen join the family for the ocean get-away. Tali sighed; she'd dated a few of her classmates from high school and from the community college, but none had been more than casual dating.
She looked at Uncle Tim and Aunt Dee; the couple was watching some dolphins play in the surf. They truly were best friends as well as partners. The level of ease and comfort between them was a product of their eighteen years together.
And then there were her parents; she glanced over to where they were together on a beach blanket. She caught them kissing again; one thing they were not shy about was showing their love in public. Not that she minded anymore; they'd been embarrassing to her when she was a younger teen, but as she matured, she realized that the connection that her parents shared was so deep, so profound, that they couldn't hide it if they tried. They were like two magnets pulling together; unstoppable. Twenty seven years' worth of time together as adults, plus the short encounter as children nearly fifty years ago that the family had heard about in bits and pieces…
Tali was pulled from her thoughts by the message chime on her phone; she pulled the device from her pocket and swiped the screen. A text with picture from her cousin Tori. She pulled up the message; 'CAPTAIN Jared Vance' with a picture of Tori and Jared. The promotion ceremony must be completed; it was all Tori had talked about for the past month or so. Jared was coming to DC for his promotion before reporting to his new duty post. He had two weeks of leave and planned to stay with his father. He and Tori had been texting, Skyping, or calling almost daily for the past year. Despite the twelve year age difference, seventeen year old Tori was head over heels for the younger Vance.
Tali would bet serious money that at Jared's next promotion, Tori would be the one pinning on his new rank insignia instead of his father. She truly expected to go home after this vacation to find a promise ring on her cousin's hand. Of course, if Tori had any say, she would take an engagement ring, but Tali knew Jared would wait until Tori's eighteenth birthday or later out of respect for her parents' wishes and her age.
She wondered what it was like to have met 'the one.' She supposed her time would come eventually, not that she was in any hurry. Her life plan at this point included a family somewhere down the road, but her plan also included a Bachelors' degree and a Masters' degree, then applying to NCIS to work as an agent in the international division. If accepted, FLETC training was also in the cards.
But first things first; her next big step in life would be moving into her own apartment near campus. Abba had tried to talk her into commuting to class, but she really wanted to be a part of the campus living scene as well as the academic side. Ima had, surprisingly, sided with her eldest on this, much to her father's chagrin. He'd joked that there was no way he'd win against two strong-willed Ninjas. Of course, being Abba, he'd had to check out the apartment, the complex, the neighborhood before she signed anything. The hazards of having parents in law enforcement; she'd experienced that most of her life.
Tali looked out over the ocean; she watched the dolphins that had caught her aunt and uncle's eyes. A few gulls were circling about, scrounging for scraps from the beach-goers. She was grateful for all her parents had provided to her and her siblings.
Anthony watched his girlfriend as she stood with her toes in the surf. Her face was towards the ocean, watching some dolphins frolic in the water. The sea breeze blew her hair; he knew she hated the mess it made of her hair, but he secretly loved it. He'd been by her side for almost all of their lives; even as a baby he'd felt an attraction to Katie McGee. Now at fifteen, when he envisioned his future, she was always a part of the big plan. His future wife; the mother of his future children…
He looked around at his family; Aunt Dee and Uncle Tim at the water's edge, her feet in the surf. Both were watching the dolphins' frolic and sharing quiet conversation. Their connection was apparent in their motions and nonverbal cues to each other. Both he and Katie had strong models of marriage to build their own future life upon.
John and Rivka were in the surf side by side. They were laughing and splashing each other playfully. He watched as John pulled Riv closer as a large wave crashed over them. Anthony grinned as John used the moment of unsure footing to lock lips with his sister. Apparently kissing was something new to the fourteen and twelve and one half year old. Anthony remembered that feeling from not so long ago with his love.
Beth and Charles were building a sand castle together in the wet sand just above the tide line. The two worked side by side and smiled at each other, sharing laughs and grins. While not officially dating, Anthony could see the two had a connection. He was happy for his cousin and youngest sister; they seemed to be a good match.
LJ was near the tide line, arranging shells, pebbles, and seaweed into art forms. The ten year old had an eye for all things artistic. His mission this summer seemed to be to leave small pieces of temporary art on the beach to be enjoyed by anyone passing by until the tide erased its presence. He was sure LJ would be painting the images from memory later when the family was back in the condo.
Tali was walking behind the others; she seemed to be lost in thought. Anthony was proud of his big sister's accomplishments so far. She'd graduated with highest honors for her Associates' degree from the local community college and with honors for her high school diploma just recently. Come August, she would be a student at Georgetown and living in her own apartment. Anthony was going to miss having his first friend in life in the room next to his. Tali looked up at him and grinned. He signed 'I love you' to his big sister and she returned the gesture. Yeah, they'd had their share of sibling disagreements and pranking, but when push came to shove, they really did love one another deeply. He'd always have Tali's six, just as she would always have his.
He turned his gaze up towards the dune line and his parents. They were side by side on a beach blanket, lost in each other as usual. Ima and Abba; Abba and Ima; no matter how you put it they were and had always been like a single entity in his thoughts. Not that he didn't appreciate the individuals that were his parents and each of their individual strengths and characteristics, but in his mind they were more like one soul in two bodies. That impression was strengthened each time Ima or Abba shared more of their story from before he and the others were born. His parents had a soul connection that spanned time; it was a deep as the ages. They were destined to be together, even as the events conspired against them for a time.
As he watched his parents share kisses, Anthony felt a strong thankfulness that he had lucked out in the parent department. He loved his family and being a part of it; he was proud to be a DiNozzo. He grabbed Katie's hand and pulled her to him.
"What?" she asked at the look on his face.
"Nothing special; just glad to be alive and have you by my side," he replied before gently pressing his lips to hers.
Rivka squeezed John's hand in hers as they walked on the beach with the family. While they had not been on an official date yet, the pair considered themselves as dating. Even at twelve and one half, she knew in her heart that she and John were destined to be together. It was a bond that she could not describe in words, but she knew it was similar to the bond shared by her older brother and John's twin. John looked over at his girlfriend and grinned. He leaned in and put a small peck on her lips; this kissing thing was new for the fourteen year old and his girl.
Riv watched Anthony and Katie walking in sync; their hands linked and motions coordinated without thinking. She and John were starting to have that kind of coordination in their actions around each other and she enjoyed it. He was like an extension of her in many ways. They shared interests in all things computer related; and in math and science in general.
She watched her older brother and his partner; the two had been inseparable almost all of their lives. All of her memories of family gatherings and activities had the two together. Even in Anthony's 'girls in general are yucky phase,' he'd made an exception for Katie. She squeezed John's hand again and tugged him towards the waves.
Riv glanced over her shoulder at her twin and Charles building a sand castle. The two seemed to be destined to be a couple as well. She hoped they'd be as close as she and John were becoming although the two seemed more like good friends rather than boyfriend and girlfriend for now. Beth had always been a bit of a follower most of her life, so Riv wasn't really surprised that her sister was still testing the waters so to speak with her relationships.
She noticed LJ creating his temporary art on the tide line; her little brother had an eye for creating something beautiful from what seemed like nothing. His designs with shells, pebbles, and seaweed had caught the eyes of many passersby on the beach so far this trip. He didn't seem bothered that the tide would wash away his creations. Of course, she'd seen some of his paintings back in the condo in which he'd recreated a two-dimensional image of several of his three-dimensional creations. She admired his creativity and appreciated the boy's eye for making something beautiful.
Riv and John dove into the waves or jumped over them as they crashed to the shore; occasionally body surfing one to the strand. After riding one of the larger waves, Riv stood up facing the shore to see her older sister lost in thought. Tali was the rock for the younger kids; they all looked up to her as they grew over the years. Of course, Tali was also their ringleader. She and Anthony had been the masterminds behind many a prank on someone, including on their parents and on each other.
Tali, who was now eighteen, and poised on the brink of adulthood; Riv was excited for her sister moving to her own apartment because it meant she would be moving into Tali's room and have her OWN room for the first time ever. At the same time, she was also sad that her sister wouldn't be right down the hall anymore; she couldn't just go to her big sister's room to chat or ask advice as usual. Tali had assured her that Riv's phone calls or texts would be answered, but it wasn't the same. Riv would miss her big sister.
A large wave caught her slightly off balance and John pulled her to him to keep her from going under the wave. He pecked her on the lips as she regained her footing; they were really starting to get the hang of this kissing thing and both liked it.
John pulled away slightly, "Mom and Dad are watching." He still felt a bit awkward with his parents around when he was being affectionate with his girl.
Aunt Dee and Uncle Tim; Riv knew in her heart that they would one day also be her in-laws. She enjoyed being around them as they treated all of the DiNozzo kids as part of their own. Riv loved when her aunt and uncle used their hexadecimal 'secret code.'
She and John body-surfed on another wave to the shallow water. Riv stood up and skimmed the beach; her parents were near the dune line on a beach blanket. As usual, they seemed to be so wrapped up in each other that they ignored the world around them. She wondered if she and John would ever be like that. Ima and Abba had a way of being each other's whole world without even trying. All of their kids could feel the love between their parents; the more of the story of Ima and Abba that got shared with the next generation, the more the children appreciated what their parents had been through to get to the present. Riv often felt that she and her siblings had really lucked out in the parent lottery; she hoped that one day she would be half as good a parent.
Beth patted the sand on the castle she and Charles were working on together. His hand brushed hers as they moved the sand around into the shapes they wanted. She met his eyes with her own and grinned at him. The pair was just starting to explore being more than just friends and cousins. She looked at the fourteen year old across from her; how this scrawny man-child could make her heart beat crazily was beyond her comprehension, but she liked the feeling.
She knew that he was a bit self-conscious about the fact that he was less physically mature than most of the other boys his age. His voice had changed recently, but his body was still the skinny kid he'd always been. When he started to get down on himself, she'd remind him what his father said; he'd just not hit his teen growth spurt yet.
Beth could empathize with him; she herself was generally one to six months behind her twin in growth stages. Riv had started her monthly cycle three months ago, but Beth had yet to start hers. Riv's body was showing curves in all the womanly places, and had been since around their twelfth birthday. Beth was just now starting to have breasts. Ima said that everyone changed into an adult at their own pace and not to worry. Beth had been reassured when Ima shared that she had been fifteen when she started her monthlies.
Charles stood up to fill another bucket with water, and she watched him walk to the water. John and Riv were playing in the waves. She saw her twin almost lose her balance in a large wave and John's arms wrap around Riv to steady her. She watched as the two shared a quick kiss; this kissing thing was new for them. She wondered when she and Charles would get to that point; they'd not even held hands yet.
Aunt Dee and Uncle Tim were by the water's edge; she watched as Uncle Tim helped her aunt maneuver the beach wheel chair so that she could get her feet in the ocean. They seemed to communicate without words. Aunt Dee pointed out over the water; there were some dolphins playing in the surf.
Katie and Anthony were walking along the wet sand, hands linked and steps in unison. She watched the pair as they stopped to look at the dolphins. She could see her brother watching his girlfriend instead of the marine mammals. She smiled as he pulled Katie to him and kissed her. Those two were peas in a pod; even from an early age, everyone said they'd be together forever.
"Penny for your thoughts," Charles put the bucket of water down between them so that both could scoop water onto the part of the sand castle each was sculpting.
Beth smiled, "Nothing much; just watching everyone. It's interesting to see that we've started pairing off as we get older. I mean, like Anthony and Katie are always together. John and Riv seem to be getting that same inseparable quality about them. And Uncle Tim is so caring with Aunt Dee."
Charles nodded, "And then there are your parents; lost in each other most of the time." He pointed to where his aunt and uncle were sitting on a beach blanket near the dunes. Beth glanced up at her parents; they were kissing as if there were no tomorrow.
"They are embarrassing sometimes," she commented. "Yeah, they love each other, and they are soulmates, yadda, yadda… but jeez, enough of the PDA all the time."
He cleared his throat, and screwed up his courage, "So, um, if I wanted to hold your hand?"
She looked at him, "I would be okay with that." She reached out and took his hand in hers. "You okay with it?"
"Uh huh," he grinned and leaned towards her. Beth closed her eyes as he brushed his lips on hers and just as suddenly backed off.
"Okay then," both turned back to the sand castle, patting the sand into turrets, walls, bridges, and moats. Both stole glances at the other when they thought the other wasn't looking.
Beth looked away when Charles caught her staring at him; she saw LJ creating his temporary art along the water line. He was engrossed in making the formations with the shells, pebbles, and seaweed for others to enjoy before the tide washed the creations away.
Further up the beach her big sister Tali seemed lost in thought. She noticed Tali pull her phone from her pocket and swipe at the screen. When Tali grinned, she wondered who had sent her sister a message. About the same time, Charles' phone beeped with an incoming message. He swiped the screen and showed the image to Beth. His older sister was with her boyfriend; Tori and Jared looked happy as he showed off his newly pinned captain's bars.
"She's happy isn't she?" Beth commented.
"Yep, she seems to really love him. Dad says that he thinks Jared will be giving Tori a promise ring before he leaves for his next assignment," Charles was happy for his sister. "I'd bet money that they'll be married when he makes major."
"I'm happy for her; it just seems so surreal to have your sister almost engaged to someone who used to babysit all of us sometimes. I guess the twelve year age difference won't matter when Tori turns eighteen."
Charles nodded, "Age is just a number; that's what my dad says. There're ten years between my parents, you know."
"Yep; but one thing that we have that is unique, same as Anthony and Katie, and John and Riv, is we have memories of growing up together. Family memories from when we were little kids; things we can tell our kids together," Beth spoke from her heart.
"Our kids? Did you say OUR kids?" Charles took her hand in his and pulled her closer to him.
"Well, yeah; do you ever think about the future? When I do, I see you in mine," she spoke softly, hoping she didn't scare him off.
Charles brushed his lips on hers again. When he backed away slightly, he whispered, "I thought I was the only one; I didn't want to scare you away…" He grinned at his best friend, "Elizabeth Shannon DiNozzo, does this mean you are my girlfriend?"
She grinned back at him, "You're stuck with me, Charles Donald Palmer." Life was good; very good…
"Hey, kid; those are really cool pictures and sculptures that you're making," the man and his wife were looking at the temporary art that LJ was creating on the water's edge.
"Thanks," the almost eleven year old replied, looking up from the piece he was working on. "It's fun."
"I have to ask, though, why create them on the waterline? They will be gone when the tide comes in," the woman wondered. "Do you ever do any of them to last?"
LJ stood to be polite before responding, "It's fun to create, and if others enjoy it, then I'm happy. I don't need to have my work be around forever. It's just something fun to do that I can share."
She nodded, "I see; well, would you create something that could last longer?"
"Yeah, I guess so; but I'd probably use glue or something more permanent than sand to hold things together if I do," he thought about how he'd create a piece that could be moved off the beach. "Why do you ask, if I may?"
"She wants one of your pieces to take home," the man nodded to the bridge he'd made with pebbles and shells. "Is there any way you could put that on something we could take it home on?"
LJ thought a few minutes, "I could make one like that or take that one apart and glue it to a piece of driftwood or cardboard if you want. Do you have any glue?"
"We can get some; we live in the first house by the beach access; will you still be here in fifteen minutes?" the woman replied. "I'll pay you too."
"Uh, sure," he grinned at the couple. "I do commissions." While the couple went to get the glue, he looked around for a suitable piece of driftwood so he had a base to which he could glue the stone and shell bridge. He found a v-shaped piece and moved it near the little bridge.
The couple returned with the glue and LJ carefully disassembled the small structure and reassembled it on the wood using glue mixed with sand as mortar to hold the pebbles and shells together. When he placed the final pebble in place, the woman handed him a black Sharpie to sign his work. He carefully signed on the wood 'LJD 7-32.'
"I hope you like it," he said with a grin as he handed the woman her Sharpie and then carefully lifted the finished piece from the sand. The man held out a flat box top into which LJ placed his finished piece.
"It is beautiful," she gushed as he grinned his best DiNozzo grin at her. "Is fifty dollars enough?"
LJ was speechless; he'd never been paid for a work before and this woman was offering to pay him fifty dollars. He didn't know what to say to her at first. "Um, yes, ma'am; that's more than enough," he managed to respond so that he didn't appear rude. "I, um, I, just never got paid for anything before now…"
Anthony came up beside his little brother, "Hi, I'm Anthony, LJ's brother. Mind if I take a picture of the work and LJ together? You know, for the memory of his first sale of his art." The couple nodded agreement and LJ posed with the tiny bridge as Anthony snapped several pictures. They thanked LJ again and headed back to their house.
"Way to go, kid," Anthony high-fived his kid brother. "What are you going to do with the fifty dollars?"
LJ shrugged, "I dunno. Probably buy some art supplies…" He folded the bill and put it in his swimsuit pocket with the Velcro closure. "But right now, I'm gonna go create some more temporary art." He moved back to the water line and grabbed his bucket of shells and pebbles. He spotted a large piece of kelp and picked it up to start his next project.