Bridges from my Balcony
By Susan Estomin Chappelear
A literary journal that celebrates Florida

Two hundred feet above the St. Johns River, laptop balanced on my knees, I rock back and forth to the tune of the current below. Take a deep breath and let the surrounding sooth my soul. Incite my creativity. Nothing can stop me her. Bridges lead to everywhere.

From my balcony I can see seven of them. The Main Street Bridge is closest. It slides up and down, stopping traffic, while horns bellow and bells clang to make way for sailboats and ships. Tugboats maneuver a large cruise ship through the channel.

I can see the Acosta Bridge, Mathews, Hart, Fuller Warren and way off in the distance Dames Point.

Whistles blow. The ninety-year-old drawbridge (FEC Strauss Trunnion Bascule Bridge) moves into position for an oncoming locomotive.

But the sounds don’t disturb. They beckon to me.

Look up. Look up before you miss this.

Each morning, I cradle a mug of steaming coffee in both hands, laptop tucked beneath my arm. The sun is warm on my skin. Feet bare, toes painted bright coral. I settle into a chair and survey the world that is my backyard. Sun sparkles like diamonds floating on the water’s surface. Seagulls glide, wings wide. Dolphins circle and dip. I hope for a Manatee or even a North Atlantic Right Whale one day.

I breathe in, computer on my lap. Keys tap.

The tide comes in, breeze picks up. A water taxi glides by, billows of white foam in its wake. Waves splash against the rocks below. Fish jumps.

Tap. Tap.

Sometimes my view includes sunrises and sunsets. Sometimes I get to see both on the same day. Glorious.

I savor long shady afternoons, a cool breeze even on the hottest of days. Tap tap.

Activity on the Riverwalk is ever-present. I love the bridal parties and prom dates. One group of high school couples lined up for photos. The girls all in long sequined gowns that glinted, like thousands of tiny flashbulbs in the late afternoon sun.

Bicycles, strollers, dog walkers, yoga classes, more photo shoots. A young woman in an emerald green full-length dress, low cut and slit up both sides, perched on the railing. She posed like Marilyn Monroe while the photographer danced in front of her.

On the weekends music is live from Jacksonville Landing and other spots along the Northside. The sound carries across the river and floats up to my balcony. I pour a glass of wine and enjoy the free entertainment.

For ten years I’ve lived in Northeast Florida. Ponte Vedra and South Jax Beaches. But my move to the Riverfront made me a Floridian.

I’m at home now.

 Jacksonville Interior Design

Skylar Browne & The Moonstone Medallions
by s.e. chappelear
Powers Every Kid Needs To Survive Middle School
Middle Grade Fiction about positive change
57,000 word completed manuscript

Part I

Chapter 1 - The Police Incident   

Skylar glared at the bright yellow and black warning sign. “No way!” She skated toward the utility pole, jumped off her board, and ripped down the poster. Waving it overhead, she shouted for Ben until her voice carried over the scraping of his wheels against the bumpy pavement.

He did a kick-turn and headed in her direction. “What’s up?

“This.” She held up the sign.

Dragging his foot, he dismounted, snapped up the board, and caught it midair. “Not another skate-free zone?

“Yup, more every time we come to the beach. I hate it.”

“You know, it’s probably not the best idea to tear those things down.” He pointed to a police car parked at the corner grocery store. “Way too many cops around here.”

“Yeah, you’re right.” She picked up her board. “It’s just not fair. Pretty soon, there won’t be any place left to skate.”

Smiling, he tugged one of her braids. “I get it, Sky.”

Her cheeks warmed, catching her off guard. She flipped up the hood on her sweatshirt and hoped he didn’t notice. “Wanna catch a devil-stick demo at the kite shop?”

“Sure,” he said.

She loved family get-a-ways when Ben came along. Crumpling the poster, she tossed it in the first trashcan they passed.

The streets in Rehoboth Beach were lined with souvenir shops and food stands of every variety. Sizzling french-fries and the famous Grotto Pizza made Skylar's mouth water.

The kid with the devil-sticks was awesome. He tossed, twirled, and juggled the baton between two sticks without dropping it once. It looked easy, but Skylar knew otherwise from experience. She spent hours batting hers back and forth, just trying to keep it in the air. But it was a fun thing to do alone, and except for Ben, that was most of the time.

They ate burgers and fries at Gus & Gus and spent the afternoon playing games in the arcades. On the way home, they spotted a display of new stuff in the skate shop window and stopped to take a look.

“Hey, that’s Owen Byrd,” a kid said. He stood at the checkout counter and pointed toward Ben.

Skylar jabbed him in the ribs with her elbow. “He’s lookin’ at you. Thinks you’re Owen Byrd. You know, that famous skateboarder dude from the X Games.”

He squinted and screwed up his face. “Yeah, I know who he is, but that’s crazy.”

“Why? You look just like him. I can’t believe I never thought of it before. You’re about the same size, and you both have shaggy haircuts with blonde streaks.” She grabbed his arm and pulled him toward the open front door. “Come on. Just play along. Maybe we’ll get some free stuff. Nobody knows you here.”

A small crowd gathered.

The owner came out and extended his hand. “So, you’re Owen Byrd, eh?”

Ben hesitated but shook his hand.

“Oh yeah, he’s Owen Byrd, all right.” Skylar nudged him through the doorway. She met Ben’s eyes and gave him a slight nod. “Owen just got back from a national skate tour.”

“Nice to know ya, son, come on in.” He guided him toward the counter. “How ‘bout some autographs?”

Head down, Ben fiddled with the zipper on his sweatshirt.

The owner looked to Skylar. “You, his manager, or somethin’?”

She laughed and accepted a pile of hats. “Nah, just a friend.” She held them out to Ben and leaned toward his ear. “Just go with it. It’ll be fun.”

The man set a deck and a couple of shirts aside. “For you,” he said. “Let me know if you want somethin’ else.”

Skylar shot Ben a look and grinned.

“Can I get you to put your John Hancock on these, too?”

“My what?”

The owner shook his head. “Your signature.” He pushed the merchandise in his direction. “Just sign ‘em, son.”

The shop got super busy. Ben’s shoulders eased. He talked with his fans and signed Owen Byrd on everything in sight, even put his initials on a girl’s cheek. “One time, I kick-flipped down some stairs and lost my balance.” He laughed. “Hit the concrete and rolled into a giant pile of dog poop.” 

Everybody groaned and cracked up.

“Wow, I’m a natural at this.” He whispered to Skylar as he reached for another hat. “You were right. This is super cool.”

Kids struggled to get closer.

“Owen, who’s your latest sponsor?”

“Where’s your next competition?”

“Are you training for the Olympics yet?” a girl asked. She wrote her cell number on his hand.

And then—just two words sucked every bit of energy from the room.

“Hey, Ben.”

The loud voice boomed over the racket in the shop.

He snapped his head up and froze.

The crowd backed away as the kid strode toward the front.


The owner’s jaw dropped. “You’re not…” His eyes looked like they might pop out of their sockets. “You’re not Owen Byrd?”

Ben’s face turned bright red. He bit his lip and stared at his sneakers.

“Well, are you, or not?” With an open hand, he gave Ben a slight shove.

Stumbling backward, he shook his head.

“What’s wrong with you, kid?” The man grabbed his arm and reached for his phone. “I’m calling the cops. All this merchandise is shot. Are you hearin’ me, you good for nothin’ punk?

Ben’s chest heaved, eyes wild.

Skylar frantically patted the pockets of her jeans and hoodie. Of all days to forget my stupid phone.

Slowly, she backed up, turned toward the exit, and shoved her way through the crowd. She ran to the end of Main Street and stopped as a police car with flashing blue lights whizzed by. Jumping on her board, she pushed full speed for the beach house.

Skylar turned and craned her neck to see. It was a kid from the skate park back home in Virginia. She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think.

The owner’s jaw dropped. “You’re not…” His eyes looked like they might pop out of their sockets. “You’re not Owen Byrd?”

Ben’s face turned bright red. He bit his lip and stared at his sneakers.

“Well, are you, or not?” With an open hand, he gave Ben a slight shove.

Stumbling backward, he shook his head.

“What’s wrong with you, kid?” The man grabbed his arm and reached for his phone. “I’m calling the cops. All this merchandise is shot. Are you hearin’ me, you good for nothin’ punk?

Ben’s chest heaved, eyes wild.

Skylar frantically patted the pockets of her jeans and hoodie. Of all days to forget my stupid phone.

Slowly, she backed up, turned toward the exit, and shoved her way through the crowd. She ran to the end of Main Street and stopped as a police car with flashing blue lights whizzed by. Jumping on her board, she pushed full speed for the beach house.

The screen door slammed behind her. “Dad, Dad. Where are you?”           

Mom stood in the kitchen, adding ice to a pitcher of tea. “What’s going on?”

Skylar leaned forward, hands on her knees, and gulped for air. “I need Dad, quick.”

“He’s in the backyard. What is it, honey?” She put the remaining ice in the freezer and followed her down the porch steps.

“Dad, I think Ben’s in jail.”

“What?” He stepped away from the smoking grill. “What are you talking about?”

“Please, just go to the Sheriff’s station. You have to get him out. This is all my fault.”

Dad handed the tongs, blackened with barbecue sauce, to Mom. “Slow down, Skylar, you’re not making any sense. Why would Ben be in jail?”

“It’s a long story, Dad. He pretended to be a pro. Signed some stuff at the skate shop. The owner called the cops, and that’s when I left to get you. Please, Dad, just go, please.”

“How is this all your fault?” Mom slipped into work mode, and while she was the lawyer in the family, Dad was the guy who handled most emergencies.

Skylar stared at the chicken wings on the grill. “I pushed him into it.” She blew out a long breath. “He didn’t want to do it.”

“Go ahead, babe,” Mom said. “We’ll wait here.”

Muttering, he made his way to the car. “Why would they do such a thing?”

“Hurry, Dad.” Skylar slumped to the ground, cross-legged on the gravel.

Chapter 2 - Ben 

Handcuffed to a metal bench in the police station, Ben hunched sideways to keep pressure off his wrists. Voices from the lobby were muffled. It sounded like Skylar’s dad, but he wasn’t sure. He tapped his feet back and forth and prayed. I’ll be grounded for the rest of my life, and that’s if I’m lucky. What if Skylar’s parents can’t get me outta here, or my father thinks a night in jail would teach me a lesson or some dumb thing like that? Ben tried to blow the hair out of his eyes, but it was matted to his forehead. It’s freezing in here. Oh God, what if the cops do a strip search or, worse yet, a cavity search? His mouth went dry. Can’t believe I listened to Skylar. If only I didn’t buy into that whole pro skater thing. I’m such an idiot. And then, she just left me.

The door to his holding room slammed against the wall. His head jerked up, eyes burned.

As the officer made his way across the room, his boots echoed on the concrete floor. He knelt, yanked hard on the handcuffs, and released him. “You’re one lucky young man.” The cuffs jangled as he tucked them in a pouch attached to his belt. “I’m just glad you’ll be out of my jurisdiction tonight. Follow me.”

Ben trailed after him, massaging his wrists.

Skylar’s dad was in the waiting room, his forehead wrinkled. He put an arm around Ben’s shoulder and gave him a squeeze. “Come on. Let’s get you back to the house.”

When they stepped into the night air, Ben lost the battle with his tears. He knew Skylar left the skate shop to get her dad’s help, but still, he felt set-up and abandoned. If he never saw her or that stupid lime-green hoodie again, it would be okay with him.

“The police called your parents, Ben. Your Dad wants you home tonight.” 

“I figured.” He dropped his head. “How mad are they?” 

“I don’t know, but try not to worry.” He patted his back. “When we get there, I’ll go in with you, and we can talk to them together. It’ll be okay.” 

It was a long, two-and-a-half-hour ride back to Alexandria. Ben sat as far from Skylar as possible, arms crossed. Music blared through his ear buds. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched her; knees hugged to her chest, red braids draped over her shoulders with long bangs framing her face, a tiny tremble in her chin. It made him sad, but this time—he was done.

Ben’s dad stood in the doorway, wearing rumpled business clothes with glasses perched on his nose. He shook hands with Skylar’s dad and scowled at Ben. “Come on in. Thanks for bringing him home tonight. I really appreciate it.”

Skylar’s father was pretty great. The three of them sat at the kitchen table and talked for a long while. He explained what happened and Skylar’s role in the whole mess. “Impulsivity sometimes gets in the way of her judgment.” He raised his eyebrows. “We’re working on it.”

At least she had been honest. Ben was relieved about that.

After Skylar’s father left, his dad continued with a long lecture. “Blah blah blah, grounded until further notice.” The last part was all he heard.

Chapter 3 - Three Twenty-One

Skylar checked her phone for the millionth time. It was another week of texts and pathetic voice messages, and still no answer from Ben. She hurled her backpack toward the school’s front doors. It slammed against a bulletin board and landed with a thud on the bench below. Slumping beside it, she waited for Mom to pick her up.

A poster slid down the wall and landed on top of her bag. Glitter outlined the title, Married with Children, the next school play. It was a comedy directed by the legendary drama teacher, Ms. M.  According to rumors, she was also an advisor with powers and medals or medallions or something like that.     

Her cell vibrated with a text from Mom. Skylar swiped the cracked screen.

Sorry honey running super late. Be there as soon as I can ox

Oh well, nothin’ else to do, and it beats the bus. Not that I have a choice anymore. She read her last message from Ben. Again. 

Hey Sky photo shoot @ the park. Dudes got some sick tricks. Come quick

No one else in the whole world called her Sky. If only I could have a do-over.

Mom named the thing with Ben, “the unfortunate police incident.” To Skylar, that weekend at the beach was the end of the only good thing in life, her friendship with Ben.

Sneakers squeaked on the freshly buffed floor. 

Carter. OMG, can’t stand that girl.

She strutted toward the front doors in her tight-fitted cheerleader uniform. Smooth blond hair swayed against her back as she peered out the window. Turning on her cell, she perched on a nearby bench. “Crap. Battery’s dead.” She stuck out her arm and wiggled her fingers. “Can I use yours for a sec?” Her gray nail polish glimmered. 

Skylar tucked her almost nonexistent fingernails out of sight. “Sorry, in the middle of something.”

“When you finish, then?” She tossed the phone in her gym bag and pointed to the poster. “Hey, I’m in that play. My boyfriend has the lead.”

“Why don’t you tell someone who cares?” 

Carter’s eyes turned to slits. “You know, my grandmother just got dentures, and they look pretty great. Perhaps you’d like the name of her dentist?” She ran her tongue over perfect teeth. 

“They’re not dentures,” Skylar hissed. “But I’m sure prosthesis is too big of a word for you.” 

“Whatever.” She shimmied and straightened the folds in her short skirt. “That’s some outfit you’ve got going on there.” Her eyes traveled from Skylar’s pink high-tops, over her multi-colored stripe skate socks and distressed jeans. She paused at her lime-green hoodie. “Do you have a closet full of those things, or do you always wear the same one? No, wait, let me guess. Your father wanted a boy. Is that it? Is that why you dress like that?”

Skylar’s cheeks burned, and temples pounded. She sucked in a broken breath. “At least, at least I have a father.” A fine spray of spit followed her words.

The smile on Carter’s face vanished. 

A horn beeped.  

Carter jumped to her feet and jogged to the window. Turning, she glared at Skylar and stormed out.  

Before the door closed, Skylar caught it. “Carter wait, I’m…” 

Her navy and gold skirt flared as she dashed down the steps, hopped into her big brother’s jeep, and took off. 

Skylar stood in the doorway until they disappeared. Her stomach was in knots, and her gums ached. Hate this day. 

She trudged to the water fountain, pressed the button, and watched the stream arch and splash into the basin. She filled her mouth and let the cold liquid bathe her sore gums.

Back on the bench, she hugged her middle and rocked toward her knees. Her sneakers rested in a smattering of silver and gold glitter. She picked up the play poster. What if? What if the rumors are true?

She remembered overhearing a conversation in the cafeteria about how Ms. M appeared and disappeared out of nowhere. Maybe she was like a magician or had some kind of sixth sense. She also heard something about an exclusive club and “The Smooth.” Skylar loved the sound of it. The Smooth. Nothing in her life was even close. 

Leaning the poster against the wall, she picked up her backpack, and slung it over a shoulder. If there’s any chance Ms. M can make things better, and help me get Ben back, I want in.

Heading down the hallway, a tall kid she never saw before brushed past with a skateboard under one arm. He pivoted. Took a few steps backward, looked her in the eyes and winked. “Three twenty-one,” he said. 


He turned and disappeared out the front door

Three twenty-one. What’s that supposed to mean? 

The door latched before she reached it. She squinted through the glass. The kid was gone, but her mother’s SUV pulled into the curved pickup lane in front of the building.

She raced down the steps and yanked open the car door. Stepping up on the ledge, she craned her neck to see down the street. “Some kid just…oh, never mind.” She tossed her bag in the backseat and climbed in. 

“Sorry I’m late. Construction had traffic backed up for miles.” Mom shifted into drive. “So, how was your day?”

Skylar pulled out her seatbelt and clicked it into place. “How do you think?” 

Accelerating onto the road, Mom sighed. “What happened?” 

“Well, as usual, no one sat with me at lunch.” Skylar pulled the bands from her pigtails and shook her head. “Because of these stupid teeth.”

“Oh, honey, I’m sorry.” She leaned forward, tightening her grip on the steering wheel. 

“Can’t believe I have to take the dumb thing out to eat. How disgusting is that?”

“I know it’s hard, but we didn’t have a choice. Besides, your new one will be ready soon. I called today, and you should have it in two weeks.”

“Two weeks, are you kidding me? I can’t wait that long.”

“Maybe we can get those liquid meals for now. What do you think?”

She pressed her forehead against the cold glass of the side window. “Too bad we didn’t think of that before I grossed out the entire school.”

“Did anything else happen today?” 

The sadness in Mom’s voice made her feel worse. “Yeah, no one picked me for a lab partner. Plus, I forgot my homework.” 

Her mother’s eyes widened. “It was right on the table.” 

“I know. I walked out without it. And just before…” She smacked her forehead. “I said the meanest thing to Carter about her dad moving out.”

 Mom shook her head.

“She so deserved it.” 

“No, Skylar, no one deserves it. Not Carter, not you.”                   

“I just get so tired of saying all the wrong things. It’s like I have no control.”           

“Look, honey, I really think we should make an appointment for you to see Dr. Ross. She’s supposed to be terrific.”

Arms crossed, Skylar leaned into the door. “Yeah, I’m sure. Another shrink.” 

Mom blinked hard and stared ahead. “There’s a surprise for you in my purse.

“Oh yeah?” She reached over and pulled it open. “Yesss. A new phone.

“We all got upgrades today.”

She ran her fingers over the smooth glass. “Sweeet. The cracks in my old screen were making me crazy.”

“Dad transferred the data from your last backup. All it needs is your SIM.”

“Thanks, Mom.” 

As soon as the phone powered on, a text message lit the screen.

Three twenty-one

What the…?