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You’re at the beach, lounging on your towel, when a glistening object at the water’s edge catches your eye. It’s a bottle — and yes, it contains a message. What does it say?

Lauren lay on the beach towel, feeling the warmth of the sand below her and the sunshine glowing on her skin. She’d been reading, but her eyes grew heavy as she laid down the another college catalog.  This college business was really weighing heavily on her mind, and well as what she should declare as a major.

Lauren had spent two years working on the high school newspaper, and she’d been the correspondent for her school in the local high school news page. She loved writing, but she also loved history. History was full of good stories and bigger than life people. “Guess that’s what made them great,” she said to herself.

“What are you mumbling about,” her brother Tom asked her as he plopped down beside her.

“Oh nothing really. This college selection business is just getting to me. You were lucky — you really didn’t have to choose. You always wanted to play football for Virginia Tech, and you even got a scholarship,” said Lauren. “I wish my decision were as clear-cut.”

“Small college or big university. A goldfish in the ocean or a shark in a tank. I just don’t know. Unfortunately, the best history department seems to be a the George Mason, but I really wanted to be farther from home — you know, go away to college,” said Lauren. “Old Dominion’s in a cool part of the state, but Christopher Newport looks so ordinary. Then there’s Mary Baldwin in Staunton — they offered me a scholarship based on my SAT scores, but as pleasant as the campus is, I just don’t know about an all-women’s college, even with VMI’s pool of healthy males  nearby. And it’s still more expensive than a state school.”

“You can live at George Mason,” said Tom. “You don’t have to live at home. And it’s really gaining a reputation as a good university,” he added, “but it’ll never be the powerhouse Tech is, especially without a football team.”

Lauren gave him a shove, “That’s all you think about! There are a lot of good colleges that don’t have football teams. I’m not a big football fan anyway.”

Now it was his turn to get back at her, as he poured some of the water from his bottle onto her head.  “Oh stop that, Tom, you’re a beast!” and you’re not being very helpful either.

“I didn’t get into UVA — who does — but there’s UVA at Wise, but it’s so small, and way out in the country with no big cities nearby. But maybe a small college would be nice. And that part of Virginia is beautiful.” Lauren continued, half to herself and half to her brother.

“Oh, I don’t know. I have to start sending applications as soon as we get back from spring vacation,” said Lauren, “I guess I’ll have to narrow it down somehow so I’m only applying to two or three.”

“Look,” said time, “this is getting boring. We’re here in the beautiful Florida sunshine, and you’re not enjoying it. Let’s go hit some of those waves.” Tom’s parents had really wanted them all to go on vacation together during Lauren’s spring break, so he’d come along, even though he’d missed beach week earlier this spring with his college buds.

The jumped in the ocean, and even though it was still chilly in April, they let the waves buffet and carry them. Lauren bobbed under the water and when she came up rubbing her eyes, she saw something glistening just a few feet away. She swam over and grabbed it. It was an old clear wine bottle.

She grabbed it and waved it at Tom, and made her way back to the beach, Tom following.

“What did you find, Sis?” asked Tom swimming over.

“Look, there a piece of paper stuffed in here.” said Lauren. Going back to their blanket, Tom used his pocket knife to pry out the cork, and shook the bottle until he was able to catch the paper with the little tweezers tucked into the side of the knife, and pulled it out carefully.

“Okay, let me have it,” said Lauren. “I found the bottle after all.”

Lauren open the folded note carefully, and began to read.

“Look” said Lauren, “it’s like four years old. March, 2012.”

The letter began:

“Hi, I always wanted to find a note in a bottle. It’s such a story book idea. So I thought I’d give someone the chance to find one.

“I’m on spring break, but these friends I’m with have no imagination. They just want to party, and drink. The hotel room I’m staying in smells like an old brewery, and damp towels and I’m getting tired of the routine. That’s why I’m out here on the beach so early, to sit and think in the peace. And I’m writing it down to clarity my thoughts — then, instead of crumbling it up and throwing it away, I’ll stuff it in this cheap wine bottle left in the sand.

“When I get back to college, I’m going to drop out at the end of the year. Big decision! I’ve been there nearly two years, and the novelty has worn off. I miss being real, and having people who care about me for who I am. I have plenty of friends — I’m in a sorority — but sometimes it’s so artificial. They’re not like real sisters, and I already have real sisters (and a bothersome younger brother) and I miss them, and my parents too, even though I wanted to be independent and on my own. I can handle being on my own, and being independent, but I’m tired of being lonely in a crowd.

“Oh, I’ll stay in college, but closer to home. I need a break from life in the fast lane of college. I want to prepare for the future in the real world, with the support of people who care about me. I can live without my family nearby, but I don’t think I want to anymore. I feel like a bit like I’m giving up, but I think I’ll be getting more.”

“Thanks for listening, whoever you are. Back to the crazy beach life.

“Bella.”

“Wow,” said Lauren. “Why me? Why was I the one to pick up this bottle, when her thoughts parallel mine?”

Her brother read the letter, too. “Boy, she doesn’t like spring break? She must be crazy! And I don’t know what I’d do without my fraternity brothers — we stick together and help each other out.”

“Yeah,” said Lauren, “I’ll bet who do,” she thought remembering the mess and craziness at their frat house, and floors sticky from beer.”

“Well, she’s certainly given me something to think about when I apply to colleges. I hadn’t really thought about ‘living’ away from home and what it would be like on a day-to-day basis.”

She smoothed out the letter and slipped it into the book she was reading then tossed the bottle away. She’d take it out again, she knew, when she was filling out those applications. “Thank you, God, angels, fate, whatever. I think this note was mean for me, she mused.”

Lauren closed her eyes, laid back down and enjoyed the sun.

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