Long summer days stopped seeming like a blessing a few years ago. The turquoise and sapphire ocean lost it's luster like dulling stones left to sit in an armoire for decades on end. White sands on the coastline no longer glistened under the warm rays of the sun, now they glared warnings of heat and irritation. I had stopped craving the bronze glow that any healthy, attractive woman would want; the daunting horror of melanoma reared its head in my thoughts more often than not. My long, shiny bleach blonde hair became too commonplace. Every other beach bunny along the Pacific exploited its wonders on the male sex. I know I had, and I'd gotten exactly what I wanted. I'd gotten exactly what we all wanted: an overpriced, overrated Malibu beach house, a husband over twice my age, and a pool boy to relieve my deep set boredom and sexual frustrations. Yes, at first it had been everything I wanted, yet nothing I needed. Now it couldn't even satiate my petty desires.
My life lost its meaning a mere few months after my loveless marriage to Bruce Manchester. All of the Prada, Gucci, and Versace in the world couldn't make me genuinely happy. The red Boxter Bruce had given me as a wedding present sat in our four door garage, dust settling on its shining surface for the past three weeks. I was certain by now the girls at the gym were starting to gossip about my absence; 'Her muscles have got to be losing their tone…' 'Bruce must be looking for a new wife by now.' Actually, who was I kidding, they'd always gossiped about me. We'd all gossiped about each other, me no innocent. The usual stuff, Sandra's boob job was clearly botched; Elaine should use some of her husband's money to fix her nose; Rachel's put on a little weight, I wonder just how long William's going to keep her around? None of us had any real friends; in fact I was beginning to wonder if any of us knew what friends were.
Outside the glass wall that separated the overly-lavish living room I sat in from the warm summer's breeze and the rolling waves that continually crashed on the beach a group of tourists who currently took up residence at the house next door battled the untamable surf in attempts to catch a wave. Were they what friendship really looked like? They had been out there since just after day-break; sometimes a miscalculation would send them below the tumultuous waves as their boards flew a few feet above the ocean.
That always made me nervous. The fins of those boards were dangerous; I'd seen one surfer just after I moved in to Bruce's house immerge from the water with a gash in his arm that went down to the bone from where his board had landed just right after a similar incident. Since my husband owned the hospital he was taken to, I was able to learn how much damage had been done. Eighteen stitches inside his arm, twenty-one on the outside. I shuddered merely at the thought, watching one of the surfer's pop up, his board landing mere inches to his right. If anything was sure to put strands of grey in my now light brown hair, it was watching this.
What wasn't going to add wrinkles or stress was the fact that this very morning, four thirty I should say, my husband was rushed to his very own hospital. Heart attack, the paramedics had said while lifting him into the back of the ambulance; they added there was a good chance he'd survive and that the doctors would take beyond excellent care of him. Of course they would. He signed their paychecks. I had merely nodded and pulled my cashmere blanket tighter around my shoulders. My heart hadn't jumped for joy or sank with despair upon hearing that. I simply didn't care.
Since then I'd been sitting on the coffee colored leather couch, contemplating just what was wrong with my life and why that had fazed me in no way. Whether I loved him or not, I should have felt something when I was awoken by his harsh breathing and pained moans. There should have been at least some vivid sense of panic, alarm, or worry that something was happening to the human being at my side. But there wasn't. That set me on another track; Ralph, the tan, dark haired, dark eyed pool-boy. When was the last time I really took pleasure in one of our little trysts? Weeks? Months? Eons? I honestly couldn't recall. Every rendezvous with him I could recollect seemed so mundane. Everything in my life seemed to have lost any glimmer that may have allowed it to be considered interesting. I would be perfectly content, sitting on this couch and not moving, as I would if I was out maxing Bruce's credit cards, or out sleeping with Chris Pine. Knowing I could have whatever I wanted meant nothing when that was exactly what I wanted—nothing.
The sharp ringing of the house phone echoing off the corners of the room was the first sound since the ambulance had hauled my husband away that I had heard. I tilted my head slightly, watching the caller ID light up a vivid orange from its place on the dark brown table beside the glass wall. It rang twice before I finally stood up from the couch, leaving my blanket in a warm bunch behind me.
"Ah, yes. May I have a word with Mrs. Manchester?"
I shift the phone from one ear to the other, looking out at the group from next door pulling themselves out of the ocean, "This is her."
"Ah, Mrs. Manchester. This is Doctor Cox. I'm calling about your husband's condition."
Of course he was.
"How is he?" I inquired, wondering if he heard the lack of care in my tone.
"He's currently stable, Mrs. Manchester. It was only a mild heart attack. He should be alright but we would like to keep him here for a few days."
My eyes were trained on the three guys carrying their surfboards just beyond the reach of the waves, testing to see if I really had lost interest in absolutely everything. They appeared young, firm stomachs, toned arms and legs, revealing that they did this, or some kind of work out nearly every day. Their deep bronzed color hinted that surfing was their activity of choice, rightly so. It seemed to fit them.
"That's good to hear," My reply came without bothering to feign interest. Most of the folk that worked at the hospital had already pin-pointed me as the gold digger I was, I currently had no desire to try to disprove such a belief. If they're right, they're right.
The static-y silence on the other end of the line simply assured me he had in fact noticed, "We'll call you if anything changes. Have a good day Mrs. Manchester."
"You too, Dr. Cox."
The beep that accompanied the end of the call was the last sound to echo off the walls before the large white room returned to its previous state of silence. My attention remained set on the trio crossing the white hot sands in front of the churning navy water. If this had been the case before I would have been scheming ways to accidentally run into one of them, thus ensuing a small affair-- because that's how we worked, we blonde, heartless, gold digging wives of the old rich men. We would take whatever served to entertain us, even for a small period of time; because the truth of the matter was something none of us would ever admit to: this life was absolutely boring.
Boring. I wondered if those three walking in the heated breeze of the coast knew the meaning of the word. Although I couldn't hear it through the glass, I could see laughter shaking the surfers as they dallied along.
But, something didn't quite seem right about the trio. I moved closer to the windowed walls, leaning in the corner that connected the white interior to the glass which revealed the scorching outside world. Chris and Marley stood in the sand, chatting with an unknown third figure. I should have recognized the shaggy, sun-bleached hair of Chris right away, not to mention the only brunette with short-cropped hair he knew had to be none other than Marley. I know I had seen them exit the retreat next door early this morning; that's what made no sense.
Chris and Marley were two of the local surf instructors; trophy wives like me had long stopped preying on them. They were much too close to home to bother with. The main puzzle here was why they had come out of that house. Both lived here, both had their own residence, and it was not the lavish residence next door that was more often than not rented by tourists.
"Mr. Manchester! Cleaning time!"
The screeching voice from the opposite end of the room that connected to the kitchen stifled my thoughts. I turned slowly, my bare feet padding lightly on the snow white carpet of the living room.
"Rita, Bruce isn't here. He had a heart attack this morning, so he's in the hospital," I explained. The chubby but startlingly tall house cleaner warily looked down at me as she entered the room. Her red lips were pulled into a tight line, not bothering to cover up her obvious dislike of me. Not that I could rightly blame her, she knew just what I was and was thoroughly frustrated Bruce couldn't seem to see through it.
"I see," She replied blandly. I just watched her from my place beside the couch. Of course she thought she understood. I'm sure she thought I had something to do with it. How misguided she was, although I honestly wouldn't mind of he croaked or not.
"Don't worry, he'll be home in a few days," I offered. It wasn't meant as a peace treaty, or anything of the sort. Just a slight hope she'd be off my case after learning her precious 'master' wasn't dying.
"I would hope so, Mrs. Keri, I would hope so." She eyed me disdainfully. "Of course it wouldn't be too much of a pity for you if he died, now would it?"
"No, I suppose it wouldn't, Rita." I pulled a tired smile to my face, rubbing my right hand over the upper half of my left arm. The house cleaner gawked, shocked by my unabashed honesty concerning the health of my husband.
"Mrs. -- Even—Mrs. Jessica never…"
"Never said anything that blatant?" I finished for her. The maid could only open and close her mouth repeatedly, unable to utter a single word of response. My shoulders heaved with a heavy sigh, gaze turning to the white carpet. The hand that had been previously positioned on my arm pushed the strands of brown hair away from my face. Obviously I wasn't as resilient as the other trophy wives; I couldn't take this ridiculous lie of a life much longer. My feet almost unwillingly pulled themselves in the direction of the stairs at the corner of the room. "Finish the cleaning and leave. I'm going out."
Upstairs the weight of my words began to pull a slow panic from my emotionally repressed mind, but it dulled as quickly as it began to form. It honestly didn't matter.
In the walk in closet that connected to the bedroom I shared with my hospitalized husband, bounds of expensive clothing that belonged to me hung tightly compressed. Most of it I had only worn once, some of it never, the designer name clothes gathering more dust over the past few weeks than any time before. Near the very front though, was a small selection of clothing that seemed out of place amongst the seasonally new clothing, styled to conform to all the latest trends. Faded, dirty jeans and baggy shirts pressed together in a tight space. I didn't even have to look too hard before jerking an extremely ripped pair of shorts, and an ancient shirt dating back to my high-school years from their spots. The previous night's attire was tossed carelessly on the floor, dark grey t-shirt and ragged jean shorts replacing them almost immediately. Comfortable was my immediate preference, there was no one to look pretty for, no one to care about looking pretty for.
The white carpet of the stairs again met my feet, my destination the sliding glass door that separated me from the salty air of the ocean. It had been weeks since I'd even exited Bruce's house with the intent of facing the coast, no matter how many hours a day I may have stared at it. But with the circumstances as they currently were, I needed the warm breeze and the call of the gulls; I needed to clear my head. I needed to figure out just what I was going to do. My twenty-four year old mind shouldn't feel that way, I knew that much. Most would agree, I was too young to be thoroughly bored with life.
The hot breeze blew strands of my already tangled hair into my face, a frenzied flurry of mousy brown strands that I pulled back, dumping the long mess over one shoulder. My feet pattered against the hot deck, seeking a cooling relief from the sands to no avail; the white-hot grains that stuck to the soles of my feet stung just as badly as the heated concrete of the deck had. It was with more haste than I had moved with in a long time I found myself pressing towards the cool, hard sands the ocean had washed over.
My toes had barely been graced with the cooling sensation of the wet sand when a slow, familiar voice called out. As I turned my head, to my left the three surfers I had been fixated on all morning stood gathered together, the group's attention focused on me. I gnawed the inside of my lip as the salty scent of the ocean infiltrated my nostrils. My arm rose, giving them a limp wave; for some reason that was signal enough for the entourage to make their way towards where I stood. I came to the beach seeking a peaceful walk, having a chat with the surfing coaches wasn't anywhere in my agenda. Not only that, but we weren't on what one would consider a friendly basis. Acquaintances at most, but nothing more; at most I would perhaps expect a nod or a smile in public settings, never an approach.
"So you're alright then?" Chris, who was the first to reach me, queried.
I gave him a blank stare. "What? I'm fine."
The other two caught up moments later, Marley and—
"We saw the ambulance this morning, so it was Bruce. Is he okay?"
I stared into a pair of familiar blue-green irises, recognizing the quarter of brown that inhabited the left one. They seemed to look back, giving the same amount of consideration to my own muddled hazel eyes.
"Sully?" My voice peaked with an excitement that came with the familiarity of those eyes.
"Miss Keri Laws." A rich Australian accent poured forth from his mouth, something else that incited a slight thrill in my chest. The smile that slowly ebbed the corners of my mouth upwards surpassed the shocked sensation. Something similar began to spread over his face, eyes alight as he ran a hand through his disarray of brownish-black hair. "Now this quite the coincidence, eh, missy?"
Marley cleared his throat, stepping forward from Sully's side, "So, um, I'll take it you two have met?"
"I met this little sheila a few years back when her and her sister visited Australia for a few weeks. I'd say four years or so, eh, Keri?" A few lines appeared around his mouth as he smiled; still slightly scruffy with a five-o-clock shadow perpetually fixed on his face; he hadn't changed very much from our last encounter. The only difference being slight age lines beginning to pull at the corners of his eyes. Was he in his late thirties, or early forties? I couldn't remember, but it certainly worked well for him. "I must say I fancy the brown hair more than the blonde, girlie."
Thanks, I just stopped caring about life. Glad to know it doesn't look like shit. I smiled tightly at my internal response, unable to pry my eyes from Sullivan Everett for the life of me. Improbable and impossible were to clearly different things, this strange encounter just proved it. There was also a rush of feelings and memories that started to flood back with his appearance; things I had forgotten and the memories of emotions I had long lost touch with.
"Why are you—"
"So, Keri, what happened to Bruce this morning?" Chris interjected with a scary smile, cutting my words short. My current feelings began to pivot; the brief lapse into a happy state of mind sank back into the dark depths with frightening velocity. Sully held onto a loose, if not awkward smile as he glanced between Chris and me. His arm that was not supporting the surfboard held against the side of his body rubbed his shoulder, uninformed bright eyes brimming with curiosity. Marley chewed his bottom lip as he gave me an expectant look.
"Heart attack, the doctors said they're going to keep him for a few days, but he'll be fine." the words came out emotionlessly as my eyes retreated to the cool tide driving up and around my feet.
"How're you holding up? The house must feel pretty lonely, does it Mrs. Manchester?"
Marley's words seemed meant to destroy any trace of joy seeing Sully had given me, a not-so-subtle attack meant to bar me from "preying" on the Australian, hopefully scare him away from me. I knew they didn't approve of how girls like me normally worked, but never before had I seen them intentionally interfere. I wasn't proud of what I had done, nor was I ashamed. I just didn't care. But right then, with that particular ghost from my past standing not three feet in front of me, a hint of self-loathing bit at me.
I managed a small shrug, looking up to give Sully a ghost of a smile. He followed suit, with slightly scrunched eyebrows. A phantom ache reverberated from somewhere deep in my chest.
"Anyhow, we just wanted to see what's up. We've gotta go, classes start in a little while. Can't keep the students waiting. Sorry about Bruce, Keri." Chris nodded, turning to walk off. Marley did the same, Sully turned away a few seconds later. I found my eyes focused on his back as they began to retreat to the house they came from this morning; shortly thereafter, I found my voice.
"Sully!" My feet pulled into motion as I jogged slightly toward the stalled surfer; the two in front of him stopped as well. I slowed. "Um, are you free at all today?"
His lips weren't pulled down into a frown, or a smile, his eyes pensive, "I'm going to their lessons to help instruct the little ankle-biters about surfing, but I think I may have some down time this evening. Something you want, Ms. Keri?"
"Would you want to come over for dinner? I've got too much chicken in preparation for one person to eat alone. And I kinda want to talk since we haven't seen each other in years," A wistful tone I barely recognized passed into the air with my proposition.
The wind pulled my mess of hair across my face, I refused to break eye contact though, a sputter of hope igniting inside me.
"I think I can manage that."
I blinked, pulling the strands back to the bunch they should have been with. "Oh, really? That's—that's great. What time do you think you'll be free?"
He glanced over his shoulder before looking back down at me. "Half-past seven. That alright for you?"
"Yeah, totally fine." I nodded awkwardly. "I'll um, see you then?"
"Until later, then, Miss Keri." He gave a half-smile before returning to his walk to their house. I didn't notice the burning hot sand against my soles until a few seconds after he turned away. What I did notice were the feelings stirring inside me I had long thought gone.
"I thought your sister was the one who cooked, as I recall you couldn't boil a pot of water."
"Oh, haha, Mr. Everett." I threw my eaten chicken leg across the bar towards the ducking Australian. "Food Network does miracles, even for the hopeless."
I sat on the white-tile countertop that bordered the wall, my feet resting on the isle counter where Sully dined on the fried chicken and twice baked potatoes I had cooked a little while earlier. The demolished leg I had just tossed at him was probably somewhere on the floor; I didn't care. Rita could clean the mess up tomorrow.
For the time, I was enjoying myself. It had been some time since I could honestly say that; I felt a level of comfort in the house I never had before. Two years and I'd never felt quite at home in this house, until then.
Sully chuckled deeply while chewing the last bit of meat he had removed from the bird's bone, elbows propped on the counter with his tanned forearms facing me.
"So how is your sister?" He asked.
My fingers stopped on the fork I was about to pick up; I could feel my face morphing uncontrollably into a bitter scowl. He noticed shortly thereafter.
"Touchy subject, yeah?"
I breathed in heavily through my nostrils, picking up the fork to stir the contents of the potato. "We haven't spoken in over two years."
"Oh? You two seemed tighter than a joey and his mum as I recall," He stated amiably.
"Like you getting married?"
I tried to ignore the underlying tone; it stung, nearly as much-- if not more than his words. There had always been uneasiness in my system about my marriage, about my reasons for it, but it had always been decently avoidable or forgettable. Now there was disgust with it, with myself for allowing it to happen.
"It happens," I replied with a bitter smile. "And it also just happens to be the reason Natalie and I no longer talk."
"Doesn't like your husband?"
"Yeah, you could say that. Of course it's not just him, it's the lifestyle, and it's everything about me now. She hates all of it."
The truth hurts, and usually one could ignore that pain, or downplay it. But right now I felt all of it, all I had been suppressing couldn't be caged here, couldn't be swept into the dark corners to deal with another time. It was there, I absolutely felt it. The stirred up contents of the potato no longer looked or smelled appealing; I tossed the fork against the counter with enough force to send it bouncing off and onto the cold tile floor.
Who was I kidding? Natalie wasn't the only one who hated what I had become; I hated it more than she could ever understand. I hated the life that had worn me down to an emotionless, listless, void of a human being. I loathed the blank person I was then more than the monster of a blonde, gold-digging bitch I was before. At least she could feel; at least she had goals.
"Personally, and maybe it's just me, I don't mind you so much this way," Sully's voice caused me to look up, and search for eye contact that wasn't there. "Now don't get your undies in a knot but you came off as pretty devious a few years back. Maybe it was the blonde hair; maybe it was that scary smile of yours that gave you a your-soul-belongs-to-me look. Honestly little Keri, I think it was all of it. Of course you're missing that spunk I do recall so well, but other than that you're more my bowl of rice as you are now. Especially the hair."
Our eyes locked with his last sentence, mine as always pulled to the one dark fleck in the corner of his left eye. My face heated up, coloring—I was sure—to match the temperature it felt. He smiled from where he sat; a knowing look on his well-tanned face.
"Sully? What are you doing here?" I queried almost too softly.
He spread his arms. "Enjoying this lovely meal you've so graciously prepared, what else?"
"Yes, I can see that you smart-ass Australian." I rolled my eyes with a smirk. "But what are you doing here, in Malibu, next door to me?"
"Surfing, of course."
"Um, why Malibu?"
"My little sheila, you don't pay much attention to the bloody events around here, do you?" He chided. "There's a surfing competition in two days, dolly. Chris and Marley are old mates of mine; they invited me out to give it a shot."
"Ah." My insides clenched. "Chris and Marley, huh?"
"So there's another disagreeable subject," He noted. He'd finished with is food, his plate was pushed to the side where the trey of fried chicken sat, almost completely eaten. Sully stood up, stretching thoughtlessly. I couldn't help but focus on the ripple of muscles that responded in his arms, or the ones I could slightly see through his shirt as it pulled across his chest.
"Only when I get the vague feeling they may have said some unpleasant things about me to you."
"Just a few." He leaned against the back of the bar-stool he had been sitting on. "Not that it matters much, I'm here, right?"
My elbow pressed into my thigh as my chin dropped against the top of my hand. "You are, yeah. But I just wonder what kind of unpleasant thoughts of me they put in that skull of yours."
"Nothing disprovable," He confided. "Or should I say nothing I would believe without seeing it for myself. I'll let you in on a secret: Some of their accusations seemed pretty bloody inaccurate."
"You don't know how correct most of them probably are, Sully."
He offered no reply, just another of his unreadable smiles. That was the smile that had caught me from the beginning, what had allowed for the Australian to pull me in those years ago.
"I need to go, Keri," His slightly gruff voice stated softly.
"Oh." The disappointment that rang out that one syllable was unmasked, unintentionally blatant.
"Early morning again, that's all."
I carefully pushed myself forward and off of the counter. My bare feet patted on the floor, side-stepping the fork I had thrown earlier. I walked Sully silently to the door with many words and sentences I wanted to say to him ebbing each other to the side, hoping they would be the syllables that would free themselves from the cage of my mind.
The salty breeze of the coast wrapped around me as I opened the sliding-glass door for Sully.
"Dinner was lovely. I'm glad you learned how to make something other than ramen," He stated mirthfully.
"You're too kind," I deadpanned. We stood for a second, an almost awkward quiet flowing between us as noticeably as the wind that tugged at my hair.
He glanced out towards the now ink-colored waters of the coast. "Well, g'night."
And with that he walked past me into the night.
He stopped a few steps out, turning to look at me. The light from inside the house danced on his face, shadows swimming in the places it couldn't quite reach.
"If you'd like."
I nodded a few quick times with my words unable to pass the lump in my throat.
"Tomorrow, then. G'night, dolly."
For the second time that day I watched his figure retreat. For the second time that day I found it impossible to deny that he made me feel something, a pleasant pain so beautiful it would melt the coldest heart resonated within me.
The ocean breeze sent a shock of elation through me like it hadn't in two years. I slept under a blanket of stars that night, swaying gently in a long unused hammock on the deck. I dreamed of a man who gave me a whole heart to replace my hollow one. I dreamed of a man with hair nearly the color of coal, a man with a bright pair of blue-green eyes, one holding all the secrets of my heart in its darkened corner.
With the dawn I awoke to a sense of anticipation, liveliness coloring my motions for a change as I went from the hammock, to the deck, and into the large pool with no stops in between. There was a short trail of clothing that traced my path, though. Shoes, shirt, shorts, the item that followed the last a little closer to the 76 degree waters of the pool than it's predecessor. It was too early for the humidity, but the warmth of the rising sun was spreading quickly; I dove in without thinking twice.
There was an initial shock to the cold water that I plunged myself into, chlorine and water entering my lungs as I accidentally inhaled sharply. The air was colder than the water against my skin as I surfaced coughing profusely; the goose bumps erupted on the white flesh of my bare shoulders immediately. I pushed myself to the pool's edge, one arm resting on its dry surface as I tried to regain my breath. I watched small pools of water begin to form as the water that hung on my skin let go, falling onto the ledge and gathering together.
Peals of laughter echoed through the early morning air, pulling my attention to its possible source. One house over three figures stepped out into the morning's growing orange glow, my heart flit merrily into my throat. The middle one's head turned, sparing a short glance in my direction. I was too low to be seen from where he stood, but I still felt a spurt of pleasure with such a simple acknowledgement. Perhaps I wasn't alone with my mind's train of thought. I pulled both my arms upon the pool's ledge, resting my chin on the back of my hands as the surfers briskly made their way across the sands and into the crashing tides.
As they crossed the breaking point I pulled my attention away, taking a dive into the water once again. I opened my eyes, watching as the water's ripples broke the light into unstable shapes and lines against the walls under the surface. It was fascinating, calming. Thirty seconds was pushing my lung capacity, it had been too long since I'd even gone for a swim. For an hour longer I pushed myself through the water, skimming the surface or enjoying the peaceful quiet below it. The sound of crashing waves was something I had never been more aware of as my eyes stole more than a few glances to the navy tides; to the dark-haired surfer who became more evident as the sun rose.
It was with relative cheerfulness that I clambered out of the pool, grabbing my t-shirt from the day before and using it as a towel; it being the nearest thing to me. Underwear was just as fine of a bathing suit as a bikini, they both covered the same relative area. Inside the house I threw one last wistful glance over my shoulder towards the ocean before proceeding up the stairs to the large bathroom I shared with Bruce. I left a nearly constant trail of water behind me on the house's white carpets. It was just outside the bathroom door, somewhere downstairs a different door was slammed. I stopped, waiting for the shrieking call of Rita to resound off of the walls. I peeked over the black railing of the upstairs to look down into the white living room it partially hung over. The large housekeeper stepped quietly into it, hands on her hips as she surveyed the room. The scowl on her face grew as we made eye-contact, tight lips pressed together so hard I was certain they'd disappear if pressed together anymore.
"A tramp like you still has the nerve to be here after what you said yesterday? I shouldn't be surprised."
If there was one thing I still couldn't bring myself to care about, it was Rita's thoughts about me and her behavior towards me. It wasn't as though we had once been close or anything; there had just always been a mutual dislike. It was nothing to get worked up over, nothing to really care about at all.
I shrugged. "I need a shower. Have fun cleaning."
"So who was your guest last night?" She called; I stopped mid-turn, looking back over the railing. That was when my lack of caring about the actions and presence of Rita the housemaid started to shape itself into a scalding disdain. "I just saw the two plates in the kitchen, and lord forbid Mrs. Manchester cook. It must have been someone pretty important."
"An old friend came by if you want to know, Rita. Now, don't you have cleaning to do?" I snapped angrily. My fingers squeezed the railing hard enough to turn my knuckles white.
"Oh, the pretty surfer, you mean? I'm sure you two had a lovely time."
"I'm done with this conversation. You don't get paid to insult me, you get paid to clean, so start working." I shoved away from the railing intent on getting into the bathroom to sever our conversation.
"Be sure, you little tramp, Mr. Manchester is going to know about this!" She screeched after me.
I slammed the bathroom door with all my strength commencing a long, thought filled shower. Rita's final threat was on replay in my mind. The longer it did so the more one realization seemed to hold truer than I had ever admitted. Sullivan Everett briefly danced through my thoughts; I didn't give a damn if Rita told Bruce. I didn't give a damn if my marriage to Bruce Manchester had run its course.
I spent my night, up until Sully arrived at the door, seven-thirty on the dot I might add, fighting with the food I was preparing. I ushered him in more flustered than I was planning; I blamed cooking, also just his appearance could be given some credit. The mere thought of his arrival was enough to make the day drag like no other; only once he actually appeared at the glass sliding door I felt as though I didn't have enough time at all.
Dinner was a concoction of various breakfast foods, a meal I hadn't partaken of in years. Breakfast for dinner had always been a rare treat when I was a child, I felt a strong urge to give Sully the unexpected meal, so I had. Blueberry muffins, pancakes, homemade biscuits, eggs, bacon, and country style ham were laid out in an array on the counter. The sweet scents intermingled in a most pleasant way with the salty smells of the meats. Dinner went by with its fair share of laughs and smiles. The warm, homey feeling once again surrounded me in his presence. After dinner was a different story; after dinner we decided to take a walk.
The air was cool as we stepped out the deck door and onto the white sands untouched by the warm ocean waters. I succumbed to the desperate need to keep my hair from my face I the wake of the wind, pulling it into a heavy, high bun.
"So what time is the competition tomorrow?" I asked.
He moved his hands to allow them to sink into the depths of his pockets. "One, if the boys told me correctly. Why? Planning on coming to watch me dominate these American wannabes?"
I shoved his shoulder lightly, "Oh, cocky as ever I see. I was hoping that was one quality you'd lost over the past few years."
"Tut tut, Keri. You seem to be mistaking confidence for cockiness."
"I really doubt that, Mr. I-can-seduce-any-girl-I-want," I stopped walking to turn and give him a knowing smirk. "What was that you bet your friends back then? You could get me in your bed by the third day of my trip? Didn't you lose that bet?"
His hands shot up defensively in front of him, eyebrows rising. "Now, missy, that has changed. And in my defense it was their idea."
In the moonlight I could see the sincerity on his face; lies were never something he could easily mask. His dark hair was indistinguishable of color in the shadows of the night. I wanted more than anything to reach out and run my fingers through it like I had once done.
"Oh, the life of a bachelor." I settled for teasing him. "Wasn't I the one who seduced you, as well?"
Sully took a step closer, my heart nearly pounding out of my chest. "Now that is a matter of opinion."
The soft-spoken words were just loud enough to be heard between us. I could see his eyes by the light of the moon, inches from mine. I could see something burning in their depths; it mimicked the flames I felt blazing uncontrollably in my chest. He moved closer again, as I tried to maintain a steady pattern of breathing. I could see the slight hints of age in his face; vague lines beginning to pull at the corners of his eyes, small creases forming where he smiled. All together, he was easily becoming more attractive with age.
And then I found myself drenched and seated in the rising and falling tied. Stunned, I looked up at Sully who was shaking with laughter, guilty hands stretched out in front of him. It took my mind a minute to process just what had happened.
"Oh, you jerk!" My arm swung through the water, sending a spray of the salty ocean directly at him. As he unsuccessfully tried to shield himself I sent another splash of it at him before getting to my feet and attempting to drag him down into the sandy waters. Laughter from both of us filled the air; beads of the ocean that clung to us glinted marvelously as the moon shone on us. The surf proved the most fun, exciting playground I could recall in a long while.
As our bodies tired, so did we, still chuckling, ankle deep in the surf, and drenched head to toe. We made our way from the waters, beyond the reach of the tide.
"Well," I sighed. "That was fun, aside from the being soaked part."
We trudged along the coast back towards our houses. In that moment I was happy; no, I was elated. My spirits soared just by being near him. I wondered if he knew what impact he had on me.
My pace picked up a little as the steps to my deck came closer, "Come on, I'll get us some towels."
I crossed the deck quickly, pulling the sliding glass door open to a rush of chilling air courtesy of the air-conditioning. I turned and the exuberant smile I had intended to give Sully faltered; he wasn't right behind me. He stood at the steps of the deck with a blank mask on his face as he watched me from there, beads of water falling off of him.
"I can't do this."
His words seemed foreign against my ears; a slight trickle of uncertainty and panic raced through my system.
"What?" I swallowed; my throat felt dry and rough like sandpaper as I stood dripping at the door way.
"I can't do this," He paused. "With you. I can't."
An alien shot of pain ripped through my chest. "Sully—I—You—"
"You're married, Keri," His second word carried a significant amount of disgust, loathing. "I don't want you to be what they've said you are."
I couldn't pull a reply to him from my being as his words reached me, all I could do was feel the burning pain he had unleashed onto my system take full control.
"I asked you to stay before. You were the one who walked away then," He stated, quiet and low.
As I watched him then, he blurred; warm tears clung to my eyelashes as I blinked. This felt so wrong.
"Sully, I lo—"
"Don't," He cut me off, eyes squeezing shut as his hand ran through his soaked hair. "Don't say that, Keri, please. I've got to go."
He raised his face to the stars with a heavy sigh, "I'm leaving tomorrow, after the competition. I'll be out of your life for good then, Keri."
The heartache I felt with his words was nothing I could have ever imagined, nothing I could describe. It just was.
Sullivan Everett spared me one final look. By the light of my house I caught the look in his eyes; torture, an anguish I could easily imagine, a suffering we perhaps shared.
I could only watch him walk away; unable to move, unable to call after him. I ached, I shattered, I cried silently as I watched him go. More than anything, I felt.
As I stared into the dark ocean I contemplated how two days could change me so; two days and a love from years past. Although it was pain, it made me certain of one thing: I never wanted to be who I had been during the past two years. I would do whatever it took to leave it behind me. But most importantly I would fight for my happiness, fight to prove my love. Tomorrow was the start of a new life; tomorrow I would be on a one-way flight to Australia to wait for the only one to ever make me feel alive.
I stepped inside the Manchester house for the last time. A lone gull cried somewhere in the night.