Highest Tide

It's half past six and I'm lying on the couch when I hear the knock on the door. I open it and she's standing there, wide-eyed and pale, wearing shorts and a rash vest and clutching a towel. My heart leaps out of my chest, and I know what she's about to say before she opens her mouth. I can't stop my face from splitting into a grin, and when she sees this she responds with a smile that lights up the world.

"Come for a swim?" she says.

I dash upstairs, pulling on a pair of trunks and a t-shirt and grab the towel at the end of my bed. Within seconds I am closing the door behind me and we are walking down the path towards the cove.

I knew she would come. Actually, that's not true - if I'd known it I would have been ready and waiting for her. Even though we do this every year and have done for as long as I can remember, I can't help but be shocked every time she shows up. Truthfully, every time I see her I can't help but be utterly stunned that she would be happy to see me.

We walk in silence, but it's a companionable quiet, the sort of quiet that only happens when you are happy enough in another's company to know that sometimes words simply aren't necessary. The dirt path is rough beneath my feet, and a cool breeze gently brushes my skin. I glance over at her, watching the wind play with her hair, and she must feel me looking at her because she turns to me and her pale blue eyes meet mine and she smiles, and warm happiness flows through my veins.

We reach the rocks and climb down carefully. When we were younger our parents wouldn't let us come here alone - it's a long fall and the rocks are always slippy with sea spray. But by now we've done this a hundred times and are old enough that they trust us not to fall.

When we reach the bottom there is nothing more than a thin strip of sand around the very edge before the water. Usually there's a beach, but today the tide covers everything. The sea is smooth like glass, and grey like the clouds clustered in the sky above.

I pull off my t-shirt and leave it with my towel on top of one of the rocks. We stand on the sand with the waves lapping at our toes and I can feel how cold the water is and grimace. I look over and she's grinning, a real smile, the most alive I've seen her in weeks.

"One," she says.


"Three!" we both shout, and run forward into the freezing water, diving in head first. I come up from under the surface to hear her shriek, and I laugh despite the icy water numbing my skin.

"Stay down!" I yell, "It'll only be worse if you stand up again!"

"It wasn't this cold last year!" she says, but lies down in the water anyway. We splash around for a few minutes until our bodies get used to the chill. I lie on my back looking at the sky, and she jumps on me, pushing my head under the water. I splutter for breath and she's laughing that sweet, melodious laugh. I leap at her and she screams as I push her into the water.

Suddenly it begins to rain.

I hold out my hands in astonishment at the sudden downfall. "The towels!" she cries.

"I'll get them," I say, running back through the water towards the shore. I grab our belongings and stuff them into a dry crevice between two rocks where the rain won't get them. I turn back to the beach, and my breath catches in my throat.

She's standing with her face towards the sky, eyes closed, surrounded by a million tiny explosions of rain on glassy sea. Her hair streams down her back, dark with water, and there is an expression of pure bliss on her face.

My heart aches with a sudden longing to tell her how beautiful she looks right now, on the highest tide of the year.

Then she opens her eyes and blinks, and turns to look at me, and reality hits me in the stomach.

Ever since I was six years old I have looked forward to the month spent in Cornwall every summer simply because she would be here. From the moment I first saw those pale blue eyes, framed by a halo of soft brown hair, I have wanted to tell her. To tell her that she is the sweetest, kindest, funniest and most beautiful person I have ever met. To tell her what I would give just to hear her say that she loves me, to kiss those full pink lips just once, to run my hands through her hair and over every freckle on her skin. To tell her that I want nothing more that to lie at night with her in my arms, just holding her and knowing that she is there.

But I can't. Because I love her, and because I will always do what I know is best for her, even when it breaks my heart.

Because when I walk back out to her, I can see the sadness in her eyes, and the way she wraps her arms around her body as if to protect herself from the world.

"I don't know what I'm going to do when you're not here next year," she says softly.

I can't reply for a moment because I don't know what I'm going to do either.

"I'll come down," I say, "I'll come visit and it'll be just like it always is. Just because my parents are selling the house doesn't mean I can never come here again."

She smiles at me, and I know that she wants to believe it, and so do I.

"You'll be at university," she says, "In Edinburgh. Cornwall's not exactly close."

"Then I'll come see you in London," I say, "I'll be coming home there and I'll come see you then."

This time she doesn't look at me, because we both know it's a lie. A lie that could be real, but never will be. Because her London life and mine are so separate that we might as well live on different planets. She has friends and boyfriends and a life that revolves around a completely different sun to my own. A life that makes her face look haunted, a life that she can only ever forget when she's here with me. And I know that to try to make this anything more than what it is would bring the worlds together and rid her of her one refuge from reality. And I know that I could never forgive myself if I did that.

She wraps her arms around me and I pull her close, resting my cheek on her head, trying to imprint this moment into my memory. Because in a few days that's all I'll have, memories of her face, her laugh, and the sensation of her warm skin next to mine as we stand in the sea in the rain.

Eventually she pulls away. She shivers, and I can feel my fingers going numb.

"Let's go," I say, and together we wade through the water towards the shore, where we will wrap ourselves in towels and walk home, and I will go to my house and she will go to hers, and the sea will heave and swell and pull away from the shore until there is nothing left to show that it was ever there at all.