The beach was calm at night, perfect. There were no surfers. No hoards of teenage girls sunbathing on their plastic beach chairs with tabloids in their hands. No families with crying babies. No old ladies in cheap, polyester one-piece bathing suits. No children running around with sticky fingers from their drippy popsicles the ice cream truck brought.
Nothing. No chaos.
She breathed deeply, the sea air filling her lungs. Her long blonde hair whipped around her face, tangling in the sandy air. She licked her dry lips once, twice. His cherry chapstick still lingered there.
She shouldn't have been there. Not there, after hours. But when she lay there in bed, with the cold sheets twisted around her naked body, she could hear the waves crashing. They beckoned to her, just like they did every night.
So she had pulled on her white cotton shorts and her old Lobster Shack tee shirt and ambled out there in her bare feet.
Her feet were rough, calloused from the sand and weathered wood of the old house. Still, the cold sand felt good on her feet. She rustled her toes beneath the sand as she sprawled out crab style, her hands behind her back.
She had been so stupid. He broke her heart again and she let him.
He came into the Shack weeks ago during her busiest hour, begging for forgiveness. She'd been so hurried, frustrated with her hellish day. A couple of country clubbers slumming it had just gypped her out of a ten-dollar tip after hounding her every two minutes for a fresh iced tea.
He'd pulled her aside, pleading for a second chance. She agreed to meet him that night, just to get him out of there. She had absolutely no intention of taking him back. But then he charmed her with a bouquet of sunflowers and a bottle of her favorite cheap wine. He told her he missed her and that he was sorry.
She ended up sleeping with him that night, in the same spot she sat in now, on top of an old ratty blanket her grandmother knitted her when she was ten, before she died. When he touched her that night, she thought everything would be fine again.
But then this morning happened. She rushed into the café for a quick coffee, already late to help her father paint Mrs. Wood's new living room. She was on her way out with an iced latte when she spotted him in a corner, draped over some bottled-blonde townie.
She hadn't reacted well. Most of her drink ended up on his white polo shirt.
He hadn't even bothered to go after her.
She wasn't supposed to care. They were only supposed to be summer lovers, who traveled to the same small beach town after living on opposite sides of the country all year.
They couldn't have been more different. He came from a wealthy Boston family, destined for Yale greatness. She was from San Diego, an only child living with her widowed dad who painted houses for a living.
Of course, Greg had never made it to Yale. He fucked up his senior year and they wait listed him. Not even Daddy's money could get him in. So, he was at B.U. studying Law and she was at USC studying Sociology.
She remembered their first summer together. They were both sixteen. She hated him at first. He was cocky and arrogant. He spent his days bussing tables at the Shack for shits and giggles. He'd hang around lazily, too important for the job. He teased her relentlessly, one day after the next. Usually she just bitched him out and walked away.
But one night after a particularly trying day, he made some disparaging comment about her hair and she socked him in the eye. He called her later that night and asked her out. She surprised herself and said yes.
They went to the carnival on the boardwalk. He bought her a stick of pink cotton candy and held her sweaty palm in his. His arrogant façade was miles away.
The second summer, they slept together. He was her first and it was perfect. He was gentle and sweet. He'd held her in his arms afterward and they watched the sun come up.
The third summer, he told her he loved her. It came out of nowhere. They were sitting at a picnic table outside the Shack eating French fries and chocolate ice cream. She was jabbering about starting college in the fall and he blurted it out. "Beth, I love you." He had said. She bit her bottom lip like she always did when she was nervous. But of course she'd said it back. She loved him.
The fourth summer, last summer, was when things started getting rocky. She'd been dating a little in college here and there. No one special and nothing serious, but he'd gotten jealous. They stood on the beach during high tide, yelling and screaming. He called her a whore and she told him he was a selfish bastard. They hadn't talked the entire summer.
So, she cast him out of her mind. She spent her sophomore year wrapped up in school. No boys, no sex, nothing.
She wasn't even going to come back this summer. She was going to spend it in Georgia, working with an associate professor completing her research on gender and sexuality. But then her Dad called, pleading with her to come with him for one last summer. She couldn't say no, so here she was.
She had every intention of avoiding him for the entire summer. She would lay low, work a little bit, and hightail it back to California in the fall and never look back at this place… or him again.
When she talked to him that night those weeks ago, before they had sex, he apologized. He was scared, he said. He was scared of how strongly he felt when he found out she'd been dating. He needed to sort out his feelings. He just hadn't intended on spending the entire summer doing so.
He wanted to transfer to California to be close to her. He was tired of short emails every other week and long distance phone calls every three months. He wanted to be with her, and he was tired of dicking around.
Or so she thought. She'd spent all day walking around with the image of him wrapped around his new tramp. She received a worried phone call from her dad around noon, asking where she was. She made up some excuse about not feeling well and he knew well enough to drop it. She loved her dad for that.
She was so pathetic. She'd walked past his house four times and sat outside the picnic table at the Shack, hoping he'd come looking for her. Of course he hadn't. All the bullshit about moving to California was just some quick scheme for one last fuck.
Whatever. Screw him.
She spun her long blond hair around her wrist, piling it on top of her head in a messy bun. She got up from her spot on the sand slowly and shuffled closer to the water.
The waves crashed against her ankles furiously. She stood there for a few minutes, motionless as the water continued to caress her legs. She shivered, goose bumps rising on her arms. She waded forward, the water up to her knees now.
In the distance, she saw lightning illuminate the dark sky. When she stood still, she could feel warm raindrops fall onto her scalp. She breathed deeply, closing her eyes. She unfurled her arms to embrace the night.
Maybe if she stood there long enough, the night could take her away. Coddle her in the darkness and sweep her away from here, from her memories. She would leave Greg and her dad. Her dad would be fine. He had friends in San Diego, people he could lean on.
He didn't need her, not really.
Greg definitely didn't need her.
She didn't know if she believed in God or any kind of higher power, really. But she hoped there was somewhere she could go. Somewhere she could be with her mother and just be…happy. Or content. Yes, content. She didn't even need happy; she'd settle for content.
She was soaked now and shaking furiously. The thunder rumbled wildly in the distance. If she just stepped in a little further, she would be completely submerged. Just as she lifted her right foot, she felt a rough grip on her arm. She spun around, terrified.
It was him.
"Let me go," she rasped. He shook his head hotly and dragged her out of the water. His light denim jeans and black tee shirt were soaked.
"Damn it," she spat, prying his fingers off her arm. "What the fuck are you doing?"
"Beth, what the hell are you doing?" he yelled, his face inches from hers. His eyes bore through hers.
"Fuck off, Greg." She hissed, stomping further up the beach to her spot on the sand.
"Were you trying to kill yourself?" he yelled from behind her.
She stopped in her tracks and turned around to face him.
"Why do you care?" she asked forcefully. She was surprised. Why did he care? The last time she saw him, he was wrapped around some new flavor of the month.
"How can you ask me that?" he asked in disbelief.
She had to hold herself back from punching him in the face right then and there. Selfish bastard.
"You're fucking kidding me, right? God, Greg. How about this morning, huh? How about that tramp I saw you fondling in the cafe this morning?" she accused, eyes narrowed.
He ran a hand through his short hair, frustrated.
"I can explain that, Beth." He said calmly.
"I bet you can, but I'm sure as hell not gonna stay around and listen to your pathetic excuses." She stormed off towards her house, sand flinging up onto her knees from sheer force.
Her eyes burned. She didn't know when she had started crying. Sometime after it had begun to rain. Water poured down her face now and she couldn't tell the difference.
She had almost made it to the steps when he reached her. She ducked under the metal roof, out of the rain and the storm.
"It wasn't what you think, I swear." He pleaded. She nodded sarcastically, ignoring his desperate stare.
"Her name is Kat. We dated briefly last year. When I realized I was in love with you, I broke things off with her."
Beth paused on the bottom step. She wouldn't give him the satisfaction of looking at him yet. Not yet.
"Damn it, Beth! She followed me out here. I had no idea she was gonna show up. We'd been broken up for months before spring semester ended. When she got here, she started spewing some bullshit about letting 'the one' get away. I took her to a café to get her some coffee before I put her on a plane back to Boston." He explained softly.
She turned around then, arms folded across her chest. She had never looked more beautiful, he thought. Her hair had begun to dry in curls around her head, loose strands that'd escaped from her bun. Her face was natural, sun-kissed from the afternoons she'd spent on the beach, reading Danielle Steel novels or devouring academic essays on sociological deviance and gender confusion.
Her feet were bare, as they always were this time of year. She'd only ever brought two pairs of shoes with her: black flip-flops and a pair of blue keds. He'd hardly seen her in either.
Her eyebrows furrowed, a sign that she was impatient. He cleared his throat and continued, "She left this afternoon. I'm telling you that she means nothing to me."
"You were all over her, Greg! And you didn't even come after me."
He shook his head furiously. "She was all over me. She was desperate…is desperate. And I didn't go after you because I didn't want her in our business. I didn't know how she'd react to you. I never told her about us."
"That makes me feel so much better," she said dramatically, rolling her eyes.
"I never told her about you because it's none of her business. I was trying to sort out my own feelings and I didn't need her in my head, too. I should've come earlier today to explain, but I didn't. I figured you needed some time to cool off." He shook his head and looked away, out to the shore.
The storm had calmed. The waves looked gentler, not as threatening. The sky had opened up a little more and the roar of thunder was a mere whisper now.
She wanted to believe him, she did. But she knew if he hurt her again, well…
There was no way she'd survive.
They stood there together for what seemed like hours, but was only minutes. She stared into the blue depths of his eyes, searching for his soul.
He swallowed hard, anxious. He'd finally figured out his real feelings for her. There was no way she could leave now. He couldn't take it.
He just wanted to wrap a warm towel around her and hold her until the sun came up. She'd lie there peacefully and he'd surprise her with some coffee and waffles in bed. He'd run down to Joe's for some fresh flowers and rent a copy of her favorite Audrey Hepburn film, Breakfast at Tiffany's.
But he had no idea if she'd let him. He took a step towards her tentatively, pausing to see her reaction. She had none, so he closed the space between them and wrapped his arms around her.
She was stiff and her long arms just hung there at her sides.
"I love you, Bethy. Please….just let me love you." He whispered. He just needed one more chance. One more chance to prove to her that she was exactly what he wanted, exactly what he needed.
She nodded, breathing deeply. She felt that familiar tug at her heart and realized she didn't have a choice in the matter, not really.
One last chance. Just one last chance.