Chapter 1

Charley

I was married at 19, finished school at 20, had a kid at 22, bought a house at 23, widowed at 25.

I don't remember much from that day. Just snippets. Short clips, fuzzy around the edges like a collage you'd make as a child. All taken out of context. The stale smell of furniture polish and old wood. The upside-down reflections of people in the waxy sheen of fake ivy. A gold fringe snagged on a caster. A spot of tarnish on a silver fork. Someone blowing their nose in my ear. Whispers. All around me whispers. Sad... It's so sad... What will she do?

Mom breezed around the house as the hostess -which was nice considering I couldn't really focus on anything. The pictures of us were still up. Everywhere. I couldn't turn around without seeing something that reminded me of our life together. Cousin Perly was talking with Opal next to the fireplace and I saw our wedding picture on the mantle. I remembered when we first saw the house. I fell in love with it immediately and you said, and I quote, "who needs a goddamned fireplace in Florida?" But I had to have it and you gave it to me; surprised me with it actually. I was so defeated about the whole thing and then a week later you gave me that little velvet box with the key in it. You were always doing that. Giving me a hard time about something before spoiling me. No one will ever spoil me like that again. I thought we were going to grow old in this house, raise a family, have dinner parties with our friends here. I never imagined a wake.

I was standing, staring at the fireplace, pushing food around on my Dixie plate. It all smelled good, and on any other occasion I would've been more than happy to stuff myself but the sight of it turned my stomach and had to put a hand over my mouth to keep from retching. The last time I felt that sick was in Mexico before Nolan was born. Do you remember how many shots I drank? I don't either, but you were so sweet. You held my hair back and fed me ice chips all night until I was finished puking. You took care of me. You always took such good care of me. No one will ever take care of me like that again.

I guess Cousin Perly saw my almost reversal and rushed over. You remember Perly don't you? Her daughter Opal was in love with you. Even though you denied it, I knew you knew. Not like I have room to talk but Opal, poor thing, looks just like her mother. Like a broad shouldered schoolmarm. Even down to the bad taste in shoes. Still, there's no accounting for taste, but you never gave me a reason to feel jealous. When we were around other women you'd have to have a hand on my lower back, or her fingers curled around my neck underneath my hair. I liked that. I liked that you wanted everyone to know we were together. No one will ever touch me like that again. Perly lost her husband 5 years earlier to prostate cancer so she thought she was the authority on bereavement. She scooped me into a tight embrace and started to rock me and smooth my hair like I was a baby and not a 25 year old woman.

"Shh...honey, it's alright."

"I'm fine Perly," though she couldn't hear me, the sound of my voice muffled by her ample bosom and layers of unnatural fabrics. It all reeked of her perfume. Ginger or cinnamon, I don't know but it was strong. My eyes were burning and my stomach was doing flips again. Pearly pulled my face with both hands and noticed my glassy eyes.

"Oh honey, it's okay. Let it out." Little did she know I had no more tears left. I'd cried them all out when I got the news a week ago.

"You look pale, dear."

"I'm fine Pearly." Please get away from me! You smell like a gingerbread man crawled up your ass and died! I'm going to blow chunks all over you which would be just swell because at least I'll feel something other than utter numbness and maybe if I throw up enough I can finally lie down in my bed and stop being the gracious host to everyone and THEIR grief and get on with my own!

"Dear, you need to eat. You're skin and bones..."

"I'm not hungry." Go away!

"Honey, you cannot stop living your life. You have to move on, for Jaime, for Nolan. They'd want that for you. Look at you, you're young, you're beautiful you'll have plenty more chances at love." I don't know what this woman was smoking to think, even remotely, that that was even close to consoling. Plenty more chances?! It's been 6 goddamned days and she's talking to me about plenty more chances! I liked what I had! I wanted to punch her in her face. I was happy! I had everything I wanted and it's NEVER COMING BACK! I almost said it, babe, but when I tried, I inhaled a huge mouthful of her acrid ginger smelling perfume and I gagged. Audibly. Then it was like I was drowning. I couldn't seem to breathe because she had engulfed me in a bear hug and her polyester blazer was rubbing against my cheek. I was swimming in ginger perfume and all I could think was: I never will be held by you again. You'll never hold me again. I'll never have that ever again.

The last thing I remember is a hazy image. A splatter of orange bile all over ugly, black pumps.


It's been 6 weeks and according the insurance companies I should be "over it". I should be fine enough to go back to work -to get back to "normal" which is code for "live like this never happened".

I can't even get out of bed yet -maybe ever. I can't even bring myself to come out of the guest room. This house, every corner reminds me of us. Of our life together. I miss our life. I miss the safety or our routine. Work. Laundry. Dishes. Making bottles. Changing diapers. I remember why there's a stain on the carpet in our bedroom. I remember when that tile by the sink cracked. You promised you'd fix the screen door. It's all here. Your smell still lingers on the pillowcases even though I washed them 5 times. That's why I've been sleeping in the guest room; our room smells too much like us. I swear I heard the quick tromp tromp of Nolan running through the house. I swear I hear your laughter trapped in the walls. I know it's in my head, I'm not crazy. I don't believe in ghosts. Memories. That's all you are now.

"Charley! Charley, this is your mother. I know you're there! You haven't left for 6 weeks according to Dr. Musgraves. You need to get up Charley. Let me in!"

She will not get in here. This is a fortress. I don't need her turning this around. For once, this is about me. My grief. My tomb of pain. I have a certain amount of entitlement to diva-hood right now that mother has always had. Remember our wedding? Or as we called it "Iris' Wedding 2.0"? To quote another famous Jewess, she will not rain on my parade. I turn over and look at the red digital display on the clock. 4:55 pm. The late afternoon sun is streaming through the blinds and is hurting my eyes. I put the quilt up over my head to block out it, and mother's screams so all I can hear is my own breath. A sound I've grown to despise. I've started holding my breath, like Nolan would when he was having a tantrum, remember? Hold it until he was literally blue in the face and we had to scare him or tickle him to get him to breathe. I hold and hold until I hear a ringing in my ears. I always chicken out and inhale right before I pass out. It's just nice not to hear my breath for a while. I don't feel as far away from you. Maybe this time I'll pass out. Things are getting fuzzier...

"Charley, get up."

"Is that you?"

"Charley"

"Are you here? Did I finally die?"

"Charley get up!" and mother has yanked the blanket off of me and thrown it on the floor.

"Mother? How did you get in here?"

"You never lock the back door something Jaime complains about all the ti-" I know why she's stopped. She's stuck her foot in it. Right in. She's going to start crying now and I'll have to comfort her or it will be WW3. NO! I refuse. If she never speaks to me again, her loss. Good riddance, frankly. I cannot be a sounding board for the drama. Not anymore.

"I'm sorry -er-did. Used to." And she turns her head toward the door, away from me. I know it, she's sniveling. At least she has the courtesy to turn away and act like she doesn't want me to hold her hand.

"To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit mother?" As dramatic as she is, she can't distinguish or identify tone. She has no idea, nor does she care I suppose, how much I do not want her company. She really gives Jewish mothers a bad name. She plays right into the stereotype: meddling, complaining, guilting, matchmaking, wheeling and dealing. Idolizing her sons and pissing all over me. Been this way forever. And now that Adam and Caleb have families of their own and wives who hate her, she's latched onto me like a barnacle. It was okay when you were still around. It was, actually, kind of nice getting her attention, for once, in a positive way. But now, here, letting herself into my house and pulling the sheets off my bed is too much. You know how she is. What she's like. God, I wish you were here. You knew just how to handle her. Isn't that ironic? Needing you here to help me deal with you not being here? She must go. Now.

I try to sit up and look like the action hasn't thrown me into complete dizziness even though it has. I know that'll be a giveaway. A giveaway that I haven't been up yet today.

"I came to see how you are." And she sits on the edge of the bed just like she did when I was a teenager. I hate it.

"And how am I?" At the moment, dizzy as hell.

"You look good. Thin." Typical. I've subsisted on saltines and rehydrated chicken bouillon for the last 3 weeks because I refuse to go to the store and all she can focus on is the fact I look thin. Nothing I did ever mattered to her because I'm fat. Fat according to her, anyway. You never made me feel like that and you were a personal trainer for God's sake. Lying supine in front of mother having lost, I'm sure, 10 pounds I feel fatter than ever. I feel heavy. Bloated. Ugly. She must go.

"Thank you, mother."

"Did you go to work today?" She's talking to me in that patronizing tone that I despise. I know there's another reason she's here and I know it isn't good. The pleasantries are just a way for her to stall. To build the tension. I hate how she can manipulate me. I wish I had learned.

"Tomorrow is supposed to be my first day back." Supposed to be. But I'm not going. I'm never ever going.

"Well," she says with a sigh laden with meaning. "I have been on the phone non-stop all day." This is bait. She's waiting, expectantly, for me to ask. I'm not taking it. Inevitably, she will launch into a tirade about what some other lady of leisure she associates with has done (or not done) to her and I will have to commiserate. I guess mother, like the insurance companies, believes that 6 weeks is enough time and I should be back to my "usual" duties. I'd rather not.

"Good for you." I say knowing she's going to press until I ask.

"Aren't you going to ask with whom?" Told you.

"Hadn't planned on it." Now she's pouting. Damn this Jewish guilt!

"Fine, who were you on the phone with Mommy Dearest?"

She's staring at me in mock embarrassment to veil her glee. Just spit it out woman! Not everything you say deserves a damn drumroll! But she's sitting there, hands clasped in her lap looking sheepish. Like a little girl. I could imagine her with pigtails now. Spit it out!

"Who mother?" I snap. She wrings her hands and pauses, her eyes resting for a beat on the floor before locking with mine.

"Don't be mad." Oh, this can't be good. "I called Teddy."


I can feel all the gears in my mind grind to a halt. I'm going to punch her. I need you to stop me from punching her. Meddling wench. She's really making up for all those years now. Damn her! Okay, what would you do? Breathe. You would breathe and let her do the talking until you knew all the circumstances and then carefully articulate your response.

"Why on EARTH would you do that? Have you lost your ever loving mind, mother?! What gives you the right?" I thought I'd go with a different approach.

"I thought I would extend my condolences, that's all," as she shrugs her tiny shoulders. I know that's not all. I know by that look in her eye she's working something out. She's lying, but I cannot call her on it. Remember how she acts when she's caught in a lie? How did you describe it? Like trying to put a rabid animal in a cage.

"I thought you extended your condolences at the funeral, mother" I am now speaking through gritted teeth so I don't start screaming again.

"Well, yes but I did want to see how he is getting on. Have you spoken with him?"

Oh God NO! "No."

"How come?"

And now the real reason she's here. It's amazing how so much can change yet so little. She's been doing this since I was 8. Mostly to absolve herself of guilt, though she thought she was doing her motherly duties. "Maybe if you had a friend in this world it wouldn't be so..." she never once finished that sentence because she didn't have to. Instead she played matchmaker.

Charley this is Dani, you both have names like boys and neither of you like pink. Go play.

Age 12: Charley this is Jada, she has bad skin and daddy issues too! Go talk.

Age 14: Charley, this is Tanya. She's depressed and overweight too! Go eat something.

Not like she ever actually said that, but it's clear that's what she meant by introducing me to those girls. She's trying it again. With Teddy. No. Never again.

"Mother, I am the last person he wants to talk to. Believe me."

"That's not the impression I got from him."

"I'm sure it wasn't", because you're clueless, I want to add, "but I'm not calling him. I'm not going over there. I'm not texting, emailing. I'm not writing a goddamned letter. Not today. Not for a while. Maybe never. And that's okay for both of us for right now. If he gets desperate to speak with me, which is unlikely, that's a different story entirely. He knows the number. He knows where I live. If he doesn't he can find out. But mother, you cannot push us together because we have some shared history. If I'm ever going to move on I need NOT to dwell on the past. Teddy and I haven't spoken because we're trying to move on. Can you respect that?" Damn! That's good! Aren't you proud? It's good. So good, I've rendered her semi-speechless. I mean, technically she hasn't said anything else, but I know she wants to.

Small victories. That's what you always said.


I'm out of food. I mean, you'd be disgusted with what's been missing from my diet. I finished the last of the bouillon cubes. All there is in the fridge is some soy sauce. The pantry is completely bare- except for your cereal. I kept it all for you. Multi-colored boxes of varying shape and size, each with their unique fibrous, crunchiness. I miss the sound of your munching. The way the spoon would clatter against the bowl. I'm sorry I gave you such grief about it at the time. Who knew when you were gone I'd actually miss it. But that's how everything works, eh? We're never satisfied and never appreciate what we have until it's gone. That's kind of how it was with Teddy. I know I told you that you were my first - which is undeniably true, but I did get close.

It was a while before we met. Mother had forced me in with some girls in the neighborhood my age. She thought they were, "wholesome, sweet girls that stayed out of trouble." I don't know why, after everything that happened with her, I thought she'd be a decent judge of character. Those "wholesome" girls were nothing but sluts who stole whiskey from their dad while he was at work, kept clothes they "bought" themselves in the trunk of their rusty old Beetle, and snuck off to the beach to go to third base with older boys every single day. Obviously, these were not the type of girls who wanted to take me under their wing, but they were being forced by their parents and I was looking for a way to get out of the house. Besides, I knew what they were up to. If they didn't want me to tell we'd all have to play nice-nice. The only good thing was that, at the beach, I didn't have to be around them. I'd hide the book I was reading in my bag, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, things like that. I still hadn't come to terms with my closet romanticism. I didn't want to admit I was day dreaming about my own Mr. Rochester. 19th century trash was my guilty pleasure and, on the beach, I could indulge without fear of being found out.

While the girls were off rolling around in the saw grass with their much older, heavy petting partners I'd sit on a little embankment with a huge rock I could lean against to read. I was engrossed in Jane Eyre when a Frisbee hit me square in my knuckles and I dropped my book. There was a sharp throbbing in my entire hand and I almost cried it smarted so badly. When I finally got myself together my book was gone. Gone. Rolled down the embankment and was being carried by the wind. It was rolling end over end toward the surf. "Dammit." and I went chasing after it like a moron, but I didn't have anything else. Now, you know how I dress to go to the pool? The beach is worse, not sure if you ever noticed. At the time, I had a huge, and I mean HUGE floppy hat I'd wear that I picked up at a thrift store. I thought it was cute - who knows, maybe it was. I wore a jet black one piece which exposed the smallest amount of skin, and a very long navy blue and black sarong around my waist. So imagine: me, running, crouched over into the wind holding my hat on with one hand and my sarong with the other, chasing a book. I bent to get the book and the wind took my hat. I got my hat and then I dropped my sarong, I wrapped my sarong back around my waist and the book went floating out to sea. Soaked. Completely soaked. It was a hardcover but that didn't save it - actually made it look worse. I tried to resuscitate it but it was no use. The salt water disintegrated the pages immediately. It was trash and I was devastated. You know how I am with books, they're precious things, and some douche with a Frisbee just committed literary murder.

Full of righteous indignation I marched, literally, like the petulant little girl I was, toward the Frisbee throwing ruffians. (I did actually call them ruffians.) There were 4 or 5. All shirtless, skin glistening in the mid afternoon sun. "Don't get distracted Charley," I thought. "What would Jane Eyre do?" So I started yelling at them.

"Oy! Oy! Which one of you is going to pay for this?" and I held the now warped and exposed cardboard cover so it fell open and a number of pages came spilling out in a soggy heap on the sand. None of them would fess up but they'd obviously seen me chasing it down the beach because they were suppressing their cowardly, girly snickers. Bastards. I shot the gigglers an icy stare and decided it wasn't worth my time.

"That's what I thought. Thanks a lot you creeps! Move your Frisbee circle jerk down the beach, will ya!" and I hurled the corpse of my book in their general direction and stomped away in a huff.

Back at my embankment and my rock I watched the offending fraternity, 5 shirtless backs, saunter down the beach away from me and felt tears prick my eyes. Without a book, without my iPod (I had no charger so the thing was worthless) and without a friend, it was utterly lonely sitting listening to the sound of the waves lap onto the shore.

I watched the impossibly small gulf waves creep up on the sand and retreat over and over until I was lulled to sleep. That's why I cannot be sure the following actually happened. What I remember is this: a boy, of decent height and slender build said, "Hi". I could hardly make out his features as the sun was now at his back, but he was leaning over me like he thought I'd died.

"Can I help you?" Despite all of my sun gear I still shielded my eyes

"I'm sorry about your book. It was my fault. I'll bring you another one. I promise."

Who is this clown?

"Will you be here again soon?"

Why is he talking to me?

"Okay great, well, I've got to run. Bye." and he took off at a moderate jog down the beach back with his buddies.

What the hell?

When I crawled in my bed that night I had convinced myself I dreamed the whole encounter. I had spent 12 hours baking in the sun; my brain must've been a raisin, so it was more than likely.

The next day, when the slutty sisters dropped me off on the beach to go do unspeakable things with their boyfriends or friends with benefits or whatever, I made my way to my rock. Making sure to look out for any Frisbee throwing douchebags. About 30 yards out I saw someone on my rock, on my embankment. I was totally peeved and was about to turn around when he saw me coming. He stood and waved, holding up, what seemed to be, a book.

You've got to be kidding me. Is this guy for real? It was against my instinct but I had to know. Who is he and did he really return my book?

The trip to my rock seemed unbearable. It felt like a reverse walk of shame. Not that I'd ever had a regular walk of shame, but I could use my imagination and I felt like a spectacle. It wasn't the lovely walk toward someone you know - laden with air kisses and smiling pleasantries. I didn't know this boy, so I had nothing to say. I tried to keep eye contact so as not to appear weak but it was too awkward and I ended up keeping my eyes cast down toward the sand. The mystery boy didn't ease the awkwardness by courteously meeting me half-way like a friend would, he waited, albeit patiently, for me to make the trek to him. Carefully eyeing me the entire time and I could feel my skin tingle under his gaze.

"I brought you a new one. As promised." It was Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice. Gag me.

"Thanks, but this isn't what I was reading." and I tried politely, but firmly, to hand it back to him.

"Oh?" and some kind of, what was it, passed over his face. Shock? Embarrassment? It didn't last long. With a flourish of his hand he casually said, "Well, all I saw was small print. Gold leaf and the name Jane" He looked up at me expectantly. What does he want? A medal for invading my space and bringing me a sappy book? Though secretly, I thought it was the nicest thing anyone had ever done for me.

"Anyway," he cleared his throat and continued, "All girls like Austen. The only thing I can figure is you already have this one, yellowed and spine creased, on your shelf chocked full of romantic classics at home." Is he trying to be cute? Oh please, I wanted to say, you don't know me. Though, he was right. I did.

"I despise Jane Austen."

"Oh?" He seemed genuinely nonplussed as if it never occurred to him that a woman would not like Jane Austen. I almost felt bad for him.

"Perhaps despise is a bit strong. Indifferent? Ambivalent, maybe? I mean, don't get me wrong, I have respect for her as a woman ahead of her time, but it's the stories that bore me. It's unrealistic for characters, despite all odds, to get everything they've ever wanted every time."

"You don't believe in happily ever after?"

"No. It's not real life." The way he was staring at me was making me feel uneasy so in a show of nonchalance to hide my discomfort I crossed my arms over my chest.

"May I point out, oh cynical one, that Austen was an author of fiction."

"I'm certainly aware of that, however in life there are very few, if any, happy endings and art, as the saying goes, is a reflection of life."

"Why should it?"

What? This is not how I pictured this conversation going. I don't even know this guy's name and he's baiting me into a philosophical discussion. Who are you? Where did you come from? "What?"

"Why should art imitate life? Life sucks. Works of fiction are a way to escape for a little while. Don't you think in that sense Austen got it right?"

"Why would someone miserable want to read about someone who, miraculously, got everything they ever desired? It's like going on a diet and watching someone eat a pint of ice cream. It's silly and does more harm than good."

"Well, I'm with Oscar Wilde; I think Life should imitate art."

"You would be an Oscar Wilde fan, wouldn't you." He smiled a heartbreakingly beautiful smile and sat down cross legged against my rock.

"What are you doing?" It almost came out as a shriek.

"Reading." Smart ass.

"Why?"

"Because reading is fundamental...?"

"No, I mean, why here?" Why are you on my rock!?

"Oh, I didn't realize this spot had your name on it. I can go if you want?" and he looked at me for a real answer. That's sweet I thought before my brain could stop me. No, it isn't sweet he's going to try and torture you some more. But if I was being honest with myself, which I wasn't, I didn't want him to go and he seemed content to stay so I acquiesced.

"Fine. Just don't make a lot of noise."

I took out my book -another copy of Jane Eyre and plopped down in the sand next to him. Sure not to touch him in any way, though we were close enough that I could feel the heat from his body dance on my skin. Hyperaware of his presence, I could not concentrate on anything except the buzz in my ears which sounded like the hum of an electric current. The floppy hat could not cover the hives that were creeping over my chest. I had to check myself several times because I could feel my breathing working itself into a pant. He's just being nice to you, Charley. It doesn't mean he wants to marry you. I played and replayed that mantra on a loop in my head throughout the afternoon which helped me to relax, marginally. I was able to enjoy what was left of my book, though it took me a ridiculous amount of time because I took every opportunity to steal glances at this boy who made no move to leave my side.

He alternated between reading some kind of sci-fi garbage, to tilting his head back to drink in the sun. Laying supine with his upper body propped up on his elbows, legs crossed at the ankle; I reveled in his features and realized he was my opposite in every way. His tall to my short: he was much taller than I remembered him, but just as slender. Like the body of a swimmer. His pale skin turning a pinky-gold in the sun, my dark skin turning browner. His hair: straight, blonde and wispy to my unruly, thick, brown and curly. His square angular features and sinewy muscles to my round. Round everything: eyes, nose, lips, chest and belly. He looked serene lying in the sun. His perfect profile almost angelic - like an Italian fresco, right down to the blond hair on his arms, legs, around his temples, and that little seductive patch below his navel all glistening in the sun making him look like he was bathing in stardust. It was divine looking and the thought made me blush.

I finally finished Jane Eyre and had to hide my face when I couldn't stop the tears anymore. He noticed, of course, right away and ironically handed me his tee shirt to blow my nose.

"Art imitating life, eh? He smirked. It was seductive and infuriating. I just wanted to slap that smirk right off his beautiful, angelic face so I blew my nose hard into his shirt to irritate him but also breathe in his scent: heady, salty and musky, but he kept smiling.

"I doubt it." He looked at me quizzically so I continued.

"Men like Mr. Rochester, though a beautiful fantasy, simply do not exist. Handsome, conveniently wealthy men do not pine for and woo some poor old, no pun intended, plain Jane, because she's smart and wholesome. It doesn't work like that. Men are attracted to what they see before all else. And this is essentially why there's so much wrong with girls. We're raised up on this "knight in shining armor" narrative which is completely and totally bogus. There is no hero to save a damsel in distress. There are only bastards and decent guys. You just need to get one of the decent guys and know when you have him or you're in for a lifetime of pain. But even with a decent guy, life isn't like the movies. He's going to hurt you too, but if he's decent he'll at least be sorry for it."

"So you're saying that a woman isn't attracted to a man based on what she sees?"

"I didn't say that but it is more complicated with a woman. It's a mixture of physical attraction, intellectual, spiritual. How much does he remind her of other male figures (father, brothers)? How much does he remind her of authority figures (teachers, cops)? If he's young, who will he be or could he be? Is a go-getter? A hustler? We think of all this consciously and subconsciously with the first few minutes of meeting you. Whereas all a man thinks is: 'is she fuck-worthy'."

"How do you know so much? Experience? Observation?" I was too embarrassed to say I had nil in the way of experience and something in the way he looked at me; or rather undressed me told me he knew. Thankfully he glossed over the question to another.

"So what did you think of me?" Oh shit! Out of the frying pan...

"Not fair!"

"Listen you can't give me all this garbage without giving me a reliable case study. Share! It's the only way I'll learn." He was laughing at me now, not out loud, but mocking me. He'd trapped me with my own ego and somehow he knew I'd share because my pride wouldn't let me accept defeat. I needed to beat him at his own game.

"You share too, then." I knew it was stupid the moment it came out of my mouth. I didn't want to know. Whatever the answer would spoil the illusion I'd built up in my mind and I needed that fantasy. It could carry me through for months, if not years of loneliness. There was no way he was going to shatter it before I even got to use it. Not like this; without preamble. For the status quo to remain he need NOT know that I was attracted to him. At all.

"On second thought, I don't want to know."

"No, I think it's only fair. I'll show you mine if you show me yours kind of thing", and he wiggled his eyebrows in a mock suggestive way which, any other time, would have been corny and wrong, but in this instance was sexy. Damn him.

"No, really. I don't want to know. I don't need to know."
"Fine. But you're still going to tell me."

"No."

"Yes. Yes you are because you're dying to. I can read it all over your face.

Damn him. How can he read me so well? The afternoon persisted this way. Every few seconds or so he'd nudge me either with his words or in the arm with his elbow. Sometimes both. When he got more impatient he turned up the heat. He rolled onto his side so his nose was level with my shoulder. I could feel him breathing on my neck and there were goose bumps rising all over my arms. "Get out of my bubble, please."

"C'mon. If you don't answer I'm just going to assume that you're madly in love with me and I'll kiss you right here. "Without looking, I knew he was grinning from ear to ear. My discomfort was palpable and he was exploiting it. Bastard!

He was inching toward me and in the back of my mind I suspected he would never touch me. Not that I thought he was the perfect gentleman, but I knew I was far too ugly for that - even as a joke. Still, I really didn't want him to think it was funny and his breath in my ear was making me want to faint, so I relented.

"Fine!" and he rolled back over looking triumphant with that damned smirk.

"Okay. Yes. Only on a purely visceral level. But yes."

"He was looking so proud of himself that I had to get rid of that smirk and since throttling him and burying him on the beach would be too much trouble, I went for the next best thing.

"Your strengths are your weaknesses, though. You're confident to the point of arrogance. You can take charge in a no-nonsense way but you won't take criticism or help. You're smart but you want people to know and so you come off as condescending. You're good looking, but so painfully aware of it that you come off vain, and pretentious. You have nice eyes."

The last part tumbled out of my mouth without a thought and I'd hoped he missed it. It was true. They were a pale blue with a ring of dark blue around the outside. I'd never seen eyes that beautiful before. It struck me that, except for the good looking part, I could've been describing myself and I was horrified but also bemused. This stranger and I have quite a bit in common. I was deep in thought that I almost missed him say: "I like your eyes, too." Almost.

I was suddenly painfully aware of my appearance and I pulled my cover up high over my protruding belly and doughy legs. The embarrassment was setting in white hot. My collar bone itching from hives and I restlessly shifted my weight from hip to hip. His compliment; a real compliment, hung in the air between us and I couldn't think of anything to say. No witty remark, no snarky comeback. I had to get up. I had to go before he noticed that I was ugly and ran away screaming. I stood abruptly, possibly startling him but I didn't care. Escape was all I could think about.

"Well, it's been real, but I've got to go." and I turned to run away but he stopped me with his words.

"Same time tomorrow, then." He said as if it was a given and the presumption startled me. I didn't know that I would be back tomorrow and neither did he.

"Maybe", I murmured somewhat dumbfounded, but he flashed me a half-smile laced with double-meaning that I'd yet to understand. I didn't want to stand like an idiot working it out so I turned on my heel and nearly sprinted back to the Beetle kicking up sand as I went. Please don't be watching me walk away. Please. Please. I couldn't help but turn around to get a glimpse of the angelic looking boy and when I did, curse it all, he was watching me. We were 20 yards away or more but his gaze felt closer. It was penetrating and felt, almost, illicit. He doesn't even know my name.