Oceans Apart – Excerpt
I just smiled at him, enjoying the walk through the balmy dusk.
“Hey, so you’ve finally seen the ocean now! How was it?”
My heart sank. I’d been so busy working, I’d only really seen the ocean on the horizon as I drove over the bridge and briefly in between houses that I passed. “I haven’t made it out there yet. I drove up early this morning. Set up took a long time by myself, and I’ve been here all day.”
Leo gaped at me, shaking his head. Then he grabbed my hand so quickly that I jumped, and began tugging me in the opposite direction. “Change of plans.”
“We can get coffee anytime. You’re not leaving here until you put your feet in the sand, even if it kills you! A few blocks north, there’s a beach access that stays pretty quiet since the boardwalk is super long and there are a lot of steps, so not many people want to lug their beach crap or their kids out that way. Let’s go, come on!”
Leo was like a little kid on Christmas morning, and his enthusiasm was contagious. I laughed as he dragged me down the sidewalk that ran along the main road. He hadn’t been kidding. The boardwalk that elevated the foot traffic over the protected area of dunes and marshes was indeed excessively long. It was nice, though, strolling hand in hand as the wind coming in from the sea picked up and toyed with our hair and clothes. As we ascended the set of steps to the highest point, the ocean came into full view, and it took my breath away.
Leo squeezed my hand before letting go to charge down the descending steps, giving me a moment alone to take in the overwhelming sight. The ocean panned out around me, and the sky arched over my head, so big and wide I couldn’t hold it all in my vision at once. It dwarfed me in a way I’d never confronted before. I was reminded of a painting I’d studied in my art history elective, Monk by the Sea by Caspar David Friedrich. A man alone on a gloomy beach, confronted with the magnitude of the sublime and seeming to realize his own ephemerality.
Only the sun was shining, Leo was smiling up at me, and the ever-present weight on my shoulders had been lifted with the ocean breeze. I was pretty sure I would enjoy just being another grain of sand on the beach for once. Feeling energized, I dashed down the stairs, pausing at the bottom to take off my boots and socks, placing them on the bottom step. I rolled up my jeans and started forward, then, thinking better of it, I turned back and added my shirt to the pile.
When I stepped to the ground, I stumbled because of the way my feet sank down into the deep, hot sand. Of course I’d felt it before—there’s sand in the soil at the farm because of its proximity to the coast—but I’d never experienced such an abundance of it in my life. Staring down, I flexed my toes and smiled at the feeling of the fine grains squishing and sifting under my feet.
My gaze lifted to Leo, and I found him watching me with a soft smile. I absently wiped my face, wondering if I had something on it or something. “What?”
He shrugged, still smiling. “I’ve lived on the coast—first one, then the other—all my life. It’s just always been there for me, so I’ve never had this kind of experience with it. It’s kind of beautiful.”
I could feel myself blushing, but I returned his smile as I walked toward him, taking bigger, more careful steps to accommodate for the sinking. “This is incredible. I can see why you love living here.”
“Well, don’t stop here. Get your feet wet!”
Surprised that the thought hadn’t occurred to me on its own, I took his advice. Past the mounds of dry sand was another expanse of hard-packed wet sand, which Leo explained was underwater during high tide. The ground became soggier and soggier as I got closer to the water’s edge, until it started sucking my feet in like mud. Then the surf approached, dragging the sand back with it and uncovering my feet again.
In the height of summer, I was still surprised to find the ocean as warm as bathwater. I’d always imagined it staying cool all year long. I turned around toward the beach and raised my face to the sun. Closing my eyes, I spread out my arms and just soaked up the warmth and the crisp, salty breeze.
I was caught up in sensory overload and didn’t answer right away.
“Hmm?” I said lazily, drunk on sun and surf.
“You might want to—”
A wave crashed into me from behind, knocking me off my feet. Once I was on my ass in the surf, several more drenched me before I was able to stand up again. But I was laughing even as the saltwater stung my eyes.
“Watch out for breakers . . . is what I was going to say.” Leo looked like he was losing the fight against laughter.
I waded out of the danger zone, and as I approached him, I couldn’t look away from the way sun and sweat made his bronze skin glow. My first impulse was to reach for him, but then I remembered that I was the one who was supposed to be living a secret life. It was with great sadness that I curbed the impulse.
He seemed to sense it, giving me a sympathetic look. “Let’s walk.”
I nodded, following his lead as we passed loungers and tanners, kids building sand castles and splashing in tide pools, kite flyers, and bikers. We saw some people peddling strange contraptions that looked like three-wheeled banana peels. Leo explained that they were called beach trikes and promised me that we’d rent some if we ever had the time. After walking a ways, we came to a group of college-age women playing a game of volleyball.
When a rogue ball bounced off my ankle, I picked it up and tossed it back to the nearest player.
“Thanks!” said the tall brunette. She cocked her hip and smiled. “Want to play?”
I did want. I really did, but I was worried about Leo thinking I was trying to pick up women to keep my secret. However, he took one look at my face and jogged onto the hand-drawn court. He beckoned for me to join, but when I started toward the same side, he held up a hand to stop me.
“You’re on the other team, buddy. I’m ready to score on you!” The innuendo was not lost on me.
Mikayla, the brunette, delivered a serve to Leo’s team, and he dove for it. We spent the next hour trying to see how many times we could spike a point off each other. By the end of it, we were laughing and covered in sand.
“Thank you for a great game, ladies,” Leo said with a gallant bow as I ducked under the net to stand beside him. “But we should get going. I need to feed the big guy here.”
A blonde gave us a flirtatious smile. “You could come back to our house and . . . eat.”
Leo floundered, but in a split-second decision, I grabbed his hand and pulled him off the court. “We appreciate the invitation, but it’s kind of a date weekend.”
Leo turned wide eyes on me as we were gifted with smiles and disappointed sighs from the ladies. My soft smile was only for him, though. I was pretty sure they said some things to us after that, but my mind was already on what else we might get up to this weekend.