You reach into the sand with your shovel gripped tightly in your small fist. The sun shone down on your head, crisping the pale skin of your scalp as wind blew at your blond hair. It spiked up in hilarious angles each time you drag your pruning fingers through it. Yanking out the plastic shovel, you tip the soupy mixture of sand and salt water into the bucket.
Behind you, you brother lounges on a large beach chair with sunscreen slathered over his pale, freckled face, but instead of a shovel grasped in his hands, there was a cell phone in its place. Your brother bickers into the silvery thing at an almost inhuman speed as he lazily strokes circles into the sand with one slender finger. You pay almost zero attention to him. Your mind was in other places.
Like the sandcastle in progress displayed before you.
Dumping the filled bucket onto the sand, you tap the top with one precise clip of the shovel and pull it back to reveal a perfect castle shape.
Suddenly, a single tan foot appears, and your perfection crumbles.
Gritting your teeth in rage, you smack the foot with your shovel, not caring whom the owner of the foot was. With a loud yelp, the foot pulls away and is replaced by a child's face.
"Whatcha do that for, buddy?" the boy says shrilly, and you pull back.
"You smashed my castle. I smashed your foot," you retaliate. "It's only fair."
You practically see the cogs turning in the other boy's head while he looks at you slack jawed. Finally, he says, "Well… Ok. That makes sense… I think."
You simply nod, then glance back at your brother. He's still fast talking into the phone, but now his hand gestures wildly in the air as he shouts resulting in a couple of beach dwellers to look up with alarm. You sigh.
"Do you… want me to help? Build it back up, I mean?" the kid mumbles, and then he offers you a grin. His teeth protrude from under his upper lip, and your expression softens.
"Sure," you say, accepting the invitation eagerly. It was rare that you got a companion to play with. Not with your big shot of a brother dragging you around all over the place. He'd always say, "There'll be time for play later, Dirk. Seriously, lil man. I promise." He never kept his promises. You knew he didn't mean to break them, but that didn't help the fact you were seriously lacking in a decent playtime. Most of the time you didn't mind, preferring to tinker with your toys alone in the huge house, but there was no way you were passing up this opportunity.
So the other boy, with his too bright green eyes and swooping black hair, kneels down next to you and helps pile up the wet sand. Together, you create beautiful sandy creations until the sun has crossed the sky and begins touching down towards the churning sea.
He listens to every word you have to say. He hangs on each sentence like the stories you tell are the most important things he's ever heard. You've never had this much attention before ever, and you love it.
You don't learn a lot about your strange new friend, other than he's eight years old like you and only visiting for vacation, unlike you whose home is the paradise that is Los Angeles. You find out he's here with his grandma and little sister. You find out his favorite food is grilled cheese, and that he loves action movies. What you don't find out is his name.
"Come on lil man. Sun's going home, we might as well, too. I got a meeting in the morning, so I gotta get my beautiful sleep and shi-" your brother trails off as he spots your new friend squatting down beside you in the sand. You guess you can call him a friend. "Who's this?"
"This is…" You pause. Who was this?
As if reading your mind, the boy stands up and smiles at your brother so big it stretches from ear to ear. "My name's Jake!" he trills in that weird voice of his.
Jake. Jake. Jaaaaake. Jakeeeee. You like it.
"I'm Dirk," you immediately say, making sure he had heard you.
He nods, still grinning.
"Well… Jake," your brother says and reaches his hand out in a ceremonial fist bump. "Nice to meet you, dude."
Jake glows in the attention of the older man, and touches his tan little fist to your bro's. "No problem… dude!" he tacks on at the end, and you can't help but stifle a giggle.
You glance up at him and say, "Yo, bro. You think he can come with us? I wanna show him my robots." You had been telling Jake all about the various toy robots that litter your room. You'd show him your puppets, too. You'd show him everything, and he's grin at you with that dimpled smile.
Your brother frowns. "Wow, Dirk. You know I'm always down for some play date action, but…" You frown at the but, and you feel Jake stiffen next to you.
"Mr. Dirk's brother, I hope you don't… You don't need to… Don't feel entitled to," he mumbles and scratches at a spot on his neck.
Your brother looks surprised, and then chuckles. He reaches out to ruffle Jake's hair and says, "No, lil man! It's just I have a meeting tomorrow, and I gotta get Dirk to his sister's house. He really can't have friends over tonight." He crouches down beside you two and continues in a hushed voice, "But if we see you here tomorrow, how about we set you and the big man up for some mad shenanigans, ok?" Oh yeah that was definitely ok in your books.
You smile at Jake, and he grins back. You both turn back to frantically nod at your bro. He pushes the bridge of his sunglasses up a bit farther and rises. "Wicked shit, guys. It's a deal."
As you follow your brother, you slug up the hill dragging a beach chair behind you. Glancing backwards, you spy Jake carefully tip toeing around your creation as to not collapse the sand. You call out to him, in one last goodbye, and he flashes you two pistols with his fingers and winks. You can't wait for tomorrow.
While sleeping over at your sister Rose's house, you play with your other sister Roxy, whose significantly younger than you, and her cat. After mom and dad divorced, your family sort of split up. All night you secretly wish it was the next day already, and in return you barely sleep. You dream of green eyes. The next day, you anxiously await your brother's return from the meeting. He doesn't come until later that night and by then outside had already gone dark. He apologizes to you, saying his meeting ran late then he had to go to a company dinner. His sorrys don't reach your ears. They float right over your head as you star at the emerging stars, blurry with your hidden tears. You rub at your eyes with the back of your hand and sniffle, telling your brother it's no big deal. He promises he'll take you to the beach the next day.
This time, you try not the get your hopes up.
The next day you spend the entire time running up and down the beach shouting his name. He's nowhere to be found.
Ten years later, you see him again.
The sand is soft against your feet and the moonlight stretches across the ocean. Gentle waves crash softly against the shore and lap at your ankles. It's a nice night, calm and refreshing, just the way you like it. You always like to get out here with the twisting waters and the moon overheard, especially after particularly nasty fights with your brother. The crisp ocean air clears your head. It's not because the darkness conceals your tears. Of course not. Dirk Strider doesn't cry.
You kick a shell and quietly curse when the sharp edge cuts the soft flesh of your heel. Fuck that was stupid. Why did you think that would help in any way. You keep walking and ignore the pain radiating from your foot, instead letting the salt water wash away the sting. You're eighteen, graduated from high school, and planning on going to college. Truthfully, you want to go to be an engineer. Nothing would excite you more than sitting around fiddling with robot parts all day. You just hope you have a bright future ahead of you, but there are always those nagging doubts. What if you flunked? What if no college's wanted you? What if, what if, what if. What if you just shut the fuck up and stop worrying so much.
Money wasn't an issue, what with your brothers million dollar pay check, and neither was grades seeing as teachers practically gasped when they saw the GPA of the scruffy looking skinny blond with his head down on the desk in the back.
You squint your eyes up at the moon, taking in its brightness and the smell of salt all around you. Suddenly, a noise! You freeze and immediately duck down a bit, scouring the beach in front of you and calculating what your chances of survival were. No weapons, but you had your hands… You were quick…
"Bollocks!" a voice cries out, and you tense. Glancing up, you see the hulking form of a body, somebody, hunched over. The form is limping. Still cautious, you inch your way down the beach towards the person.
You wait until you're only a few feet away until you say, "Hey buddy. Need some help?"
The form jerks up with a yelp, and whips around to face you, fists raise and poise to fight. You chuckle, and he relaxes. "Oh hello, chap. Good day to you! Er, good night I suppose…" He glances at the moon, and as if lost in thought, he whispers, "Yes… Night. Good night."
You patiently wait for him to collect his thoughts until you say, "So yeah. You need any help there?"
He turns back after a moment, and you see his smile in the dark. Dimples. Something tiny part in the back of your mind flickers. "Ahhh no, my good man. I believe I'm just dandy! Managed to snag myself on a blasted shell, if you'd believe it… The damn thing snuck up on me." He lets out a hearty laugh that you feel deep inside you. His laugh shakes your insides. "Got to remind myself not to roam barefoot around these parts!"
"Oh yeah, man. Same fucking thing got me, too." You gesture downwards and wiggle your toes.
He laughs and nods and keeps walking, meaning to pass you up and continue on with his walk, but you being the big weirdo you are, just couldn't let that nagging feeling go. "Hey wait…" you start, then regret you said anything at all as he turns and gives you a strange look. But you'll be damned if you don't see a glint of… something in those green eyes. Green eyes. You shrug off the feeling, which had moved to your gut.
"Got something else on you mind, chap?" he asks in that silly sounding accent of his, curiosity lacing his voice.
You shrug and pick at the seam of your hoodie. You always wear the same grey and orange hoodie when you go on these nightly walks. It was a small comfort, and you reveled in it. "Um… I was just wondering," Stop mumbling. Strider's don't mumble. Dave doesn't mumble. He only shouts or at least talks loudly with an air of confidence. If he ever mumbled, he must not do it in front of you because you've never seen you brother so much as mutter when addressing somebody else.
Right. Stay focused. Confidence, Strider.
You take a calming breath and face the man, your forgotten sunglasses still on your face. "Wanna walk with me? I'm bored as shit, and pretty damn lonely. Could do with a little company, you know?" There. It was out, the offer floating around the salty air. It was in somebody else's hands now. And those hands happened to be darkly tanned and just a bit hairy.
The stranger wrings the hands in question together in thought, glances down at his own bare feet, and then looks back up at you. "Well gee, stranger. You just get right to it, don't you? You know what… Sure. There's something about you."
"I know what you mean."
"Indeed! And like I always say, nobody should be lonely when there's something I can do about it!"
That's how you find yourself walking side by side with this strange guy in a baggy white T-shirt and short khaki cargo pants, both your bare feet padding softly on the sand below and the moon above.
You lick the salt from your lips, leaving them rubbed raw, and drag your fingertips through equally salty hair, the grains practically fused into the blond spikes. "So you come down here often?"
He shakes his head, causing drops of sea water to hit your cheek. Earlier the guy had bounded down to the water, like an overgrown puppy, and dunked his head under the waves after complaining about crispy sea swirled hair. Now the course black hair was even crustier with salt, but not that you'd admit it, looked pretty nice under the dim moonlight. Even if it did stick out in odd angles and look sort of silly, you still felt the urge to run your fingers through it… Feel the salty stiffness…
"Well… I'm simply visiting my sister, I guess. She had decided to live here after all. Imagine that… I never counted her as a big city sort of gal," he murmurs, keeping his eyes locked ahead. You like the words he used. Whether he chooses to use them or was simply born talking like an English gentleman was not really a big concern to you.
"Indeed. So what about you?"
You shrug as well. "If you're asking whether I'm visiting, then no. I actually live here. Big stinking famous brother and all that fucking jazz. It's not a bad life, but sometimes man…" You trail off hoping he'd get what you were trying to relay. You suppose life was nice with the money, but being the younger brother of a famous big shot wasn't really all that special. The fact was surprising to most people, but the guy just nods.
"I believe you, my friend."
After that, you two continue to walk down the moonlit sand in silence, simply enjoying one another's company. It was… nice. Too nice. Your thoughts vaguely wonder back to your brother…
"I better head back. He's going to be looking for me." You hope the man opposite you will understand. You hope he won't insist you stay. You hope he won't grab your wrist, tug you to his body, and admit he wants you to stay… You tell yourself all of this, but you don't know if your heart believes it.
He doesn't do any of that stuff obviously. You didn't really expect him to, but what he does do is look at you with sad eyes, and you flinch guiltily. "Oh… Big brother's going to be worried? Wouldn't want that."
"He wouldn't actually be worried," you suddenly find yourself saying. No Strider. Shut up. "Not really."
"Oh?" A questioning tone.
"No. He hates me."
"Oh." A tone of disbelief.
"Don't give me that. He does. He fucking does, ok? He kicked me out of the house. He said he doesn't wanna see my face again."
"Big brothers can be harsh sometimes. They say things they don't really mean. Trust me I would know!" he chuckles. "You know he doesn't mean that right, old friend?"
Something inside you breaks and you stop. "He does mean it ok… Why wouldn't he mean it? You should've heard the stuff he said about me." Now it came bubbling out of you. Like a waterfall. Your brain screamed at you to stop, to quiet telling this green eyed guy with the kind words your fucking sob story, to lay off him or you're gonna scare him away. But you couldn't help it, and all your hurt and anger and sadness comes bubbling out like lava.
"I trusted him to love me no matter what… That's what he'd tell me. He'd say that. Fucking liar is what he is… Told me to get out of his house. Told me no way some fucking fag could live under his roof. He's too damn famous to have a fag for a brother he said, ok? Said it could ruin his career." You weren't full out sobbing, not yet, but there were tears. Oh yes, there were definitely tears. And they were pouring down your sharp cheekbones, dripping down the straight angles of your nose and drenching the already damp sand at your feet.
He simply stares at you, taking in every word you say like it was the most important thing in the world to listen to you right then and there on this god forsaken beach while both your feet sting from those fucking shells and sea gull shit litters the sand. His eyes glitter, you notice through your unrelenting angst.
"I didn't really have anywhere else to go, so I came here. To this fucking beach hoping to get some fucking peace and quiet… Maybe decide where to go next since apparently my home of eighteen years is too good for me now. But you know what? Whatever. I don't need him."
"You don't mean that."
"You love him."
"I said shut up!"
The man shakes his head sadly. "And he loves you." He reaches out hesitantly, as if scared you'll break under his touch, then resorts to lightly resting a hand on your shoulder. "Listen, mate, He's your brother. It must be hard for him… But he will come to understand, and get over it, ok? Don't loose hope, old boy!" He gently slaps you and withdraws his hand, and you immediately miss the warmth of his fingertips.
You wipe tears away with the back of your hand, and he watches you as you do so. He looks uncomfortable. Shit. That was probably because he was uncomfortable. It was probably just dawning on him now that he had just taken a moonlit stroll down the beach with a guy who, for better words, plays for a completely different team. He licks his lips, and goes to say something but you shoosh him.
"Look if you wanna go I'm not gonna-"
"Oh stop that." He's frowning now. "If you think I'm just going to drop a man in need of a little good old fashioned comfort, you have me pegged as the wrong sort of man, my friend." He pats your shoulder and motions for you to continue your walk down the shore.
More than a bit hesitant, you shuffle forward, and watch in awe as he continues on with you. Well that was… nice of him. Surprisingly nice. Hopefully nice. You continue on in silence. Which leads to awkward small talk. Which evolves into a complex conversation on the merits of tattoos and whether they were really, and you quote him, 'up to snuff'. You argue they were, and he counters back. A worthy opponent. You leave him gaping as you suddenly stop to yank off your hoodie and lift up the sleeve of your soft black cotton shirt to show him your own tattoo. The wacked up face of one of your brother's cartoon creations stared back at him and you, and you regret showing it to him at all when he regards the awful caricature with a strange look.
"That's very… interesting."
You yank down your sleeve to cover the stupid thing. You had gotten it while drunk anyway so it hardly matters. "It's fucking awesome."
"Whatever you say, mate."
You chat for a bit longer, the guy now wearing your hoodie after you realized he wouldn't stop complaining about the salty air being too chilly for a man of his taste. You called him a wimp, but surrendered your favorite hoodie nonetheless. Now the conversation starts to steer towards your apparent preference.
"How did you first find out," he asks, sounding shy for the first time that night.
You don't say anything at first, wondering how exactly you should answer. Forever probably… But even that didn't seem fitting. "I don't know," you say honestly. "Forever… I guess. Sound's cliché and stupid as fuck, but it's the closest I can get to describe it in words. I just… always knew."
His short answers had a way of getting you to open up. You hated it. And loved it. "Yeah… I just knew. All throughout high school. I just knew I liked dudes, you know? It was never this big huge ass deal. Girls were cool and all, but I just… didn't want… yeah." No way to put it gently. You remind yourself to be careful with your words. This had been going so well. Didn't wanna scare him away after all that. "Some of my friends knew, some didn't. Even some of the teachers."
"Just not your brother."
You avoid that road for now, and ignore him. "I just didn't care. I didn't want a girlfriend. I wasn't interested in any guys at my craptastic school. Nobody harassed me… Well there was this one time. A guy called me a fag once. Once and I broke both his knees with a blunt end of a katana. I got detention for like three months, but at least it got the message around. After that, I never got shit from nobody." You're babbling now, you realize. You know by the hint of Texas twang that sneaks into your speech, but you don't care, because the guy next to you hangs onto every word you say, his bright eyes captivating in the dark.
He laughs at your story, and you feel warm. You almost forget about your brother. Almost. "But yeah… I told Dave, that's my bro, earlier." You kick the sand ahead of you. "Obviously, it didn't turn out ok."
"Obviously," he smirks, and you fight the urge to push him. "Like I said, mate. He's probably just in shock. It's a lot to take in for somebody like him! Give him a few more hours, and he'll be smashing." You feel sort of pathetic for being so eager to think that those hours would be spent continuing your walk.
"Thanks, man. I appreciate it."
Together, you trek down the beach, the stars twinkling overhead.
You don't know how the conversation gets to the point it gets to, but you're now calmly, and rationally, discussing your love life with this complete stranger.
"So you've never kissed…. anyone?" he wants to know. "Ever?"
You just answer him with a shake to the head. "Never had the opportunity, brah. I didn't kiss any girls, and my school wasn't really all that homo friendly. I mean, I didn't have to hide or anything, because, like I said, I stone cold didn't give a fuck, but still… Just never really had the chance." You're beginning to feel uncomfortable, and you reach down to pick at your pants trying to distract from the fact your very clearly were sort of embarrassed that at eighteen, you hadn't even had your first fucking kiss yet. It makes you sound like some blushing virgin, like a flushed big eyed anime school girl clutching her heart and wishing some manly desu man would come and kiss your pecker off. You start to say something to defend yourself, but he cuts you off.
"No don't give me that, chap. I don't wanna hear it. It's perfectly ok!" He gives you a cheeky grin. "Some people just aren't ready for that step in their lives."
You stop moving. "Woah, woah, woah, there mate," you say mimicking his accent. "I'm damn well ready for anything life decides to shit in my direction."
His grin widens, and then softens. "I know, buddy. I'm just sorry you haven't… gotten the opportunity yet."
You glare at him, but soon deflate. He's right though. To be brutally honest, you've always been a little bit nervous for it. Your first kiss. The big uno. The first one. You just like when things go according to plan, and in your plan you saw yourself making it count, goddamnit. You'll get there when you're damn well ready to. You glance around at your surroundings, spot the bench a bit away from the shore, and pull yourself towards it. Collapsing against the side of the thing, wood rotted and paint chipped, you lean your weight against the side while soft sand, dark grey in the night, cushions your legs.
You feel his weight sink down next to you before you see him. You both silently stare up at the perfect view of the moon, where it hangs bright, round, and bursting with energy in the clear sky. "I don't want to go home yet," you whisper, half to yourself and half to the weight next to you.
He adjusts himself, brushing the sand of his tan cargo shorts. "You don't have to!" His voice sounds cheerful, even hopeful, and you draw positive energy from it.
"Thanks," you mumble, and his shoulders shake in silent laughter. "No I really mean it," you say a bit louder. "I didn't really know what I was going to do once I got down here. I didn't really have a plan."
"You don't need a plan for everything, mate."
"Yeah, well… Thanks for being here I guess. Deciding on a fucking whim to come down here and take a walk. Tumble your clumsy butt right into my path, interlocking our destinies, all that jazz." You vaguely gesture towards him.
"It's my pleasure! Fine young man you are," he says then pauses. "And blast it… There's something just really familiar here, you know? With you I mean," he fumbles. "Almost like déjà vu."
Keeping a poker face, you agree. "Yeah… I know what you mean."
"When we part ways… Do you think I'll see you again? I reckon… well…" he trails off and rakes his hand through the sand.
You're super glad the night's dark enough to conceal the flushed tips of your ears. "I don't know. Maybe," you reply. Clipped. Precise. Business like. You can't let this go anywhere. You don't know who this is. You don't even know his name. You consider asking, but… no. You just can't bring yourself to. You don't want to ruin this moment. You want to remember this the way it is. A sacred memory you decide. The night a handsome stranger walked with you down the beach, letting your pour your heart out to him and holding it in his tan hands.
You can clearly tell from the look in his eyes, he wants the same. No… a name might ruin this moment.
You don't know how it started. You don't really care all the much either. But from that look in his eye, you know what he's offering. You can't explain it, you just know. He's offering an end to the night, one more something you can hold on to. Knowing that with your decision, this will most likely be the last you see of each other. You don't know which of you start to lean forward first.
His lips are chapped, but impossible soft and with a tang of salt that reminds you of the ocean. His lips taste like the ocean, and you imagine yours does as well. Everything is lush and soft and delicate, while still remaining to stay sandy and rough and just a little bit awkward. His fingers are tracing smooth circles on your wrist and the other hand cups your face. It's a sensory overload. Your own hands don't really know what the fuck to do, so you twist around to face him and wrap them around his waist, but then one starts to fall asleep so you wriggle a bit getting sand in both of your laps. Your teeth clank into his, your tongue has no fucking idea what to do, and it's kind of a disaster, but just a little bit beautiful.
It's over faster then you'd like.
He pulls away with a pop, and stares at you. Like he expects you to do something.
You don't do anything. Fuck you, you don't do anything but smile.
The moon hangs overhead, the only witness to the best first kiss you could've dreamt up. Well... not exactly. It wasn't perfect, but hell if you cared about perfection. It was an imperfect kiss, but it was yours and you'd treasure it forever. Even though in your future you'd come to kiss many other people, men and women, and go far behind just kissing, you'd still always remember the one you had with the handsome stranger with the funny accent and buck teeth who held your broken heart in the salty ocean air.
Still not wanting to go home just yet, you end up huddled next to him for the rest of the night. Half of it spent whispering to each other in tiny, hushed voices and the other half blinking in and out of a loose sleep. Sand got everywhere and in the morning your hair itched like fuck. And brushing aside the stranger's stiff black hair, you quickly press one last kiss to his forehead and head home.
It's not until you get there do you realize he still has your hoodie.
Your plan was to never see him again. But sometimes fate doesn't always go the way you plan.
Ten years later.
As much as you'd like not to admit, you watch for him. Not everyday, but every once in a while when you're sad or lonely or lost, you wait till night fall, then make the journey down to the beach. The beach. Like it was some sacred place. The beach you met him. Him. Like he was some sacred person. A guardian angel, if you will, but even that was pushing it. He was just some guy. Some dorky looking guy, but still you can't get rid of that nagging feeling that you should've gotten his name. You could've seen him again and again and again. Alone in your bed when your free to think your own thoughts and wonder up impossible possibilities, you find your mind drawn back to that night, but you can't remember his facial features. Just some nameless, blank faced guy, and it makes you sad.
So you watch for him, but you never see him again.
Until one day, a crowded sunny beach day, you're lounging on a towel angrily slathering sunscreen on your pale ass arms as the gulls cry and swoop through the sky. You had fucked up today at the mechanics office. Four years wasted at college to be an engineer, and you just end up back here in LA twiddling with fucking car parts. It was a nice job, but you had fucked up today. When you were distracted, you mind someplace else, you had replaced the wrong part in an SUV and caused the job to have to be done all over again. It cost you a quarter of a paycheck and a day's work. You're twenty-eight years old and living alone with a shitty job and horrible time management skills.
While silently stewing in your own frustration, you see him. Him.
You freeze, not daring to move, as if one subtly movement would startle him away like a frightened animal. Or a slight breeze would waft his image away as if he was just an apparition of your affection-starved mind. You can't believe it.
But he doesn't leave. He doesn't go away. He just stands there off to your right, near the shore, his ankles buried in damp sand and a jovial expression plastered on his face. That face… You practically feel your heart ache deep in your chest as your mind is forcefully yanked back to that night so many years ago. There's no mistaking the fact that he was the same guy. Though you thought his face had been lost to time, as you look at the coarse black hair fluttering in the breeze and the square lenses perched on his nose, you know in your heart it's him. He's got his mouth wide open in a laugh that gets carried away by the wind and those all too familiar buckteeth glint in the sun. If you squint, you can even see the crinkles around his eyes.
You want to jump up, cast your beach towel aside and run over to him. You want to fling your arms around his neck and say, "I waited! I waited for you!" But for some reason, you suppose it's your awful knack for following those damn plans you set up for yourself, you hesitate.
It only takes that moment of hesitation for you to realize how stupid of a mistake it would've been for you to go barreling across the sand, kicking up clouds in beach goers faces as you ran, and throw yourself at him. You hesitate only long enough to see the man turn and seize his laughter to say something to a young woman at his side.
Your heart drops low in your chest as your gaze turns to her. She's beautiful, to say the least, with soft wispy black hair that delicately curls by her ears, and bright round cheeks under crinkled blue eyes. She's done chuckling at something he said and lowers her hand back to her side. Then, in one fluid motion, he reaches out to take the hand, resting it on his arm, and sets off down the beach.
As they pass, you keep your head down.
His laugh ghosts past you, and the weight of it hits you harder than you thought it would.
Honestly, you didn't really know what you expected. For him to remember you as you had remembered him? For him to dream about that kiss as you had done? For him to care enough to return to this beach and search for you as you had scanned the beach for the tousled black mop of hair at every visit? Apparently not. You sink low into your beach chair and watch the couple as they fade away into the crowd of tourists and bikini clad girls.
You knew you should've said something anyway. Gone over just to say a quick, "Hi, how do you do?" See what was up. Well you knew what was up. He had forgotten about you, of course. Why wouldn't he? You were just another memory in his life. A scrawny bad mouthed kid alone on the beach who needed a friend for the night. Probably, to him, it wasn't anything worth memory. He had moved on, naturally, and gone on to get married. Probably had kids.
Swallowing the lump in your throat, you push away any thoughts of him. You had to tell yourself he didn't matter to you either. You didn't even know what his name was! He was just another memory, worn by sand and floating through your life like driftwood on the ocean, and in time, you'd forget about him. The time to wait was over. This moment, right now, was your beginning.
But your fate wouldn't have it.
Ten years later you finally learn his name.
You grew up. Actually it was easier than you thought. You quit your mechanics job, traveled around for a few years and learned a lot more about life than you believed you knew. Although you never did get married, you had one serious long term relationship with a pretty, black haired beauty. You didn't think you'd end up with a woman, but you couldn't help her charm, her gracefulness, her sense of adventure, and you fell for her. She had wispy black hair and the brightest green eyes…
When she left you, it was a harsh blow. She said you two just had too different of intentions, and she couldn't commit to a relationship any more serious than where you already were. She loved you, she really did she had said, but it was time she moved on with her life. She had bigger dreams than you did. It was the second time in your life you cried that hard. Except this time there was nobody to hold you, comfort you, so you left your home and moved back to LA to see your brother. There was nowhere else to go. You spent the remaining days working your old job with a boss who was more than thrilled to let you back on the team.
You weren't necessarily happy, but you were content at least with your meager life. The pay was better this time, and your older brother had welcomed you with open arms. He had missed you, and was ready to retire anyway. Move to Florida or some shit you believe he said, so he left you too. Gave you the house and escaped. Thirty-eight and that's where you were. Pretty exciting life, huh?
Leaning against the rails of the house, you over look the beach you practically grew up on. The sun hung low in the sky, and you bask in the dying light. Soon, the air around you was a pale grey, humid and clinging to your damp T shirt. Reaching up underneath your shades, you pinch the skin between you eyes and sigh. You could feel the incoming headache, and it didn't help in the least bit that some moron was blowing on bagpipes by the shore.
Speaking of which, you bring your arm back down and glance back at the beach. Gradually, a crowd had been forming down near enough to the waters edge so the recipients could wade ankle deep in white foam, but still so they could move upwards to chat in small groups near the dunes. People set out chairs and tables of food.
Giving in to your curiosity, you travel through the oversized beach mansion and out onto the porch to get a better view.
Each person was dressed entirely in black, some clutching to hanker chiefs like lifelines, and almost all were in some degree crying. From the smallest of sniffles down to full out sobs that made your heart wrench, the crowd was a pitiful sight. Now you were really curious. Obviously the event was a funeral, that much you could deduce, but for who, you hadn't the slightest clue. A warning triggered in your gut, but you pushed it away.
The guests came in mostly pairs with the occasional child bringing up the rear, looking uncomfortable in their crisp black polos and slicked hair. You follow behind one family quietly, looking incredible out of place in your worn orange T-shirt and jeans and on impulse; you walk up the sand hill into the crowded beach. Up close, you see a very close family resemblance between the people there, and your heart beats a little faster with every sympathetic buck toothed smile. Your breath quickens with every dimple flecked tear stricken pair of cheeks. Coarse black hair at every turn. Now you seriously can't believe it. It just couldn't be.
Then, you see her and the memories come flooding back. The woman you saw before with… with him. His wife. She's standing alone now, away from the rest, and ice water floods your veins. The same wispy black hair, now with multi colored sun stained strands that give her a motherly look, and the beginnings of winkles around her eyes. You see her off in the distance, her arms are crossed and a dripping hanker chief clutched in one hand.
You're so tempted to cross the short distance and approach her, but you hold your ground, not quite sure if you're ready yet.
Hanging back from the crowd and leaning against a wooden bench, you watch as one by one everybody finds a place amongst the clusters of chairs. They pass you and give you solemn nods. A couple of them fill the place in front of you and ask if you knew him.
One man, older than you and with such strikingly similar features to him you feel your breath hitch when he approaches. Says his name is John. John, who's your brother's age and works in a joke shop many states away from here. Says he's some distant uncle of Jake. Jake he calls him.
So… his name is finally revealed.
Jake. Jake. Jaaaaake. Jakeeeee. You like it.
A bell sounds in the back of your head, but you ignore it. The words they say pass right through you. Their lips mouth silent words and all you can do is nod. You feel numb.
"College. We met in college."
"Our parents knew each other."
Lie after lie. You didn't really know how else to answer their questions. How would these blank sad faced people react if you told them the truth. That once a long, long time ago, he held your hand and kissed you softly on these same sands. That before he married the gentle beauty with the soft curves and motherly face, he gave a lost, scared boy a smooch under the stars.
"A tragic accident."
"Unstable jeep and a hazardous African trail."
You learn that it was a head injury that had finally done him in. They had rushed him to the hospital as fast as possible, but fate had a different plan for the kind-hearted man. They told you the doctors declared he had passed quietly in his sleep.
So many crying people… This guy, Jake, must have been pretty popular you decide. There was a colorful variety, every shade and nationality, because as it turns out, Jake had done a tremendous amount of charity work and adventuring in his youth. There wasn't just family here. Bosses, coworkers, friends, everybody that he had touched somehow in his life was there to offer their respects. Including you.
Slowly, the people dwindled away. After a number had said words of loving adoration to a picture of him and gently resting their fingertips on the surface of a clay jar nearby, they exit the beach with their heads cast down. One by one they all leave, except for the lone woman near the waters edge.
You decide you're ready now.
She doesn't say anything as you slide into the empty space besides her, but she reaches out with shaking fingers and links her arm with yours. You let her. Fresh tears roll down her sunken cheeks, and you think to yourself how incredible old she looks despite the fact you believe you're around the same age. Her hair is just a bit too wispy, eyes a little too red, and her glasses barely balance on the tip of her button nose as wave after wave of tears fall off those cheeks and land on the ground. Each tear soaks into the sand or washes away with freezing water.
"He was a good man," she finally says after a while of silent mourning.
"So good… so good…" she murmurs half to herself. "Such a good heart."
You can't speak. It wouldn't feel right. You didn't know Jake.
"He took his time with everybody he met… He helped so many people with his kindness…" she was whispering so quietly now, you had to lean a bit to hear. "And I'd say, 'Jake! You fool! Don't you know you can't make everybody happy?' and he'd just smile, his eyes glittering, and say, 'Oh do stop your yammering, Jane, it's befitting of you. I try my best until my best isn't good enough. Then by the dickens, I try a little bit harder!" By now her voice had rose a considerable amount, and she finishes the recollection with a soft chuckle. "Hoo hoo hoo… I will miss him so." She looks on the verge of tears again, so you squeeze her arm.
"I guess… try to remember all the good times you had with him? It's what he would want, right?" you offer. "Did you guys have any kids?" Would one bring their kids to their father's funeral? Wait… that's stupid. Of course they would. You make a show of looking around.
She glances at you with a look of puzzlement, her small eyebrows furrowed together. "Pardon me, but… what?"
You return her look of confusion. "You are… um were… his wife, right?"
Her face relaxes, and she does that same soft chuckle. "Ahhh no, sweetie. I'm his sister, Jane." Her blue eyes twinkle, and you feel like slapping yourself.
Sister. Shit, of course, how could you have not seen it before. The same dimples, the same dark hair. Even her front teeth protrude the slightest bit against her bottom lip.
"Oh. Sister… Wow I'm a dumbass."
Her shoulders shake in laughter, and then she sighs and looks into the ocean. "Thank you. I needed that… It's been so difficult on me. We were so close, you know… I used to believe I wouldn't be able to live without him." Her eyes fog over and fill with tears. "I still don't know how I will."
You squeeze her arm again encouragingly. "Hey now… Don't say that. Trust me, you will be ok. Keep your chin up, and smile ok? Seriously, it's what he would've wanted." With one hand, you lift up your glasses to rest them on your spiky hair so you can give her a full Strider eye lock.
Her eyebrows raise, but she doesn't say anything other than, "Yes… yes I suppose so. He wouldn't have wanted all this sad nonsense… He would've started dancing, god forbid…" She's smiling now, and you smile back.
"So… Where'd you say you met Jake?"
"I didn't. College. We went to the same College."
Something passes over her eyes, a flitting thought before it's gone, and she smiles warmly at you. "Thank you… um…"
"Dirk. Dirk Strider."
Now she's full out smiling, a lovely new radiant energy on her face. "Thank you, Dirk. Thank you for not leaving me alone. I don't think I could've done this alone." You wait until she's done giving you a tight hug before you speak again.
"It's no problem." You make sure to look at her. "And like an old friend once told me, nobody should be lonely when there's something I can do about it."
You leave soon after. There really was no other reason for you to be there. After touching the urn with gently fingers, you whisper a thanks to Jake, and you say you wish you could heard his laugh one last time, and you tell him that he was right. Your brother just needed time to accept you. And that if given the chance again, you'd kiss his beautiful face again and again and again.
You say it all in a hushed whisper that wisps out from your lips and is carried away by the wind as it whips through your sandy blond hair. You don't wipe away the tears that brim in your amber eyes and spill across gaunt, freckled cheeks.
The haunting melody of bagpipes fill the air.
It's not until ten years later you awake suddenly in your bed overcome entirely by a simple memory. A shovel, a sandcastle, and a tan foot. You bend over your pillow, hands cupping your face, and cry.
You had known his name all along.
You watch the young man leave, then watch as he whispers to your brother's urn, and turns to walk away. Forever, you figure. He has no ties to you or any of these people.
College he had said. That was your first clue. But even before that, you knew the lonely looking man with the sad eyes was him. College… Jake had gone to one way out in England, back in your home country, where he went to an eloquent boy's school. A college far away from America. A school that didn't even accept students out of country.
He had never married. Everybody said it was because he was too busy adventuring, saving lives, being a real life hero, to settle down with a lady. You knew better.
Jake used to talk about a boy he met. You, and you alone, had heard the story so many times you practically had it memorized. One night, the night after your grandma's funeral, he had gotten up out of bed and left suddenly to take a walk.
He used to talk about a boy he met with scruffy blond hair and 'the most incredible amber eyes I've ever seen! Believe me, Jane, they were extraordinary!'.
"I couldn't believe it at first," he'd whisper to you and pull out the worn hoodie from his closet to show you the tag. He'd hold it up to you, his little sister, under the light so you could see the small name printed in black sharpie on the tag.
"Imagine that, Janey," he'd say every time, coupled with a look of pure amazement in his eyes. "Imagine that."
You hadn't believed in soul mates before he told you the story of Dirk Strider,