The warm water of late August rolled up onto the sand, a little higher each time, each wave pushing the sun ever lower and to the right. Shadows grew long: the legs of the pier stretched slantwise across the wet sand, the bloated corpses of jellyfish yearned to return to the water and Paul's lithe figure now went out far beyond his own reach.
They had answered the ocean's call, the beckoning of the fading summer, and now the day itself was going.
Claire stood in the waves, facing the shore, letting the rising tide pummel her in the back of the head. Resolute, she listened to each wave's approach and tensed her muscles as it crested, broke, and smashed into her from above and behind. She had been there at least half an hour, and the response had become automatic, a reflex, and except while submerged, her eyes followed Paul mercilessly. She was obsessed by his movement - his walking, the swing of his arms, the pursing of his lips as he whistled - and believed that if she only watched him closely enough, she would see his thoughts as well. Fighting through the sun's glare, she glimpsed the slight tension in his brow and the undefinable opening and closing of his lips; perhaps he was speaking to himself, or merely breathing.
This day had been a rare opportunity, time spent with Paul away from everyone else, and away from the environment in which he seemed to know and be friends with everyone, and in which she was simply part of that everyone. She was indelibly sure, certain to the bottom of her soul, that this was the day on which Paul would realize that he loved her, and had loved her all along. That they were perfect for each other. And that he would be the only one to whom she would show her secret spot in the woods, that place where in her heart they had already watched the sun set hundreds of times together.
It had all come about so suddenly, this spontaneous trip to the beach before the start of the semester, much like their sudden, happenstance meeting during the last week of freshman year. She saw herself again, circling the practice rooms in the hopes of catching someone leaving, Chopin preludes, Beethoven sonatas and her own composition sketchbook in hand. She heard the latch on one of the doors opening, and rushed in that direction, hoping to snatch up the room before one of the other music majors on the prowl got there. But he was there, a step before her. She stopped short; his hand was already grasping the door handle. Looking down at her stack of books, she sighed in frustration, and started to step to the side to go around him, determined not to make eye contact with whomever the colossal tool was who had beaten her to the practice room.
"You're not going in?" She looked up blankly.
"I was just holding the door for you - you've got a lot of books there. I'm not practicing right now."
"Oh. Thanks. I guess." She stepped back and dodged into the room. "That's nice of you...I'll try to return the favor sometime!" But he had already let go of the door, which was swinging shut on the sound of his footsteps in the hall.
It was just like today, really. By all accounts, they were having a good time. They had brought sandwiches, which they split in half and shared so that each of them had half of two different sandwiches. They had been swimming, and he had chased her with a bucket that he pretended to try to empty over her head, while she squealed appreciatively at the attention. They had lain next to each other in the sand, each trying to get in a few more pages of pleasure reading before the semester began. But he always seemed to be one step ahead of her, just out of reach, like a fish too smooth too grasp. Or maybe she was just clumsy and oafish.
She had tried to open her eyes to him, to make them transparent, so that he could see the way she thought. But even as she thought her soul must lie bare to him, his own eyes showed no change, nor his smile any shift in intensity. She wanted to grab him and kiss him and tell him everything she cared about and how he made her care about those things even more, but more than that, she wanted him to want the same thing. She willed her own certainty to produce certainty in him.
Dusk was increasing.
"We should get going!" he shouted to her.
"Okay, but I want you to come stand in the waves with me one more time first!"
He jogged out into the surf. The tide was nearly high now. Together, they dove through a handful of waves, before he grabbed her hand and started pulling her up the beach.
"C'mon, we gotta go, it's getting dark!"
She grasped his hand tightly, oblivious to everything but the strong warmth of his touch. She wished it were miles to dry sand, or that he would hold on forever. They reached their pile of belongings, heaped up away from the rising tide, and stopped running. Their long shadows were fading into the darkness, and Paul's hand slipped away.