Even in the summer, days start to die early. When the sun begins to fall into the sea, it takes with it the energy absorbed from young, burning bodies on the beach far below, leaving only lengthened shadows and a feeling of slow, inevitable decay as daylight slowly, almost imperceptibly bleeds into the water. The last game of pickup soccer has ended, and all the athletic detritus that littered the beach is migrating back towards the cluster of towels and lithe female bodies that sun in rows like a collection of beautiful, smooth skinned reptiles.
Though the day is still young, the cooling palmetto air starts to drive people inside, towards showers and plans for dinner, to recharge for that nocturnal existence unique to youth. You sit on a towel on the edge of the group, allowing a quick transition from sun to sport and back, with arms behind you for support, legs and face at ease. Small and tomboyish underneath your backwards ball cap and dark green bikini, your legs are toned and athletic. Skin, eyes, and hair are all the right shade of brown. You smile a lot.
Today put a name to the face I see in the gym occasionally, legs churning on the elliptical, mind poring over the chem book on the control panel, leaving me intrigued. Today there are no books, just sunscreen and laughter and a curious absence of seabirds. Bocce balls and Frisbees materialize and you spend much of your time at the edge of the surf throwing a vortex football.
Occasionally I steal a glance, during a stray kick from a circle of jugglers as we struggle to defy gravity’s pull. The synthetic leather ball is hard on our bare feet: insteps turn red and bruise from repeated impacts that no longer cause pain on the dead feet of veteran players. The ball back in, I look away, forget your for a while.
In a dozen unmemorable encounters we talk, and then flirt harmlessly when the brief coincidences of our orbits bring us together. I sense a small connection; envision a tiny ray of light shining down one of the infinite, unknowable paths that Schrodinger and the Fates keep forever hidden. Could one of them contain both you and me?
But now the day is winding down. The wind picks up as if to scatter us, shooing us on towards the evening, pushing us into the future. Undeterred, several of us head for the surf, defiantly seizing the last of these all too rare hours on the beach. You sit on a towel on the edge of the group, arms behind you for support, legs and face at ease.
As we edge past you and the other, more dedicated sunbathers, I single you out with a request to join us for a final swim. An offhand invitation, it is a flare in the dark of the subtle protocol that governs the line between friendship and pursuit. After protesting the growing chill, you let me convince you with my insistence. I never break stride as I continue past, head turned back to see your response. You finally smile and agree to join.
Fifteen yards further you call to me, say that no, you’ve decided, it’s too cold, you don’t want to have to dry off again. You’re calling it a day. I feel the window closing. In some indefinable way I know it’s over between us, though we never really started. Perhaps the whole thing was in my head, the slightest of invitations and rejections. But it felt real to me.
We chat a little at the barbecue that night; I kid you about the lack of cold. Though time is not at an end, you were not interested enough to follow me into the water, and I am not intrigued enough to pursue you further than the ocean’s edge. And that’s how it ends. One of the countless possible romances of youth fails to take root, like a seed that lands upon rough ground.
I see you a few times back at school, mostly from afar. I don’t feel any regret. It’s just the way things go sometimes, and we both played a part. Sometimes chemistry develops. And sometimes we become friends on Facebook who never get a chance to talk.