Digging my toes further into the hot sand, I bury them into the coolness beneath, allowing the grains to envelop them completely. Inhaling deeply, I let the salty scent of the ocean mixed with the coconut suntan oil fill my senses. It calms me, soothes me like nothing else.
Through the shimmering heat bouncing off the beach, I watch as you lithely run and jump onto your board, heading out for the break. The sun glimmers and reflects off the water, making you appear like a mirage in the desert from where I sit. The umbrella helps shield the sun’s baking rays off of my tender skin, permitting me to spend time doing one of my favorite things–watching you cut through the waves with a flick of your hips, guiding the surfboard as if it was an extension of your body.
I’ve been coming here every afternoon of the summer, knowing your routine and when you like to ride the waves. Here, the break works best at high tide, especially when a swell is coming in directly from the west. You live and breathe these waves and all I can do is sit and admire you from afar.
You don’t even know I exist, and why would you? I’m not your average Surf Betty or Wahine, sitting near where you toss your towel before hopping into the ocean. No, I sit further away, closer to where you will eventually drift with the current, just the shy girl under the umbrella with the one-piece suit on. I hold a book or magazine in front of my face, to give the illusion that I’m just enjoying the solitude of this stretch of sand, but no, my eyes, hidden by the oversized sunglasses I wear, tell the truth. They rarely leave your lanky build and the board shorts you wear that are always precariously close to falling off your hips.
I must have dozed off, because the sun sits low, hugging the coastline, spreading its warm orange glow across the beach. The surf is almost deserted aside from a few kids boogie boarding along the banks, just waiting for their parents to call them in as dusk approaches.
Sitting up, I’m about to pack up when I realize my magazine is sitting open, a pen holding the place I was supposedly reading. Picking it up, I notice a hastily written message in the corner of one of the pictures.
Meet me at Max’s around nine.
Stella says we might have some things in common.
I will kill her, is my first thought. The second is, what the hell am I going to do now that my sex-god crush asked me to meet him at the local dive bar? Stella has been my best friend since grade school and is the only person on the planet who knows of my obsession with Kai, surfer extraordinaire. Unlike me, she has grace and a natural affinity for the water and actually knows how to ride the waves. I just sit on the beach, pretending to not be completely terrified about actually swimming in it.
Yes, I know, that’s odd for a southern California girl who grew up at the beach, but my mom says I got dragged out by a riptide when I was about ten and have refused to enter the water since. I don’t ever remember liking the ocean, so I have to take her word for it.
Picking up the remainder of my things, I wander back towards my beach shack apartment while dialing Stella’s number at the same time.
“I was wondering when you’d wake.”
Gritting my teeth, I snap, “How could you?” Exasperation filling my tone.
“Anna, relax. Kai’s totally chill. You’ll be fine. Besides, this way you’ll know if you actually like the guy or the fantasy. Put on something cute and I’ll be by at nine.”
She hangs up without another word, leaving me standing on the boardwalk, looking at my phone still perplexed about what’s just happened.
Your best friend is a dirty rotten traitor is what happened.
At exactly twenty past nine, Stella knocks on my door. That girl hasn’t been on time for anything, ever. Her mom teases her that she’d even been born fashionably late, three days after she was due.
Giving me the once over, Stella tugs my hair out of the ponytail I’d sloppily put up and fluffs it around my shoulders.
“Honestly, I don’t know why you hide all that hair. I’d give anything to have it.” Stella has a short pixie cut, bleached a pale blond from all her days of being in the surf and sun. Mine is a tangle of thick fiery red. It’s wavy and coarse and I never have any idea what to do with it other than pull it back out of my face. Of course the hair that Stella so often envies goes right along with the blinding white of my skin that comes along with my mom’s Irish heritage. Not exactly Southern California beach friendly, to say the least.
Giving me a last minute pep talk, we wander down the street into the center of town where Max’s tavern is located. Almost like a historical landmark in our sleepy oceanside town, Max’s has been around since the boom of the sixties surf revolution. The place is littered with vintage surf gear along with a wide range of Beach Boys memorabilia. It’s small, a little run down, but to many of the locals, it’s the only place in town to get an ice cold beer and a great burger for prices that don’t make your head spin.
Wandering in, the place is already packed. Music from The Offspring rings out too loudly for such a small place. My head turns to the right, almost like I have Kai-dar, and there he is, standing along the wall by the pool table, hanging with his usual crowd of guys. Panic wells up and the urge to flee before he spots me becomes my top priority.
Of course my only obstacle is Stella’s hand that’s firmly grasped around my wrist, dragging me along through the crowd towards the bar.
Tugging, I try to get her to let go, but she only glances back, frowning and clutches even tighter.
“Please, I can’t do this. Let me go home. You stay, have a good time,” I whisper-shout into her ear once we reach the bar.
Looking me right in the eye, she growls, “For Christ-sakes, put your big girl panties on and meet the poor guy. He’s really cool and down to earth and when I mentioned you his eyes lit up and he knew exactly who I was talking about. So please, can we end this obsession, once and for all and just talk to him. I promise, I’ll be right there, and we can go home after we finish two beers, okay?”
Two beers. I can do that, right? Besides, if the guy’s a jerk, then I can go back to actually reading on the beach instead of staring at his six pack all day.
“Fine, deal. But you can’t go wandering off and leaving me. You know I suck at chitchat.”
Patting my head, like she’s indulging a small child, she grins and orders us a pitcher of beer.
Shuffling along behind her, I follow Stella as she leads the way towards the pack of people standing with Kai. I can feel my hands sweating, my mouth going dry, and I’m still about ten feet away from him. Thankfully she’d poured me a glass before wandering off, allowing me to take a few gulps of liquid courage prior to setting off through the crowd. I pause again and take another long swallow, but I almost choke on it when I look up and see Mister tall, dark and handsome standing before me with a wry grin, and his hand extended.
“Anna?” he asks, taking my trembling hand and shaking it. “I’m Kai.”
Instead of replying, I only nod, my mouth open, eyes wide and probably looking like some kind of mental patient.
Shaking off my stupor, I mumble a quick hello, all the while trying to find Stella in the crowd.
“She wasn’t kidding. You really are shy,” he comments with a smile, as we both walk towards the rest of the group.
My cheeks burn with embarrassment, and I look towards the floor, wishing California would have one of those infamous earthquakes right at this moment and the ground will open up and swallow me whole.
When we reach the periphery of the group, he leads me over towards an uncrowded corner, tugging on my hand gently to get me to follow him.
Spinning my head around, I seek out Stella, but when I find her, she only smiles and nods in the direction Kai is taking me.
Bloody, no good friend, telling me she’d be there for moral support. Bah.
I stand in the corner, discovering that it’s quieter than the rest of the bar and I can actually hear Kai when he speaks. “Stella says you guys are going to be starting your senior year at UCSD. I am too. Oceanography at Scripps. What are you studying?”
Taking another long draw from my glass, I tentatively reply, “Um, I’m … I’m a Bio-Engineering major.” I stutter over my words, but he smiles encouragingly and takes over the conversation, inquiring about the various professors we might have shared.
“You had Professor Randall for History of the Modern Era? Really? I did too. What semester?” Kai asks, looking genuinely interested.
We’ve been talking for over an hour about our respective majors and what we are hoping to do with them when we graduate. I am surprised that Kai is planning on getting his PhD. Not that he isn’t smart, but he pleasantly shatters all my stereotypical images of the dumb surfer dude who has no aspirations aside from catching their next big wave.
He has the intelligence to go with his good looks and I keep wondering when his girlfriend will arrive and punch my lights out for talking to her man.
But it never happens. After my second beer, I’m not ready to go home, and by the knowing look on Stella’s face, she expected this outcome.
When the lights flicker, announcing last call, I can’t believe I’ve spent the entire night talking to only one person and that I’m not really ready for our conversation to end.
“Ah, I know it’s late, but did you want to maybe go grab a coffee at Java The Hut?” he asks, rubbing the back of his neck, and looking timid.
For the first time in a long time, I feel attractive and interesting and that not getting my usual eight hours of sleep won’t kill me for one night.
“Yeah, I’d like that.”
Grabbing my hand, we walk over to Stella, inviting her to come, which she thankfully declines, saying she’ll catch a ride with another friend of ours.
Walking out into the balmy night air, Kai leans down, to kiss my cheek and says, “I’m glad I finally had the chance to meet you, Shy Girl. I just wish it hadn’t taken us all summer.”
“It’s a good thing I’ll still be here in the Fall then, isn’t it?” I tease, getting lost in his deep brown eyes.
“Indeed it is.”
We stroll off into the night, in search for coffee and a possible future I never saw coming.
A/N – Thanks to Kimmydon for betaing this for me. Much appreciated.
This was written for this week’s Photo Prompt Challenge