The Shoulds and Should-Nots of Pretty Girls and Beach Flings
by Iris Adams
The first should’s of Beach Flings:
You shouldn’t stare at strangers on the beach.
You shouldn’t wait every day to see if she’s still there.
You shouldn’t freak out when she is.
You shouldn’t freak out when she isn’t.
There was a girl on the beach.
She had wavy hair so black it seemed purple, loose and untrimmed, falling to her shoulder tops in thick bushels. She had bare feet, long bohemian dresses or jumpsuits, orange or yellow or lilac lipstick that didn’t match anything else.
There was a girl on the beach. She had lightly browned skin and smattering of freckles across her face in various stellar constellations. Long lashes, small frame, big eyes, and everything else you might expect for one of those stories about strangers you fall in love with.
“Go talk to her Ames,” a voice entered Amy’s thoughts. “Right now. Or I’ll... Or I’ll kick you out of the friend group." He threatened rather weakly.
Amy Preux didn’t even glance in the speaker’s direction, “it’s not like that.” Amy whispered, “she’s busy.”
The two of them lazily straddled their surfboards just alongside the first sand bars, chatting as the tiny waves licked their thighs and a warm breeze shimmied across their cheeks. It smelled of sun and baking brine from the distant docks.
“Out! Out of the whole friend group,” Baby Brody called loudly, he was only 22 and that secured him his eternal nickname “baby.” He might have been trying to win a better nickname by bothering her right then though.
Amy scoffed, “kick me out? You’d, like, lose 80% of your cool factor. Might as well shoot yourself in the social foot.”
“Boo,” a girl with thick purple goggles holding back a messy ponytail joined Brody and her. Jes Sanchez frowned at them, “are you guys still talking about this? Amy, come. On.”
“Yeah,” Baby Body stuck his tongue out, “if you’re our cool factor you are making us, like, so lame right now. No balls-”
“Dude,” Jes protested, she just started her online Gender and Society class last week.
Baby Brody raised a bushy eyebrow, “no ovaries?”
Jes thought for a moment and then nodded. “Better.”
A third and final figure lazily swam up to them, he yelled loudly to enter the conversation.
“Oh-ho-ho, Ames knows what she wants to do with that girl’s ovaries alright,” he whooped, and every one of Amy’s little group of friends had congregated to berate her.
“That doesn’t even make sense…” Jes seemed upset by this too, but Kevin was already making his “lewd” face and that could only lead to more lewd faces to come.
“She’s busy.” Amy’s brow furrowed. The girl had some sort of marker out and was absorbed in drawing swirling doodles on her forearm.
The hot sun cooked the back of Amy’s neck and arms, her toes were pruning in the salty waves and hair drying stiff and kinky in the heat. If her dad was here, he’d bark “it’s a scorcher today! A real scorcher,” and whistle.
“Yeah,” Jes pushed her goggles up, making her dark hair messier than it already was. “That’s how these things usually are, ask her what she’s drawing or something.”
“Ask her if she’d rather be drawing somewhere else if you know what I mean,” Kevin gave her a thumbs up, “a little skin de taut for ya.” Kyle continued his rampage unappeased; Amy did not acknowledge him since none of his comments were even half-way high-five worthy.
Amy reached up and raked a hand through her long-bleached hair, this wasn’t how she imagined the morning. She had at least hoped for a good distraction, but the waves had ranged from “gentle bathtub splash” to “baby’s first crest.” She sighed, typical.
“Let’s just,” she struggled, “get some drinks. It’s literally putting me to sleep out here.”
“Chicken,” Kevin clicked his tongue, and Amy flipped him off.
They paddled over to the shoreline and Baby Brody made several dissatisfied noises in Amy’s direction, she considered threatening him with exposing his collection of Hugh Jackman magazines.
Jes and Kevin kept throwing her challenging looks, but she just made a face in their direction as well. “It’s not like that.” She hissed as she waded toward the white sands and picked up her custom long board. She’s just the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen. That’s it, that’s all.
The ground was soft against her toes, her feet sinking lovingly down into the wet sand with each step and the grit grinding into her heels and fixing her to the moment. It’s okay, she nodded, I’m still where I want to be doing what I want to do. It doesn’t matter if I can’t talk to pretty girls or get back on the proverbial horse.
Her little group made it back onto dry land, generally disappointed and full of restless energy from an unsatisfying surf session. Amy pointed herself toward the Jeep in the parking lot, but her friends hung back. She glanced in their direction.
“OH NO!” Kevin extracted his keys from his wet suit zip-up pocket, “my keys, fuck, my hands are so slippery, there they go.”
He chucked his own car keys across the beach, landing directly next to the mysterious girl, he had a decent arm as they plopped down and sank deep into the sands. Amy’s face drained of blood.
“Guess someone will have to go get them.” Jes added with an exaggerated "oh my!" expression.
“Wow,” Amy shot Kevin a venomous look, “I can’t believe Kevin has lost his keys forever. Guess we’ll just have to hot-wire the car now- or junk the whole thing.”
They all turned their backs to her, folding their arms to make a point, Amy gave a truly fantastical groan. “I can’t.” They keep ignoring her.
Amy puttered around and fumed for a long moment, she looked back toward the doodling girl with hair so black it looked purple. She was just sitting there, serene and unassuming. Amy took a deep breath and tugged on her wet suit.
What’s the worst that could happen? She started to creep over in her direction.
Stop that, Amy ordered her heart angrily as it pounded, you don’t even know this girl.
She felt like a thief trying to break into a jewelry store, tiptoeing over red lasers and slinking carefully across the wire traps. She carefully made her way across the beach, head down and shoulders hunched.
Trees rustled and a car zoomed along the road in the distance, Amy pinpointed the place where the keys landed and reached down. She was a good three feet from the girl, but the stranger still didn't look up.
Amy paused there.
She bit her lip, staying bent over like that for a long minute and thinking. She glanced up and then back down again in a hurried succession. I should leave, Amy told herself to leave.
“Oh.” An airy voice said softly.
OH NO, Amy froze and regretted her “loitering next to this stranger” tactic of flirting.
Her head jerked up and she met two impossibly dark eyes with impossibly long lashes. “H-hi.” Amy stammered; it wasn’t like her to stammer. She swore she was usually 80% of the cool factor to her friend group.
The strange girl gave a slow smile, “hello,” it was very bright, she looked her up and down, “how are the waves today?”
She must have noticed Amy’s wet suit, but she definitely hadn’t noticed the state of the ocean for the last few hours.
Amy tried to shrug, she tried to do it smoothly. “Disappointing.”
She gave a crooked half-smile, she had on plum lipstick today, “I’ve seen you around, you come here a lot.” She said dreamily, her voice was a leaf in a summer breeze, flighty and light.
“I do, yeah, I try to most days,” Amy said quickly, too quickly.
“I’m sure the ocean will change when you return, it always does.” The girl continued nonplussed.
“Y-yeah,” there was the stammering again, she put her hand out, “I’m Amy by the way. Um, some people call me Ames.”
The girl looked at her hand for a very long, slightly awkward moment, examining her fingers and probably the places where Amy’s pointer finger had broken and healed crooked. “Ames,” the girl took her hand, “I’m Wick. Laura Wick for long, but just Wick for friends.”
Amy chuckled lowly and shook her hand, “Wick, huh. Like the candle or the musical?”
“What?” She tilted her head delicately to the side, mouth pulled down.
“Like… candle wick? Or, uh, I guess ‘Wicked,’ the musical with the green witch lady,” Amy’s face was a battlefield of red now. Why don’t I know how to do this yet? I’m 26. She lamented heavily.
“Wicked, huh,” the girl, Wick, gave a very sharp smile, “I like that too,” she laughed, it was a bright and clear sound, glassy as tide pools and the sky after it rains. “I’ll have to remember that.” She nodded to herself.
Amy fidgeted in place, “you… come here often?” There it is, her internal voice sang, my demise.
Wick just shrugged, “as often as you it seems.”
Amy leaned forward, “do you like swimming?” She broached carefully, trying to keep their conversation flowing, “do you know how to surf? I uh, teach surf lessons if you ever…”
Wick gave a perturbed, if not downright lost expression, she clutched the thin marker in her hand a little more tightly. “I can’t swim.” She said flatly, Amy drew back. “I like to imagine though, look.” Wick held out her forearm, there were waves drawn there, swirling, intricate, crashing waves.
“Woah,” Amy blinked at the blue and white foam picture, it was surreal and enchanting, more impressionistic than anything, but Amy felt it all the same. “That’s so beautiful, like, really really good.” The strange girl on the beach was just as bewitching as Amy first assumed.
Wick beamed up at her, “thank you. That’s really nice of you to say.”
“I mean it,” she wet her lips, “that’s really stellar, I’m like, not just being nice.”
Wick seemed even more amused. “That’s even sweeter to say.”
“I’m serious! You must have like, magic fingers,” Amy was going to reflect on that sentence for long hours after that into the night, “that’s like magic. Totally magic.”
Wick fixed her with a very steady look. “That’s even better,” She leaned forward with her gleaming grin, “Yes. That’s good.” She tilted her chin up, “I like you.”
Amy almost jumped out of her skin at the statement. Her mouth fell open, “Thanks?!” She cried out and almost pinwheeled backward into a heap like it was some wacky old-school vaudeville comedy.
Wick pushed herself up to her feet, stiffly unwinding and then facing Amy, “if you want.” She said slowly, “I could give you a drawing sometime.” She reached out, fingers ghosting over Amy’s cheek. “You have nice skin.”
Amy gaped, remembering to nod at the last second, and then again and again and again, her neck stuck on “spring mode.” Her heart thumped like the stomping feet of toddlers' during a tantrum. Wick plucked out a pair of sandals from her bag and slipped them on. “I should head out but let me know about the drawing.”
Amy was still nodding. Wick turned toward the roadway, her shoulders were perfect sloping naked hills and her long dress was tied in a bow at the nape of her neck. Her back was a long and exposed archway of skin with an elegant dipping spine.
Amy cleared her throat, addressing that spine dumbly. “I’d like that!” She said loudly, voice cracking and buckets of sweat now probably washing off her sunscreen. “I’d really like that!”
Wick glanced over her shoulder and showed her glossy plum smile, she waved, her nails were a glorious lime green. “I’ll see you around.” And then she was gone again.
Amy tried to swallow, she tried to anything. She couldn’t.
She turned around in circles, round and round until she stopped. Distinct snickering came from behind her as she clutched car keys in her right hand and tried to glare the blush off her face. She threw the keys at her Kevin’s head, he easily ducked.
Her friend’s each had on a vibrant shit-eating grin, Kevin put his hands on his hips, “you’re welcome.”
“Absolutely not.” Amy crossed her arms over her chest.
“Went well, yeah?” Baby Brody said equally smugly while Jes just gave her a huge thumbs up.
Amy tried to squash all the butterflies exploding in her stomach like party poppers, “shut up.” She walked over to them and then covered her face with her hands, “just,” she took a deep breath, “everyone shut up.”
The ocean lapped impotently against the grainy white beach and Amy tingled in every inch of her skin. Falling in love with strangers on the beach never usually led to anything but a forlorn gaze and statement toward the folly of youth.
But Amy remembered the girl’s direct gaze and easy smile, this felt like something else.
The Second Should's of Beach Flings:
You shouldn’t google “how to make a better second impression.”
You shouldn’t google “what does ‘I like you’ mean??”
You shouldn’t wallow.
If you do wallow, you shouldn’t let people see you wallowing.
You should try and follow at least some of your own rules.
Amy sat on the couch, feet up, and fan on high. Her head was propped up against the arm of the furniture and necks bent at an unnatural and largely uncomfortable angle. The overhead fan made a distinct whump, whump, whump sound and the bungalow windows were all propped open with old textbooks and shoes.
The walls were splattered white, carpet deep green, and every piece of furniture covered in odds and ends (mostly socks and someone’s “Home Gardening” magazine subscription). The home smelled like plant fertilizer from Jes's room and another type of plant from Kevin's.
Amy stared off into nothing.
Whump, whump, wump.
She flopped her arms above her head, “now what?”
“You know ‘now what,’” Kevin said as he cracked open a beer from the fridge, “step one, talk to her again or something. Step two,” he grinned wide and then moving his hips back and forth suggestively. “Bow chicka wow-”
“Dude.” Jes thwapped Kevin on the arm.
Amy covered her eyes with her arm, “Jesus, don’t make me more nervous than I already am.”
“I mean, it’s not like you don’t know what you’re doing. You and Lizzie were a thing for like, what? Five years?” Baby Brody hadn’t gone home yet. He never seemed to go home.
Amy set her jaw and narrowed her eyes, Jes humphed from the kitchen as well. “That’s Ames business.”
“Thank you.” She said plainly.
Jes flipped her hair back, “And Lizzie had like, total intimacy issues, I talked to her about it on Facebook back in college, total melt down on her twitter about, so I IMed her and she said-”
“Jes!” Amy twisted over in place, “not helping.”
Amy exhaled out through her nose, Kevin waved a hand in the air, “it’s not even that complicated. She wants to like, paint on your skin, right? Come on bro, lesbian-up, pull a Titanic.”
Amy groaned and swung her feet down on the floor, “I’ve barely met the girl! And I’m not, like, a Leonardo DiCaprio… Also, Kevin, everyone dies in that movie, come on.”
“Oh, no one remembers the dying part,” Kevin said with his finger in the air, “just the sexy bits where she’s naked on the couch or the glass is fogging up.” He winked, “you got this.”
Jes nodded sagely, “young Leo is a lesbian icon.”
Baby Brody joined in and started chanting, “Titanic, Titanic, Titanic.”
“Tell her want to give her your jewelry! A pearl if you will,” Kevin thrived off chaos.
Amy threw her hands in the air, “I’m going for a walk!” She jumped up and turned toward the door, “no one try to follow me or make one single new suggestion.” They just snickered among themselves.
She stomped out the door with her phone in her hands, she tripped down the decrepit wooden bungalow steps and into the muggy warm afternoon air. Amy started googling things again. She scowled at the answers. Saying “I like you” still apparently meant “I like you”- whatever the hell that also meant.
Amy went for a very long walk down her street that held mostly fellow beach bums, youths, and houses crammed with far more people than regulation probably allowed. She wandered under the early summer blue sky: a perfect tea sweetened by wispy sugar-cube clouds. She closed her eyes.
“Nice skin,” she repeated and took a deep breath, “yeah, okay.” She turned around in uselessly fluttering circles, “it’s nice to meet you too Wick, you seem pretty cool. Want to get coffee sometime?” She cleared her throat, “want to get dinner sometime?”
It had been a long time since she tried any of this out, and she hadn’t exactly had to do any of the preliminary stuff with Lizzie. But maybe that’s where they went wrong in the first place.
Amy smiled and kicked her feet against the pavement, “want to see my favorite part of the beach?” She whispered and walked leisurely back under the tall palm trees and over the preened green of neighbors’ lawns. “It’s beautiful.” She ducked her head, “like you.”
She practiced in the bathroom mirror, in the reflection on her kitchen sink, with her surfboard after she waxed it. She slept restlessly and with all her windows fully open and the fan on high, the world was warm with silk and new days to come.
At nearly dawn they drove to Oakley Cove; it was the most remote beach on the isle of Wilkinson off the coast of California, and they all agreed it was the best.
They breathed in yellow and orange across the murmuring newly born sky and cheered with Gatorade’s in hand. Jes threw her hands in the air, “there’s gonna be waves.” She called sweetly, “I can feel it, I can feel it.”
They whooped into the breeze as their jeep sped around curving island roads and over bumpy potholes. Gritty salt was in the air and they all grinned with the feeling of it, this is what they moved here for.
Amy was smiling too, for slightly different reasons for once.
They got to the water and dove in, paddling out into the surf and waiting with an electric pulse. Amy’s stomach was in her throat when she rode the crest of a perfect fiver.
The salt dried hard on her skin and the lapping waves stole everything else away from her, this is what she lived for. It was a warm, hungry rush as she paddled and rode the curling twisting waves.
Her stomach swooped and body ached in all the right ways as she lost herself in the surf.
She was laughing at Baby Brody eating it when she felt someone splash her, “it’s Kitty-time, Tom-Cat!”
Amy was about to growl at Kevin, but he was pointing. Amy turned and she sucked in a sharp breath, someone was settling down into the white sands. She would be the first one there that day apart from them.
Other locals would come trickling in later, but for a brief moment it was all theirs. Theirs and the strange girl on the beach who couldn’t swim.
Amy paddled closer, just close enough to see the sheen of the girl’s sunscreen and her vacant summery eyes. Amy felt a bit creepy as she watched her put her bag in the sand and take out a felt pen, Amy gulped- Wick was drawing again.
Amy was flat on her stomach, watching, when the girl’s gaze jerked up suddenly. Maybe she had felt her watching. Wick caught Amy’s eyes like the mouth of a giant frog swallowing a moth whole, Wick waved, and it was over.
Amy nearly fell off her board.
“If you don’t go…” Baby Brody was very invested in her success, he swam closer to her and scowled. “If you don’t go Ames…” It was a threat without an ending.
“You can do it, Ames! Fight, fight, fight,” Jes called as well, a little too loudly for Amy’s taste.
She glared at the both of them, Kevin was just bouncing his eyebrows up and down, he opened his mouth to say something that couldn’t be good.
“Alright, alright, I’m going,” Amy paddled over to the shoreline and her stomach bottomed out like an emptying cask of wine at a fraternity party. She took deep even breaths.
Wick watched her openly as she approached, “good morning.” She said warmly, “it’s nice to see you again. The ocean looks better for you today.”
“Yeah, it totally is,” Amy said, her voice sounding too high-pitched and manic to her own ears.
“It’s nice you come here every day too.”
Amy shifted, picking up her board and fumbling with it until she planted in the ground and crept across the glowing sand. “It’s um, something.” She chuckled, “my dad would be glad I dedicated myself to something at least.”
Wick nodded, her eyes large and focused, “are you going to let me ink you today?”
There should have been some sort of professional hazard warning for this sort of thing: talking to pretty girls may cause loss of speech, thoughts, and your pulse beating so hard it was like crowds trying to an escape a burning building. And this pretty bohemian girl was blocking the exit.
She was wearing a long sheer green dress that day, with bicycle shorts underneath and lacy tank top. Her lipstick was aqua and she was using it to beam, “if you’re up for it.”
Amy finally found her tongue at the bottom of her own throat, “yeah,” she puffed up and tried out the Whole Food lady’s mantra technique, I can do this. I’m a badass. I’m the shit.
“I’m so down, I mean, how could I not? From what I’ve seen, your stuff is rad as hell.”
Wick untucked her long legs and stretched out, “Oh, you’re too sweet.”
This wasn’t going well, it was going too well. Amy hovered closer, “where did you learn to do this anyway?” Amy looked her over, “are you a tattoo artist?”
She shook her head, “nope.” She pushed her back, “I could never.”
Amy raised her eyebrows, “oh yeah?” She tilted her head to the side, curiosity overcoming her, “why?”
“Too permanent,” Wick said simply and got out a whole folding box of rainbow markers. “If it’s permanent then it’s… mm, not special. It belongs to everyone and anyone who sees it then. But if it washes off then you only have the memory of it, the memory and nothing more.”
Amy’s eyes went wide, “you don’t even take photos of them?”
Wick’s eyes sparkled mischievously, “what’s the fun in that?” She frowned slightly, “like I said, a photo it belongs to everyone, like this then it just belongs to you.”
“I don’t suppose you’re an art student?” She said plainly, but there was a layer of amusement underneath it.
“How’d you guess? Come,” Wick patted the place next to her, “you’ll be my first in a while.”
Amy bit her bottom lip, she looked at the place next to Wick, and then back to her face. We’re not going to Titanic this, she reassured herself and steadied her own breathing. It’s just a little ink.
“Yeah,” she sat down and tried to be cool again. She leaned back and then sat up, and then tried to lean on the sand and then almost fell completely over.
Wick gave a small laugh and flipped her dark, dark hair over her shoulder and leaned forward, “do I make you nervous?”
“No!” Amy’s voice broke over the word like the meeting of a teenage boy finding puberty and a crackling radio.
“Good,” Wick leaned forward, and maybe she was living up to her “Wicked” title, there was something slow and measured about it. “Give me your arm, this might take a while.”
Amy blinked a couple times, “okay.” Her voice broke again, and she handed over her left forearm.
“There’s only one rule.” Wick hummed, glancing over her canvas. “You can’t look. No looking until it’s done.”
Amy’s face relaxed into a grin, “or else it’ll ruin the point?”
“Exactly!” She sang and picked up a blue marker, “Ready?” She settled in place, “Look away!” Amy’s eyes jerked to the sky and she waited.
Her body tingled slightly as the first touch of marker ran against her skin, no doubt mixing with the ages of built-up chlorine and brine from her swims. Her whole body felt too tight in that moment; she wouldn’t admit it was in a good way though.
The pressure of the marker worked over her again and again, Amy tried to focus herself. “What do you do?”
“This,” Wick said carelessly, “and I suppose office work. But that’s not really what I do, more what I endure.”
Amy laughed openly, “Endure, totally, I feel that. What kind of office work?””
“Paperwork. Memos. Emails.” She said emails like a curse word, “it’s downtown. I suppose I technically work for the government.”
Oh.” Amy hiccupped the word, “huh.”
Wick drew a long line from the dip in her elbow to the wrist, “are you surprised?”
Wick started with several, light, quick movements, Amy examined the cloudless sky. “Don’t worry, it wasn't my idea. My mom got me the gig."
Amy smiled, “you like it?”
“Absolutely not,” Wick blew air out of her nose, “Politics is so…”
“Unchanging.” Wick snorted, “someone always taking money from someone, a big-wig always putting their foot in their mouth. The people, the people, the people.”
Amy blinked a couple times, “I don’t suppose you’re a people person?”
“I like some people,” she drew an arch across the very middle. “Remember? Like you."
Amy shivered, her breath trapped in her chest briefly. “I, yeah. You seem, um, you know. You too.”
Wick let out a new laugh, the type that wins wars and sets cities on fire. “Do you like what you do?”
Amy’s eyes unfocused, “This? This, I love. I used to do shit I didn’t like for money too and my mom and all that, but,” she shrugged, “life's short. Become a beach bum.”
“Oh that’s good, very good.” Wick was tracing something long and elegant, turning her wrist slightly to fill it in.
“I,” she took a deep breath, “I teach swim lessons at the local church too actually. If you’d like to come. I could, uh, teach you. If you wanted.”
Wick suddenly was very close, a presence like a heavy cloud blocking the sun. “I dunno,” she said, words wet and hard. “I think I like the idea of it, swimming, but...” She hummed for a long moment, “I used to have drowning dreams as a kid, the ones where you’re thrown into the bottom and it’s so deep and dark and something is just under the surface. I never survived those.”
“I’m sorry.” Amy said slowly and meant it.
“Don’t be,” Wick took a deep breath, “I like the idea of swimming… it’s sounds like flying or outer space or love. I think I would like that.”
“We could start in the shallow end.” Amy said excitedly and sat up straight.
“Eyes up!” Wick instructed and Amy quickly looked up again so she wouldn’t ruin the art. “I’ll tell you what.” Wick was back to her slow, dreamy words, “You teach me something and I’ll teach you something.”
“Okay?” Amy was truly mystified at that moment, “Only if it’s something good.”
“What do you like then?” It felt like Amy was almost scribbling now, pen moving back and forth rapidly, filling in some great and curving design.
“The water, donuts, coconut oil moisturizer, bad horror movies, uh, those little umbrellas they put in mix drinks,” she listed casually, “and, you know, girls.”
Wick didn’t even stop for a moment, “ah, good taste.”
Amy’s eyes flicked down and she grinned widely and then they both broke into a warm weightless laugh that filled her from her toes to her fingertips. “Now,” Wick’s brow caved in, “hold still.”
She kept drawing.
They talked about sea turtles and pollution, they talked about restaurants in town that didn’t suck and whether pineapples belonged on pizza, they talked about Wick’s lipstick.
“What’s the mood today?” Amy asked brightly, her nerves having finally died down after almost forty minutes. Wick also had “good taste” apparently.
“Ah, lemon lime.” Wick said and pointed to her neon green lipstick.
“Hmm,” Amy nodded, “I see, the soda mood.”
Wick gave a small laugh, “more like… the mood when watching moths drown in puddles or stopping at a red light just in time or a little of when coffee cup lids don’t fit on properly, just a hint of it.” She explained.
“That all?” Amy said flatly, her own sparkle entering the words.
“Ah, well for the lipstick at least.” They laughed again; they had been doing that a lot- even when there wasn’t as much to laugh about.
Amy was loosening up like a spool of yarn being undone, “tell me when I can look.” It had been more than an hour at that point.
“You’ll know,” Wick said lightly, “and then you’ll have to tell me how amazed you are on a scale from ice cream to cherry pie. Or scale of orgasms to really good jokes you heard once but can’t remember exactly.”
Amy blushed at the word orgasms, “how do you feel about a one to ten scale?”
Amy snorted gently, “art students…”
“Art students.” She nodded once again.
“Well whenever you feel like doing the big revea-”
“OH MY GOSH,” A new voice entered their little bubble, loud and noxious. “I CAN’T BELIEVE THE BIG BONFIRE PARTY ON THE BEACH IS TONIGHT. THE ONE WHERE WE BRING FRIENDS AND NEW FRIENDS AND MORE-THAN-FRIENDS. Wow! TONIGHT!”
Kevin was standing right next to them and shouting at nothing, Amy guessed it was supposed to be in Jes’s direction, but Jes was looking at the road and probably pretending she didn’t know them.
Amy made a face at the display, Wick lifted her chin up, “is your friend trying to say something?”
“No.” Amy huffed, “he’s just being Kevin.” She turned to him to yell, “Bonfire parties are for college students and people with no day jobs.” Which was technically them, Amy turned back to Wick, “and um, it’s not like you’d want to go.”
“Where is it?” Wick leaned in, and her personal space bubble was apparently very small.
Amy held her breath, “Unisa Beach, the one at the other end of the island, I don’t know if you’ve been there, it’s a lot busier than here.”
“I’ve been,” Wick nodded and added an accent on Amy’s skin. “I’ve never been to a bonfire though.” Her eyes were wide and round, “I like new things.”
Amy bit her lip again, hard. She actually didn’t mind bonfires, there was just the problem with it being a small island and Lizzie existing. “You sure? It’s not a very artsy crowd, a lot of … people-people.”
Wick blinked slowly, “you’ll be there?”
Amy looked down at the sand, at the lapping ocean waves, at the coastline, and then back up again, “I think so.” She decided very quickly.
Wick beamed, “I’ll go.”
“Woo!” Kevin whooped off to the side, because he was the worst. “Geeeet iiiiit.” Luckily, Jes intervened at that moment too and dragged him off to the jeep, Amy exhaled.
“I really will have the coolest look though,” Amy grinned, “if my arm doesn’t smear on the way.”
“You can let it smear,” Wick put the cap on her pen, “just so long as you see it first, then you can let the whole thing wash away forever.”
Amy raised her eyebrows, “so it’s special-special.”
“Special-special,” she confirmed. Wick dusted herself off, “you can look now.”
Amy made a show of lowering her chin and letting her gaze drop, “Houston, we’re coming in for a landing in 3, 2, 1…” She did the astronaut voice and everything, she hadn’t done that in years, but Wick was giggling so it was worth it.
“Boom!” She made the silly noise and then gasped gently at the drawing on her arm as she took it in. It spread across her entire forearm in swirling and crashing shapes across her skin.
It was blue and purple, white and dark grey, stormy black and crystal green at parts, an old-timey ocean map with a compass sitting right on her wrist. The waves lapped at little islands showing gulls and rocky surfaces, sea serpents lounged, and wooden boats fought the wind as they sailed. “It’s amazing.” Amy said and meant it.
Amy didn’t know how to respond to that.
The waves were curling and stylized, the creatures fantastical, “what’s that?” She asked, mesmerized as she pointed at a dark creature with many tentacles. It was ripping a boat in half.
“A kraken,” Wick said hauntingly, “for when you go too deep.”
Amy nodded, “man,” she gave a shaky smile, “I didn’t even know what I was in for… this is, wow, this is something else.”
“Ice cream or cherry pie?” Wick prompted.
Amy examined the detailed whimsical design, “orgasm.”
Wick tossed her head back and laughed, “you, you have fantastic taste.”
“How couldn’t I?” Amy whispered, “this is the best thing I’ve ever seen.”
Wick just shook her head, “it’s you. The skin makes the masterpiece, I just let it show.”
Amy snorted, “you really are that girl.”
Wick got up and dusted herself off, “I’ll be that girl tonight at your party too if you like,” she said, lips curling like a pleased cat. “Right?”
Amy’s eyes were still transfixed on her beautiful gift, “Of course.” She spoke softly, “How could I not?”
“Good,” Wick turned, “enjoy the drawing, it’s all yours.”
“I’ll try not to hurt it!”
“Hurting it is the best part!” And just like that, Wick was retreating up the beach and toward the parking lot, leaving Amy with nothing and everything all at once. “I’ll see you tonight Amy!”
“Y-you too,” she waved manically until Wick was nothing but a thought in the distance. Amy fell back into the sand and covered her eyes with her other ink-less arm, “shit.”
Everything inside her soared and sizzled all at once. Her friends returned to gather around her, Kevin blocked out the sun as he knelt down. “Titanic?”
Amy just shook her head, “someone get me my phone from the car.” She took a picture of her new arm sleeve, just in case.
The third rules of Beach Flings:
You shouldn’t try on every single outfit you own in one night.
You should put on light, but acceptable makeup.
You shouldn’t try to guess her taste and oscillate wildly between “butch” and “femme” and “aging opera singer bent on summoning the dark forces to revive her career.”
You should probably eat dinner before you go.
You shouldn’t practice tying knots in cherry stems for an hour. Even if your ex told you in her breakup text that you never did the kissing part right.
They left in the open-air jeep at 8:30, Amy’s friends were already yowling like cats in heat for the party night to begin. Amy had gotten Wick’s number during their long art-session, she sent her all the directions to the bonfire, times, and then the directions to it all over again.
Before leaving Amy settled on a black crop-top that showed off her topaz belly button ring and a pair of jean shorts with pockets for her phone, and practical sandals. She decided to leave her hair down despite all the split ends and damage from being bleached to hell and back time and time again. She was hoping the “shaggy and cheap” look was in.
She borrowed Jes’s sparkly cerulean eye shadow at the last minute and hoped it appealed to Wick in some obtuse Picasso-blue-period kind of way. She even almost painted her nails.
Amy was only stopped when her friends barged into her room with a baseball bat and threatened her out into the car. The sun was barely setting as they spun out of the driveway.
She ignored Kevin and Jes as they chanted rude words out the window and played the radio at full volume. She didn’t even sing along to “Pynk” as they took the road curves at full speed. Her cheeks glowed, the night hissed, and it all felt like one of those epic’s about youth or the downfall of man.
Unisa Beach was closer to the main city on the east side of the island, and the University. It consisted of a long strip of soft sands, a pleasant beach with shallow waves, and a good amount of lost water bottles, buried tiny plastic shovels, and blown-away beach hats.
It was known as a “family” area for the most part, but the families had all but disappeared when Amy and her gang finally parked by the side of the road and saw the area glowing orange.
They got there just as the logs started burning hot and high in a sand pit and more than a dozen young people were gathering around in loose bunches. Amy surveyed the crowd and found no Wick. But luckily no Lizzie either.
She exhaled and stood quickly, “do you think they’ll have marshmallows?” She had an ideal of how the night should go. “God, marshmallows would be perfect.”
Kevin made a kissy-face at her, “aw, you want some cheese to go along with how corny that is?”
Amy leaned over to elbow him, “oh, and you going with Tom to the nighttime Ferris wheel on the boardwalk wasn’t cheesy as hell? You may talk big Kev, but I know better.”
Kevin waved a hand in the air, “hey, I am trying to get you back on the horse Ames, it’s not about me, I’m passing along ancient knowledge here. You know the Briant college motto: get in, get out, have a good time. It’s time to get back on the horse.”
Amy sighed heavily, “I just want a nice night, maybe a good conversation, and a second date. Is that too much to ask? Come on.”
They sauntered down the beach, each carrying some beers and ice for the party. The sun was low across the patchwork ocean colored in oranges and pinks and reds bleeding into the painted line of the horizon.
The sand was as soft as tissues as it seeped into their sandals and music began to rise like morning prayers in monastery’s and buskers in New York City subways. Like it was meant to be there.
A group of scruffy kids in t-shirts and swim trunks surrounded a blazing fire, coolers and logs sat off to the side and someone was already tipsily singing indie music with a guitar. It sounded like “Nobody” by Mitski so Amy resolved to keep her distance.
One of the familiar city locals waved at them, Amy vaguely remembered they called him “Bentley.” The brand of his sunglasses and shoes justified such a name she figured.
“What is up,” he whooped, “Kevin my man, and your girls.”
“And his girls?” Jes huffed under her breath, ready to murder.
“The little talented pod o’ orcas themselves, come at last to one of my parties,” Bentley strutted over, descending on them, “love the looks. How ya’ doing?”
“We’re peachy, Bentley,” Kevin placed an arm around the college’s boy’s neck, and Amy almost envied how smooth it was. “Gonna fuck shit up tonight!”
“Gonna fuck it up!” The boy echoed and Amy rolled her eyes.
She slipped off to the side then, she had had enough “bro talk” from just that simple exchange and felt a little too old for trying to muster-up small-talk right then. And maybe for the rest of the night.
Amy made her way to the corner of the crowd and picked up a cold drink, placing herself slightly apart.
Jes quickly dissolved into some politics talk with a girl wearing a “Warren 2020” shirt and Kevin descended back on Bentley. He did always like the ones that smelled like money.
Amy was just glad no one there yet was too familiar with her, and vice versa. It felt like a night watch, carefully observing the swaying masses and lost 20-somethings in the crowd. Quietly watching their faces contort and extend when delighted by a joke, quietly watching someone wrinkle their nose as they tasted the beer, quietly watching people shed their jackets and kick their feet in the shallow waters.
Quietly being apart.
That is, until she turned around and a red-haired boy with teeth like white diamonds made a beeline for her. He wore dark sunglasses, loose gym shorts, and had the swagger of a cougar about to bite, an incredibly tall cougar.
His diamond-smile expanded, “Amy girl.”
Amy’s face soured, “James.”
She knew it was too small an island for this.
He grinned in the way people leave threatening notes on your doorstep with cut-up magazine letters. “Brody was telling me you were bringing someone tonight. How’s that?”
James was Baby Brody’s older brother. Arguably the much worse sibling between the two.
Amy held his gaze and reached down to pop open her beer, two could play the “don’t flinch” game. “Sure.” She tilted her chin up, “new girl. You wouldn’t know her.”
James had dated Lizzie until Lizzie dated Amy. And James wasn’t quite the same kind of friendly ever since.
“Oh?” James put his hands in his back pockets, “I heard it was some Cali girl. Laura? Heard she knew Skye pretty well actually. And Tad Johnson. And Susan Lee.”
Amy took a step back, “back off James.” She took a deep gulp of her beer, “I don’t want you to ooze on me.”
James put his hands up, “I’m just warning you.” He pushed his glasses down, “when Brody told me what the girl looked like, well,” he snorted, “let’s just say I heard she’s not that unfamiliar with the island.”
Amy blinked a couple times, “what do you even mean?”
James pointed at her arm, “I’ve seen that type of marker-art before, girl.” He pointed at the drawing on Amy’s arm, “on Susan and Tad and Skye,” he shook his head, “I guess it’s better you move on, Ames. But I wouldn’t pin you as someone who goes after,” he paused poignantly, “those type of ladies.”
An entirely different word hung in the air as he said the last line, but Amy didn’t address it.
“Shove off James,” she turned, “I don’t have time for your mind games. No one cares whose business you’re sticking your nose into. Go find some bark to suck on.”
“Suit yourself,” he strolled away with a swagger that Amy despised. It was too confident for a 27-year old who evidently still hadn’t been properly punched in the nose yet.
Amy took a step back and finished her beer in a few good gulps. Someone had brought a boom box and poorly done sing-alongs and bad dancing were already commencing.
No one had brought any marshmallows yet.
Jes started dancing in a circle with a group of grad students with bells around their ankles and Kevin was either trying to make Bentley blush, breakdown, or have some sort of holy sexuality breakthrough right then. From the sweat on Bentley’s forehead it looked like it could be all three.
Amy looked out at the darkening ocean and waited.
Tiny shore crabs crept along the distant water's edge and the fire crackled huge and hungry in front of her, the heat licking across her cheek and smoke twisting into the tiny twinkling stars. The water turned slowly from sunset gold to hushed navy. Where is she?
Some of James’s words hung in the back of Amy’s mind like a foul odor or left-over food forgotten in the back of the fridge.
Those type of ladies.
Amy blew air out of her nose. It wasn’t like that.
“Hey there,” Amy whipped around just as the night was hitting it’s bewitching hours, “I hope I didn’t miss anything.”
A young woman stood in front of Amy, arms and feet covered in doodles, wearing a fluffy pink tutu and uneven red lumberjack shirt with holes cut in it. She wore woven white flowers in her black hair and lipstick the color of chemical energy drinks and oranges.
Bangles hung silver on her wrists and Greek sandals laced all the way up to her thighs. Amy stared openly for a moment, “good you make it.” She responded and then cleared her throat and went for a do-over, “glad you could make it.”
She stood loosely there, and her eyes traveled across the scene, “it really is a party-party.”
Amy took a deep breath, “definitely some sort of party.” She looked around, “beer?”
Wick just shook her head, “nah.” She grabbed Amy’s arm and pointed; Amy jolted upright. “Show me the fire?”
They walked closer to the crackling flames, taller than any man and almost as dangerous right then. It flickered and snapped and made Amy exhale fondly.
They were silent for a moment, the glowing flames dancing inside Wick’s gaze and the party storming on around them without much mind. Amy caught James’s eyes for a moment as he talked to a surf girl with a gap in her teeth.
He gave her a meaningful look.
“Hey,” Amy reached for Wick’s wrist, “want to get away from all this?”
Wick turned quickly around, “oh not yet.” She gave her a very lidded look, “do you wanna dance?” Amy’s eyes went wide, Wick leaned toward her. “I can teach you if you don’t know how.”
Amy bit her bottom lip, “lemme,” she looked around, desperately surveying the students and free-wheeling summer workers. She saw someone with a jello shot. She looked back to Wick, “Cool cool, yeah. You like, dance?”
She grinned, “I like dance.” Flames flickered playfully across Wick’s features, “and then you can teach me how to swim.”
Amy was definitely going to gnaw through her bottom lip that night, “one sec.” She stumbled over to a girl wearing a sweater as a dress.
“Can I?” She pointed at one of the jello shots she was holding.
“Wait,” the younger girl paused, eyes going huge. “I’ve seen you. You’re Amy Preux?” Her face lit up, “yeah, I totally saw you at that Lagoona beach competition. So sick man.”
Amy wasn’t looking at her, “yeah.”
“Can’t believe that roundhouse cutback! I literally almost lost it.”
“Yeah,” Amy frowned slightly, “can I?” She pointed at the jello shots again.
“I mean, totally. They’re homemade, however many you want.”
Amy did two in a row, they tasted like sweetened sharpie marker and red-flavored ashes, but she gave the girl a thumbs up and hoped the buzz would kick in soon. She might be able to surf but dancing was a whole other thing.
It also didn’t help that Lizzie said she wasn’t very good at dancing in their breakup text. But that text did include a long list of personal failures anyway.
Amy stumbled back over to Wick who was looking at the boombox curiously, as if she wanted to pick it apart with a toothpick and extract the guts. Wick’s shoes were already kicked off in the sand next to her, “can I change the song?”
“Uh, if you can find,” she looked around and realized she didn’t know who it belonged to, she just shrugged instead, “sure.”
Wick bent down and grabbed the iphone that was attached to the old-school music device. She nimbly typed something in and patted the machine like a good dog before lifting to her feet again.
“Come on,” she grabbed Amy’s elbow and tugged them toward the small group of people shimmying and swaying in the cooling sand. “I was hoping this would happen.”
Amy’s eyebrows skyrocketed as she fumbled after her, “what do you mean?”
Wick glided around in the circle, “you know, I chose Oakley Cove since it’s the best beach on the island.”
“Yeah,” Amy straightened up and her chest filled with light. “It really is.”
“But then I saw you and your friends, and I thought,” Wick was all loose limbs and confident stares, “I should keep coming here.”
Amy’s brow folded in, “what do you mean?”
Wick just laughed and turned around in place, the song had already started:
“She blows out of nowhere, roman candle of the wild
Laughing away through my feeble disguise”
“Put your hand here,” Wick put Amy’s hand on her waist and an arm on her shoulder, Wick hummed, “this isn’t quite right. But just follow my lead and we can make it up as we go.” She led them in a sweeping back-step.
“No other version of me I would rather to be tonight
Lord she found me just in time.”
“And turn,” they lightly made a circle, gloriously spinning in place and sending sand flying, the other kids drew back to give them space. “Now come to me.” Amy took a large step toward her and they swept back across the ground.
“She's gonna save me call me baby run her hands through my hair
She'll know me crazy, soothe me daily, but yet she wouldn't care.”
They twirled and front-stepped and shimmied back and forth as the song crooned on. Wick only stopped once.
“Do you want to try a dip?” Her eyes were blazing in the light now, deep pools with no end and all sparks.
“What?” Amy was lost to it, she had always been lost to it.
“Dip!” Wick dipped her first, holding the back of her head and gracefully tipping her backward to the ground.
“Ah!” Amy flailed but stayed cradled in her arms.
“Like that!” Wick said with a delighted laugh as she dangled her above the sands.
“We'll name our children Jackie and Wilson, 'raise em on rhythm and blues.”
They continued to waltz across the sand in a tutu and stumbling steps, back and forth, spinning and dipping and being properly terrible at any formal kind of dance this could be. Wick giggled with each moment and Amy tossed her head back to laugh as they almost tripped backward.
They waltzed and waltzed with night bleeding into the fire and eyes on them that Amy ignored like candle wax across matte paper.
Her chest heaved and soared, and it was beyond what she imagined when that week began.
Amy was breathless and flushed, kids around them were spent out on shrooms and the euphoria of someone playing “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” on the guitar nearby. She had already danced to two versions of “September” by then and her ankles ached from spinning around in complex circles. It was all pink sensations and her blood pumping with glitter and howls to it.
“God,” she laughed, “this is more than I expected. I can’t believe you can dance so much!"
Wick looked up closely and gave a slight smile, “it’s nothing. My mom taught me.”
Wick pulled her close and suddenly their hips were bone to bone, “and salsa.” Amy squeaked, her face blooming and Wick tittered, “sorry.” She released her, “you’re more than I expected too.”
Amy swallowed dryly and hummed, she spoke softly, “in a good way, yeah?”
Wick leaned in close and Amy could smell cloves and the day’s sunshine on her, “naturally.”
Amy tried to form her next sentence, but it was drowned out by a single call, “hell yes, marshmallows!”
Amy turned gleefully around; this was her chance. She hadn’t actually kissed anyone in a long, long time. And now they could roast marshmallows. Her and Wick. Around the fire. It seemed perfect to her.
She put her hand out shyly, “want one?”
Wick took her hand without hesitating and threaded them together, “lead the way.”
Amy turned toward the bonfire and then froze in place. A brunette girl with choppy straight bangs, fair skin, and a round figure was standing by the fire. She was holding up the marshmallows, “I brought graham crackers too!”
There she was.
Amy’s thoughts circled down like water down a drain. Stop it, she ordered herself, you can be normal about this. Stop it!
But the same old decaying force of dread and a wrenching in her chest took over. Amy’s hand went limp in Wick’s and the other girl must have felt it.
“What?” She said slowly, looking between Amy and the new girl standing by the fire.
“Nothing,” Amy swallowed, “let’s eat.” She tried to move herself forward, but it didn’t quite work, her feet were dragging, her shoulders tensing, and body shrinking.
“You know them?”
Amy looked more closely and saw that James was also hovering over Lizzie. James was also touching her back and looking at her. James was also leaning in close to her ear and whispering.
She and him, him and her, them.
“Oh,” she said softly and turned away, turned toward anything at all. “I, uh, I should... should go for a walk.” She let Wick’s hand go. She couldn’t do this after all.
Wick was quiet and Amy quickly walked toward the dark side of the beach, where the rocks started, and tide pools reflected the silver of the rising moon. That would have to do.
She was surprised when she felt a presence by her shoulder, “can I come with you? I love walks.”
Amy turned around and gave a watery smile, “one sec.” She sniffed, “I might not be great company right now. Gimme a sec.”
Wick just took her hand again, “go ahead.”
They walked away from the party.
The rocks were like blackened swiss cheese, rough against the flats of her feet and formed by ages of erosion and the bloody thirst of time. The stone was uneven and scraped with a prickly vengeance.
Amy concentrated on the little pinpricks instead of anything else. She looked up at the silver crescent of the moon, and then back at the waves. She wished she could get in.
They traveled farther and farther away from the noise and lights, toward the crash of the water and brittle dark of the caves nearby. Wick finally cleared her throat when they could barely see the commotion of the party anymore, “did you like your art?”
Amy glanced down at her colorful arm, “I love it.”
“Would another,” Wick hummed for a moment, “cheer you up?”
Amy just shook her head and rubbed at her face, “it’s nothing.” She said and then tilted her head all the way back, “it’s silly.”
Wick shrugged, “I’m known for being fond of silly.”
Amy just glanced at her, face falling, “an ex.” She said with a bloody scab underneath the words, “the brunette one.”
Wick put her hands behind her back and swayed, “ah. I see.”
Silence descended in a curtain of heavy fabric and whispering breezes. Wick set herself delicately down, obviously deciding this was the place to sit. It was a sloping rock with a deep pool just underneath that was close enough to dangle your feet into.
The pool itself looked sandy and dim, surrounded by high rocks and shaped as an almost-tide pool, barely connected to the glittery shapelessness of the ocean beyond.
Despite herself, Amy followed her down. They both looked out into the distance and the quiet of the cooling night.
“Did you love her?” Amy’s heart seized up in her chest like choking on a cherry-pit, Wick looked closely at her. “My mother always said to ask that.”
Amy frowned for a long moment, “sounds like bad advice.”
Wick folded up and brought her knees to her chest, “I’ve never been in love.”
Amy frowned even harder, her dad would say this was the time to talk about the weather or sports teams. She sucks in a deep breath, “I think I did.”
Wick nodded slowly, “must hurt now.”
“Yeah,” she looked away, hair tickling her neck and shoulders toppling down like great broken mountaintops. “Love sucks.”
Wick laughed, “how did you meet?”
“We didn’t,” Amy looked down and kicked her feet weekly in the cool water, “we were childhood best friends… and then it all just went from there.”
“Huh,” Wick said in the way Eve let the apple fall to the ground and the Virgin Mary sighed after missing her first period.
“She ended it over text.” The waves burst cold and indifferent across the nearby rocks, spraying them gently as they sat there.
“Want me to,” Wick seemed to struggle for a moment, her glossy breezy energy quaking for a moment as her mouth hung open. “Eat all her marshmallows? I could definitely eat all of them real quick and not share.”
Amy gave a forced laugh, “please do.” She shifted in place and closed her eyes, “I’ll be back to myself. Just,” she inhaled through her nose, “just after a minute.”
“You don’t have to,” the breeze was back, “not if you don’t want to.”
Amy opened her eyes again, “it sucks.” She groaned, “it just really really fucking sucks.”
Wick smiled, her chin tucked down, “what are you going to do?”
Amy scratched the back of her neck and tentatively met Wick’s gaze, “In general? Mostly mope around and surf a bunch.” She snorted, “Lizzie always said I should go back to school.” She shook her head.
Wick scooted over on the hard rock, her tutu snagged in the little teeth of the stone but she managed to situate herself next to Amy. “And what do you think you should do?”
“Not school,” she said quickly and then looked back to Wick, she pointed out toward the rolling lapping sea, “this.” They were quiet for a long moment, and then Amy settled down into herself again. “What about you?” She extended her neck slowly, “who is Laura Wick? What does she want?”
Wick shook her head, “oh no.” She put a hand over her mouth, “I seemed to have started a conversation I can’t finish.”
Amy chuckled, “let me guess.” She sat up straight, “you’re an art student from the mainland.” By that she meant Cali, “and came here to get away from it all.”
“My mom lives here,” Wick explained, “but no. I didn’t grow up with her, so yes?”
Amy’s mouth pinched together, “and how was that?”
Wick fingered a hole in her shirt and gave a side-ways smile, “my grandma was very protestant and my grandpa was very tired.” She shrugged, “but they let me start cutting up my clothes by age nine.”
Amy laughed, “I can see it now.” She kicked her feet back and forth, sending droplets scattering, “nine year old wins every art competition in the county and then turns the trophies into dinner plates to make a point.”
Wick shook her head, “I’m not quite so fantastical.”
Amy ducked her head and looked down at her arm, the one with the purple tides and a kraken and ships with grand sails. “I think you’re pretty fantastical.” She mumbled, “and I never thought we’d actually ever get to talk.”
A firecracker went off far away, spritzing and lighting up with enthusiasm and a special type of gusto. Distant cheering followed.
“And now?” Wick sounded slightly breathless; Amy couldn’t get herself to look up.
She gulped, “I’m sorry about my wig out.” She touched her own elbow lightly, “but I am happy we got to do this.” She grinned, “thanks for, uh, talking to me. And arting on me.”
Wick gave a small smile, “it was my pleasure, really.” She tucked a stray piece of hair away, expression soft and lit by the milky moonlight.
Amy grinned, something stirring deep within her, “can I tell you a secret if we’re asking about love or futures or charm and all that nonsense?”
“Secrets?” Wick lit up, eyes expanding, “I do love secrets. And nonsense if you will.”
Amy chuckled and turned her face up toward the light, “I went to that beach each damn day hoping to see you. I never thought you’d actually want to see me back.”
Wick made a sharp sound, “is that the secret?” She whispered.
“It’s not much of one,” Amy shrugged with a small laugh, “I just thought you should know." She met her gaze like honey entering tea, "that I like you too.”
A strangled sound came from Wick, it wasn’t a normal one or light or very elegant, it was simply guttural and coarse. She suddenly shimmied back and forth in place, Amy looked up just in time to see Wick stand up and reach for the bottom of her shirt.
“Want to go for that swim?” Wick looked down at her, the moon behind her back and silver drenching across her loose hair.
Amy’s eyes went huge, “will you be alright?”
Wick was already reaching down and undoing the buttons of the lumberjack shirt. It fell aside like a slow curtain revealing strips of smooth roadway that led to forests where it never snowed, cities with no traffic, and magical castles you dreamt about in childhood. Amy inhaled silently.
“I’ll be alright,” Wick tittered slyly, “as long as you don’t let me drown.”
Wick cast her shirt aside, shook the small white flowers from her hair, and pushed her tutu all the way down. Amy jerked her head away and studied the moon, slim and smiling ivory. “What?” Wick was teasing now, “no swim lesson?”
Amy creakily stood up too and was torn between twenty-four different impulses at once, “uh.”
“You can look,” there was nothing teasing about that sentence, but there was a certain destruction behind it, nuclear war and toppling skyscrapers to their base.
Amy jerked her head to the side, “I.” She caught a glimpse, just a glimpse, of a slender build and pink polka dot granny underpants. And then Wick was jumping into the water.
“Wait!” Amy jumped in after her without taking anything off.
It hit like a familiar handshake, the soft splash and grip of cool waters running lovingly down her body.
The water was deep enough to tread in, deep, but not very wide. Wick landed roughly on the sandy bottom, she was able to get a footing and avoid bobbing her head underwater.
The pool was half cast in shadows and the other in a powdery white glow. It was oblong and leading out into the ocean with a whisper.
If there had been any fish nearby, there weren’t any now.
It was salty and clean and stung her eyes in all the good ways. Amy dunked her head for one second and then came up again, wet and dripping.
Wick had landed on the other side, her hand was clinging to the stone there, and she was breathing very, very hard. Her hair was dry, but eyes were wide, and shoulders bunched up in a tight knot.
“Hey, hey now,” Amy quickly swam over to her and reached for the other girl, “you’re alright, we’re alright. We can stand here.”
Wick was shaking slightly, “I, I,” she swallowed, “it’s salty.”
Amy laughed briefly and waved to her, “want me to do what I do with beginning swimmers?” She was thinking of toddlers in the church yard squealing as they waded in for the first time, but she didn’t mention that.
Wick shook her head and yelped as a tiny wave hit her side, Amy swam closer, “I’ll help you float.”
Wick looked toward the sea, and then to Amy, and then back out again. She kicked off the wall and grabbed her around the neck. Her arm was heavy, and muscles tensed, “I thought this would be more shallow.”
Amy instinctively wrapped an arm around her waist and held her up, “water is like that. It’s different when you’re in it.” She winked; Wick frowned more loudly. Her skin was warm against her fingertips, and Amy tried to push all thoughts of that away.
Wick was visibly vibrating now all the way through her chest to her fingertips, as she grabbed onto Amy with the force of a small bear trap. “Honestly? That it would be cooler to do that.”
“It is pretty warm here.” She noted as the summer ocean currents held them like a tepid bath.
Wick rolled her eyes, “you know what I mean.”
Amy gave a face-splitting smile, “so you’re not as stoic as you seem.”
Wick stuck her tongue out, “maybe I will let myself drown.” She looked away.
“Don’t worry,” Amy whispered warmly close to her ear, “I won’t tell. And,” she pressed her nose into the other girl’s temple, “I won’t let you drown.”
Wick looked back to her, “well don’t drop me,” She said back, shifting in her arms, and voice with a hush and a rusty deepness to it, “and I’ll let you do whatever you want.”
Her mouth was hovering closer to Amy’s. Amy’s eyes went wide, “and what do I want?”
Amy shrugged, “that depends." She tilted her head to the side, "but I figured this was a good a place as any to be alone.”
Amy looked down to her lips and then back to her face, closer, and closer. She could feel her warm breath there and count the droplets of water in her eyelashes. Amy squeaked, “didn’t you want me to teach you to swim?”
Wick hummed, and her eyes darted down, “maybe.” She sang, almost sly and slow. "What do you want?"
Amy’s grip tightened around Wick’s waist, “you never answered my other question.” Amy looked her over, “who is Laura Wick?”
Wick widened her shoulders and shook out her bushy hair, “That also depends.” She said simply, “art student. Parakeet owner. Bad at math individual. And,” she tapped their foreheads together, “whatever the hell you want me to be.”
Her mouth was on hers then.
It was slippery and sharp with the ocean itself, the heat of her lips pressed hard and bruising against Amy and they melted into each other instantly. Amy had forgotten that this felt so good.
The kiss sent her thoughts spinning in a little dance called a “a Russian Hopak on speed.” Her ears filled with white noise and her skin tingled like the first lick of candy or blood on cracked lips from smiling too hard.
It was all cool waters and Wick on her, and Amy on Wick and they pushed up against the wall and didn’t look back. Amy vanquished her thoughts, her protests, and thoughts of Lizzie or dreams or what this could mean.
She was ready for a beach fling.
Wick kissed her hard and open-mouthed, eyes dark and speaking in tongues that could make mortal men cower. Amy tilted her head to the side, and they came together.
The Official Shoulds and Should-nots of Beach Flings
By the College of Briant class of ‘14, location: isle of Wilkinson, COUNCIL APPROVED
Be open-minded, everyone’s there for a good time
At least learn their name
Don’t overthink it
Don’t mind the sand, but don’t get too down and dirty in it (UTIs suck)
Bring a change of clothes
Do the polite thing and walk them home after
Don’t leave too many marks
Remember to have fun
Don’t. Get. Attached!
As they got dressed, or in Amy’s case tried to ring her shirt out a little bit, it was mostly silent. Amy tied her hair up and handed Wick her bra, Wick just wrinkled her nose at how wet it was and simply put her ragged red lumberjack shirt on without it.
Amy turned around for some reason as the other girl got dressed. She looked up and examined the sky, and then down at her own pruny toes. Amy smiled to herself at the way her mouth tingled and pulsed warmly. It had finally happened.
She was surprised when Wick turned around and started walking toward the beach. The distant bonfire was just now burning low and only a few stray figures were visible in the distance.
Amy hurried after her, “so uh,” she tried to casually keep pace with her, “would you, um, want to get pizza?” She chuckled, “I’m sure we’ve both got like, an appetite now.”
“Not really.” Wick didn’t look back at her.
Amy frowned, “then maybe tomorrow? I could buy you breakfast somewhere.”
Wick turned her face away and then stopped in place, “how’s your arm?”
Amy looked down at both her arms, checking for any marks there or love bites that were colored especially purple. “Fine?”
Wick took her left arm in hand and inspected it, “almost gone I guess.”
“Oh!” Amy remembered the drawing there, it’s colors now smeared and faded, only faint outlines left after their romp. “Yes.” She bounced in place, “perhaps you could do another one sometime.”
Wick shook her head, “then it wouldn’t be special anymore.” She caught her eye, “don’t you agree?”
The way she said it somehow made Amy stop and stand back for a moment. “I’m sure… another one would be just as good.”
Wick started walking again, “memories are best left as memories.” She whispered and a thought snagged in Amy’s head space: it’s special since it’s fleeting.
Wasn’t that what she had been saying the entire time?
Amy caught Wick’s wrist in her hand, “maybe I’ll get the next one tattooed.” She said forcefully. “That wouldn’t be so bad.”
Wick gave a hard look over her shoulder, “Amy.” She said through her teeth, “you don’t want that.”
Amy rolled her eyes and let her go, she stubbornly crossed her arms over her chest. “You’re that into this art thing?” Her lips curled back, “you don’t want to see me again?”
Wick’s shoulders fell forward, “you’re making this difficult.” She said softly, “it was fun, right? Let’s just let it be fun.”
Amy’s eyes went wide, “don’t you… didn’t you say you liked me?” Her heart folded in on itself like a collapsing house of cards.
Wick rubbed her own shoulder, “I do.” She looked up at the moon flippantly, “but that’s not the point.”
Amy exhaled angrily through her nose, “and what? The point is that it’s beautiful or whatever since it’s short?” She turned away, “what bullshit.”
“The point is,” Wick said uncharacteristically harshly, “people aren’t who they say. Isn’t it better to keep the nicest version of them alive in our heads?” She rubbed her neck, “I do like you Amy.” She said, voice lowering, “but I don’t think you like me.”
Amy’s eyes went wide, “is that what this is about?” She took a step forward, “I know we just met… but I’m crazy about you. That drawing, your clothes, that way you speak. Why would I ask you out if I didn’t like you?”
Wick sighed heavily, dropping her gaze low and guarded, “there’s more to me.” She shook her head, “I told you. I’ve never been in love. I don’t… think I can. I don’t think people like to stick around me for much longer than this.”
Amy’s jaw set, “bullshit.” She said hoarsely, “you just wanted a hook-up from me? Well too bad.” She took a bold step forward, “Laura Wick, would you go out with me? I like you a lot, and I’d like to keep liking you even through all the bad parts.”
Wick’s lip trembled, “stop it.” She swayed in place, eyes darting around and trying to land on something. “I’m not trying to play hard to get or write some romance story. This is just how it is.”
Amy put her hand out, “let’s not play then.” She said softly, “I heard you’ve… done this before. We could do it differently.”
Wick’s eyes glazed over, “aren’t you afraid I’ll break up with? Over text maybe.”
Amy frowned deeply, “would you?” She said in a grave tone, “break up with me over text and call me bad at dancing and sex and kissing? And then never talk to me again.”
Wick’s mouth twitched up for just a moment, “I wouldn’t call you bad at the last two.”
Amy smiled brightly, “and I never even gave you a proper swim lesson.”
Wick studied her long and hard for a moment, “I wouldn’t.” She said slowly, “I wouldn’t do it over text and um, yeah,” she fumbled a little bit, something else peeking through all her bravado and big ideas. “But I’m still afraid of drowning.”
Amy shook her stiff hair out, “would you like me to help with that?” She wiggled her fingers in the air, “I’m pretty good at swimming. Though… it is a pretty permanent thing to learn.”
Wick rolled her eyes gracefully, “haha.” She reached forward, hesitated a moment, and then took her hand. “You seem like kinda of an asshole actually.”
“Well you seem kind of pretentious.” She winked, “and trying too hard.”
Wick smiled prettily; all her colorful lipstick was washed off. “None of the others came after me you know,” She whispered, and they started off to the beach. “Or asked me for pizza.”
Amy nodded, “I was going to ask you to ice cream too." She hip-checked her, "and maybe to the movies, and dinner, and I could show you my favorite part of the beach."
Wick squeezed her hand, "sounds extensive."
"Oh, it is. A real commitment."
Wick tossed her head back and laughed, clear tide pools and skies after it rains. "Well, I would like to see your favorite part of the beach," a blush grew faintly across Wick's nose. Amy held on a little tighter, the other girl beamed, “and I could use a swim lesson or two.”
The Shoulds and the Should-Nots of Beach Flings, number one rule:
Never turn down a good thing.