Are you trying to kiss me? Charlie asked. It was cold enough, sitting on the damp sand, to run a shiver down Grace’s spine as she removed her arm from his leg, grateful her blushing face was hidden under the moonlight. Charlie got up and walked toward the water, his boots leaving a trail. She wanted to follow it, putting her feet where his were, but felt stuck to the ground. The stars were extra bright in the clear November sky, the water reflecting their light like little diamonds in the sea. For a moment, Grace forgot that Charlie was standing there getting his feet wet, waiting for her to run up, join him and probably kiss him.
I’m actually really scared of the ocean, you know.
Come on, be spontaneous.
She was smitten because he wanted her, but after being called out on her feeble attempt at an intimate moment just before, Grace enjoyed leaving him in suspense. He slumped back to her, dragging his feet now, his jeans soggy and his grin giving away the facade of disappointment.
I thought you said you were trying to be more adventurous tonight.
The ocean is … um …
Grace didn’t finish her sentence. Nothing had happened in her life, at least not that she could recall, that warranted such an obtrusive fear of getting into big bodies of water, even swimming pools, for that matter. She was embarrassed by it, feeling inadequate for fearing the awesome unknowns of the sea. All she could remember was that one time she watched a movie where a girl held her breath underwater for what felt like way too long, and it gave Grace an anxiety attack. She changed the subject:
The way those rocks are arranged, it kinda looks like Count Olaf’s face, she said, pointing to the vertical edge of the cliff to their right.
I thought I was the only one who noticed that.
Charlie smiled. It did look like Count Olaf. That’s one of the reasons why this surreal and secluded little beach was her favorite. The water eroded the cliff to look like a fictional character, and the only way to get there was through a garden walk where rabbits grazed on the grass and old ladies walked their poodles.
Charlie wasn’t from Southern California; he was from London and had the accent to prove it. He came to Los Angeles two weeks earlier to visit his father and brother, both of whom were artistic types and lived in a wonderful house at the bottom of some mountains. One time, he’d said, a bear decided to hang out in a tree above our driveway. They have nice cars. Motorcycles. Money. Grace didn’t know about any of that. She didn’t know that he had to go back to London in a week either.
They sat quietly for a long while, taking in the diamonds, the fresh, crisp air and the nearness of one who made the other feel electric inside. Grace tried to stand up and adjust her coat, but he caught her on the way.
Hey! She laughed, now on her back, what was that for?
He shrugged and shot her a goofy grin. The giggles vanished as abruptly as they started when he lay down next to her. Her heart beat so loud, she thought Charlie could hear it. He looked at her face, her profoundly deep brown eyes, her parted lips. His hand reached out to her cheek. She welcomed it, pressing her lips against his palm. Charlie turned her face to look at him. Grace thought she could see gold in his eyes, sunflowers. And then he kissed her.
Somehow Charlie managed to get stranded in Fountain Valley, and Grace drove up from Laguna Beach to get him.
She was ditching geology to do this, but figured it would be OK being the first and only class she would miss that semester. She knew that, looking back, a memory with Charlie would last a lot longer than one of a class on rock formations. She would much rather be caught up in the whirlpool of his affections than trapped in the mundanity of igneous rocks.
He sat at a table outside under the shade of its attached umbrella, drinking a Thai iced tea and writing in a little notebook that had an old Mario sticker on it. He dressed like dark academia on a motorcycle.
Hey there, he said, looking up at her.
Do you always dress like you’re 80? She teased.
He grinned. That means yes, she mused to herself.
How are you, love?
Yeah I’m pretty good. This town is … um …
Wanna get out of here?
Aren’t you waiting for your car? Grace asked.
It won’t be ready until tomorrow, so my brother and I will come back to pick it up then. He stood up and stuffed the little notebook into his pocket and put on his Ray-Bans.
Well then, let’s go, she smiled and led the way to her car, ignoring the swarm of butterflies that erupted in her stomach when he placed his hand on her back.
— — —
At the end of the day, Grace offered to take him back to his place. They spent the day lounging around her home, listening to jazz records and eating macaroni, which is remarkably more sophisticated when paired with Perrier and Duke Ellington.
He tried to object that the drive would be long, but she was already playing chauffeur for the day and managed to be stubborn enough to win the “No, but please, I insist” battle. She got her way. It was a quick drive so late in the evening.
When they arrived, Grace fell quiet, her mood shifting from the light and jovial energy that filled their day. All of a sudden, she was very aware that he would be leaving soon and was surprised by the sadness that began to cloud her heart.
Just before stepping out of the car, Charlie turned to her. His own silly mood was suddenly replaced by an intensity not yet felt during their little thrill. His eyes bright, Grace felt certain her face was turning crimson.
It’s a shame we have so little time together. He said, reading her mind.
Her adrenaline started to spike as he moved to kiss her. He paused. I can so easily see myself falling in love with you. His lips met hers for an intoxicating moment and then stepped out of the car.
Yeah. Me too … she whispered.
Looking out the car window, she saw him standing in the driveway. He gave her a little smile and waved, and Grace thought maybe now was a good opportunity to make up for not being spontaneous at the beach. Maybe now she could run into the fire. But he turned and walked inside, and she stayed in the car.
He was going to leave in the morning, but the two of them were a little drunk and making a lemon cake and neither could be bothered to think about that. Charlie was clearly a lemon cake connoisseur, Grace thought, because the level of precision and pretension were unmatched. It ended up being the best cake she’d ever eaten.
They spent the day at a beautiful Pasadena garden. He got in a lot of trouble for picking up an orange that fell from a tree and eating it, but getting in trouble seemed like a habit of his, and Grace found it incredibly amusing.
When the sun set, Charlie took Grace out to the balcony of his house to look up at the very same stars that had hovered over them just a few days ago at the beach. He pointed out a satellite that looks like a moving star. She found it very impressive and has hunted the night sky for it ever since.
At any hint of sorrow, he tickled her or tried to pick her nose, which inevitably led to giggle fits and then hiccups and then more giggle fits. Eventually, they settled into their nook outside, enveloped in their intimacy.
I’ll miss this, he whispered.
She was too overcome by him to talk, but they each understood the other’s silence. He will be on the other side of the world tomorrow. She nuzzled into him as they lay on the couch, and his embrace tightened just enough. Misty, she kept staring at the stars.
As they lay there, Grace thought about how lucky they were to have found such an incredible thrill. Her least favorite thing is the unknown, and not knowing when or if she would get to see him again was almost unbearable. Almost.
Charlie looked down at her, taking in her melancholy. He kissed the top of her head. She smiled.
Contact Rochelle Gluzman at [email protected].