SHORT STORIES: Life’s A Beach

"The sand glistened, drenched in parts and burning in others. The water was ebbing and the waves calmly followed, away from the resting crowd."

The sand glistened, splashed with equal parts water and sunlight, as dancing feet flirted with the shifting hills. The waves were calm but constantly swaying, never quite disturbing anyone’s rest. Through the crowd of people and their colourful array of umbrellas and towels haphazardly distributed across the beach flew a ball, which landed right next to Janice’s feet as she jogged by. She did not notice the ball’s landing, but Ethan did, and as he saw no one nearby whom the ball could belong to, he approached her.

“Hey,” Ethan said, picking up the ball and trying to catch up to Janice. “Is this your ball?”

As Janice turned around to answer, she found herself lost for words. Ethan dropped the ball and took a step closer.

“What’s your name?” Janice asked, feeling every beat of her heart that seemed to be rushing out of her chest.

Ethan tried and failed to pronounce his name, then opted to instead take a deep preparatory breath and try again.

“Ethan. What’s your name?”

“Janice,” she said, unable to wrench her eyes away from his.

He took another step closer — they could now feel the other’s every breath, their eyes still interlocked. Janice leaned forward to kiss him and time stopped for the two of them. They did not notice the sun reaching its zenith, comfortable heat turning into a sweat-inducing grip that refused to let go. Even after the kiss, they stayed close to each other before

“Watch out!” A giant inflatable ball bumped into Ethan’s back and though the impact was soft, the surprise threw them both to the ground. They sat up and laughed, and a dark-skinned man walked up to them, apologizing profusely.

Still laughing, Janice and Ethan shook the sand off their backs and told the man that he had nothing to worry about.

“I’m glad nothing happened,” he said, leaning over to pick up the ball. The sun reflected on his ring, hitting Janice in the eyes. She covered them, and Ethan moved slightly closer to her block out the reflection.

Readying the ball, the man called out, “Catch this, honey!”

The ball went flying at a much faster speed than Ethan and Janice thought was possible for such a light thing, and a man in the distance — something twinkled on his hand, Janice noticed — took the brunt of it to the face. He didn’t seem to mind, and let out a loud laugh.

“I didn’t know you could aim that well!” He chuckled. The dark-skinned man said goodbye to Janice and Ethan before running back to his deadly opponent, who was readying the ball again.

Janice tugged Ethan by the arm and brought him to a cooler patch of the sand under her umbrella, clearing the sand off her towel before they sat down together. They lay back, staring up at the umbrella and the sky around it. Janice slowly moved her hand closer to his and clutched it. He turned to her and smiled, watching the strands of her hair effortlessly following the wind. Just a few moments later, she turned to face him.

They did not know how long they had been lying there when a woman tripped and fell onto their umbrella.

“Go back to your whore!” she cried out, though Janice and Ethan — and most of the others on the beach — couldn’t tell who exactly she was talking to. She dusted herself off and ran away.

The sun had since begun to set, turning the water ever closer to a shade of purple that reminded Ethan of the design he’d noticed on Janice’s fingernails. Janice stared into his eyes, and though she didn’t know if she’d ever see him again, she knew that in this moment, she was happy.

*

The sand glistened, kissed with sunlight as the water hugged the coast in a loving grip. The waves had a peaceful rhythm, constantly swaying but never disturbing anyone’s rest. The not-quite-rainbow of umbrellas and assorted towels was bright under the sun as a ball flew through the air, landing at the feet of a blonde-haired woman taking a jog across the beach. A man in a surprisingly dark-coloured t-shirt for such a warm day walked up to her and asked her about the ball he thought she had dropped.

Just a few meters away, Seamus remembered he had brought an inflatable beach ball in the bag next to their towels and the umbrella, so he pulled it out and began to fill it with air. Rich sat up, pushing up his sandglasses and raising an eyebrow at the same time.

“Babe, what are you doing?” Rich leaned over to get a closer look past Seamus’ shoulder.

“You can’t tell me you don’t want to play with the inflatable ball you worked so hard to get me to buy with the money we were supposed to spend on ice cream.”

“Shush, you showed me the ball in the first place, you knew I’d want to buy it — especially with that dragon on it.”

Rich leaned closer and Seamus turned towards him after closing the cap on the beach ball. A short kiss and Seamus was already up and ready. Behind Rich, a man who was clearly overdressed for a trip to the beach ran by to pick up the ball that had landed near the blonde-haired woman just earlier.

“Aim a bit better, why don’t you,” he called out to another woman, who had meanwhile ducked beneath her umbrella.

He sighed, dusted off his suit jacket, and walked back, not noticing that he was kicking sand in Rich’s back on the way.

Finally, Rich stood up, taking a few steps away from Seamus. While Rich had his back turned, Seamus threw the ball at him and hit him in the back. Rich quickly turned around and caught the rebounding ball before it could touch the ground. He threw it, and the ball went flying past Seamus.

“Watch out!” he called, just before the ball landed next to the blonde woman and the man in the dark t-shirt, who had seemingly been acquainted with each other quite well. Seamus teasingly raised an eyebrow at Rich before running to pick up the ball.

A quick look at the couple dusting the sand off themselves told Seamus that no harm was done. “I’m glad nothing happened,” he said, flashing a smile as he picked up the ball. He noticed that his ring was reflecting light into their eyes, so he quickly turned back around and prepared to lob the ball back to Rich.

“Catch this, honey!”

The ball hit Rich in the face, though it wasn’t heavy enough to hurt; still, he stumbled back a few steps, chuckling. “I didn’t know you could aim that well!”

Seamus walked a bit closer to Rich and prepared to catch the ball, but as soon as Rich hit the ball up in the air, he broke into a sprint, bracing for a tackle. He caught Seamus unexpectedly and the two of them landed on the sand, laughing.

A few long moments of rolling in the sand later, Rich stood back up, attempting to get most of the sand off, though he found some of it had even gone into his mouth. Just as he began trying to spit it out, he noticed a large commotion happening just a few steps away. He helped Seamus stand up and they walked back to their umbrella together, avoiding the conflict as much as possible.

It was only as they sat down that they began to listen to what was going on.

“— my brother!”

“Only after you started fucking your secretary.” Frantic steps.

“Careful, you might trip over your dignity, you lost it somewhere over there yesterday.”

A yelp. “Go back to your whore!”

“What do you mean? She’s the one who’s running away right now!”

Rich and Seamus leaned in towards each other, glad that they were in a better situation than the fighting couple nearby. The sun had since begun to set, turning the water closer to a shade of purple that reminded Rich of the lavender field he first met Seamus in — a shade of purple, Seamus remembered, similar to the color of Rich’s hat that was blown away by the wind as they had their first kiss.

*

The sand glistened, drenched in parts and burning in others. The water was ebbing and the waves calmly followed, moving away from the resting crowd. The beach was plagued with umbrellas and towels, a blinding array of colours that made it difficult for the lifeguards to assess anyone’s safety. Over a group of people lying under their umbrellas flew a small ball, landing at the feet of a young blonde-haired woman jogging away from the crowd. A man wearing a dark t-shirt picked up the ball clumsily to ask if it was hers. They walked a few steps away together.

Kieran sighed. Of course Emma had to be suspiciously chipper today of all days, and drag him to the beach. He walked over to pick up the ball that she had grabbed from her bag — what other surprises did she have for him, he wondered. How could he have known they were going to the beach? If he had, he wouldn’t have gone with her.

“Aim a bit better, why don’t you?” Kieran was tired. He scanned the beach for her and found that she had already rushed her way underneath the umbrella they had put down, as if she didn’t want to be seen so quickly. He began to walk back to Emma as he brushed at the grains of sand that had collected on his suit.

When he reached the umbrella where Emma was sitting, he noticed she was on her phone. On second glance, he noticed that she was on his phone.

“What are you doing? That’s my phone.” He tried to snatch it out of her hands, but she was faster.

“I know. It also means that this message to our neighbour is from you.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, I want my phone back!”

“Are you sure you don’t remember? Let me jog your memory for a second: ‘That was a wonderful evening, Sarah, when can we meet again? Maybe with some more rosé?’”

“That’s all just —“

“Not to mention the winking face at the end of the message. Ooh, and if I scroll up, care to tell me what I’ll find there?”

“That’s enough, Emma, give it back to me.”

Emma scrolled up. “Oh, boy, oh boy — a dick pic!”

“Give me back my phone, Emma, or —“

“Or what? You’ll hit me again?”

Kieran took a deep breath to calm himself down but couldn’t bring himself to sit down next to her. He also knew that she wouldn’t have let him do so, anyway.

“I’m sorry, Emma. Please just give me my phone.”

“Sorry for what? Specifics, please.”

“I’m sorry for cheating on you with Saman — with Sarah.”

“Oh, don’t you worry, I know about Samantha, too, your dear secretary. She spilled everything to me as soon as she found out I was your wife.”

“You — You…”

“I’ve done my research.”

“Well, you’re not spotless, either.”

“Oh, you’re going to try to use the abortion that we agreed on against me again?”

“Not that. I see how you look at my co-workers. I see how you look at any man that isn’t me and wish they were me instead. I see how you look at me when you think I’m not paying attention, and I see how you wish I was dead.”

“Then why do you stay with me? Why do you insist on keeping up this bullshit charade?”

“Because I still love you, Emma. Somewhere deep inside I still love you, though I’ve come to doubt it more and more with every waking second.”

“Oh, boo hoo. You know I don’t love you anymore.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence. It’s also nice of you to imply you ever did.”

“Good point, I never did love you. Is that what you want to hear?”

“It would explain a lot.”

“Oh, look, another notification, let’s have a look who it’s from this time, shall we? Tinder, really? Who’s the ugly broad you picked up this time? Can’t be too smart or good looking if she wants to be with you.”

“Why don’t you find out yourself?”

In the moment where Emma opened the notification, Kieran lunged inside the beach bag to grab her phone and unlocked it promptly. He rushed to the text notifications, desperate to find anything incriminating that would put her in a worse light. Meanwhile, she had begun searching through all of his failed Tinder escapades to find something of value, but was coming up blank.

Kieran noticed a name he didn’t expect, and opened the chat. He needed to be sure it wasn’t the person he thought it was.

“Hey, listen to this, Emma,” he said, noticing that she hadn’t yet realized that he was now searching her phone, too. “I’m sure you’ll like it: ‘Now that your brother is out on a business trip, we can have some more fun like last time.’”

“I — don’t you — this is not — don’t change the topic!”

“To which he responded: ‘You know I love you, but we need to be more careful. Last time, you got pregnant, and…” Kieran’s voice trailed off as he finally realized what had happened.

“You’ve been cheating on me with my brother?!”

“Only after you started fucking your secretary!” Emma threw his phone to the ground and lunged at him, winding him.

She wrestled her phone from his grasp and began to run away. Though she couldn’t decide whether it was out of sadness or out of pure anger, she started to cry.

“Careful, you might trip over your dignity, you lost it somewhere over there yesterday.”

A few paces away, she tripped and fell onto an umbrella, barely missing the tip with her nose. Tears streaming down her face, she screamed, “Go back to your whore!”

She quickly stood up again and brushed herself off, running away faster than before. She had no idea where she was going, but knew that she wanted to be as far away from him as possible.

“What do you mean? She’s the one who’s running away right now!”

Although Kieran spat these biting remarks at her from far away, every word he said hurt him. He truly believed that he still loved her, though it was purely his fear of letting go of old habits that kept him from leaving her.

The sun had since begun to set, leaving the waves an impressive shade of purple that would have gone well with the new shoes Kieran had bought the other day. Emma remembered the fact that she would have to face him again to pick up her belongings and fell to the ground. Her tears mixed with almost dry sand; she was much closer to the old coastline than she thought. The last lifeguards had left their stations for the day, and the water was retreating at a much faster pace than usual. Emma stayed where she was, even when many others began to leave. As did Kieran. He sat down on the towel she left behind, forgetting about the phone beneath him, and for the first time in years, he didn’t care about his suit being dirtied.

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