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She cocks her eyebrow. A challenge. Her finger points down the smooth, shimmering edge of the water, to a lighthouse far off in the distance. I can see its reflection in the ocean, as the painted sky sparkles brightly in the water like stained glass. I smile and accept.
Standing up, I feel the moist sand mold around my toes. Its grainy consistency prickles against the soles of my feet. She is closer to the water than I am, and I see the sunset form a halo around her head. It casts a shadow on her face, lets me see each flyaway blonde hair flutter in the wind. I try not to let my eyes linger on any one part of her for too long. She’s too much to take in all at once; trying to create a picture of her from one viewpoint doesn’t do her justice. In order to understand what she truly is, you have to see each part separately, in quick succession. The smattering of freckles across her face. The curve of her collarbone against her slender neck. The perfectly round belly button. The smooth, lithe legs. The red-painted toenails.
I’m getting distracted. Tearing my gaze away from her, I instead focus my eyes on the lighthouse.
“On your mark, get set, go!” she calls out, and we’re off. Sprinting down the beach, the lukewarm water lapping at our sandy ankles, we are propelled by the salty wind at our backs. We’re still in our damp bathing suits, her in a skimpy pink bikini, me in a modest one-piece with a tie at the chest. I can feel droplets of seawater spraying onto my exposed skin. In the bright sunlight, I squint and try to keep my eyes focused on the lighthouse. From this distance, it looks like a toy, almost comical against the intense backdrop of the sky.
She’s far ahead of me. I can see her blonde ponytail slapping against her back. She’s always been a better runner than me. My legs are stubby and short, my hips are wide and my arms clumsy. I’m not cut out for this.
God. I’ll never catch up to her. If I close one eye and extend an arm, it looks like I’m close enough to touch her. It’s like I could wrap my fingers around her skinny waist and pull her towards me. But it’s just an illusion. In reality, she’s about twenty yards ahead of me. She’s almost at the lighthouse, while I’m still trailing in her wake, my eyes overwhelmed by her superhuman beauty. My heart aches.
I sometimes wonder if she knows. If she did know, would she turn around for me? Would she wait for me to catch up to her? I can almost picture her stopping in her tracks, whirling around, opening her arms for me. I can imagine myself running towards her as she catches me in an embrace. But it’s only in my imagination, I know. She could have anybody she wanted. She wouldn’t choose me. Not me.
Her nimble feet have reached the grassy dunes beside the lighthouse. I follow her footsteps until I reach her, a good thirty seconds after her own arrival.
“Slowpoke,” she teases, giving me a playful jab in the ribs. My stomach swoops at her touch, but I just giggle lightheartedly and shake the salt and sand out of my hair. She stretches and leans against the lighthouse. Her eyes close and her head tilts up to meet the sunlight. A smile creeps across my lips as I take in the look of bliss on her face.
“Why’d we run all the way over here?” I ask. She opens her eyes and looks around at me, absently scratching a piece of seaweed off her leg with her big toe.
“Just for fun,” she says.
“I know. But, I mean, we’re so far away now,” I say. I nod back in the direction we came from, towards the house where our families are staying.
“Good point,” she says. After a few moments, she straightens up, a playful grin on her face. “Race you back?”
I nod. What choice do I have?
We run all the way back to the other side of the beach. I’m behind her again, as usual. I can follow her, of that much I’m sure. But I know that I can never catch up.