The Ocean

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Two inches. He sits that close to me. If I nudge my elbow out, our skin would touch. I can't believe my best friend is right here. The cool, salty breeze sweeps through my hair. It is tangled and frizzy from the sea and the wind isn't helping, but he still said it looked pretty. I'm sure it was a lie.

This is the first moment we had to ourselves in, well, in a very long time. For a while, we try to make small talk. He compliments my hair, we ask about how the other has been, but when that doesn't work we just sit, staring. He stares at the ground where the boogie board we are using as a chair meets the brutally hot sand. I stare at the sea. Its majestic colors melt together to form a cloudy blue and its waves crash over the heads of young children, knocking them to the ground.

The ocean looks so inviting, I want to swim more, but doing that would mean sacrificing the one moment we had together. Anyways, any minute my friends will come running back from the water, sticky, sunburned, and frizzy-haired, but happy. That was more than we had now. Either way, we have to make this moment worthwhile.

I don't want to speak first. I mean, I can't speak first. I open my mouth but no words form between my teeth. I once thought this moment would be easy, we would talk and laugh like the old days, joke about how we couldn't survive without each other and how we would have to always be within walking distance. I was wrong. This could not be any harder. I need to say something, or else we could never go back to the way things were before. Before the boarding school incident, back when life seemed to hand out lemons to every child, and we would take them and make the best lemonade. Back when snack time and play dates were our only care in the world. And none of us had anything remotely problematic in our lives. That was so long ago, I couldn't keep dwelling on it. A sea gull lands next to me and calls out to his friends, snapping me back into reality.

I don't look back at the ocean, it would only make my urge to swim grow larger. Instead I look at the ground, swirling my fingertips in the sand and see what he sees: the boogie board, our feet, a small crab, some littered cigarette butts. I wonder if things had gone differently would we still be here? Probably not. I suppose if he didn't fail 11th grade again, things would've been different. If only he would've listened to me and started studying and doing some work, he would've never had to lie to his parents about needing summer school to graduate and they would've never forced him off to boarding school. I told him it would be alright, that I would visit him a lot, but he didn't believe me. He thought running was the answer. If only he told me where he went.

I couldn't blame him entirely though. Eleventh grade is a hard year, I should've tutored him a little instead of nagging to him about studying. He was my best friend, I should've helped him more. But I didn't. There is nothing I can do about that now. When he ran, I freaked out. I mean, who would keep calm after finding out one's best friend has been missing for three days. I could've acted maturely instead of refusing to speak, or function at all for that matter. I had a mental breakdown.

Although, I couldn't blame myself entirely either. It wasn't easy news to handle, and I should've heard it from someone other than the police officer wanting to question me about his disappearance, they thought it was a kidnapping at first. He used to tell me everything, we were best friends from birth. Being lied to by your best friend hurts like getting stabbed in the stomach and having to run a mile. But soon after, I became angry with him. For running away, for not telling me anything, for acting like a two year old in an adult situation. It was all I could do to keep myself from following him and finding myself alone and lost. I had to hate him.

Looking at him on the beach, with the sticky wind brushing his hair in his face, I couldn't imagine ever hating him. Or wishing that we had never been friends. He seems so innocent, staring at the sand. I silently condemn myself for those feelings.

After weeks crept by without a word, I began to give up hope. Everyone though he was dead. The police gave up the search. His parents were hysterical. And slowly I began to speak again, reconnecting with old friends and functioning in society. I even made some new friends and got my grades back up. I was getting along just fine. Until he came back. I assumed he would've contacted me, letting me know he was on his way home. I was expecting something, but everything went on as normal. He didn't even tell me where he went. He still hasn't. We barely spoke, when we did it was small talk. Nothing of any importance to either of us, but we did it to make things less awkward. I still wonder why he never told me anything. I think he was embarrassed for fleeing the situation instead of facing it like an adult.

I desperately want to turn to him, to say something or hug him, just to confirm he is in fact, here and alive. Maybe I should apologize? It was me who never texted him once I knew he was home. Maybe had I contacted him, things wouldn't have been so awkward. No, I doubt it. It was his mother who called to tell me he was alright. She said he was sleeping and couldn't talk.

I can see now his gaze shift from the ground up to the sea. What could he possibly be thinking? Maybe he wants the others to come back or he wants to go swim some more. If it was two months earlier, I could've bet one hundred dollars that he is thinking about buying a boat while he looks towards the ocean. "The endless horizon is the opportunity to go anywhere in the world" he would say. I would roll my eyes and point out that even a good boat couldn't take him anywhere. If only it was two months earlier.

The ocean hasn't changed much since I last looked at it a few minutes ago. Though, I'm still at a loss for words. Some girls wearing skimpy little bikinis attempt to surf the small waves. They laugh and talk as if they are the only people on the beach. I want to yell at them to stop and be quiet, but that would disrupt my thoughts. And involve getting up. Luckily, they give up pretty quickly and run back to shore, letting the calmness return to the water. It must've been five minutes since either of us has spoken and I wonder whether we will speak at all.

I couldn't bare to see him disappear again. Even if he has changed he is still my best friend. The boy I grew up with, playing baseball, exploring the woods, riding our bikes together, these memories will never leave me now. I feel a panic attack forming in my stomach at just the thought of him leaving again. I glance down and find myself clutching his forearm, preventing him from running again. I wonder how long I have been doing that? He doesn't seem to mind, in fact, I think I see him smile out of the corner of my eye. I guess my best friend is still there, somewhere inside the boy sitting next to me now. He's just a little shaken up and disoriented.

I finally look over to him and meet his grayish blue eyes. Almost the same color as the ocean. It is the kind of moment where time stands still and I wish I could live in it forever. If only time could be frozen. He doesn't even need to smile to show that he is finally happy to be home. His eyes say it all, he is home and is glad to see me again. This makes me feel better. He is happy to have his friend at his side again. With this confidence, I rest my head against his shoulder, watching my sunburnt friends laughing as they make their way back to us. The smell of wet sunscreen and seaweed meets my nose and I know its only a matter of seconds before they are here. I'm happy again, to have my best friend, the boy who is like a brother to me, with me. No words could make this moment better. And all it took was two inches of space to find each other.





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