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A beach in Maine has rocks. And wind. The kind of wind that makes your hair whip around your face and get stuck in your mouth. A beach in Maine smells salty from the ocean water. A beach in Maine can be the most beautiful place in the world. That’s something I learned as soon as I came here.
I’ve never fit in. I’m quiet, the kind of girl that makes people nervous. They all know I like it here, love it, even. While they’re all itching to get out and see the world instead of this little fishing town, I’m hoping I never have to leave. I think this is where I was meant to be. I might’ve finally found a home.
I have no family. I just have these people who let me live with them, always different people, always a different abhorrent place. The foster care system is like a game of hot-potato. If you hold onto a kid for too long, things are bound to happen. So you toss it on to the next person.
So now I’m here, Maine. I sit in mind-numbing classes for most of the day. I watch heads nod simultaneously. Heads with baseball caps and straight, long hair. Heads of the conformed. My head doesn’t nod; it gives a little shake of disbelief. These kids don’t know what they have waiting in their backyards.
“Phaedra? Are you with us?” Phaedra. She was the wife of a Roman hero who fell in love with her husband’s son by another woman. At least he wasn’t her son right? Then when he rejected her, she turned her husband against him.
Yet another thing that sets me apart. In a world of Laurens and Matthews, I won the name lottery with Phaedra. “I suppose,” is my response. But I’m really not; my mind is always at the beach.
I guess it’s confusing that I spend so much time at the beach. A beach isn’t much if it’s not sunny, sandy, and covered in barely clothed people, right? See, I have this theory that if you stay in one place, unmoving, for long enough you can feel the Earth spinning. I never have, obviously, because it’s just a theory, but I imagine it to be a very spiritual happening. Like, “Oh! Look at how in touch I am with the world”. As if the Earth chose you. Every day I sit on my beach, waiting for the world to choose me.
When I get to the beach, there is a boy there. On my beach. He has a camera and is taking pictures of the birds. For a split second, I’m too shocked to do anything. I’ve never seen another person on this section of the beach and what’s more, he’s barefoot. It’s taken me months to get enough calluses on my feet to walk on the rocks barefoot.
Well, I might as well go ask him what exactly he is doing on my beach. “Excuse me?” I ask accusingly.
“Yes?” he replies in the same fashion. A man of my own heart. For some reason, I’m taken back by his eyes. God, are they blue. Ugh, Phaedra, get a hold of yourself.
“May I ask what exactly you are doing here? On this beach?” I inquire. The boy is lying on his stomach, I don’t know if I mentioned, and I am standing over him.
He holds his camera up for me to get a better look. “This is a camera. I take pictures with it.” And with that he turns his attention away from me, as if he dictates when a conversation is over.
Fine, if that’s what he wants. I can ignore him too. I walk up to the shore, just close enough that the tide brushes my toes. It’s still too cold for anything more than that. But I can’t ignore him. I can’t let go of myself like I usually do and become the ocean, become the rhythmic pounding of the waves, with him there. I stand up and stalk over to where he is still taking pictures. I mean, seriously, doesn’t this boy have a life? “You’re going to have to leave,” I say.
“Funny, I was just going to say the same thing to you,” he replies with a smirk. It’s such a delicious smirk too. Phaedra, focus!
I’m angry. So angry, I can’t think of a decent response, which I usually pride myself on. I’m certain I have a look of distaste and disappointment on my face.
“Perk up, beautiful, a pout doesn’t suit you.” He shoots me a real smile, it’s so much better than the smirk.
“My name is Phaedra. If you are going to address me, call me by my name.” I can feel a blush creeping up my neck, how embarrassing.
“Well, excuse me then, Miss Phaedra. The name is Cam. No pun intended.” He smiles again. I really don’t know what to think of this boy.
I leave the beach that day feeling confused; Cam is still taking pictures of the birds.
I hear rocks shifting behind me. Footsteps. He sits next to me and crosses his legs beneath him. We’ve come to a compromise over time; he can come to the beach if he is completely silent for a while, while I wait. He sits with me and I wonder if he has a reason to wait too.
“Phaedra?” he says, tentatively. I sigh hugely, as if I was on the brink of something great. His eyes are closed, as if he doesn’t want to see my reaction.
“Yes?” I respond testily.
“Close your eyes.” Seriously, could this boy be any slower? My eyes were closed before you interrupted me, I want to say. But I don’t.
Instead, I let my eyes flutter close. I take three breaths through my nose. The wind ruffles my hair, some rocks shift, he takes a breath, the ocean pounds, I lose myself.
Something presses against my lips. Something that’s warm and soft and pleasant. It’s him, I suddenly realize. I feel myself slipping, falling. I wonder how the lips of this boy, this infuriating, stubborn, sarcastic, egocentric, beautiful boy, could feel better than anything. And for a moment so short I almost miss it, I feel the world spin.
“That’s it,” he whispers.
My eyes open. “What?”
“The picture. The picture I want to take. That was it. And it’ll probably never come back.” He looks so unbelievably angry. His camera hangs loosely around his neck, as always. I’ve never seen him without it.
In the next second, his camera’s off and he’s standing. His arm cocks back, and I realize what he’s about to do. He’s about to toss his camera, his love, his life, into the ocean. “Cam!” I shout, surprising myself, I don’t shout. I stand awkwardly rigid when he turns to look at me. “Please don’t, you’ll regret it. You love your camera.”
“Phaedra,” he seethes, “you don’t understand.”
He’s right. Cam shakes his head at me and runs down the beach. I don’t, can’t, follow him. This isn’t Cam, this isn’t how he acts. Everything’s a joke to Cam. He’s acting like me. I realize he must have such a hard time dealing with me, as I am now with him. It must be unbearable, to let me pout and stew; not to put out his arms and hold me. I find my feet again and follow.
His camera hits the rocks first, then his knees, elbows; he wraps his hands around his head. I think he’s crying and I still don’t understand what’s upsetting him this much. I kneel in front of him and with foreign hands reach towards him. You don’t comfort people, I think. But Cam’s different; I feel this need to fix him, to make my favorite smirk shine on his face.
His hair is soft beneath my hands. “What’s the matter?” I ask in a new voice. A voice that is soft, inviting, and warm. Coaxing.
He looks up, his eyes red. “I can’t take the picture.”
“What picture? You take tons each day,” I remind him.
“The Picture,” he insists, “the picture that’s the reason I’m a photographer in the first place. The picture that means everything, explains everything. That moment just now was the picture. Oh, Phaedra, there’s no way for me to explain that moment, except with my camera, and that’s not possible.” He stares at me, pleading with his eyes for me to understand.
And, amazingly, I do. This picture Cam so desperately wants to take is the same as my theory about the Earth spinning. It was the thing he sat and waited for everyday with me. And the waiting ended for both of us when our lips met. I am so overwhelmed by the moment that I can’t find the right words. So instead I wrap my arms around him. “I understand,” I whisper.