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The salt water was ice cold as it brushed up against my ankles, a welcome relief after trudging through town in my now too warm winter boots, which I’d left sitting on the tiny, cement front porch of my sis… well of Kat’s cottage. I’d wandered about a mile from there, and I had no intention of turning back any time soon. I was only seven years old when our mom had died. Her rusted old Chevy had slid on a patch of ice and right into a semi going seventy on the highway. She’d been on her way to pick me up from school. Kat had never forgiven me for her death. I haven’t forgiven myself.
We’d never had a father. Funny, that had never felt strange to me until we lost Mom, leaving us with no legal guardian. So Kat was left with no choice but to take care of me, when a completely dependent little sister was the last thing she had needed. She was nineteen at the time. She’s never forgiven me for that, either.
After two more miles of aimlessly wading through the waves, I finally plopped down in the sand so that only my toes were caressed by the ocean’s frigid fingers. I leaned back on the sand until I was laying flat on my back, and closed my eyes.
“You know, you really shouldn’t waste a sunset like this. You only get to see so many.”
I jolted to an upright position to find a young woman, just slightly older than myself by the look of her, maybe eighteen or so. A huge mass of dirty blonde, wavy hair hung around the broad shoulders of her tall frame, darker than my own long McDonald’s French fry yellow curls. She had light blue eyes, almost white in comparison to my eyes, and her skin seemed pale beneath her naturally darker complexion, the dark circles under her eyes combined with the minimal amount of flesh covering her large bone structure gave her the appearance of someone much older than she probably was. Her life had obviously aged her well beyond her years.
She only chuckled at me as I stared. “You don’t look so hot yourself, girl.”
I opened my mouth to reply, but quickly closed it when no honest denial came to mind. She was right. I probably looked just as bad, if not worse than she did. I finally muttered, “F*** off”, before lying back down and closing my eyes again.
I listened carefully, waiting to hear the crunching of rocks and sand as she walked away. Instead, she sighed, and when I opened my eyes a moment later, she had made herself comfortable sitting on the sand beside me so that she could still swirl her feet in the water with her legs bent as she looked out over the ocean at the pink, lavender, and peach colored paint strokes that surrounded what was left of the setting sun. She didn’t say anything, made no attempts at conversation or small talk; she just sat there.
I figured she would eventually get up and walk off on her own if I just stayed silent. So the two of us waited. And waited. We waited so long that I was actually beginning to wonder if this girl was going to murder me or commit some other horrendous crime people always suspect of others when they meet them for the first time. The way I saw things, I probably should have taken off as soon as she appeared, leaning over me, looking into my face as if I were a lab rat to be analyzed. She might have followed me. She might have decided I wasn’t worth the effort. But I hadn’t moved, and by the time I’d finally decided it was time to leave, it was already too late.
“The sky looks bigger over the ocean, don’t you think?”
I opened my eyes to look at the sky. The sun had probably sunk over the horizon an hour ago. The moon now seemed to be bobbing in time with the ripples in the water from its seat in the sky. Her revelation was nothing new to me. The light from the sky reflects off of the ocean, making everything look bigger no matter what time of day. But before I had a chance to speak that thought, she continued, “And look at the way the stars make the ocean glow.”
Sitting up to look out over a view I’d witnessed nearly every day for a lifetime, I realized something. “You’ve never been here before, have you?”
The girl turned to look at me. If possible, it seemed her eyes had just become sadder. “No, first time”.
Hm. A Tourist trying to get an Indi movie experience by spending the night on the beach with a complete stranger. How hipster. So, I asked, “Business or pleasure?”
“You’re making fun of me”.
This caught me by surprise. “How am I making fun of you?”
“Well, you’ve obviously been here before or you wouldn’t find it irritating that I think this view is so wonderful.” She stopped. Her shoulders fell. “Forget it. I’m sorry to have bothered you.” She turned her gaze back over the water.
I finally said to her “God, what the f*** is wrong with you”, and sat up to look out at the water, stretching my legs to their full length as I leaned back on my palms, wiggling my fingers into the sand.
“I’m sorry”, and instead of making any move to leave, she hunched her shoulders forward so that her arms could wrap around her knees, pulling them up to her chest so that she had a place to rest her chin. We sat that way for a long time. We were silent; the ocean’s thunder our background music.
“I’m Lyla, by the way”, she finally whispered.
“Aren’t you going to tell me your name?”
“Well, you’re really not the most friendly of people, are you?”
“Depends on the company”.
“Hm.” She got real quiet again after that. I finally turned to look at her. Her face had fallen. Again. She wasn’t looking at the sky anymore.
My face had done the same thing more than I could remember from the way that Kat had taken to speaking at me after Mom had died. I sighed. “My name’s Tanalee, ok?”
She looked up in surprise, her face slowly morphing to one of confusion. “Tanalee? That’s-“ She stopped herself before she could say the words I’d heard over and over again throughout my life.
“-A funny name? Yeah, so I’ve been told”.
“I didn’t mean-“
“Nah, your fine.”
She looked at me for a moment as if working to make sure she didn’t offend with her next question. “How’d you get it? The name, I mean?”
I smiled. I couldn’t help it. The name was something only my mother could have come up with. “My mom saw in an eHarmony commercial, and liked it. She watched the commercial again later and realized the name was actually Tanyalee, but she thought that was too complicated”.
Lyla started giggling. “Your mom sounds so cool”.
“Yeah, she was”.
Lyla gasped. “Oh, I’m so sorry!”
I didn’t turn to look at her for fear that she’d try to hug me. But then she did something much worse.
“Your lucky, you know”, she said looking up at the sky once more. She looked younger in the darkness, the light from the moon and the stars highlighting the hollows of her face that turned to shadows in the sunlight. “I wish I had memories like that.”
“Yeah, tell that to my sister.”
“Why don’t you tell her yourself?”
“Don’t you have someone else you could go to?”
“Nope. Just the two of us.”
A pained expression came across her face before she spoke again. “It may not seem like it now, but you’ll appreciate having someone later. You both will.”
I didn’t say anything. Her eyes had glazed over, staring straight through me as if I wasn’t even there. I didn’t have to ask about her story. Every story that ends in that look is the same as any other. We were the same, she and I.
I don’t know if either of us really understood what had just happened, and I’m pretty sure that we wouldn’t have been able to even if we’d tried. So we didn’t. We just watched the play of the star and moonlight over the ripples in the water, the tide slowly shifting away from our feet as the night progressed.
When the sun came up over the water again, Lyla and I turned to look at one another. Where sunlight usually gave peoples’ faces a rosy flush, on her, it might as well have dealt blows for the bruised looking shadows it painted across her complexion. .
She smiled, stood, looked out at the sunrise one last time, and walked away. I wish I would’ve said something to her then. Just a simple goodbye, something to bring an end to our relationship… But then, no relationship ends well.
So, in ending this one, all I can say is, as the sun came up, I walked along the beach, back the way I’d come, the blue waves trickling over my feet, up to my ankles, back and forth, while the gulls cried out to one another that it was time to fly again.