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never until you
I remember I once told him I liked the beach. That I liked the feeling of the wind, and the sand in my toes, and the sound of water. That I liked being there alone.
Then I told him how he changed that.
His words were easy, they were simple; it wasn’t much of a reply. “I did?”
I laughed then. I laughed because he had no idea.
I lean against the rail and stick my head out in the breeze. The waves wash over the sand so I quickly race down the steps of my hotel and burst out the door, every single part of me tingling. Yes. Let the wind carry me away. Let it make my hair feel so free, yes, make me forget that he’s gone. I spread out my arms and close my eyes and I don’t care that every single person walking past me thinks I’m a freak because I realize, why waste moments that could mean so much more?
I remember when he said that, too. He told me, “Tate, don’t worry about those strangers.”
We were standing on top of a bench in a park, yelling “I think you’re my world!” It was corny, and it was practically stupid because the cops were very, very strict in that area, but he convinced me it was the best thing to do. So I yelled it, and every time I yelled it, I felt like the world was turning back at me and saying, “Well, I think you’re annoying, so shut up!”
That’s when he said it. “Why waste this moment, Tate? Why waste it when it could mean so much more?” Does he have that moment stored in his memory? Does he know that I keep replaying it in my head and smiling? Does he feel guilty that the cops kicked us out of the park that day and that moment became one of the things that defined my life?
Does he know I loved it?
I drop my arms. “I bet you don’t,” I whisper. I bet he’s far away now, traveling the world like he was destined to do, meeting other people, living his life and his opportunities and his moments, the ones I’ll never be in. So I sit in the sand and just watch silently. I watch until the sun almost sets.
Then I begin to walk.
I can’t call it sleep-walking because I’m awake. I’m just drowsy, walking down the empty streets of a strange barren city with my eyes half-open, with my heart half-stolen, with my body trembling. And I say his name over and over, “Zane, Zane, Zane,” because he did this to me, because I do this to me, because I’m weak, weak, weak. Out of nowhere, I begin to run.
He told me I flew like a bird once. He found out that day he came over and we were making brownies and the mix turned out really bad because we added too much water and then he was laughing, eating all the mush up and I was close to getting sick and he took a dip with his finger and splattered it across my face and then I was laughing as he licked it off my cheek, and I took the bowl of mush and started running with it because I wanted it all to myself and he caught me and we fell down and the mush went bleeding across my body and some got in my hair so we spent the whole night trying to wash ourselves out in the porch because my dad was very, very unhappy. And so I handed him the sprinkler and he washed me and I twirled around, laughing, and tilting my head and realized he was so quiet. Because he was standing there watching me, so intensely.
“You fly like a bird,” he told me, and I chuckled.
“No,” he said. “You really do. You’re flying and I can’t reach you.”
So I shook my head, stepped up to him, and leaned my forehead against his. “Maybe it’s because you’re from Heaven, Zane.”
He always had this tropical fruit smell hanging in the air around him because I insisted he use the perfume I’d bought him from a store near the beach. He stared wearing it every single day, spraying it on all his shirts and his friends started mocking him and sniffing him and kissing him on the cheek like I used to do and he would grin and say, “Love is love, guys.” But they never understood.
I really never understood either until that night of my cousin’s wedding. I was wearing a red dress with high heels and Zane came along in a tux and the moment he saw me he stared like he hadn’t seen me before and then while I was sitting across from my parents he came over and asked me to dance and whisked me away and the whole world dissolved into this dream, and it was like he was my reality.
It didn’t last long though, because he had to answer a phone call from his father who didn’t like me at all, and my cousin’s friend started walking over to me and asking me to dance over and over even when I declined and then Zane noticed and ended the phone call with his father, and the world just seemed to hate me because my cousin’s friend reached over and grabbed my hand. Zane was there by then, shoving the friend against a table.
“What do you think you’re doing grabbing her like that?” Zane told the guy, calmly and in control. And I thought then that I didn’t have to worry. Zane was going to be okay. And I actually thought boys were in control until Zane turned around and the guy swung his fist at Zane and then they were both at the ground beating each other like dough and I was jumping, trying to pull at Zane’s shirt but my mom pulled me away and I stormed out.
An hour later my doorbell rang, and Zane stood there, a large bruise on his forehead, his nose running with blood. I stared at him, angry and furious and “Unbelievable!” Yelling. I couldn’t hold myself, and I dragged him, yelling more and putting an ice against his nose.
“What the heck do you think you were doing?” I shouted. “Why couldn’t you just walk away? Why couldn’t you control yourself for more than five seconds? Why did you have to do this? You ruined the night, you ruined our image! My parents aren’t even going to tolerate this stupidity and-”
“I didn’t want him to hurt you. I didn’t like the way he was looking at you. I was jealous.”
I looked at him. “Jealous? You were jealous? So if the whole world was jealous of each other, I’m guessing the end of the world should have been a billion years ago, right?”
He didn’t answer.
I threw the ice in his lap and cried in the bathroom. A minute later, I heard him shuffle on the other side of the door, and then knock on it. “What!” I yelled, banging at the door with my fist.
“Tate, come out, please. I’m sorry.”
His voice was so genuine, so gentle, his face was even more. I stepped out and he held me like he was my stone and I clutched onto him and cried even harder. “Don’t do it ever again, okay?” I whispered. “Because I can’t stand seeing you hurt, Zane. I hate thinking that I’m the cause of this all.”
“Is that why you’re mad?” Zane asked me, and when I looked away he brought my face back to his and sighed and his eyes went all serious just for that second. “I think I love you.”
I find myself at a café and it’s ten o’ clock. His words keep clicking in my mind like flipping through TV channels and every channel a person says, “I think I love you, I think I love you, I think I love you.” But I guess I should have taken note of the ‘I think’ part, because the next week Zane got a call from his father and was forced to leave. His father never ever liked me.
Absentmindedly, I buy tea and sit at the table staring out at the dark. There’s almost no one here, so I finally make my way back to the hotel. I have to take a cab because I must’ve walked farther than I thought. The whole time I stare at the stars. Zane loves stars. He once held me under the stars and I cried into his neck because he told me he was leaving. I remember that the moon had just enough light to catch the glint of tears in his eyes.
I give the cab driver money and am about to exit when he suddenly says, “Hey, are you Tate?”
I look at him, confused and fearful. “Um…how did you know that?”
“You have red hair and blue eyes and some guy who I brought here was looking for you.”
I race out of the cab, stumbling upon the sand and then I slow down. I can see his figure, his head tilted up as he stares at the twinkling stars. And I want to tell him I miss him. I want to say that I don’t think I love him, I know I love him, because life seems plain without him. Because he’s already engraved his kiss into my cheek and it’s the only kiss I’ll accept now. That his eyes make my insides bleed with desire for him.
But I just walk, and I take off my shoes, and I smile.
I step up behind him, wrap my arms around his waist, feel his grip tighten around my arms.
“I never loved the beach until you came along,” I say, because it’s the truth.