The wind whipped at her hair as she stood gazing out to sea, far past the blue horizon.
Not a violent wind.
Not like some that had visited her island paradise lately.
This wind was more playful than anything, tossing her hair to and fro much in the same way her little sister had done when they were children and used to sit for hours “doing” each other’s hair.
The wind may have been playful, but she wasn’t feeling it; not today nor any day in recent memory.
Squatting so that her weight balanced on the backs of her heels, she picked up a handful of sand and let it trickle through her fingers, fascinated by the way it sparkled in the sun.
A sudden gust blew her long, sun-streaked auburn hair across her face momentarily obscuring her vision.
Swiping at it with her free hand, and spitting a few stray hairs from her mouth, she stood and looked once more toward the ocean.
That’s when she saw the stranger, he of the long and lithe, impossibly well-tanned physique standing not more than twenty feet away.
A golden thatch of longish hair crowned his head and even from this distance, she caught the piercing blue of his eyes.
Giving her a little, almost shy, half wave he sauntered in her direction, his feet digging deep holes into the freshly wet sand.
“Hi,” he said simply, his voice reaching her ears only to be quickly snatched away by that playful breeze.
She liked his looks right away.
Liked them quite a lot.
She said, “Hi, yourself.”
As he got closer, she realized that he was taller than average, but not so much so that it made her uncomfortable in the way that large men often did.
Smiling broadly he said, “This day is almost too perfect to believe.”
She found herself immediately taken in by that smile and the rows of perfectly white teeth it revealed.
“Yes, yes it is. And not having anywhere else to be makes it even better.”
“Oh,” he said slowly, “I’ve got somewhere to be, but not right now.”
For no other reason than being unable to summon anything else to mind that was even remotely and conversationally clever she said, “Do you come here often?”
“Yeah, I do,” he said somewhat nervously. “Almost every day if I can possibly swing it. You?”
Smiling as if at some secret joke she said, “Actually I do, but don’t think it’s because I put out any special effort. You see, I live just over that little rise there.”
His eyes followed her gesture.
Laughing he said, “Want to hear something funny?”
“I used to try and figure out who lived there.”
She laughed in return and said, “Oh, and what did you come up with?”
“Well, my latest guess was that the house was owned and inhabited by an eccentric writer from the mainland who lived there part time and the rest of the time he lived in someplace like, oh, Portland or Seattle…somewhere not as nice as here.”
Batting her eyes she said, “And are you disappointed? You know…now that you know the truth?”
His gaze seemed to pierce right to the center of her soul.
“Oh, no. Not at all. In fact, you were who I wanted to live there, but I just couldn’t bring myself to believe that it could be true.”
“What do you mean?” she said, feeling slightly uncomfortable.
He hung his head as if too embarrassed to meet her eyes.
“I have a confession to make,” he said softly. “I, well, I’ve seen you down here quite a few times and, to be honest, I’ve watched you.”
She said hesitantly, “Watched me? Maybe you’d better explain what that means.”
“I’m not talking like peeping tom stuff. What I mean is I’ve seen you here on the beach and, well, to me at least you seem to have such a connection to this place that it’s hard to even think of one without the other. And I’ve wanted to talk to you for the longest time, but never got up the nerve to do so until today.”
Nodding slowly she said, “I do have a connection. My husband and I bought this house—he was a writer, by the way. It was with the money he earned from his first big advance. He’d always wanted to live by the ocean and we found this house completely by accident.” She paused, suddenly awash in memory, and when she continued her voice was almost too soft for the man to hear. “He loved to swim. And one afternoon, right about this time, he said he was going for a swim. He kissed me good-bye, and I watched him jog down the beach, jump in the water and start swimming out to sea.” She stopped speaking and cleared her throat lightly. “They searched for three days, but his body was never found.”
The man said, “Oh, man, that’s…I’m so sorry.”
With a sad and world-weary smile she said, “So I come out here every day and watch the ocean thinking that maybe, just maybe someday I’ll see him come swimming back in like he used to do—run up the beach and shake the water from his hair getting me all wet.”
At a complete loss for words the man said, “Listen, I’m…that is, I didn’t mean to—”
“No,” she said. “Don’t be sorry. The truth is it’s been two years and I…well, I guess I kind of need to get on with things.”
They both stood in silence, staring out past the breakers for what seemed like an eternity.
Finally, he said, “Well, I guess I should be—”
“Listen,” she said, cutting him off. “I realize this is probably completely inappropriate, but would you like some ice tea? I just finished making some right before I came down here.”
Blinking his eyes rapidly he said, “Are you sure? I mean, I don’t want to intrude or…”
She turned quickly as her steps fell onto a well-worn path and called back over her shoulder, “Sweetened or unsweetened?”
He hesitated for a moment and then the strangest thing happened: a larger than normal wave crashed into him propelling him forward. Turning to look behind him, an even larger one followed nudging him a good six feet up the beach.
With a smile and a silent, “Thank-you,” toward the ocean he shouted up the beach through cupped hands, “Unsweetened.”