The waves were close. They crashed near her feet. The rocks, slick, barely provided a surface dry enough for walking. But they walked on, trusting each other, listening to the night.
“I was scared,” he told her, gripping her hand.
She wanted to tell him not to worry, and she did, but how could she convey it with the conviction that she knew in her heart? Her words assured him that she was there, always, walking alongside him on the slippery rock that smelled like dead fish.
Maybe the smell really were the fish, dead. A stench, subtle, rose from beneath the waves. They were floaters, belly up. Heaps of seaweed entangled onto something. A leftover plate. A paper cup. A rock. All of it suddenly shifted into bones. No longer swimming, no longer moving.
They kept walking, together, towards the lighthouse.
He took a breath and was present.
“I haven’t walked here in a long time.” His hand in hers gripped more tightly. “Bill used to come here to sleep.”
She thought about sleep and hoped that they would make it back to her house. He never pressured her. She liked that, the gentle space, their mutual acknowledgement that they would, as soon as it felt right. It was different from any other relationship she had ever been in, where sleeping together was something she had to do, a rite of sorts that she did not want to pass through. At the end of the day she always wanted to know that she would still be hungry for a light snack, a yogurt, eaten alone, before she turned out the light. With him it was different. There was no question that she would be able to eat. He too needed nourishment.
He let go of her hand as they entered a narrow stretch of rock. The lighthouse was visible now. They had to walk single file, stepping carefully over bones of seaweed. Water seeped into their Adidas.
“Sounds peaceful,” she said. “To sleep out here, under the stars.”
“Yeah,” he agreed, looking towards the sky. It was August. Before she knew him she hadn’t known that stars could shoot. His grip loosened. His voice drifted.
“I was so mad at him,” he said between breaths. Heavy. “I don’t know how he could do it.”
In his voice, he was now eight-years-old. Scared. She saw him there, tucked into bed, lights off. His mother was downstairs, not asleep, on the couch. He closed his eyes and wished he could pretend better, pretend that the world was still there, that his family was still there, that everything would be ok.
She moved her fingers into the space between the crevices of his hand, reminding him of her presence. They were dry, not sticky. “This is different,” she wanted to say. “I’m here.” She pressed his skin. Down.
“I am too,” she said. “I love you.”
“My dad loved my mom,” he said. “And then one night he left, and he left again, and again. It was dark. I didn’t know what was happening, but I was there, home with my mother, my brother. I thought he would never come back.”
His voice again drifted. She held on tight.
“I thought he would never come back and he came. Back. One night. I thought it was too late. And it was, for me.”
She listened. She wanted her presence to take away the pain of his memory. But all she could do was listen.
He squeezed her hand. And they kept moving, together, into the light.