The brim is wide. Overflowing, it paints an uneven shade over her pale shoulders, and onto the shore beneath. Legs out, she straddles the sine between two worlds. Water forms around her limbs—hands splayed and sunken in the sand—before withdrawing, only to return.
The beach tapers, curving itself around a golden cliff. Flexing her feet she fixes on the horizon, exhaling slowly the gentle oscillation rocking her body. A shout breaks her reverie, followed by soft thud and small splash. A tennis ball nudges up against her leg. Picking it up she stands, looking to the edge of the beach. The three boys that are watching her look familiar. Lifting off her black sunhat, she launches the ball—hard and fast—to the nearest one. Tall and lithe, his dark hair is striking against the rich backdrop. It takes him by surprise, hitting him in the face before he has moment to react. The blond starts laughing. Bending over, his shoulders shake and he drops to his thick knees.
“I’m free! I’m free!” he shouts, laughing again and pounding the sand with his fists.
The third—a redhead—remains standing, hands on thin hips. Throwing his head back, he laughs in unison. The dark-haired boy picks up the ball, glances at the other two and strolls toward her. She’s already reseated, sunhat back on her head, limbs once again partially submerged.
He stops barely a foot away. “You hit me.”
Looking up into his face, she purses her lips to stop a smile from forming. “You should have better reflexes.”
His green eyes narrow, a deep emerald in the shade of fringe. “You’re Char—”
“Jackson. Why did your parents give you a last name for a first name?”
Jackson throws the ball back to the other two. With a shrug he sits down. “It’s a name, but everyone calls me Jack.”
Charlie knows this. His voice low, rich, the mark of man easing out of his teens, but his nonchalance still paints him a boy. She turns her attention back to the horizon. There’s another shout and Jack’s hand snaps out to catch the tennis ball in front of him. He throws it back without getting up. The blond groans, wading out in the water to retrieve the ball.
Leaning back, Jack’s elbows sink into the sand. He eyes Charlie’s legs, replaying the moment she stood up and removed her sunhat. She’s almost unrecognizable—dark hair against her lower back and long, long legs attached to slender body in a full swimsuit. The black material is taut against her high breasts. His gut stirs. Averting his eyes, he stares at his toes.
Skittle calls out. Wingnut is hungry. They’re leave for something to eat. Jack waves them off and remains. His eyes travel over Charlie again, comparing her to the girl he sees at school: hair pinned up, casual pants and loose shirts. Nondescript. Although he knows all the groups and the all faces, Jack’s recollections are limited. Charlie sitting in class. Charlie at a locker. Here—she’s a woman. Confident. Relaxed. Alone.
“So…” He breaks the silence and clears his throat.
The tide flows in and out.
After awhile she responds, “So?”
Jack glances up the beach, seeing his inflatable raft. “Want to go out on the water?”
She stands, discarding her sunhat. Jack gets up and they fall into step beside each other. He notices that she comes up to his chin. Charlie’s hair obscures her face, falling over her shoulder. In the light, it reveals shades of plum reminding Jack of the Japanese Maple his mother is so fond of. He runs his thumb across his fingertips, wondering what it would feel like. When they reach his raft, she surprises him by circling to other side and helping him pull it into the water. The water hits their thighs. Climbing in, they paddle out out slowly. Jack points to the buoy. Reaching it, he tethers the raft. They sit back on opposite sides, sinking back into themselves and relaxing under the now overcast sky.
The water dimples, moving gently underneath. Jack closes his eyes, but the visions of Charlie are persistent: the flare of her hips, her dark eyes and the soft blush of her mouth. He swallows. There’s a splash. His eyes snap open. Charlie is no longer in the raft. Scrambling over to her side, he peers over the edge. Though the water is clear, he sees nothing. Frowning, he looks at the buoy. Without warning he finds himself under the water, swirling water in his ears. Charlie swims around him as he scrambles to the surface for air. The salt is overwhelming, his saliva tasting sweeter on his tongue as the last of ocean trails past his lips. Treading water, he grabs the rope of raft.
Charlie appears—a siren emerging from the water—moving slowly toward him. Her expression is unreadable. Faces a breath apart, she reaches her hand up next to his and holds the line. Jack feels her legs wrap around his hips. If she leans forward, her breasts will press against his chest. Her hair floats around them. Slick. Inky. His fist tightens around the rope, his free hand flexing under the water. Through the cool, he can feel the heat from the flesh of her thighs. He hardens. Closing his eyes he wills it away, but it’s no use. He opens them to her hand pushing at his wet fringe. Water drips from her palm against his cheek. She seems to be studying his face. Fingers trailing down, they catch his bottom lip, curling it slightly before gliding over his chin and neck.
Unraveling her legs, Charlie sinks down into water. Jack lets out a breath he doesn’t realize he’s been holding. When she resurfaces, she’s yards away, swimming back to shore.