BY THE SEA
Jade A. Waters
She swears she knew him then, back when life was full of dreams and promises, and cotton candy blossoms so big they smeared on her nose when she bit into them. Back when unicorns were real, and pain was not a word that exhausted her vocabulary in its bitter streak across her world, molding a quiet wake in the thin, wired lines that sprouted from the corners of her eyes.
But she didn’t.
It’s just that, in the touch of his hand now, in the way he closed it around hers and pulled her into the swell of his chest as he slid his fingers into her hair, it was too easy to forget she hadn’t. That Josh hadn’t always been there, watching, encouraging, and loving her. He’d heard it all, seen the scars that ran along her side, knew in the occasional manner she jumped when he walked too swiftly and surprised her how fiercely that life had embedded itself inside her. It had branded her even through the rosy smile on her lips, and the chime of laughter she regularly exhaled with him. It was for this she loved him, treasured how he drew her nearer, somehow pulling her close enough it felt like they could become one by the sea that swept onto the sandy shore, swirling around and between their bare toes as if promising to take them away with the current, into the wide open space of their love.
“Can I kiss you, Anya?” he asked.
Always, this question. Despite her gaze into his eyes, surrendering everything to him because it was so easy, so right. Josh took her chin in his fingers as she nodded fast, leaning up on her toes to try and fall further into him when their mouths met. His tongue and hers weaved like coils of algae drifting to and fro, in, between, around, lazily surrounded by the kiss of the tide. As the wind gusted around them, rustling the fabric of her dress, seizing her hair and whipping it around their faces, it was hard not to feel herself disappearing with him, fading into the night, into the sea.
“We’ve only an hour,” she whispered. But his lips covered her sigh, smothered the truth that kept breaking them apart. She was hers, he was his, and yet they weren’t. Still, this, too, was easy to forget as he kissed her with so much love. As the two of them dropped to their knees, oblivious to the grit of the sand digging into their skin, to the wind warning them beneath the moon that lit them up on the shore.
Josh did not stop kissing her as he pushed her back, his hands slipping up her skirt, trailing along the smooth lines of her legs and caressing the fleshy rounds of her thighs. His tongue stayed heated against hers as he tucked fingertips under the sides of the flimsy underwear she wouldn’t wear at home but had donned just for him. His breath came sweet on her cheek as he pulled the fabric down, pausing as she swayed her hips for him to work it over her bottom, then down past her knees. He discarded it beside their bodies on the shore, a crumpled ball of lace that might, in this wind, be blown away, carrying the secret that bound them as it tumbled to the water and drifted out to sea.
“I’ve missed you,” Josh said, and he kissed her once, hands slipping back up her thighs, pushing up her skirt, revealing Anya to the night sky. She loved his stare, torn between two views—that of her face, and the wetness waiting for him between her thighs. It was when he looked there that he slid two fingers against her, tracing the silky cleft only partially shown in the moonlight, but so clear to him as he eased them inside. This is when she moaned, craning her neck, her lips falling apart in more whimpers as his fingers sank so far within her. Josh cupped her knee with his other hand, pushing it aside, bidding the split of her thighs be visible to him, the truth of how they loved divulged once more. Behind him, the water swelled and rolled, but she was lost in the sounds that fell from her throat, in the surge of love for him. For this man who understood and knew her, who made her feel like the rest was nothing but a faded memory she didn’t need to revisit, despite the relentless hold it still had on her.
Josh slipped another finger inside, gliding all of them in, out, kissing her knee, staring into her face. When she reached for his shoulders, begging him to sweep into her, he wrestled down his pants to settle between her thighs. Anya weaved her fingertips around the side of his neck, urging him, and Josh rested against the heat he’d stirred up in her, asking again in his whisper if he could take her in the way they both loved.
“Yes,” she gasped, the sound so crisp in that night with the sudden thrust of him into her, in the movements of him inside her, and her movements with him. Anya dug her feet into the sand and lifted her hips to meet him, arching against his deep thrusts as she caressed his shoulders and he sighed her name. He heaved above her and she swayed with him, needing him in her, with her, part of her, for as long as she would be allowed. As his motions grew faster he brought his lips back to hers, kissing her as though she was his princess and he was her prince, as though they truly were familiar then, when those dreams existed. Josh curled one hand around her arm, and the other slid beneath her dress, clutching at the skin of her side and mindlessly tracing the scars that weaved down to her hip, where he gripped her tight to drive faster, deeper inside. And in all this Anya never hesitated, never stopped arching up to meet him, gasping for the seal of her cunt around him, for the pulse of her lust shaking her, filling her, making her desperate for him like she was and believed she forever would be.
“Anya…” he said, the name a bite on her cheek before his breath caught, a moan that echoed hers beneath him. Together they thrust, caving, coming, his love meeting hers as she shuddered around him, tucking her nails into the sides of his body as the feeling washed through her and lapped at her skin like the moist, salty air. The waves rolled on behind them, a whisper to the whish of their breaths, to the soft kisses they played on one another’s mouths.
In time, their hearts settled. Their breaths fell still. Josh swept his fingers back and forth over the skin of her thigh as he kept his forehead against hers and gazed into her eyes. They would lie like this as long as they could, treasuring each quiet minute until it was time for her to stand and leave him there. The perfect fairy tale of their love would be held once more, a story in their hearts as strong as the tide, as bright as their very own moon, and deep as the ocean they would drown in, together, if they could.
When Josh told Anya he loved her, she didn’t just hear the words but felt them, little drops of rain kissing her cheeks to ease a storm that bent trees against a backdrop of lightning and dark, tumbling clouds. The phrase was a breath that moved through her, filling her up, making her whole. When she said it back, the movements between them grew deeper, sweeter, their bodies playing to it, for it, dancing as if to a symphony.
This night, they climbed the pier, Josh whistling as the wind blew Anya’s dress up and aside, giving him a view of where he’d just been, where she’d craved him. She’d surprised him when he met her, aching more this time, grasping at his hands and running them over her as they tangled themselves on the shore and he found the liquid desire already soaking the short curls of her sex. This had made him moan and bury his face between her thighs, lapping at her as she hooked her ankles around his back. He’d whispered of her salty musk, of the sweet pool he wanted to crawl into and live in for an eternity if he could only find a way in. When he rocked forward with every thrust of his tongue, the motion sang a lullaby that built within her, making her shudder at the slide of his fingers inside. He rubbed fervently, urgently, at the bud of nerves that craved his touch, never retreating until she bucked and thrashed against the sandy floor. And when Anya had let out her cry, he’d hardly waited to slide inside her, filling her with a lusty groan that left them laying there afterward winded and surprised at how it could seem better. Familiar. Perfect.
So when they reached the top of the dock and toppled to the damp boards like two clumsy children, Josh curled himself with Anya all over again, resting his head in her lap and staring up at her while she fondled the tousled strands of his hair. Tonight the surf barely made a sound, the white crests absent from view, the water lazily slapping the piles that held this stoop up beneath them, propping them in some version of solidity they didn’t really have. A solitary seagull flew overhead, letting out its caw, and she tilted her eyes up to watch it coast through the black ocean above while her fingers stayed laced in Josh’s hair.
“What if we were real?” he asked, and Anya thought she saw the stars twinkling, heard them telling her yes, heed this question. This one is very good. It loomed between them, rife with wonder, complication. She heard his breath, a low raspy sound that made her imagine what it would feel like to sleep beside him like they did only once, the night they’d somehow managed escape and tumbled through the door of a cheap seaside motel. He’d had his hands beneath her skirt before the door was shut completely, his lips sweet on hers, kissing away everything, whispering of how much he loved her, how he had counted the minutes until they would see one another. It was as he found her hips that he confessed she made him feel alive, like they were the only two people in the world who understood one another. Anya had lifted her head in eager agreement, both of them falling to the bed, clutching at one another, needing each other more than anything. They’d made love again and again, their bodies never drifting apart in the moments between until they fell asleep to the occasional whoosh of a car on the lonely, coastal road outside. She’d dreamt of taking his hand and running into the sea, splashing and laughing like she remembered doing once long before, when she was young.
Josh squeezed her tighter with the arm he’d weaved around her waist, and drew her back with the slip of his hand up her side until he could circle her neck and reach his fingers into her hair. She’d felt this same hold not a day before from someone else, those fingers rough, tugging her to see his face, and she’d barely moved her head in muted agreement, for any other answer would never do. She had lain there, silent, smothered, kissing without kissing, her mind dancing off to remember these fingers. Josh’s fingers. They were soft, gentle pads sketching love on her scalp, reminding her that both of them were happy, here by the sea.
“What if we were?” she asked. Anya tore her eyes away from that wafting bird to the look shining in Josh’s eyes that she’d seen before. The moon was out again tonight, not as bright, but lighting his face enough to show the deep lines in his forehead from trying in his other life, and his pupils spreading like oil in the middle of two vast blue lakes. The question was as difficult for him as it was for her, because—despite his love for her and the way he came to Anya desperate for something warm, something real—to leave his life would rain a storm of agony on someone else, a fragile, loveless truth they’d avoided speaking of for some time.
Josh rolled into her lap, his body warm, so warm, knees curling up into his chest so that they grazed her hip as his arms encircled her waist. His breath fell hot through the fabric of her dress, stirring her in spite of the gravity of their words, the tenuous sanctity they shared between them. Would it be the same if they were real? Would she feel the same for him, and him for her?
Would they be better?
“I think we’d be happy,” he said.
“Do you?” Anya didn’t want to break it, this raft carrying them along.
Josh lifted his head. He grabbed her skirt and pressed it up, exposing her to the humid air as he rested his head back on her thigh and peered with a wisp of a smile at the wetness between her folded legs.
She wanted to believe him. Wanted to believe the disruption they’d cause would be worth it, that the love between them would build and overcome, powerful like the sea. Josh dipped further into her lap, his mouth grazing the tender swell of her clit. Then he puckered his lips and blew a stream of air over her, until Anya tilted back her head with a quiet moan.
Maybe it would. Maybe they could.
“I want this. You, Anya,” he said. “Don’t you see how much I love you?”
Josh pressed his mouth flush against her, his tongue swirling as he took her hips in his hands, and she trembled while the sea churned rhythmically beneath them.
Anya came to him shouting, bounding across the shore, the wind catching her hair and the sand battering the soles of feet she’d stripped from her sandals before she left them in the backseat of her car. Her belly was tight from such a well of emotion she felt she could blow like the wind, one way, then another, but she didn’t want to ignore the pain in her side anymore, the bruises on her arms that she’d stared at, long and hard, sure this was it. This was now.
They met in a collision so forceful it seemed contrary to all they’d been—their chests slamming tight, their mouths wild, their hands seeking one another, needing one another, puffs of breath spilling from their lips as they clung. Josh kissed away the drops rolling from the corners of Anya’s eyes, and she smoothed her thumbs over the line of his brow, both of them whispering their love and their tales as the wind kicked up the water once more. This time the sea didn’t sing to them, but for them, washing onto the shore and summoning them close, then retreating to leave the smooth spread of sand upon which they were meant to lay.
Once Josh drew back from her, he cupped the sides of her face. She thought maybe she was crazy, or they were completely out of their minds—but when his palms, warm and sweet, held her tight, Anya knew this was right, knew the shivering inside was part of the course, part of their fairy tale. One cannot have joy without pain, and they had surely had theirs—she saw the trouble in Josh’s eyes that melted when he looked at her, felt the certainty brimming between them as he pressed his lips to hers, kissing her like he never wanted her to leave again. Like he never would, either. She leaned hard against him and his knees gave, taking them down to the wet shore, and Josh pulled her onto him until she straddled his hips and felt the power she found with him. With him she wasn’t broken, afraid, or weak. She was everything she wanted to be, everything she could be, and as he arched up against her Anya felt the way his body told her this, and the desire in the trail of his hands over her skin. She kissed him as they both fumbled with his shirt, and once he shrugged it off his shoulders she lifted her dress up over her head. He gasped, for she’d come naked beneath, not wanting anything to stop them this time, both of their lives discarded to leave only them, this moment, this truth they’d sought. When Josh spread kisses over her breasts and eased out of his pants, she’d never felt more alive, more real, than they were now.
They had come here many times, but never had they done this, naked here, so open, so free. The waves crested and swelled, reassuring them, dancing in the sway of the wind as Josh ran his hands up her sides, lovingly touching her scars. Anya leaned back above him, letting him see all of her. For so long they’d snuck here in the dark, their short visits a rush to touch, to kiss, to move together before time slipped away and they were forced to leave each other once more—but now, she imagined that time stood still as Josh stroked her skin, then thumbed the split of her folds. They murmured there with wanting sighs, hungry and needy but slow in their caresses, until finally Anya could wait no more. She guided him into her, and Josh groaned at the touch of her hand, at the silky feel of her encircling him tight. And once Anya began to move above him, digging her knees into the sand and rolling her hips to take him deeper inside, her body quaked with the choice they’d made. They rode it gleefully, confidently, their excitement filling the moans that carried onto the wind, surrounding them in a chorus that stirred the pleasure in her, stronger this time, lifting her soul like it always had with him. Anya closed her eyes but Josh slipped his fingers into her mouth, drawing her gaze as she shuddered above him. The spasms of her cunt gripped him, urged him, made him mutter words of love before he, too, came, and she fell over him there on the sand, their bodies hot and slick, shaking with this new union, this wholly different love they’d opted to share—theirs and theirs alone. When their breaths slowed she peeled herself off him, trailing a finger down his chest and smiling at the mirrored trace he made over her belly and along her leg.
“We’re going to be happy,” he said. “I know it.”
She nodded and took his hand, pulling both of them up from the shore. They were covered in sand so Josh led her forward, into the water they’d never dared go before. The waves licked at their feet as they walked into it, and Anya squealed at how cold it was against her skin. Josh cupped it and splashed it over her before she did the same right back, and then the two of them ventured until their legs were submerged, the water cocooning their calves, knees, and thighs, the current so strong it tried to rock them from their stance but failed as they wrapped their arms around one another, kissing there, close.
“This is real,” Josh said. “We’re real. And I think we’re going to be okay.”
Okay echoed in Anya’s ears and she closed her eyes, loving that Josh’s lips came soft again, peppering her upper lip, then the bottom one, before he kissed her full and strong.
Maybe he was right and they would be. Or, maybe they wouldn’t. But Anya knew what surged between them was magnificent like the tide—here now, loud now, sweeping up against their legs as they held one another beneath the moon that had hardly waned. It was as if it had lingered well past its reign to see how the next part of their story began, smiling upon the embrace that molded them together, and sending the wind to kiss their cheeks and gust around them with a whistle of encouragement that had been there all along.