He walks off the beach alone with a surfboard under his arm in a full black wet suit; a baseball cap pulled low over his eyes covering his short wet dark blonde hair. A few thin curls that remain loose, bleached by the sun and sea. His mirrored surf shades strapped around his head reflect the empty Sunday morning boardwalk where few people dawdle, run, bike or—like him—exit the dawn tides after riding the waves colloquially known as dawn patrol.
Pulling my own cap lower over my sunglasses, I slow to a crawl and look to retreat wanting both to avoid and challenge him. The diametrically conflicted emotions both excite and confuse me. He doesn’t miss a beat though and settles in next to me burrowing in tightly without touch. He keeps that inch-filled distance loaded with all the messy attraction and chaos that always hovers in the spaces between and around us. The cool early morning scent of salt and ocean on his skin—mingling with the smells of coconut surf wax and sunscreen—hit my senses careening me into a shudder of shivers and goosebumps. I wrap my hands around my bare arms rubbing up and down telling myself the early morning coolness chills me when I know better.
It’s him and all things him.
Have you ever had a messy inconvenient attraction? One that caused so much cognitive dissonance that it messed with your core gravity and sent you hovering into the ether? One that went against everything you long believed? Set your nerves on edge, tingling and torn between two solutions you could not resolve easily, if at all?
My attractions in the past awkward and bordered on the unsuitable at times given that I was already in a relationship—a long-standing monogamous one. I dismissed them as crushes. When they didn’t go away, I broached the subject with Ali who didn’t know how to react at the time. We were both young and fucked up from our families—me more so than she—codependent on one another. All we ever had was each other and that apparently wasn’t enough to fill the giant hole left by my cursed family.
Ali and I fought. Badly and as that old Ross and Rachel saying go, we went on a break. Over the years there have been many breaks and crushes.
Never one like this.
We walk together in an easy silence for a few. The sound of the ocean and gulls and everything unsaid connecting us like a hyphen. I decide to breach that bridge and dance first.
“Ali cares about you. A lot,” I say barely audible above the waves and wind. “And she doesn’t trust easily.” I meet his eyes directly.
He gets the thing I’m not saying.
Removing his sunglasses, he clips them to the front of his wet suit while regarding me earnestly. I remove mine stopping in the middle of the boardwalk turning him towards me. He looks down at my hand then into my eyes. I deliver the challenge evenly: “She will hurt you. It will be painful.”
The soft concern on his face framed in the golden Cali dawn transforms into a grin and dare. He nods. “Yea, I imagine you both will.” A thin pause. “Part and parcel of epic love and passion.” His eyes meet mine then move to my lips and I feel the fire in my belly spread throughout my chest and flush my cheeks baking my insides and taking my breath. He moves unconsciously forward into my personal space while the world wakes around us and time ceases. “I’m all in,” he says almost breathlessly.
I’m average tall for a woman; five feet seven inches of obstinacy as Ali likes to remind me repeatedly. Nik’s only four or five inches taller than I am so I would only have to stand on my toes to reach up and—
“Yo, my lovelies!” I hear her through a tunnel that pulls me back from the ledge I hover drunkenly.
I step back away from him expelling a breath still gazing at his lips, licking mine, feeling the force of his gravity pull me towards him like a sinkhole.
“We have breakfast,” Ali says grinning, pulling up next to us, liberating me from one unchecked hunger to another. The wicked shimmer in her eyes lays me open and I flush red.
Behind Ali is a group—friends we’ve made since we moved in to Nik’s building—carrying boxes of McDonalds’ breakfast meals & drinks yelling their hellos and good mornings to both of us.
Ali pushes a gym bag into Nik’s hands. “Get dressed, love. Time to feed the kids.”
“Will you hold my board?”
“Take Willa with you to watch—it,” and she winks at me with a don’t say I never done nothing for ya look.
I roll my eyes.
Nik witnesses this unspoken communication between us and smiles. He launches the board to me in something that is meant to be a charming playful attempt at flirty boy behavior.
It pisses me off.
I catch the board and pitch it back at him a bit more vigorously than he anticipated catching it with an oof and ouch.
This makes Ali laugh and reply: “She likes you else you would be wearing that board as a hat. Go along now. We’re not gonna wait on y’all forever,” and she pushes us both towards the restrooms.
I stand outside the men’s bathroom with Nik’s board waiting impatiently. My stomach growls. Ali and friends are handing out breakfast meals to the homeless in and around the Skate Park and the Boardwalk.
“Let’s go,” he grabs his board and my hand pulling me over to where Ali and crew await, a small crowd hovering around them. We sit for the next hour eating and talking to the homeless kids and adults discussing everything from Nik’s movies to the LAPD to some of the unpleasant locals yelling at them for taking up and defiling their pretty spaces.
Before the crowds start to arrive, we say our goodbyes and head back.
“That was nice,” I say to them.
“We do it whenever we can, don’t we, Niky?” Ali says proudly.
“Try to.” He catches her hand and kisses it. “Thanks to this lovely creature.”
“Stop. You’re going to spoil me,” but she loves it. And I love it for her.
So much pain.
© 2020 Pamela Gay Mullins