“Give me your hand or you’ll fall.” The chilly water rushed over her pink toenails and then receded as she
extended her arm to Michael. Standing amid the tidepool her lips perked upward into a relaxed smile. The red warmth of her Stanford sweatshirt stood in contrast against the fog and dampness. The cuffed guess jeans were spattered with the whiteness of the saltwater and were wet up to her knees. In the hand not extended she held a couple of shells and a piece of seaweed which she later planned on dropping down Michael’s sweater. It simply seemed to her the thing to do.
She hesitated, unsure of pulling her hand back, since Michael had not yet reached for it. She wished she knew what went on behind those dark brown eyes. In his blue sweater he looked so… easygoing. She thought he was the picture of relaxed self-confidence and the thought made her cringe. Michael had worn jeans also, a true rarity in his wardrobe, which he now had rolled up to his knees. He didn’t seem to mind the water lapping around his polished topsiders, on the contrary. She could almost see his toes dancing around inside the shoes.
She remembered that she needed a new pair of white shoes. Last time she had visited Michael’s room he had told her that her shoes stunk after she had slid them off of her feet. The thought that they stunk now barely crossed her
mind since she stood with barefeet emersed in four inches of water. They stunk. She lifted her face which had inadvertently wandered to her feet and caught his half smile.
The wind made her eyes water and she realized suddenly that she still had her hand extended across the
narrow channel of water dividing herself from Michael. To hide her panic she dropped down to look at the sea life. Damn, she thought. Damn. How would she be able to explain the rears running down her cheeks? The combination of wind, saltwater, and her contacts had led to this awkward condition, but Michael would believe it all had something to do with him. Paranoia. Once Michael had said that she was paranoid. And overreactive she thought to
The anemone closed up tightly when she extended her finger into it tennacles. It wanted to grasp her
finger but she withdrew it quickly jerking her hand out of the water in the process. In slow motion she watched the drops of seawater land on Michael’s face. He had also bent down for a closer look at the sea creatures, seeing
things from a different perspective. Inside, she admonished her own clumsiness. Their faces were inches apart. Michael’s eyes were cloudy, unreadable, although she knew her own told the whole story. They told of her hopes and fears and experiences, and her lies and dreams. She knew it was all there if he was looking but she wondered whether he even cared enough to really see. Lately she had begun to listen to her friends about Michael; egocentric, uncaring, a womanizer. The characteristics were all undoubtedly true but she lacked courage; courage and strength.
Pearlets of water dripped off of his Rolex and she wondered how he could always be so unconcerned. What would it take to break his calm. Oh well, did she really care? Did she care? The seconds hand on Michael’s watch was moving in circles slower than her mind.
“Give me your hand or you’ll fall.” He wondered if the words came from him or from her. But no, the slender fingers on the hand extended to him were hers. They looked so inviting. His own hands were cold, thrust into his pockets like snails in their shells. The fog made him feel sticky and he wondered why he hadn’t had the sense to take his shoes off like Anna. Her ankles looked so slender and the waves that rushed over her feet distorted them. She must be cold, he thought, but she really didn’t look it.
His hands played with the certs candies in his pockets as he casually studied Anna. The mist had made her strawberry hair even more curly than usual and he liked the rare messy look, her lips reflected her intentness as she gazed down, and although he seldom saw Anna’s freckles... today they seemed to fit in perfectly with the picture she created. Even to go to the beach she had worn some makeup but he had to stop to really notice it.
He remembered seeing Anna without makeup and inwardly kicked himself for having been such a callous fool
that morning, commenting on how different she looked without any makeup. He often said things to Anna that he wished he could take back later, or at least explain. That morning had been a perfect example. They had awoken and he had been struck by a real quality of… naturalness. Naturalness at being there, with her, beautiful without makeup. She hadn’t understood. That same feeling overcame him now as he stared at the hand in front of him and heard the rhythmic lapping of the water.
Her eyes. He only wished he could really see how she felt through her blue eyes. Then he wouldn’t be so scared. Then he probably wouldn’t say all of those stupid things. Sometimes he felt like she was the tide itself, waxing and
waning, never really constant or predictable. One minute he would swear he could see right to her heart, the next he’d realize how distant he really was from her. He looked at her face now and saw tears fall gracefully over her cheeks. A perfect example. He realized he had not taken her hand and he questioned whether it was this that had made her cry or if it was simply the mist and salt filled breeze that caused her tears. He knew if he had courage he would reach out and wipe them dry, but he didn’t, and was relieved when she lowered herself to stare into the tidepool below.
He understood how the orange anemone felt when Anna withdrew her pinkie from its tennacles. That was exactly what he was afraid of. He was startled by the cold water which hit his face but it brought him momentarily out of his reverie. He smiled at Anna’s distraught face and knew that for once he was seeing an honest emotion. Anna stared intently at his watch and he wondered if she was bored and wanted to get home. What a few minutes earlier had seemed natural now felt tenuous and he decided it was time to leave.
Standing up he moved to step across the channel of water, but the rubber of his topsider slipped off of a piece of seaweed and he found himself grasping for Anna as he fell into the icey Pacific. A splash next to him told him that Anna too was in the cold pool of water.
Nervous laughter erupted from the two bodies as they held hands, looking into each others eyes, never questioning, simply shaking the water and disturbing the starfish, sails and anemone.