by James Bates
English breakfast tea
Johnny had busted up his leg pretty bad when he'd rolled his dirt bike, but Lily wanted to go to the ocean so he said, "Sure. You'll have to help me, though." He pointed to the cast. "It's hard to walk."
Lily smiled. "You can lean on me anytime, big boy."
Johnny grinned. They'd been dating for four months and still couldn't get enough of each other. It was summertime between their junior and senior year at Oceanside High School, and they'd been having the time of their lives. It didn't take much to get him to imagine fooling around on a blanket in the sand at Riptide Cove all afternoon with the winsome Lily. It'd be a memorial day, for sure, is what he thought.
Lily drove her parent's old Honda. They parked in the small lot on the near side of the dunes, ignored the sign that warned them of dangerous undercurrents and made their way slowly through the sand, climbing a steep rise until they were perched high atop a dune overlooking the sea. It was a beautiful view. The day was sunny and bright with seagulls soaring and an off shore wind blowing in, cooling their warm bodies. The surf was running and the waves were nearly four feet high, crashing and booming up and down the coast, throwing mist into the air. It was wildly romantic and, better still, the beach appeared to be deserted. The young lovers gazed at each other.
"Let's put this blanket down," Johnny said.
"Sounds good to me," Lily smiled, cozying up to him.
They had just made themselves comfortable when Johnny happened to glance down the shoreline. He noticed two people he hadn't seen before. They were about two-hundred feet away, a boy and a girl who appeared to be around their age.
"Lil, take a look," he pointed. "What do you think?"
"Looks like they're arguing," she said, sitting up.
As they watched it became apparent that they were. The boy was animated and yelling, and the girl was yelling right back, waving her arms and leaning in toward him, taking no crap. The wind took their voices away, but it was obvious they were fighting. All of a sudden the girl turned away and stormed into the ragging surf, angrily kicking at the waves. She'd taken only a few steps when without warning she lost her footing and fell.
High above on the dune Johnny gasped as the riptide quickly took hold, dragging her away from shore. He struggled to his feet. "I gotta get down there and help."
But before he could make a move, Lily yelled, "Look!"
They watched as the boy jumped into the boiling sea to try and rescue the girl. He swam hard through the waves and at one point it appeared he might be able to save her. But, no. Close to where she was struggling he began floundering and sank from view, suddenly fighting for his own life. Up on the dune Johnny and Lily watched, stunned, as the boy clawed his way to the surface fighting to stay afloat. It was obvious they were both in trouble and needed help.
"I'm calling emergency," Lily said, taking out her phone.
"Good idea," Johnny said. "I'm gonna try and get down there." He took a step forward but stumbled in the soft sand and fell hard. A sharp spasm shot through his broken leg, nearly caused him to pass out. He made himself ignore the pain, got to his feet and took another step. And fell again, rolling part way down the dune.
When Lily finished her call, she slid down to Johnny and helped him up, holding him to keep him standing. Looking out to sea, they watched frozen in horror as the struggling boy was pulled by the tide past the girl. They could see him grasping desperately for her as the current swept him just out of her reach, their arms outstretched and grasping for each other, finger tips nearly touching.
Behind them they heard the distant sirens from the rescue squad. They glanced over their shoulders in the direction of the sound wondering if was anything more they do to help. But it was too late. When they turned again and looked there was nothing to see but the empty ocean. The two young people were gone.
Later that summer Johnny and Lily went back to lay a wreath on the shore in memory of the young couple. It was little thing, but they felt it was the right thing to do. After all, given a different time, and a different set of circumstances, it could easily have been them dragged away from land and lost forever to the endless sea. They shudder at the thought, and when they do, they reach out and hold each other. Tight. Eventually, the trembling goes away, at least for a little while. But it always returns, and when it does, they reach for each other again, day by day coming more to grips with the fact that their own unique fate has bound them together forever by the tragedy they witnessed that day at Riptide Cove. A fate they are learning to accept. A fate that, for now, they don't mind at all.
About the author
Although he has a soft spot in his heart for the sea, Jim lives in a small town twenty miles west of Minneapolis, Minnesota, over a thousand miles from any ocean. He visits whenever he can, but not nearly often enough. His stories have appeared in CafeLit, The Writers' Cafe Magazine, A Million Ways, Cabinet of Heed and Paragraph Planet. You can also check out his blog to see more: www.theviewfromlonglake.wordpress.com.