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The Beginning: I didn’t expect to see her, not on this night, not at this party. She normally went out of her way to avoid parties. When we first met...
I remember thinking that she was way too pretty to be Mike’s sister. Dinner at Mike’s place was always a riot, but even then she always made it known that she wasn’t into parties. Or perhaps it was people. Either way, it was clear she preferred to be alone whenever she had the chance. I never knew why because I always thought she was just, so damn pretty. But it was always hard to read on her face if she simply preferred not to talk to people because she genuinely hated conversation, or if the annoyance of human chatter was better heard muffled through her headphones she always kept around her neck. The light from the bonfire on the beach lit her shape, catching my eye and I immediately knew it was her. There wasn’t anyone else it could be.
She was sitting at the edge of the sand, nestled just over the waves as they gently crashed and came up within a few inches of the edge of the tide to meet her. I glanced around, thinking maybe Mike had decided to come down to the beach tonight too. He caught my eye from the opposite end of the beach and gave me a friendly head nod, raising the beer in his hand in acknowledgment before turning back to the girl he had been talking to. I sent him back a salute, suddenly wondering where I’d put down my own beer…
My head instinctively turned at the sound of my name, and I’m sure my cheeks flared dimly in the light of the bonfire as my eyes locked with hers. She was still at the base of the beach, but she had turned to look back at me, her head tilted to one side and a soft smile carrying her face. “Hey,” I managed, gathering every ounce of energy in my legs that I could find to make my way over to her. As I approached, I noticed a light glow in the water in front of her. I paused for a moment, unsure if it was safe to keep going.
“Don’t worry, it's dead. Got washed up onto the beach and probably won’t make it back into the ocean.”
I took a feeble step forward and realized that the glow was coming from a jellyfish. It lay in front of her as if the ocean had cooked it up itself and served it onto the sand as an offering to her. Satisfied, I came up next to her and knelt down to take a closer look.
“What are you going to do with it?” Stupid question, Kev. It’s not like she was planning on keeping it.
“I might keep it. I haven’t decided yet.” Her arms came across her body to hug her knees as she trained her eyes on the dead sea creature. I suddenly had a strange image of her sitting at the dinner table with a cooked jellyfish on her plate, steak-style. My mind shuddered at the thought.
“Oh. That’s cool, I guess.” If that was the best I could come up with, I should have been grilled, steak-style, right where I stood.
“Are you having fun at the party?” she asked, her gaze staring out into the darkness.
“Yeah, sure. I thought you didn’t like parties.”
“I don't. But the bonfire was pretty from the top of the hill so I thought I would wander by for a while.” She dipped a finger into the ocean as it rolled up onto the dead jellyfish before pushing it up farther onto the sand. “I figured you would be here though, so at least there is that.”
I managed a sheepish smile, hoping she wouldn’t catch my stupid grin in her side view mirror. It would probably embarrass me for the rest of my sorry life, but whatever. I could hear her half-giggle in the midst of the moving waves and cursed at myself under my breath.
“But I’m glad I came. I’ve never been to this beach before, and I like it a lot. It's really pretty.”
We sat in silence for a moment, no words passing between us. The gentle breeze fluttered through her hair, cradling her shoulders like a warm fleece blanket. Then after a moment, she reached up around her neck to pull her headphones off her shoulders.
"Have you heard the song 'Ocean Breathes Salty' before?" She set her headphones in the sandy space between the two of us.
"No. Is it a nice song?"
"Mmhmm. Here, have a listen." She shuffled through a small mp3 player before tucking it back into her jacket pocket. Music began to play against the gentle sounds of the ocean's waves. I closed my eyes, letting the smell of the water crash against the sounds of the sea gods as my fingers pushed into the sand. A fresh gust of wind rushed past, waking me from my trance.
"Good song," I managed. She turned to me with a crooked smile.
"Thanks. I'm glad you liked it."
I could hear the sound of sand shuffle like steps behind me and turned to find Mike making his way down the beach. I gave him a nod of acknowledgment before letting my gaze drift back to the water.
"You know the party is back up there, right, bud?" He let himself come to a seated position next to me with a strong pat on my back. Taking a deep breath in, he released it with a smile. After a few seconds of silence, he spoke again.
"She would have loved this place. Mom always said that she had water for blood. Couldn't stay away from the pools and the beaches in the summertime."
How long had it been now? Six months, eight months? The days had become weeks and the weeks had become months and I suddenly realized that I'd mercilessly lost count. But even then, the images replayed in my head as clear as day, my heart pounding like a drum in my chest as if it had just happened all over again only moments before.
Rain on the windshield plastered the front of Mike's car like a painter painting a wall. Gina sat in the front seat with him, singing along to whatever was playing on the radio. We could barely see two feet in front of us, let alone see the car on the opposite side swerve into our lane. We weren't even sitting in the front seat. Then suddenly, all I could see was blood. Oh but God, there was so much blood...
"Hey, bro. I miss her too."
Even though my vision was beginning to blur, I hadn't realized tears were running down my face until Mike's voice cut through the chill. He was the kind of tough that made you realize that even though you were a man and men were supposed to suppress their feelings, at the end of the day they were still human beings. He was just better at keeping it to himself and keep up the casual nature of day to day business.
By the time instinct kicked in and my body turned to find her again, she was already gone. The waves had pushed the dead jellyfish along the shoreline, the dim glow the only indication that she had even been there in the first place. I stood up from where I had settled in, moving over to the dead creature. "What are you doing?" said Mike from behind me, before he too stood and made his way over to me.
"Is that... a dead jellyfish? Dude, don't touch it!"
I knelt over it, staring at first. "Yeah, it's dead."
"What are you going to do with that, man?"
I smiled weakly, wiping the stray tears that stung my face. "I haven't decided yet." Her smile flashed through my head again, before floating away along the edge of the crisp chill of the sea. But just like the jellyfish, the moment had passed and there was nothing left to say anymore.
The ocean breathes salty, won't you carry it in?
In your head, in your mouth, in your soul.
The more we move ahead the more we're stuck in rewind.
Well I don't mind. I don't mind. How the hell could I mind?