The Gods Aren't Crazy-They're Tan
The beach was not too crowded. We had survived the "June gloom" that usually greeted us in the first weeks after school let out, and it was only just now, close to the 4th of July, that the sun was showing up before noon.
Most days, to look at all of the beach towels lined up on the sand, it was similar to weekday morning traffic on the Santa Monica Freeway. Bumper to bumper bodies, all lathered up with Coppertone. White skinned kids trying to get past the red tones of over exposure and down to the bronze ideal of our generation, we tortured our skin for the prize we couldn't live without...a tan. How were we to know then that there would be some regrets for all of that sun worship.
Me, I have red hair and, as my mother likes to say, "skin like fresh cream". Well, that works in romance novels, but I was hoping for something a little less 18th century. At the moment, I was hugely disappointed that I wasn't that rare combination of auburn hair and olive skin that I saw in movie magazines. I think Sophia Loren did that look once or twice…or Gina Lollobrigida maybe. Unfortunately, I wasn't anything like Italian, my Celtic roots showed all over, right down to some freckles on my toes.
From my officially sanctioned beach prone position, I raised my head up to see if any progress was being made, my belly pooching slightly from the strange posture, my neck straining to hold my head at the weird angle. As I struggled to check for any sign of brown rather than the typical pink, I happened to see a wave washing up, some little kids were laughing and their parents were swinging them up and over…
And then, coming up out of the gentle surf he emerged…
It was a breathless kind of exhaling, and my friend Tina, also whiter than a piece of Wonder Bread, caught my look and took up the same, very uncool posture, both of us looking like baby seals sunning on an ice float. There we lay, flat out on our backs with our heads at a right angle, ogling this gorgeous man walking in from the water.
He was perfectly tan, not muscled or big, but solid. You could tell. His blond hair had been bleached white from the sun and a few strands of it escaped the brush of his hands and fell over his eyes. Even the hair on his body was sort of translucent, so that he …glistened. Honest. He sort of glimmered in the sun's reflection.
Shaking his head, he seemed to be moving almost in slow motion, the longish hair splaying out from his head until it settled back in place. He walked effortlessly through the wet sand, stopping to let another wave catch him around the ankles before it receded again behind him. He stood for a minute, taking in the beach scene while a light salty breeze caught his hair and caused it to flutter, just so, before he headed up to…
"Is he coming over here?" I heard Tina ask the question but I was too flabbergasted to respond. I tried to actually sit up, or is lying down better, I wondered. Try to make my stomach look really flat, dig a hole for your butt and you'll look thinner.
Oh, crap, who had time for that? Here he was right in front of me, getting closer.
He zeroed in on both of us, pulling up a little short of our towels as though he might be intruding. He bent down on one knee and, when I looked him in the face, I saw that his eyes were the color of the blue sky overhead, and I swear, I thought I might pass out.
"That is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen" Tina was gasping. It was involuntary, and I don't think he actually heard her. I was mortified, of course, my eyes cutting her a look she never saw, while I tried to disengage my neck that was now cramping from holding it in that ostrich like pose.
She decided to play it cool, or maybe it was nerves, and chose that moment to steal a sip of her 7-UP , hoping, I'm sure, that nothing would happen to make her snort it out of her nose.
"Hello, excuse me"
Eeeeee, he had an accent! My heart was pounding, and I wondered if he could see it thumping under my thin white skin. Oh, to be olive skinned right now. He probably likes that…
"Hello…(oh god oh god oh god)" Be cool…look continental, if at all possible.
He smiled easily, just a little bit shy. His eyes were like jewels set in that bronzed face. And the hair…I mean, guys were wearing longer hair these days, but … oh god, that hair.
"I don't want to intrude on your sunbathing, but is it possible you know what time it is? I know it's past noon, but I seem to have lost track somewhere between here and the water".
Oh god, oh god… I couldn't reply, so I just nodded my head.
And, just to prove how nerdy I really am, I looked at the watch strapped to my now sun stroked arm, something that was sure to leave a white tell tale indictment of how truly unfit I was for the beach, and replied:
"Uh, yeah. Two o'clock, and…well, that's actually two-thirty."
I was trying to read the watch with my sunglasses sliding down my my nose, balancing my weight on my right elbow and not winning any prizes for looking at ease. Worse yet, I wanted to laugh out loud. Here he was, close enough to touch and I thought I might break out in a cackle like a hyena. Nerves are such a curse.
"Thank you. You are most kind."
That smile almost made me cry. How is it that some people just look like that?
"Unfortunately for me, that means I had better get going. Thank you again."
My bravest moment ever overwhelmed me, and I opened my mouth to ask, just as he was turning to go.
"So, do you live here? I mean, do you come to this beach everyday?"
I never do that, just talk to a really good looking guy. Especially not him. Tina looked as though I'd just pulled a toad out of my mouth, but I didn't care. This could be my shining hour…up until now.
He smiled again, this time with a slight wistfulness, slowly turning his face towards the ocean and then back to me:
"No, this has been a vacation for me. I live… in the east. I …
Again, that wistful look in his eyes was sooooo adorable.
"California has been quite pleasurable."
He paused, and then as he looked around, the blue eyes suddenly darker, he pushed his hair back with his right hand (yes, I remember every detail)
"And, I must go now. Thank you again. Enjoy your sunbathing".
Tina and I watched him turn around and begin his walk down the beach, past the lifeguard station and towards the pier. Both of us were speechless for a few minutes, watching him until he was completely out of sight.
Tina turned to me, her eyes behind the sunglasses were wide open, I could tell. She had zinc oxide on her nose, you know that stuff that turns white and keeps your skin from igniting in the sun. I didn't remind her.
"Did you just have a conversation with that gorgeous man? Oh my God! Katherine, I think I can die happy now. I've seen something perfect".
Her bliss was no more complete than mine. Lying back down on our sandy towels, sunglasses in place and no words to describe the intensity of that brief encounter, we just breathed.
And then we giggled, and laughed and screeched just a little.
Girls are like that.
The rest of the day we mostly just sighed…