Like Nobody Else
It starts out as a mistake: summer of '08, a bonfire on the beach. Her last summer before adulthood, and still she hates fire. She hates the way the flames reach out for her, the way the salt makes them glitter blue; she hates it even more when he wades from the sea and splashes her, and suddenly she's drenched and screaming and swearing and glaring at him. Water gleams on the hair on his chest, hair that wasn't there a few years previously.
"What the fuck, Bass?"
"Will you just get laid already, Waldorf?" He collapses back on the sand, narrowly avoiding a towel laid out for the purpose. Bastard looks like he did it on purpose. He raises the bottle of vodka to his lips, chugs for a moment and then sighs. "Maybe then there'd be less of the temper tantrums."
She curls up inside, kicks dark golden sand over him. The grains are sticky with spilt alcohol and go everywhere, and he spits and curses and staggers to his feet, covered, coated, filthy. He chases her around the bonfire until her pulse is frantic, and then she slides and he falls on top of her. They're both breathing hard, too hard, and she can feel him through her thin sundress. He pushes it up above her thighs without asking, and she waits. Her eyes are wide and her pupils are black and her bare feet and her unpainted nails are digging into his spine before another second can pass.
It's harsh and sharp and sweet, with the rest of their class a few feet away in the water and her staring over his shoulder up at the moon.
She avoids him in the city where she attends school and he owns the sky, but the summer is different. There's booze and blow all over the party he throws, sticking to the surfaces, and most of the women are skeletal and dressed in black. She wears white, glows in it, skin glowing, tan glowing, the air around her glowing. The stench of skunk on the terrace goes to her head, so she closes the door of the cloakroom behind her and closes her eyes.
He's older now, and his hair is cut differently.
"How have you been?"
"Go back to the party."
"So I took your virginity. So we fucked in beach houses for the rest of the summer. So what?" He runs his hand down and then up the most radiant part of her neck, cups the base of her skull in his hand and feels her silky hair and her heart beating in her head.
"Why have you been running from me?"
His breath is hot, the room is hot, everything about them is too hot in a room filled with winter coats and liars. He unzips her dress too soon and she turns, pushes against him. His back hits the wall, they ricochet, her back lines up with a closet and halts them against the door. He looks for the line of her stockings, finds nothing. She is naked to all intents and purposes, naked from ankle to waist, that dress nothing more than a detail. He turns her face to the side with his fingers, huffs her throat like she's a white line on the black surface of a piano lid.
They're both takers, but she hooks her leg up around his hip and gives as good as she gets this time.
The last day in August is always the longest, and he walks the stretch of beach with a girl in a big hat, large sunglasses. Her companion has an open shirt over shorts. The fireworks begin, though who knows why. They can't avoid one another in the centre of the melee, where they stop stiffly and curl their toes into the sand, and he looks at her like she's priceless and she looks back like he's cheap.
His clings to his arm, giggles, and she examines coolly and dismisses with relative ease. His eyes flicker up and down the angles of her counterpart, a beer sweating in his hand, face hard and defensive. He maybe rows crew, maybe plays lacrosse, something. He works on Wall Street during the day or goes to school with her, possibly. They seem awkward and glued together, put there, not held. A light wind whips her light skirt around her legs, and there's a pale scar on the disc of her knee. Did she fall? Did she jump?
"Aren't you going to introduce us?"
"No," he says sharply, and turns away.
But they come together again when the horizon is spattered with blue and gold droplets, when someone far out in the water is lighting gunpowder and shooting stars. She pillows her head on her date's shoulder and he grips her waist, and his current aperitif stands in front of him to squeal and jump and point while he refuses to give her his attention or time of day (or night).
Slowly but surely, her fingers stretch out.
Slowly but surely, he takes them.
He's there when she loses herself, fresh out of college and on the beach with her love. His accent is foreign and she smiles around him, and frolics in the sea like a goddamn tourist. He stays beneath the shade of the lip of the bar roof, drinks white rum because he can't stand the taste of lime and mint this early in the day. She's wearing white again, so maybe this is what she tastes like. If so, she's giving him a headache, because she's dripping in sea water from the waist and her dress is clinging damply. She sways when the blue eyed man gets down on one knee.
The ocean quietly sucks in and out, making the sand dark and sticky. He walks on it like he's dreaming, like he's stalking, like he's spying. He pauses where the hill crests to see everything, to see them hug but not kiss, to see her find her bag and her phone and race back up the beach while her boy – fiancé – smiles like everything is alright and begins to pick up their belongings.
She's lost. She isn't alright.
When she tries to run straight past him, she catches her shoe in a clump of grass and can't help but catch his eye as she reaches down to untangle it. She's not there, not there in her own face, not there like she used to be. She's never been in love like this, but this isn't love. He's sure this isn't love. Not for her. Not for –
"I'm sorry," she mouths, and then pastes a smile on her face and leaves before the truth can catch up with them both.
He drinks white rum beneath the shade of the lip of the bar roof, then peels his shirt from his back and walks blindly into the sea.
Everyone asks why they would have a wedding in the summertime, when really they're glad to ditch the hats and bows and pantsuits for fans and frills and broderie anglaise. White wine is still or sparkling and still passed around among the guests, the family, while she tells them her dress is too hot, too heavy, screws her hair up in a knot on top of her head and lets them tell her it'll all be over soon, that then they'll have a wonderful life together and everything will be picture perfect, just like they always dreamed of for her.
She goes to him the night before, smiles at the housekeeper who lets her in. He's lying on his back, lazy with heat, and he watches her through heavy-lidded eyes as she sits down on the floor, and drops of sweat slide down her back.
The air cools and breaks, and then they swim. Circles, laps around the pool, rings around each other, accidental brushes and touches when he dives or she turns. He pulls her out and rubs her dry and drinks tequila from her mouth when the room is warm again, hot, and then the bed is there and so are they and nothing is numb and everything is simple; easy. They sit upright, they move, he pulls her hair when she wants and they kiss. They've never kissed before, and this is the first kiss that anyone has ever given anyone in the history of the world.
"I don't love you," she tells him in the morning, the sheets pulled over her head and the clock and the hourglass already running over. "Not yet."
"You will," he promises, and then kisses her eyelids and pulls her into him so they can go back to sleep.