The Beach House
by Lori Schafer
Dawn came, as warm and welcoming as the weathered beach house in which she lay so peacefully snoozing. The tickling rays of the sun trickled in through the bare wood-framed window, caressing her cheek and kissing her brow as if tucking her in for a restful night’s sleep. The waves rocked tranquilly outside: a sweet, serenading lullaby to lull the listener into soft slumber and gentle dreams.
Then a seagull shrieked by the window and she woke with a start to a bright, beautiful morning; a brilliant azure sky that perfectly matched the blue of her sweetheart’s eyes.
Susan rose, pressed her feet gingerly against the cool floorboards and tiptoed noiselessly down the hall, as if fearful of waking someone. In the foyer she stopped and studied her reflection in a vast decorative mirror lining the wall. And then turned to the door and opened it wide, as wide as the welcoming arms with which she intended to greet him.
The stoop was empty, as she had known it would be.
She sighed. He wasn’t coming. She had told him not to. That, to her, was love.
She retreated to the kitchen to make her coffee. She sipped at it while she re-read Derek’s old-fashioned handwritten letter, the ink wandering in curlicues gently across the page like the bubbling bits of foam that trailed across the sand at the edge of the ocean outside their door. She wondered if he, too, was sitting in their city apartment that morning re-reading the answer she had sent him.
“Please don’t come, darling. I want your last memories of the beach house to be wonderful, joyful ones. I want us both to remember how it was, how happy we were, before this happened. I love you too much to let you see me this way.”
She rose resolutely and returned to the bedroom to dress.
Half an hour later she emerged into the magnificent morning, her heart as light as her step as she propelled her thin body across the rough sand, her toes delighting in the warmth of the granules that crept up between them, her eyes dazzled by the beauty of the sun on the water. Off in the distance it beckoned, the rocky point to which she and Derek had so often walked on glorious days like these, running gaily from the waves that slapped their ankles and then unexpectedly splashed their thighs; holding hands as if they were one creature, one being, one soul. A creature no longer divisible into two separate beings; a soul that sang with one rhythm, one chord.
A cloud settled on the horizon, and the world dimmed and faded. Still she walked, her pulse, her breath quickened by the exercise. Her step wavered but she steadied herself, dreaming of Derek, of their casual sunset strolls, their romantic picnics on the sand. The wind picked up and she faltered but pressed on, her legs growing as heavy as the sky now darkening with clouds and unfallen rain. The promontory was still a distant speck; barely, it seemed, had she progressed away from the house, which stood now so inviting with its promise of relaxation and rest. She turned back, panicking, and roughly inhaled the cool wind that whipped the shoreline, ruffling the feathers of the seabirds that cringed in the face of the oncoming storm. The salty air clung thickly to her skin as she trudged back along the beach, her hair fluttering in disarray about her neck and shoulders, gritty grains of sand assaulting her eyes, her nose, her mouth. Gasping, she halted, grimacing with pain, while the first drops flew fiercely around her, plummeting into the spray and the sand and the soft skin of her scalp like tiny bullets that pierced and destroyed. Hopeless, she surrendered; crumpled at last to her knees while the rain crashed around her, waiting for the pain to subside and contemplating the doctor’s bleak words, so compassionately delivered, so helplessly received.
“Won’t I at least have the summer?” she’d inquired, still half full of hope; half full of the promise of the few wonderful months that she and Derek might still joyfully share.
“You’ll need constant bedrest,” he’d informed her quietly, shaking his head. “Any exertion could bring it on that much sooner. And you’d be better off being in the hospital. I’m afraid it will be very… painful, near the end.”
She buried her face in her hands and thought again of Derek, of the countless happy moments they had shared here together, of the moments she would miss without him by her side. Almost she thought she could feel his strong arms entwining around her, feel her spirit lifting as he raised her, then carried her laughing over the threshold as he did every summer, as if he were her groom and she his new bride.
“No, Susan,” a voice whispered as a strong hand brushed a lock of wet hair from her cheek and soft lips pressed tenderly against her forehead.
She removed her hands from her face and opened her eyes. Derek gazed lovingly back at her, his eyes as blue as the sky that was again clearing above them.
“I want to be with you, Susan,” he said. “I love you too much to leave you alone.” He hoisted her thin body in his arms and stood, his face glowing in the brightening light.
“This is how I want to remember the beach house,” he said, his deep voice breaking. “This is how I want to remember you. Lying in my arms, every night and every morning, every day until the end.”
He drew her closer and began walking, with her in his arms, back to the house.
Susan looked up. The clouds had gone. The waves lapped gently at the shore. And over their heads, the sun shone.
She smiled. Never again would she walk alone. This, then, was love. Having someone to walk with you until the very end.
Lori Schafer is a writer of serious prose and humorous erotica and romance. Her short stories, flash fiction, and essays have appeared in numerous print and online publications, and her first two novels, My Life with Michael: A Story of Sex and Beer for the Middle-Aged and Just the Three of Us: An Erotic Romantic Comedy for the Commitment-Challenged, will be released in 2015. Her memoir, On Hearing of My Mother's Death Six Years After It Happened: A Daughter's Memoir of Mental Illness, will be published in October 2014. You can find out more about Lori and her forthcoming projects by visiting her website at http://lorilschafer.com/