Photo by Zoë Collins (she/her)
She felt the presence approach her before she heard the sand shifting beside her head.
“This isn’t like you.”
She opened her eyes to a half squint. “What’s that supposed to mean?” she responded.
“Come on, when was the last time it was mid-season and you were laid out on the beach instead of in the water?”
Her jaw clenched. Mal, her best friend and the one calling her out on her bullshit right now, was right. It wasn’t like her at all.
By now her wet suit was completely dry, fair amounts of hot sand were thoroughly mixed into her hair, and the board laying beside her was warm to the touch. It had to have been at least an hour since she’d been in the water.
Typically, Mal would have to drag her out of the waves even after the sun went down, and only after at least an hour of resistance and promises of “just one more run.”
But this year wasn’t typical. The sun was low in the sky, the waves were raging and just begging to be ridden, and here she was splayed out in the sand.
“Is it that bad?” Mal asked in an amused tone.
Rumi finally sat up with a heavy sigh and stared out at the water that called her name, and the something in it that kept her planted on the beach. Or rather, the someone.
She was new to the competitive circle, and her name was Elisa. Her charisma had immediately charmed virtually everyone in the small surfing community in Rumi’s little town, and soon “Liz” had easily made herself a staple in the group of regulars, of which Rumi was a part of.
Rumi watched her silently from the beach, currently sitting on her board while peacefully chatting with another one of Rumi’s friends. Something they said made Liz laugh, and she almost toppled over, shoulders shaking and face breaking out into a loud, unapologetic smile. Her dark, short locks of hair were soaked and slicked back, and the water splashed along her skin reflected the light of the falling sun, making it look like she was literally sparkling. Sparkling.
Rumi felt herself groan internally and clenched her fists in the sand.
“Earth to Rumi?” Mal poked her cheek, which was still coated in sand. “Are you simping so hard for the newbie you can’t even speak?”
Rumi let out a sharp click of her tongue in frustration and casually slapped Mal’s hand away. “Say that again and I’ll shove this sand down your throat.”
Mal only grinned in her direction. “How violent. I’d like to see you try,” they teased as they elbowed her in the side, making her huff.
“Seriously Mal, just drop it.”
“Drop what? The painstakingly obvious reality you have the hots for Liz?”
Rumi twisted and sent a handful of sand flying in Mal’s direction, making them choke, both from the sand now in their mouth and laughter.
“I do not have the hots for anyone,” Rumi spat back for extra emphasis.
“Sure, ok, it definitely wasn’t a bout of gay panic that sent you running to hide out on the beach,” Mal choked out.
Rumi felt her face flush from that one and she fell back down onto the sand with a dull thud, letting out a frustrated sigh that was meant to be internal but forcibly made its way out into open air.
“The only thing I don’t get is why you don’t just ask her out,” noted Mal, who by this point had recovered from their choking fit and was acting seemingly unphased by Rumi’s attack.
Rumi felt her chest tighten. She hated this. The way it just seemed so easy for everyone else to just enjoy the now. But for Rumi, she couldn’t help but put herself two months in the future, when the season would be over and Liz would return to whatever populated city she actually came from, and Rumi would be left with nothing but unresolved feelings. Suddenly, she was reliving a time three years ago, one painted with a seasonal heartbreak so fierce it took her months to even get the will to be back on her board again. It had been like she lost a part of herself that summer.
Her stomach twisted and she felt compelled to flip over and properly bury her face in the sand to block it out. Nothing was worth going through that again. Not even Liz and her damningly beautiful amber-colored eyes.
Mal must have sensed her internal turmoil, as they reached over and gently poked Rumi’s forehead. “I know what you’re thinking, and there’s no guarantee it’ll end up like that again.”
Rumi apathetically replied, “No guarantee it won’t, either.”
Mal shrugged. “Well, at least this time I’d actually approve of the girl you’d be giving your heart to.”
Rumi let out a dry laugh. “Since when is your approval the determining factor of whether I’m going to get my feelings ripped apart?”
“It isn’t,” Mal relented, “but I can at least tell you Liz is different. She has this thing called a heart; actually smiles and has emotions and everything.”
“I get the feeling the real reason you’re talking to me right now is so you can degrade my ex.”
Mal nodded seriously. “Any chance I get. I’d knock that bitch out on sight.”
Rumi actually laughed at that, relieving the previous tightness in her chest.
“I can’t blame you for that one.” Rumi conceded, still with a half laugh wracking her voice.
Mal smiled at her softly then and stood up, shaking the sand off their own suit.
“Some time or another, you’re going to have to let someone in again. All I’m saying is, it might as well be someone you’re actually into, and someone like Liz who would know how to take care of you.”
Rumi’s heart seized at Mal’s words. It had been so long since she’d been taken care of. Some part of her craved it, but another wondered if she was ready to go through that kind of vulnerability again. To put herself in a position where she could get hurt.
She sat up once more, fresh grains of sand falling from the long strands of her hair as she stared down at her lap.
“How do you know I won’t end up like before?” she asked quietly, looking up at Mal as they grabbed their board.
Mal paused for a second, looking out towards the water, then broke out into a grin. They jerked their head in the direction of the waves, “She hasn’t taken a single wave since you left.”
Rumi whipped her head towards the shore as Mal jogged their way back, easing into the water like it was second nature. Sure enough, Liz was there to greet them, still sitting back on her board, but now her hair was slightly less damp, a few drying strands falling down across her forehead.
She and Mal shared a few quick words as Rumi sat in stunned disbelief at the fact that yes, actually, she hadn’t seen Liz pursue a single wave since she had excused herself from the circle and planted herself on the beach.
It wasn’t until Mal took their board further towards the waves and Liz fully turned towards Rumi on the beach that she was brought out of her shock.
Their eyes met. Liz smiled and waved enthusiastically towards her and Rumi felt her heart begin to race. Could she do this? A million doubts ran through her head and then-
Wait, was Liz getting out? Was she walking towards her? Oh shit oh fuc-
“Hey!” she called out as she jogged up to Rumi.
“Hey… getting out already?” Rumi barely managed to reply.
Liz just smiled wider, “Mal said you needed some encouragement,” she held out her hand, still dripping with sea water, “So come on. It’s no fun if you aren’t there with me, anyway.”
Rumi stared up at her hand in disbelief. She suddenly noticed Liz’s nails were painted a dark blue verging on black, and the way there were still some indents left on her skin from where her jewelry would usually rest.
Rumi was still for a moment, but Liz didn’t back down or hesitate. Only patiently waited with her hand outstretched and that brilliant smile shining down at her. Rumi inwardly cursed. Fuck it.
She took her hand.