The Mirror of Me – Chapter 32

Willa – Past

He walks off the beach alone with a surfboard under his arm in a full black wet suit; a baseball cap pulled low over his eyes covering his short wet dark blonde hair. The few thin curls that remain loose and bleached by the sun and sea. His mirrored surf shades strapped around his head reflect the empty Sunday morning boardwalk where few people dawdle, run, bike or—like him—exit the dawn tides after riding the waves.

Pulling my own cap lower over my sunglasses, I slow to a crawl and look to retreat wanting both to avoid and challenge him. The diametrically conflicted emotions both excite and confuse me. He doesn’t miss a beat though and settles in next to me burrowing in tightly without touching me. He keeps that inch-filled distance loaded with all the messy attraction and chaos that always hovers in the spaces between and around us. The cool early morning scent of salt and ocean on his skin—mingling with the smells of coconut surf wax and sunscreen—hit my senses careening me into a shudder of shivers and goosebumps. I wrap my hands around my bare arms rubbing up and down telling myself the early morning coolness chills me when I know better. It’s him and all things him.

We walk together in an easy silence for a few. The sound of the ocean and gulls and everything unsaid connecting us like a hyphen. I decide to breach that bridge and dance first.

“Ali cares about you. A lot,” I say barely audible above the waves and wind. “And she doesn’t trust easily.” I meet his eyes directly. He gets the thing I’m not saying. Removing his sunglasses, he clips them to the front of his wet suit while regarding me earnestly. I remove mine stopping in the middle of the boardwalk turning him towards me. He looks down at my hand then into my eyes. I deliver the challenge evenly: “She will hurt you. It will be painful.”

The soft concern on his face framed in the golden Cali dawn transforms into a grin and dare. He nods. “Yea, I imagine you both will.” A thin pause. “Part and parcel of epic love and passion.” His eyes meet mine then move to my lips and I feel the fire in my belly spread throughout my chest and flush my cheeks baking my insides and taking my breath. He moves unconsciously forward into my personal space while the world wakes around us and time ceases. “I’m all in,” he says almost breathlessly.

I’m average tall for a woman; five feet seven inches of obstinacy as Ali likes to remind me repeatedly. Nik’s only four or five inches taller than I am so I would only have to stand on my toes to reach up and—

“Yo, my lovelies!” I hear her through a tunnel that pulls me back from the ledge I hover drunkenly.

I step back away from him expelling a breath still gazing at his lips, licking mine, feeling the force of his gravity pull me towards him like a sinkhole.

“We have breakfast,” Ali says grinning, pulling up next to us, liberating me from one unchecked hunger to another. The wicked shimmer in her eyes lays me open and I flush red. She knows.

Behind Ali is a group—friends we’ve made since we moved in to Nik’s building—carrying boxes of McDonalds’ breakfast meals & drinks yelling their hellos and good mornings to both of us.

Ali pushes a gym bag into Nik’s hands. “Get dressed, love. Time to feed the kids.”

“Will you hold my board?”

“Take Willa with you to watch—it,” and she winks at me with a don’t say I never done nothing for ya look. I roll my eyes. Nik witnesses this unspoken communication between us and smiles. He launches the board to me in something that is meant to be a charming playful attempt at flirty boy behavior. It pisses me off. I catch the board and pitch it back at him a bit more vigorously than he anticipated catching it with an ‘oof’ and ‘ouch.’

This makes Ali laugh and reply: “She likes you else you would be wearing that board as a hat. Go along now. We’re not gonna wait on y’all forever,” and she pushes us both towards the restrooms.

I stand outside the men’s bathroom with Nik’s board waiting impatiently. My stomach growls. Ali and friends are handing out breakfast meals to the homeless in and around the Skate Park and the Boardwalk.

“Let’s go,” he grabs his board and my hand pulling me over to where Ali and crew await, a small crowd hovering around them. We sit for the next hour eating and talking to the homeless kids and adults discussing everything from Nik’s movies to the LAPD to some of the unpleasant locals yelling at them for taking up and defiling their pretty spaces.

Before the crowds start to arrive, we say our goodbyes and head back.

“That was nice,” I say to them.

“We do it every Sunday, don’t we, Niky?” Ali says proudly.

“Try to.” He catches her hand and kisses it. “Thanks to this lovely creature.”

“Stop. You’re going to spoil me,” but she loves it. And I love it for her.

So much pain.

© 2018-2019 Pamela Gay Mullins

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