by Nicole Dwigans
Chad braced himself against the frame of the car door, testing the strength of his legs. He shut it just firm enough for a soft click and held a hand out for his love. “The sun feels as spectacular as I remember here.” He turned his head up to the sky, closing his eyes.
The breeze carried a warm assurance across Nila’s cheek. She took a breath that inflated her lungs and held it, trying to freeze the moment.
“Open your eyes or you will miss it,” he said pulling her along with a strength Nila hadn’t seen in months. It had been her pushing him along, his legs too weak to carry himself. Their hidden beach seemed to shake loose what little bit of life she didn’t know was left in him.
“The sand is even softer than I remember it,” Chad said as he floated a purple blanket into the air with significant help from the wind.
The sand was warm below Nila’s feet, but nothing particularly different from how she remembered it. As he arranged the blanket she watched, and wondered what else felt new to him. His body was so different. Her long toes wiggled deeper into the sand, to the space below the surface where it was much cooler. Just as she remembered.
Chad sat onto the blanket with his lips pressed tight, eyes strained. Simple things were hard now. He patted the space next to him with a hand that still looked strong and capable. Nila pulled her long braid over her left shoulder playing with the loose ends. He gently took her hand and held it between his own, like a bird that he worried would fly away.
“Are you going to stay so tight lipped the whole night?” He laughed and pushed a grape into her mouth. It exploded like a sweet water balloon between her teeth.
“It’s just,” Nila began shifting from a saddle position to her knees, bottom on her heels. “Different,” she said simply.
“If it would make you feel better, I will go dip my head in the ocean and then come shake the water on you.” He laughed. “You always loved that.”
The water was spotted with five surfers. Two others had towels spread on the sand. One reading a book, the other asleep, jaw slacked to the side. A man walked out from the water caring a white surf board. His hair dripping with salt water that he shook away like a dog. Much in the same way Chad use to, drenching her. Sometimes her book.
Nila’s heart gripped the back of her ribs, begging to hold on. “I wish…” she began, her weak words faded. She cleared her throat and began again, turning her eyes to his bright green ones.
“I wish I would have.” She paused, took a deep breath. “Learned to love the things I hated. Sooner.”
Seeing him sick, void of his once masculine form, was easier in the hospital. This was a place he had once been invincible. Surfing a twenty foot wave. He had carried her to the car over his shoulder with his surf board in the other arm. He seemed boundless.
Her smile was sad. “The way you would say just ten more minutes and you would take an hour. I didn’t ever think you would run out of hours. Then, I just wanted to get home to watch a show, or I don’t know. Nothing important. All you wanted was to surf.”
“And get you wet,” he squeezed her thigh.
“I hated when you shook your hair over me. It ruined two library books.”
He shrugged, unworried.
“It doesn’t matter,” she confirmed.
He guided her body down so her head rested on his thighs. Gently, he tucked a few stray black hairs behind her ear. The pad of his thumb traced her jaw, then paused on her lips. “Good news.” He said looking to the ocean. “You have plenty of time to learn to not worry about stuff that doesn’t matter.”
Nila swallowed the tears and held her breath, afraid it might shutter. Below her cheek his thigh was bony. His toes in her view looked like that of a skeleton.
“Let it go,” she echoed.
The picnic basket they had brought looked as if it should contain a red checkered cloth. Inside was a fine selection of cheeses, cherry spread and crackers. Grapes too, his favorite. She drank a half bottle of wine, straight from the bottle. He only took a few sips.
The man asleep startled himself awake. He looked up as the lovers snuggled close and then to the empty water. He hurried away, as if told the importance of tonight, nodding lightly at the couple as he skirted off.
Once again it was their own. The wind picked up, the warmth of the day gone. The ocean was painted with random, yet perfect, white caps that looked like fluffy clouds.
“It was easier to reconcile your condition at the hospital. Here, I just can’t.”
“Me either,” he laughed lightly. “Here I always felt invincible. It’s why I wanted to come back. Curious if our hidden beach might hold a magic cure.”
He rose from the blanket and called over his shoulder that he would be right back.
A hopeful smile touched her eyes. He seemed lighter, a touch more color in his cheeks. She crossed her fingers below her thighs as she sat there alone on the beach and prayed. Tossed her last shred of hope into the ocean air with a quiet “please”.
Chad returned with a soft grey blanket, the edges trimmed in long, silky tassels. He unfolded it, whipped it into the air and let it fall into her lap. Next to her, he wrapped a protective arm around her waist. They looked up to the midnight blue sky painted with flecks of white and glitter.
“Did you see it!” She exclaimed holding a finger to the sky. “Did you?”
“Me too,” she said, hope swelling a little in her.
“Do you want to know what I wished for?”
“No! If you tell me it won’t come true.”
“For my wife to saddle me up, here.” He pulled at her thigh.
She looked him exacerbated. “Here?” He nodded yes. “Now?”
“Think about it. You have all the power to make my last wish come true.”
Nila wiggled from her shorts looking nervously around and then back to him. There was excitement in him, something she hadn’t seen in months. She drank in his devastatingly handsome face as she looked down to him. Smiled, and kissed his lips. She worried her weight would be too much. He assured her he was skinny, not weak.
Atop him, blanket pulled tight, she granted his wish. Slow, filled with love. Her eyes took millions of pictures. Her ears recorded the the sounds of a man well loved. Her body memorized the imprint of his body like a map that led to the place he pressed his hand, her heart.
Tucked below the blanket she snuggled into his side, no longer scared of the skin and bones. She had been reminded that he was him. Her love. Her husband. Only the casing had changed, the part that in the end didn’t matter, and yet was everything.
“I want you to stay forever.” She said with a squeak. She hadn’t ever asked anything like this, too afraid of how it would make him feel.
He kissed her lips. His breath warm on her lips and cheeks. “I never wanted to break your heart. And I don’t want to leave you a broken woman”.
She drew tight to him.
“We promised until death do us part. Thank you for doing everything in your vows.”
Nila wanted to ask again, but she held it back. The tears dripped down her cheeks.
“Broken hearts heal,” he said gently.
“I will be scarred,” she replied trying to think of how she would stitch herself back together.
“Scars fade,” he said and took a deep breath. “And once it has, I want you to promise me you will love again. Someone great.” He paused, his chest rumbled with quiet laughter. “Not as great as me, of course, but really how could you,”.
“But, be sure he is worthy Nila. Of your beauty and your scars. Scars sometimes are what makes us extra special. They show we survived something. That we healed.” He pulled her tight and kissed her head, then her cheek and her lips. His touch became more tender than she had ever experienced, each one carried a thousand words.
The ocean song gave some measure of comfort to the lovers as they held each other. Nila choked back tears that she felt well inside until her body called to be one with him again. Then, beneath the glitter stars, sleep carried them away to different dreams.