This story is one of the July Writing Challenge entries chosen to be a featured story.
It felt so good to be alive. I could feel the sun on my skin and taste the salt in the air. I could feel it creeping into my hair, adding a slight wave. To feel the sea in the air always made me feel like I was coming home. I hadn’t grown up by the beach, but there was an inner deep-rooted feeling that stirred up, like this was the place I was truly meant to be. The place where I could truly come alive and feel 100% like me.
Out here on the dirt track that led to the beach, it felt like we were a million miles from anyone or anything. It felt like we could turn the corner into another world. The hills in the distance grounded me, gave me a sense of something to cling to when I felt that I was going to get swept up in that salty air and thrown down into a wave. I loved that first feeling of diving through a wave into the ocean below. It felt so cold at first that it would take your breath away, then slowly my eyes would open, and I would feel hugged by the warm liquid of the sea.
I had learnt to swim at a really young age. Every time my mother turned her back on me, I would crawl across the sand to try to make it to the water’s edge before anyone noticed that I was gone. I never quite made it, but it came close. A proper little water baby, she would call me. Today she is no longer here, but I can hear those words still, as though she is right beside me.
The sun dances across the surface of the ocean, making the sea world look like it glitters. The only sound is Mike jumping into the water behind me. There is no grace to how he enters the water, but he is happy, and that is all that counts. We spend about 20 minutes lost in our own sea bubble, not talking, just bobbing about and diving through the waves. I go limp and let myself float face down for a second, the horror of what could happen touching my skin, making it goose bump. I float towards the shoreline and clamber out.
I get the towels and lay them on the beach with an extra one laid out for the picnic basket I had squirreled away into the back seat this morning. I have some prosecco on ice. I can’t afford the real stuff, but I don’t even care for it much anyway. It is more the symbolism of it all. I want to ask Mike to marry me. I thought this would be the perfect setting, but now I am getting cold feet. I have no doubts about Mike—I never have—I just have this fantasy of how a proposal should be. But if I wait on that, it will never happen. ‘Sometimes you have to make your own magic, Lily,’ I would tell myself now as my mother had told me many times before. Grab life and make it happen; don’t sit around waiting. That’s why I am sitting here now wondering whether I should drop another massive hint or just do it. It’s not that Mike doesn’t want to get married. He just doesn’t think. He just doesn’t plan like that.
I pull out the cooler that has the strawberries and cream in it. As I pull open the lid, there is a box of chocolates that I love—cherries in dark chocolate. I didn’t pack these, though….
I look up at Mike, who is still out in the sea. I wait for a second and then decide that one chocolate won’t hurt. I pull open the box, but there are no chocolates. The momentary disappointment replaced by the sight of a ring box, that beautiful pale green/blue that every girl on this planet knows. Now what to do? Mike isn’t here. Do I shove the box back and pretend I don’t know? Do I sneak a peek? Oh, this is too much!! I look around again quickly but can’t see Mike anywhere. A bucket of water lands on me, and I scream, loudly.
“Ruiner,” he says, laughing as he sees what is in my hands. “So… will you?”
That was it—that’s my proposal, but it couldn’t be more perfect, and of course my answer is…
“I’ll think about it,” and wink out to sea to where I like to pretend my mother is watching over me.