Prompt was to base a story off the 14th image in one of your albums. I’ll show you the photo at the end.
The waves rolled in and out, soothing the ear as they swept back and forth, like sand in a bottle falling from one end to the other.
I looked up at Francesca. She had been holding my hand, guiding me across the coastline in silence for a long time. Was she quiet so she could better embrace the glory of the ocean? Or was she scared of being heard?
When I gazed into her eyes, she seemed so far away. Lost in a storm, the lightning crashes illuminating her eyes.
I wanted to sail into the storm, but the waves would tower over me and crush me. I never made it far past the shore. I don’t know where she was.
Before, we always saved a seat for the other in Chemistry class. Now she came in late and took whatever seat was closest.
I’d lean up against my locker and wait for her in the five minute break between periods; maybe she forgot something and needed to swing by. But she didn’t. She always had everything she needed, even if it made her stumble and fall through the day.
“Hey,” I squeaked, shaking her arm softly. She turned back to me, that vacant look in her face. Her skin on mine felt like a hand brushing through cobwebs. Hard to understand whether I even touched it or not.
“What’s up?” I asked casually. My voice sounded so high. Was it always like that?
“Huh?” she asked, feigning ignorance and looked back out at the rolling waves. I frowned.
“You’ve just been—off—lately,” I said through thin lips, her hand slipping out of mine. “I know that—you and Charlie were really close and after what happened, you—I thought you’d want to talk about it more.”
She didn’t hear me. And I wasn’t exactly sure who Charlie was.
My hands fell to my side, fingers nervously itching my bare legs. I thought it’d be fun to wear a skirt to the beach; I had never really worn one before and thought that the wind delivered to us from the ocean would be freeing. Instead I found my hands constantly clawing at my skirt which stopped halfway down my thighs. Goosebumps rose up, irritating my skin.
“Y’know, tide goes in, tide goes out,” Francesca said with a wily grin, her hollow voice betraying her. “You can’t explain that!”
Laughing, I smiled too, she loved to take pot shots at old Bill, and I always appreciated them.
I wrapped an arm around her shoulder. Despite how far away the horizon was from us, there was still a whole world beyond it. Would I ever see it?
“I miss her a lot,” Francesca said, bending down to sit on the sand. Lagging behind, I landed on the sand beside her, pulling a shell out from under me. The skirt was so thin unlike the rough jeans I was always forced to wear.
“I mean—she—she never got to be happy, you know?” Francesca looked me in the eye, freezing as she saw me. A flicker; I felt it too. “You’re so beautiful,” she smiled, her true voice shimmering but dry from a long absence.
I tried to hide my resulting smile, tucking some hair behind my ear. It had just grown long enough for me to do that which was nice.
“Like—I mean, you know what I’m talking about,” Francesca said a little thickly, drawing her knees to her chest, wrapping her arms around them.
“Yeah,” I pretended to agree, not really sure what she meant. I couldn’t remember Charlie…
“She was going to come out soon,” Francesca said through tears, wind blowing her hair all over her face. “It was probably hard for her family to see her—in that casket in a dress. They never got to really meet her, y’know?”
My eyes widened a little and there was a certain lightness in my stomach.
“I was so excited for her.”
My throat was closing up. I tried to swallow it away but it hung there. Cracking.
“Hey, you okay?” Francesca asked, putting a hand on my back and rubbing it.
She had just started feeling comfortable enough to touch me like that. It was so new to me to touch someone. I had been someone else for so long.
“Um,” I stuttered, tears materializing out of nowhere, shining in the moonlight. Streaks of silver that killed me. “No. Sorry, I—I—I’m sorry, I—“
“Shhhhh shhhh,” she whispered, wrapping her arms around me, her chest pressing against my head, my soul trapped in her warm grip.
“I’m Charlie,” I said in a tiny voice.
She remained silent. I didn’t want to hurt her.
“I’m sorry th-that I’m not here anymore,” my voice was so high. Like porcelain. It was foreign from my mouth. It was the voice I wanted to have.
She knew. She knew that this is what I sounded like…
I tried reaching up to embrace her but my body failed me.
“I love you,” Francesca whispered into my ear, her voice soft like the waves. “And I miss you and hope I can see you again soon.”
I awkwardly reached up through her arms to rub her back. She had started to cry too and we melded together. One sobbing blob on the beach.
“I think I have to go,” I said, shaking. “You have to let me go.”
“Okay,” she said, the speech a little clammy. I couldn’t see her but it was better that way.
“Thank you for remembering me,” I said, relaxing. I craned my head up to see her hunched over with closed eyes, tears falling onto my face. I leaned upward, my lips pressing against her cheek.
And then just like that, I was the wind against her skin.
I awoke with a start. I was at the beach? Right, I was at the beach. I had come here alone. I checked my phone to see that it was almost ten o’clock. I had never been at the beach this late before.
“Oh shoot, mom’s gonna be really worried about me,” I said to myself, looking back to the street off in the distance. It was going to take a little bit to walk home. Eh, a few extra minutes wasn’t going to hurt anybody.
I dropped back into the sand, looking at the waves passing through. Ha, tide goes in, tide goes out, you can’t explain that. That’s what I would say if she was here.
My hand dug into the sand beside me, clutching it tightly, fingers pushing little tunnels into the mound. It was her hand on mine.
Despite the chill, there was a warmth on my cheek, an unearthly glow that didn’t mesh with the cold around me. I reached up and touched it.