Wednesday at Two Mile Beach
South Fork sun warming our shoulders, Jen and I peddled up the road to Two Mile Beach like kids on summer vacation. Our hosts had been kind enough to lend us bikes. Jen’s strong legs worked the beige cruiser like the dancer she was. I rode a mountain bike owned by an online dating wizard, the son-in-law of our hosts, on whose website Jen and I met. Messages back and forth in March led us to a date at a chocolate shop in April. We went to concerts, played board games, and ate dinner on Jen’s roof through May and June, all of which carried us to this moment of child-like glee in July, biking to the beach as if the ocean was waiting for us.
We slowed when we got to the parking lot, and guided the bikes across the asphalt. At the bike racks, we hopped off. Jen and I rested the bikes carefully and unlocked, like the other bikes, smiling that we do such a thing. Jen adjusted the light blue mesh bag on her shoulder. I resituated my canvas bag, containing our towels, backgammon, water jug, food containers, and books. When we reached the sand, we kicked off our flip-flops and left them half-buried. Between weathered fencing, we walked down the path to the beach. Jen pointed with her forehead to the sky. Gulls arced in formation above the waves, hurrying somewhere.
We found a good spot between families, and laid out our blanket, the breeze cooling off the Hamptons heat. Jen applied sun block around her turquoise bikini.
“You think we’ll ever be like that?” she said, rubbing the lotion into her belly.
“Like what?” I said, putting on my beach hat.
She pointed with her chin. “Like those people.” She stopped moving and dropped her arms by her sides. “Do you want to have kids or not?”
“I think so.” I sat down on the blanket.
“Well,” she said, and continued applying sunblock. She looked at the statuesque houses beyond the dunes. “What are we doing here?”
The waves crashed onto the shore. “At the beach?” I gazed at the seam where the sky meets the sea. “It’s beautiful. Isn’t it beautiful—”
“—Of course it’s beautiful,” she said firmly. “I’m saying why are we on earth. What’s the point?” She threw the sunblock at her bag. “Don’t you want to share it?”
“I’m not sure my parents wanted me. I want to be sure.”
“Oh wah-wah. You had a great childhood. My parents fought too. Stressed people fight.” She sat down on the blanket next to me. “You think we’re not going to fight?” She smiled. “We’re going to fight,” she paused. “And then we’ll make up.”
“I’m saying probably.” More gulls flew by, not in formation.
She mussed up my hair. “Don’t be scared. Or be scared. I’m scared. I have to squeeze that thing out.”
“You’re going to be great.” I put my arm around her waist, and pulled her to me, the sunblock smearing onto my skin.
She dropped her head on my shoulder, and pointed with her hand at the sky. “You think that cloud looks like a dog?”
“A little.” I lay back, sun on my face.
Jen leaned over, kissed me on the forehead, and stood up. “It’s hot. I’ve got to get wet.” She walked down the sand to Two Mile waves.
The only light on in the open floor plan living room kitchen was the one above the stove, bouncing its shine off the white surface, steel tea kettle, and sauce pan. The granite counters, island with breakfast stools, lounging couch and ottoman, were all ready for a party that wasn’t happening.
In the fridge was enough food to feed ten, enough beer and wine to get ten drunk, enough bottled water to hydrate at least ten. I wasn’t hungry or thirsty. Earlier I’d taken Jen to a restaurant where it’s difficult to get a reservation.
Through the curtain-flanked glass French doors in front of me, the eight-foot hedges and Japanese maple weren’t visible in the night. The lounging couch was comfortable even for a restless sleeper like me, even after two hours. Not that I’d been sleeping. I’d been awake, staring into the abyss outside, the shapeless dark, seeing only occasional drops of light in the sky due to cloud cover.
I picked at a scab above my ear. Camping out downstairs on the couch was better than keeping Jen up. Or was it? Is this what it’s like to be a Dad? Or what it’s like to be alone? My eyes began to blur, unsure whether to focus on the glass of the French doors, or what might be beyond them. Something must be out there. I waited and listened. A stray dog? A lost cat? Partiers on the long, safe walk home? My eyes found contours on the glass. Sun exhaustion and dehydration were getting to me.
Bright light flooded the room.
“What are you doing down here?” Jen’s voice. She was leaning on the wall by the light switch just inside the doorway in my t-shirt and boxers.
“Didn’t want to keep you up.”
“Honey.” Jen walked to the back of the couch, leaned against it. “Come upstairs.”
I rotated my shoulders and adjusted the pillow behind me.
Jen placed her hands on my neck. “Are you thinking about—don’t think about it.”
“How can I not think about it?” I pulled at the scab. My scalp felt wet. “Besides, I’m not. Just go to bed. We have that brunch tomorrow.”
Jen bent forward and rolled herself over the back of the couch, coming to rest in a seated position. Dancers can do stuff like that. I wanted to smile.
“We’re here.” She spooled a piece of her hair.
“What do you mean?”
She clapped her hands against the couch. “You and me. Don’t you get it? We have a chance.” Jen bored her eyes into me. “Don’t you want to take it?”
Headlights from a car angled onto the driveway and shined through the hedges, casting patterns across the furniture, stove, couch, Jen and me. Then the patterns disappeared, leaving Jen and I again in stove light.
“Must not be too late.” I put my hand on her knee. “They’re back from the party.”
“Let’s go to the beach.” She placed her hand on my head, and ran her fingers over my hair. “Are you bleeding?”
“I was picking a scab.” I caught her other hand.
“You need constant babysitting,” she huffed, and stood. “Come on.” She pulled at my hand, and stepped toward the doorway, elongating her leg out like a ballerina. She walked to the length of my arm, and stopped.
I got up from the couch, and hugged her. “The beach sounds nice.” Her body felt warm. “But it’s too far. And too late.”
She leaned out of the hug. “Okay. Well, you need a Band-Aid.” She pulled at my wrist. “In the medicine cabinet upstairs.”
We walked through the doorway, clicked off the light, up the curving staircase, past the open window. The moon hummed outside. Just enough diffuse light to see. No pale circle in the sky. Upstairs, our lazy night time footsteps swept along on the wood floor. In the sleepy darkness, breeze washed over us, clean air filled our mouths, ecstatic stillness surrounded our bones. The ocean had waited.