She finds me when the sky grows dark; grey clouds blanketing the sky and thunder rumbling out across the bay.
‘S’posed to be a wicked storm tonight.’ She drops down next to me, a blur of long limbs and tan skin.
Resting my head atop my knees, I let out a noncommittal hum, watching hungry mud-grey waves lick at the shoreline and greedily snatch footprints from the damp sand. Somewhere to the left, a wooden dinghy knocks against the rocks, the cadence creating a soft melody with the distant sound of wind chimes.
‘Have you spoken to Peter lately?’
‘No, he’s been busy,’ I mumble, eyes still tracing the horizon.
A scoff. ‘Right, ’course he is.’
Salt. Thick and oppressive. The smell permeates the air, sitting heavy upon my lungs and making my eyes burn. The ocean tumbles over itself in a fruitless fight for dominance, waves tossing and turning like an insomniac on their worst night.
I glance at her.
Pieces of brown hair have slipped out of its ponytail, dancing around her face in time with the swaying of the screw pines. She is staring up at the storm clouds with a slight downturn to her mouth, fingers tapping restlessly against her thighs.
‘Why do you pretend to-‘ She cuts herself off with a sigh.
Another crack of thunder sounds. ‘You know why.’
‘That’s bullshit.’ Her hand stills momentarily, ‘I just wish you would stop lying to yourself.’
A soldier crab scuttles across the shoreline, digging its way through waterlogged sand and disappearing within the blink of an eye. In my peripheral, a wave washes over the top of the crab’s hole, smoothing everything back to how it was before.
‘Don’t,’ my voice breaks, ‘please.’
She sighs, slumping forward slightly, ‘Sorry.’
Her whisper is soft and lilting, barely heard over the white noise of the churning sea and the heartbeat pounding at my eardrums. A small shell finds its way into her grasp, sun-bleached and fading, all jagged edges and crumbling ridges. Cradled in her palm, with such gentleness that my ribs ache at the sight, she runs a thumb over one of the cracks.
‘You deserve better than him, y’know?’ She whispers out through chapped, red lips.
Lightning splits open the sky as illuminated hazel eyes find mine.
A knot forms somewhere in my stomach. I glance away.
With another sigh, she slumps against me, tucking her head against my shoulder. Grapefruit and sandalwood chasing away the suffocating salt that has crystallised in my throat. Her hand brushes against my knee as she shifts, and my fingers twitch towards her.
I lace my fingers together, tucking them in my lap.
Tilting my head slightly, I watch as she drags a finger through the sand, drawing wobbly shapes and words. She draws an uneven circle that becomes a sun, and two stick figures standing beneath it, their hands clasped with smiles on their faces.
Thunder, loud and echoing across the sky. The knot moves to my chest and scrapes painfully at my innards.
A wave rolls in; the drawing is carried out to sea.
The words die on my tongue.
She places the shell in my lap. ‘You wish for?’
‘I wish for-‘ I squeeze my eyes shut, a ragged breath ripping through me, ‘I wish for many things.’
She hums, tucking herself further into my side.
The first drop of rain follows a flash of lightning.
Within seconds, the clouds shatter and the ground shakes, water falling from the sky and mixing with unsettled saltwater waves. She pulls away, a startled laugh falling from her as her freckled face tilts upwards. A blinding smile of crooked teeth, warm in ways my side is no longer.
She scrambles to her feet, grabbing my hand and pulling me to stumble up after her. Laughter rings out across the bay as she steadies me momentarily before dashing off towards the awning of the long-closed ice cream shop.
Settling under the shelter, her pinkie finger linked with mine, I look up at her in all her soaked, green hoodie glory. With wet hair and a soft smile plastered on her face, her shoulders rise and fall in time with her heavy breaths. She’s so beautif-
A crack of thunder.
Something behind my ribcage aches.
‘Promise,’ I whisper, ‘That you will stay?’
‘Forever, if I can.’
I look back towards the raging ocean. ‘Thank you.’
Somewhere in the distance, a curlew shrieks.
Author: Alex Boughen is a non-binary creative writing student that has a passion for exploring mental health, the human experience, and queer identities through poetry and short fiction. Combining their love of the mundane with ambiguity and open endings, Alex writes with the hope of creating works that will resonate and encourage reflection.
Artist: Ella Dickson
Editors: Jasmine Tait and Eliana Fritz