Tobias sat atop his scaffold perch viewing the flat stretch of sandy beach, cut horizontally by the gray-green expanse of the Pacific Ocean. The beach was deserted, the wind rising. The sky, heavy with moisture, diffused all light. Scattered waves erupted in whitecaps, but mostly the water was calm.
The day was drawing to a close, as was the season for ocean bathing, and yet he stayed. Would she come? His expression was composed, serious.
Waiting, his eyes pierced the distant waters for someone in trouble.
And then he saw it, an erratic dot jiggling on the horizon. He lifted his binoculars, quickly adjusting his sight. Yes, it was who he had instinctively sensed it would be.
Nimbly he climbed down, wasting not a single motion. Within seconds he had crossed the strand and was in the water, swimming with long, even strokes toward the object of his ardor.
He had first noticed Marissa on a day when the sun and sand were warm, the beach splashed with laughter and the color of towels, hats, umbrellas, and people dressed in bright swimwear. When his eyes picked her out of the congregation of light-worshippers, she was alone.
A stunning beauty, she was not. She was too thin and her hair too dishwater; her swimsuit, outmoded and out-worn, did nothing to enhance her form. He couldnít take his eyes off her.
Stretched out with nothing to shield her pale limbs from the elements, she was lying on her stomach in the sand, her forehead resting on an arm laying across the open pages of a book.
He thought the girl was drowsing there in the sun, but suddenly, as if his gaze had sent a verbal message through the back of her head, she lifted and turned to look his way. After that she ignored him the rest of the day - and for many days thereafter.
On a midsummer Wednesday, he walked toward her little spot of beach. She was lying face down as she had been that first day he spotted her. Kneeling in the sand, he reached out and touched her hair.
For a moment she didnít move. Then she turned her head and looked him full in the face. He saw her eyes belied the plainness of the rest of her. They were gray-green ocean, flecked in white seafoam. And they were every bit as troubling as any ocean can be when brewed by storms. He knew her past had deeply wounded her.
Would she trust him? She rose slowly, brushing with a slim hand at the dusting of sand on her suit. Then she gave him one quick glance, turned and walked away.
He was mid-point now and the swells were rising, the troughs deepening. The tide was coming in, but the current was pulling her sidewise, away from him.
He could see her struggles were slowing; several times the waves washed over her head, obscuring his view of her. Increasing his efforts, he willed her to hang on.
He remembered that from July through August he mourned her. Every day he scanned the beach, hungering for a mere sight of her. But she didnít come. His summer job as a lifeguard, technically over now, he came this one last day.
He swam on, hope piling on hope; he prayed, he believed. And then just when he felt he could not lift another heavy arm, new strength surged through him. And then he was there, reaching for her as she reached for him. The enemy had not won.
As soon as her head cleared the surface, she wheezed, gurgling seawater our her nose and mouth. She opened her eyes, and squinted at him through dripping, scraggly, seaweed hair.
He was strong, she was weak. She had no choice now, but to give in and trust him. Where most drowning victims fight their savior, she knew all the fight had gone out of her.
As yet Tobias and Marissa had not exchanged a single word. But it was okay. There would be plenty of time for that, later. Then she could tell him all about how she came to be in such a predicament.
But the telling would be for her benefit, not for his. He didn't need it. He had her, and that was enough.
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