Penny knew it was him before he turned around. She had spent uncountable mornings looking at the back of his head, her skin pressed against his, the gentle rhythm of his breathing mesmerizing her. She knew him, she knew the shape of his ears and the way his dark, close-cropped hair curled to the right.
“James?” Her voice caught in her throat, he hadn’t heard her. She tightened her grip on the Champagne flute, smoothed the front of her blouse and stepped around in front of him. “James, is that you?”
“Penny!” His eyes shone brighter than the sunlight on the beach sand that surrounded them. His lips turned up in a broad smile and, before she knew what more to say, he wrapped his arms around her, lifted her feet off the ground, and spun her in a broad circle.
“What are you doing here?” she asked when he released her. The smell of his body hung in the air between them, a mixture of aftershave and the expensive cigars he liked to smoke after dinner.
“It’s a wedding,” he gestured at the pagoda, chairs and garlands of flowers that stood out on the sands like diamonds on a black cloth. “I’m celebrating.”
Penny grinned at him, she’d always loved his sense of humour.
“The important part is over now, would you like to take a walk with me?” He pointed off down the deserted beach, his eyes shining, inviting, irresistible.
Penny nodded and set her glass down on a nearby table. He held his arm out to her and she took it, her fingers lingering on the dent beneath his wrist, the old scar from when he’d broken it. They’d been skiing in Austria at the time. James, completely inexperienced but determined to impress her, had hit a mogul and somersaulted into a tree. He hadn’t complained though, because they’d spent the rest of the holiday in their cabin.
They walked together, the afternoon sun wandering down to kiss the azure waters, and soon were far from the laughter of the wedding party. They spoke of small things, inconsequential things, but a deeper tide flowed between them, tugging relentlessly at them, eroding the sand from beneath their feet.
“Would you like to go for a swim?” James asked.
“Yes!” He pulled open the buttons of his shirt and threw it onto the sand.
“But…the wedding, what if-”
“Nobody will see us, and so what if they do? We’re meant to be having fun.” His pants puffed onto the sand, followed by his watch.
Penny watched as he ran, stark naked, into the water. She glanced back the way they had come but the beach was empty.
“Oh, why not?”
Her blouse and skirt made a rumpled heap next to his clothes and soon she was swimming through the warm waters.
“I knew you’d come.” James put his arms around her again when she caught up to him.
“I like a little danger.”
They were beyond the first line of breakers. Bobbing gently as the ocean rose and fell around them. James pushed his lips to hers. Salty water spiced their kiss. She closed her eyes and sank into him.
Then she was underwater. His arms tight around her waist, dragging at her. Water stung in her nose.
She tried to push him away. She needed air. Must get to the surface. But he held her tight and jerked her back and forth.
She opened her eyes to an ocean of bubbles. White and blue smudges danced before her. She kicked now. Hard. Savage as the desperate need to breathe. Her chest burned, her ribs ached, she must draw air or drown.
Then she was free, kicking away, through the bubbles and the salt and the red stain that filled the gentle swells around her.