Once we reached the beach, a vast stretch of soft, golden-white sand, we spread the mats and opened the chairs. The sun appeared to be in a good mood, judging by the amount of its radiance. The warmth of it felt as good as a touch of magic on my skin, energizing and reviving every single cell in my body. Peering out at the hazy stretch of horizon that seemed to touch the clear blue sky and marking the end of the world, I placed my hands on my hips and took a deep breath. Turning my chin up slightly, I hauled in another deep, satisfying breath while the boys pulled off their shirts.
I couldn’t help but steal a quick peek over at Augustine on my left to see if his shoulder were doing fine and well, maybe also to. . . Yeah, to satisfy my curiosity of how good he might look shirtless under the sun. Needless to say, he looked okay. Like one damn fine specimen.
Camilla, Leon, and Arizona held hands together and with vibrant smiles glowing on their faces at the sight of the water, they scurried ahead of us towards the inviting waves.
“Hey! Hey! Hey! Not yet, kids!” Augustine called out after them. “Stay where I can see you. And don’t go into the water without me.”
“Fiiiine!” Camilla drawled and giggled with the other two. “How about we make sand castles?”
“Yeah. We can make Rapunzel’s castle!” Arizona chipped in with raw enthusiasm and a little clap.
The other two kids agreed on it and Augustine handed out a bucket and garden spades to them. Jessica stripped down to her bikinis and for a while, I just stood there looking around at the sky, the water, the people who had come out to soak up the sun.
“Hurry up and strip, girlfriend. We need to take some nice pictures before we get wet.” Jessica ordered as she finger-combed through her hair.
“Uh. . . Yeah. Okay.” I wasn’t really interested in pictures but, for the sake of capturing moments for memories, I stripped.
Marlon whistled flirtatiously and wiggled his eyebrows at me in appreciation. I was wearing a light blue halter-neck bikini top with Brazilian bottoms and my skin hardly had any tan. I was close to milky-white.
Throwing my clothes to join the rest of the pile stacked up in one chair, I laughed at him. “Shut up.”
“You look indescribably tempting.” He joked back and as I laughed again, I caught Augustine’s gaze casually and quickly running over me.
He didn’t say anything. He just picked out his camera from his backpack and with a tiny smirk on his lips, he beckoned us to follow him. “Leave your phones. I’m officially the photographer today.”
“Oh, great!” Jessica cheered, grabbed my hand and pulled me along with her as she ran toward the water.
“Is this a good view?” Jessica asked Augustine as we stood in front of the water.
“Not really but, the girls I see make everything ten times better.” He smiled at us whilst positioning the camera over his eyes and I fully blushed when his gaze traveled straight to me like he was telling me.
I wasn’t the kind of person who blushed that easily since I had a tendency to turn most things into jokes so, this took even me by surprise and I felt Jessica pinch me on my back.
“What’s going on?” She teased discreetly in a whisper, barely moving her lips.
Fighting back a smile, I whispered back, “He’s just teasing.”
“Doesn’t look like he’s teasing.” She teased again.
I laughed it off and continued to take pictures with her. After a while, Marlon proceeded to photobomb our pictures. And there was a moment when both Marlon and Augustine completely tricked our ass and Jessica and I plummeted into the water which resulted in over-the-top-awesome pictures they couldn’t stop laughing at.
We only wanted to stand in the water and take a snap, no plan of getting wet so soon. They two boys made us stand there for so long with their cameras ready, saying they hadn’t quite got the perfect picture yet.
“Not yet?!” I asked exasperatedly.
“Just one second,” Marlon replied and true to his words, one second later, Jessica and I found ourselves being washed into the water.
Over our astonished squealing, as we fell into the water, we heard Marlon and Augustine laughing outside at the shore as they watched us. We hadn’t seen the wave coming behind us and they were waiting for that. When we came out of the water, they could barely speak to us as they continued to chortled their hearts out. Augustine had been taking pictures at that moment while Marlon captured it in a video on his phone. When we watched it, Jessica and I could hear them talking between themselves and snickering mischievously to wait for the wave to wash us. With the look on our faces, our pictures were beyond beautiful. Just terrific.
Augustine took everyone’s pictures, except his. He really was not interested at all but, at one point he agreed to join us when a stranger took our group picture, which meant history. At least, he understood the undeniable importance and significance of capturing memories. At least for one picture.
God, of course, he does. It hit me when I watched him take pictures and videos of Arizona and the kids. He does.
Marlon, Timothee, and Jessica called me to join them at beach ball but, I politely declined since I wasn’t exactly a sporty kind of person. Instead, I joined Augustine to help the kids build a sand castle. With dark shades over his eyes, he was digging a hole for the kids with the long spade while I just sat on the sand tired after the photoshoot. The kids were molding shapes out of wet sand beside us.
“Sophia, come on! It’ll be fun!” Marlon called again from the distance.
“I think I’ll be fine here!” I replied. “Not really into it.”
“I think you should join them,” Augustine said.
“Nah. I don’t really play sports.” I returned, leaning back on my palms and squinting my eyes up at the sun.
“You could also just watch them play.” He suggested and I frowned up at him in question. “I’m fine sitting here.”
He chuckled back at his own silliness. “Just saying.”
“It better be.” I returned with a smile without wasting a moment.
He simply smiled back, rather too quiet and a little queer, avoiding eye contact. Since I was somewhat quick at catching hints, I figured from his smile that he was trying to hide something from me. I decided to make him spill. Or rather trick it out of him.
“Or maybe you just don’t want me hanging around you,” I added.
“What?” I noticed a quick change in his expression.
“Am I annoying? Is that why you want me to go over to them?”
“What the hell you talking about? You know, that’s not it.” He scoffed with a short laugh.
“I mean, honestly. I wouldn’t mind. If you don’t want me around you, it’s totally cool. . .”
He suddenly stopped digging, thrust the spade once into the sand, placed his palms over the handle and pulled off his shades to look at me. “Are you kidding or what?” He demanded with his sharp eyes.
I shrugged innocently, acting up to be serious. “Just asking. Because I know that some people find me really annoying. . .”
He frowned, sighed and huffed, “It’s not like that, Sophia. Absolutely not. I don’t find you annoying at all.”
“Then why? Why are you urging me to go over to them?” I whined a little.
“Nothing. I just thought you might enjoy watching them play.”
“Yeah. Great. I know it. I’m annoying.” Faking up a hurt expression on my face, I bustled up from the sand to leave.
“It’s not that!” He shouted a little as if to nail some sense in me. With the deep frown on his face, I figured that he was getting frustrated with all my drama.
Defiantly and dramatically, I held my chin high and met him dead in the eyes.
“I just thought. . . Marlon’s a nice guy and you might enjoy his company. He’s cool so. . .”
“Marlon?” I narrowed my eyes. “That’s a funny excuse. You could just say I’m annoying. It’s fine.”
“God, Sophia. What the f. . .” He almost swore but, then he saw the kids and held it back. “Marlon likes you. So, I’m just trying to be helpful. Okay?! It’s not because I find you annoying. You’re not.”
“Oh, gosh,” I mumbled under my breath, shifting my gaze to the sea.
To be honest, I wasn’t that surprised. I had somehow seen it coming with the way he talked to me whenever we met. And the cheeky smiles he would give me along with little compliments added up to my suspicion. I wasn’t exactly happy at the news. For heaven’s sake, I was, in fact, crushing hard on his best friend from the very beginning. And to make things more complicated, my crush for Augustine was only growing bigger and fiercer by each day, each word he spoke. To the point that sometimes, when I thought of him, it frightened me that I might even fall in love with him.
Staring down at the sand beneath my feet and playing with it with my right toe, I asked, “So, you want me to get together with him?”
With poignant, contemplative eyes, he shrugged. “I don’t know. You guys decide.”
He went back to digging the sand again, seeming rather pissed at god-knows-what.
I exhaled a deep breath and slumped back on the sand again. “Well, I’m not interested in him. So, I’ll just sit here around you.”
As expected, he stopped digging again and I saw him roll up his eyes to meet mine.
You’re smart, aren’t you?
My lips twitched in amusement. I fought it back. Communication through indirect dialogues was one thing I truly enjoyed when I couldn’t find the boldness and strength to straight out say things as it is. I couldn’t be more glad that he got what I meant.
His gaze lingered on me immovable. There seemed to be a number of thoughts running rampant in his mind. I mustered up all my courage and fought to maintain eye contact with him. He didn’t look pleased neither angry nor revolted. In fact, he just looked like himself – intense eyes, lips shut tight and quiet, a small frown upon his forehead. All in all, he looked wistful.
“Won’t be long until you’re bored out.” He remarked casually and went back to his business.
“I don’t mind.”
We fell into silence. I was still itching to talk more about it but, I waited until he was done with his digging. Two minutes later, he hit the water and threw the spade down on the sand. The kids cheered in delight and gathered around the hole to look at the water before they were soon busy making the castle.
Picking up his shades from the ground, he sat down on the sand too. Despite my curiosity and urge to talk more, I remained silent for one more minute as he rested to recollect his strength. But I would be lying if I say we were not bothered at all. I could sense that even he wanted to talk about it.
He moved his right arm slightly as if to check if it was functioning alright.
“Does it still hurt?” I asked.
“It’s getting better.”
Not quite sure now where to start, I did what I did best – went straight to the point.
“So, you and Marlon are really great friends?”
“You can say more than just friends. We’re a family.”
“And you always look out for one another.”
“Yup.” He nodded, staring out at the waves.
“He doesn’t have a girlfriend?”
“Right. But he’s hitting on you now.” He turned to smile at me briefly.
I shrugged. “And what about you?”
He shook his head. “No.”
“Haven’t found the right girl yet or you’re sworn to celibacy.” I joked and he cracked a smile.
“I could fool around with a girl or two but, I don’t date. What’s the point?”
“Don’t ask me. I can’t tell you. I bet it’s different for everyone.”
“Mhmm. What’s the point for you? It’s just nothing for me. Nothing to it.”
“I don’t know either. Maybe I would just want to be around. . . The person.” I turned my face down to the sand, hardly able to look at him. “Like him. Maybe even love him.”
“You believe in that kind of love?”
“I guess I do. Not so sure though. Do you?” I looked up to him.
He faced me directly and answered, “No. I never did. I know I love my siblings. I love my friend, Marlon. That’s all. I don’t fall in love with people. I don’t even look forward to it. I don’t have the time and I don’t care.”
My heart seemingly crashed within me. That was it. That was a dead end. He’d drawn the line. Without even me asking, he was telling me that he doesn’t love me at all. Or that he even care. I was just a nobody in his life, not even worth a second. That was what his words told me. And if anything, all he wanted was for me to get it on with his best friend.
“So. . . You really don’t care?” I asked barely above a whisper, hardly able to get anything out of my throat.
He didn’t answer for a while. Beneath the mask of his rigid face, I saw his jaws tighten like he was struggling with his own self inside. His eyes are on the horizon but I knew that was not what he was seeing. His mind, his vision was somewhere else.
“I let it be.” There I heard a tinge of unwillingness like he was being forced to something he doesn’t believe in. “I have the people I care about with me. That’s enough. I’ll do whatever I can to keep them. The rest is up to fate.”
“That doesn’t sound so bad.” I offered with a smile, a bitter smile in fact. “We sure have to keep them, live for them. But you know what I think?”
He turned to look at me.
“I think you need to loosen up a liiiittle bit too.” I smiled at him. “After all, it’s still your life. You have to live for yourself too. And I think, there’s still a long way ahead and I think. . . So many more things will happen to you that you might like and even hate too. And the people who truly love you like your family and Marlon, I’m sure they’ll be happy for you if the things that make you happy happens to you. . . I mean, won’t you at least give a chance to the rest of the world? Who knew, right?”
By the end of it, I didn’t quite understand myself what I had said and why I said it. I just did because I felt like it. But then I didn’t regret it either. It came from a good place after all. It’s not so bad to try to say something nice.
“Yeah. It’s true what you said too.” He nodded. “But I’m already tired of this world. I don’t want to take chances. I don’t want surprises. I just want things to work fine. All I want now is to control it and make it work. But that’s not life. The least I can do is try my best. Stay on the safe side. Keep my priorities close. That’s all that matters to me now. Nothing else.”
I swallowed. “Right.”
We fell into silence again and all I could think of was that he might have indirectly rejected me already. There was no need to repeat it. We both did quite well conversing in secret, coded, double-meaning dialogues.
“By the way, I wasn’t serious about the annoying thing. I was just acting up to make you spill the beans.”
“Really? That explains why you were suddenly being so dramatic.” He chuckled, causing me to laugh too.