Sometimes it happens like this. Sometimes the day begins just as you expected it to, you stumble downstairs, joints creaking from a week of cycling and hiking, your head throbbing with the memory of too much local wine. It's too early in the morning to make much sense of the night before; the immediate need for water and aspirin is too great to focus on much else, and the task of locating a semi-clean pair of shorts proves almost impossible. After much bashing of shins on chairs and the relieving sound of a boiled kettle, you manage to scramble out your front door equipped for a day in the dunes, unaware today will be any different.
The air outside is better than anything the shower in your mildewed bathroom could spit out. Lifting your hair with a citrusy blast and dislodging the last of the sleep from your lashes, it makes way for the sand and dust that will inevitably fill them by the end of the day. At the sound of voices from over the hill, you reach your hands up to dishevel your fringe that bit more.
Previous misadventures have taught you to invest in a pair of sandals that you can strap to your ankle when venturing across the sand, much more reliable that the pair of flip-flops you acquired free with a magazine. Tapping pebbles and dried seaweed out of your trainers at the end of every visit had also taken the fun out of those first few salty days, so there really hadn't been any other option. The girl that sold you those had been picking varnish off her nails when you entered the shop, and you thought about whether her toes were painted in the same colour, whether the tan on her shoulders extended to freckled shins. She had fumbled a bit at the till when she'd served you, but since you weren't sure whether that was out of annoyance at being disturbed or because she fancied you you'd walked out without pursuing a conversation. At once your thoughts turn to the conversation you think you may have had with Anna last night, there are glimpses of promises you might have made while stooped in the pantry, words that your mind can't seem to access. You can't be sure whether you tried to kiss her last night. Whether she let you.
You can barely feel your fingers by the time you reach the rock, so cramped are they from the effort of swimming such a distance. The earlier vigour waned surprisingly quickly and you were forced to stop mooning about and really put your mind to the matter in hand. It doesn't feel like a victory as you haul yourself up. The hot stone is too uncomfortable to sit on properly and you feel slightly foolish trying to perch on it. The distance to swim had been severely misjudged and now you're too tired for the time being to try and swim back, so there's nothing left to do but pretend you're comfortable and wait for the feeling to return to your limbs.
Earlier on, you'd been thinking about Anna as you stood knee deep in the waves, back to the near empty shore. She was bound to arrive with Harry and the others anytime soon,. Squinting up at the sun it looks like it's about midday but you've never really been sure how you're supposed to know, you should have learnt by now, really. The feel of the sand wasting away bit by bit under your feet was discomforting after a while and by the time everyone arrived you were lying in the sun half dozing. After considering her for most of the morning, you'd come to the conclusion that nothing helpful would come from sleeping with Anna; she's emotional and likely to make things awkward if things didn't work out, so instead you chose to take refuge behind one of the papers they bring with them so not to have to make conversation.
> By 3 o'clock everyone was bored of playing in the waves and a gentle beer-aided lull settled over the group, with people dispersing around the small cove. Harry disappeared with two local girls after talking intently at the edge of the waves. Anna had tried to make conversation with you after you swapped papers, but the trade seemed forced and awkward and after a short time she'd retreated back to the other girls. You could sense them talking about you, so with a burst of energy you ran into the waves and started swimming out towards a rock some way out to sea.
> And so here you are. This is what you think of, eyes closed against the sun with your face raised like a cat. Should have put sunscreen on earlier, the skin on your face feels slightly tender and the sea water isn't in the least bit comforting. Anna will laugh at it later. The lukewarm beers have begun to take hold and you feel settled, less agitated than earlier on, leading you to feel slightly sheepish about your standoffish behaviour. Upon seeing your determination at staying away, Anna had taken it in her stride, running into the waves and resolutely ignoring the tension. Later you'd gone to the cool box not realising it she was asleep beside it, belly down on a scratchy towel. The two dips at the bottom of her spine had caused you to take your time selecting a drink, sneaking glances at the brown shoulders specked with sand, but a shout from the waves had diverted your attention and you'd forgotten until now. She had such narrow shoulders. Narrow enough for you to put your arms around her comfortably you expect. You decide to be friendlier when you get back to the beach.
Straining, you try to remember the conversation in the pantry. You'd followed her in after 3 days of trying to accidently graze against her smooth arms, of her looking at you just a second too long. You didn't usually bother with girls that were like her- she was outspoken and not in the least bit tactful, but she'd made you laugh when she mocked Harry's persistent attempts to chat up their landlady. Pulling open the door she'd not turned to see if you followed, which hadn't bothered you until this morning. Was it confidence or arrogance? Even in the half light of the pantry, her hair falling over one shoulder like a schoolgirl, she seemed to have a half smile on her face like she knew he was struggling to think of something clever to say. The dust in the air swirled around her in a gold blaze, making her look more attractive than in the harsh light of the kitchen. In another room of the cottage you could hear the others laughing and a glass being knocked to the floor. She'd moved over to you with her hands folded in front of her, stopping inches from your mouth. She stopped and waited for you to say something.
Peering towards the shore, you can't really see anyone because the sun has bleached away the shadows from your eyes, but you've been on the rock long enough now and you're worried about turning pink. Kicking off you rejoice in the coolness of the water and the surrounding silence.
Living underwater wouldn't be so bad, you'd anchor yourself to the sea bed with weeds when you wanted to sleep and you could return to the rock if you needed the warmth of the sun, or to feel the rain. It's this you think of as you work towards the shore but after a while your muscles ache and you start to panic about not making it back, but it's not really that far and they'd surely notice before long if you didn't return. You wonder if Anna's looking for you and whether she's annoyed at you. You suppose she's more likely to fun of you, maybe this is something she'll tease you about one day when you're lying in bed. You remember the smooth plane between her shoulder blades, marked by tan lines gained in the last few days and you don't realise how much you've slowed down. The sun isn't quite as high as it is when you set off towards the rock. Slightly out of breath, it seems sensible to lie on your back and float for a moment as you try to focus. The sun or perhaps the beer has made you dizzy and your eyes feel slightly as if they're being pushed out their sockets. Nausea rolls up your throat like a stretching feline.
They'll be tired of the beach now, the sand irritating the crooks of their bodies no matter how often they rub themselves down. Discussions about what to cook will be going on, whose turn it is to run down to the local shop. Anna thinks the atmosphere between the two of you has caused you to leave the group, she can't remember you coming back in from the sea, if you went anywhere after. You can't possibly have stayed in the water this long. She's torn between waiting for you and trying to talk to you in private before returning to the cottage, or to cut her losses and return with the others.
You think you're swimming in the right direction, it's difficult to tell from this level but you're sure it can't be much long- you've been paddling about for too long now. The sea water dances against your face and the weeds below call out to you, offering to sooth the ache that's spreading up your pelvis. You try to think of the simple action of reaching out into the water and propelling yourself forward but your limbs flail about aimlessly. The rock isn't even visible anymore. You're aware that you're no longer atop the waves, just bobbing on the surface like a buoy. A minute, just a minute longer then you'll start swimming again.
On the beach a girl trails behind her friends, looking about for a boy who stormed off into the sea without her.