An hour later I’m zipping the back of Talia’s wetsuit at the edge of the tide line. Moonlight glimmers on the black water. The waves line up perfectly, peeling clean. I breathe deep, savoring the air’s briny tang and the musty smell of decomposing kelp. My awareness is sharpened by anticipation, the five senses amplified by the dark.
Talia shuffles at my side, getting antsy.
“You sure about this?”
“Yes. Well, sure enough.”
Another set breaks. The conditions are choice. If she changes her mind, I might need to have a ride—a quick one.
Maybe two, tops.
“What’s that noise?” She stills. “There it is again. Can you hear it?”
I concentrate and smile when a sound like a wheezing donkey drifts from beyond the breakers. “Fairy penguin.”
“Shut up! There are penguins around here?”
“Sure. In the summer they build burrows in the scrub along the coast. If you stand outside a colony right after sunset, things get pretty noisy.”
“Penguins.” She almost whispers the word. “That’s so cool.”
The wash races over the sand and breaks across our toes. I figure out a plan of attack. “We’ll paddle to the left shoulder where the wave’s less steep. Stick with me, okay?” No one else is out and my voice feels extra loud even though I’m speaking quiet.
“Have you ever been to Rome?” She takes my hand.
“No, not yet.”
“Me neither. But I can’t imagine the Sistine Chapel being more amazing than this.”
Besides the moon, there’s zero light pollution. The Milky Way arches in a dazzling band across the sky’s apex. Individual stars are indistinguishable in the brilliant haze.
She squeezes my hand in reply.
We paddle out.
“Whoa!” She pushes her chest up to better peer over her board’s tip. Around us the water casts a luminous green-blue light.
“Phosphorescence. Cool, eh? It’s blooming phytoplankton, caused by this marine species of dinoflagellates releasing enzymes that—”
“That’s enough, Sid the Science Kid. Let me retain this fairy kingdom illusion a little while longer.”
“Science is cool, Captain.”
“I never said— Oh, crap!”
Instead of duck-diving under the incoming wave, the water wall pounds her in the face. She breaks through the other side, coughing out a lung.
“We can head back to shore, don’t have to—”
“I’m fine. Please. There’s a wave coming. I can feel the pull. Can you?”
“You want it?”
“It’s all yours.”
I take off on a left break and fly down the smooth face. For a few perfect seconds, I’m right here in the moment. Rational thought is eclipsed and with it the aggravating confusion of having everything: Talia, Tasmania, honors, and still hungering for more like a greedy bastard.I paddle back to her.
“You looked great.”
“That was good.”
She sits, bobbing lightly. “It’s not as freaky out here as I imagined.”
“Fucking hell, Captain. You said you weren’t scared.”
“No, I never did. I’m scared by everything. But I want to do this.”
We’re quiet. A few more waves come but I let them go, happy to be with my girl, the stars, and the radiant water.
Hard not to believe in magic on such a night.
She clears her throat. “About what happened back at the house…if this is going to work, you can’t shut me out. You’re not just a you anymore; we’re an us. We have to be there for each other.”
I bob on my board and drag my fingers through the water. The phosphorescence lights from my touch. Finally I speak. “Karma’s got this mate; he’s on the crew of a Sea Alliance vessel. There’s an opening for a gig, with voyages to Japan and Antarctica.”
“You want to go for it?” I can’t decipher her expression.
I almost say no, but honesty’s easier in the anonymous dark. “Yeah, kinda. But I want to be with you more.”
“Oh, Bran, that’s way too much pressure.”
“What do you mean?”
“Imagine coming home in a few months and I’m all vegged on the couch, watching awful reality television. Will you think to yourself, ‘I could be gallantly defending the high seas but instead I’m attached to this boring anchor’?”
“Life with you is bound to be a lot of things, but boring isn’t the first depiction that springs to mind.”
“But life isn’t always night surfing. I…I can’t compete against a fantasy.”
“I never said you had to.”
“Isn’t supporting the other’s goals a fundamental part of the good girlfriend/boyfriend job description? I mean, say I always wanted to volunteer in Africa? Join the Peace Corps.”
“I used to toy around with the idea. Now? I’m not sure but I don’t want to close myself off to opportunities.”
“We can travel through Africa someday.”
“Peace Corps is one of my dreams, not yours. I want you to have the freedom to pursue your own happiness.”
“You make me happy.” I strike my words like flint before sucking in a rough breath. “Look, I’m not a guy cut out for the long-distance thing. I hated every second we were apart the last two months.”
“Bran…” She reaches out her hand and I take hold. “I won’t let go.”
“Me neither.” I scrutinize the sky, heart clanging. Everything appears so deceptively still. In reality, the Earth careens through space. Talia and I, we’re little specks of cosmic dust in the grand scheme. It wouldn’t take much to blow away from each other.
“But in the future—”
“I hear what you’re saying and I appreciate the support. But the only future I’m willing to discuss is the one where it’s me and you—together.”
Better to orbit far away from black holes.
About The Author:
Lia Riley writes offbeat New Adult Romance. After studying at the University of Montana-Missoula, she scoured the world armed only with a backpack, overconfidence and a terrible sense of direction. She counts shooting vodka with a Ukranian mechanic in Antarctica, sipping yerba mate with gauchos in Chile and swilling fourex with stationhands in Outback Australia among her accomplishments. A British literature fanatic at heart, Lia considers Mr. Darcy and Edward Rochester as her fictional boyfriends. Her very patient husband doesn't mind. Much. When not torturing heroes (because c'mon, who doesn't love a good tortured hero?), Lia herds unruly chickens, camps, beach combs, daydreams about as-of-yet unwritten books, wades through a mile-high TBR pile and schemes yet another trip. She and her family live mostly in Northern California.
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