Skin hot, still smelling of coconut long after the sun went down, bronze and golden with youth and the certainty that nothing will change. Walking like no one was looking, but sure that everyone was mesmerized by our hips; the men driving slowly in cars, the boys on skateboards, and catcalls from the cheap seats filling the air. We were a mating call and we knew it. But we didn’t mean it. It was all pretend. Dress up. Practice. A memory to carry home for the winter.
My foot, red and puckered to those clear plastic stilettos, the ones with the fish in the heel. His long eyelashes hid his bright blue eyes. Fake tattoos and airbrushed shirts. His whistle was only for me. Deep brown freckles on his cheeks, visible in the sun or the neon. He pulled whatever light was closest, only to to focus it like a spotlight radiating from his grin. Secrets whispered with salty lips and breath that felt cool in the hot breeze. I knew he was mine, but he was pretending. Sand in our shoes, even the ones that had never been to the beach. Parasail boats and wine coolers. Cheap cans of beer cold against flesh. Lips on sunburns. Tongues on bikini lines. Promises to write. Visits in fall. He was mine and I was his.
The doctor’s office on September 1, right before the weekend. Bronzed knees next to the doctor’s white hair. Signed slips and the nurse’s fingers wrapped with mine. Just like the soap opera I watched that summer. I was her—the actress—not me. A game of make-believe. Picture that the doctor told her the risks and she nodded her head. Her mother was there with her. Stroking her hair and telling her it would be okay. Fear in the past. A future still ahead. Too early for regret. Imagine you’re at the beach, the doctor said over the sheet, do you like the beach? The saltwater in my mouth as he hoisted me on his shoulders, and we giggled when I swallowed too much water. Eyes burning, the sun reflecting up. Legs wrapped together like seahorses around seaweed. I wasn’t her. I was me again and it was too late to pretend.
Anne English is a writer living in Lexington, Kentucky. Her work has been published in CRAFT. She was nominated for the 2020 PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers. Find her on Twitter @annecenglish or Instagram at anne_c_english_writer.