We had fun that day, the day Rudy Mask turned up in Orange Bay to reweave the net that held me to the past. In the morning Elaine and I took the boat through the calm waters of the pass and hunted south along the coast for snook, and, later, when the chest was full, for a beach and growth of trees where we could rest and swim.
I decided on a curved narrow piece of island three or four hundred yards from the shoreline, and edged the boat into the beach. Elaine slipped over the side into shallow water to guide the keel against the sand.
"Catch me," I said, then jumped over the side, splashing water on her swim suit.
"Pete!" she wailed.
"So what?" I chided. "That’s what it’s for, isn’t it? To get wet?"
She backed away and waded indignantly out of the water. I followed with towels and the basket of lunch. She was good to watch. A tall girl with long legs, a smooth straight walk. She wore a blue bathing suit, cut high at the firm thighs, fitting snugly over the slender curve of waist and small breasts. Made to run, quick and laughing, along the beaches, to lie in the sun that nourished her slender strength. I had found her on a beach, and had known the ache of wanting something so much that the long months of waiting were almost unendurable.
I spread the beach towels when Elaine indicated a desirable spot. "We eat?" I said.
She turned her face to me. "Not yet." She took off her seaman’s cap, harshly white against the glistening black of her hair, flipped at her bangs with a knuckle. Her lips formed the slanted grin I liked. "You stink of fish, mister. Bathe yourself."
"You come too."
I took her wrist. "Come on."
"Pete, I don’t—" She brought the edge of her wrist up against my thumb, breaking the hold. "Don’t go cave man on me. I really don’t want to swim—"
I beat on my chest, Tarzan fashion, and made a grab for her. She choked back laughter, squirmed out of reach. I chased her toward the water, running full tilt. She stopped suddenly, ducked, stuck out a foot. I tumbled into the water, came up gasping.
"You’ve got sand in your hair now." She grinned, panting. "Better wash it out as long as you’re in there."
I went into the water, pushed deep into the coolness, swam until my lungs were hot and bursting. Then I broke surface and took air, blinking the sting of salt from my eyes. The sun was a hot flare lashing at my face. The sky was a blue shield that threw back the heat and softened the glare. There was a whisper of breeze. I swam easily and slowly back to the beach. My arms made slow rippling splashes, the only sound other than the far laughter of the girl as she ran through shallow white water, kicking up spray to sparkle in the sunlight. It was a good morning. It would be a good afternoon, too. Then the sun would deepen and grow large behind the fringe of trees on the shore and it would be time to go home. I felt the old thin taste of fear rising in my throat. There had been too many good days. Soon maybe the luck would begin to tarnish.
I waded to shore and took Elaine by the hand. She walked beside me, breathing deeply, her eyes gleaming. We had our lunch, then stretched out on the beach towels. I took lotion and rubbed her shoulders and back. She stretched, the long muscles in her legs tight, then relaxed. After a few seconds she looked at me with one eye and smiled like a little girl who doesn’t quite know how to pick up a kitten. She cupped a hand behind my head and brought my face to hers, kissed me. It started gently and became fierce and demanding. I lay down beside her. I touched an ear and the tip of her nose and traced the fine lips with the tip of my finger, tracing that crazy smile which makes me feel warm in a place deep inside that I once thought was forever scarred.
"Talky today, aren’t you?" she said lazily, her eyes smiling.
"Sometimes words are just a nuisance."
She closed her eyes for a moment. Her hand touched my shoulder, slipped down my arm. Her fingers closed around my wrist, worried the hand gently. "Yes," she said. "Such a man. Such a big man for me. Such a big man to love. How I love you, Pete." The eyes opened and she looked at me somberly. "You’re not worried about something, are you?"
I tried not to let my smile fade. "What would I have to worry about? I own my own business and I’m about to marry the most beautiful girl in the state. Even her old man is beginning to like me. Me worry?"
"Don’t try to kid—" she warned, but I stopped her with a kiss. I overdid it a little because I wanted to shut off whatever she was thinking about me. She knew me too well to distrust any of her intuitions.
I felt her body stiffen. "Hey," she said, "you...trying to start something?"
"Yes." I kissed her again, and she responded readily.
But she said firmly, "No, Pete."
"We’re going to be married."
"We’re not married yet."
"All we haven’t had is the ceremony."
"But we really shouldn’t...that was just...you’re so damn persuasive."
"And I love you."
She sighed, surrendering. "I guess it wouldn’t make—"
I worked the top of her suit down from her breasts.
"Oh, Pete," she said comfortably, and helped me with the suit.
Afterwards she slept and I sat beside her, my skin very white where the swim trunks had been, and watched the small swell of waves on the beach, and tried not to think. But I had to look at her and wonder if her love could be strong enough, if it really would make no difference to her should I have to tell her where I came from, and what I was. There was no way to know. Maybe she loved me enough and could take that kind of shock. She was a pretty solid girl, unspoiled by the effects of wealth and social prestige that were hers and her family’s. But they, the proud Arnells, wouldn’t get over it. And they would take her away from me. One way or another, they’d do it.
After an hour, she stirred behind me, and I saw one foot lift as she stretched. Then she sat up and put her face against my back, her arms around me.
"You love me, Pete." It wasn’t a question.
"You know that."
She was silent. The arms tightened about me, then relaxed. I sat very still, feeling the tips of her small breasts against my back as she breathed. I pushed the heel of my hand against my stiff-cropped hedge of hair, brushed loose a few grains of sand.
"Is there something you want to tell me, Pete?" she asked.
She began to rock back and forth gently, rocking me with her.
"When we left the store this morning, there was a custard-colored Pontiac coming down the street. Do you remember? It came slow at first, and the driver was looking at us. Then it speeded up. You were holding my hand so tight it hurt. When I glanced at you, for a second or two, the look in your eyes frightened me. Did you recognize the driver, or something?"
I looked incredulously at her. "No. Of course not. You been having bad dreams?"
She touched her lips to my back once, then stood up and straightened out the swim suit, put it on thoughtfully.
"No. No, I haven’t had any bad dreams. Have you?"
I picked up my own suit and squirmed into it. It was about three; time to leave soon.
Her eyebrows drew together as she fitted the elastic top over her breasts. There was a funny look in her eyes, as if she were remembering being hurt a long time ago and didn’t like thinking about it.
"Pete," she said in a flat voice, "what did you do before you came to Orange Bay?"
"Oh, I was in the Army for a while. Then I worked down in Castile for an insurance company. When I got bored with it I came North and opened up the sports shop. I thought I’d rather fish when I felt like it than adjust claims. Life story. You know all that. Then I met you. My life really started then."
"I don’t believe you ever told me the name of the insurance company you worked for."
I frowned, not liking all the questions. "Bay State Mutual. Why? Is it important?"
"No. I guess not."
"Look, Elaine. I’m fine today. A little moody, possibly. Those feelings come and go. Don’t start worrying about me."
She brushed at her bangs with the back of one hand. Her smile was quick but uncertain. "I’m sorry, darling."
"I guess it’s time for us to get out of here," I said.
"Yes." She turned her head to look at the angle of the sun. "It was a nice day," she said. "I had fun today." She held my hand tightly. "I wish...it wouldn’t end."
"There’ll be other good days," I said. "Lots of good days." I wasn’t thinking that. I was thinking that maybe the good days were over for a while. And I was afraid she’d know, so I turned away from her and began to gather up the beach towels.
We walked to the water and I helped Elaine over the side into the boat, shoved off from the beach. Once at the wheel I headed into the sun. Elaine leaned against me, her head on my shoulder. Her eyes were closed. The boat cut a rough path through the darkening water. She hummed to herself, and I could barely hear the sound of it above the noise of the big motor. It was a strange lonesome tune that no one had ever hummed before but everyone had heard it at some time, sounding clear above the low beat of fear in their hearts.
Copyright © 1958 by Fawcett Publications, Inc.