by jen lassalle
I’m moving from table to table, filling water and balancing plates at the Sea Side Café (which is neither by the sea nor a café) when Dave walks in. We are the only place to eat near the public beach, where the sand burns your feet if you dare to touch it directly, but I sense him despite the crowd. He makes his way to the bar and attempts a casual lean against it until he catches my eye. I freeze for a moment, aware my sun-bleached hair is escaping from my favorite black clip to land wet and heavy on my neck.
My smile is natural, but I don’t dare lift my hand to wave. It’s trembling at the sight of him, betraying my nervous excitement at seeing him. He waits until I have a break, then motions for me to join him on the back patio.
“Surprise.” Wet spots have formed under the arms of his collared shirt. The dark hair at the base of his neck is damp.
“Wow, it’s been so long!” I say. “What brings you back to the Gulf?”
“I’m a Sous Chef at San Monica’s by the pier now. I started last week.” My heart pounds as I realize he’s staying. Hope wells inside of me.
“It’s nice by the pier.” I hear myself say. “Private beach. Cooler. Less humid.”
Dave chuckles. “You never came to visit me in Louisiana. You’d know what real humidity is.” I laugh as he scratches his chin with the back of his thumb. A day or so worth of stubble sits on his face as if it belongs there. “Haven’t we had this conversation before?”
“We talked about weather a lot when we first met,” I recall, looping his fingers into mine. His hands are hard, his nails clean but ragged. “We didn’t know what to discuss besides intense Florida heat and Louisiana humidity.”
“That changed fast.” His smile holds me in place. I return the smile, remembering.
It’s a brief conversation before I have to return to taking orders. We say goodbye and he angles toward me. I let our hug linger before catching myself. “How’s Rebecca?”
“She’s good. But…” His eyes darken as he shifts his gaze toward the water. “We split up over a year ago. We just…” Our eyes meet and hold. “She wasn’t the one for me.” He pauses a beat, breathes in. “Maybe we could get together tonight and talk about the humidity some more.”
His grin holds mischief and I nod, throat closing, aware of my silence. He’s staying. And he came to the Sea Side Cafe to make sure I know he’s staying. I’ve always loved him. Could it be he still loves me? I touch his arm.
“I’ll be there.” After my shift, I shower, pausing at the mirror to assess a decade of change on my face, wondering what else has changed. I’m still me. He’s still Dave. But is he still my Dave?
I wear my nicest dress to the pier and wait near San Monica’s. A group of women stumble out of the restaurant, their heels unsteady on the cobblestone. The smell of melted butter and freshly grilled fish hangs in the air. As they glance toward me, I check my phone.
I tap my foot. I adjust my sleeves. Sweat rolls down my back. I reapply lipstick then immediately chew it off. I consider leaving. The restaurant door opens. Dave emerges. He sees me and waves, ambling toward me in the heat. This time we both let the hug linger.
We talk so long the pier empties. A cool breeze dries the sweat under my hair as we make our way to the water. I remove my shoes, drag my feet in the sand. A group of children with buckets and flashlights scream and laugh as they dodge tiny crabs forced onshore by the waves. Dave moves closer and we hold hands. I meet his eyes as he leans in. Our lips barely touch. He hovers. I taste salt. We kiss and I sigh.