by darlene L turner
Sam’s arthritic fingers pulled the fragile yellowed letter from its tattered envelope. He smiled. Stretching his legs out on his blanket, he let his toes linger off the edge before burying them in the cool morning sand. A seagull squawked, and kids splashed in the waves despite the early July’s nippy temperatures.
The salty air filled his lungs, and the sun caressed his weathered face. He loved this place. He’d met his forever love in this exact spot.
His mind raced back to the first time he saw Izzy when they were teens on summer vacation.
Her long blond hair rustled in the ocean breeze as she dug into the sand beneath the shallow water.
Sam sauntered over like a zombie in a trance, her beauty captivating him. “What ’cha doing?”
Eyes that mimicked the aqua ocean peered up at him. “Digging for clams.”
He waded into the water and dropped to his knees, not caring about getting his jeans wet. “Want some help?” He grabbed a shovel and joined her.
She giggled. “Apparently, I don’t have a choice.”
“Nope. I’m Sam.” He extended his hand.
She wiped her fingers on her jean shorts and grasped his hand. “Isabelle, but my friends call me Izzy.”
“Izzy it is. You come here often?”
“Our first summer. My family rented the cottage down the beach. You?”
“My parents own a cottage here.” He thrust his shovel into the wet sand. Water splashed his face, and the saltiness burned his chapped lips. “Ewww.” He wiped his mouth on his shirt sleeve. “That’s gross.”
“You’re not supposed to drink the ocean water.”
He smirked. “No kidding.”
Hours passed as quickly as the moving tides. They placed their bucket of clams in the water and sat on a blanket, sharing stories and laughing together.
Sam remained lost in her presence.
At dusk, burning wood filled the air. He stood and brushed sand from his jeans. “Let’s take the clams to your place and then head to the bonfire.” He held out his hand.
“I’d love that.” She stood and intertwined her fingers with his.
They strolled down the beach, bucket in hand, toward the smell of smoke.
After that day they were inseparable. The end of August had rolled around, and Sam stood on her cottage’s front porch. “I hate to say goodbye.”
Tears spilled down her cheeks. “I’ll miss you.”
Sam closed the distance between them and caressed her face, his gaze lingering on her lips. What would they taste like? He desperately wanted to know before they parted ways. He leaned in.
Her eyes widened. A small gasp escaped.
His mouth claimed hers in a tender kiss. The taste of strawberry and the softness of her lips caused him to deepen his embrace.
He didn’t want to let go but knew he had to. He’d remember this moment all through the school year with anticipation.
They promised each other they’d return to the beach the next summer.
Years later, Sam returned to the cottage. He needed to restore the dilapidated building to get it ready to sell. His parents were unable to keep it up, and Sam’s job didn’t allow for extra time away from the city.
He raked his fingers through his dark brown hair and urged his feet up the steps of this childhood safe haven. How could he part with such a treasure? An envelope sticking out of the faded birdhouse drew his attention. The return address piqued his curiosity, and he tore it open.
To the boy who stole my heart many years ago,
Sam, I’m sorry I didn’t return that next summer. My parents were both killed in a car accident on our way home, and I moved out West to live with my grandmother. It’s only been recently that my career brought me back to this area.
I’m here for the summer. If your family still owns this cottage, please pop by. I’m only two doors down the beach. I would love to see you and catch up.
It was dated last summer. Was it possible she was here again? His gaze turned to the row of cottages, and he caught a glimpse of blond curls peeking out from a straw hat as a woman bent digging in the dirt.
His breath hitched. Could it be his Izzy? What were the odds?
Sam raced down the beach and up the yard. “Izzy?”
The woman stood and pivoted, dropping her spade. She shielded her eyes from the sun and gasped. “Sam, is that you?”
He nodded, his words failing him. Her beauty hadn’t faded after twenty years.
Izzy stepped closer, eyeing the letter he still held in his hand. “You got it?”
“Yes. I’m so sorry about your parents. I never knew.”
“Thanks. It was hard.” She pulled off her hat. “Tell me how you’ve been. Married? Kids?”
“No, to both.”
“I’m shocked. I figured someone would snatch you up.”
“Some tried, but I just never found the right person.” He paused. “You were a tough act to follow.”
She kicked at the dirt she’d dug. “Hardly.”
“You got a special someone?”
She shook her head. “Didn’t work out. I have a daughter though. Mandy.”
“I’d love to meet her.”
The waves slapped the beach, their rhythm in syncopation with his throbbing heartbeat.
He took a breath and grabbed her hand.
Sam wouldn’t let another twenty years pass without his forever love.
A flock of seagulls fighting over abandoned bread snapped Sam back to the present. He unfolded the letter and reread it for the umpteenth time. He ran his fingers down the page as if caressing her every word. Words he’d take into eternity when he’d join her one day.
He pulled her picture from his pocket and traced his late wife’s beautiful face. Age had changed her blonde locks to gray, but her aqua eyes still sparkled.
Just like the ocean.