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Scent of a Beach
By Derek Castle
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Rated "PG13" by the Author.
A first person short story about reliving the past through memories.
My eyes close as the scent overwhelms me, drudging memories from the deepest chambers of my mind. Memories so closely stored with fantasy, itís hard to imagine they really happened. Another wave of memory assaults my senses, and I let go. I follow the scent back to five years ago.
I canít believe itís been five years already. Some things feel like they ďjust happenedĒ no matter how long ago it was. Five years and I still remember his scent as he said hi. I still remember that half grin and the lazy look in his eye. I still want to push back the strand of glossy black hair that forever false over one eye. His head always slightly tilted to the left, like he could see something no one else could.
I guess I have to relive it at least once. I should have known it would all come back eventually. It was the best week of my life. Only one week, but it was a week I will never forget. It was one week that changed my life.
Everything started on the beach. Itís amazing how many memories come flooding back from one scent. But thatís how Iíll always remember him. Iíll always be reminded of him from the smell of the salt in the ocean air.
I had my eyes closed standing at the end of the pier, just smelling the salt water crashing over the edge of the jetty. All I knew was his voice, but that was all I needed. All he did was say hi, but I had to keep my eyes closed. I didnít want the fantasy to end. In my head he was already my knight in shining armor, complete with Mustang to take me away in. I was so afraid if I opened my eyes, Iíd find out that all he wanted to know was the time.
When I didnít open my eyes, he thought I didnít hear him. He came closer and said hi again. I never thought such a small word could have such power over me. I was mesmerized by the tone of confidence in his voice and the determined step echoing on the pier. He was doing all this just to get my attention, but the fantasy had to end, so I opened my eyes.
The fantasy didnít stop.
Pale green eyes were looking back at me from under a curtain of black hair. He smiled at me and I could almost see the sparkle off his teeth. It didnít stop there. The further down I went the more I couldnít believe this was happening to me.
The white tank top showed just enough of his upper body to make me wish he didnít have it on at all. This man may not live in a gym, but he sure vacations there. Frequently. The light brown cargo shorts and the white sneakers didnít escape my attention either. This was a package deal I had to find out more about.
When I finally came to my senses and stopped stuttering, I said hi. I kept thinking please, donít ask me for the time. I couldnít bear the thought of letting him go so quickly, even if I had no claim on him. I didnít want the fantasy to end. And then you said it.
Iíll never forget the thoughts that ran through my head when he asked me what time it was. I was so upset and let down. I figured it was my luck. I looked down at my watch and noticed it was noon. I had been standing on the pier for almost an hour. I was so lost in my thoughts listening to the waves, I didnít realize that much time had passed, but it didnít matter. It was the closest thing I was getting to a real vacation for a while and I was trying to take advantage of the fact that I was alone for once. I looked back up into his grinning face and told him it was almost noon. He thanked me and turned to walk away. I watched him walk away for a few steps and then just turned back to the water. I couldnít watch him walk away no matter how much I wanted to. I started to close my eyes, and then I heard that voice.
Iíll never know what made him turn back around. I never really thought about it until now. All I know is that Iím glad he did. I think thatís when my vacation really started.
When I open my eyes again I can hear the waves crashing and I can see the pier, the sound of the engine running in my car brings me back to the present. I turn my car off and step out. I havenít been back to this beach in years. Iím not sure if the scent of this specific beach brought back the memories or if any beach would do it, but I feel like Iím walking in a shadow. The world seems overlaid in scenes from the past, sometimes in the forefront and sometimes as a backdrop. Nothing really ever changes here so itís not surprising, but itís almost eerie. In all the years Iíve been coming here this place hasnít changed enough for me to ever lose my way, or ever forget the past.
I step out of my car and cross the parking lot. Itís almost noon. I should probably get something to eat. I havenít eaten since I left my house this morning, if a bagel and a coffee counts as eating. Iíve never been a big breakfast person, and I donít think thatís going to change now. My life revolves around lunch. Thatís one meal Iím guaranteed to get at some point during the day. At least sometime between 10 A.M. and 4 P.M. Lunch is always a casual meal that just slides into the day whenever you have the time, dictated more by your stomach than the clock on the wall.
If I remember correctly, thereís a little seafood shack up the street on the corner. The place looks like an outdoor cafeteria, but the food is unbelievable and the fish canít get any fresher. Itís one of those Ma and Pa places. Fresh fish, good prices, and nice people. What more could I ask for? Iíve got a couple of ideas.
Back on the pier I couldnít figure out what he had forgotten when he came back the second time. Needless to say I found out soon enough.
He told me that he was on his way to lunch, but was on vacation by himself. Apparently, he didnít like eating by himself. My masochistic side kicked in and I said yes to lunch with him. We walked to the end of the pier before realizing we didnít know where we were going. I suggested the seafood shack on the corner and we continued to walk in silence for a few minutes. I opened my mouth to say something, anything, to him just to make this whole situation less uncomfortable, when he introduces himself to me. It was better than what I was going to say. It never dawned on me that I didnít know his name yet. I could tell you how many times he looked down at his feet since we started talking, but I didnít even know his name. Somehow him telling me his name made it all real for me, he became a person to me, and I was so worked up about making things comfortable that I neglected the most basic of etiquette.
The name of my fantasy was Cherokee. A rare name for a rare man. The story that he told me, which may be just that, is that he was abandoned. The couple that found him raised him as their own shortly after they formally adopted him. The couple that found him lived in Cherokee county, South Carolina. Creative parents.
Because of the circumstances of his family, I didnít want to seem like I was digging for information from him. I could tell it was still a bit of a touchy subject for him, but it was like the floodgates came crashing down. I learned that he was an only child; his adoptive parents couldnít have children. Cherokee had been looking for his birth parents for almost ten years at that point, but with so little to go on, he wasnít having any luck. He left South Carolina shortly after he graduated high school, and had been searching ever since, which is how I found him here, searching.
By the time we reached the shack for lunch, I felt like I had known him my whole life. In just one block we had gone from nervous silence to relaxed conversation. We grabbed a seat by the window, to people watch, and ordered a couple of combo platters and sodas. While waiting for the food, the conversation turned to me. I told him about my spontaneous trip here to the beach. Things were slow with my job, so I took the week off to just relax. There wasnít too much summer left and I felt like I deserved at least one trip to the beach before the leaves started to turn gold and red. The beach was always a part of my childhood and was something that I knew I could always fall back on when I needed a break from the city. It was like my personal sanctuary.
The food arrived shortly after that and Cherokee and I sat in silence enjoying the food for a few minutes. When I looked up from my plate, I could see him grinning at me. He told me he was just glad I joined him for lunch. We were both having a good time, and it was a pleasant change for both of us.
Lunch was over too quickly and Cherokee paid for the bill after my repeated attempts to at least split it. He told me for my time, the least he could do was buy me lunch. He laughed when I asked if that made me an escort since he was paying for my time. He had the greatest laugh and all I wanted to do was hear it again. It was like nothing else mattered as long as he was happy. He deserved it. It was least I could do.
The waitress at the seafood shack comes over to my table and puts down the combo platter and soda that I ordered earlier. This was the same table that we sat at that day we met. I can almost hear the echo of his laugh in the air. Groups of vacationers pass my line of vision as I look out the window, but I donít see any of them. All I can see is Cherokeeís face as he sits laughing across the table from me, at least in my head.
I did make him happy. At least I think I did. Every time we saw each other he couldnít stop smiling and it was infectious. Weíd walk down the street and random strangers would smile and nod as we passed by. He was like a kid in a candy store. Everything was new and exciting to him. So many things he wanted to do and see and now I wonder if he did.
We saw each other every day after that. I knew the area well and he knew his hotel. All the places heíd traveled to and he could manage to get lost going around the corner. I think he spent more time getting lost than he did looking for his birth parents.
Someone had told him about a young couple that had vacationed here for years and the young man of the couple was said to be a spitting image of Cherokee. Coincidence or not, he was determined to check it out. And he did.
I grab the check from the waitress and pay the bill making to sure to leave a generous tip, kind of as a memento to the past, but this time Iím paying for myself. I feel bad. I sat here taking up her table looking out the window at nothing for over a half hour for a ten dollar meal. If nothing else it will make her day a little brighter.
I step back out onto the main strip with no solid plan in sight. I guess that was the entire point to this vacation, to just get up and go. Plans are overrated anyway. If I wanted deadlines and rules, Iíd go back to work. How can you experience life without taking a few chances? Well, I guess Iím going left.
Small shops and boutiques line the strip up one side with the crashing waves on the other. All sorts of trinkets, souvenirs, and beach necessities clutter every window and doorway I pass. A few things are catching my eye, but nothing is keeping my attention. I feel like Iím looking for something specific, but I wont know it until I see it. I pass by a store selling glass wares and another selling t-shirts, before I come upon a candy store. I stop and look inside at the taffy machine. How Cherokee had made it through all his years of traveling with out ever having tried taffy, Iíll never know, but once he saw the machine that makes it, his eyes glowed. A kid in a candy store.
After lunch Cherokee and I walked and talked some more. He had seen so many places and had so many stories and I loved listening to every one. We window shopped for a while with no real goal. And then he saw the taffy machine. I donít think Iíve ever laughed as hard as when I saw his face. I couldnít believe it. He really had no idea what taffy was or how it was made. We went inside and he watched the taffy machine twist and pull for a full fifteen minutes in awe. The innocent look on his face was priceless. Once of the employees saw us watching the machine and came over to explain the process to us. The entire time he was transfixed by the twisting and pulling of the taffy.
While he finished listening to the taffy making process, I intended to pay him back for lunch. I grabbed a small box of mixed taffy and paid for it at the counter before he even knew I was gone. When he finally managed to pull himself away, I was already walking back over to him with the taffy. I handed him the box and told him that taffy was something that had to be experienced. He laughed again and told me that he would only take it if I would help him eat it all.
We crossed the street and walked over to the beach. There were a few benches scattered along the edge of the beach so we grabbed one. We must have been there for an hour while he tried every single type of taffy that was in that box. Something as simple as taffy changed his world. I was amazed. I couldnít imagine my life without it.
I told him about my childhood trips up to the beach. My whole family piling into a car for the weekend. Playing video games at the arcades until my hands hurt. Looking for seashells on the beach. Shopping for things I would never use. Staying up late to walk along the beach at midnight. Waking up early to see the sunrise over the ocean. Things that were just a part of my life and always had been.
The look that came across his face was something I thought Iíd never see from him. Regret. His childhood was nothing like mine. He told about what it was like growing up for him with adoptive parents, having family, but no blood or knowledge of his past. He spent so much time as a kid moving around that he never really had any good friends, and that continued into his adult life. He had spent so much time looking for his biological parents that he never had a chance to settle down. He had always stayed in a city for a few months and then moved on. Nothing was ever sure for him, nothing was guaranteed.
I almost felt bad for him, but this was something that he felt like he needed to do. I gave him a lot of credit for following through on it. I donít know if I would have had the determination he did, but then again we were two different people growing up in two different places that happened to cross paths.
Cherokee was one of those people that just needed to finish one thing before he could start another and I knew it. It was the way he was with everything.
Walking down the strip things just keep coming back to me about a guy I met five years ago. Some of the most random things at the time just seem to jump out at me. This is just one of those places where things will never change, a place that holds memories like an hourglass. The sands may move but they never leave the glass even as time passes.
Itís starting to cool down as the day moves on. I duck into the arcade for a quick peek. This has always been one of my favorite places. In some ways Iím still a kid at heart and I donít think that will ever change. It may be the sense of accomplishment in winning one of the prizes, but more likely itís just the fact that I like video games. That impossible crane game is even still there. Thatís one of the things that will never change no matter how much time passes. People spend so much time at that machine trying to get a stuffed bear that you could buy down the street. Sometimes itís just pride.
Cherokee and I came through here during our week together, and the crane inside the door caught his eye. He had that look of determination in his eye and I knew we wouldnít be going anywhere for a while. It took him twenty minutes and as many dollars but he was going to get a stuffed bear out of that machine if it killed him. Just watching him chewing on his lip trying to get that crane to pick up anything was hilarious. There were many times that he lost his concentration because of me laughing at him. I couldnít help it. I didnít think anyone over fifteen would even seriously try to win something out of that. He was bound to get something, and he did. I was impressed, Iíll admit. I know I couldnít have done it.
There were so many things that amazed me and impressed me about him. He was bold. The first night when we were walking back to my hotel, everything was going as I thought it would. We were walking and talking like two people that had just met that day. We got to the door of my hotel and this is when things went in a direction I never thought they would. I thanked him for inviting me to lunch, and shook his hand. The handshake was almost too long, like neither one of us wanted to let go. He was looking at me with those green eyes, and all I was thinking to myself was walk away before I say something Iíll regret. I didnít say anything. He did. He asked if we could meet up the next day. He had a good time with me and the premise was that I could show him more of the area. Excuse or not I said yes, probably a little too fast, but I said it. I was couldnít say no to him. I could hardly say anything to him.
Looking back on that night, Iím not sure what would have happened if he hadnít taken the initiative. Things had been going well all day, but what was I going to do with a guy that I just met on the pier. We had talked a little in passing about relationships, so I knew he was single and he knew I was. I was just waiting for something to go wrong like all my previous men. There was always a fatal flaw that broke the deal. So far I couldnít find one. The man was perfect. The next night that we were together I found out just how perfect.
We spent the day together just walking around, talking, and window shopping. Night came upon us quickly and neither one of us noticed until the moon rose over the ocean. I dragged him over to the beach so that we could just walk along the edge of the falling tide. It was beautiful. The night was clear and warm. The beach was quiet and all you could hear were the waves crashing. I closed my eyes to take it all in, to experience the night through all my senses and paint a picture in my mind. Then it happened. He kissed me. So light and gentle that at first I wasnít sure if I was just imagining it. When he kissed me the second time I knew it was happening. I kissed him back and I could feel his hands come around my waist. Bold. And this was real. I broke off the kiss and just looked at him. This was when my paranoia kicked in. I was falling for him, but I didnít want to. I did want to, but I think it was more I didnít want to let myself. All my previous hurts came back to the surface and I got scared.
I feel bad for Cherokee looking back on it. He had no idea what was going on, and thought he did something wrong. He did everything right, that was the problem. I can see the lighthouse where we kissed that night. That light house has stood there for years showing people where danger lies, and I didnít see it until it was too late. Heíd never been hurt before. Heíd never been anywhere long enough to get hurt. I guess that was one advantage he had at the time. I wasnít sure what was really going to happen to us and I didnít want to find out the hard way.
I told him everything that was going through my head later that night and I think he got the idea, but he didnít give up. That man had determination enough for the both of us. That wasnít the last kiss I got from him that week. After that night he held my hand everywhere we went. I was with him and everyone knew it. Walking down this very strip Iím walking down now, heíd be next to me holding my hand pointing something out, and kissing me on the cheek just because I made him laugh. It didnít take long for me to give in and fall for him. Hard.
I was in love with Cherokee, and I guess I still am. Heís one of those guys you meet that youíll never forget. I havenít really thought about him much mostly because of what happened at the end of the week. Nothing lasts forever and I found that out. The fantasy had to end.
Reaching the end of the strip one of the most memorable places on the beach comes into view. The very hotel I was staying at five years ago. Now that was a night Iíll never want to forget. The painted wooden shutters over the windows are still chipped, and that second step is still loose, but the view from the front is still as unbelievable as ever. From the front you can get an unobstructed view of the beach all the way down to the lighthouse. This was also the last place that I saw Cherokee five years ago.
The last night that we saw each other he walked me back to the hotel. It seemed like everything was going the same as it had been the entire week. He leaned in to kiss me goodnight and I stopped him. I didnít want the night to end like this. He raised an eyebrow at me, but didnít say anything. I guess he was waiting to see what I was going to do. Honestly I didnít know what I was going to do either at the time. I guess I was feeling bold that night because I invited him in. For a second I thought he was going to say no, and I think maybe he almost did, but he came in. We walked into my hotel room and I closed the door and locked it. I wasnít planning on him leaving anytime soon now that I had him in my room.
We sat down on my bed and just held hands for a minute. I was nervous. All that boldness I had a few minutes before was gone. I kept looking at our hands. They seemed to know what was going on before we did. I leaned over to kiss him, and he leaned into me. His arms wrapped around me, and thatís when I knew. Thatís all I really wanted from him. I just wanted him to hold me. Itís almost as if he knew that, and we stayed there like that for a while.
After a while it just got a little ridiculous and we both looked at each other and laughed. Looking back it was funny, both of us just sitting there on a bed in a hotel room holding each other. We got undressed and got into bed with each other. The first time I see him without most of his clothes on, and I want him to hold me, nothing else. Thatís what we did. We spent the entire night holding each other in bed until we fell asleep.
I stayed awake for a while thinking. I was in love with this guy and never told him. I looked over at him and heard his breathing. He was asleep. I leaned over to his ear and whispered. I love you. That was about all the courage I had at the time, and I left it at that. Even if he never heard me say it, I knew I told him. Shortly after that I fell asleep.
I woke up the next morning and kept my eyes closed against the sunlight coming in the window. That was one of the most romantic nights Iíd ever had, which is saying volumes if you knew the guys I had dated. I reached over to hold Cherokee and he wasnít there. I opened my eyes and listened to see if he was in the bathroom. Thatís when I saw the note on the pillow. All it said was I love you too and Iíll find you again. He wasnít there.
I spent the rest of the day thinking maybe Iíd see him somewhere. I never saw him again.
I left the next day. My vacation was over and it was time to get back to the real world. Five years later and I still remember some things that I couldnít have told you the next week. It was a good week regardless of everything that happened at the end, and even that I donít regret. I can honestly say that I will never forget him and that there will always be a place in my heart for him. He got me to open my heart and let him in and for that I thank him.
The day is almost over and I have to start getting back to my car so I can find a place to stay for the night if Iím going to stay at all. I pass by the arcade, the lighthouse and the seafood shack all over again. As I reach the pier the sunís setting light colors my vision, and the horizon is getting darker waiting for the moon to rise. One more time for memoryís sake I walk to the end of the pier again. I close my eyes and that scent overpowers me again. The salt in the air is something I canít get out of my skin. I love it, and no matter where I am it will always bring me back here. I realize that now.
I look down at my watch just as someone calls over to me asking for the time. I roll my eyes and double check the time. I turn around to tell him the time, and the sun cresting the buildings behind me blinds me for a second. I tell him the time and he thanks me. I turn back around and close my eyes again to get the last few minutes of sunlight when I hear a whisper in my ear. I told you Iíd find you again.
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|Reviewed by Jane Hurtado
|This story's amazing! I love it!|