A story inspired by the Nine Inch Nails' 'The Great Below.' I'd suggest listening to it while you read this one!
As the sun was going down, sinking silently into the horizon, I was listening to her explain in her half-angry, half-apologetic tone why she had decided to end our three-month long relationship. When I say 'listening,' I mean that in the loosest possible sense of the word. I had already seen it coming for the past week, heard it in her voice, in sighs that said that she wanted more, more that apparently I wasn't giving her. Yeah, I saw it coming, but that didn't mean I had to like it.
I tuned back in and realized that she was still attempting to explain her feelings.
I cut her off, "Look, I know, okay? You want something, something you feel I don't have to give, and you're breaking it off so that you can look for it elsewhere. You want to go, then fine, by all means, go."
She blinked, stunned, and then became angry that I was casting her off so nonchalantly, not that she'd realize that I only appeared that way. In reality, it hurt like a rusty hook imbedded in my throat, but I wasn't going to make that obvious for her to see.
"If you weren't that serious about all this, then why the hell did I bother?" she pointed viciously, almost stabbing at me with her lacquered nail.
"Save me the accusations, all right? You're the one breaking it off, so how serious were you about it, really?"
"You're a fucking asshole!"
"Then for the first time in my life, this asshole got fucked by a pussy."
She whirled on her heels and left.
I'm sure I'd hear from her again soon, but not by any way for an apology, and definitely not to beg me for another chance. I wasn't delusional; she was way too proud for something so beneath her. No, she'd most likely come back with some retort that she would no doubt think up with some help from her friends, tossing it at me as she packed up the items that she'd kept in my place. Isn't life grand?
I cracked open a beer and sat down on the back porch of the little house I'd bought. It was a fixer-upper, but it sat nestled up against the beach, so the steady rolling of the waves as they broke upon the shore, the awesome sunsets, and the fresh, salty smell of the sea had made it worth the price. The fading light, reddish-purple near the horizon, seemed to reflect the bruised and bloody end to this particular chapter of my love life. I toasted the sky and the sea glumly before chugging a few swallows of the brew.
I suppose I should explain a few things about her. Just so you know... her name was Deirdre, and of course, when she danced up next to me at the club, I fell for her. Sure, call me a sucker, and it would probably be true. The booze I'd drank that night probably aided in that, but by no means am I blaming it on the booze. I can be a sucker without it just fine. I was at this nice little club just off the beach in town, having been brought along by a few friends, "Come on, it'll be a blast, with all the chicks there, there'll be no reason for you not to get laid tonight."
I knew the drill. They wouldn't let up until I agreed to go, so I agreed.
About eight shots later, I suddenly got it in my head that I could dance, and I just had to get up there and show off my moves. Didn't you know that dancing's a snap when you're all liquored up? Deirdre danced up to me and began rubbing her tight little butt against my crotch, so why not? I held on to her hips as she gyrated tantalizingly for a while, and then when the song ended, she turned around and planted a drunken kiss on me. Yeah, I was surprised, too. When I learned her name and bought her a drink, she became a permanent fixture on my lap. I learned a lot more about her that night, way more than my booze-soaked brain could retain. Well, as could be expected, she came home with me, her high-heeled sandals in her hand as we stumbled back to my place. You can probably guess what happened that night, so I'll let that be that. Somehow, she was still attracted to me in the morning. See, I'm not that bad looking to begin with, but I'm a Chippendale's dancer when the girl's drunk enough. So, anyway, we began dating for a few weeks, and then she ended up staying here more often then not, forsaking her roomy apartment for a while. I'm sure she was glad in the end that she had kept the apartment.
I sat there on my porch, the sun now only a faint memory in the darkened sky, and I planned on drinking and brooding until I was too tired to care anymore. Yep, that was my plan...of course, plans change sometimes, whether you want them to or not. About halfway through my fourth bottle of beer, I convinced myself that Deirdre wasn't worth all this brooding. With this in mind, I told myself a good, long run on the beach was just what I needed to clear my mood-muddied head.
I changed into some shorts and an old, battered tee shirt and hopped off my back porch onto the warm sand. I started running, getting down closer to the hard-packed sand, since I'm sure you know that running on dry sand is about as easy as running in knee-deep snow. I'm not a strong runner, but I do alright. I ran down the beach, getting lost in the steady sound of my sneakers smacking the beach, the whoosh of my breath as I expelled it, and the cool breeze that blew my sun-bleached hair off my brow. After a while, the sore, protesting muscles of my legs brought me back, and I slowed to a jog, and then a fast walk. I imagine I'd gone a few miles or so down the beach, but I kept on going, lost in my mind.
I almost missed the form of somebody on the beach, just a little ways back from the water. As I got closer, curious, I saw a mane of dark hair flipping lazily in the steady breeze. She sat with her legs drawn up to her chest, her arms curled around her knees, and her eyes on the ocean. Although looks can be deceiving, and the only light came from the half-moon that had begun to rise into the star-speckled darkness, she appeared petite, almost like some teeny-bopper that had come for a quiet evening on the sand. I think she was too lost in her head to hear me approaching, but she started visibly when she at last perceived my presence.
She looked up at me with dark eyes, narrowed a little in suspicion.
"Sorry," I mumbled, "I just saw you sitting there, and decided to check on you, make sure you were okay."
"I'm fine," she stated simply, and said no more. Her eyes returned to the ocean for a few moments, and then came back to me.
"Oh, sorry," I ran a hand through my hair nervously, "I'll leave you alone."
She sighed, saying something as I was turning around to leave. I stopped.
"Story of my life."
"What story is that?"
"Leaving me alone."
I wasn't sure what to make of that. Did that mean that she wished people would just leave her alone, or that people were always leaving her alone even if she didn't want them to?
"What do you mean?"
She shrugged, "It's complicated."
Life is complicated.
I waited, unsure whether to wait, or head back home, and she finally said, "If you insist on listening, you might as well have a seat."
I sat, and I waited some more. She looked out at the ocean for a time, and I figured maybe she decided that I was not the right audience for her tale. Still, even sitting with this enigmatic girl was better than being by myself, so I sat, watching the ocean roll in and withdraw, an endless cycle. If God had a clock with which to keep time, I imagined that each tick would sound like the tide rolling onto the beach. It was soothing, if for nothing else, as a reminder that although the things in your life could be shitty, the worst things will pass, and the sea will still be there, pounding away at the sand.
When she began to speak, her voice was quiet, and I had to lean in a little.
"When I was younger, I used to wonder what it would be like to die in the arms of the ocean. After the panicked gasps for breath that pull in nothing but more seawater, just drifting down into its depths, at peace with all."
She stopped for a moment, her head turning to look at me.
"Why?" I asked, a little nervous that I had sat next to a girl with too many issues.
"Because I was lost, adrift, helpless. One night I decided to wade in, up past my head, and just floated there, wondering if I could actually just release everything and let go, sink down. But I did nothing but float there, afraid to do it. It seemed like a peaceful way to go, but I was frightened of those seconds of panic."
I sat there and listened to her, still nervous, but I think I understood, could maybe even relate.
She continued, "I wanted to die, but then I didn't. Then I realized that if I just floated there, waiting to die, then I might miss something, something I needed to help me understand that there are things to live for."
"There always are," I replied softly.
"Yes, there always are. Only, the things that one usually would want to live for were reasons for me to want to embrace the ocean. Parents, love, friendship, those seemed to be reasons to die. My parents were a pair of alcoholics, ignored me mostly, though that's better than some of the crap I've heard that people go through. There was no love there, and certainly not in the eyes of people around me. It's depressing when guys that you meet are lacking that prospect of love in their eyes. They're always looking for something else."
I'd been guilty of that on numerous occasions. I didn't say so, since I suddenly felt ashamed of this.
"Friendship was a joke, a cosmically cruel prank to catch me off guard," she spoke softly, distantly, "My friends all seemed so eager to turn on me, or talk about me behind my back."
"Some friends they were," I sighed.
"The only thing I seemed to find a reason to live for...was me. I'm pretty sure I'm here for a reason, and if I don't figure it out, then why would I have been here at all?"
Her voice, though soft, was sweet, lilting, well articulated. Suddenly she seemed less like a teenager and more like a wise, old woman. She was neither, I noticed, looking closely at her in the moonlight. She appeared to be of Asian descent, though I couldn't yet tell which one, but her features were softened, indicating that only one of her parents was Asian, the other American or some such nationality. She wore a simple sleeveless, white shirt and black shorts. Her legs were longer than I'd thought, her figure was willowy, and her hair ended at the small of her back. I looked back up to her eyes, so dark and mysterious. I was pretty sure she knew I was checking her out, and again I felt ashamed, reinforcing her earlier comment about what seemed to be on every guy's mind. I contented myself to look right back into her eyes.
"We all should have some purpose, some reason to be alive. It's just that nobody seems to know what purpose that is. We're all clueless, just bumping along blindly in the dark. That question is the reason I decided to live. Do you think I'm crazy?"
I worked that question over in my head, which had become noticeably calmer, and answered, "No. You're probably the sanest person I've ever met."
As if what I'd said carried great weight, she nodded gravely. Her eyes left mine and returned to the ocean.
After she became quiet once more, I could think of nothing to say that wouldn't sound amazingly shallow.
Finally, I came up with, "Only problem is, those things we're always searching for, we never find them until they want to be found, or until they find us."
She didn't respond, just kept gazing at the sea, as if she could glean the answers she needed from the endless pull and push of the tide.
"I guess," she said suddenly, "that I lied to you."
"You said you were checking on me, making sure I was okay."
"And you said you were fine."
"But I think you know that's not so true."
"Then maybe you should walk with me."
She asked, "Do you think I should?"
"It doesn't matter what I think, only what you think."
"Yet I think it matters what you think."
I was a little confused.
I waited for her. I didn't know what else to do. Her company, though eccentric and dark, was far more preferable than being alone.
"It's odd in a way."
"Why is that?"
"At any point while I was talking, you could've just gotten up and walked away. You had no obligation to listen to me. But you didn't just leave, and I'm not sure why."
"It seemed like you needed somebody to hear you."
"And, now that I'm done, you're still here."
"In case you have more to say."
"But why are you really here?"
I admitted, "Because I don't want to be alone. Do you?"
"Sometimes I think I do. Other times, I like having someone around to share my thoughts with. Like now, I'm glad you came along, and I'm glad you sat down, even though you probably could've kept on going, and I wouldn't have held it against you."
"Have you decided yet?"
"Yes, I have. Help me up, please?"
I stood up, brushing the sand from my shorts, and reached down to help her up. Her hands were soft and warm in mine. As she stood in front of me, I was reluctant to let go of her, and I wondered if maybe she'd sensed that. She made no attempt to let go, at least not for another minute.
"Who are you?"
I introduced myself.
"Just another lost soul, I guess."
"There're so many."
"Yes, but we're always alone."
"How is that?"
"You found me."
I wasn't sure of the meaning behind those words, but I liked the sound of them.
I let go of one of her hands, and we began to walk.
The half-moon rose higher into the sky, and the breeze from the ocean grew slightly chilly. She shivered a little, drawing closer to me for warmth. We were silent, both inside our own minds for a while.
Then she looked up at me, "What are you thinking?"
I searched for the right words and eventually found them, "I'm thinking that this is the most peaceful I've felt in a long time. And I'm wondering what your name is."
"My name is Mae Sung. My mother named me after my great grandmother, Mae."
"What are you thinking?" I asked in turn.
"I'm thinking that I'm very glad you stopped to see if I was okay. I don't feel so alone right now, which is the first time in a long time I've felt that way."
"Do you live around here, or were you just coming to visit?"
"I've lived here all my life. How about you?"
"I moved here a while back, bought a place out on this beach."
I squinted at the row of houses along the beach, and spotted mine quite a way off. The back porch light was on, and I could just see it. I pointed it out to Mae, and she nodded.
"Maybe you can show me up close."
We strolled on until we were at my back porch. She climbed up the three steps from the sand, and I followed, getting a glimpse of her willowy figure. I showed her to one of the lounge chairs, and asked her if she wanted something to drink.
"No, that's okay. Thanks."
I had left my beer on the table, about half full, and it had grown warm, but I found that I'd already reached a peace in my mind that the beer could never induce or expand. I poured the rest of the warm brew off the porch, and threw the bottle away. As I put the bottle in the trashcan in my kitchen, I turned to suddenly find Mae standing there.
"Yikes, you startled me."
She simply smiled, "I smell perfume. Do you live alone?"
"I do as of today."
"Rough breakup?" she asked.
"Better than some, I guess."
"It seems like a nice place," sensing the need for a new subject.
I looked around. Most of the fixing up I had done already. About half a dozen small projects were left. Still, it did seem a lot better than it had when I'd moved in.
"Thanks," I smiled.
"So, what are you like?"
"What do you mean?"
She elaborated, "What are you like when you're by yourself?"
I thought briefly, and then admitted, "Sometimes I'm happy to be by myself, and I do the things that I never had time to do before. But a lot more often, I rattle around the house by myself, just passing time, and I can almost imagine what it would be like to be the only person left in the world. It's a damn lonely feeling."
She slipped into my arms without a warning, and I swear, it felt like she'd always belonged right here. My hands crept around to the small of her back, and I held her for a time, just the beating of our hearts, and the familiar warmth that comes from the shared heat of two bodies as close as ours.
I felt her shudder, and then again before I realized that something might be wrong. I looked down at her. Her hands clutched handfuls of my shirt at my back, and her face was pressed against my chest.
"Mae?" I whispered, "Are you okay?"
"No," came the muffled reply, "But I'm better than I was."
I moved one hand up to caress her hair, soft and long as the black tresses spilled like spun silk through my fingers. I felt her shudder one more time, and then a small shiver. She finally loosened her fingers, letting go of my shirt, and looked up at me.
I looked back at her, questioning with my eyes.
"I was feeling a little overwhelmed for a moment. I feel better now."
Because the need was too powerful, and because I had this feeling that she wanted the same thing, I leaned down and kissed her, not like you see all the time in those corny movies, not all slobbery and somehow obscene. Just a soft kiss, our lips joined for a moment, and then I looked to see if the same feeling that I felt was in her eyes. Her eyes were so dark, still so mysterious even in the light, that I wasn't sure.
"I think," she confessed, "I needed that more than you know."
"Don't be so sure," I felt as if the warmth we were generating just from holding each other had increased from comfortable to mid-summer day.
"I won't be until you kiss me again."
I kissed her again, just as soft, but something in the kiss had changed. It was the same sweet kiss, but it was like the energy passed was like a current. I shivered, excited.
When we broke this time, I felt her breath, shivery and wavering. I don't know if we'd just brought the scent of the ocean in with us, but I could smell it all over her. Without another word, I felt her hands under my shirt, feeling my back, her fingers scraping lightly across my skin. When she began to lift my shirt, I raised my arms. She dropped the garment behind me, and I felt her lips on my chest. I massaged her back, feeling the lithe muscles under her soft, supple skin.
Her lips crossed my chest, planting small, sensual kisses wherever they landed. I slid my hands down to the firm cheeks of her bottom, and then lifted her up to me. Her legs didn't quite reach around my back, so I held her fully in my hands and arms. Her head was now over mine, and she bent down to capture my lips with hers, murmuring softly against my mouth. Then she released my lips just long enough to repeat herself.
"Take me to bed."
Needing no further encouragement, I carried her, feeling my way along the kitchen, to the hallway, passing the little laundry area closed off by two accordion doors, making my way down the hall with her in my arms, my eyes and mouth too consumed by hers to look where I was going. Nevertheless, because I knew the route, I reached the door on the left, near the end of the hall, next to the spacious bathroom that also had a door to my room. In my room, there was a queen-sized bed and a hammock, one on each side of the room. I aimed for the bed, and when I reached it, knowing when my knees hit the mattress, I intended to set her down on it. However, as I released her, she insisted on standing on my bed. When I backed up half a step, she stood there, her breath quick, her eyes a spotlight of unspoken urges. But for a moment nothing happened. She looked at me, waiting, and I looked at her.