The wind blew in furious gusts but its outbursts were infrequent. It was the offseason, yet a stretch of unseasonably warm weather made the beach the perfect place to spend a Saturday afternoon. The weatherman threatened a cold snap on the horizon, but on this Saturday all was well.

Candace, wanting to get away from life for a bit, decided to surprise her two children with a fun day at the beach. Her kids Jacob and Lacey—the boy six and the girl almost eight years old, squealed with delight when they pulled up to the beachside parking lot and saw the gray-blue waves breaking and washing over the sand with foamy white bubbles. They hadn’t been to the beach since their father left. Which was long enough ago that Jacob had no memory of the beach and Lacey only remembered the sound of the water and the unmistakable scent of the fresh sea air.

“Wait a second you guys.”

Adrenaline pumped through the kids’ veins and they could barely contain their excitement. Jacob bounced up and down in his neon green swim trunks while Lacey stared at the ocean in awe.

“Here Jake, you take this. Lacey, you can carry these.”

Candance unloaded the car and handed Jacob the towels. In his excitement, he let them dangle low to where they were touching the ground and his mother had to remind him several times to pick them up. Since she was bigger, Lacey had the responsibility of carrying two foldout beach chairs.

“Okay, let’s go,” Candace said, pointing to an empty spot in the sand.

As soon as the words were out of her mouth the kids took off toward the open space. And before she knew it, Candace was watching her children dig, run, and jump around with more joy than she’d ever seen from them. Then, after thirty minutes or so, they came up to her with low hanging heads.

“Mom,” Lacey, who was always the brave one, said in a soft voice. “Can we go play in the water.”

For some reason, Candance never thought about the kids playing in the water. She hadn’t prepared for it, which was quite silly considering she took them to the beach. Of course they would want to play in the water. That’s what children do at the beach. Why had she waited so long to take them here? The question nestled somewhere in the quiet part of her mind.

“Yes,” she said with some hesitation. “But don’t let Jake out of your sight. You understand?” she finished with a bit more conviction.

Lacey nodded while Jacob did his best to remain quiet and let his big sister work her magic. She was the one with the big doe eyes and innocent smile, which made it easier for her to get grownups on her side. Jacob was far too mischievous and clumsy with his words to ask for things. Every time he tried it came off as whiny and irritating. A surefire way to get a stern “No” from his mom.

A gust of hard wind knocked over one of the chairs and sent a towel skittering a few feet across the sand. Candace looked out at the water and saw black clouds edging along the horizon. Above them, though, was nothing but clear blue sky and the bright yellow sun. Even so, nervous energy nagged Candace and morphed into mild anxiety.

“Both of you listen to me. Don’t go too far into the water and stay where I can see you.” She pointed to some of the other children who were jumping in and out of the water a little ways down. “See what they’re doing? Play just like that.” She felt a small twinge of embarrassment. Her kids didn’t need to be told how to play. “Now go have fun,” she finished with a smile.

They rushed toward the water like it would disappear any second. But as soon as they reached the wet sand, they stopped. Neither knew what to expect. As soon as the first small wave broke and the cool ocean water rushed over their feet, though, something inside of them switched. Then they were off.

Jumping and running and frolicking. If happiness could be bottled, theirs would need a wine barrel to contain it. And after ten minutes or so of watching this go on, Candace began to relax and her mind drifted to another place.

She pulled out her phone—with the brightness all the way up she still struggled to see the screen against the blinding sun—and doing her best, she began texting the man she had met on a dating app a few weeks ago. They talked regularly but when it was time to meet in person, he digitally vanished—only to reemerge when she had given up hope of seeing him. Even though this trip was supposed to be a brief escape from life, she found the obsessive thoughts she held toward her social life—or lack thereof— wouldn’t allow for that.

I really want to see u 😉

Her friends told her to be direct and this text was about as direct as she could manage. But as the minutes passed by with only the background noise of the beach in her ears, Candace tossed the phone to the side and hid her face beneath her big sun hat. Why didn’t he want her?

Ping

She snapped to attention and grabbed her phone. He’d texted back.

u no...

Doug is typing. Those words sent a flush to her cheeks. Her mind raced with the possibilities of what his words could be: Doug is typing that he hates you. Doug is typing that you’re not pretty enough for him. Doug is typing—

Sorry if it seems I been ignoring u. 

Just been busy 😦

Her heartbeat quickened. How should she respond?

It's ok 🙂

“Ugh. So lame.” She covered her face with her hands like she was a teenager again.

If u want, I'd like to meet up tonight

Holy shit! He gave me the run around for a month and now he wants to meet up tonight?

Yea. I'd like that

She couldn’t believe she was committing to something so suddenly. What about the kids. Who would watch—

An eerie silence crept over the beach. Even the wind had become still.

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