Written for a music prompts game. The song was “Saltwater” by Chicane.
To reach the little cove, you have to climb down the cliff face on steps that were cut into the rock and reinforced with two-by-fours. There’s no rope between you and the side, so it’s not a climb to make when you’re uncertain of your footing. It’s not a climb many people dare to make, anyway, preferring the family beaches by the midway.
It’s Paul’s favorite place, and thanks to him, it’s become Mac’s. They climb down the cliff at sunset, with towels, coolers and discarded crates, and set up above the water line so that the bonfire is going by dark. They’ll roast marshmallows and hot dogs later, but first they swim out into the tiny nameless bay, splashing each other, laughter echoing against the cliffs.
Abruptly Paul says, “There’s someone at our fire.”
“It’s not the first time.” Mac turns onto his back and kicks lazily, letting the waves roll under him. They’ve had company before. Sometimes groups of high school kids looking for a place to finish prom night, sometimes lovers like themselves seeking a romantic backdrop, sometimes a lone beach comber who wants to warm up. Most of the time, Mac doesn’t mind the additions. They tend to be open to sharing food and music and beer, and they’re usually pleasant company for a few hours.
Paul makes a noncommittal noise and swims for the shore. Mac watches him, looks up at the sky — stars beginning to peep out of the dark, the moon rising from the sea — and starts for the shore, too.
They both stop when they see the man has dropped his things and is pulling off his T-shirt. This is new — at most they’ll get kids running into the surf, tuxedo pants rolled up or the skirts of their prom dresses held high, where they play chicken with the waves until they get bored. Paul raises a skeptical eyebrow at Mac, and they wade through the waves to meet the newcomer.
Up close, Mac can see that the newcomer is square-jawed and well-muscled, with steely grey eyes and brightly-colored board shorts. His surfboard must be on his car, parked in the scenic viewing area above the cliffs. His smile is disarming. “Mind if I join you?”
“Hey,” says Paul. “The beach is open to everyone. I’m Paul and this is Mac.”
“I’m Nic.” He wades in deep enough to dive under the waves, and Mac shrugs at Paul and falls back, his arms spread. He loves floating on his back. It’s swimming with minimal effort.
“Don’t float away,” Paul calls to him and Mac flicks water at him.
He hears the new guy, Nic, surface near him, sputtering water. He treads water enough to raise his head and have a look. The guy doesn’t seem like a beach bum — he’s pretty clean-cut — and he’s at home in the water. That’s always good. Nothing spoils an evening like having to rescue someone.
“Cloud bank out there,” Nic remarks. “Rain’s coming.”
“I often wonder if whoever named this ocean ‘peaceful’ was being ironic,” Mac replies.
Nic huffs, and then is quiet for a while –floating on his back too, when Mac glances over to check on him, apparently as unconcerned about the approaching rain as he and Paul are. They’ll be gone by the time the storm hits the shore. The bigger concern is if the waves get rough while it’s on its way.
Abruptly Nic stands again, water lapping around his chest. He waxes, Mac notes with amusement. Paul threatened to leave him the last time Mac did that. “You and him,” Nic says. “Are you — together?”
The delicate pause is eloquent. Mac smiles and says, “Yup.”
Nic makes a regretful noise. “Too bad.”
“What?” says Mac, even more amused. “Were you hoping for a hookup?”
“Two guys on a beach,” says Nic with a shrug. “Stranger things have happened.”
“Three guys.” He stands to look for Paul, and sees him hunkered down by the bonfire.
Most people, when they look at Paul, they don’t see beyond the horn-rimmed glasses and skinny shoulders. Mac didn’t, not at first. But it was here, at this very beach while they sat around a bonfire with mutual friends that Mac really talked to Paul for the first time and realized there was much more to him than appearances.
“‘It’s always ourselves that we find at the sea,'” he quotes softly.
Nic looks at him, head tilted. “Did you find yourself here?”
“I found myself through him. He opened my eyes.”
“It sounds like you’re not just together. It sounds like it’s true love.”
“You could say that,” says Mac and swims for the shore. Handsome strangers are fun to look at, and this guy is more astute than he initially appeared, but still he’d rather be with Paul by the fire.
He wades up the shore and bends over Paul to kiss him. As he thought, Paul has hot dogs on skewers and corn on the cob cooking in aluminum foil. Paul is bundled in a sweatshirt, his arms wrapped around his legs, and he returns Mac’s kiss absently.
“What’s he like?” Paul asks as Mac vigorously dries his hair.
“Nice enough, I guess. I quoted Cummings and he knew the poem, I think.” He pulls on his own sweatshirt and sits on the towel with Paul. “Hey.” He nudges Paul’s knee.
“Hey. These’ll be ready soon.”
“Yum.” Mac nods out to the water, where Nic is still paddling around, just beyond the breakers. “Should we invite him?”
“We’ll feed him if he’s hungry,” says Paul and puts some buns on another sheet of foil to warm them. Mac smiles, resting his head on his folded arms.
There’s something about the crackling fire and the waves that makes him say, “You know I’m not looking for somebody new, right?”
Paul looks up at him and slowly smiles. “I know.” He kneels up and kisses Mac, more lingeringly than before.