The Ocean

“We’re going to be laaate,” I mumble and groan under my breath, following my best friend down to the water. She saw the water and gave me the smile she always gives me when she’s about to do something she knows I won’t want to do: mischievous eyes reflecting the sun shining down on us, the right side of her mouth pulled up making her smile slant, and — my favorite part — her tongue sticking out a bit, pushing up against her front teeth and curving up slightly, like her smile itself isn’t enough to demonstrate her excitement.

“There will always be another ferry, James,” she taunts me. “Come on, live a little,” she says like she always does when I’m about to hold her back.

“Eliza, this isn’t the lake at home. It’s an ocean. You’ve got to be careful!”

“Aww, James, come on. Let’s play a little.”

I watch Eliza turn around, face the ocean water. We planned this trip last year, a present to ourselves for finishing school. The ferry wasn’t even part of the plan, but she convinced me to live a little already today — she wants to go to Italy since we’re so close. How could she pass up the opportunity?

She’s still walking toward the ocean water. I’m following because what else am I going to do? I watch as she reaches down near her waist and grabs the light cloth dress she’s wearing — fittingly, in Aegean blue — and she pulls it up over her head.

I glanced around, forever more cautious than Eliza is. I’ve decided I’ll follow her toward the water, but I have no desire to go in, not like she does. She hasn’t said it yet — I think she thinks I’ll want to stop her. But I don’t think I will today. Today feels like a day to live; we just live differently.

She turns her head to look back at me once she’s reached the edge of the water. I can see the excitement in her eyes, building up — she can’t wait to step in the water. She turns back, puts one foot in. Her body gives a little shiver of glee, as she unites with her element: water. Her emotions have taken over. There’s no going back now for Eliza.

I continue walking to the edge of the water. I still have no desire to go in the ocean. I watch her from the shore, solid in the earth.

She’s getting farther away though. I call to her to come back a little.

I have no idea if she hears me.

She looks confused. Not that I can see her face, but I know her body. I know every movement and every motion. She’s not moving like she’s supposed to be.

I jump in the water, I start swimming — just because I didn’t want to go in doesn’t mean I can’t — I swim as fast as I can to help her.

I get maybe twenty feet out, look up to see where she is.

I don’t see her.

I can’t find her.

I start swimming again, feverishly, toward where I last saw her but goddammit fuck this water and how fast it moves, how easily it flows in and out, above and around me. I can’t find her. Who knows where she could be by now? I turn in circles I’m positive this is where I last saw her.

From the shore, a man yells to me. I have no idea what he said. How can I hear anything he’s saying between the ocean and the splashing and the thought of Eliza —

Where the hell did Eliza go?

How can she be gone?

She’s unstoppable. Too excitable.

I stop swimming. I’m only treading water now.

My head is just above the water now.

The man from the shore is swimming out to get me. He’s yelling about waves.

He reaches me. Asks what happened. Why I’m out here.

I don’t respond. My voice left with Eliza.

He starts trying to pull me back to shore. Talking about waves again. About the ocean.

He shakes his head as he says, “You kids need to respect nature. Water, it will do what it wants when it likes, and it takes no prisoners. Only lives.”