the off-season lovers
by a. noelle
The rows of surf-side boutiques stood empty and still with “Closed until summer” signs dangling in the front windows.
Peeking through at the dusty displays, the girl was slightly shaken by the nostalgia. Images of past summers flitted through the front of her mind: a sizzling parking lot by the shopping mall, visible waves of heat vibrating just above the hoods of cars stalled in traffic, the smell of melted ice cream on the tarmac.
A chilly breeze swept through the girl’s unbound hair, tousling the split ends in various directions. Turning, she found that she’d wandered into a tiny alleyway of shops, most of them shuttered, displaying the same vintage signs to indicate the off-season hiatus.
The coastal Monterey climate was a far cry from the perpetually hot-and-dry season that she had been accustomed to as a child. A delightful lack of foot traffic, crisp and salty air, quiet footpaths along the shoreline beckoning baby harbor seals and sea otters to harbor—all elements in stark contrast to the urban sprawl she had left behind some summers ago.
Our love’s the same, the thought drifted for a moment in front of her eyes, suspended in the puffs of cloud that escaped the small opening between her chapped lips. It’s different now.
Glancing back the way she came to make sure he was still standing in line at the corner chowder stand, right where she’d left him, the girl smiled softly to herself.
They had sought the crowds at one point, braved the heat and sweat and bumper-to-bumper interstates. He even took her shopping once. Sat outside the stores, mostly, but he waited and carried her bags with a giant, dopey smile stretched across his face.
She couldn’t remember the last time they’d gone for a movie—or a sit-down instead of a take-out, imagine that!
They’d discovered each other in sloppy, open-mouthed kisses with too much tongue and teeth, one night back in sophomore year. “What are we doing?” She’d gasped from beneath his fumbling frame. “I have no idea,” and he really did look as though he hadn’t a clue, but it didn’t matter, nothing did except too many zippers on a narrow, bottom bunk.
He’d broken up with her the next day. Three hours of splintered sleep and hope, and she was spent, too fragile from her own mental exertions to do more than gape in wide-eyed astonishment as he’d said, “I’m sorry, I can’t do this.”
One summer, two road trips, twelve postcards, and 140 selfies with statues and strangers put her in a more forgiving frame when she met him again in the fall.
“Sweetie!” He called for her, and she turned away from the silent storefronts, a slight skip in her step as she returned to his side.
Taking her purse back from his shoulder, the girl noticed the small pout forming at his lips, the crease just above his brow. “What’s wrong?” She placed gentle fingers on his forehead to ease the frown.
“I like holding it,” his soft tones barely rose above the sound of the surf to reach her ears.
Her surprised laughter was drowned out by the seagulls.