Salt, Chapter One
Bridget returns to the beach
Here, the air was crisp and bright, full of promise and memory. After a long morning spent crammed into the car with a camp chair digging into her shoulder and kitchen utensils crowding her feet, Bridget was glad to finally be outside. As soon as they’d finished unpacking the car, she squeezed out greasy drops of sunscreen onto her arms and legs and got ready to run down to the beach.
Bridget stuck around for maybe half an hour after bringing in the last box from the car. She wanted to make sure that her mother was really asleep, then she snuck off. She had been promised a whole summer here, but she was impatient and she wanted to taste it now.
The beach looked the same as in her memory. The bay curved away from her in a sloping crescent. She could see the tiny dots of people at the other end. But right here was her little patch. Her beach. The blue of the sky perfectly complemented the blue of the sea. Just beneath the edge of the sky, the tops of the waves gently rippled in the breeze.
Bridget loved feeling the sand between her toes. She stood perfectly still and let the ocean do all the work, greeting her and leaving her over and over again. She listened to the seagulls circling above and the waves swelling and breaking in front of her. If she closed her eyes, she could still see exactly what was in front of her.
She shook off her sandals and dropped them on the sand behind her as she ran into the ocean. She scooped up the water in her hands and washed her face with it. She rubbed at her freckles and massaged her cheeks with it. She stared up into the sky, as the sun painted her light brown hair gold. She could feel her heartbeat slow and her muscles relax. She wanted to live in this moment forever. She was greedy; she always wanted to hold onto things just a little bit longer.
He was standing on the sand, holding her shoes in his left hand.
She stopped walking out of the ocean. She could hear her heartbeat now. She had no idea how he looked the same after all this time: soft curly brown hair, broad shoulders and sharp eyes.
He was taller now.
‘Hey, Bridge.’ Riley swung her shoes beside him. ‘Welcome back.’
Bridget ran her fingers through her hair, now very conscious of the fact it was dripping wet.
She felt like she had so much to tell him. She’d imagined this meeting a thousand different ways. In her mind, she always thought she’d have more time. He wouldn’t make an effort to see her. He wouldn’t care. Maybe he was a million worlds away. She’d been here five minutes and he’d already found her.
‘I didn’t know if you still lived here,’ she said.
‘I didn’t know if you wanted to see me,’ is what she meant.
‘I wanted to run out of the car and knock on your door immediately,’ is what she longed to say.
‘But it would’ve killed me to know that you didn’t want to see me,’ is what she almost confessed.
‘I didn’t actually believe that I was back, here, myself, until I put my feet in this water and laid my eyes on your face,’ is what she had just realised.
‘Do you think that when the wave leaves the shore, it knows that it’s coming back?’
He was the one with the undoubtable grin.
She was the one who left without saying goodbye.
Bridget remembered the first time she had talked to Riley about how much she loved the ocean.
Because it was love that Bridget felt. People would often ask why and she found it hard to explain. They simply couldn’t believe that a body of water could hold that much beauty.
But on that day, sitting on the slats of the pier, it was easy to explain to Riley.
She loved the smell of seafoam that hung in the air and the breeze that carried her towards the shore. She loved the moment of unforgivable cold when she first stepped into the water, the freezing jolt of shock that shot through her. She thought it was better to run in, hell bent and head first, and embrace it all at once. She found that the chill disappeared quickly when she was enjoying herself. When she lifted her head up from underneath the waves and felt the beams of sunlight warm her face.
She loved the sun. It was such a tease, hiding behind the clouds, always looking for a dramatic entrance. Bellowing, ‘Look at me!’ loudly and briefly before disappearing again. She laughed as it lit up the sky and revealed the sparkles in the water.
She could lie there forever, floating on the water wherever it may take her. She would turn herself over to become part of the ocean in a moment if she could. She would give her body to the sea, her skin to the sand and her hair to the sun. This was where she truly belonged. Where she began and where she would end.
Sometimes Bridget liked to take herself out of the ocean, out of her body, and sit on the sand and take it all in. Close her eyes and listen to the ocean’s constant hello and goodbye as the waves crashed on the sand. Getting closer and closer each time, they would whisper, ‘Come back… Come back…’
And Bridget would eventually give up and retreat back in. She would let the water take her and stare up into the blue and white speckled sky. She would remain amongst the rhythm of the waves, her heart beating in time with it, for as long as she could.
When Bridget finished speaking, when she stopped to take a breath, she glanced back at Riley and saw a new look in his eyes. It was the look of being understood for the first time.
As Bridget pulled the bed sheets up to her chin on that first night of her seventeenth summer, she looked across the fence to Riley’s house. The windows were dark so she couldn’t see inside, but she dared to dream that things could really be the same again. If amongst the storm raging in the rest of her life, she could have one moment of peace.