Authors: Sean Olin
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On their third
date, way back in freshman year, Carter Moore and Lilah Bell spent the evening at Harpoon Haven, the small amusement park that Dream Point had erected near the beach ten years earlier to entice tourists away from Miami. They ate cotton candy until their tongues turned blue. They rode the Ferris wheel and did the bumper cars three times in a row. Carter popped five balloons at one of the dart games and won Lilah a stuffed lion that was so large, she had to carry it with two hands.
When ten p.m. hit and their curfews drew near, neither of them wanted the date to end. They wandered the promenade that wove between the palm trees and across
the plush, green lawn along the edge of Dream Point’s sparkling white beach.
“Full moon tonight,” said Carter. “It’s beautiful. The way the moonlight glimmers off the sand. We don’t get this sort of thing in Savannah.”
Carter had only just moved to town for the start of the school year. There’d been something preppy about him, but a hip preppiness—it was a style choice, not a symptom of uptightness. He wore khakis and gingham shirts, and he parted his shaggy, not-quite-short brown hair on the side—so different from the surfer dudes and football players and fashion-obsessed Cubans that made up the majority of Christopher Columbus High School’s population.
“Well, you’ve only been here for a month,” Lilah responded. “When you’ve lived here your whole life, you start to take all this beauty for granted. You need someone else to remind you to see it.”
“I mean, look at how high the waves are coming in tonight. And how much power they seem to have. That’s because of the moon. When it’s a full moon the tide’s just so much stronger.”
Lilah readjusted the stuffed lion in her arms. She really could see the beauty in Dream Point tonight. It was like the old town she’d known her entire life had been transformed into the most magical place on earth. “I wish I could see this town through your eyes all the
time,” she said. “The way you talk about it, everything’s just so much more alive. Maybe it’s cause you’re into nature and science and stuff.”
Carter gazed at the beach for a moment, and Lilah wondered what he was seeing—something much more nuanced than the simple lapping of the waves against the beach that she saw, she was sure. She sensed a deep seriousness moving behind his clear, hazel eyes.
“I’ll make a deal with you,” he said, finally. “When I notice things, I’ll point them out for you. I’ll help you remember the beauty. Cool?”
“Absolutely,” said Lilah. She felt like she was seeing some special secret place in him, like he was showing a tiny bit of the sensitive, attentive person hidden inside his tan skin. She felt very lucky in that moment and she wondered what she could do to prove she was worth the attention he was showing her. Then she had an inspiration.
“Let’s go down to the water,” she said.
“I thought the beach closed at eight.”
“Won’t we get in trouble?”
“You worried? It’s not like they enforce that rule,” said Lilah.
Carter ran his hand through his sandy hair and grimaced nervously.
“Okay,” she said, “how ’bout if I dare you.”
Before Carter could either deny or accept the challenge, she threw the lion into his arms and quickly pulled her wavy light-brown hair up in a ponytail.
“Race!” she said, and then she took off, her flip-flops clacking along the concrete of the promenade, the knee-length purple jersey dress she wore flapping behind her.
He chased after her, holding the lion with two hands above his head and trying to make up distance, but she was an athlete, a swimmer—she’d been on the team since sixth grade—and even in her flip-flops she could pack a lot of speed in her powerful legs. They made their way down onto the beach, churning up cascades of sand under their feet. There was no way Carter could catch up. Lilah was just too fast. And he was wearing boat shoes and long pants, not the sort of thing for sprinting.
Turning around, Lilah ran backward. She slowed her pace until Carter came within a few yards of her, and then she matched his speed, teasing him, just out of his reach.
“Come on, slowpoke,” she said. “You gonna let a girl beat you?” She couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt so free, and she couldn’t hide the grin that spread across her face.
Finally, Carter threw the lion in her direction, and she instinctively stopped and reached out to catch it.
In that instant, he was able to leap and wrap his arms around her waist. They both fell to the sand, laughing, as the lion tumbled away from them.
“God, that was fun,” said Carter, between heavy pants.
“So much fun,” she said. “See, that’s what I can do. If you keep reminding me that there’s beauty in the world, I’ll keep daring you to go out into it and be a little wild.”
“Deal,” he said.
He was lying on top of her, his chin on her breastbone, and for a brief moment, their stares lingered in each other’s eyes. Then he rolled off of her and gazed up at the sky, and she wondered why he hadn’t kissed her then. Maybe he was shy, less sure of himself than she’d thought.
Eventually, they gathered themselves and stood up. Carter dumped the sand out of his boat shoes. He shook out the short-sleeve green linen shirt he was wearing and did a little wiggly dance trying to get the sand out of his tan pants. Lilah found her flip-flops where they’d scattered, and she brushed off the lion. They walked back to the manicured grass that buffered the beach from Shore Road and began heading the long way back along the promenade toward the center of town.
“So, I guess that’s it,” she said. “Time to go home.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Carter said, smiling at her softly. He checked the time on his Gucci watch. “We’ve already
blown our curfew. What’s the worst that could happen?”
“Let’s sit for a while, then.”
They found a bench and Lilah set the lion down and they watched the tide roll in, talking through the night.
He told her about Savannah, Georgia, where he’d lived before his parents divorced and he and his mother had moved to Dream Point. He talked about rap music—Lil Wayne, Outkast, Jay-Z, and Snoop—and the variations in the sound and style and attitude toward the world depending on which region of the country the artist came from. Lilah could hear his deep, overriding passion for the music in the force and timbre of his voice. She could see it in the way his whole body got involved as he illustrated the difference between an East Coast beat and a West Coast beat and a Chicago beat and a Dirty Southern beat.
And he listened, too, as Lilah told him about her friends from the swim team—Kaily and Margarita and Teresa—and how terribly, terribly much winning meant to her. She talked about her parents and how weirdly awkward and formal they were.
“They’re like people from an alien ancient culture where high tea and the church coffee hour are the center of life,” she said. “I mean, they get dressed up to go to the mall. And my mother. You’ve never seen anybody so anxious. You can see it in her eyes. They dart all over the place, everywhere except at the thing she’s supposed
to be paying attention to. She’s so worried about what people think. And she does it to me, too. It’s unbearable sometimes. She’s just so high-strung.”
“That must put a whole lot of pressure on you,” Carter said.
Lilah’s hand had been resting on the bench between them, and he reached out and placed two fingers over her thumb, testing to see if she’d accept the comfort he was offering her. When she did and he knew it was okay, he went ahead and held her hand.
They let the silence and the salty sea air wash over them. There was something so comfortable about it. Lilah felt like she’d been holding his hand her whole life and had only just now realized it.
The next five minutes felt like they lasted forever. Their heads stutter-stepped inch by inch toward each other. They slowly stopped watching the ocean and began to watch the deep seas in each other’s eyes. Then their faces were touching, just barely, and then they were kissing, arms wrapped around each other, pressing the emotions that had been building up inside themselves onto each other’s bodies.
“I’ve been wanting to do that all night,” he told her. His face had gone deep red.
Leaning in close, Lilah whispered, “Me too.” She nuzzled her smooth cheek against his, just for a second, and he felt the ticklish sensation on his skin work its
way all the way down in his stomach.
They laced their fingers together and gazed into each other’s eyes again, and then they both chuckled, embarrassed.
There were things Lilah was afraid to say to Carter, small admissions about her insecurity. She still marveled at the fact that he’d asked her out—she didn’t think of herself as the prettiest or most popular girl in school. She had freckles and plain brown eyes, and she could never seem to get her wavy not-quite-blond hair to go in the direction she wanted it to.
“Why me?” she said suddenly, not meaning for the words to come out of her mouth.
He thought for a moment before letting himself speak. “You’ve got a spark in you. Like a drive, you know what I mean? Like the way you convinced me to break the rules and run out onto the beach tonight. I’m always so worried about doing the right thing that I wouldn’t have dared do that without you.” He thought for another moment, taking in the smooth skin of her cheek and the sleek swimmer’s body she hid under her loose jersey dress, and then he let himself say it: “And you’re crazy hot and you don’t even know it.”
Embarrassed, she grimaced ironically. She looked away, then back to him.
“You know, every girl in school is curious about you,” she said.