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Where was Bryn? My car keys made a heavy clunk on the pine table. The sound echoed hollowly inside my head as my eyes flickered around the tiny kitchen and out into the narrow hallway. Please don't let me be too late, please don't let him be gone already. All the stupid, phobic insecurities that had held me back seemed shallow and insignificant now. At last I could tell him how I feltif it wasn't too late. Or perhaps I'd kept him waiting for too long and finally missed my chance of happiness altogether
now, when I needed it most.
The silence brought hope. If Yellow wasn't here, then Bryn must have taken him for a walk; they'd be on the shore. I hugged my news to myself, clinging to the joy that ached inside me, deep down where the anger used to be. I longed to see his face when I told him. I couldn't wait for him to come back; I had to find him now.
Leaving the door open, I ran back outside, taking in the scene that had filled my life forever. A scene I couldn't live with and couldn't live without. Miles of sand stretched out toward the far horizon, and gulls coasted in easy circles, their haunting cries echoing with a melody that spoke only of the seaa place of beauty and of pain that held me fiercely in its grip.
To my disappointment the glistening sand was smooth and bare, not a single figure in sight. I glanced uneasily at my watch, knowing the tide so well and aware that at any moment it would come rushing around the bay. Apprehension dulled my joy, but of course Bryn knew the dangers that lurked behind the serene facade of the bay, and surely he must have heard the siren that warned of the approaching tide. He must have taken the path that led across the cliff top instead. He loved to stand up there staring out to sea, for in every view he saw a picture waiting to be painted. Perhaps I should just go back to the cottage.
No! My heart beat hard against my rib cage. What if he was still down on the shore? I knew this place with an instinct that never failed and something told me I had to find him now.
The horizon was fading, at one with the rippling sea, lost in the mist that settled over the water and spread soundlessly toward the shore. Even the gulls were silent as they waited for the tide.
My voice disappeared into the emptiness as I stepped onto the sand, feeling its familiar, comforting squelch against my feet. I started to run along the shoreline, scanning the beach for Bryn. And suddenly there he was, a bright fluorescent figure in my dad's old fishing jacket, waving back at me.
Couldn't he see the danger?
Yellow Dog bounded around him in crazy circles, a distant dot beside the faraway figure of the man I loved. There, I had said it. For the first time in my life, I'd said it. I yelled it out loud, caressing the words that had taken a small miracle to finally get out.
"I love you!"
My voice was carried away on the rising wind.
He threw a stick . Threw a stick as the tide surged around the edge of the bay.
And then he was heading toward me. Relief rushed in like the tide as I set out to meet him.
One moment, I could see him, way out toward the horizon, a tiny matchstick man against the smooth expanse of sand, picking up the stick to throw again. Yellow Dog leaped up in the air and then suddenly they were gone, lost in the opaque mist that settled over the bay. I stopped, aware of rippling water moving relentlessly toward me.
And then it was upon me, dragging me down. The surging wave that heralded the tide, taking all in its pathway as it sped around the outskirts of the bay.
My screams cut through the silence, but no answer came. I tried to go on but the force of the water held me back. Emptiness filled my soul. Surely life could never be so cruel as to take my love away just when I'd finally found him.
I stared helplessly across the murky landscape. This familiar place I both loved and hated had changed its face again, just as it always did, just like the last time but with more serenity. A distant, blurred memory heightened my screams and for a moment I became once again the terrified five-year-old girl who watched the same sea wreak its terrible wrath on her father so many years ago.
I had to go back, had to get help. But where was the shore? I floundered now, knee-deep in the fierce current, my eyes searching for the headlandfirm sand beneath my feet, coarse grass and the lights of the cottage calling me home.
I couldn't lose him now, not now, not when I'd finally awakened to the truth that had been there all along. I placed my hand on my stomach. Today I was going to tell him. Today was supposed to change our lives.
For a moment I froze, staring out into the bleak emptiness with disbelief. Surely he would appear from the clinging white vapor, dark hair curling in the damp air, speckled green eyes dancing with mirth and Yellow leaping beside him, his golden coat wet and dripping. What a mess he was going to make! I'd have to dry him well before he could come into the cottage. Now where was the old bath towel I always used ? In the back porch, that was it. I put it in the box beneath the window.
I clung desperately to that mundane thought. A hysterical cry gurgled inside mewhat if I no longer had any need for Yellow's old towel?
The sea lapped against the shore, breaking the eerie silence. The truth sank in. Bryn was lost. Somewhere out there in the treacherous bay, my love was lost. I fumbled for my cell phone with numb, shaking fingers, tapping out the emergency number.
"Help help me . The tide The tide is coming in and someone's still out there. I can't see him . The mist "
A man's voice, deep and calm, taking control, bringing back hope.
"Where are you?"
"Jenny Brown's Bay."
In the pause that followed, my heart clamped tightly shut.
"Don't worry. We'll have someone there in no time. Just hang on and keep shouting. It will help us find you and give your friend something to focus on."
His voice was firm again, professional, but I'd heard that hesitation. I sank down onto the harsh grass, screaming Bryn's name until my voice would no longer work, staring out into the murky emptiness, listening to the rushing tide as hope drained away.
I was five years old again, alone and terrified, my face pressed against the window of the cottage as I watched the storm unleash its fury across the bay .
* * *
While Elsa rushed home, desperate to see him, Bryn strode across the sand with Yellow gamboling happily at his heels. His feet crunched a mass of tiny white shells left stranded by the tide. He paused, reaching down to pick one up, running his fingers across its pearly pink iridescence before slipping it into his pocket to give to Elsa, if he decided to stay. Doubts crept in. He'd been so sure that he was doing the right thing, setting her free to finally get on with her life. But never to see her lovely face again. And how would she manage without him to protect her? He'd been there for almost all of her life; perhaps that was the problem. Perhaps he had suffocated her, stifled her dreams. She would never know unless he set her free.
The intoxicating smell of the sea flooded his senses. He leaned forward into the buffeting wind, breathing it deep into his lungs as he quickened his stride. He could see why Elsa loved this place so much, despite the heartache it spelled for her. Today its beauty took his breath away, yet behind that calm serenity lurked an untamed wildness. Just like her, really. She had that same unpredictable quality. He'd seen it the very first time he met her, a lifetime ago, a fierce changeable beauty that he couldn't quite touch.
Thinking of Elsa brought a heavy pain to his heart. He used to wonder how long it would be before she actually faced up to her true feelings for him, finally letting him fully into her life. Now, after everything that had happened between them, he was beginning to believe that maybe, after years of waiting, he had been wrong after all. Perhaps those feelings just weren't there for her to face up to. Perhaps he was just a habit, a safety net.
He heard the siren, way off in the distance, heralding danger. The tide was coming in. Soon that tiny white wave they dramatically called the bore would come washing around the coastline, leaving anyone still out in the bay totally strandedleaving him stranded if he wasn't careful. He hesitated, listening to the haunting melody of the seagulls that seemed to echo his own emotion. A wild recklessness overtook him. They always sounded the siren with loads of time to spare, and today danger felt good. He picked up a piece of driftwood and continued to walk, looking across toward the shore as he hurled it for Yellow.
There was Elsa's little white cottage, the last in a terraced row of three, perched on a lonely rocky outcrop. And farther along was the stall where she would soon start to sell her painstakingly collected wares, which he liked to call her romantic marine life. She was away now, in Newcastle, searching for more unusual items, anything quirky and linked to the sea.
Bryn deliberately hadn't phoned her, giving her breathing space. All he had asked for, yet again, was that she let down her barriers and love him totally, as he loved her, and yet again she'd drawn away from him. Every time he got really close to her she retreated from him in panic, as if keeping herself at bay. Now he was beginning to believe that he'd stayed around too long, waiting for something that was never to be, his very presence holding her back and keeping her from loving someone else, someone who could fulfill her dreams.
He shook his head, taking a breath.
"Yellow! Come on, Yellow ."
The big golden dog bounded toward him, stick in mouth, and together they started to run, forgetting the high-pitched wail of the siren.
He saw her as he turned back toward the shore, a tiny figure at the edge of the sand. She was back already and he was still here. What now? He'd given her an ultimatum before she left; fear crept over him at the thought of rejection. He should have gone when he had the chance. It would've been easier that way.
She waved at him, arms flailing in the distance, and as always, he waved back, not noticing at first the white mist that was settling over the horizon, merging sea and sand. He saw the wave coming, and it almost filled him with joy. For Bryn Evans, risks were there for the taking; danger dulled the pain of rejection and made his blood flow faster. He picked up Yellow's stick and hurled it at the shore, heading back reluctantly.
But the water came too quickly. It rose up to his knees as the whole world suddenly disappeared around him, lost in a thick white blanket of fog. The gulls were silent but he could still hear Elsa calling his name, screaming into the opaque, curling mist. He stumbled on toward the sound, up to his waist now, with Yellow swimming beside him.
"Go on, boy!"
His voice sounded strange and hollow. The sea churned fiercely, sucking him in.
"Home, boy . Find Elsa!"
Yellow looked at him with worried eyes, swimming around in desperate circles. Loneliness was a heavy weight. Fear sprang to life inside him as his feet left the bottom and then he, too, started to swim. Was this it? Was the decision to be taken from him? Was Elsa destined finally to move on without him after all? Her voice was fading. His whole body ached. Maybe it was for the best.
"Home, boy.! Home!"
And then Bryn was truly alone, in mind and in body, as he fought against the surging water that dragged him down.