This is a scene from my novel The Old Mermaid's Tale. Clair and Baptiste don't know if they will ever see each other again:
On our last day we took a bus to a beach on Lake Ontario. The air was glassy and Toronto glittered on the far horizon. We stretched out beside each other on blankets in the sun just touching, barely breathing. We pretended that an afternoon of such perfect, still, heat-drenched beauty could last forever. When long blue shadows of late afternoon cooled our burning skin, we went off in search of a beach bar for refreshment.
It was little more than a shed painted parrot blue and tropical pink with screened rooms on three sides. People crowded around picnic tables with mugs of beer and platters of fried shrimp. A juke box played dance band music over the sound of the surf and the seagulls.
We found seats at the bar and ordered cold beer. He stroked my face and kissed my sun-burnt cheeks.
“I have something,” he said reaching into his pocket.
“Baptiste! You’ve given me too much already!” The days had been filled with little presents—antique books of fairy tales from other lands, silk pretties, and bottles of potions that smelled like lilies of the valley or jasmine and lilacs.
He shook his head and produced a small black velvet box bearing a ring of gold set with a scintillating aquamarine stone surrounded by diamonds. “It is to remind you...” he said as he took my hand and slipped it onto my finger. “... of the blue of the lake and of the stars—and that you are always and for eternity dearly loved.”
I stared at it and then at him. “I don’t need reminders of that... but I love it.”
As I drew back from kissing him I caught sight of myself in the glazed mirror behind the bar. My face was burnt and my hair was windblown.
“Wait here,” I said.
“Where are you going?”
I kissed his cheek. “Wait here.”
Across the parking lot little shops displayed beachwear in their windows. If this was to be our last evening together then I would be beautiful.
I found a white sundress splashed with pale pink peonies. The skirt was full and the bodice low with thin spaghetti straps. I stuffed my shorts and halter into my bag and bought peony-pink lipstick and a mother of pearl clip to twist my wild hair up off my neck.
“Something special going on?” the shop clerk smiled raising her eyebrows.
I smiled back at her. “Something very special.”
“Here.” She picked up a glass atomizer. “Put some of this on.” She puffed a fine spray of a musky fragrance onto my neck and shoulders. “And try this new mascara. It’ll really make your eyes look great.”
“Thanks,” I looked into the mirror and brushed it along my lashes. I never much looked at my own face—but now I stared into my eyes and suddenly thought that I looked lovely. I squeezed the gold nautilus shell that always hung at the base of my throat and smiled.
The clerk grinned. “Knock em dead, kiddo.”
The hem of my skirt danced around my bare legs as I walked toward the bar. As I opened the screen door he sat turned toward me, watching.
“You are breathtaking,” he said reaching for my waist.
“So are you,” I said snuggling against him.
We ordered clams and ate then dipped in hot, lemon-tinged butter as the sun slipped into a pool of rose along the horizon. Neither of us seemed able to think of anything else to say until the darkness over the lake was deep and stars sparkled in the waves.
He drew a deep breath. “We should probably be going.”
I took his hand. “You owe me something before we go.”
He tilted his head and smiled. “What is that, cher?”
“You owe me a dance.”
“The night you took me to the Winter Castle... I was dying to dance with you. I bought that velvet dress so you’d love the way I felt in your arms.”
He smiled. “But I do love the way you feel in my arms.”
I stood up and tugged at him. “You’re not getting off that easy. You owe me a dance.”
“Cher.” He resisted. “I am sorry but I do not dance.”
“Tonight you do,” I said. “Come on.”
He rose and looked down at me. “It is not such a good idea, cher. I could fall.”
I looked up at him. “I’ll catch you.”
I dropped a dime in the juke box and selected an old song I remembered my mother singing to in our kitchen.
He took my hand and there was a tremble but I didn’t know if it was mine or his. We moved against each other and his hand slid down my back as mine slipped upward over the muscles of his arm to rest against his shoulder. He folded my hand over his heart where I could feel the beating that could have come from the drums as easily as from his own internal music. Once I had asked him if he had dreamed of doing something he would regret for the rest of his life—once I had vowed to do that myself.
As our bodies touched, as I felt myself folded to him and enfolding him I thought that this was the rest of our lives—this—the two of us, breast to breast, belly to belly, thighs to thighs. This was the deliciousness and the darkness. This was the passion enfolded in the regret. Wherever we went, whatever we became, somewhere the two of us, entwined, danced in a spiral of our shared music, and that, as much as whatever came to pass, was the rest of our lives.
In the curve of his neck I breathed the last of the day’s sunshine and the luscious maleness filling my senses, saturating my cells and my blood. The music wove around us—a trumpet soared, a drum quivered, a string vibrated. We turned together holding onto silky strains, clinging to fragile notes. We turned together while moments, like music, undulated through the soft night and melted. His breath stirred curls along my cheek. Love is like music. It swells beyond the tangible. It flows through what seems real. It is the pulsing of blood and the shudder of tears. It is neither beginning nor ending. It is who we truly are. It is breath. It is soul.The music softened and his body throbbed against mine. I turned my face up to him and his mouth was right there waiting for mine. The rest of the story....
Thanks for reading.