It’s the first time a boy drives you to the beach and you are committing everything to memory. It’s so hot your bare legs are stuck to the seat, and you flinch as you peel your damp skin away from the leather. He isn’t wearing a shirt, so you spend most of the drive pretending not to look at him and how the sun glows in the hair on his arms. When he takes your hand it’s not butterflies, but a flock of birds soaring wildly in your belly and perching somewhere near your heart.
When you get there you aggressively mist each other with that shitty spray sunscreen that does nothing but seep into your lungs and damage the environment. You walk holding hands and poking at the treasures the ocean eagerly offers the shore: a tumble of kelp, broken sand dollars, and bright smooth sea glass that you roll slowly between your fingers. He tries to teach you to fly fish, and even though he puts his arms around you, you give up after the first cast because you’re seventeen and don’t want to be bad at something. You sprint into the ocean in tandem, to see how far you get before you both fall. Later, you float up off the seafloor and he splays his palms under your back, and your mind and the ocean chant love, love, love. When he drops you off at home you realize the soles of your feet are covered in tar.
When he tells you he’s in love with someone else your mouth fills with bitter sunscreen and the slick pop of kelp. And you realize you expected this moment to be different. That you’d feel older and meaner and your hurt would vibrate off you, hot as a beehive. Instead your throat opens and a noise leaks out that you don’t recognize, and you feel like you’re running headlong into the waves, the ocean salting your face with a slap.