Start here to start at the beginning…
The paddle board session was epic. They wrapped it up around sunset and then walked to a nearby Thai place. Neither of them had ever eaten Thai food, but somehow it fit into Annie’s idea of a fancy dinner spot. They pretended like they knew what they were ordering, and when the food came they laughed at it. It was a good thing they were both the adventurous type. The eclectic dishes were surprisingly delicious, and as they ate Christian talked Annie out of going dancing. “We’re all sandy and sticky,” he lamented, “anyone who tries to dance with us will be scared away by the smell! Besides, the deal was I would dance with you if you surfed with me, which you somehow dodged.”
“Fine. But we still have to go to the roller coaster at Belmont Park. It’s non-negotiable.” They wrapped up dinner and headed toward the boardwalk. The evening was sultry and salty, and the constant breeze made Annie’s hair more unruly than ever. When she stopped to put it up, she turned to face the ocean. Christian watched her profile against the sand and the water and the indigo sky. He watched her as she was watching the sea, and he watched the way the wild tendrils of fly-away hair framed her face. He took a step closer and noticed the perfect baby curls that stayed at the back of her neck. He watched her for as long as she was not watching him, and when she turned back toward the walkway he averted his eyes toward the beach.
The walk wasn’t long but they stayed quiet. Annie seemed distracted at different times throughout the day, but so was he. She was always so easy going and free. Today he was seeing a different side of her that reinforced what he already suspected. She had many more layers than she let on and thus far he’d really only gotten the top one. He couldn’t help wanting to explore her more. What was underneath this exterior Annie? He realized how much he wanted to know the real her at about the same time he was struck with the stark realization that he was never going to get the chance. Reality was an unkind truth, but common sense told him it was better this way.
“Have you ever been on a roller coaster before?” Her question interrupted his thoughts.
“Yeah, I went to Magic Mountain once when I was a sophomore. You?”
“Yeah, life!” She smiled. “But, really no. I’ve always wanted to, but I never wanted to just come down here solo, you know? I never fell into a group of friends at school and my family – you know how that goes.”
“I know. I went with my cousins who live in LA. Well, you can’t back out now, chiquitita.”
“Psh – whatever! You’re the one I have to worry about. Too scared to even get on the dance floor. Don’t worry, you can close your eyes if it’s too much for you…”
He laughed. “You are such a smart-ass, Annie! No wonder you don’t have any friends,” he dished it right back. He was smiling, though, and so was she. He could see her eyes twinkling with humor and mischief, so he knew he hadn’t gone too far. “Go buy our tickets, woman!”
They waited in anticipation for their turn, and when they squeezed in next to each other on the ride Christian suspected that most of the butterflies in his stomach weren’t coming from apprehension about the ride. Their arms touched and he didn’t pull his away. Neither did she.
The roller coaster was a rush of adrenaline that the speed of the ride only exacerbated. He felt her body push closer. The sweet combination of brine and flowers filled his nose as her hair whipped close to his face. As the car climbed, he felt the warmth of her arm pressed close to his and felt their hands almost touching. As the bottom dropped out from underneath them, he found her fingers. The air swirled crisp and cool around him, but her fingers were fire. They were warm and soft and charged with electricity as the wove into his, and when the ride stopped he looked at her. Her cheeks were flushed and her hair was a wild halo. She didn’t look back at him. When the safety belt released she stepped gingerly out of the car, but she didn’t let go.