PLENTY OF FISH
by Dylan Cook
Matt felt the morning dew jump against his legs as his feet flattened the seagrass in his way. He had his fishing pole slung over his shoulder like a bindle and his tackle box swinging at his side. The sun had crested over the ocean, already strong and getting stronger as the light shifted from orange to white.
On a good day, no one bothered him on this beach. He could expect to see one or two old retirees fishing too, but they usually kept their distance and never said anything to him besides the obligatory “How’re the fish today?” to which he’d respond with either “Not a nibble” or “Got a few keepers.” Beyond that, they all had a tacit agreement to keep the peace by keeping to themselves.
Matt baited his line with some baby squids he’d picked up on his drive to the shore. He had a good feeling about today. High tide was just about to peak, so the fish would be caught up in the swell and dragged in towards the coast. That was the theory, anyway. Matt believed in it when it was working and blamed his luck when it wasn’t. He cast his line out about a hundred feet from the water’s edge to test it.
He wasn’t alone. Overhead, he saw a hawk circling, stirring the wind. Matt supposed the hawk saw something moving in the grass. Both of us are looking for something to eat out here, he thought. Further down the shore, a man, also fishing, kept stealing glances in Matt’s direction. Beneath the man’s baseball cap and behind his sunglasses, Matt felt smugness radiating off him. He didn’t appreciate any of the judgments this man must have been making about him, that that’s not how you should stand or cast your pole, that a teenager like Matt was too young to know how to surf fish anyway. Matt averted his eyes from the man and spat into the water lapping at his ankles, in and out. He tried to sync his breathing to the pull of the waves.
Still, he could feel that man getting deeper under his skin every time he looked over. He rested his fishing pole against his hip to free a hand for him to pull out his phone. He texted his girlfriend Good morning 🙂 and snapped her a picture of the sunlight glaring on the waves. He knew it would be a few hours before she woke up and saw the messages, but he wanted to make sure that she knew that he was thinking about her. He flipped through a few notifications and picked his phone again, returning to earth. He was back where he started—nothing on the line, Peeping Tom, and the hawk. But he didn’t mind the hawk so much; his stalking wasn’t anything personal.
He reeled in, hooked some new bait, and cast again. After he did, he noticed that the man did the same. Copycat. Soon, Matt saw his fishing pole bend over like a tree in the wind. He twisted his feet deeper into the sand to stabilize himself as he gave the pole a sharp tug to sink the hook into the fish’s cheek. He cranked on the reel to bring it in, each turn only bringing him a few inches closer. Eventually, he saw the waves frenzy as the struggling fish surfaced.
Matt held it up by the line and studied it. He’d caught a fluke, and a nicely sized one at that. Fifteen, maybe twenty pounds. Looking to his right, he made sure that the man saw him, that he caught the first fish, and he gave him a smirk. Serves you right, Matt thought. He didn’t need to fish anymore for the love of the sport. He had his lunch and that was enough, so he stuck his thumb in the fish’s mouth and carried it back to his car.
There, he dropped it on one of the wooden podiums where fishermen cleaned their catch. Now the necessary part. He took out a hammer and with one deft swing he hit the fluke in the head to kill it. He accidentally hit its eye, which popped and leaked a creamy white juice. Some of it landed on his shirt’s shoulder, but he just flicked it off and moved on. He took out a knife and started cleaning, first cutting off the head and then spilling the guts. He tossed the remains into the seagrass, hoping maybe the hawk would find it before the seagulls got to it.
Matt threw his catch in a cooler he’d brought with him. A new car pulled up with a new retiree fisherman. “Fishing’s good today, I take it?” he said with a smile.
By this point, Matt had lost his daily patience for nosy old men. “Good enough,” he said.
Scarlett rolled over, for good this time. She had already partially woken up a few times but none of them had stuck. She was in the middle of a dream where she was rock climbing, where one day she’d grabbed a hold of a rock wall and was able to pull herself up as if she were weightless. She liked the feeling enough to want to stay in for as long as she could. Now, she reached her hand out into the half-light and searched her bedside table for her phone. 12:10 PM. It always gave her a great sense of satisfaction to get more than nine hours of sleep.
At the bottom of her notifications was a good morning text from Matt. She replied good afternoon 😉 and sifted through all the other messages she’d gotten.
She went to the kitchen to pull out some leftovers to eat for breakfast. Or was it lunch? It didn’t matter to her; she wasn’t very pedantic. She put two slices of pizza in the microwave for thirty seconds (she didn’t like her food hot, just warm) and started aimlessly scrolling through her Instagram feed. The sliding glass door to the backyard whined open and Irv walked in.
“Look who’s finally awake,” he said. A necklace of sweat was saturated into his shirt. “Sleeping Beauty.”
“Like I’ve said, I don’t have anything to wake up for these days,” she told him.
“You’re missing half the day! Don’t you want to get out there and do something?”
She hated that moralistic sense of superiority felt among people who wake up before seven. It was things like this that made Scarlett tolerate Irv’s presence rather than enjoy it. “I’ve worked and worked and worked. Now, I’m resting.” The microwave beeped and she took out her pizza.
“It’s not about work,” Irv said, pivoting, “it’s about getting out there and seeing some of the world.”
“I see plenty.” She was a little muffled by the food in her mouth.
“Just try to wake up before noon. It’s the least you could do.”
“Don’t tell me what’s the least I could do. I promise you I could do less.”
Irv pointed his finger at her. “Don’t talk to me like that in my own house. I’m only trying to help you.”
Scarlett had meant it as a joke, but if he wanted to argue, so would she. “You don’t boss me around if I’m not doing anything wrong. It’s not your life, so leave me alone.”
“Now’s the time in your life when you should be forming good habits instead of bad ones. Once you’re in college, you won’t have us there to help guide you.”
“Oh, how horrible my life’s going to be without you breathing down my neck every day. I wonder how I’ll survive.”
“I’m sure your mother agrees with me on this.”
“I don’t care. I can disagree with her too.”
As if she’d summoned her, Scarlett heard her mother walk in through the garage door carrying groceries. “Hello, hello!” she chirped.
“Maureen, we were just talking about you,” Irv said.
“What about me?” she said, unpacking items one by one onto the kitchen counter.
“I was saying that you’d agree that Scarlett should be up and dressed before noon. Wouldn’t you?” Irv said.
“And I said that it’s no big deal,” said Scarlett.
“Well, neither of you are wrong,” Maureen said. Irv looked at her, lowering his gaze and raising his eyebrows. “But Scar, it wouldn’t hurt you to get up a little earlier.
“Please don’t raise your voice at me,” Maureen said.
“The both of you are overreacting,” said Scarlett.
“Don’t talk to me like that in my own home.”
“I didn’t choose to live here, Irv. Give it a month and I’ll be out of your hair anyway.”
Scarlett grabbed her plate and retreated back into her room. She scrolled through her phone between bites of pizza. She got another text from Matt, a picture of the fish he’d caught fried up with some rice.
looking good, chef, she replied.
Still good for later?
of course 🙂
A soft knock on the door told her that her mother was there. “Can I come in?”
Maureen shuffled in and sat at the foot of Scarlett’s bed. “I think you owe Irv an apology for what you said to him.”
“What did I say to him, exactly? He’s a big boy. I’m sure I didn’t hurt his feelings that badly.”
Maureen cleared her throat. “That’s not the point. The point is—”
“What is the point, Mom? Illuminate me.”
“That’s it. I don’t want any more lip out of you. And you can cancel any plans you might have.”
“That’s not happening,” Scarlett said with a laugh.
“It is if I say it is.”
“Are you going to let me go to college?”
“Excuse me?” said Maureen.
“Answer me. Next month, are you going to let me go to college?”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Because when I’m in Boston you won’t have any control over me anymore. So either make your peace with that now or help me look for secretary jobs.”
Maureen huffed and scowled, chewing on some thoughts before leaving without saying a word of them.
mom and irv are really up my ass today, she texted Matt.
That’s shocking, he sent back. Tell me about it later.
After their dinner, Matt and Scarlett walked along the beach. The sun had recently set, and the last swathes of orange and pink were evaporating over the western horizon. The dividing line between the sea and the sky was blurred into a deep blue-black, but there were still plenty of lights twinkling along the shore and, up north, from New York City in the distance. No moon.
As usual, they weren’t holding hands. Their friends thought it was a quirk of their relationship that was an indication of some latent problems. In truth, neither of them really liked it. Holding hands got too warm and clammy, and they both felt like it attracted undue attention since nobody likes PDA. To them, the fact that they both hated this mawkish little thing was proof that it was all working.
“You see that?” Matt said, pointing out into the ocean.
“That light flickering out there.” He waited for Scarlett to focus on the ocean. Then he grabbed her by the shoulders and, lovingly, tilted her in towards the water, threatening to push her in.
“No!” Scarlett yelped. “Stop it, stop it, stop it!” Matt pulled her back in and Scarlett gave him a gentle slap on the arm and smiled at him. “Bad boyfriend.”
“What, afraid of getting a little wet?” he said.
“You know I’m jumpy.”
He knew. The pair kept walking until they didn’t feel like it anymore. The wind picked up, wiping away the last scraps of warmth for the day. They made their way to an overturned lifeguard stand and used it as something to lean against. Scarlett rested her head on Matt’s shoulder, and he rested his head against hers.
“I should really try night fishing out here sometime,” he said. “That’s how you catch striped bass.”
“I don’t know how you do that,” she said.
“Like not the fishing itself. I don’t get how you can just kill them and eat them like that and not feel bad about it.”
“They’re fish. They don’t have rights.”
“I know. But to kill them with your bare hands like that. It’s brutal.”
“That’s how I get my kicks: brutalizing fish,” he said.
“Stop, you know what I mean. And you love fish, too, which is the part I really don’t get.”
“I don’t think it’s that strange.”
“Tell me about all your pet fish again,” she said, nudging him.
“I’ve told you that story a million times.”
“And it’s still funny. Tell me again.”
He told her about his three fish, all named Rex, which had all killed themselves in quick succession. The first two leapt out of their fishbowls in the middle of the night, leaving Matt to find them flat and crunchy on his floor the next morning. The last Rex, somehow, buried its head in the neon pebbles at the bottom and drowned itself. “I never understood why my dad kept giving me another fish.”
“And now you’re the expert in killing them.”
“See? Now you’re catching on.” Matt turned his head to smell her hair, clean with a whiff of salt. She felt his hot breath spilling out of his nose. “You know, it’s never too late for you to go to Rutgers instead. If you change your mind.”
“I think it actually is too late.”
“What are you gonna do in Boston anyway? Throw yourself a little tea party?”
“My dad went to B.U. I’ve always wanted to go there.”
“And that accent, Jesus. It’s unbearable.”
“Pahk ya cah, ya chowdahhead.”
“Matt? Look at me. I know this isn’t exactly how we pictured things, but this is what’s happening. Hey.” She put her hand on his cheek, and he recoiled from the cold. “I’m sorry. You know I wish we had more time too.”
Matt sat there, breathing. He almost felt like he was being lied to, so he tried listening to the ocean instead, still saying the same thing it had been that morning. “You don’t really think that.”
“Of course I do,” she said. To Matt, it sounded like a beg. He grabbed her hand and squeezed it because that was the reassuring thing to do, and he didn’t have any words for that at the moment.
They sat like that for a while, seconds or minutes, it was hard to tell. Scarlett lifted her head and turned to face him. Her eyes were too dark for him to find any emotion in them. He leaned in and started kissing her, sweetly at first and then with purpose. He was trying to sap as much out of this moment as he could. Scarlett pulled back to catch her breath and look at him. There was something shiny in his eyes that felt off to her. He looked frustrated.
“What’s wrong?” she said.
“I know when you’re lying. Just tell me.”
He sighed and looked away, then turned back and kissed her on the head. “I don’t know what I’m going to do out here in Jersey without you.”
“You’ll be perfectly alright. You’ve survived this place without me before.”
“But it’s different now,” he said. Scarlett focused on the measured in and out of his breathing. Once she felt the rhythm change, she knew he was about to speak again. “I really think you should consider staying here.”
“I told you that’s not happening.”
“Rutgers would be so much cheaper, and it’s still a great school. You see how much of a problem student loans are. I don’t want you to have problems with that down the road.”
“That’ll be my problem. Not yours.”
“Your problems are my problems.” He kissed her head again. “I just care about you.”
“I think right now you only care about yourself,” said Scarlett, and she already regretted it. She was usually a bit more careful with her words.
“What was that?”
“Do you really think I’m that selfish?”
“I didn’t mean it. I’m upset too, so I wasn’t thinking. I know you’re not selfish.”
“Good.” He started running his fingers through her hair. “It’s okay, I’m not mad. You’re lucky you’re cute,” he said. His father used to say that to him, but he’d only recently realized he could use it on Scarlett.
“Who knows,” she said after a minute or two. “Maybe I won’t like it in Boston. Maybe I’ll go there for a year and hate it and want to come back.” With her head against his cheek, Scarlett could feel Matt’s face tense up into a smile.
“That would be nice,” he whispered.
They sat there with the sound of the waves. It was fully dark now, and the wind had wiped away the last shreds of warmth from the day, bringing in cool, salty air.
“We should get going soon,” Scarlett said. “I won’t want to be out too late.”
“If you insist,” Matt said groggily. They got up and shook the sand off themselves.
“I can drive if you want. You got up so early; you must be exhausted.”
“If you want. Do you know the way back?”
“I think so. But you can be my GPS if need be.”
“I’ll just drive,” he said. “I could spin you around and you’d get lost. And I feel fine.”
“Alright,” she said. On the drive back to her house, she counted the turns in her head. She knew them all.
A good morning text from Matt was waiting for Scarlett again. She swiped it to the side so she could deal with it later. She had gotten up early, around ten, and he wouldn’t be expecting her reply for another hour at least.
In the kitchen, Scarlett scanned the fridge for food. There was nothing immediately appealing for her to simply heat up. There were eggs and pork rolls and other things she could make, but she decided that she wasn’t hungry enough for the effort to be worth it.
She went back to lay on her bed, already bored with the day. It was Monday, so both her mom and Irv were out at work. Not even anyone around to bother her.
Flipping through her apps, she realized she hadn’t spoken to her father in three days. She sent him a text, and her phone started ringing soon after.
“Hi, Daddy. Aren’t you working?”
“I can’t take a break to talk to my favorite daughter? I’ve been meaning to call you anyway. I booked a house in Lavalette this weekend. It’s right on the beach; it’s beautiful. What are your plans for this weekend? I know I should’ve asked you first.”
Scarlett thought about Matt. She couldn’t remember having any specific plans. “No, that’s fine. That sounds great.”
“Wonderful. I can’t wait to see you. I actually do have to run, but talk to you soon. Love you, sweetheart.”
“Love you too.”
Scarlett went back to her messages. She finally texted back Matt. good morning! i just talked to my dad. he’s coming down for the weekend
That’s nice, Matt responded almost immediately. When? We usually get dinner on Sundays.
we can move that around. it’s not like we have anything else going on lol
On the other end, Matt scrutinized every letter of her texts. He didn’t want to sound too pushy about their Sunday dinners, even though it did bother him. Should it bother him? He paused on that thought. What were they as a couple without their routines and habits?
Sure, he sent back. That should be fine.
Matt pocketed his phone and started pacing in his room. Before too much time had passed, he picked up his phone and added, It would’ve been nice if you said something first though. He liked that. It was the shortest summary of what he was thinking. He put down his phone again and it buzzed.
this is me saying something, Scarlett wrote.
He swiped the notification aside. He could deal with it later.
He got up to make himself some lunch. His father worked mornings, so he had just gotten home. Matt took out some sandwich materials.
“You alright, Matty?” his father asked. There must have been something about the way he was slathering mayonnaise on his bread.
“No reason. You just seem a little aggravated.”
“That’s odd,” Matt said. “I feel fine.”
“If you say so.” His father took a beer from the fridge and plopped onto the couch. “You gotta learn how to relax like your old man. You’re so stiff.”
“Maybe,” he said on his way back to his room. He tore through his sandwich without tasting it.
Lou pulled up to his ex-wife’s house to pick up his daughter. He kept his eyes on the garage door since he knew Scarlett would come out of there instead of the front door. He saw the door list, and Scarlett walked out. He craned his neck to see if he could catch a glimpse of Maureen. Not to be nosy, just curious. But he didn’t see her.
“Hey, kiddo,” he said as Scarlett dropped a bag in the back seat before climbing into the front.
“Hi, Daddy,” she smiled at him. She wished he weren’t wearing his sunglasses so she could actually see him.
“This summer’s going too fast. I can’t believe you’re off to Boston next month.”
“I know,” she said flatly.
“Where have all the years gone?”
Scarlett had been asked this question so many times recently that she’d made the blanket decision to not answer it. Lou drove the familiar route to Lavalette. The way he always drove with one hand made Scarlett nervous, even though it had never been a problem in the past. They pulled up to a little bungalow with a white pebble lawn. It was decorated appropriately with shells and anchors and kitschy signs about how life is perfect down the shore. They put down their bags and went to the back patio to sit in the Adirondack chairs and plan the weekend.
Lou went on: “So we have this next two days, but I gotta see you a few more times before we send you off.”
“Whatever you have time for. I’ll be back soon for fall break. And Thanksgiving’s early this year,” she said. She had been studying the B.U. academic calendar a few days before.
“Sure, but you’ll probably want to spend that time with your friends.”
“I can always save some time for you, Dad.”
“Well aren’t you sweet,” he said, mockingly and lovingly. “Speaking of, how’s Matt doing? I haven’t heard anything about him in ages.”
“Oh, he’s fine,” said Scarlett. The last time she’d seen him was also the last time she’d seen the ocean. Here, twinkling under the sun, the water didn’t seem like it could be the same. “He’s upset that I’m leaving.”
“Are you gonna try to keep it going into college? If you don’t mind me asking.”
“I think so,” she said. She and Matt had avoided that particular conversation for so long that they both assumed the answer was yes.
“You have to do what makes you happy, Scar. So if that’s what makes you happy, then go for it. And there are so many ways to keep in touch with people these days.”
“Thanks, Dad,” she said. He turned to her and flashed a winning smile. She didn’t want to talk about it any further than that.
They spent the afternoon idling around their little beach house. Lou had brought some drop lines, which he baited up with chicken and threw over the dock on the edge of the property. It was too late in the day for them to catch much of anything. A few crabs here and there, but nothing worth keeping, so they threw them back.
“I’m hungry,” Lou said after a while. “And there are easier ways to get crabcakes.”
They went to a restaurant on the water where everything was cheap and greasy and served with fries. Lou watched Scarlett eat her scallops carefully, as if she didn’t want to hurt their feelings. Scarlett watched her dad eat in big mouthfuls and finish his crabcakes in a few minutes.
“Take your time, Scar,” Lou said. “I’m in no rush.”
Scarlett covered her mouth so she could speak between chews. “Thanks.”
“You remember Dr. Fiore? Your old dentist?”
“I read in an article that he’s got assault allegations against him from one of the technicians. His whole practice is already shut down and everything.”
“Oh my god, that’s horrible,” said Scarlett.
“I know. He was a good dentist.”
“I meant for the technician.”
“Oh yeah, her too,” Lou stammered. “That is horrible. It’s just crazy how someone can make a few claims and like that,” he snapped his fingers, “your whole career is over.”
“It’s not like he didn’t deserve it.”
“Sure, but you never know if someone just has an axe to grind and’s saying that you’re a creep just because they know it’ll ruin your name.”
“I think that’s pretty rare,” Scarlett said, trying to sound flat so she’d be taken more seriously.
“What if someone said something like that about me? What, would you jump on their side right away?”
“I don’t know, Dad.” Scarlett gritted her teeth. “What if I told you Matt did something to me. Would you say there was room for doubt?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Matt’s a good kid. I know he wouldn’t do anything, like you should know that I wouldn’t do anything.”
“You don’t know Matt that well. I don’t think he’d do anything either, but you can’t be that sure.”
“You’re right, you’re right. You know I would believe you, sweetheart. But I hope that you’d believe me too.”
“Well let’s hope that it never comes to that,” she said as she drank some water to cleanse her mouth. “I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”
“Me neither.” Lou reached over to grab a small fry from Scarlett’s plate. “Do you know what classes you’re taking for your first semester?”
Scarlett sat up straighter. “I do, but they’re all introduction and requirement classes, like writing and calc I and stuff. The only one I’m really looking forward to is intro to anthropology.”
“I thought you were doing archaeology.”
“No, it’s always been anthropology. We’ve talked about this before.”
“So is anthropology the Indiana Jones one or the Jurassic Park one?”
“It’s neither, really,” said Scarlett. She had answered this question for him once or twice before, so she wanted to answer it this time in a way he’d remember. “It’s like… You know how scientists go into the jungle to study frogs or birds or something? Anthropology is doing that for people. So I want to study how humans work as a species, if that makes sense.”
“Sure it does,” Lou said. “You want to be like an alien studying people from outer space.”
Scarlett half-smiled. “Something like that.”
“You should still take some business classes, though. Just to make me happy. It’s always good to have some business smarts about you, and I really think you’d like it.” Lou watched his daughter shovel in her last few bites. The sun was set, and the ocean was unusually rough. Wave after wave fell over the sand with a violent hush. The ocean knew it was going to rain before either of them realized. “We should get going soon.”
Lou looked at their waitress and snapped his fingers in the air to get her attention. Scarlett looked down at her phone, embarrassed to be around someone beckoning a person like they would a dog. She quickly texted Matt: this is gonna be a long weekend
How so? he replied quickly.
i’ll explain later. it’s like he doesn’t know me. Scarlett paused on that last thought before sending, considering if it was fair for her to say that he didn’t know her or if she was expecting too much. She sent it anyway.
Matt was lying on his bed when he read her texts. He wanted to go fishing in the morning, so he was already half asleep, but now he felt a bit more awake. He got an odd satisfaction from knowing that Scarlett wasn’t wholly enjoying her time with her father, especially since it was impinging on their time together. This is perfect, he thought. He realized that all he had to do was be Scarlett’s better option. If she came to him whenever she didn’t feel great, he’d always have her crawling back.
Tell me about it over dinner, he sent her. I want to hear all about it.
He rolled over and slept well.
Lou and Scarlett had been holed up in the beach house for the entire weekend waiting for the rain to pass, and by the time it did the weekend was over. Irv was outside pulling weeds when Lou came to drop her off. Scarlett hated every second that the both of them were in each other’s presence. Maureen was the only thing that the two of them had in common and knew about each other, so they always acted like they were in a silent competition with each other, sizing each other up with their eyes, even though there was nothing to win.
Lou got out of his car to hug Scarlett goodbye. He waved to be nice. “How’s tricks, Irv?”
“Same old, same old. And yourself?”
“Great. Just great.” Lou turned to Scarlett and pinched her chin with his thumb. “See you soon, sweetheart.”
Scarlett lugged her bag towards the house as Lou sped off.
“So how was your weekend?” Irv asked.
“Fine,” Scarlett said.
“I said it was good,” she huffed as she passed through the storm door in the garage. Irv tossed his weeds into the garbage can and then set up a sprinkler to water the grass. He went back inside and found Scarlett lying on the couch with her phone suspended over her face.
“Your mother’s not around tonight,” he said. “I was wondering if you wanted to get dinner later. Wherever you want.”
“I can’t. I’m seeing Matt later.” She didn’t look up.
“That’s still a thing?”
Scarlett let her phone fall on her chest with a thud. “Yeah, why wouldn’t it be?”
“I know you don’t like me, Scarlett,” he said. “And I don’t know if you’ll ever like me, so at the very least let me speak my mind and be honest with you.”
She rolled her eyes.
“You should think about calling it off with that boy. Going to college with baggage like that is only going to hold you back.”
“You have no idea what you’re talking about. I’m eighteen. I can make my own decisions.”
“You can, but you can still make the wrong ones. I could be wrong too.”
“Thanks, Irv, but I don’t need you meddling in my business.”
“Fair enough,” he said. “Have fun later.”
“I can’t believe he didn’t remember.”
“You’ve always wanted to study anthropology.”
“I know. He can never keep track of those things.”
“Well I remembered,” Matt said. He tightened his arms around Scarlett. It had been a week since they were in that same place, on the same beach, leaning against the same lifeguard stand. The water was so gentle that it was almost silent. It was this calm after the storm that Scarlett preferred.
Matt was in good spirits. His fishing in the morning had gone well, and all-day he had the night to look forward to. Now, he could relish in the moment. It all seemed to be falling into place.
“I really like the idea of you coming back after a year in Boston. That’ll be a nice change of pace for you. And a year we can manage,” Matt said.
Scarlett didn’t respond immediately. She was trying to remember if and when she’d agreed to something like that. “Yeah, a year can go by quickly.”
“So you’ll get some time in a new city, and I’ll be here patiently waiting for you.” He tightened his arms again, but Scarlett didn’t feel comforted, she felt fastened down. She squirmed away from him.
“Sorry, it was getting too hot,” she said.
He tried to decode the expression on her face. “Something’s wrong. Tell me.”
“I can tell when you’re lying. Tell me.”
Scarlett turned to face him. “I don’t want to make a promise that I’ll only be in Boston for a year, even though I do want to be with you. I just don’t know how things’ll go.”
“I think this can work. But you have to want this to work. You do want that, don’t you?” Matt said. Scarlett could see the muscles in his neck tense up as he swallowed. She waited a moment too long. “Don’t you?”
“Right now, I think so. But I can’t promise what I’ll think a month or a year from now.”
“That’s not the plan.”
“Maybe it’s not your plan.”
“It’s our plan. We work as a team.” Matt wrapped his fingers around her arm, just above the wrist, and squeezed.
“Let go,” Scarlett said. He didn’t. She slapped the back of his hand. “Don’t grab me like that.” She started shifting her weight to stand up.
“Where are you going? We haven’t figured out anything.”
“I’m done for tonight. I want to go home,” said Scarlett.
“Okay, we can talk on the car ride back.”
“I can take an Uber. I’m out of your way, anyway. And you’ve had a long day.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Scar. We’re not done here.”
“For tonight we are at least.” She got up and swatted off some sand. Matt got up to follow her. She pulled out her phone to call an Uber. “I don’t want to eat the cancellation fee. Go home, it’s okay. I’ll see you soon.” She put her hand against his cheek to make him feel fine enough for the moment.
He walked off, routinely checking over his shoulder to steal looks at her. Scarlett sat down on a bench and waited for her ride. The wind picked up until it was louder than the waves on the shore behind her. She held her skirt down with one hand and hugged herself with the other, occasionally removing it to comb down her hair with her fingers. It got cold enough that she was shivering, but she didn’t mind because the breeze felt crisp and clean.
Dylan Cook is a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied creative writing and biology. He’s often reading and writing, and when he’s not doing either of these things, he can be found working in a genetics lab, lost in the woods somewhere, or at [email protected].
Cover Design by Karen Rile
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