He walked with her. Left behind were footprints in the sand. The pairs of footprints, side by side, sometimes running, sometimes skipping, sometimes dragging, as can be distinguished by the depths of their heels in the soft, moist ground. Where the sand laid smooth, these prints weaved into an intrinsic design, at times close enough to be almost touching. Where the ground turned rough, they separated, divided by sticks, stones, and pools of stagnant water.
He had walked with her, on that beach, all her life.
They were walking now, their freshest prints still glistening under the sun, enveloping them with a warmth they saw but refused to feel.
His rough hands were clenched, and stiff at his sides. But the sand only felt the dejectedness of his feet as they walked slowly by, softly tracing the waves below. Her eyes, glittering, turbulent pools of green and gold, traced the far horizon without seeing. But the sand only felt the slight limp in her step.
They walked on for a time in silence, listening to the swishing of the tide as it kept time with the beating of their chests.
An orchestra of conches lay scattered across the white sand, each humming proudly its ocean-song. But here, next to the waves, their voices were but weak imitations.
The muscles in his face clenched, relaxed, and clenched again.
“You can’t.” He spoke, hoarsely at first, as if hesitant to break the calm with his voice. “You can’t. I don’t believe it.”
With her face still turned towards the sea, she made no reply.
“I won’t believe it.” Stronger now, he continued. “I won’t…I won’t accept it.” His eyebrows furrowed, like it always did whenever he turned angry. “You can’t do this to me. You can’t.” The sand at his feet shook, startling a curious crab into hiding.
She made no sign of having heard him.
“Look at me. Do you hear? Look at me!” Angrily, he unclenched his fists and reached for her, to grasp at her and force her to turn to him.
A lone crow cawed harshly as it circled over their heads.
He let his hands claw uselessly at the air between them and fall back, trembling, at his sides.
“Look at me.” He was pleading with her now, softly, scared of breaking. “Darling, please.”
She turned away from the sea and slowly lifted her eyes towards him.
“Please, darling. Be reasonable. You don’t truly feel that, dear. I know you don’t. Come,” he said, opening his arms in embrace. “Tell me you don’t really mean it…”
He faltered. She did not speak, did not throw herself into his arms, only continued to look at him, a blank face framing those two bright eyes.
His hands felt heavy, hot. He plunged them into his pockets and left them there.
They walked on, step after step, passing over pebbles with the ease of giants over mountains, with a lightness that moved their feet but failed to reach their hearts.
He broke the silence once more, choosing his words carefully as he rounded a broken bottle abandoned in the sand. “I know I was wrong. I shouldn’t have…”
She sniffed, and turned away from him.
“I was wrong. I made a horrible mistake.” A wave of self-pity washed over him, suffocating him under its force, and stinging his eyes. He began to sob. “I’m truly sorry. Please don’t… Give me a second chance.”
They had stopped walking, and now stood facing one another. The white waves crawled slyly up the sand, tickling the back of her foot. She blinked vacantly, and twitched her nose.
“Don’t do this to me. I can change. I will change.” He was on his knees. “Don’t leave me. Please…”
She only looked at him and shook her head.
A gust of wind blew by, spraying a mist of sea onto the beach. The cool drops settled over the pair, matting his dark hair and drooping over her golden lashes. Its salty fragrance entangled them both in a light cloud of old familiarity.
He strained a light chuckle and bit back tears. “Remember our first time here? When I held you the whole way because you were scared of the waves?”
A light smile. She remembers.
The tide was rising, lapping at her ankles and soaking the fabric of his shorts where he knelt. Neither of them paid it any attention.
“How you’ve grown.”
She brushed him lightly as she walked by, away from the ocean, the waves, the footprints.
Away from him.
She looked back sadly, as if to say she couldn’t, mustn’t, stay. Then with a flash of her tail and a twitch of her whiskers she was gone.
They walked together. Left behind were footprints in the sand. Three pairs of footprints, in joy, in sorrow, in pain, and in regret.
But now, only one pair remained.
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