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He loved the warm sand after stepping out of the ocean - his feet sinking and slowing him as he unfurled his towel.
The beach was a quiet place since the drowning - even in the warm months when shirts and sweat clung to every sun-burnt back.
The bicycle shop had closed. The tackle shop too. Not even the street performers could draw a handful of change now.
The beach was quiet.
He thought about his apartment and the small scuba shop that kept him most days.
"A stuffy life will pay the bills," his father said once. He had suffered two heart attacks since then and spent the last three years eating pills with his breakfast.
He would have to move in with his father again. The thought was weighted with regret and failure. A man should stand on his own two feet. He had tried many times before only to falter.
The most recent occasion was no different. The economy was slow, and business was shrinking. He had a few weeks before the bank would take his shop. He would return home poorer than when he left.
He had sold the car months ago, when the customers trickled in like lost ghosts. He could pay the electric bill or the car insurance but not both, and so he sold the car. He traded it for eight hundred dollars and a bicycle. The first ride had been hard on his legs, but he was learning to adjust.
She waved to him sometimes as he turned the corner toward the boardwalk. She was beautiful, and he still loved her, but that was over now too. Why did she continue to wave?
He remembered that morning weeks before, seeing an arm rise out of the icy water like a fin. He did not know that she was drowning.
She was as cold as the ocean when he found her. The sharp waves stung his pale white skin, but he did not stop, not even when her frozen limbs laid limp on the sand.
He pressed his calloused palms against her chest. Her blue lips were like ice. He would not give up.
He locked the shop door for the last time. It belonged to someone else now. He did not know who.
He liked the breeze full of salt and sun as if it had billowed in from the clutches of a distant era. He knew anything might wash up on shore if the cold, deep ocean chose to release it.
His father said nothing while carrying the suitcase to the old room. He stared at his son, the young man, and laid a hand on his shoulder. The weight was unbearable, and the son thought that one day it might crush him.
The room was as he had left it so many years before. His boyhood hobbies cluttered the shelves and littered the desk. He knew the trinkets and toys were his once, but they did not belong to him now.
He rode with her to the hospital - her watery vomit covering his shirt sleeves. She was alive, trembling in his jacket, so close to vanishing. She clung to his arm and stole all the warmth from his fingers.
He sat in the hospital room, watching her chest struggle to rise.
â€śYou have tried to build a life in the sand,â€ť his father said as he cleaned the unused scuba equipment. â€śBut you will find other places. One of them will fit you.â€ť
He nodded to his father and continued to clean. The equipment would remain in the garage. He was not sure for how long.
Her recovery was slow - pneumonia and the flu. He brought her soup and checked in on her for several days until her father arrived.
As her strength returned, she walked with him around the hospital hallways. It was not easy at first, and she clung tightly to his arm. He did not mind.
The bank sent another bill reminding him of his failed business venture. The envelope remained on his desk unopened. His debt continued, but he did not want to ask his father for more money.
She laid in the sand with him, the beads of sweat glistening on her golden back. She gazed at the people swimming into the cold crashing waves. She would not return to the water, not even to let the tide brush against her bare ankles.
He bought a wetsuit and scuba equipment for her. They were the only things he kept after the business closed. He stored them in his fatherâ€™s garage.