We were walking on the boardwalk, or at least we were supposed to. The wooden floor creaked hauntingly, assembled by an army of now rusted nails. Signs advertising lunch specials and arcade prizes littered the strip of stores. I took a whiff at the salty air, fouled with the stench of grease from burger joints and cream from ice cream stands. It was still relatively early in the morning but everyone was already getting ready for a busy day of work. I envied them. Dozens of bikes passed by us, hurrying to finish their final trip before the boardwalk closes for cyclists. "Hold my hand" she suddenly said. It startled me and almost made me drop the bag I was holding. Not knowing what to do, I hurriedly moved my hands toward hers. Looking back, I think I missed at first. Her hands were slightly cold but I liked warming them up. The spaces between our fingers locked in some heavenly-made perfection.
The nearby beach was almost empty, save a few people running along the shore. I've always appreciated how clean it looked in the mornings. The lifeguards were setting up their usual posts. On the bright sun, sand glimmered in almost every direction.
We walked slowly towards the end of the boardwalk. A few owners came out of their stores to convince me to buy something for her. They touted purses, toys imported from China, and jewelry made from shells. We looked at each other and smirked.
"Are you hungry? I asked. We haven't eaten yet and I was starving.
"Not really" she said. "Let's keep walking. I don't think I can stay for much longer anyways."
I dreaded the end of the boardwalk. We've been at this place far too long to fall for tourist traps and be excited about the beach. In a way, walking down here was like walking down any other cement street. I wish we were still falling for claw machine scams.
A lot of my friends haven't met her and constantly ask me why I like her so much. When they do ask, I often tell them different things. Sometimes I mention her jeweled eyes and the way they glow back at me when I used to win teddy bears on the boardwalk. To other people, I insist that I need someone who was the opposite of me. She had to be a little loud at times and unafraid to yell during odd occasions. I admit too, sometimes, claiming that her height, frame, and hair were the things I loved most but that's usually out of laziness or not wanting to go deeper with people I barely knew.
"What are you doing to do when my parents come up?" she asked curiously. "I'm not sure if they're sold on you yet. Maybe you should buy them a basket of fruit."
I laughed at the notion but she was probably right. "Yeah, I'll probably go grab one after lunch" I said.
Her parents weren't too bad. I'm usually pretty good around them because I was taught well by my own parents. I think they don't completely approve of me because I'm not sure what I'll be doing after I graduate. How does a fruit basket even solve that?
"What about your brother?" I asked innocently. "What does he think?"
"Shut up. You know perfectly well" she responded curtly, rolling her eyes at me. Her brother Jake and I have been best friends since college. We had a lot of the same classes, went to the same church, and live together for years. At least I have him on my side.
I remember when I first met her. Jake wouldn't talk about her too much and I never really thought about it either. On our last year of college, she came up along with him to help move everything out. I didn't think much of it at first. She was one of those girls where my mind would tell me she's average but my heart felt a natural sense of attachment. We barely spoke to each other but I couldn't stop thinking about her by the end of the day. It sounds cliche but isn't that how we all feel?
The boardwalk was nearing the end. Most of the tourists and bikers disappeared, though a few were still in the stores nearby. A slew of motels around us now populated the scenery and with it the blaring sound of random instruments and gibberish by the poolside. I hated the end of the boardwalk.
"Don't forget. We're going kayaking later with my parents. Jake's coming too but you're coming into my boat" she said. I was hoping to let her parents decide that.
"We'll see" I quietly said. "Can I at least pay for it? I'd feel terrible if your parents paid for everything."
"It's fine. They usually don't insist on these things anyways, so it's good that they're even inviting you. Maybe they're finally ready to give their blessings to us" she said smiling.
The thought of that was scary. What did blessings mean anyways? Was I destined to marry her now? I just came back from taking care of a 12-year old son of my mom's friend and I could barely handle that. I'm not ready to get married and I'm thinking about children already. I started to feel as if I liked it more when her parents weren't even interested in taking me out to kayaking. How do you even operate a kayak?
Reading my mind, she said "Stop worrying. We're only dating."
I looked at her, smiled, and kissed her forehead. Her hair smelled of sweet strawberries with a hint of pomegranate. It was one of those faint smells but just enough for my nose to get a whiff and drown out the boardwalk odor.
"You're right. We're just going to kayak and nothing more" I responded.
"I have to go now. I'll see you in three hours?" she asked. I nodded.
She let go of the hand she asked to hold and walked towards the streets. Her hair flowed gracefully, moving a little as she took a step forward and resting back when her feet rested together. The last of her sweet smelling hair phased out of my nose. She made a turn right and vanished onto another block.
I blinked three times. The boardwalk suddenly changed into an Italian ice truck, a line behind me and an annoyed lady looking at me impatiently.
"Are you ready yet? Which flavor and size?" she said.
I stared back at the lady's face, with eyes that didn't quite glow and hands warmed up by the scooping of ice the entire day. I took a look behind me, a line of parents all wondering what I was doing. I stepped out of line, only to hear a chorus of groan all around me.
I guess I'm not learning how to kayak today.