Michael walked along the path leading to the beach, ignoring the plants he had found so fascinating the day before. He did not pause to listen to the crashing of the ocean or the children playing on the beach. He made it to the beach and began walking the length. Past the strip of beach owned by the hotel there was still sand, but it was deserted by people. Seaweed was piled up on the beach; the ground was covered in small rocks. Nobody swept it for tourists in the morning, but the ocean and the sun were still there.
As soon as he stepped off the hotel’s property he looked at his watch. Nine thirty-seven and fifteen seconds. He began walking again, measuring his pace with the ocean the way Cameron had said:
“If you listen carefully, to the waves, you’ll hear a pattern. The bigger waves turning into smaller ones over the reef; the smaller ones crashing into the beach – there’s a pattern to it. We go away to the beach every year, and every year I listen for it. Walk for ten minutes. No less and no more. Neither of us will have to wait for the other for very long.”
Nine forty-seven and twenty-three seconds. He stopped and turned around. How had Cameron known to walk ten minutes? It was the perfect distance. Michael could make out, very faintly, the stretch of beach he had left. But it was so faint that nobody on it would be able to see him. And it was quiet. The waves had become a permanent presence on the beach, and though he could no longer hear them, their sound was still soothing.
A palm tree bent behind him, providing shade. He dropped his duffel bag underneath it and used it as a pillow. He was not supposed to meet Cameron until eleven in the evening.
He closed his eyes but he could still see light. Despite the sun he slept, his conversation with Matthew having made him tired.
When he woke in the late afternoon he stripped and swam. Because the sun beating down on the earth had heated the water, he barely hesitated when stepping inside. When he emerged the sun was still there to dry him off. He put on clean clothes then ate the carrot muffins he had brought along, the silent but ever present ocean keeping him company. He lay down and once again became conscious of the ocean. The waves were speeding up but the timings were still precise, though the sound of each wave was different. He fell asleep to God’s lullaby.
At eleven o’clock Matthew climbed into bed. The room was hot. He stood up, removed his shirt, and lowered the temperature. He lay on top of the comforter, his shorts providing him with the only protection from the world outside. He closed his eyes. He turned to the left, then on to his side. Ten minutes passed. He turned around, facing the door to the bathroom. He tried lying on his stomach.
What the fuck is wrong with me? It’s his problem, not mine; I shouldn’t worry about it. I’m going to fall asleep now.
They shared a room until they were twelve. Since he was seven, he had started having occasional nightmares. Some nights after being tucked in he would sneak downstairs and find a scary movie on television. The monsters fascinated him. But afterwards he would be unable to sleep.
He would climb into bed with Michael, on the lower bunk, pushing himself underneath the covers. The first time this happened Michael asked what was wrong. The bravery of a seven year old boy prevented him from speaking. He simply turned away from his brother and closed his eyes, trying to sleep. In the morning Matthew told him about the movie. He didn’t mention the nightmares, but Michael understood.
The second time it happened was just a few days later. Michael, when he heard his brother re-enter the room, pretended to stay asleep. But Matthew was breathing more heavily than usual. He was turning almost constantly, pulling the comforter in all different directions in the process. Michael, continuing to feign sleep, put his hand firmly on his brother’s stomach. Matthew looked over and decided not to wake his brother. He took it as an accident, but the touch allowed him to sleep quickly. He knew that while his brother was with him, the demons from the movie could not get him.
“You didn’t time it properly,” Cameron said, walking past Michael. A few feet later he stopped and turned. “Here, is where I was supposed to meet you.” He ground his foot into the sand, making a footprint that the wind, in an hour, would remove.
“I’ve been here since this morning. The water moves faster at night.”
“What have you been doing here all day?”
“I swam a bit. I slept mostly. It was nice, it’s quiet here.”
“Aren’t you hungry?”
“So I take it things didn’t go well with your brother?”
“His name’s Matt. And no, they didn’t.” They sat together. The moon that night was at half mast, just a cradle for the stars. Michael told Cameron what Matthew had said. Cameron reassured Michael that everything would be fine. But the saying was too cliché for Michael, who knew that it would not. Cameron had brought some dinner. They ate under the stars, looking out over the ocean and not at each other. The meal was heavy – chicken and bread and vegetables. Cameron had revealed two plates, covered by two other plates. The meals looked like flying saucers until the plates on top were removed. He had also brought along slices of cake from the dessert table. He ate them both, discovering that Michael did not like lemon cake. He ate the last crumb and fell backwards, almost hitting his head on the exposed roots of the tree.
“Are you as tired as I am?”
“Yes,” Michael said. But I can’t sleep with clothes on.” Cameron grinned.
“Well, I don’t think that’ll be too big of a problem…”
“No. That’s not what I meant. I really can’t sleep with them on. What if someone sees?”
“Don’t worry. Nobody will. Why is that by the way?”
“I don’t know.”
“I’m pretty sure nobody will come here – unless your parents or your brother start looking for you.”
“They won’t. Matt probably knows I’m with you somewhere, he’ll come up with something to tell my parents. I doubt it’s something ‘I’ would want him to tell my parents though. But at least they won’t come looking for me.” Michael and Cameron lay beside each other, both of them using the duffel bag for a pillow. It did not take them long to fall asleep, Cameron still clothed, Michael uncovered.
Matthew turned over again. He forced himself, over and over, to shut his eyes, but sleep did not come. His stomach suddenly felt cold. But nothing else was. He was still too hot to go under the covers. Without thinking he put his right palm flat on his stomach. He had no recollection of the nights he was too scared to sleep alone – he was too young and too clouded with sleep when it had happened for the memories to implant themselves in his mind. But the familiar feeling on his stomach helped him sleep. He shut his eyes again, refusing to open them. With his stomach covered he had a deep, dreamless sleep.
Through a crack in the curtains Matthew could see the sun had been out for a while. He turned to look at Michael’s bed and was not surprised when he saw it empty.
He spent the night with that queer friend of his, whoever the fuck he is.
Matthew hurriedly climbed out of bed and tried to push the thought out of his mind while he stood under a hot, pulsating spray of water. He made himself feel better by reassuring himself of the absolute impossibility of the situation.