In the car, we smell of sand and sea. Her auburn hair flutters in the wind while she leans her head back on the seat, staring out the window. I bet she’s taking pictures. Always taking snap-shots, camera in-hand or not. She closes her eyes and breathes in deep through her nose. I know she’s exhausted but is trying to stay awake anyways.
“Babe, If you’re tired you can sleep you know. I’ll be alright.” Her fingers find mine on the seat. Her head rolls back from the window towards me. Looking up lazily with crystalline eyes, she tells me:
“But I want to keep you company.”
“You can keep me company at home,” I reply, hoping she thinks I’m charming. She smirks and I know she does. I pat her hair and she turns back to the window.
Driving, I can’t help looking over at her. And looking. And looking. She’s not asleep yet. She knows I’m staring. But she lets me. Glancing at the bag by her feet, I can see polaroids spilling out over her sand-filled sneakers. She ran out of film chasing the sun. Just had to have the “perfect shot,” she said. To me, they’re all perfect. I remember stealing a photo from her earlier. It’s a selfie, of course. Max, mad master of candid self-portrait. Her back is to the sea, the sun bursting behind her shoulder. Birds are erupting from the sand, black and white blurs in the corner of the frame. Her hair is angled slightly, the breeze whispering a secret in her ear.
The sky now darkens blue to black. I turn on the headlights and feel the air grow crisp. Oregon fall wakes the wind up. It nips gently at your nose and ears. Lighting a cigarette, the smoke warms my throat. I see Max in the shadows, illuminated in strobes from each passing street light.
At home, I have to slide her out of the truck, leaving her bag safely inside. I piggyback her to the door, trying to keep her in the kind of half-sleep that lets you easily slip back to an interrupted dream. When I click the lock, the wooden door swings smoothly inwards. I step inside and close it behind me. The apartment is small, but we like to nest, covering walls and shelving with trinkets and baubles we find at flea markets and thrift shops. We imagine previous lives for the objects. Where did they come from? What did they see? Who knew them? How do we know them? Flipping on the light, I throw the keys down on a table by the door. I make my way through the small living room, to our even smaller bedroom, trying to carefully turn back and forth through the doorway so as to not knock her on the frame. I gently lay her on the bed without difficulty. She sleeps like an otter, hands bent on her stomach, legs hanging off the side of the bed. This otter’s in my water though, and I want to be under the covers. So, here we go.
Her shoes slide off without difficulty, but immediately dump a pile of sand on the carpet. Oh, the sand. Yes, the sand. No, the sand. Fuck it. I’m too tired and I can wash Max and the sheets tomorrow. When I peel off her socks, she starts to mumble: “Chloeeee?”
“Shh, it ok, I got you.” She closes her mouth and nods smally. I have to yank hard to get her jeans off each leg. In the low light, I can make out her cotton panties. Pink with little red hearts. I remember her wanting them for Valentine’s Day. And I remember her insisting we get me the matching shorts. I smile at her in the darkness. Curling her legs up, she rolls to the side and scrunches up. I have to grab her with both hands to pull her back. I manage to get her hoodie, tee, and bra off with some difficulty, her continuously trying to curl back up. I finally let her be while I change into those matching shorts. Peeling back the covers, I coax her under them.
“Chloe,” she whispers, eyes still closed.
“Thank you. For the beach. And the film. Oh, and the ice cream cones, too.”
“And thank you for holding my hand and showing me your pictures and being my everything.”
“I love you.”
“I love you too.” After a beat, I hear her mumble again:
“…sand…in the bed…crunchy…”
“I know, it’s ok. I’ll fix it tomorrow, babe.”
“okaaaaay,” she breathes. I pull her closer and run my fingers through her hair. I kiss the back of her neck and taste the salt. I can feel her sand-dusted body sink deeper into the mattress, towards me, as she loses herself in sleep. I close my eyes and lose myself in her.