Bittersweet Love

by Evelyn Floyd

It was a beautiful day on the beach. The sky was clear now; although earlier there had been clouds and under the overcast sky I had needed a long sleeve shirt to keep away the chill. Once the sun had burned off the clouds I was able to remove my heavy shirt. Now I wore my khaki shorts and a T-shirt, and I was comfortable. There was a light breeze coming in over the water and it smelled of salt. The breeze felt good on my sun-warmed skin. The waves rolled up onto the warm wet sand with a slow gentle rhythm, the sound of the water ageless and comforting. No one could have asked for a more perfect day.

The beach itself was flat as far as the eye could see in either direction, but the dunes behind me hid the highway and the traffic found there. I sat on a low ancient wall that paralleled the dunes, its crumbling mortar and rough-hewn stones warm and comfortable. The wall was about fifty feet from the water.

He was down by the water playing in the surf. He had mentioned earlier that he should have brought his surf board, even though the waves weren't high enough for surfing. So now he ran into the waves and threw the water up with his hands, and kicked at it, before wading deeper to swim. I watched him and it made me happy to see him having fun, even though I had declined to join him.

As I watched him, I studied the way the sun glinted off of his tanned skin, and how the muscles of his shoulders and back were clearly defined in the play of light and shadow. He was beautiful, looking at him was like what looking at a crimson sunset or purple mountains could be for others. He was as perfect as the day, and I felt my heart swell in my love for him.

As I thought of what he meant to me, it put lump in my throat and made my heart ache. I never realized that I could love anyone or anything as much as I loved him. He was completely self-assured and comfortable in his skin. I envied him for that, but he was young, and the young are often more at ease. He was so handsome, and the fact that he was my dearest friend gave me great pleasure.

He swam around for awhile and then he waded up out of the surf, his wet hair plastered tightly to his skull. He noticed that I was watching him and he smiled broadly as he waved to me. I lifted a hand and waved back, halfheartedly.

He stopped, and his entire demeanor changed. The clouds rolled in as his smile faded away. The sun still shone bright in the sky; the overcast I experienced was mental and emotional, not meteorological. I suddenly felt sad, for I had done the unthinkable. I had let my melancholy mood affect him in a way I had sworn I would never do again.

I watched him briefly as he walked up out of the surf and onto the sand, but I couldn't hold his gaze. I dropped my eyes down to the stone wall and I looked at my hands picking at the crumbling mortar between the stones. I heard and felt rather than saw him stop in front of me. I felt his warm hand move to gently cover one of mine. I lifted my eyes and met his gaze. His eyes were such an incredible shade of green. It was a color I often searched for in other things, but nothing in the world matched that particular color of green. His eyes stared into mine with great concern and I felt guilty all of a sudden.

"What's the matter?" he asked, although I was sure he knew exactly what troubled me. It was a common problem between us, and he tried to smile at me, to tell me that my fears were unfounded.

I stared at him, not just into his eyes, but at the whole of him. God, how I loved him, this young man that had gladly become my closest companion. He was so well proportioned and the muscles rippled under his tanned skin in a way that never ceased to fascinate me. He was perfect in every way, from his short brown hair all the way down to his ten toes digging into the sand.

As he stared into my eyes, he leaned forward and put his arms around me. I fell forward into his embrace; I could not deny him anything, and I felt good when he held me. He knew of my worries and he spoke softly to me, telling me that I had nothing to worry about.

I let him hold me and then I slowly disentangled his arms from my shoulders, leaning back and I asked him in a voice heavy with emotion, "Why are you still with me, Jacob?"

He laughed softly, not in derision but with an air of disbelief. "You know why," he said in a soft and caring tone, "Because I love you." It was my turn to laugh, but there was no humor in it. I knew that it was probably true what he said, that he did love me, but I couldn't understand why. He was young and handsome and had a great lust for life. I was thirty years his senior and I reasoned that he would be so much better off with a man closer to his own age. I said as much and he gave a snort of skepticism.

"I don't want to find someone my own age, I want to be with you, I love you and there is no one who could ever make me as happy as you do."

I was feeling unconvinced, and I explained to him that someday I would be gone and then he would be alone. I told him that he didn't deserve to be hurt. He gave me a puzzled look, as if he didn't quite understand my meaning. I explained that with me being so much older than him, I would likely die first, and then he would be alone. "You should be with someone closer to your own age so that the two of you can grow old together."

He smiled up at me and replied, "You act like you are going to drop dead tomorrow, and that I will be left to fend for myself. You aren't as old as you pretend to be, and besides, you know how I feel about guys my own age."

It was true, I was only fifty one years old; but that was thirty years his senior. Sure, I was healthy and had plenty of life left in me, but there was no way to be sure. The men in my lineage weren't exactly long lived; at best I had another twenty years before I would be lying cold and silent in the ground. I said as much and he gave me a reassuring smile. "Twenty years is a long time, and I look forward to spending those years with you. Now quit this worrying nonsense and come down to the surf with me. Let's find some crabs to catch or we can swim out and I'll race you back to the beach."

He smiled up at me, saying with that rare sense of vulnerability that had first drawn me to him, "I really do love you, you know. I am perfectly happy being with you. There is no one else in the world that can give me what you give me." I smiled at his words, because I knew he spoke the truth. He leaned close to me and kissed me on the lips, with a hint of his barely suppressed passion, and the gesture was more expressive than any words he could have spoken. I pushed him away gently and told him to go play in the surf, and that I would join him in a minute.

I watched as he turned and ran down towards the waves and I realized just exactly how lucky I was to have him as my lover.

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