A midweek evening a few years later

Love her now for as
sure as you can be, she’ll soon
fly far and away

At the corner of the road down to the beachfront there is a hotel bar with a garden. It is the only one of its kind, the other hotel has a car park instead. The more verdant watering hole is the one we are interested in as the two people this story is following chose it for their first evening’s ice-breaking rendezvous.

It was a midweek evening after the holiday peak season and they found it fairly quiet with a sedate, bourgeois clientele, mostly tourists leftover post Christmas, the man suspected. It had been raining in the early part of the evening so they sat at one of the few dry tables under a group of parasols. He had a Tanqueray and she a Bombay Sapphire with tonic. The barmaid had given them limes and Liam asked her to change his for a lemon slice. Laura found that she did not really mind the lime, but to appease her date agreed to change it too. The barmaid gave them a filthy look later as they were making their way out and onto the beach.

The sand was damp underfoot due to the afternoon downpour. They could make out lights from yachts anchored in a cove at the tip of the right headland. These were too far away to illuminate anything closer to them and their eyes had to adjust to the dark. He said that in the busier season there might have been a risk of coming across lovers on the sand. She quipped – literally sex on the beach, and not just the cocktail. He giggled at her bad joke. He was nervous and hoped that he hadn’t laughed too loud or longer than necessary. He turned to look at her to try and guess if she was sneering at him. But he was unable to read her expression since her face was turned slightly away from his transfixed by the wide expanse of the dark water.

He thought that it was promising at least when she had assented to going down to the beach. They walked along the water’s edge and he was quite glad too that she’d chosen to be the one nearer the lapping waves. She was wearing flip flops whereas he was in trainers. They were the only pair of casual footwear he had brought and he didn’t fancy getting them soaked. The result of this arrangement though was that her head was even lower in height. On an even plane she was only a few inches shorter than his five foot six; very few people, women included, were shorter than him and he had always felt inadequate because of his smallness. This may have been an explanation for the awkwardness and difficulties he experienced in interactions with the opposite sex. Now, almost towering over her, he found it awakened a primal instinct within him that caused him to take her hand in his. At first she held it loosely in his as they walked silently together along the firmer part of the sand until a stronger wave rolled up and covered her feet in water, at which their grip tightened together at the same time. She raced up pulling him along, laughing, suddenly relaxed and with open delight.

Anyone coming across them would see a couple of tourists no different from the millions who visited this part of the world. They were anonymous in their ordinariness. He was nearly forty-nine years old, she had already reached fifty – they were even more unremarkable due to their age, no longer youthful, beautiful nor handsome; in fact his head was shaven as he had lost all his hair on the top part and hers was a drab salt and pepper which she had not even had the sophistication to colour; it was tied at the back with a plain elastic band but a few wisps had escaped around her face. The night breeze blew it gently and he brushed them behind her ears, feeling the loose softness of her half a century old skin against his knuckles.

They had first met half a world away, over two years ago. Both had left failed relationships behind them and embarked on the quest to start again by signing up to a dating app. He had been on it much earlier and the last relationship before Laura, had been with Mira, a Hungarian psychotherapist who was a woman determined to mould him into her ideal. Unfortunately this began to bear very little resemblance to himself and very quickly his interest waned. It suited him that the relationship petered out and so when Laura had made the initial approach, a few months following his last date with Mira, by clicking the like button against his profile, he was in a position to respond. Having been disappointed for so long he was more wary whilst she was enthusiastic about the potential of a close relationship.

They first arranged to have dinner at a fairly nondescript restaurant, one of a chain with a European menu, where they had a glass of red each with their meal. They discovered differences and common ground between them over the first hour and a half. He was surprised how easily the conversation seemed to steer them towards familiarity with each other; she was not too garrulous and he found himself telling her about his past relationships – she pressed him about how they began and ended, citing honesty and communication as her compass to making a success of any relationship. He liked her candid questions and told her almost as much as he was usually willing to share even with his own brother.

Laura liked how this small, pale man agreed with her, willingly, and occasionally with thoughtful hesitation revealing his past; and so she allowed herself to be kissed following a gin and tonic at a quiet pub post dinner. They were the shy sort of kisses which were strangely familiar, reminding her of the way she offered her own lips up. With the other men she had dated, the tendency was for them to fix their lips on hers more forcefully, some even bitingly or bruisingly ungentle. She used to passively offer her own lips to be devoured thus. With Liam on that first instance had been a revelation that he kissed exactly like she did. It seemed to last the entire evening before they had broken apart. After that they made dates to see each other on a weekly frequency for the first month and then following the one when both had ended up in his bed, he stopped calling her. Laura had suffered acute disappointment at that but was determined initially not to allow it to put her off dating. She returned to the dating app again without any success and finally decided to cancel her subscription to it altogether after a further six months.

Almost a year passed when she was pleasantly surprised to find an email from Liam asking how she had been and apologising for his long silence. He pleaded family commitments to ageing parents and asked if she would be willing to meet him again. So the relationship restarted at a very slow pace of a date every month or so. He was a man married to his work, with octogenarian parents to attend to every other weekend when he took over from his younger brother who was their primary carer. Liam hardly had any time left for any of his own leisurely pursuits, let alone to seriously court Laura.

She however, found herself with a lot of time, having given up most of her work commitments – she was a speech therapist and had deliberately not actively sought new clients; bringing her career to a languid stage where she worked only three times a week. It suited her to spend the other four days arranging trips to catch up with old friends and members of her extended family settled in other parts of the world.

At the end of the previous summer, Laura had told Liam that she was turning her interest in the direction of the southern hemisphere. He had responded positively, citing a work-related trip to coincide with hers.  They arranged to meet up a few days into her being there to catch up with friends of her own. They made their arrangements without meeting, by email and text messages only because he had taken up more work than he had time for and she was still distracted by the sailing friendships she had formed. He had thoughtfully rented a two bedroom Airbnb apartment within walking distance of Sydney university, quite close to his favourite beach. He had surfed at Maroubra when still a young man, but now, having lived for two decades in the soft surrounds of London academia, and quite apart from the onset of arthritis, was not confident about getting into his rashie again. All the same, he enjoyed the coastal walk between Bondi and Malabar and was hoping to share this with Laura.

He had met her in the city that afternoon and they drove back to his rented apartment. So we find the pair on the beach on a dark night before moonrise, hand in hand, slightly nervous, a little tipsy, both unused to drink, and combined with the warm humidity, almost heady in their anticipation of the night ahead of them. The rain had cleared the clouds and the stars glittered overhead. She recognised the Southern Cross, and saw that Orion was on his side, the nebula in the middle of his dagger a whispery glow.

He pulled her further up the beach to avoid the flooding tide, and burying his feet firmly in the sand, turned her around onto the higher ground so that her head was closer to his. Having her on the upper slope of the beach meant that all he had to do was tilt her head up a mere fraction to his in order to kiss her. They stayed together in that way for a minute or so; his lips were soft and warm as he gently brushed them against hers, without much pressure, he was only leaning against her lips with his. She knew it was his favourite thing to do as he had told her that on their very first date. She in turn was reminded of their first kisses. And the long stretch of time between when they had last seen each other and that evening itself began to fall away.

Liam’s hope for a deeper relationship was rekindled as he felt a conviction that the woman in his arms that evening might be the one he could trust to remain a constant in his life. They were not entirely incompatible and she had been someone who appealed to him physically. She also left him with the belief that it was possible for him to achieve his potential after so many long years in the desert of bachelorhood. Laura wondered at how patience in matters of the heart had rewarded her. The ultimate decision was now hers to make.

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