“What are you thinking?” asks a voice in the twilight.
I flex my foot as my toes crest the water and shift my focus to the man soaking beside me.
“I was just thinking about how I ended up here,” I tell him.
The moon highlights his features and settles in his eyes. We lock a gaze for a moment before breaking away.
“I mean, I’m just a girl that you met on a beach,” I say.
I let the line drift, like I think it’s important. He pauses before he responds.
“We must have had very different experiences of that moment,” he says, almost in surprise, as if I’ve totally misremembered the encounter.
“Maybe,” I tell him, “but I’m not sure. I’ve told that story a lot of times to a lot of people.”
His fingers grasp my ankle, then move slowly up my shin.
“It sounds like you’re more interested in the story than the experience,” he says.
He is not a man of many words, or he tries not to be, but this phrase is one that sticks with me.
He’s been more present than I since the day that we met, more aware of the air and the feel of a moment; less concerned about the story that played out between us.
But it was such a good story. How could I not want to see where it’d go?
March 17th was a Friday. I had just finished my taxes (early for once), and was coming off a week of hustling and writing mixed with a short spree of job applications. It was time for a break. Time for a beach day.
Weekday beach days are one of the best perks of freelancing. No crowds. No traffic. Just me and the water and all of those thoughts that never stop swirling in my head. I hadn’t showered for two days, but it didn’t much matter. I always end up waist-deep in the water.
I tossed my bags in the sand, stood on the shore, stared into the waves, and tried—too hard —to appreciate the water.
“Looks like you’ve got something on your mind,” said a voice, pulling me back to the sand beneath my feet.
“Yeah, I guess,” I said turning.
A man in shorts and a white t-shirt approached me and smiled. He had dark shiny eyes and beautiful teeth. Beside him was a black wolf of a dog who was gentle, but eager. We got to talking about the beach and the water and our respective desires to be present just now.
He was stopping at the shore on his way back from an appointment. I shared that I was a writer, obsessed with the ocean.
“You look like a writer,” he said.
It may have been a line, but that didn’t much matter.
He lived on the peninsula. I lived in Oakland.
“How long are you on this side of the Bay?” he asked.
“Only just a few hours, then I have to get back. I have plans to meet some friends for a birthday.”
“That’s too bad,” he said, his eyes scanning the horizon. “I was going to ask if you wanted to grab dinner. Or go for a hike, depending on how much time you have.”
I should have seen it coming, but I didn’t. In the age of dating apps and online connections, I hardly know what it’s like to engage with a stranger, much less one who wants to engage back.
“I’m not sure,” I said. “I mean, I have plans with these friends back in Berkeley, and I don’t really want to back out on them.”
This is what I told him, with large pauses between. What I didn’t tell him was that I smelled like the ocean and needed to shower; that I hadn’t packed underwear, much less a change of clothing or shoes, and was covered in sunblock without a trace of makeup.
I also didn’t tell him that these things never happen—that men don’t just meet me and ask me to dinner.
He seemed to sense that I was fighting with myself.
“I’ll tell you what,” he said. “I don’t want you to feel pressured. Why don’t I give you my number and you can let me know if you change your mind. I need to go walk this guy to the end of the beach.”
The dog started to nudge the man’s leg and whimper, as if on cue.
“Hey,” he said. “Settle down. You’re going to have to wait if you want to see her again. Don’t you want to see her again?”
I handed him my phone and he added himself as a contact, handed the phone back, and walked down the shoreline.
I returned to my towel and considered my options. These were new friends I’d planned to see and I desperately wanted some friends. On the other hand, I was curious about this man with the beautiful teeth and the big black dog—a man who met me wearing a ball cap and thought I was worth taking out.
Within 10 minutes, I’d picked up my phone and texted him back. Yes, I was interested, though I was stranded in beach clothes, so we’d have to make do.
Five minutes passed. Then 10. Then 15.
I thought maybe I didn’t have reception, so I tried texting a few friends. All of those messages went through. Something was amiss.
In no position to journal, much less meditate, I packed up my bags and walked down the shoreline, then headed to my car and checked my phone again. Still, no message.
I detoured to Half Moon Bay, where I stopped in a parking lot and decided to try calling. I looked up the new name in my phone and tapped “call.”
The phone range once and then routed to an automated message: “The number you have dialed cannot be called or completed. Please re-dial the number…”
“Seriously?” I said to no one. “He gave me the wrong number?” Then I looked again and realized that were are only nine digits in the entry. The last one was missing. Or the first. Or the third. There was no way of knowing which was wrong.
At that point I probably should have dropped it altogether. Some things are meant to be, and some things just aren’t.
But because I’m a journalist and I like a good story (not to mention a nice smile), I decided to take the narrative into my own hands.