At The Beach

Barbara Dynes

2020 Short Story Competition Short List

 

At The Beach

Sitting in a grotty shelter on the prom, Jake shivered in his thin jacket. The wind whipping across the sea was making angry grey waves and the sky - an even darker charcoal - looked menacing. This was not a sensible place to be in November, but then Evie worked in a gift shop just yards from the beach.
"Meet you at eleven Tuesday," said the test. "Will bring all the stuff you left here. If you don't turn up I'm binning it. Evie."
A month or so, now, since he moved out of Evie's flat. Seeing her again was going to be traumatic, of course it was. Knowing Evie, she'd likely cause a scene, begging him to come back. He had debated just ignoring the text. But he could do with his winter clothes for a start, also any work-related stuff. Working from home needed a fair bit of discipline, but Evie had tended to treat it as a right laugh.
Also, at Evie's, chaos was the name of the game and things got mislaid, to put it mildly. Yet he had to admit that living with her was fun, a whole new experience. He'd never laughed so much with anyone before. But if this was just a ruse to try to get him back, she'd had that. There was no way! Moving on had so been the right thing to do and she must accept it.
This being Evie's break time, she wouldn't have long to talk. Well, that could only be good. He peered through the murky glass across to the shop where she worked. Lights flickered, beckoning customers. Some hopes! Opening all year round was brave, but stupid. He glanced towards the beach. Few people here today, just some stray dog-walkers and one or two kids larking around on the vast expanse of sand lining that wintry sea.
He sighed, digging is hands deep in his pockets. He had sat here in this shelter with Evie many times n their beach walks, laughing and chatting, usually about what they'd have for dinner.
There were things he still missed about Evie. Her dirty laugh, her live-in-the-moment ways, their sessions at Dave's jazz club. They'd made some great friends there - cool types who just seemed to eat and sleep jazz. He didn't see them now, of course. That weird music Evie liked to play when she couldn't sleep began to go around in his head and he grinned.
Mind you, he didn't miss their many shouting matches. The last massive one started over his workload - she nagged that he never stopped working: "You're glued to computers and phones like someone possessed!" she'd yelled. So, he left.
Afterwards, sitting alone in the tiny studio flat he'd found at the other end of town, he wondered whether he'd done the right thing. Now, of course, he knew he had. But would Evie see that?
Ah, there she was, hurrying towards him. No coat, as usual; her old mustard skirt and long hair flying behind her, loaded down with two large carrier bags. He braced himself. What kind of mood was she in? Evie could be scarily stroppy when she liked. Well, he deserved whatever she threw at him.
Dumping the bags on the bench she collapsed beside him.
"There!"
"Evie, I did say I'd pick it all up myself from the shop -"
"Oh, sure! And let all our nosey staff in on my business? No thanks! How's life with you?"
"Fine."
He stared out to sea at the crashing waves, wanting to avoid those ever-curious brown eyes. So far, so good. Play it cool, Jake.
"And you? Been to Dave's lately?" he asked, the jazz club being reasonably safe territory.
"On my own? Hardly! What about you?"
He shook his head. There was an awkward silence in the little shelter. Around them, the wind rattled through the glass and distant traffic roared, making the silence between them seem too loud,  the gulf too wide. Jake cleared his throat to speak. It was now or never; get on with it, man! But Evie got in first.
"My door's still open, you know, Jake"
Her hand grabbed his own. It felt cold, yet so vulnerable. Jake swallowed.
"Evie, I've met someone. Her name's Cheryl and she's thinking of moving in with me," he said, all in one breath.
"Oh, great!" Evie's voice was shrill.
Jake kicked at the sandy gravel on the floor. Cheryl was something else; they'd hit it off from the start. Yet he felt bad about Evie - she had always had such a thing about being alone. But he'd had an idea.
"Evie -"
"Jake -"
She interrupted him and he flinched. Once Evie started her anrgy yelling, she was impossible to stop. But, to his amazement, she suddenly burst out laughing.
"You'll never guess! I've found someone, too. He's already living with me!"
Jake blinked. Really? But then, this was Evie. The times she'd baffled him when they lived together...he shouldn't be surprised at anything.
"He's called Basil and he's an absolute joy! Black and white and ugly as sin - I told the rescue people I wanted their longest resident! You must come and see him - but don't come empty-handed. Doggie chews are his thing!"
Jake grinned. A dog - the answerr to his prayers! Oh, the relief!
"Basil, eh?" He sounds great! About the jazz, Evie - why don't we all three go to Dave's one night? Cheryl's dying to meet you," he added eargly. "She says you insisting on 'Evie', instead of 'Gran', tells her an awful lot about you already!"