He took his time getting ready to meet her. When nothing in his suitcase appealed to him Brent went shopping. The new mall by his great-grandfather’s home was disappointing although he did end up buying two shirts, some shorts and a pair of sandals. One of the shirts he set aside to send to his brother, the other he dropped into the washer. While his new clothes were drying he showered and shaved. Today he avoided the mirror, uninterested in how his hair was misbehaving. He walked back into the bedroom, running his fingers through the damp strands as he realized he had forgotten why he had left the bathroom. Strawberry blonde spikes stood up around his forehead. He went back to the mirror and pulled a blow dryer out.

His drive to the bar took less than ten minutes. He could have walked but he wasn’t sure how long it would take and she wasn’t going to accuse him of being late. His original plan had been to meet up with some friends but it was too early for any of them to be out. He had planned to get there before she did. It would be a great opportunity to take some pictures of the setting sun. The warm Gulf waters called to him. Florida had all the warm sunny beaches that Seattle was missing. He walked to the edge of the beach and back. Three nearby children were fighting over a sand bucket. The sight made him smile as he thought about the way he had fought with his brother and sister when they were growing up.

Brent's smile faded as he turned and saw her. Her hair was an arm's length away. If he put his hand out he could touch the wild blonde curls that framed her face. He tried to remember the last time he had seen her with her hair down. Years ago he had seen dripping wet hair cascading around her. Why that brought to mind visions of mermaids he wasn’t sure. Her eyes were just as blue as ever but they had never looked blue to him. The color deficiency he normally hated turned her eyes an intriguing purple. Tonight she was giving him a very cool look but he remembered the summer they had spent swimming in the lake and lying naked next to each other in his uncle’s boathouse.

Back then he had pulled barrettes, bobby pins and scrunchies out of her hair. Pink had been her trademark color back then. His eyes moved down to her chest but instead of a pink polka dot bikini she was wearing a Seattle Mariners shirt. He was accustomed to seeing her in clingy tailored clothes, the embroidered cotton t-shirt took some getting used to. It didn’t look new although this was his first season with Seattle. He expected her shorts to be white. Instead they were denim and they weren’t new and crisply starched either. There was no sign of gloss on her lips, her legs were still long and tanned. No polish decorated the toes he remembered kissing.

How long he would have stood there studying her became a moot point as she held out her arms for a hug. If she was wearing perfume he couldn’t smell it, hundreds of songs and dozens of emotions went through him as he held her body next to his. Her skin was soft, her hands rubbed his back lightly, Brent had always liked the way she used her nails to scratch and tickle. Although it felt as if he could hold her forever common sense kicked in, he stepped back from the embrace feeling as if the encounter had marked him in some indefinable way. There was a heavy feeling in his chest. He felt her studying him, he had never considered her a dumb blonde and he knew that she was measuring him. Weighing him to see if he was still wanting.

Unfortunately the word want reminded him of the day he had taken her virginity. He remembered little of the actual moment but the memory of the tears she had shed afterwards came back to wound him. They hadn’t been good together at first but as the days grew shorter and the weather grew colder they had spent less time swimming and more time hanging out in the boathouse. He told himself he wanted nothing from her. Never again would he be seduced by the curve of her hip and the smallness of her waist. She could toss her long blonde curls around all she wanted. If he felt anything it was a normal male reaction that any pretty girl could arouse. She had nothing for him and he had nothing for her. He had agreed to meet her, why had he agreed to meet her?

She was dangerous. In his mind he still thought of her as the little sixteen year old he had loved. Neither of them had been sixteen for years but standing on the beach was a little like going back in time. Finally he looked straight at her. “What do you want?” The movement of her shoulders reminded him of the way she had shrugged her bikini top off more than a decade ago. He chose not to dwell on that.

I want to go out with Brad and I don’t want you to interfere.” Brent nodded reflexively, she wanted to date his brother. The words moved around in his head. He knew what his brother wanted. His brother wanted a wife, kids and the whole mini-van, mortgage, stay at home mom, white picket fence thing. His brother also wanted to travel, he wanted to get laid and he wanted a woman who really knew how to take care of people. Gretchen would be a good wife for Brad. She would decorate a house the way few others could. It would be immaculately clean because Brad would get her a demon of a cleaning lady. Gretchen would take Brad out, they would have fun, he would meet new people. He would go shopping for her and she would buy thoughtful expensive gifts for him.

When Brad and Gretchen got together they made plans, they laid out goals, together they were virtually unstoppable. Her vivacious, vibrant personality was the perfect foil for Brad’s recalcitrance. Just thinking about his brother made words like recalcitrance pop into Brent’s normally less than spectacular vocabulary. Brent was sure that his brother loved Gretchen. He knew it because of the way Brad talked about her. Brad was willing to entertain ideas she had, Brent knew that Brad and Gretchen had been on vacation together because he had seen a photo album one of them had put together. Sometimes they were so much alike it was scary. Brad and Gretchen. The more he thought about it the more Brent realized that in a lot of ways they would be a good couple.

There was no doubt in Brent's mind that Brad and Gretchen had already slept together. No one could hang around Gretchen for any amount of time without giving in to what she offered. Things like comfort, warmth, silence and encouragement. Gretchen could make people smile. The way she was patiently waiting for him to say something made him long for the days when they had laid next to each other on the floor of his uncle's boathouse. For how much she herself talked Gretchen was a good listener. Not only that she remembered things. She never forgot birthdays. Gretchen was always buying little gifts for people just like Brad would sometimes send a card or present to someone just because. Brad and Gretchen and all their just because presents. Brent thought about the shirt he had bought for his brother. It was going back to the store as soon as this conversation was over.

How come you’re wearing black?” The word black penetrated the fog in his head. Automatically he looked down, he was wearing the shirt he had bought for Brad. It was a sign. Black was Brad’s color. Gretchen had noticed the black shirt and it reminded her of Brad. A list of Gretchen's attributes ran through his mind. Cute, smart, organized, fantastic in bed and cheerful out of it. Gretchen would be good for Brad, it didn’t matter if Brent had to go home and watch the two of them wrapped around each other. He was married and if his marriage wasn’t everything he had ever dreamed it would be that was his problem. He had a beautiful wife, he was the one with a career in Major League Baseball. He had gone further and accomplished more from a professional standpoint than Brad ever would.

A breeze off the water tossed her hair. Without thinking Brent reached out and pulled a curl down. It bounced back as if he had never touched it. The tip of his finger ran across her lower lip, he watched her eyelids close as he kissed her and he never looked back once he made up his mind to leave love standing on the beach.


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