Yellow River

The beach was solid rock, baking in the sun, and my blanket did nothing to relieve it but catch the sand that would blow across in the breeze. I couldn’t help wondering where the sand came from, since the ground was all granite and Georgia red clay. Intrusive memories of some high school, maybe middle school, science class came to mind—something about erosion—but I blocked it out. I just wanted to enjoy the moment. The river was calm and steady, so not a nice river by any means. The water had a murky, sickly yellow element to it, and closer to the middle you couldn’t see through it at all. But at the shore you could see through to the rock underneath, and watch the little water bugs swim around. Neither of us was in water, not because of how it looked; people swam in it all the time. We just weren’t big fans of being in water. He had almost drowned once in this river, and my paranoia always got the best of me after hearing stories like that. Across the river, the shore sloped up in to a hill, mimicking the forest behind us, except the one across the way was spotted with giant lake houses with precariously placed balconies, perfect for taking a fall from. The trees were tall, strong, and dark with green leaves, their height carrying your eyes to the already warping sky. The blues were starting to mix with pinks, yellows, and oranges, swirling as though God was a little kid with a stick, playing with the surface of the sky.

I was trying to avoid looking at him. I hated looking at him. I looked at him all the time. He was so tall, strong, dark . . . darker than me . . . dark like ebony, but with a deepness to his skin tone like mahogany. I don’t know how he wasn’t burning up in the jean jacket he wore, but he didn’t even break a sweat. His hands were tucked in his black joggers; eyes staring off into the distance. His face was framed against the sky, a hand raised to it as he sipped on a cup of frozen lemonade, shaming the sun with how he glowed. My eyes drifted to my legs, hoping he wouldn’t catch me staring, but he always knew when I was staring. I think he could feel it. But he wasn’t looking at me.

My legs were starting to fall asleep. I didn’t mind, though; it kept me from feeling how sweaty they were, suffocated by the jeans I had on. I wished I was wearing a dress or a skirt—he liked it when I wore those—but my laundry was home, sitting damply in the washer since I was too far to switch it to a dryer. I wriggled my toes in the sun, my socks and shoes left behind in the car. He was really enjoying how quiet it was, I could see it in his face: a peaceful contemplation. Who could know what he was thinking about, since he was always thinking, but unlike the usual, his thoughts were happy. I could see it in his eyes. If thinking was his hobby, then focusing on him was mine. It was summer; I had nothing else to think about.

Screeches and giggles erupted behind us, breaking our beautiful silence. Two young, White couples pushing a baby stroller were crossing the beach behind us, headed to where the rocks stacked up, and created a small waterfall. He had been up there before, with his friends, late at night, but I wasn’t so adventurous. I just knew I’d fall in the water and be carried away by the deceptively slow current, just like he was the night he almost drowned. He shook his head at the little group, dropping beer cans on the rock, disrupting our moment. I was trying to see how many babies the group had: sometimes there was one, sometimes there were two.

“Maybe they’re here to sacrifice the baby to the river gods,” I mumbled, half-jokingly. He looked at me for a second, thinking what I said was kind of dark, then he exploded with laughter, real, hearty laughter.

“Yeah, they’re gonna lose that damn baby up there. You wanna save it?” he said, walking over to me. The grimace on my face brings back his laughter.

“Nope, you know how Poseidon’s temper is.” My eyes linger on his face as he turned back to the little family with a smirk. I don’t get to see it often, his smile, especially during the summer. Seeing all the people together with their families heightens his depressive episodes. I know he wants to go home, but he feels like he can’t go back to his family without more than he left with. He feels far too much pressure to be the man his father never took the time to raise, and he wants to peel the weight of the world off of his mother’s shoulders. At times, he feels like his little siblings don’t even remember who he is, and his twin . . . I think that’s the worst part. It broke his heart to lose the one friendship he was born with; now they never even talk.

He glanced down at me, still smiling at my comment, his eyes meeting mine and sending butterflies raging through my stomach. I reached up for his lemonade, which he handed over without even a moment’s thought, and I drank it. It tasted so cold and sweet, and somehow soft against my lips; I couldn’t help focusing on how it felt, like the taste barely mattered. I looked up to see him staring at me, his eyes just as soft, even softer than the first time he said he loved me, and I couldn’t look away. We did that for a while, just looked at each other, not saying a word. We didn’t need to. The giggles and splashes from the water just faded away, and it’s like we’re all alone again, and the river was ours.

Suddenly, his phone rang, cracking open the silence. He answered it wordlessly; his face changing and his eyes going dark.

“What’s wrong?” The concern invaded my voice.

“Nothing. We gotta go,” he muttered, snatching up our trash, hands shaking where they were normally so steady. I stood up and folded the blanket into my arms, but he gently took it from me. He doesn’t look at me. His walk is so fast against the tar path back to the car, I struggle to keep up with his long strides, wincing in pain from the burning heat of the path on my bare feet. He never looks back. We stuff ourselves back into the car, and he speeds out of the parking lot. I can’t help looking sadly out of the window, trying to take a mental picture of the moment we shared, and scared to look at him and see his smile faded. With one hand on the wheel, he reaches the other over to my hair and entwines his fingers into my afro, massaging my head. For my comfort, I wonder: or his?