Summary: Original work. Emily Trask comes home to meet with her old boyfriend, and contemplates their relationship.
Comments: I've reworked this story, yet again, and I think it's finally ready. Any critique will be greatly appreciated, but I'm hoping that any issues have finally been resolved.
Emily Trask hated
Leo was tall and wiry with shaggy blond hair and an almost tired disposition, as though he were weary of the world. His fingers were always dirty and gritty from sand. He rarely talked, always far too enveloped in his art to bother with what he saw as mindless chatter. Everyone in the tiny town of
Emily met Leo for the first time when the two of them were small children. She was walking with her mother, Mary, and her two younger siblings. Leo had just moved into town, and the Trasks would be the only ones to see the first sculpture he made: a sad brontosaurus, kelp hanging from its mouth. Its eyes were sorrowful as it watched the tide slowly wash it away, as though all along it knew the inevitability of its extinction. Mary and her children tried to save the dinosaur. Emily bawled as she tried to block the ocean’s waves from the dinosaur, while Leo watched them blankly from his perch on the abandoned lifeguard post, his socks dripping. The next day, Emily’s mother was quick to tell everyone at church, PTA, and the town picnic, but everyone laughed it off, thinking it a funny story even as Emily had nightmares of a sad dinosaur begging them to help. Emily still had nightmares about the dinosaur washing away with the sea, as the waves tossed her around helplessly.
A seagull cawed above her, and Emily returned to her search, tearing her eyes away from the sculpture of an old man sitting on the beach, the waves already lapping away at his wrinkled feet. She walked down until she was at the abandoned pier, ignoring the faint rain that had started to fall.
“He has to be around here somewhere,” she muttered to herself, leaning against the pier and pulling the hood of her jacket up.
Four years ago and two feet from where she stood, Emily lost her virginity to Leo Jules. It had been sandy and gritty, almost as though he were making her into a sculpture that would simply wash away when he was finished with it. Emily was the only person Leo talked to in town when they were children. Her nightmares led her to him, where she had followed him around, watching him create figures and forms from the sand. The sand sculptures multiplied. Leo built entire palaces with courtyards and tiny people, or sculpted a seagull so life-like Tom Phillips’ dog had tackled it playfully. In the beginning, she just talked to him as he worked silently. Then one day she finally managed to get him to talk.
“Whatcha building?” she asked, her knees red and sandy.
“Sometimes I build with blocks,” Emily said, her pigtails whipping around her head. “I’m not very good, though. I’m gonna be a ballerina. What’re you gonna be?”
Leo scraped at a castle, creating a tiny flag on a tower.
“I also wanna be a princess, but I think all the princes are too old,” Emily said, tracing her name into the sand with her big toe.
“D’ya always talk so much?” Leo asked, looking at her blankly with his cold eyes.
It wasn’t much, but it was a start.
Leo’s sculptures became a staple of conversation in the town. Nobody ever questioned his silence or his scruffy appearance, because there was a respect for the boy.
It wasn’t until Leo was fifteen that he started sculpting people. The townspeople found this phase rather disconcerting, because all of the sculptures seemed to embrace the sea. Some lay down peacefully; others held their arms out expectantly, the ache for the release of the cold ocean’s violent waves obvious in their eyes. At first, the sand people were diverse, all different in age, none quite beautiful. They were normal people.
Shortly after he began sculpting people, Emily had started dating Leo. They weren’t a normal couple in high school. Their relationship didn’t change much, except there were confused kisses and fumbling under stairways and on couches. Leo was still distant. Leo was always distant. Emily had just learned to accept it.
Emily’s cell phone went off, the polyphonic ringtone making her jump. The caller ID said it was her best friend from the city. Emily placed the cell phone back into her pocket, letting it ring. Kaylee probably wanted to know why Emily hadn’t been home when she came over to work on their final research project for a class, and she didn’t even really know herself. She climbed under the pier, and started off down the other side.
“I need you to come back to
Emily was cooking as she balanced her cell phone between her shoulder and her ear. “Leo, I can’t. I’ve got finals in a week. There’s no time.”
Silence for a few moments.
“Em, it’s really important that you come here soon, okay?”
The pasta boiled over as Emily paused. “Is something wrong?”
“Just come to
As the phone disconnected, Emily had already turned off the stove and was grabbing her keys to drive back.
Her phone was ringing again. Emily saw that the number was her father’s, and let it go to voicemail before turning the phone off.
The first time Leo sculpted the Girl, she was simply watching the sea, her eyes squinting, and she was the furthest back Leo had ever put one of his sculptures. She sat for two days before she went into the sea. Everyone marveled at how her hair seemed caught in the wind, and at how she was actually beautiful, which contrasted with the bum that had disappeared into the sea before her.
It was surprising to everyone when she returned, in a different pose, her chin in her hands, still looking thoughtful. All the girls examined the sculpture, assuming Leo had fallen in love with one of them. They would sit nose to nose with the Girl, claiming, “Oh, it’s like looking into a mirror!”
Girls started to follow Leo around and he was indifferent to all of them. The Girl kept appearing, each time closer to the ocean, and each time appearing to be sadder. The town buzzed, wondering what it all meant. At school, other girls whispered behind Emily’s back, certain that she was being cheated on.
Emily had only been around for the beginning of the Girl. She wasn’t silly enough to think the Girl was her, but Leo never said who she was. Emily could have asked him, but she didn’t think she could bear the disappointment if it really was some other girl in town. Leo had never lied to her, and the last thing she wanted to hear was that he had found someone else.
When she went away to college, Leo assumed she was leaving because of the Girl.
“It’s not any of the girls in town,” he had said, intently working on a small cat sculpture.
“Obviously,” Emily replied, spotting a couple of giggling girls spying from the dunes.
Leo looked up at her sharply. “It’s not anybody you have to be jealous of. It’s not anybody who even exists. You don’t have to leave.”
“I’m not leaving because of your sculpture. I’m leaving to go to school. I’ll come back during breaks.”
“Are you mad at me?” Leo said, trying to sound indifferent.
“Not everything has to do with you, Leo,” she sighed, standing up and brushing the sand from her jeans.
“We’re not over, are we?” he asked. For someone so distant, he had been strangely possessive of Emily over the years. She was the only person he talked to casually outside of his father.
Emily paused. She was going away. They probably should break up. It was logical that their relationship should end. She looked at him working so diligently.
“No, I don’t think we are.”
“You’re going to date other guys, aren’t you?”
She had dated other guys in college casually. It was expected, part of the experience. She had even stayed behind for a few of the breaks. She made new friends. She worked in a book store. She had a normal life, far away from scratchy sand, although sometimes she’d feel it rubbing her feet like an exfoliant in her favorite shoes.
She talked to him every night on the phone. Emily called Leo more than she called her own mother. He rarely talked about things in
Emily often felt split in two, one half in
Emily sighed, and decided to turn around. Leo wasn’t out on the beach. The skin around her eyes felt tight, as though it were being pulled back by the wind. She reached up and felt it, halfway expecting it to not be skin.
Emily shook her head. The ocean had a way of making her incredibly pensive and strange. The crash of waves lulled her into a dream-like state, where thoughts expanded far beyond their limit. She stopped, and actually looked at the ocean. It was grey and cloudy, a reflection of the heavy sky above. Emily shuddered, trying not to think of what actually lurked under those grey clouds. Her eyes lazily traveled along the line of the beach until they fell on a lanky figure bent over a pile of sand. She walked more briskly until she was standing over him.
He was perfectly calm. He hadn’t shaved that morning, so his face was rough looking. Emily cleared her throat, and Leo looked up, his face cracking into an enormous smile.
Obviously things weren’t as serious as he’d made them sound on the phone. Emily felt her jaw clench as he stood up, brushing sand off his hands.
“I’m glad you came,” Leo said, before pulling her into a very scratchy embrace. Emily’s face felt raw as she stepped back and crossed her arms.
“I thought something was wrong, Leo.”
Leo’s face fell, and he rubbed the back of his head nervously. “Nothing’s wrong. Kind of the opposite, actually.”
“Leo, I have finals in a week! I can’t just run out here because you feel like seeing me! It doesn’t work like that!”
“It just works on your schedule,” Leo sighed, looking at her wearily. “Look, Em, there’s something I have to show you. It won’t be around in two weeks. If you were even planning on coming back for this break.”
“A sand sculpture?” Emily asked, feeling a bit guilty. Leo was good at making her feel guilty.
“No, not a sand sculpture,” Leo said, starting to smile again. “It’s back at my place.”
Emily followed Leo back to the house he shared with his dad. It was like most other houses in
“Sorry it’s such a mess,” Leo said, noticing her looking at the array of dirty clothes and pizza boxes. “I’ve been working here a lot. I only started going back to sand sculptures a few days ago.”
Emily shrugged, lifting the top of the pizza box to see half of an onion and pineapple pizza. She wrinkled her nose and looked back at Leo. “You have no taste buds.”
Leo smiled, and gestured toward the kitchen. “I’ve had to order out a lot. I’ve been working in here.”
“Doesn’t excuse your disgusting pizza preference. I’ve always thought it was disgusting that you liked that combination. Normal human beings get pepperoni or cheese,” Emily said, following him into the kitchen. In the center of the room was a large dark tan sculpture. It was the Girl again, only now she was in a more permanent medium than sand. Emily stepped closer, her footsteps making the plastic Leo had laid on the floor around the sculpture crinkle loudly. The Girl was sitting with her knees drawn up, her eyes pensively staring outward, her hair seeming to blow behind her. One hand was outstretched, pointing. She seemed to be looking forward, trying to show the viewer some thing off the horizon that was fascinating her, beckoning her. It seemed as though the sculpture was yearning to jump up and chase after the thing that called to her so insistently.
“Wow, Leo,” Emily sighed, looking at it in awe. “This… this is definitely your best work.”
“You really think so?” he asked, sounding very pleased.
“Yeah,” she said, reaching out and touching it. Whatever he had used still felt grainy like sand, and Emily pulled her hand back quickly, afraid she would cause this beautiful thing to disintegrate.
“Yeah, some gallery in LA really likes it too,” Leo said, coming up next to Emily. “They’re asking me to go out there to work with them. I’m thinking of doing it.”
Emily turned and looked at Leo, surprised. “That’s on the other side of the country.”
“I was hoping you’d come with me,” Leo said meaningfully, looking straight into her eyes. “Once you finish school and everything.”
There was silence, as Emily stared at Leo in shock. In her head she could feel the crash of the ocean outside.
She had plans. There was a job waiting for her upon graduation. She had friends, family, connections all safely packaged right where they were supposed to be. He was asking her to throw that all away, to go to a world that she had never believed existed. He might as well have asked her to move with him to the moon to start up the first colony.
“I- I have to think about this,” Emily said, stepping back from him. Leo’s brow furrowed, and she felt a terrible lump in her throat. Her cheeks flushed as she quickly excused herself, leaving him standing in the kitchen with his statue.
Later, Emily was sitting in her mother’s house on the couch, watching some terrible reality show with her younger sister, whose fingers were poised over her cell phone. It was of the utmost importance that the “Hot, and oh em gee totally awesome guy” win the competition, and Samantha was convinced that if she didn’t watch and vote his life would be completely ruined and he would have to go back to modeling for Sears ads in
As a panel of judges informed the young man that they “Absolutely, positively loved him, but this performance just wasn’t his best,” Emily stood up and mumbled to Samantha that she was going for a walk. Samantha threw a pillow at her to get her to move from her line of vision as the young man pleaded for
The air created small clouds in front of her face, and Emily hugged herself as she looked out at what she could see of the dark waves. She noticed that Leo was about a mile away, working on yet another sculpture. She looked at the sculpture of a small cat washing away next to her, and with a sad sigh she turned toward the direction Leo was in.
Fifteen minutes later, she walked away from the beach, and as she emptied the sand from her shoes she dialed Kaylee’s number.
“Hey, Kaylee, sorry about last night,” Emily said as Kaylee picked up. “I’m getting ready to drive home, I just had to take care of some stuff back in my old town. I’ll be back in an hour or so, you want to order a pizza and pull an all-nighter on that project? Dr. Brunswick’ll totally fail us if it isn’t done right… No, I’m not crying, it’s just this ocean air. It really sinks into everything, you know?”