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Two Oceans

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There was this dingy little bar right down the Coastal Highway, a few blocks from their house. It was the kind of place locals cling to, even during the heaviest swells of tourist season, a shabby collection of rooms, all with their own purpose, whether it be beer or pool or dancing, where the smoke never cleared and the lights were never bright enough. It was a hole in the wall, but it was strangely quiet there, or differently loud, at least; regulars shouted at each other from different sides of the room, and the jukebox seemed stuck about ten years back, churning out endless strings of ELO and Rod Stewart and the Eagles. It didn't hurt that the median age of the clientele skewed a good 15 years higher than other bars on the strip. It was its own place.

Jon only half-understood its appeal, but Anthony liked to go and play pool on random weeknights, and Jon would always come along, if only to smoke and drink cheap beer, and to fill in the gaps when Anthony couldn't find a challenger. They didn't talk much, but Jon liked watching things unfold, cataloging regulars and misfits, taking down personalities and playing styles until he felt as worn-in as his surroundings.

They never stayed too late, just long enough for Jon to relax into a vague haze and Anthony to win or lose a few bucks. When Anthony was done, they'd start the short walk back toward the beach house. They were always on the street long before last call, and sometimes they would just wander around, down into the residential areas or into another bar or two, sampling what the rest of the summer crowd had settled into. There wasn't much ground to cover in the tiny town, but the nights were both cool and warm at once, and it was good to be outside.

They'd talk as they walked, about the books they'd been reading, about politics and women, about their families and their homes, and where they'd be going come fall. If it wasn't too windy, they might make it all the way down the beach to the edge of the water, where Anthony would take his shoes off and kick at the surf. Jon stayed right at the edge, his sandals strapped firmly on his feet.

Eventually, they'd make their way home, back to where the other housemates were just starting to really wake up for the night, and they'd drift apart for the rest of the evening, mixing back into their summer set up.

 

Jon stares out of his office window with a piece of chewing gum clinched between his back teeth. It looks cold outside. The chill lurks in the grey sky and in the wind rustling down the street, even though the feeling can't possibly be real, not in the middle of June. It's muggy and wet, as it always is in the summer.

Jon wonders if it is warm down at the beach, then realizes that he can find out if he wants to.

Google tells him it's 72 in Dewey Beach, Delaware -- not hot, sure, but warm enough to walk down by the water or have lunch outside. It's not raining down there, which would be a nice change of pace. In New York, it feels like it has been raining for years.

It's Tuesday, he reminds himself. It's no time to be planning a spontaneous vacation.

 

The best parts of that summer were early afternoon lunches and quiet times late, late at night. There were the evening parties, of course, stretching out into the night, but Jon liked the hours after better, when the crowd had died down. When everyone else was asleep, he could sit out on the deck alone and just look at the stars and think. He doesn't know how many nights Anthony actually joined him then, after the town had quieted and all the partiers had gone to bed, but right now, he feels like they had shared a thousand different little moments.

He knows it's just his mind piling everything up, focusing so hard on one little piece of an entire summer, but he's suddenly overwhelmed by a flood of tiny, fleeting thoughts.

What did they talk about then? The first thing that comes to Jon's mind is existentialism, and he smiles and shakes his head. It wasn't as serious as that, not all the time. Anthony didn't have the deep, burned-in pessimism that he did, that he still has, what Anthony called Jon's "dark streak". Anthony was happier, less painfully invested, and he'd smile while he talked about the absurdity of it all.

He'd wander away when Jon was starting to spiral and grasp, then come back a few minutes later with two fresh beers and a simple, well-crafted rebuttal. Jon would sit in silence when Anthony was done, sipping his beer as he chewed it over. Then he'd start with something new, Anthony smiling all the while.

He figures it was one of those nights when they kissed. He doesn't know why he can't remember exactly, except that there were a lot of nights and a lot of haze. He remembers Anthony's aftershave mixed in with all the smells of that summer, sand and salt and alcohol. He remembers sitting out on the deck for a long time after, their shoulders touching, looking at the sky and the sea, listening to the waves.

He remembers smiling more after that. There seemed to be a short, stretchy thread connecting them for the rest of summer. They were carefully close as July slid by, whispering in the dark, their skin finding new ways to touch. There was a lot of sand and sweat, and slow, blurry moments, then everything being blown clean by cool windy nights.

And then, suddenly, the summer was over, and it was time for everything to start moving. They were never quite that close again.

 

"You're an idiot," Jon says. He's staring at the street, watching the rain hit the umbrellas below.

He paces back to his desk, reaches out and spins his chair around, and around again, then sits down and picks up his desk phone. As he dials the number, all he really wants to say is those three words again, maybe beat Anthony up a little for doing something so stupid, for not being more careful, or for just doing it at all. Instead, he gets six rings and Anthony's voicemail, and that shakes him out of it.

"Hey, it's Jon," he ends up saying. "Call me."

He stands up as he hangs up, pushing his chair back into its place. It's lunch time, and he hasn't brought anything. He starts to pace. He only makes it halfway back to the window before his cellphone rings in his pocket. When he answers it, there isn't a pause.

"Hey," Anthony says.

"Hey."

"I guess you're the only person I haven't said sorry to yet."

Jon laughs. "I thought I was supposed to say sorry to you."

"For what?" Anthony asks. "Not fully ripping me a new one?"

Jon frowns. "For saying anything at all."

Anthony's quiet for a few seconds, then Jon hears him chuckle. "It's your job to say things."

"I don't know."

Anthony doesn't say anything else.

Jon looks out the window at the rain. "I've been thinking a lot about the beach lately."

"Me too, actually."

"We can't run back there, can we?"

"No."

"Can't turn back time, either."

Anthony laughs, a quick clip, then long and hard. "No, though God knows I want to."

Jon smiles. "We could get coffee some time, though."

"We should," Anthony answers. "I'll have a lot of time on my hands soon, anyway."

Jon clears his throat. He hears some shuffling on the other end of the line.

"Should I let you go?" he asks.

"Yeah, probably. I'll talk to you soon, though."

"All right."

"All right."

Jon hangs up the phone before he can hear Anthony do it.

He looks back at the window. It's still raining, but the clouds are beginning to lighten. It's a start.