As a rule, Adam didn't love the beach during the day. Moonlight walks on the sand, sure. But his pale, freckled skin didn't mix well with intense sun, and he had only agreed to come along when Allison did the puppy face and promised him a pedicure. Alli gave great foot rubs, and she had a new color of polish he wanted to try. So there they were, Adam in the baggy aqua swim trunks Neil had left at their place and Alli in a black and white striped bikini, rainbow hair swirling in the sea breeze. Botticelli's Venus on X, Adam thought fondly as she tugged him along, grinning despite himself. Alli had been on a mission lately: Operation Get Adam Out of the Pool of Ennui he had been drifting in since Brad had gotten too well acquainted with the stick of a perpetually shirtless, heavily tattooed, unfairly cool drummer. Well, the boy did love to be pounded.
"Tommy!" Allison called, and he immediately left his posse of surfer dudes to claim her in a hug, hooking his thumbs through the strings on her hips. Adam took in the feathery blond hair, the curve of his tiny ass, and mentally shook his head. Fucking shame that one was straight, but he was devoted to Alli, so.
They settled on the blanket Alli had packed, and Tommy began painstakingly coating every inch of Allison's body with sunscreen.
"Hey Adam, want me to do you?" Adam groaned, and Allison dissolved into giggles. "What?" Tommy demanded guilelessly. "He's really pale, man."
"Never change, Tommy," Adam said, as Allison kissed Tommy soundly. "I'm good, but thanks."
Adam dozed on the sand for a while, towel draped over his face, the sounds of waves and seagulls and squealing children washing over him. He dreamed of Brad, slender and perfect, twisting and wriggling in the water like a sleek silvery fish. He woke up alone--Tommy and Alli were in the water, no doubt--and thirsty. He pulled a bottle of water out of Alli's cooler and looked around, drawing his knees up against the slight chill. In places like this, it seemed like the world was coupled off, and Adam felt invisible, solitary. He had come to know the ache well over the last two months. It felt as familiar as his ratty t-shirt, as the undisturbed pillow on the other side of the bed.
With a sigh, he pushed himself up and wandered down the beach, away from the laughter and chatter. Occasionally he spied a piece of blue or green glass in the sand, tumbled smooth by salt water and waves, and these he tucked into his pocket for Leila. She would smile when he gave them to her.
The beach was divided by jetties, long strips of rock covered with moss and algae and meant to protect the beach from erosion. He and Neil had spent hours exploring the jetties when they were kids, poking sea anemones and picking up crabs with sticks. In the distance, there was a tiny figure perched on one of the jetties, face turned to the sea. It was a little girl, seven or eight years old, with long coppery hair. As Adam drew nearer, her shoulders drooped a bit.
"You aren't the boy who threw the bottle."
Adam didn't answer, arrested by her smooth white face and solemn green eyes.
Slender white fingers held up a weathered green glass bottle. It was corked, and inside was what appeared to be some rolled up paper.
"The bottle," she repeated. "I found it."
Adam studied her for a moment. "Are your parents around?" This part of the beach was nearly deserted. Maybe she lived in one of the cottages that lined the shore.
"My mom's there, it's okay." She waved at a woman seated on the steps leading down from one of the beach cottages, and the woman waved back. " I was hoping for the boy who makes the music." She seemed disappointed, and Adam suddenly wanted more than anything to see her smile.
"Well, I do make music. I'm a singer. But I'm pretty sure you've never been to the places I work." He laughed, but the girl just nodded and turned her gaze to the bottle. "I'm Adam, by the way."
"Adam," she pronounced carefully. "Adam. I like the blue in your hair. My name is Vivian."
"Well, it's nice to meet you, Vivian. May I?" He gestured to the bottle, and she handed it to him.
"He hasn't been back since the day he threw the bottle. I miss the music."
His fingers rested on the cork, and he looked at her for permission. She nodded, and he pulled the cork and shook out the rolled up papers.
"This is music." Adam had been in enough choirs and musicals to be able to sight-read well. He examined the neatly drawn notations for a moment, then began to hum the melody. Vivian joined in, her eyes shining, her voice sweet and clear.
"This is...this is really beautiful. Vivian, you know the person who wrote this? Who threw the bottle?"
Vivian shrugged. "I hear him sometimes from the porch at night. I always like to listen when I can. He plays..." She jumped to the sand, and with a piece of shell she traced a shape in the sand.
"Guitar?" Adam asked.
"Sometimes he just sits on the rocks and it hangs on his back, but other times he sings and plays. Only last time he didn't bring it at all. He brought this, and he threw it out into the water very far. So when I found it on the beach this morning, I got permission to see him and give him back the bottle, but he hasn't come back."
"Hmmmm." Adam considered. "Well, maybe we could leave it here for him. Maybe with a message? I don't have a pencil, though...." He rolled up the papers and slid them back into the bottle, corked it, and wedged it tightly in a crevice just above the water mark. From his pocket he pulled the bits of sea glass and arranged them at the base. Vivian leapt to gather shells and bits of seaweed and even a little dried starfish, which she leaned against the neck of the bottle, and when she was finished, she beamed at Adam. "Now he'll know how much we like the music."
She turned when her mom called her name. "I have to go. Will you come back and sing to me some more?" And Adam nodded before he realized he was doing it, and Vivian ran up the beach on tiptoes, turning once to wave, and was gone.
The next time Adam went to the beach he was alone. He told himself that he wanted to see if the bottle was still there, maybe take it home if it was, just so Vivian wouldn't feel disappointed. But as he drew nearer, he found his ears straining to hear the notes of a guitar, his eyes searching for a figure, large or small, near the rocks. But there was no music, no figure. The bottle was gone, so Adam just sat on the rocks for a time, the melody of the song in the bottle running through his head as it had been all day. And then he went home.
The third time Adam visited the beach he found Vivian again, dancing and twirling in the shallows.
"Adam!" she called, waving the green bottle in the air. "See what I found!"
And when they opened the bottle, there was a note inside.
Thank you. I never expected anyone to hear.
After that, Adam didn't go back to the beach for a while. He spent more time writing and less time moping, and everyone was happy to have "the old Adam" back again. He tried dressing up and going out to the clubs again, and as always he got more than his share of attention from the pretty boys. But as they draped their arms around his neck on the dance floor, he thought of the shimmery Brad fish from his dream, and he always went home alone, the bottle melody like sea mist in his head.
When Adam finally went back to the beach, he took with him a notebook and pencil and the empty wine bottle he had saved from his and Brad's first anniversary dinner. Adam had tried to cook that night, but the salmon had caught fire in the oven so they ordered Chinese, and they drank the wine and fed each other from little cardboard boxes on the moonlit fire escape of Brad's tiny apartment. He had chosen a Riesling to go with the salmon. It had been delicious on Brad's lips.
Adam sat looking out at the water for a very long time, but when he finally began to write the words came easily, words of love and anger and forgiveness for Brad. And if a few tears fell on the ink, it was of no concern. When he was finished, he rolled up the paper and slid it inside the bottle, corked it, and threw it as far as he could out into the ocean.
"Wow. That one's not coming back," a small voice remarked, and Adam jumped a bit when he realized Vivian and her mom were standing behind him.
"No," remarked the pretty woman. Her coppery hair was like Vivian's, only streaked with strands of silver. "I expect that one's meant to be gone now." Her smile was kind, and Adam felt only a little self-conscious about his tear-stained face. She held up a basket. "I'm Sam. Vivian and I were hoping you might join us for a little picnic?"
The unlikely trio found a lot to chat about as they sat on a thin quilt eating Sam's warm oatmeal-raisin cookies. They found they all loved Harry Potter, Lady Gaga, and sparkly nail polish, although Vivian complained that she was only allowed to wear it on her toes. Adam learned that Sam was a jewelry designer, and that Vivian's dad had died when she was only three. He was a doctor, Sam said, but Vivian's clearest memories were of him singing and playing guitar for her at night until she fell asleep.
It was Vivian who brought up the subject of "the guitar boy." Sam said she had sensed he wouldn't welcome company, and that she missed the music, too. "He had the sweetest voice. When the wind was in our favor, it was such a pleasure to hear him. I think he would have been horrified to know he had such a devoted little fan club here." She chuckled. "I wonder if he'll come back."
They left soon after, but as Adam packed his bag he couldn't help wondering if the mysterious guitar boy would show. Impulsively, he pulled the notepad back out of his bag and scribbled a note.
Dear mysterious guitar playing bottle-throwing guy,
There is a little mermaid who misses your songs.
He stuffed the note into the empty Orangina bottle left over from the picnic, capped it, and wedged it into the crevice in the rocks. "Idiot," he chastised himself as he headed up the beach. "Who leaves a message in a bottle?" Yet it seemed quite natural when Sam presented him with an elegant cobalt blue bottle two days later. On the outside of the bottle, someone had painstakingly scratched an ornate "A."
"That is sooo romantic!" Allison squealed. "What did it say?"
Adam had been a little hesitant to tell Alli and Tommy about the bottles. Maybe it was silly, but it seemed like a private thing. But of course Sam knew, and Vivian, and Allie kept bugging him about where he kept "sneaking off to these days." So finally over lunch he told them the whole story, about how Sam had found the blue bottle and figured the A meant it was addressed to Adam. And inside was a letter, a kind of adorable letter, really, about how it was an honor to be appreciated by a mermaid, and that maybe, if she would like it, he could play for her again sometime. So naturally Adam wrote right back, and (this was Sam's idea) he scratched bottle guy's initial on the other side of the bottle and left that side facing out of the crevice whenever he left a return message. Which was every other day for a couple of weeks now, and was that weird?
"What's his initial?" Allie wanted to know, and upon learning the answer she speculated, "Kevin! Kyle! Killer!"
" Killer. I'm sure that's it. Why didn't I think of that myself?"
"Keeton. Kurt. King!" Allison grinned.
Tommy snapped his fingers. "Kermit!" They stared at him. "Kermit, man. Like the frog?"
Allie wanted to know everything, so Adam told her about how the notes were usually kind of silly, but sometimes serious, and about how K wanted to be a musician but his dad wanted him to stay in business school and get a "real job." "He hates business school, but his dad thinks the music thing is just a hobby." They were all quiet for a minute at that, contemplating a life where making music was just a hobby to squeeze in on weekends at first, then a distant memory. Sure, they all had day-jobs to pay the rent between gigs now, but they knew that music would always be their lives.
"That's so sad, man." Allison had tears in her eyes for bottle guy. "Is he good?"
"Yeah! Well." Adam paused. "I mean, I've never heard him. But Sam and Vivian think so. And the song that was in the first bottle, he wrote it." Adam began to hum the melody he knew by heart. "Yeah, he's really, really good."
"Dude. You have got to meet him." Alli's eyes were wide open and serious. "How hard can it be? You know he goes there practically every day, right? I'll bet your friend knows when he comes. So, like, you need to be there next time and just charm him with your ways." She nodded firmly.
But that just didn't feel right to Adam somehow. It seemed like it would be sneaky, or a betrayal of trust, just showing up like that.
"Then ask him. OK? Write him a bottle message and set up a date. Nothing ventured, am I right?" Tommy agreed, and Allie beamed at him.
"It's just...look, I like things the way they are. It's really nice like this, you know? And..." he trailed off. "And I don't want it to end."
Alli was uncharacteristically quiet for a minute, but she slipped her hand into Adam's.
Tommy slurped his milkshake. "It's kind of like internet dating. Right? So there's that whole, 'Shit, what if they don't look like their picture? What if I don't look like my picture?' But sooner or later, you gotta get out of the chat room." He twirled an onion ring on his finger. "Pass the ketchup, please."
It wasn't long before the story had spread. It seemed like everyone agreed with Tommy and Allison, and nearly everyone had an opinion on just how Adam should go about sweeping bottle guy off his feet. Megan proposed a love letter written in the sand. Matt thought he should rise up out of the water like a Bond girl. Even Neil got caught up in it, suggesting that Adam write a love poem "like those awesome ones you posted on myspace. " Adam eyed him suspiciously.
Leila confided that she was so glad he had moved past "slinky club boys" and was "dating someone more grounded."
"Mom? You do realize you're talking about someone I've never met. Or seen. I don't even know his name, for crying out loud." She just smiled fondly and kissed him on the head.
Only Sam was on his side. Sort of. "It is nice the way it is," she said. "Things happen if they're going to happen." He was in the rope hammock on the front porch of the cottage, playing cat's cradle with Vivian and watching Sam work on a pendant. It was a tiny bird cage made of copper wire. Inside was a silver robot. "He came last night. Brought his guitar again, too. Viv wanted to pop out of bed and go talk to him, but I convinced her we should just enjoy the concert. Stayed a long time." Adam was silent. She nodded at the bottle on the railing. "What's the latest?"
"He has a musician job," Adam said, "a real paying gig. And next weekend he's filling in for the frontman of a band, but there's a chance it might turn into something permanent down the road. He invited his dad to come hear him play." He transferred the string to Vivian's much smaller hands and she giggled. "Everybody thinks I should find out where and go see him."
Sam nodded, continuing to twist the wires with her narrow pliers. "And?"
He placed his fingers in the corners of the string maze, but when he turned his hands the shape fell apart. Vivian wandered into the kitchen to get popsicles, the string abandoned on the floor. "I don't know. It's really good now, just talking. Writing. I know it sound crazy, but I feel like I know him better than a lot of the people I actually know. I just get him, and I feel like he just gets me. But what if...what if it only works like this?" He gestured to the bottle. "What if I'm wrong, Sam?"
"Then you're wrong," said Sam, twisting the end of the wire into place. "But what if you're right?"
"So, you haven't been out with us in forever, and we're kidnapping you." Megan meant business. "You have ten minutes to change and sparkle. Honestly, I'm starting to think you love your new little beach family more than us." She settled on Adam's bed to watch him undress. "Um, make that twenty minutes. Take your time." Megan cackled when Adam's t-shirt landed on her head.
"Destination?" Adam surveyed his closet.
"We're going to pick up Matty at the piano bar when he gets off, then maybe Fusion? I feel like dancing."
He settled on black skinny jeans, his lucky python boots, and one of Cass's leather jackets. Before long, his eyes were smoky and dark, courtesy of Sutan, and his hair was styled soft and loose.
The piano bar where Matt worked was nice, if a bit mainstream. He had a half hour left in his set when they arrived, and Megan happily launched into her Michelle Pfeiffer in The Fabulous Baker Boys impression, to the delight of most of the men in the room. The rest of them bought drinks and settled at a table nearby; Tommy and Allison were there of course, and Sutan was snuggled up to Anoop, and Sasha had brought her new girlfriend . It was good to be with everyone, even if he was once again the odd man out, and soon Matt was slapping him on the shoulder and saying, "'Bout time you came out with us, bitch!" before kissing him sloppily on the cheek. They stayed for another round of drinks before Megan started making noises about going dancing.
They had almost reached the door when Adam heard something that made him pause. It was a tune on the piano, something familiar...but he couldn't quite place it. Shit, that was going to bug him all night. It wasn't until they were almost at Megan's car that he realized what it was, and his eyes widened. It was the bottle tune.
"Are you OK?" Allie never missed a thing.
"Yeah, yeah, it's just. This is crazy, but I think I just heard.... Listen, could you guys wait? I think I left something."
Back inside, he took a good, long look at the pianist who had replaced Matt. He was small, but even under his black button down shirt he was clearly well-built. He had soft -looking brown hair and the most beautiful, lush lips Adam had ever seen. His eyes were closed as he caressed the keys. And yes, he was definitely playing the bottle song. Adam stood transfixed as he listened to the final notes, and when they died away the boy (it's him, it's got to be him) smiled at the scattered applause and said thanks, that he was going to take a little break but would be back in five. His voice was deep, and he had a southern drawl that went straight to Adam's knees.
Adam was by the piano, an enormous smile on his face, before he realized he hadn't the slightest idea what to say. Hello, I'm your bottle pen pal, I think we might be soulmates? The boy was smiling at him shyly, and Adam found himself saying, "That was really beautiful. Did you write it?" even though of course he had, and the boy nodded, blushing a little, and said thanks, and he put his warm, calloused hand in Adam's. They stared at each other for a long moment before Adam shook himself, and said, "I'm Adam."
He nodded. "Kris. Good to meet you."
Adam's smile wavered. He looked confused, then disappointed, then hopeful all in an instant.
"Would that by any chance be Kris with a K?" And it was Kris's turn to look confused, but then his eyes widened and his expression turned to shock.
"Kristopher!" The boy, Kris, was suddenly attacked by a mass of long blonde hair and a high-pitched voice saying, "Come on, you have to meet Lori before she leaves!" and Kris was dragged away, staring helplessly over his shoulder at Adam, whose face was now burning red.
He almost ran right over Alli in his hurry to get out the door. "Adam? What's wrong?" But he shook his head and said, "I'll explain later."
He was quiet in the car. The minute they got to Fusion, Allie dragged him to an empty corner and listened while he told her what had happened.
"So basically, I'm an idiot. He obviously had no idea that he's been writing to a guy." Adam tried to smile, but his mouth didn't quite make it. "While I was telling him about how coming to the beach had helped me get over breaking up with my boyfriend, it never occurred to me to add, 'Oh, by the way, I'm packing a dick too.' " He twisted his ring, and his voice might have quavered a bit when he said, "Alli, did you see him? He's...he's just right, you know? Only now he thinks I'm a stalker, or a creep, or--"
"You are no such thing. You're a romantic, and a beautiful soul, and you're gonna find someone amazing who deserves you one day soon, do you hear me?"
He gazed at the sea of dancers, faceless and shimmery. "I don't know, Alli. I'm starting to think maybe all that's just not in the stars for me." A slinky blonde boy appeared at Adam's side, biting his lip coyly, and before long Adam found himself back on the dance floor.
For the next three days, he got an ache in his stomach when he thought about the jetty, about how the bottle wouldn't be there ever again. No more funny notes and sketches. No more sweet confidences. No more foolish fantasies.
He wouldn't have gone back to the beach at all, except he didn't want Sam and Vivian to wonder what had happened to him. Besides that, he missed them, and he had promised to help Vivian with her song in the third grade musical. She was Gertrude McFuzz in Seussical, Jr. So on Wednesday night when his rehearsal was cancelled, he knocked on the door of the cottage. As usual, Sam insisted he stay for dinner, and while Vivian was brushing her teeth, he told Sam about meeting Kris. He forced a chuckle, "I, uh, wasn't exactly what he expected."
Sam gazed at him thoughtfully over her tea mug, taking in the sadness in his eyes. "No, honey. I'm sure you exceeded all his expectations. Well, that explains why you haven't been checking your mail this week." She opened a cabinet, removed the blue bottle, and placed it on the table. "Also explains why your young man has practically taken up residence on my beach. I'm going to check on Viv." She glanced out the kitchen window. "Nice evening for a walk."
Adam blinked at the bottle. Beside the initial A, the letters d-a-m were now etched into the glass. He picked it up, turned it around, and brushed his finger across the name on the other side. Kris. With trembling fingers, he uncorked the bottle and shook out the handwritten sheet music Adam recognized as the bottle song, only now there were lyrics on the page, words about finding a safe place when you thought you were lost, about finally coming home. At the bottom, there was a note.
I never had words for my songs before I knew you. Please talk to me.
He drew in a deep breath, exhaled, and pressed his lips to the name on the bottle, the glass cool and solid against his mouth.
Adam strode purposefully down the steps to the beach, and when he saw a figure in blue jeans and a white t-shirt sitting on the jetty, his heart skipped, but he kept walking. Kris climbed down from the rocks and stood, waiting for him. His shirt was damp from the sea spray, and his hair was sticking up every which way from the wind, and Adam thought he had never seen a more enchanting sight.
Kris held out his hand, and Adam took it.
Kris's words came out in a rush. "I was afraid you would never come back. I thought I'd messed everything up."
Adam shook his head. "I--I thought you and that girl--"
"No, no, that was just Katy. I mean, we used to be, when we were kids, but that was before we figured out that--well, she wasn't my type." He grinned. "She's kind of like my sister. A bossy sister. Anyway, I told her about you, and she felt really bad about everything and tried to find you, but you left really fast." Kris tightened his grip on Adam's hand ever so slightly.
Adam nodded. "Because you looked so shocked to see me. I thought...I thought I wasn't what you were expecting."
Kris stepped closer, so that he was looking up at Adam. "You weren't what I was expecting at all. You were more than I ever thought to hope for."
And Adam had no choice but to kiss the lips that had said those words to him. He kissed them and tasted sea spray and vanilla chapstick and music and tomorrow and every tomorrow after that.
"Adam! Adam! You found him! Woot!" They broke apart to see Vivian running down the steps in her nightgown, having just escaped from an exasperated Sam.
Adam turned back to Kris and his soft, sweet mouth and his warm brown eyes. He gently kissed the tear from Kris's cheek. "Yes," he whispered. "I found him."