You meet him when you're shin-deep in the waves, feet sinking into the shifting sands with every step that takes you further from your parents' umbrella and your sister chattering on her cellphone. You've stopped for a moment to stare out at the flat blue horizon and think of nothing at all, when a sudden smattering of droplets hits your face and bare chest, nearly startling you into losing your footing. When you regain your balance and look up, wide-eyed and confused, he is standing in water up to his waist, smiling in an unreadable way and wiggling a greeting with his fingers. His eyes are darker than a seal's, round, and sparkling with mischief, his hair is slicked back to his head, and his chest and shoulders gleam with a sheen of fresh moisture; for a moment you are tempted to look for a cast-off skin lying somewhere nearby (but life is not a fairy tale, and you always thought you'd resent being trapped so underhandedly).
"Welcome back," he says, and pearly teeth gleam as his careful smile grows. You don't understand, and the look on your face must betray you, because he laughs (a liquid little bubbling sound) as he wades closer and pokes the end of your nose with an outstretched finger, lightly. "If you're already on vacation, where is your mind wandering?"
You wish you had the answer.
"Nevermind," he reaches for your hand and gives it a tug. "Come with me. You can swim, right?" Of course you can, you assure him, but he is already leading you along, further and further from the umbrella and the blanket and picnic basket and the one-sided chatter (you pretend not to see your mother shading her eyes to look after you). You can no longer distinguish the tiny dot on the sand that comprises your family when he stops, seeming satisfied--he led you along the beach until the sky began to shade into tones of violet, then followed a narrow spit of rock out into the open water.
He drops to sit on the rock, damp shorts clinging to his thighs; you take a seat next to him, hesitantly, glancing around. He smiles at you again, secretively, and points toward where the sun is dropping to meet the horizon and painting strips of red-gold that reflect hazily in the waves. "It's too pretty to watch alone. Aren't you glad?"
The colors have dulled to a muted blue-gray by the time he leads you back to the beach, his hand warm in yours, and walks with you all the way back to where you first met. You spot your mother reading her book in the glow of a lantern, and feel mildly guilty for the delay you've caused. You approach the umbrella with a hand raised, but when you turn to enquire after his name in order to make polite introductions of your own, your sheepish apology dies on your lips, for he is nowhere to be seen.