It wasn't that Hayley didn't know how to swim. She did.
She just felt it was best if she untaught herself.
The redhead stood on the edge of the dock with a fantastic view of the ocean. The salty breeze and scent of flowers hit her senses, and she breathed in deeply.
Then she let it go, hollowing her mouth, adding to the air already hanging in the sky.
She didn't move for a while, preparing herself for what she was about to do.
Hayley startled at the voice and jolted forwards, almost falling into the water. Something she was planning to do from the beginning, but now wasn't able to.
"The red flag is up, and the lifeguard is off duty. I don't think you're supposed to be out here."
The redhead turned slowly, slightly; her body at first, then her head. She met the eyes of a girl around her height, wearing a simple black one-piece bathing suit and clutching a cerulean surfboard with a streak of bright orange paint to her side; she had obviously made plans to go surfing today, but was let down. The girl gasped, then; lightly, under her breath. She guessed she had seen the lacking structure of her bony face, or her sickly pale skin.
"Um...I think the snack bar is still open. My brother's there. If you want, I could get you something."
Hayley looked down at the girl's sandals, laced with dry sand. She considered her offer.
She smiled and led her back across the beach, farther and farther away from where Hayley wanted her body to be most.
The girl's name was found to be Avril, and her brother's was Matt. Avril appeared to be the more outspoken of the two, but they were both eager to chat with Hayley.
Avril was nice enough to buy her a container of crunchy chocolate-covered ice cream bites. Even after her reluctance, her insistence that she didn't need to do such a thing, that she wasn't hungry, the brunette did anyway.
Hayley only stared at them in her hand, watching as the chocolate and ice cream melted into a sticky mess and the shape became deformed amidst what little heat was still left of the season.
Avril noticed this and asked why she hadn't eaten them. She didn't respond, feeling even more guilty that now she had wasted her money. She wanted to cry.
And she did. The container fell onto the ground, emitting a dull thunk and spilling its contents, and Hayley buried her face in her hands before running away.
"Are you okay?"
Hayley felt Avril's presence beside her. Or maybe it was Matt. She couldn't tell; she had her eyes covered and her ears were ringing.
She opened her eyes and found that it was indeed Avril, who had thrown on Matt's flannel shirt over her swimsuit.
"I'll pay you back," Hayley whispered under her breath, and Avril must have been hanging onto a miracle because she understood what she said.
"You don't need to, it's fine. Is that why you're crying?"
"Why do you care?" the redhead suddenly lashed out. "You don't even know me!" Her voice cracked and splintered like old wood.
The other girl stared at her painfully, looking as if there was a hidden turmoil in her mind trying to figure out what was wrong.
"I care because...I just care. Now tell me what's the matter."
Hayley sniffed and wiped at her face; she realized Avril probably had some story behind that statement she didn't want to go on about, so she kept quiet.
The two stood in silence for a while, Avril eyeing her every shift and turn, as if Hayley were a maze she didn't want to get lost in.
"I can't tell you."
She nodded. "Okay." Her gaze stroked the bricks making up one side of the snack bar.
The sun timidly revealed itself from the translucent shelter it had behind clouds, shining on the girl's face and making its underlying colors more apparent. Visions of red, brown, and orange danced across her cheeks, and Hayley found herself beginning to stare back.
"I should probably go," she vocalized suddenly, feeling unneeded. "Thanks for buying me the food."
"Wait," Avril called out when she had walked a good few feet away. "I'll walk you to your car."
"I, um, I walked here."
"Then...let me walk you home." She waved Matt off from where she was standing and made some sort of signal to him, to which he nodded and walked out of their view. "It's getting kind of late, anyway."
Hayley soon found comfort in being alone with the girl. Listening to the flag pounding hollowly against its metal staff in the wind, their dissonant flip-flops snapping against the pavement, the insects beginning to shrill from hidden spaces.
Avril lazily dragged her surfboard against the ground before asking, "So what brought you to the beach today?"
She swallowed and glanced upwards. "I just wanted to look at the waves."
Envision her body beneath them.
"Cool. Sucks that the weather got kind of intense." She motioned to her surfboard. "Well. It's getting close to fall, anyway."
Hayley saw her house creep into nearness and stopped.
Avril stopped as well.
"What's wrong?" she asked in a near whisper.
The redhead only looked down, locks of her hair splaying over her chest and tears threatening to join them.
She came closer, gentle fingers grazing her thin arms.
"Don't you want to go home?"
She didn't want to cry in front of a stranger, not again, but her eyes had other ideas.
Avril hugged her, then, with the cold buttons of her brother's flannel pressing into the skin on her stomach her shirt failed to conceal. One of her hands comfortingly stroked her back.
She waited until she calmed down before murmuring into her ear.
"I know what that feels like."
Avril seated herself beneath a tree, clutching her legs to her chest. Hayley followed suit.
The brunette took a deep breath, inhaling the subtle scent of pine trees and rotting wood. Calming herself, it seemed.
"When I was like, eight, I started...growing, I guess, into the person I wanted to be. I borrowed Matt's clothes, I wore baseball caps, I got into a lot of sports. And my mom hated that." She scratched her cheek, looking uncomfortable. "She said I was behaving too much like a 'guy' and needed to act more like a 'lady'." She scoffed at the word.
Hayley paid attention, silent.
"It never really got bad until I came home from school one day with a girl. Her name was Amy and, god, she was gorgeous. And I introduced her to my mom as my girlfriend." Avril winced. "She wouldn't stop screaming at me, and Amy got so scared that she ran away. Then we argued back and forth until she hit me."
Avril wiped at her eyes, hiding her tears.
"After that, it became a regular thing. She'd hit me whenever I didn't do what was expected of me as a girl, trying to shape me into what she wanted. Eventually she kicked me out of the house. My brother and sister are the only people who still talk to me."
Hayley placed a hand on her shoulder, offering unspoken support. She in turn laid her hand over hers, appreciating her concern, and the redhead felt heat flourish throughout her body at the touch.
After some silence ensued she realized it was probably her turn to tell her story.
"Yeah. Um..." She cleared her throat. "My parents di-...uh...dev-..." She fought to recall the word she had read over so many times on that piece of paper.
"Yeah, that. So it's just me and my mom."
"Mhm. Uh. She hits me a lot, too. But she mostly just ignores me. She's...crazy. Yeah." Hayley hated hearing herself speak. She was never quite educated, and likewise wasn't the greatest at explaining things.
Avril moved the hair away from her neck, revealing pastel bruises her skin had nearly washed away completely.
"Did she do this?"
"Ah...yeah. I was kinda hoping you wouldn't see those..."
Then the brunette turned towards her and leaned in slightly, getting closer and closer to her face by the second. Hayley was so unsure of what she was doing that she moved backwards, startled.
"Wh-...what are you...?"
Avril tilted her head, then her eyes glimmered with understanding. "Just trust me, okay?"
Avril did an unfamiliar thing then; she moved in close enough that their lips touched, and sucked on hers lightly. The redhead, confused, mimicked her actions: eyes closed, lips parted, pressing herself more into the other girl.
They broke apart, and Hayley stared into the aquamarine eyes she had grown to envy. Cicadas chirped in time with their breathing.
"Was that okay?"
Hayley wanted to do it again. She didn't know what it was, but she craved more.
The sun slowly began to set, and Avril promptly placed her lips upon the other girl's cheek one last time.
"I'll find you again, okay?"