Lewis considers himself a connoisseur of beaches.
He’s seen more than his share. He’s seen the best, the most expensive, the most remote of them. He’s spent nights in villas overlooking the cleanest water he’s ever seen, contemplated the biggest waves that even the most talented of surfers would balk at and had the same reaction.
On the balance, Zandvoort is fine. It’s not as spectacular as the Riviera, and the sand certainly isn’t as perfectly white as Tulum, but it stretches for miles in either directions.
It’s an effort to find a stretch of truly unoccupied beach here, detached from the everyday world, at least within reasonable distance of the track.
Still, there’s a calmness to be found, a quietude in seeing the horizon laid out flat against the dark blue of the North Sea. A welcome reminder that, if truly taken in the grand scheme of it all—the depths of the ocean, the expanse of the universe, the everyday concerns of the overwhelming majority, the feeling of thousands of grains of sand beneath his feet—none of it truly matters. A pole position, a win, a championship.
Roscoe, oblivious to it all, chases the toy that Lewis throws him with a single-minded obsession that makes Lewis smile.
He plucks the plastic ball from between Roscoe’s teeth and punts it down the sand, away from the direction he’d walked. Roscoe faithfully pants after it; not particularly fast, but certain, fixed on his goal and unbothered by anything outside of it.
Lewis’s phone feels heavy in his pocket, only because he’s deeply conscious of it, every moment fighting the instinct to pull it out and check the screen, scroll through notifications for the one he’s looking for. It unsettles him sometimes, the constant need for reassurance, for affirmation. It’s something he’d trained himself out of, something he thought he’d shelved years ago.
The sound of the gentle waves lapping into the shore is a welcome distraction.
Roscoe brings the ball back and Lewis takes it out of his mouth, grimacing, even after all this time, at the damp messiness of it. He pats Roscoe on the head apologetically.
“You want to go again?” he asks, and Roscoe tilts his head at him. Lewis is 90% convinced that Roscoe understands every word he says, if not the syntax then the tone, the intent, the feeling behind it. It’s uncomplicated in a way that Lewis doesn’t get in any other part of his life.
He tosses the ball again, and Roscoe chases it again.
This patch of beach is, at this point, sparsely populated enough that it doesn't seem like anyone is going to bother them. Lewis sinks down onto the sand, letting his toes squelch into the warm grains. He tilts his head back, letting the rays of the early evening sun sink into his skin. He breathes deep, and then opens his eyes.
If this were a movie—if he had the self-control not to scan the beach in both directions, or the ability to get lost entirely in the rhythmic ebb of the water against the shore—he’d have been unaware that he wasn’t alone until there was a hand on his shoulder, a body carving out space in the sand next to his.
As it is, he spots Sebastian a few hundred feet away. He’s got his ugly sunglasses on, and is picking his way across the sand in his sneakers in a way that makes Lewis sigh. His own shoes are strung around his neck by their laces. At least Sebastian has changed out of his racing green shirt, a sight that still sometimes gives Lewis pause, even after all these months.
Roscoe, ball in mouth, pelts towards them with enthusiastic speed, and rather than coming straight to Lewis, he canters up to Sebastian, dropping the ball at his feet and straining upwards, clearly expecting some attention.
Sebastian gives it to him, rubbing his head and face with enthusiasm, calling him a good boy and praising his ball-fetching efforts, as if he had been the one to personally teach Roscoe how to fetch. Lewis rolls his eyes against the other feelings swelling up in his chest.
After a disproportionate amount of praise, Sebastian picks up the ball and lobs it towards the shoreline. It lands just where the water is lapping up against the sand, just far enough out that Roscoe will have to risk the water—which he hates—to fetch it.
“Found you,” Sebastian says, dropping onto the sand next to Lewis.
“Mm,” Lewis agrees. He watches Roscoe dance his way along the foamy white tide. “I’m still impressed you know how Find My iPhone works.”
Sebastian huffs, a well-worn pantomime. He bumps his shoulder against Lewis’s. “You’re a good teacher,” he says drily.
It’s fun to pretend that Sebastian, unquestionably the most technically-minded driver Lewis has ever met, including himself, would be baffled by any kind of technology. Sebastian, it seems, enjoys it too.
Together, they watch as Roscoe braves a small breaking wave that threatens to displace his ball, and retrieves his prize with glee. He lopes towards them, slightly off-centre, and they both huff with laughter at the sight.
“Close one today,” Sebastian says after he’s dispatched Roscoe once again.
“Yeah,” Lewis agrees.
There’s a cautiousness to how Sebastian talks to him this year, one that reminds Lewis of his own kid-gloved treatment of Sebastian last year. It makes Lewis wonder what Sebastian truly believes about how this year is going to turn out. It’s hard not to read it as mistrust, uncharitable as that feels.
“Sorry about your…” Lewis says after a moment, but lets the sentence trail into nothing. He means it, and it is a shame, but the words feel trite in his mouth, and Sebastian shrugs anyway.
“It was only papering over the cracks,” he says. His use of an English idiom makes Lewis smile. “We didn’t have it today.”
Lewis nods. Some days these things are easy to talk about; technical realities, knowledgeable analyses, enthusiastic dissection of the sport they’ve both given themselves wholly to. Today, for some reason, they aren’t.
“Still—” Lewis starts, a token effort, but Sebastian shakes his head.
“Doesn’t matter,” he says.
The silence that settles isn’t uncomfortable. If anything, it makes Lewis breathe deeper, makes him want to draw the salty air into his lungs and forget who and what they are. He glances around then, sure of their isolation, dips his head, resting it for half a second against Sebastian’s shoulder.
“Yeah,” he says.
Lewis sits upright again, and smiles as Roscoe returns to them, thoroughly damp this time, paws covered in collected sand.
“Good boy,” he says, and Sebastian scratches underneath Roscoe’s chin.
They sit and watch the sun go down, the light around them fading slowly, Roscoe content to settle himself into the sand, head resting on Sebastian’s knee, Lewis’s fingers brushing idly along his back.
“I really am fine,” Lewis says once the sun’s just dipped below the horizon. The sky is still light enough for him to pick out every expression on Sebastian’s face, if he wanted to.
“I didn’t think you weren’t,” Sebastian replies. He looks honest. “I just wanted—” Sebastian lets the sentence trail off, and then runs his fingers down Lewis’s arm, a brief, gentle touch.
“Yeah,” he says.
Eventually, the sky darkens enough that Lewis can’t pick out any of the boats on the water anymore, and Sebastian takes a deep breath, like he’s savouring the air.
“I have to get back,” he says.
Lewis nods, and turns to smile at him.
“Thanks for coming,” he says, even though Sebastian had been the one to message him, to ask what he was doing this evening. “Roscoe’s missed you.”
Sebastian’s eyes crinkle at the corners, and he pats Roscoe’s head affectionately.
“I’ve missed him,” he says. He looks up at Lewis, lips pressed together to conceal a smile. “See you out there tomorrow.”
“If you’re lucky,” Lewis says, the comeback well-worn, if a little out-of-date.
Sebastian looks around, a familiar motion, and then leans in, brushing their lips together. He only does it once, but Lewis leans back in, opening his mouth, and they kiss again slowly in the cool evening air. It feels reckless, out here on the beach, but it only makes Lewis hungrier. The feeling is known to him now; he feels it, with increasing intensity, every time he kisses Sebastian. It feels like 2012; he feels ready to throw aside everything he knows, everything familiar and safe, for a chance at greatness.
He cups his palm against Sebastian’s jaw, thumb brushing against his cheek, and then pulls back.
“Okay,” he says. His voice is thick, but he shifts backwards, until they’re sitting far enough apart to be casual. “See you, then.”
Lewis nods. His lips are still wet from Sebastian’s mouth, and he swipes his thumb along his own bottom lip.
Sebastian gets up and starts to move back down along the beach. Lewis watches as Roscoe follows him for almost a full minute, nudging at his heels. Sebastian bends down and pats him again, and then gestures back towards Lewis. Roscoe continues to follow him for a moment, but eventually, he turns and bounds back towards Lewis, collapsing into his lap with a sigh.
“Yeah,” Lewis says, laughing a little. “Me too, buddy.”
Roscoe gives him big, doleful eyes, and Lewis laughs again, then stands, brushing sand from his pants. He can feel his mind already shifting back into gear, ready to think about tomorrow and what he needs to do to be ready for it.
“C’mon,” he says to Roscoe, who reluctantly heaves himself up too. He reaches down and scratches between Roscoe’s ears. “Home time.”