Jamie, Ian and John rolled slowly behind the cars. Boarding the ferry, they were last, their motorcycles parked side by side at the back of the vessel. It smelled of iron and petrol here at the ferry landing, and they couldn’t wait to be at sea - well, at least on the water. It was scorching hot, the July sun glaring down on them with relentless force. John’s shoulders were burned from the day before, where they’d spent time at the Wright Brothers’ Memorial, then at Jockey’s Ridge. They had no idea sand surfing was a thing, and Ian nearly broke an ankle, but they all swore to try it again as soon as they could.
Escaping summer in Scotland, their university courses over for the time being, the three young men had made their way down Highway 12, the one main road on this string of islands that hugged the North Carolina mainland. A two lane road, they were sometimes stuck behind a delivery truck, and other times they were able to roar the bikes across a bridge, feeling the wind hit their bodies as the bikes careened around the curves built into the structures. Marshland and intracoastal waterway to their right, and open ocean to their left, they all thought they’d give anything to stay longer than they were planning to.
Now, with Hatteras Island at their backs, the tall lighthouse with its black and white spiral pattern lighting the sky with its bright, flickering warning signal, they were headed for Ocracoke, a small island with not many year round inhabitants, but plenty of tourists to fill the space. In the height of summer, Jamie wasn’t sure what to expect, but when they disembarked, their bikes roaring to life, he got rather nervous: it appeared uninhabited at first, and he asked Ian if they’d caught the right ferry, but soon enough he saw lights in the distance, and he was eager for a bed and some food in his belly.
Finally, the three of them reached Howard’s Pub, the first sign of civilization since leaving Hatteras Island. They could smell the grill smoke from outside, and were relieved to find their way to a corner booth, lined with red vinyl material that squeaked when they sat down.
“It was the seat, I swear,” John said, laughing as they looked over their menus.
“God, I’m so hungry I’d eat anything right now. Oh, wonder what the fish of the day is?” Jamie wondered, and he quickly got an answer as their waitress came to the table, eying the three of them with a kind smile on her face.
“Red Snapper, freshly caught,” she said, giving Jamie a grin as she placed glasses of water on the table. “It’s good - l recommend getting it sauteed, fried foods just aren’t my thing - but it's not bad that way, either.”
Her accent jarred Jamie a bit. He’d been expecting a southern drawl, or perhaps a middle America news-caster voice devoid of any dialect. No, though - she was English. A Sassenach. Jamie wondered what in the world she was doing here on this tiny island, working as a waitress.
“What’s it come with?” Jamie heard Ian ask, though he didn’t much care. His hunger was forgotten - this curly haired lass with her amber eyes had been staring at him, and only him. And he was entranced. She answered Ian without taking her eyes off Jamie, her big grin showing all her teeth. Little wisps of hair escaped the knot at the base of her neck, and she wore a pair of shorts under an apron that accentuated her long legs.
“Baked potato or french fries… lads,” she teased, picking up on their accents.
“Sounds good to me. And perhaps a...eh, what do they drink down here?” John asked, closing his menu and handing it to her. Jamie and Ian followed suit, and she walked away after telling them she’d be right back with some Yuenglings and glasses.
Jamie took a second to regroup, glancing around at the decor of the place. Old, American license tags hung on the wall, from California to Maine, and he wondered where they’d come from. The dark wood of the floor and the walls gave the place a cozy feel, and feel-good pop music blared from the speakers, and Jamie regretted not coming on a night with live music.
The woman returned, bringing drinks and cocktail napkins, along with three glasses from the freezer. Jamie watched as the woman deftly poured their beers, the foam rising slowly to the top.
Jamie took a sip - they’d had this before - and he let the drink wet his dry throat. The cold of the glass froze his hand as he held it, and he shot the waitress a grateful smile before she walked away again. This time his eyes followed her, and he received a jab in the ribs from Ian.
“Down, boy!” He chuckled good-naturedly, and Jamie rubbed his cheek, attempting to wipe the unrelenting grin off his face.
“Where are we staying again, John?” he asked, changing the subject quickly from himself.
“Um… It’s called Blackbeard’s Lodge, if memory serves. Was the only place with a room when I booked!”
“Planning ahead as always, John?” Ian cracked, eager to get to a warm bed.
All three men were exhausted after their long, exhilarating day, and with their stomachs full, they headed to the inn, their bikes hot and ready for a well-deserved rest.
Jamie couldn’t sleep. He’d been lying awake in the spacious, yet cozy, room the inn had offered them, but he couldn’t settle. The twin bed was too short, but he and Ian had lost the coin toss, and had folded themselves into the small beds covered in some nondescript pirate pattern comforters, feet dangling off the ends. Ian snored lightly to his right, and John scored the larger queen bed across the room.
The server at the restaurant wouldn’t get the hell out of his mind. Her lithe arms as she reached across him to set Ian’s plate down; her unabashed grin as she gazed at him; her springy, dark hair that smelled faintly of peaches. He shivered thinking about her voice, the Englishness, the taste of home - well, sort of. She felt comfortable, at ease with herself in a way he hadn’t encountered since he’d been in the U.S.
He rubbed his face roughly with his hands, frustrated that sleep was eluding him. He was damn tired, but his mind wouldn’t quit racing. He decided instead to go wandering. It was a small island, he thought, how lost could he get?
Slipping on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, he stepped into his sandals and made his way downstairs and out the front door of the inn, the muggy night air a shock after the cool indoors. The humidity immediately clung to him, making him feel sticky and in need of a shower. The midges were out in full force, and he swatted at them as he made his way down the small lane to… to where, he wondered? As he went on, he could hear the faint sound of the ocean ahead, and he followed it.
The dunes were ahead, the ocean just beyond, and he wondered how he could reach the water. Signs were posted along the way:
Please Do Not Climb on the Dunes
Okay, okay, he thought, I won’t. He walked to the right a bit, and luckily found a small walkway - formed either by humans or water, he wasn’t sure, but he took the chance and found himself yards away from the crashing waves. The moon was out, a cloudless sky allowing it to shine uninhibited on the water, the light dancing in the waves like small silver fish.
The water was cool on his toes, but blissful, after his walk. Beads of sweat had formed on his neck and along his hairline, and he wanted to completely submerge himself. Instead, he ran his foot heavily across the sand, just at the waterline, watching the bioluminescent creatures who lived there glow a faint blue. He was admiring his handiwork when he heard someone behind him.
“Ahem.” the person cleared their throat, moving closer.
Jamie whirled around, assuming it was John or Ian, having followed him out the inn. But it wasn’t either of his mates.
It was her. The ethereal being who he couldn’t banish from his mind. Jesus. Fucking. Christ.
“Oh.. it’s you,” he said, feeling like a right idiot.
“Me?” she replied, smiling her smile, her eyes alight with amusement.
“Oh, sorry, I just figured you were one of my friends…” he trailed off, turning to face her now, his feet nearly buried by the tide. “You’re English,” he continued, biting his tongue as the words left his mouth.
Smooth, Fraser. Smooth.
“Yeah, I know.”
She laughed then. A slightly raspy laugh that nearly knocked Jamie off his feet. It melded with the crash of the waves, a faint, breathy sound, complete with her wide grin.
Jamie imitated her, grinning like the cat that ate the canary.
“Why are you out here?” he asked without thinking.
“Um… probably the same as you. Couldn’t sleep?” she inquired, her eyebrows up, her mouth in a slight frown.
“Ah. Yeah. I’m exhausted but…”
He stopped himself, not willing to divulge that he’d been thinking about her. He didn’t even know her name, for fuck’s sake.
“I’m Claire,” she said, extending her hand for a friendly shake.
Claire. Well, he’d been expecting something else, like Charlotte or Elizabeth or Mary. But Claire - it was a name he could say in a breath, a name he could set aside as special - he knew no other Claires, save this one. His Beach Claire, he dubbed her, then and there.
He wondered vaguely if it was weird, him putting her on a pedestal before they’d even had a proper conversation, but he didn’t give a damn right about now - the cold water was licking his toes and the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen was there next to him. Why wouldn’t he mark this, her, as special?
He fumbled a bit, realizing he hadn’t said anything for at least a minute. She was staring at him like he’d grown an extra head.
“Oh, um, I’m Jamie,” he spoke, his hand taking hers. He hoped she didn’t notice that he was shaking slightly. With adrenaline? With arousal? He wasn’t sure, but probably both. Her hand was soft and slight in his own large one - he wondered if she was part bird, with hollow, light bones easily broken. He kept his touch light, just in case, and he withdrew quickly so she wouldn’t feel his palm sweating.
“How- how’d you find your way over here?” he asked.
“Again, same as you - in an airplane,” she shrugged. “What did The Beatles say? ‘Turned left at Greenland?’” she mused, that raspy laugh escaping her again, causing Jamie to shiver.
“Oh, right… right,” Jamie chuckled, not having the faintest idea what she was talking about. He didn’t care, though. Neither, it seemed, did she.
“I live here in the summer… for the time being - work, as you saw, and um… muck around here and there.” She moved to stand next to him, facing the water, arms folded around her middle. Jamie stared at his feet - her feet, both buried in the sand, water causing their skin to glisten in the moonlight. “Where are you staying?” she asked, jerking him out of his reverie.
“Oh, ah… Blackbeard’s...something?”
She laughed that laugh again, and smiled.
“Right, right, I know the place. What are you doing tomorrow, Jamie?”
She wasted no time, did she?
“Um. Was going to spend the day at the beach with my mates…” Jamie replied, hoping to sound casual, noncommittal.
“Well, if you’d like, I can show you around. It’s a small place, but there’s plenty to see,” she said, eyeing him, eyebrow arched. “And do,” she finished, leaning into him slightly, her breath tickling his ear.
Jamie nearly choked, but kept his composure as he simply nodded.
“I’d… I’d love that,” he said. “I’ve never been here before - it’s a beautiful place.”
“Wait till you see it in sunlight,” she said, brushing her arm with his. “Meet me in front of the restaurant, say around 9 tomorrow morning?” she suggested.
“Oh, yeah, definitely. I’ll be there,” Jamie said, smiling, his breath leaving his lungs as she walked away, her footprints still next to him.
Jamie woke early - too early, if he was being honest, but he didn’t want to miss her. He had crept back into his room the night before, managing not to wake John or Ian.
This morning, however, they were eager to get going, eager to explore the island, then get the hell off - board the ferry to Cedar Island. It was their tentative plan, but now Jamie wasn’t so sure he wanted to leave. They sat around the small table in their room, having a light breakfast before heading out.
“You want to bust up our trip for a woman in a restaurant?” John asked, incredulous.
“No! I just… she invited me out, so all I’m saying is, I may not make the ferry tonight. If you want, you lads go on - I can catch up. We’re in Morehead City for three nights, are we not? I can catch the ferry tomorrow,” he explained, shrugging.
“But this is supposed to be a Guys Only trip, Jamie! You don’t even know her!”
“Her name’s Claire,” he said flatly, like that explained it.
“I don’t give a toss what the hell her name is - what did she do, bewitch you?” Ian said, laughing as he sipped the coffee they’d retrieved from the small thermos downstairs. “Jesus this stuff is awful,” Ian spat. He took a bite of his dry toast and made a face. “We’re staying at the Hampton Inn in Morehead, right John? I think they have sweet rolls, at any rate.”
“It’s not so bad,” Jamie said, shrugging. He was a big liar, of course, but he wouldn’t let them know that. He also refused to tell them any more about Claire than her name - not that he had much more information than that. He did know her eyes were like drops of honey, that her small waist seemed perfectly tailored to wrap his arms around. That her arse was like…
“Just.. Ugh, fine. You’re a grown man, do what you want. This bird better be worth it,” John groaned, swallowing his coffee, and pocketing his toast. “For the birds,” he said, shrugging, after being met with questioning looks.
“Do they let you feed them?” Ian asked, having forgotten all about this enigmatic Claire character. “Off the back?”
“Yeah, ‘course - why not?”
“Don’t they shit all over the place?”
“There’s no sign, you twat. Saw some kids doing it last night, anyway. It’s a long ride. Grab some bread, we’ll feed them off the ferry when we leave,” John said, emphasising the last word for Jamie’s benefit.
“Oh, you’re gonna miss the fun, mate. Drunk bird feeding. It’ll be great,” Ian exclaimed, jumping up, grabbing the rest of Jamie’s toast for his future bird-feeding escapade.
“What fun,” Jamie deadpanned, smirking at their childlike excitement. “Don’t fall off, please? Your mothers will never forgive me if they have to dredge the water looking for you two idiots.”
He stood up then and glanced at the clock. Half past eight. Perfect.
Checking himself in the mirror, he heard snickers behind his back. He rolled his eyes, smoothing his curly hair down as best he could. The humidity was wreaking havoc on his carefully maintained waves - copper ones that curled around his ears. Here, in the American South, the humidity kept it drenched at the ends with sweat.
His white t-shirt was thin, hopefully cool enough, and he wore swim trunks instead of shorts, in case he found himself on the beach hankering for a swim.
He grabbed his bag - beach towel, wallet, phone, change of clothes - and waved to his mates as he left.
“If you get laid, and we don’t fall off the back of the ferry later, we’ll see you in Morehead City… tomorrow!” Ian said, emphasising that last bit, in case Jamie forgot their plans, what with his cock all preoccupied.
Jamie smirked. “Yeah, yeah, whatever mate. See you two clowns later. I have a date,” he taunted, heading down the steps.
The island had come alive, up with the sun, pulsing with activity, with people milling around. Cars came and went in droves, to either end of the island. They parked along the dunes, along the streets. Jamie heard families chattering away, carrying beach chairs, towels, ready for a day on the ocean. The faint blare of a ferry horn was heard every once in a while, and the few restaurants were swarming with people needing breakfast. And, still, the crash of the waves on the beach were heard over everything.
Jamie made his way to Howard’s Pub, and was glad to see Claire was waiting for him. She sat on a bench out front, a small purse slung over her shoulder. She wore a red striped t-shirt, and fitted white denim shorts; on her feet were worn leather flip-flops, and Jamie noticed her freshly painted toenails - bright red, the color matched her shirt.
Her eyes hidden behind sunglasses, she lowered them as Jamie approached her.
“You came,” she said, smiling at him as she stood up. “Come on, I’ve got our day all planned.”
She pulled his arm without preamble, Jamie willingly following her out of the gravel lot onto the side of the road.
“Where are we going?” he asked, though he didn’t care much. Her arse was in front of him, her swinging hips making his eyes gloss over.
“Well, first we’re going to walk to the lighthouse, then I thought we’d go see the ponies - have you seen them yet?”
“There’s a lighthouse here, too? We saw Hatteras yesterday. No, I’ve not seen the ponies,” he finished, reluctantly relinquishing her hand to be able to walk next to her. Her flip-flops made a slapping sound against her heel as she walked, and Jamie wished he had a pair too - they looked comfortable.
“The lighthouse is smaller, but pretty nonetheless. Come on, it’s just down this way,” she said, pulling him across a busy street, winding her way through a crowded neighborhood.
The structure loomed overhead - sure, it was smaller than Hatteras, but still giant. The white brick lighthouse stood in a small grassy field, surrounded by an aging wooden picket fence, seagrass and sand spurs littering the ground around their feet. Claire pulled open the small gate and led Jamie along the wooden decking to the base of the lighthouse.
“Take a picture with me?” she asked, pulling out her phone and cramming herself in the unassuming doorway. Jamie stood next to her and smiled a cheesy smile as she held the phone up in front of them both. SHe snapped a photo, and looked at it.
“Ah, shoot, I’ve cut us off at the top,” she said, laughing.
“Here, let me have a go - I’ve got longer arms,” Jamie said, and held it out again, leaning into her this time so her shoulder rested against his. Her hair ticked his cheek as he smiled, and he snapped the photo quickly.
They were framed perfectly in the doorway of the lighthouse, the white brick surrounding them. Claire had grinned, and Jamie smiled as he stared at the photo.
“You look good… I, however, look-” he said, handing her phone back to her.
“Ha, shut up - we both look fantastic, and I’ll not hear otherwise. What’s your number, I’ll send it to you,” she said quickly, readying her thumbs to type his number.
“Oh, great, I’d love a copy,” Jamie said, reciting his mobile number, watching her fingers dance as she added him to her contacts. He soon heard a faint buzz in his pocket, and he secretly wanted to grab the phone out of his pocket to stare at the photo some more, but he stopped himself, following her back out to the street.
“So… the ponies are down the beach a bit. A little over 7 miles. Want to hoof it, or.. I suppose we could rent bikes?” Claire suggested, leading him down to the middle of town. It was a small area, lined with a few shops, a coffee shop, a kite store. The place was bustling with people and cars, and Jamie’s size helped them elbow through the crowd.
“Bikes sound fun!” he said, and Claire pulled him to a bike rental hut. He noticed she did that a lot - pull him along by his arm, and he was happy to let her lead him just about anywhere.
Jamie’s red bicycle, worn with sea salt and lots of rides, rolled down the narrow bike lane on Highway 12, cars whizzing past him as he followed Claire down to the pony pens. He could make out the outline of her bikini top as her shirt was pulled tight around her back, and he hoped they might go swimming later. The heat was intensifying as it got closer to noon, and he was rather thirsty.
He watched as Claire deftly retrieved her phone from the purse around her shoulder and turned to snap a pic of him.
“Careful!” he said as her bike swerved slightly. She only laughed and turned back around, righting her bike as a large RV whooshed passed them. She had a recklessness to her that made Jamie’s heart jump into his throat and stay there, the anticipatory high making his brain feel fuzzy.
He’d had fun with his mates, thus far, but they were familiar, and predictable. John would worry too much about the schedule, Ian would talk nonstop about Jamie’s sister, Jenny; both he and John would roll their eyes as they heard Ian on the phone with her, Jamie sticking his finger down his throat in disgust.
This woman, his Beach Claire, with her wavy hair and playful smile, was an unintended break in his plans, and he felt a lightness in his chest as the world fell away around them, his vision slowly narrowing to a world where only she existed.
She was pointing to their left, now, saying something, her voice drowned in the road noise alongside them.
“What?” Jamie called.
Jamie watched her left arm flail to the side, and then she peeked around her shoulder, turning her bicycle to the left and making a swift trip across the busy road. Jamie followed as soon as it was safe, and came to a stop in a gravel parking lot, busy with cars.
“Jesus. Perhaps bikes weren’t such a good plan?” He said, eyebrows raised, breath coming fast.
“It’s all part of the fun, Jamie,” she laughed, kicking the stand of her bike down.
They left their bikes to the side, and followed a family up the wooden steps to the pony viewing area. Jamie wasn’t sure what to expect, but he had seen photos of ponies roaming the beaches, in the marsh, running freely. These ponies were penned up, unable to roam. They seemed happy enough, Jamie thought, but were they truly wild?
Their coats were rough, unkempt, and he longed to run his hand along the back of the horse nearest him. The creature was a gorgeous chestnut brown, with a blonde mane and tail. The horse munched on grass, stamping its foot, its tail swishing away biting flies. They reminded him of his horses at home, and he felt the slight pang of homesickness for the first time since leaving Scotland.
He felt Claire take his hand, pulling him away again, to who knew where. He followed her back to the bikes.
“Those aren’t the ones you want to see, though. They had to corral those because of the large crowds that visit in the summer. If you have time, we can make a trip over to Shackleford Banks, where they roam freely. I’ve camped there a few times, it’s rough, but fun.”
Claire mounted her bike again, motioning for Jamie to follow, and they made another risky maneuver across the street, and Claire pedaled them to a beach access point, again filled with cars as beachgoers loaded and unloaded their gear. They parked their bikes close to the walkway between the dunes, and Jamie followed behind Claire. He watched as she slipped her sandals off, carrying them in her fingers. She looked back, grinning at him, beckoning him with her finger.
“Care for a swim? It’s so damn hot,” she said as they stopped between two sets of beach chairs. Claire pulled her shirt off, and her shorts, revealing a basic black bikini, the ties at her hips begging to be untied. Jamie’s fingers twitched, though he pushed the thought away as he shed his shirt and shoes, leaving them on the sand with her things.
“Come on, then!” she called, making a mad dash for the water, the waves coming up to greet her as Jamie ran after her, eager to cool off.
The water was blissful, though Jamie could’ve done without the mouthful of salt water that collected in his mouth when he was smacked in the face by a wave. He heard Claire laughing, and he splashed water in her general direction, though he was sure he missed.
“Nice try, Jamie,” she said, ducking her head underwater to avoid a breaking wave.
He lost sight of her briefly, and he twirled around on his feet, the sand slimy between his toes, trying to catch a glimpse of her. He didn’t see her until she popped up right in front of him.
“Boo,” she said quietly, water running down her face as she smiled, throwing her arms around his neck, their faces an inch apart. His eyes met hers as his arms found their way around her waist, pulling her to him. He could feel the tingle in his lips, smell her skin. He wanted to lean in, kiss her then, but she let go before he could.
“Hungry, Jamie? I’m starved, let’s go clean up and eat lunch.”
Again he followed, like a puppy, he thought, and he didn’t mind at all.
Gathering their things on the sand, they walked together to the showers at the parking lot, Claire pulling Jamie underneath the water with her. He kept his eyes averted as she ran her hands through her hair, along her skin, ridding herself of salt and sand. He rinsed himself off briefly, then slipped his shirt back on.
“I’ve a towel in my bag - would you care to use it?” he offered, and Claire shook her head, slipping her clothes on over her dripping swimsuit.
“I’ll dry easily enough - It’s so hot.”
Reclaiming their bikes, they rode back to town, grabbing burgers from a stand, then rested against a fence rail away from the road. They sat in silence for a short time, both enjoying their food. Claire had bought a soda, and held it in front of Jamie’s face, shaking the cup at him.
“Oh,” he said, placing the straw between his lips, sucking the sweet drink into his mouth. It left a satisfying fizz on his tongue, and he nodded in thanks.
“So, what’ll you do when you leave here?” Claire asked, taking another bite of her burger. A breeze came through, pushing her hair away from her face, her cheeks slightly pink with exertion or perhaps sunburn.
“Well, I’m supposed to be with my mates right now,” Jamie said, chuckling. “But they’re catching the ferry in just a bit to go over to Cedar Island, then make their way to...er… I forget the name of the town, but I’ll meet up with them there.”
“Oh,” Claire muttered, and Jamie couldn’t help but notice a bit of despondence in her tone. “Leaving today, then?” Her eyebrows rose in question as she crumpled the paper her burger had been wrapped in.
“No, I mean, I don’t have to,” Jamie shrugged, leaving his day open - if she wanted to spend more time with him. He hoped she did.
“I was only wondering if you wanted to see the wild ponies over near Cape Lookout with me? We could board that ferry your mates are catching in a bit and make our way there easy enough. Do you have camping gear?”
“Camping gear, er... no, we hadn’t planned on doing any camping.”
“It’s an entirely uninhabited island we’d be going to, no restrooms or anything,” she said, laughing a bit. “But like I said, I’ve done it before - it’s fun, kind of an adventure,” she finished, wiggling her eyebrows up and down.
“You want to go with me?” he asked, a little puzzled, if not upset, about the fact that she had no one else she knew better to take with her.
“I’m having fun with you - why not?” she shrugged, hopping off the fence rail and brushing her hands off. “Come on, I’ll get our ferry tickets. We need to return our bikes.”
“I’ve got to gather the rest of my stuff at the inn, and get my motorcycle before someone thinks it’s abandoned,” Jamie smiled. “Meet you back here in twenty minutes?”
Claire met Jamie again at the ferry landing, toting on her back a large pack, presumably filled with camping gear. It fit snugly on her back, buckled around her middle to keep it secure. She refused to let Jamie carry it, so he ushered her along. She boarded the ferry first, as a walk-on passenger, and Jamie waited until it was his turn.
Having boarded, Jamie hopped off his bike and found Claire, at the back, where people were milling around, waiting for the trip to start. It would be a long ride - nearly three hours - and everyone was ready to depart. Jamie spotted Ian and John standing near the edge - blocked only by a loose chain barrier. They each held small bags of bread, and Jamie rolled his eyes. They’d been serious about feeding the gulls, and the birds were already flapping their wings, hovering nearby.
“Oh Christ, look at the size of that one!” John said, marvling at one of the larger birds who made that distinct call, reminding Jamie of Finding Nemo.
“Greedy bastards,” he muttered, laughing.
“You made it after all!” Ian said, greeting him with a wave. Claire stood to the side, arms resting on the rail of the vessel, and she stared out over the water, seemingly lost in thought.
“Claire,” Jamie said, pulling her to stand by him. “These are my mates, Ian and John - surely you remember them,” he said, gesturing to his friends.
“Of course - you three left me a larger tip than I probably deserved, so thank you,” she said, smiling at them.
John and Ian both pointed to Jamie, shrugging their shoulders.
“That was all him, I’m afraid,” Ian said, causing Jamie’s cheeks to go hot.
“Ah, I see,” she replied, laughing a bit. “I think I’ll go find a place to sit down.” Claire wandered off, and Jamie was helpless to do anything but follow. She glanced back briefly, and grinned when she saw he was behind her.
They chose a spot up top, shaded by the sun. The ferry moved slowly, making its way across the water, engine rumbling in the background. People milled around them, scooting past their legs in the narrow walkway. They settled close to one another letting the salty air blow around their faces.
“How long have you been on Ocracoke?” Jamie asked, nudging her shoulder.
“Oh, since… end of May? I was in Asheville before that, San Francisco before that, and I figured it was time to escape the city for a bit - and Ocracoke sounded like the perfect place.”
“Move around a lot, then?”
“Hmm, yeah,” she nodded. “I was raised by my uncle who was a bit of a nomad himself, and I just never learned how to settle down. Don’t really care to. I’m enjoying myself, so why not keep going, see the world?”
Jamie nodded, finding himself slightly envious of her free spirit, her ability to adapt, and her willingness to do what made her happy. His life had been mapped out for him, not that he particularly minded that map, but he was expected to finish university, work with his Da in Scotland, raise a family just like his parents had. It was all so neat, so seemingly ideal, but this trip with Ian and John had taught him that he quite enjoyed hopping from one place to another, as spontaneous as John allowed them all to be. Their trip from New York City to Key West, Florida had been meticulously planned by John, with the help of Jamie’s parents, who had demanded a copy of their itinerary, any hotel phone numbers, a map of the roads they’d travel.
It was freeing, but Jamie knew it would be over soon enough - they’d head back to Scotland, and he’d do just what was expected of him. He shrugged the tight feeling off, feeling Claire’s leg brush against his as the ferry swayed on the waves.
“Where will you go next?” he asked, pushing hair from his eyes. The salt from the ocean water made his hair brittle, and he could taste the salt on his lips as his tongue darted out to wet them.
“Hmm.. I’ve not decided, really. I’ll leave Ocracoke at the end of summer, I suppose, when the crowd dies down. Not much money to be made when it’s empty. Perhaps I’ll find my way to Florida? Have never been, actually.”
She shot Jamie a coy look, half her mouth up in a smile.
The ferry ride coming to an end, Jamie handed Claire an extra helmet he kept with him, and as he felt her arms go around his waist, he couldn’t help but shiver a small bit. Her legs rested alongside his, and he started the bike, the motor roaring to life along with John and Ian’s, and they all rolled off the ferry, back on solid earth.
They followed John and Ian for a while, Highway 12 turning into 70, the road lined with tall pines and marshy grasses. Jamie caught glimpses of the water from time to time, his stomach muscles contracting every time Claire shifted, her grip on his middle tightening or loosening. Jamie’s mates headed on to Morehead City, while Claire and Jamie took a left turn onto Harker’s Island Road, where they’d catch the small boat that would take them over to Shackleford.
The National Park Service provided ferry service to Shackleford as well as Cape Lookout, and Jamie and Claire boarded a small boat with several other holiday-goers. The man at the helm wore khaki shorts and a matching shirt, and he explained over the sound of the boat about the ponies - what they ate, how they found water, where they’d come from.
“They’re remnants of Spanish shipwrecks, the horses having survived, and they swam ashore long ago. Their descendants continue to thrive here today. Take as many photos as you'd like, of course, but to those of you getting off at Shackleford, we ask that you remain at least 50 feet away from the horses at all times. They're untamed, and contact with humans would be detrimental to them. We ask that you take away anything that you bring with you - no garbage cans are found on the island, as well as no facilities, so be prepared to rough it,” he said, smiling to his passengers.
As they pulled to a small dock on the island, Claire and Jamie stood, Jamie quickly gathering the pack onto his back before Claire could take it. They climbed off the boat, and being the only ones getting off there, they waved to the boat as it puttered away, across the water to Cape Lookout, the black and white checkered lighthouse gleaming at them in the sun.
"As far as I know, this is the last bit of wilderness for them. Farther north - in Carolla - there's a nature preserve set aside for them, but for whatever reason, people are allowed to build huge vacation homes on the dunes, among their habitat. It's a shame, really."
Claire took a breath, then began making her way to the shore, and sat on the sand, feet just touching the water. Jamie followed, and sat next to her, but not before grabbing a couple bottles of water.
"The heat is intense out here," he said, "but the water feels so good."
"Sure does," Claire replied, taking a swig of the water. It wasn't cold, but it would do.
"It's getting late - does your phone work out here? Mine's done for - no signal at all.”
"Haha, no, it's useless. It’s better this way: no interruptions." She winked at him then, one corner of her mouth going up. “The sun will be down soon enough. I’ve got some torches in the bag, since we can’t build a fire - a fire would be nice, though.”
“We could roast marshmallows!”
“Well yes, but tonight we’ll have to eat them raw. There’s a bag there in one of the pockets.”
“You thought of everything, you genius,” Jamie said, laughing and brushing the sand from his hands. He went rooting in the bag, and retrieved a full bag of Jet Puff Marshmallows, and a bar of chocolate. “Yessss,” he hissed, and opened the treats.
They ate slowly, savoring the sweets on their tongues, then slowly made their way up, choosing to walk down the beach a ways. The sun was beginning to go down, and the heat dissipated a bit, much to their relief.
They appeared to be the only ones on the island, and Jamie felt like they were the last two people on earth. They saw the lighthouse, and the lights of the visitor center nearby from across the water - it was the only sign of humanity they could make out.
They strolled, shoulder to shoulder, Jamie wanting desperately to take her hand. His skin tingled with each brush against her. He was caught by surprise when she stopped, digging her hand in the sand for something he couldn’t see.
“Oh my God,” she said, holding up the item. It was shadowed in the dark, and Jamie only looked at it, puzzled. “It’s a whole sand dollar! I’ve never found one before!” She held it up, beaming from ear to ear. She handed it to Jamie, and he felt the rough texture of the odd object.
It was mostly flat, small holes near the ends. It wasn’t a circle, but it wasn’t any other identifiable shape, either. It was light in his hand, and he went to give it back to her.
“No, you keep it, something to remember me by?” she suggested, still grinning.
“And reality comes crashing back down,” he mumbles, a half laugh escaping his lips. He held the delicate sand dollar, not knowing quite how to keep it whole all the way to Scotland.
“What?” she asked, looking at him.
“Oh, nothing. Just… I’ve enjoyed our day, a lot. And I certainly never thought I’d wind up on an uninhabited island with… with-”
“With… ?” she nudged, eyebrows up.
“Well, Claire. With you, I suppose. You’ve kind of… taken me by surprise.”
“Surprise? Good surprise, I hope?”
“Of course,” he breathed out, turning and taking her shoulders in his hands. He had the fleeting thought that he was being rude, but the thought disappeared as she leaned into him. They were still in their bathing suits, and her bathing suit grazed his bare skin, and he felt goosebumps form even in the heat of the evening. Their faces inches apart, just like earlier - wow, it seemed like forever ago - in the ocean, her arms around his neck, the waves tossing them lightly.
Now, on the sand, his feet firmly planted, he took the plunge, placing his lips at the corner of her mouth lightly, testing the waters. She turned her head, catching his lips with hers, unabashed, fearless.
Jamie had no idea how long they kissed, there on the edge of the water, wild ponies in the distance, hidden away in the dunes. He only knew he was out of breath when they finally broke apart - his hands had somehow found their way into her hair, tangled as it was, wet with salt water.
“Has it only been… a day we’ve spent together?”
“Hmm.. yeah,” she said, shrugging. “Feels like longer though, doesn’t it?”
She’d completed his thought, reading his mind.
They sat on the beach, darkness surrounding them. Claire had laid her hands on an Uno card deck from somewhere in the bag, and Jamie scowled at her.
“Are you sure you want to start this game?”
“What? It’s fun!” she said, smiling as she shuffled the deck.
“Wars have been started over this game.”
“What, you’re telling me Franz Ferdinand was assassinated over a Draw Four card?”
“I believe it,” Jamie laughed, holding the cards in his hand. He tried to peek at hers, catching a light punch on the shoulder in response.
“No cheating! Now. I’ll go first….”
They played on, the game a never ending series of making the other draw cards just as they held only one.
“Uno!” Claire announced, the stars in the sky glowing bright above them. She waved her final card in the air. She cut Jamie a look, daring him to put down anything other than a Blue or a Five card. “Sooo, Jamie, what do you have for me?” She put her hand over her mouth, waiting.
“Hmmm, Claire, I’m not sure we shouldn’t get off this beach - I’m afraid I’m going to require medical attention after I put down…”
He slapped a Red Two down, Claire diving over the deck, shoving him to the sand.
“I’ll drown you in the water, Jamie!” she shouted, laughing at the same time.
“I told you! This game only ends in violence!”
Jamie’s stomach hurt from laughing, and he was suddenly very aware of her body atop his, their torsos lined up just so. The breath left his lungs as she continued laughing.
“We’re going to scare the ponies,” she whispered, kissing him in earnest. Jamie’s eyes fell shut as he bent one knee between her legs, adjusting his hips ever so slightly. She squirmed against him, and pulled her legs up to straddle him.
The Uno game long forgotten, Jamie tugged at the strings on Claire’s top, pausing their kissing long enough to make sure it didn’t wind up in the water. Her breasts were the perfect size, his palms fitting snugly around them. His palms grazed her nipples, and she shivered, letting a small moan out of her mouth. Lifting his hips up, Jamie searched for the friction, the heat he so desperately wanted, and Claire responded quickly, untying her bottoms and laying herself bare to him.
He marveled at her willingness to let him see her - he was still slightly nervous about removing his swim trunks.
He didn’t feel that way for much longer, however, because Claire was in the middle of untying them before he realized what was happening. Propping herself on one arm, she’d reached down and carefully untied the knot that held them low on his hips. Grazing her fingertips along the V of his torso, his stomach tightened, anticipation clouding his mind as she pulled his trunks off. He wriggled free of them letting his cock graze her center before she pressed herself against him, rocking slightly.
Their lips still locked, she reached behind her, grazing her hand over his balls, ever so lightly, teasing him with amusement in her eyes.
“Told you there was a lot to do,” she whispered into his mouth. “I wanted you on the beach last night, did you know?”
Jamie wasn’t sure how to respond, but he decided action would be better than words, so he cupped her bottom in his hands, squeezing, slightly pinching. He imagined the pink blooms forming on her skin, and he gasped as she grabbed his cock in her hand. He stopped her, though, a hand on her wrist.
“Um… I think I have sand in my arse,” he said, laughing heartily.
Claire sat up, laughing along with him - much to his relief, and she stood, pulling him up with her.
“Let’s go for a night swim, get the sand off,” she said, entering the dark water, lit only by faint moonlight. It was cloudy, and Jamie wondered if it might rain on them. He followed Claire into the water, feeling slightly creeped out about the pitch black water they were submerged in. Claire found him easily, wrapping her arms around his neck once again, her legs going around his hips. Still hard, Jamie felt the clench in his stomach, the desire that had been there since the night before at the booth in the restaurant. He’d felt drawn to her then, in some mysterious way, and he wanted to be inside her now. The want was felt from his lips, through his fingertips, down to his toes.
Taking her chin in his hand, he turned her head to him so he could look at her, see her whisky eyes.
“I want you, too,” he said, grabbing her hips, letting himself find her.
They stayed still for a moment, letting him fill her, enjoying the sensation of their skin all but dissolving, the heady feeling around them both carrying them home. He thrust once, slowly, then as he felt Claire place her lips on his neck, he couldn’t fight it any longer.
He moved into her, and out again, desire winning out. The small noises she made increased as he felt her hand fall between them, his climax growing closer as he could only imagine her touching herself. The dark water obscured what went on underneath, but his mind filled in the blanks, and it was overwhelming.
Emptying into her, he could feel she was right behind him, collapsing into him with abandon. She held him fiercely as they fell into oblivion.
Their night was spent on top of a sleeping bag, no covers needed, curled together like old lovers. Neither of them had bothered adding a layer of clothing between them, so they rested, skin to skin, complete with salt and sand. They remained still, silent, the air around them thick with conflicting emotions. Clinging to one another, they knew their time was limited, and that in several days, they’d be parting for good.
Or maybe not good, Jamie thought, in a brief moment of optimism. Perhaps Claire would find her way home again, perhaps they’d keep in touch, talk on the phone, at least. His thoughts were interrupted, a rustling sound catching their attention, somewhere off to one end of the beach.
“Look, Jamie. The foal,” Claire said softly, pointing her finger to the left.
He turned his head slowly, and she was right - the dark brown foal from earlier, its head jutting out from the darkness. Jamie could see the gleam of its black eye in the moonlight, and it shook its head lightly, then became still. It watched them for a moment, before ducking back behind the dunes, safe and content.
“I want a pony,” Claire said, turning to Jamie.
“Come to Scotland, to my family’s stables - I’ve got one for you.”
He had a pony in mind, too. One befitting Claire, it was pure white, a gorgeous animal, and he’d only just broken her before leaving on this trip.
“What’s its name?”
“No name, yet. Perhaps you should come see her for yourself,” Jamie said, wondering if the poor horse would remain nameless after all was said and done. He shook the thought away, running a hand over back and into her hair.
“I’ll think of something,” she said, closing her eyes.
They fell asleep under the stars, two creatures, tumbling into the depths, and neither entirely willing to come up for air.
They parted ways several days after their time on Shackleford Banks, standing in the sweltering sun at the ferry landing, where Claire would ride back to Ocracoke. Swapping addresses, phone numbers, and emails, she promised she’d write, and he promised he’d call.
He thanked her for teaching him what it was to be free. He told her how he’d like to take her with him, and wished she’d fit into his pocket. She laughed and gave him the sand dollar instead, tucking it into his bag.
She planted a kiss on his forehead, then walked onto the ferry’s deck, waving as Jamie, Ian and John made their way south, to their next destination.
About a year later
I missed you terribly when I got back home - if I could call it that. This little shack I’m renting barely has indoor plumbing. I’d almost be better off with our ponies! I hope you’ve made it back to Scotland safe and sound.
There’s a storm brewing off the coast - hurricane season is upon us - and it’s a doozy. We’re being evacuated, and I suppose I’ll go on to my next adventure.
I visited Shackleford once without you since you left, found our foal growing steadily, happy as ever. I named him Fraser - I hope that works for you. It fit, I thought. He has reddish hair, anyway.
I hope to hear from you soon. Please write back.
Jamie put the postcard back into its box, along with all her other letters - she’d sent at least a dozen, his mother collecting them for him as he made his way back to Scotland. He was surprised to see the ple waiting for him, and dove in, devouring each one like they would sustain him for life. They gradually appeared less often, but never stopped completely.
He’d pulled the sand dollar out for the first time when he’d returned, and had seen that she’d written on the back in black ink, her loopy handwriting covering the entire surface:
“You’re my favorite Scot. Care for a swim?”
Claire never told him exactly where she was - would name a state, or country, but nothing beyond that. He hoped she was enjoying herself, wherever she was.
Closing his box of letters, he tucked it under his bed. He glanced at the clock - right on time this morning, he thought, and grabbed his wallet and keys. His shift at the bar started in fifteen minutes, and he was eager to see his friends.
A live band played on Friday nights, and as Jamie entered the building, he saw they were already setting up. The drummer was doing a sound check, and while the percussion thumped in his ears, he did some last minute cleaning before the place became crowded.
He stood at the counter, mixing some drinks for a young couple who’d sauntered in. His mind was on the measuring, and he didn’t notice a third person sitting at the end of the bar.
“Jamie,” Ian said, coming up behind him,“isn’t that? No, it couldn’t be.”
Jamie looked around, then spotted her.
His brown haired lass, his Beach Claire, sitting on a stool, feet tucked underneath, wearing a pair of white shorts and a red striped top, complete with flip flops.
He went to her, hands shaking, her eyes that unfathomable amber color that took his breath away.
“Hello, stranger,” she rang, her wide grin forming as she drank him in. She slid something to the edge of the bar, Jamie catching it just before it fell. “I came to get you back for that card in Uno.”
She winked as Jamie discarded his apron, and mumbled a goodbye to Ian.
He had another game to win.
I hope you enjoyed this teeny tiny story of mine. I just couldn't resist writing it, even though it's full of absolutely nothing :p.
And, of COURSE Claire stayed with Jamie in Scotland!!! :)