The summer at the coast tastes like lemonade, sunbeams and watermelon ice cream.
Evan spends his days by the beach, up in the booth for the lifeguards.
It was a spontaneous decision, to apply as one for the summer, but Evan does not regret it at all. He gets to spend the whole day by the water, watching over the happy crowd of tourists and locals, kids building sandcastles and old men reading their beloved newspapers.
He met Alana, who’s been volunteering for the second time this season and together they make a great team. One of them always stays by the booth to watch over the beach and the other would get them a drink at the beach bar nearby. Evan likes it, the small talk with Zoe, who works there a lot and he likes his job and it’s just an overall good summer.
There’s entertainment too.
Nothing serious happened yet, despite that one day where Evan had to swim after a little girl on her floatee, because she didn’t notice the stream at first and got lost.
Besides this incident, all of the visitors are responsible swimmers, which means Evan and Alana get to watch the surfers a lot. They’re hanging around the bar all day, with their long hair and cool slang words and Evan was never one to admire people, but some of them really got it all.
One of the surfers out there particularly catches Evan’s eye.
He’s tall, with black swim shorts that complement his long legs, even from a distance.
He’s far away from the safety of the beach, seemingly belonging to a bigger group of surfers, but still being on his own in a strange, mysterious way. Evan immediately wants to know who he is.
He’s getting attention from all the tourists sitting on the beach and watching his daring maneuvers.
He’s not afraid of the height of the waves, throwing himself and his big surfboard down another crashing wave, ducking slightly to not get swallowed by it.
Evan sees dark hair, clinging to his face in wet strands and he’s wild and free and Evan really wants to know who he is now.
A little later, when he exits the waters and Evan is able to get a better look at him, he’s only more intrigued. He isn’t the classic surfer stereotype; he doesn’t consist out of pure muscles or tan. He’s skinny and almost too tall to be talented with his board, but he is. He’s sharp and doesn’t talk as lively and excited as the other surfers when they collect their boards and talk about the waves today.
“Who’s that?” Evan nods over to him as he walks over the beach, surrounded by friends and maybe admirers too. Alana takes down her heart-shaped sunglasses to get a better look and smiles knowingly.
“Oh, that’s Connor.” She says it like it explains everything.
Evan waits a second, to see if this is really all there is to know about the surfer, but Alana stays silent.
“Okay?” Evan almost regrets asking again. How often did he look after a mysterious boy, only to end up disappointed and/or heartbroken in the process? Maybe he should’ve kept his interest to himself from the beginning on.
“Oh, sorry, I forgot it’s your first summer here.” Alana apologizingly pads his shoulders and leans back into her seat, sipping on her soda. “Connor is kind of a legend around here, you know? Everybody knows him, he holds a couple of surf records on this coast.”
This doesn’t surprise Evan. The guy knew what to do out there on the water, without doubt. It almost seemed like him and the ocean were one, almost fusing together before breaking apart again for the next big ride. It was impressing and something about it made Evan’s cheeks warmer.
“He seems like a professional.” Evan observes as neutral as possible and Alana nods in affirmation.
“He’s been training on this beach ever since he dropped out of school, he started very early and is one of the best in the state!” As she continues to speak, Alana’s excitement grows steadily. “He’s not afraid at all of the sea, even on very nasty days and he’s very brave, even after that thing with the shark happened last summer.”
“W-What?” Evan freezes and looks over in shock, the heat in his face disappearing as quickly as it came. “A shark?”
Alana looks a little pale and nods. “It was before my time here, but there is this story going around, that Connor surfed one day and got bitten. They say he almost died that day, but he was back on the water just a couple of weeks later, like nothing ever happened. No one really knows if it’s true, but the necklace he wears? People around here say it’s one of the shark’s teeth!”
Evan almost, almost, laughs, because that’s just…complete bullshit, it has to be.
When he looks back down the booth again, to where Connor and his folks just sat down to enjoy some cold cocktails in the end, he’s close to one hundred percent sure all of that is made up.
Evan has met people like that before.
People who enjoy being in the spotlight, and now…Connor just seems like the type for it.
He sees himself in Alana’s sunglasses, his complete unimpressed face and is a little relieved he stopped himself from falling for another bad guy at the last second.
Evan never liked liars.
He can do perfectly fine without one like Connor too.
Later that week, Evan arrives at a party thrown by the beach bar.
The beach is full of surfers, loudly talking groups of friends and slightly drunk people. Everyone holds a drink in their hand and as Evan wanders through the cheering and dancing crowd, he can’t help but to feel lost in it. Like he’s drowning in the sea and there is no swimming vest in sight.
He walks off for a while, to the edge of the sand dunes, to the quiet of nature. The noises from the party get quieter, until he’s only surrounded by wind and night.
All of the surfers parked their boards in the sand, making Evan feel like he’s standing in an art gallery.
All of them tell a unique story. They’re big and wooden, self-painted and beautiful, only one color used or dozens, creating masterpiece after masterpiece, lined up in the sand.
Evan stops at one board that’s blue and turquoise and mint, all shades of his favorite color. It’s simple and yet again it’s not. At the edges are white lines that tell a story, in a language Evan doesn’t understand yet. It’s quickly becoming his favorite board, in a matter of seconds.
“See something you like?” A relaxed voice behind him asks and Evan startles, immediately taking back his hand from where he almost touched the board.
Connor is standing behind him, a pina colada in his hand, a lazy smirk on his self-confident face. He arrived earlier, causing some folks to cheer and stop their conversations to admire him. He’s wearing a white shirt and some loose grey shorts and no one should be allowed to look that good in something so simple.
“I was just looking.” Evan replies in defense and steps back, like he just got caught playing with Connor’s favorite toy.
“Well, I saw you just looking all week.” Connor’s grin gets a little wider and Evan silently begs his heart to calm down a little. “I never saw you around here. What’s your name?”
“Why do you care?” Evan has no idea why he’s so snappy out of the sudden. Maybe it’s because Connor still walks around the place like he owns it. He’s a cocky, arrogant, lying-
“Wow, I just wanted to converse.”
“Because I’m pretty sure you could converse with pretty much everyone else here.”
“Why do you hate me so much, Evan?”
“I don’t-“ Evan stops in his tracks. “How do you know my name?”
“I asked Alana.”
“Because I think you’re interesting.” The honesty in Connor’s eyes is caging Evan in, slowly spinning chains around his dumb heart.
“And I think you’re a poser.” Evan shoots back and he’s glad there are only a few lit torches around here, because by now his entire face must be red as hell.
“And why do you think that, Evan?” Connor asks with a smile and even now he still has the nerve to tease, to be one hundred percent sure of himself. It makes Evan’s left eye twitch.
Where should I even start?
“Well, first off, I don’t like the way you’re treating the bar staff.”
“The bar staff?” Connor asks like he never heard the term in his whole life.
“Yes, the bar staff.” Evan forces himself to not rest his hands on his hips, like he’s scolding a small child or something. “I’ve only been around here for a week and I never saw you paying for your drinks once. You might be famous around here, but that’s just rude.”
During his rant, Connor’s eyebrows almost shot up into his hairline and the corners of his mouth curled upwards suspiciously. “I appreciate that you care so much about fair payment for the bar staff, but you should know that my sister Zoe owns the place.”
“Yeah, but-“ The response dies quickly on his tongue. “I…Oh?”
“Oh.” Connor smirks and even dares to move a hand through his dark hair. Everything about him is just so…infuriating. Intoxicating.
“That’s…well.” Evan’s brain is trying to come up with another excuse to not fall helplessly for the grinning surfer boy with too much confidence. “But the thing with the shark? Really?”
“Oh, so you already heard about that one.”
“Of course, I did!”
“And you don’t believe it?”
“I really don’t.”
“You’re smart for not buying it, I’ll give you that.” Connor is nodding thoughtfully, playing with the seam of his shirt. “But you should also know, that some stories about monsters are in fact true.”
Before Evan can stop him, Connor raises his hand, dragging his shirt off and showing him his naked back, the side of him that Evan hasn’t seen before.
His back is…scarred. There are parts where skin is missing, only replaced by the natural attempt of the body to fix it together again. The skin is dark and it looks dead, but underneath it the muscles are still moving. There is one area that looks particularly bad, raw and leathery, it makes Evan sick.
He can’t look away.
“Last summer, I was out there and something bumped against my board, threw me over and under the surface.” Connor tells him in a low voice, still turning his back to him. “I don’t remember much, but right before I passed out, I remember…its skin against mine. Like a smooth surface, slippery. I never felt so powerless in my whole life.”
Unconsciously, Evan finds himself stepping closer, eyes still fixated on the huge mark on Connor’s back, until he’s almost breathing down his neck. He feels warmth radiating from the other man, like he tanked pure sunshine over the course of the whole day.
“Nobody knows why it didn’t kill me. The shark almost had me and then…he disappeared. Like he just wanted to warn me to not swim out so far the next time.” Connor chuckles, evidence of an acceptance that only time can bring your soul. “It’s weird, but I owe him my life. When they got me out of the water…everywhere was blood. They had to clean up the part of the beach for days, while I was in the hospital.”
“I’m sorry.” Evan swallows thickly, shame burning deep inside of him. “I never meant to offend you.”
“No offense taken.” Connor nods and pulls his shirt back on again, making his wounds disappear under the light fabric.
“Does it still hurt?” Evan whispers.
“No.” Connor answers and scratches his neck. “I never slept on my stomach again, because I had nightmares in the beginning, but in the end…I just love the ocean, more than anything. I couldn’t ever imagine not getting into those waters again.”
Evan nods and suddenly, there is a strange kind of warmth inside of him. It feels like…Evan doesn’t know yet. He only knows that one of the bravest people is standing in front of him, still smiling as he thinks about the sea.
Evan’s eyes trail down to Connor’s necklace, resting against sharp collarbones. Is it true, too?
“I know what you’re thinking, and no, that part is completely made up.” Connor grins and something mischievously glints in his eyes. “Zoe got it for me after the first shock subsided, to mock me after the accident, I think. People saw it when I returned back to the beach and just lost their minds.”
“You never corrected them?” Evan asks in disbelief.
Connor shrugs and downs the last bit of his cocktail. “Why should I? If I would’ve corrected every person that once made up a rumor about me just for fun, I would be very tired by now.”
What a philosophy.
It seems like their conversation came to an end.
Connor smiles one more time, a notch too kind considering the fact that Evan wasn’t exactly kind to him. He strolls back to the party, but not without looking back over his shoulder again.
“Besides, you know what the people around here say as well?”
“No.” Evan says meekly and Connor laughs, deep and rich and so, so confusing.
“Still waters run deep.”
Evan doesn’t know if he wants to slap or kiss him at this point.
It’s a stormy day, when Evan enters his second week at the beach.
It’s too cloudy for all the tourists to lie in the sand and too windy for families to let their kite’s fly. It’s the kind of day spend in the city, save from chilly weather between the small businesses and restaurants. Today, most people would spend their money on postcards and little souvenir gifts for their friends at home, a new pair of shoes or a sun dress. Maybe a new set of sand toys when the old one got lost and was collected by the lifeguards at the end of the day. Somehow, Evan already has a full drawer of lost toys and sunglasses he collected in the sand, before they would get lost in the water.
Evan learns quickly that this kind of weather, too bad for swimming, too good for staying in your small apartment, would lead the locals back to their beach. Him and Alana are sitting next to each other on the tower when he notices the many familiar faces from the beach party.
All the surfers are lazily hanging around by the beach bar lounge, some of them sitting in sandbags and checking out their phones. Someone turned on the radio and they halfheartedly listen to the weather report, the hope on a sudden weather change slowly dissolving into air.
Evan glances to Connor, standing by the bar and quietly talking to Zoe, who’s behind the counter and polishes glasses, nodding to something he’s telling her.
Even though it’s quite windy today, he doesn’t bother to wear a shirt, wearing his injury with pride instead. For some reason, Evan can’t look away from his ribcage, where his soft looking skin meets sharp edges of the bite, skin that never fully healed after the incident.
“Look at that, it’s really getting worse, huh?” Alana mumbles and looks out at the sea with concern. Evan brings himself to look away from Connor and follows her eyes. The waves are untamed and wild, the crashing noise of them breaking getting louder and louder with each minute.
Not many people are around, only some brave locals who are sitting in the sand with a book or a newspaper. It’s not really a risk, but they can’t risk it anyway.
“Yeah, I think we should lift up the flag.”
They nod to each other and stand up. Evan just hoisted the red flag, officially closing the water for the public, when the wind carries a conversation up to their booth.
It’s one of the other surfers, a rude guy from the party, slumping down onto one of the couches.
“What’s up, Murphy, not out on the water today? Perfect weather to see your old friend again, right?”
The lighthearted conversations from earlier die down, laughter coming to a stop when Connor tenses up. He slowly turns, leaving his sister behind, as he walks up to the surfer.
“Care to elaborate on that, Billy?” He asks, trying to sound not effected. But even from up there, Evan can tell he is. And if he’s right about what old friend Billy could mean, this shit is about to get down sooner or later.
“Well, as far as I remember, this is just the same weather as on the day the shark took a little bite from you, right?” Billy asks innocently and Connor clenches his jaw tightly, trying to not explode with rage on the spot.
He doesn’t even have time to remark before Billy continues, obviously enjoying getting all the attention for once. And it’s true, because all eyes are on the two men right now, Connor standing before Billy, who’s still on the couch, seeming very complacent with himself.
Evan thinks it’s a miracle that Connor didn’t punch him yet.
“What do you want?” Connor wants to know instead. Maybe it’s just Evan’s good sight, but he thinks he sees him shaking, his fingertips are slightly moving at his sides.
“Nothing, man.” Billy grins up at him. “I just wondered why you’re not out there today.”
“You don’t think I got the balls to surf today?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Sounds like it though.”
“I just expected more from the great Connor Murphy, you know?” Billy shrugs and he still grins like a fucking asshole and it bugs Evan, the way he’s speaking to Connor.
Connor manages a tight smile before turning away. “Search for a clown elsewhere, Billy, I’m not your personal entertainer.” He’s almost by the bar again, when Billy speaks up one last time.
“Yeah, just like I thought.” He looks to the other surfers, who unsurely shift in their seats, before snorting. “Fucking coward.”
That’s all it takes.
In four wide strides, Connor is over by the couch again and drags Billy up by the collar of his shirt, so close their noses are almost touching.
Connor’s face is red like a bad sunburn. “You’re calling me a fucking coward, dude?! Who the fuck do who think you are, huh?”
Billy is still grinning, not bothering to respond to Connor’s shouting, and then, just a second after that, he’s being pushed back down again and Connor is walking over to his board.
“Connor!” Zoe reasons and shoots daggers with her eyes at Billy, but her brother isn’t listening. He’s already walking down the beach, closer and closer to the raging water. A powerful force beckoning him to take a quick dive.
“What is he doing?”
“He’s insane for this!”
Over the howling wind, Evan hears Billy’s satisfied laugh.
They’re all watching in shock as Connor angrily pushes his board on the surface and ties the safety rope messily around his left foot, before taking off and paddling out on the water.
Beside him, Alana quickly grabs the megaphone and shouts over the upcoming storm, startling Evan out of his trance in the process: “Connor Murphy, as a official lifeguard, I’m telling you to get out of the water immediately! Now!”
Connor doesn’t even think of obeying. He’s already only a small dot out there, still paddling over some smaller waves, searching for the right moment to take off. It’s bad now, the ocean is getting wilder and wilder every second, almost painted black by the dark clouds gathering above it.
It takes one more minute and at least thirty more shouts from the concerned people on land before Connor sees an opportunity and stands up in a fluid movement, riding the first giant wave. It’s got to be at least 19 feet high.
What a fucking idiot.
Connor races down the monster, becoming the storm himself, and it’s dangerous, it’s so stupidly dangerous. Evan sees his hair wildly flying around and his heart cramps up painfully, this is so stupid and reckless and-
It only takes one second, one blink, and suddenly, everyone lost sight of Connor.
The waves are still there, raging and fighting against themselves, but Connor is gone and so is his blue board. Or maybe it’s not and it’s still on the surface, but nobody can tell, it’s all a blur.
But Connor isn’t visible anymore, which only can mean…A wave dragged him down.
Then, everybody is screaming.
“Oh my god!”
“Where is he, do you see him?!”
“Connor!” That’s Zoe, racing towards the water. She isn’t the first one, Evan beats her to it.
He doesn’t even hesitate, running down the stairs of the booth and quickly grabbing a rescue can before sprinting down the beach, with a desperate Zoe by his side.
The water is ice cold when Evan throws himself into the waves, but he doesn’t mind, his mind is already with Connor.
Connor who might be pressed down by the stream, not being able to get himself over water alone.
Connor who might cracked his head open on a rock in the riptide.
Connor who might be d-
There’s his board, not to far away from the shore, the safety rope loosely hanging off of it, leading down into the deep. Evan doesn’t think about sharks, or sharp teeth or suffocating when he starts swimming, his eyes are entirely focused on the bright blue board and its owner.
Salt from the sea gets into his eyes and he’s almost at the point where the waves get dangerous again, but luckily the stream washed up Connor’s board further to the shore.
Connor, Connor, where is-
Evan gasps out of exhaustion when he spots an arm, shakily clinging onto the board with short nails, slipping down and back up again in a weak attempt to grab anything to hold himself up. Evan is almost by his side, when he notices Connor is half unconscious, head lolling to the side, eyes fluttering closed ever so often.
“I’m here!” Evan shouts over the storm, waves caging them in once more. For one frantic moment, Evan checks the water for blood, just in case.
There isn’t any, of course not. But still, Connor is dangerously close to lose his grip again.
“Got you!” Evan shouts in victory when he manages to hoist Connor up, he’s like dead weight in the water, but Evan is strong and manages to get him on the board. It takes forever, too long, too fucking long, but Evan manages to move the board towards the beach again.
It’s slow progress and he keeps checking in with Connor, breathing shallowly against the wood of his board, but Evan makes it.
They’re welcomed by the others, concerned and hectic figures helping them out of the water, dragging Connor into the sand, until he’s lying motionless on his back, eyes fluttering.
Alana is by his side immediately, just like Zoe, and she’s checking his pulse and everyone is talking, and Evan doesn’t care at all.
Without second-guessing himself he presses down on Connor’s flat chest, rhythmically and quietly muttering numbers to himself, brain fully on auto pilot. He watches with wide eyes as Connor chokes up water, it’s running down his chin as he coughs violently.
When he got it all out, Connor turns on his side and grabs a hand full of sand, centering himself under everyone’s watch. Billy is nowhere to be seen.
Evan sits next to him as Connor slowly comes to himself again, focusing on his breathing for a while and blinking against the water dripping down from his fringe.
God, he’s such an-
He could’ve died, for fucks sake!
Evan waits patiently, but once Connor is okay again, he is the first one to speak up.
“If I see you out on the water again today, we have a fucking problem, okay?”
Connor swallows thickly and stares wordlessly at him, like a veil just lifted itself between them and he’s looking at him like he’s really seeing Evan for the first time now. A little shocked, a little…fascinated?
“Okay.” He replies meekly, sea salt slowly drying on his body.
“Good.” Evan nods to himself and only then he lets go of Connor’s wrist, taking a step back and breathing in and out in an attempt to calm his wildly beating heart. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Evan doesn’t wait for a response before turning around and stalking away over the sand, letting the hot feeling on his soles burn him up.
Oh god, my heart, my heart, it’s beating way too fast for him.
Behind his back, Connor looks after him, still breathless and confused, but mainly amazed by the man who just saved his life.
Even though Connor still feels the shock inside of his bones, shaking him deep to the core when the realization hits that he could’ve died again, somehow a confused smile tugs at the corners of his blue lips.
This summer would be way more interesting than both of them originally thought.