All my stories seem to start with a vision, or a landscape, or one of the characters. This one started with Anna, naked in the sea. Though that scene didn’t make it in here, it is what started it.
As always, I hope you enjoy.
I tapped my fingers absently on the steering wheel as I maneuvered my car through the final sweeping turn, keeping my speed down to what I’d term ‘moderately stupid’ as opposed to ‘suicidal’. Tall trees arched overhead at intervals, casting dappled sunlight over the interior of the Audi and the remains of my junk-food lunch in its crumpled waxpaper wrapping. I could smell the sea, and I desperately hoped it would still warm enough for a swim when I got there.
It had been nearly a season since I had last been to the family holiday house, an entire spring and summer too full of work and crises for me to be where I loved most – up to my neck in the ocean, or surfing down the face of a wave on a surf-ski. I was long overdue some me-time, and I planned to make the most of my long weekend away.
The sun was still some way clear of the horizon when I turned into the private gated lane, flanked by the unkempt hedge and secured by a single link of chain that held the gate closed on a rusting steel nail. The property name was still visible on the aged wooden nameplate; the single word etched out by the less weathered silhouette of long-since flaked paint.
It was a good name for our family’s little slice of heaven, far enough away from the world that you might not see another soul except in the highest of high summer.
I parked the Audi in the deep sandy shade under the Christmas tree that we’d planted when I was seven. Eighteen years of hot, bright summers and a shallow water table had suited the tree, and I didn’t doubt it would double in height again before I died. I smiled as I reached up to brush a low-hanging branch; I regarded the tree as mine, and I always said hello to him when I came to visit.
The lock in the front door had seized with salt, so I entered via the aluminium sliding door on the patio, making a mental note in passing to check whether Dad’s oil and tools were still under the kitchen sink. I turned on the power at the breaker box, and unpacked the selection of supplies that I’d brought with me into cupboards.
I walked slowly through the house, opening windows to let the building air, and dragged one of the patio chairs outside so that I could enjoy the view down to the sea while enjoying a lukewarm beer.
I lay back, watching the breakers slowly progressing into the bay, stretching the kinks from the drive out of my back. The sound of the ocean rolled uphill and over me, and slowly I felt myself relax.
It had been a long couple of months. A messy breakup, significant project delays at work… it was not shaping up to be a good year for me. I sighed, and set the beer down. The waves beckoned me, and after a few minutes of apathy I stood, stripped to my boardshorts and loped down between the low dunes to the water.
The surf was up, and the coming spring tide meant that the waves were breaking high up on the beach, sometimes even pushing up over into the small lagoon through its shallow sandy channel. I eyed the waves, decided they were too dumpy to chance, and instead stepped out into the lagoon, enjoying the kiss of the cold water on my feet and the sand between my toes.
I remembered how my father and I had built sandcastles here while I was younger – frequently merely so that Anna and I would have somewhere safe to swim and play.
One golden summer’s evening we had brought spades down with us and had built a buttress a metre high, with a seat for Anna to sit in. It had still been there three high tides later.
I wondered, idly, where Anna was. It had been a few weeks since I’d last spoken to my sister; she’d been off to some function in the States, and since it hadn’t had anything to do with aeronautics or computing I’d been less than completely interested in the details around it.
I walked out into the lagoon until the water rose up to my hips, took a breath, and dived.
The sun set in a riot of glorious orange and violet, and I saluted the end of the day with another beer as I waited for the coals on the Weber to reach a working temperature. Venus winked and danced just above the horizon – it would be a beautiful night with little to no moon, and I knew from experience that the Milky Way would spread like crushed gems across the sky.
Slowly the stars started to appear, and I watched the various old companions of my youth flickering slowly into view above me.
Light lit the top of the Christmas tree, and I heard the throaty growl of a car’s engine. I banked the coals into the centre of the Weber and walked around the side of the house in order to investigate this new arrival. Visitors were rare out here – the closest other house was more than a kilometer further down the coast – and I was curious , though it was likely just someone who had got lost, seen the house lights and come to ask for directions.
A strange car was parked alongside my Audi, and I could see a small, indistinct figure bent over, rummaging inside.
“Excuse me, are you lost?” I asked.
“No. I know precisely where I am,” my sister replied, spinning around and laughing at me.
“Anna! Hi! Sorry, I didn’t recognise the car.”
“It’s a recent purchase. I decided I needed a present for being a good, responsible girl. So I bought something ridiculous.”
She walked over to me and swung her arms up and around my neck. “Hello, Joey. It’s been a while. I missed you.”
“Ditto,” I said, returning the hug. “I wasn’t expecting you out here. But welcome. I’ve got the fire going, and there’s beer in the fridge and port on the counter.” I gently let go of her and picked her backpack up off the sand.
“I took a chance coming here,” she added. “Mum mentioned you’d picked up the keys, so I thought it was worth the drive. I haven’t been out here for a while.”
“Me neither,” I said. “Door’s jammed,” I added as she reached for the front door handle. “I haven’t got round to fixing it, swimming and drinking were higher on the priority list.”
“Your priority list sounds good. Dump that backpack, Joey, and let’s drink and watch the stars. I’m in need of some booze and some fresh air.”
“You read my mind.”
Anna lounged on one of the deck chairs, imperiously directing my cooking. We’re a year apart in age, and she’s always felt that being the elder of us that she gets to be the empress and I get to be the serf. I seldom complain about the arrangement – Anna’s a born organiser and having her around means I don’t have to do the ridiculous admin tasks that accompany daily life. Anna will make sure there’s a place to stay and food to eat – and all I have to do is show up and play chef to keep my end of the bargain.
“Do we have any vegetables, or is this a Joey Standard Meal?” she asked, dubiously.
“Joey Standard Meal, ma’am,” I drawled. “I brought an emergency potato salad, but I haven’t done anything with it yet. It’s in the fridge.”
“Aha. I’ll get on that then. Lamb’s good, sausage is good, but it’s not a proper beach house debauch without potato salad.”
She put her cider aside, and sauntered into the kitchen. I caught glimpses of her as she rummaged.
She looked older, and tired, but more at peace with herself and the world. Far better than she had the last time she’d been here, when her company had been on the rocks and she’d been running on nerves, alcohol and caffeine.
I was glad to see my sister back.
I sipped at my beer, and watched the smoke from the barbecue wafting almost directly upwards in the still night air. Large rollers boomed on the beach, and the occasional bat flitted past the deck lights, hunting the moths that circled them stupidly.
I turned to Anna, and smiled. “Breathing. Enjoying the silence. I miss here.”
“Uh huh. I miss here too when I’m not here. Still, we’re lucky… not many people have a safe haven. Somewhere that they can run away to when it all gets too much.”
“I wasn’t running,” I answered.
“Then where’s Julie?” Anna tilted her head, inquisitive.
I winced, and busied myself with the fire. “Not here,” I muttered, after a moment.
“Uh huh, I gathered as much. And from your reaction I’m guessing it’s bad news, no?”
I sighed. “Apparently, I’m not serious enough about our relationship. I don’t value her enough, or something.”
Anna pursed her lips. “Sounds dire. What did you do?”
“I like how you leap to the conclusion that it’s my fault,” I muttered.
Anna said nothing, merely raised an eyebrow.
“I went to a rugby match. Apparently, ‘Do whatever the fuck you want’ doesn’t mean what I think it means.”
She laughed. “Come on, that can’t have been all you did. Fess up, Joey. Tell big sis your fuck-ups. I promise not to mock you too much.”
“As if,” I sighed as I banged irritably at the grille. “Ah, sod it, Anna. I’m twenty-five. I’ve hardly even got my career kicked off. I don’t have time or inclination to get involved in discussions about settling down, buying houses, etcetera etcetera.”
“Mm-hmm. Somebody felt her biological clock ticking.”
“I guess,” I murmured. “But you know me.”
“Rudderless, and adrift, at the mercy of the wind and the tide,” she intoned.
“It works for me. Besides, I’m not adrift. I work hard, and I am doing well for myself. I want to go overseas, go exploring… I’m not ready to tie myself down to one place.”
“You’re tied to this place, Joey.”
“This is different, Anna. This place is ours. Yours and mine. Time won’t change that.”
“Here’s to hoping,” she murmured, glancing away.
We’d polished off supper and stacked the dishes and utensils to deal with later. I’d dragged our deckchairs to the edge of the deck, so we had nothing between us and the sky as we lay there watching the stars flickering high above us.
“How are things with you, sis?”
Anna drew idle figures in the air with her left foot as she considered for a few moments. “I guess they’re ok, Joey. Work’s quiet at present, which is good… means I get a bit of a breather. It was crazy for a while…”
“I know. You look better. More in control. Less… manic.”
“I feel better.”
“You look more like my sister and less like a hyperactive squirrel that’s eaten every leaf of the ephedrine tree.”
She laughed. “Nice. Thanks, Joey. Glad to know that was the impression I was giving off. Asshole.”
I smirked. “Family gets to tell the truth to family.”
She rolled her eyes at me, but the grin was infectious. “Bastard.”
“Whether I am a bastard or not is entirely the business of Mum and the milkman.”
“I always thought it was the baker, personally.”
“True, he does have a certain glint to his eye.”
She covered her snort with a sip of her cider.
“So what else. You seeing anyone?” I asked, after a while.
“Nah. No time, no interest. The men in my field are all either married, or serial womanisers, or both. Got enough on my plate without borrowing someone else’s drama.”
“Amen to that,” I murmured.
“I get lonely,” she confessed. “But I’d rather be lonely and alone than lonely and with an ass, you know?”
“What star is that?” she asked.
“The bright yellow one.”
I squinted. “I think it’s Jupiter. I could check on my phone, but I’m too lazy.”
“This place begets laziness. I’d live here if I could. Swim all day, watch for meteors at night. Sounds divine,” She murmured as she folded her hands behind her head.
“You’d get bored, Anna.”
“Never. I’d adapt. Soon, the rest of the world would cease to exist, and I could just be me.”
“What about food?”
“I’d grow a crumpet tree and marshmallow bushes.”
I laughed at the memory; both had been firm fixtures of the towns we’d built by the sandcastles of our childhood. “Man cannot live by marshmallows and crumpets alone,” I replied.
“Man cannot. Anna can,” she answered, yawning. She sat up, stretched, and then stood up. “Going to shower. You going to be out here much longer?”
“Nah. Just finishing my beer then I’ll come in. It’s a long drive and I’m knackered from it.”
“Ok,” she said,bending to brush her lips against my forehead.
“Night, Anna. See ya tomorrow.”
“I’ll come say goodnight properly once I’m done.”
I pottered around the kitchen, packing away the stuff that didn’t require cleaning and ensuring that all the food scraps were binned outside; ants were a problem in the area and the last thing I wanted was a colony in the kitchen in the morning. I cleaned the plates and stood them in the drying rack. Then I killed the outside lights and closed the sliding door, leaving it on the chain latch so that air could get in but four-legged prowlers couldn’t.
I could hear Anna rattling around the bathroom, so I continued on through to my bedroom and opened the balcony door – I always slept with the door open at night so that I could hear the waves on the shore. The sea was a darker band against the horizon, with the occasional hint of white from the occasional larger breaker rolling in.
I took a deep breath, then exhaled, content.
“Joey?” Anna stood silhouetted in the light from the bathroom.
I turned. “Hey sis. Done with the bathroom?”
“Yeah. I am. Just wanted to say goodnight,” she murmured. She leaned against my bedroom door frame.
“Good night, then,” I said.
“Come here,” she replied. “I’m fragile tonight and I want a hug.”
“Long day?” I asked, as I pulled her to me.
“Long year,” she whispered. “A long, horrible, bloody-minded year that I’m glad to be rid of.”
“Amen,” I breathed. I tried to ignore the goosebumps the sheer fabric of her sleeping top raised on my arms as I held her against me. She crooked her arms behind my neck, and I squeezed her till she squeaked. “Mercy,” she laughed. “I forget how strong you are, sometimes.”
“Go to sleep, Anna. Kick me awake if you want me to make breakfast.”
“Will do. Joey?”
“I’m glad you’re here.”
“Sleep well, Anna. See you in the morning.”
She smiled up at me, then turned to go. I watched her leave, but didn’t move until she’d pulled her door to.
I hadn’t told Anna or my parents about my breakup with Julie out of a desire to avoid the explanations and commiseration. The split had actually happened months prior, and I’d been deliberately alone and uninterested since then, first out of rage and then out of contempt for the ‘fairer’ sex and their seeming unlimited capacity for insanity. I’d almost forgotten what it felt like to have a girl in my arms.
Tonight, however, Anna’s innocent goodnight hug had forcibly reminded me, and I berated myself under my breath for my reaction to the feel of her body against mine. Her arms had been warm, her scent subtle, and the swell of her breasts under her nightshirt had been difficult to ignore.
I hoped she hadn’t felt the way I’d responded.
A hot shower calmed me somewhat, though I couldn’t clear my head of the sensation of her against me. I was helplessly hard, or course, and realistically the only option for relief was was a quickie with the lovely Mrs Palm. If I could clear the basic urge, I stood some chance of being able to sleep. And so I reached down, cupping my balls in the palm of my left hand and stroking my hard shaft with my right, hunched forward under the hot jet of water.
I closed my eyes, wishing there was a girl in the shower with me, wishing I could push her up against the wall and enter her from behind, fill her up and leave her quivering, dripping, wanting more.
I thought of Julie, of her tight body and delicate pink lips and the quavering whimper she’d always let out when I entered her. I thought of other girls I’d fantasised about in lectures or shagged at University. I thought of my favourite porn clips.
But it was no good. Anna had intruded and was fucking with my head; Anna in the sheer silvery nightdress, with her disheveled blonde hair and lovely body, her small breasts with the nipples that I couldn’t help but feel against me as I embraced her. Anna with the beautiful curve of her hips, and the small scandal pants that that she’d always favoured as sleepwear, barely showing under the hem of the nightie.
I gave up, surrendered to the image of her, conjuring the fantasy the soft texture of her breasts in my mouth and hands, the phantasm of her spreading herself for me, smiling up at me, arching her back as I entered her… and almost before I could consciously feel shame about what I was doing I came, groaning, shuddering, my come running down over my hands, flowing away in the water.
I took a deep, shuddering breath, feeling somewhat disgusted with myself. The shower had lost its savour, so I cleaned myself off, wishing that I could wash my conscience as easily.
I attempted to rationalise my behaviour – Anna had always been a stunner, and even at my most polite I would be forced to admit that I had a serious case of blue balls to contend with at present. My body was clearly just reacting to the proximity of an attractive, partially clothed girl.
I’d simply have to accept that I had fantasies about her – that I’d have to keep them in another one of the mental drawers labeled ‘Joey’s kinks – do not open’ and do precisely that.
The plus side of my perversion was, however, that I slept like a dead man.
“Wakey wakey, sleepyhead.”
Anna trailed her damp hair over my face, and I spluttered awake.
“It’s a lovely day by the sea, and I’ve already been for my first swim. Somebody promised me breakfast, and Anna is hungry.”
I scrubbed at my eyes, and sat up, gazing blearily at her. “What time is it?”
“Just after nine in the morning. It’s a glorious day, full of opportunity to eat pancakes.” She eyed me. “I suppose I need to let you get dressed if I want food, right?” she added, amused.
“Yeah, please, if you don’t mind.”
She closed the door, and I pulled off my pajama bottoms and swapped them for my board shorts. I stretched and rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, pulled on a vest, then slumped off downstairs to the kitchen, where Anna had already set out the ingredients I needed.
“You’ve lost your tan,” I observed, as I cleared a working area on the counter top. Anna sat on a bar stool opposite me, kicking her heels against the stool legs and resting her chin on her hand.
“All work and no play makes Anna a ghost,” she replied with a sigh. “No time to sun, ergo I am pasty pale. Alas.” She pursed her lips. “I’m hoping to catch some sun while I’m here; the weather looks like it’s playing along.”
“It should. Today’s supposed to be quite warm. Hope you brought suncream,” I murmured. “Otherwise, you’re going to be the goddess of lobster.”
“I’m not an idiot,” she retorted, grinning. “Of course I came provided. Last thing I want to do is burn and peel. Yuck.”
I rummaged around for the mixing bowl and hand whisk. “Ok then. So… You sure you want pancakes? Nothing else?”
“Pancakes always work for me,” she replied. Her hazel eyes twinkled. “I’m easy, you know.”
I snorted. “Cheap date,” I answered. I cracked some eggs into the bowl, added flour and milk, and quickly worked up the batter. “Do me a favour and turn on the gas, will you? And see if we’ve still got cinnamon and sugar from last time?”
“Your wish is my command,” she murmured, as she slipped off the chair and skipped off.
“I somehow doubt that,” I muttered to myself.
“What’s that?” she called.
“Nothing. Just muttering to myself.”
I rescued the battered old pan from under the sink and set to work.
We took our breakfast and mugs of coffee out onto the deck. My head was still slightly fuzzy, and I was grateful for the soothing shade of my polarised sunglasses. Three beers after a long drive had hit me harder than I’d thought they would. Anna seemed less affected – she polished off her pancakes in short order and stole some of mine; I watched her with amusement as she brushed sugar off her top and lap.