A gentle spray of ocean water glistened off Lily’s ankles as she continued dragging her chair toward the water, chasing the tide back into the ocean. The beach was practically empty at this time of day, and Lily was grateful for the solitary moment. She snapped a photo of the setting sun on her phone and tucked it back into her beach bag, leaning back into her chair to soak up the last of the sun’s offerings for the day.
This is what I need, she thought. Her lungs expanded to allow the fresh ocean breeze access to her blood vessels, and she considered whether or not ocean air was somehow healthier than the air at home. Maybe it was just the space.
“I couldn’t help but notice that you were sitting alone out here.”
Lily froze at the sound of the deep voice behind her, more from annoyance than fear.
Typical, she thought. A man sees a woman sitting alone, and he assumes she needs company. Absolutely, fucking, typical.
“Not alone,” Lily lied, calling to the disembodied voice behind her without turning around. “My friends went back up to the room to shower and get ready.”
The man walked around to Lily’s left side so he wouldn’t block the sun. A six-pack of Landshark dangled from his hand, hanging in front of Lily’s face. Her eyes traced up his lanky body and landed on a handsome, dimpled smile. A Philadelphia Eagles hat shaded his face, making his eyes seem dark and brooding. He wore a baggy black t-shirt and sagging jean shorts that hung below his knees. She thought to ask him if he was a time traveler from the 90s but thought to keep her judgmental jokes to herself.
“I, uh, grabbed this six-pack for myself. Was planning to do a little drinking out here, and then I saw you. Figured I’d ask if you’d like to join me. Or, uh, maybe I could join you.” It wasn’t a question. Not really, anyway. He had already set his chair down next to her and pulled a Landshark from the carrier, tilting it in her direction.
The sunset was still in its early stages, with strokes of orange and yellow splashed across a topaz sky. The gift of her solitary moment had passed. If she turned him down, it meant the end of her peaceful evening on the beach. She couldn’t risk staying. It could also mean worse if she wasn’t meticulous. She’d been through the training women receive about turning men down, how to tiptoe around their egos, so you didn’t end up pinned against a bathroom floor like her college roommate. What she wouldn’t give for the freedom to assume this man meant her no harm.
Lily scanned up the beach and noticed another couple within earshot still enjoying the warmth of the day. On the other side of her was the OCMD pier, slowly filling with parents anxious to hand their kids a few bucks to play while they stole a few moments for themselves. If she screamed loud enough, she thought, they would be able to hear her. She pulled her eyes toward her empty cooler and determined that it had been almost an hour since she finished her last beer. She wouldn’t mind a little refreshment before she had to ‘meet up with friends.’
“Sure,” Lily said, shifting her beach bag closer to her chair and retrieving her phone. “Why not?”
“Adam,” he said as he handed her the outstretched beer.
“Lily,” she replied. She pulled up the timer on her phone and set it for thirty minutes. That’s about how long it would take for a friend to call, right?
“So, you’re the lone wolf of the pack, I take it?” Adam asked, his arm slung over the back of his chair so he could face Lily. If only he knew.
“What makes you say that?” Lily asked.
“You said your friends went back to the room to get ready. If there’s anything I know about women, it’s that they travel in packs. It’s rare for a woman to even go to the bathroom alone, let alone stay out on the beach by herself,” Adam replied.
Do you really not understand why that is? Lily wanted to scream.
“Don’t get me wrong. It makes sense,” Adam continued as if he could read her thoughts. “Last year, a guy tried to follow my sister home from the bar. She called me and asked to drive to my house instead. He took off when he saw me walk outside. You can never be too careful. It just makes scenes like this one,” he gestured toward Lily sitting in the receding waves, “rare.”
“Right,” Lily said. Something about the way he told his sister’s story made Lily feel more at ease. No, she thought. Don’t relax just yet. A two-sentence story doesn’t suddenly mean he’s well-intentioned. “I’m sorry that happened to your sister. That’s terrifying.”
“It was, but nothing came of it. I’m just glad she called me,” Adam said. “Makes me wonder how often this happens to women who don’t have anyone to call.”
“I was always taught to drive to a police station if you had nowhere else to go,” Lily replied.
“Hmph, that’s smart. I hadn’t heard of that one before. I guess when you grow up like me, though, people don’t typically recommend going to the police station for anything.” Adam tilted his beer into his mouth and settled into his chair. Now he was facing the sunset over the beach, the golden hour giving his face an effervescent glow.
Lily assessed Adam’s sunken features and pockmarked skin. He looked worn and tired, as though he’d been fighting a long battle and just arrived home in hopes of finding some peace away from the war. From the looks of it, even that seemed to be a battle. Still, there was something endearing about him, something mysterious and deep that tugged her into his story. And those dimples…
“Grow up like you?” She asked, turning toward him.
“What’s the saying? On the other side of the tracks? That was me. I didn’t grow up with a silver spoon in my mouth like most of the people who come down here to enjoy the beach. Hell, I was lucky if my mom remembered to put a bottle in my mouth every once in a while. Child Protective Services took me when I was five, bounced around to a few foster homes until I was about fifteen. Then I went to live with my cousin near Dewey. He threw a lot of parties, and I got to go along for the ride. It wasn’t bad, I guess. Better than a foster home.” Adam shrugged and took another swig of his beer, this time swallowing about half the bottle in one shot. “That’s when the drugs started.”
Lily shifted away from Adam and checked her phone. She expected this to be the kind of story he told, but she didn’t expect him to be so forward.
“I don’t know what it is about you, but people seem to just want to tell you things, huh?” Shane had said to her during her first year in law school. Her criminal defense professor had hired her as an aide for the Summer to help with a grand theft auto case. About two months in, she accidentally ran into the accuser at a happy hour with Shane and a few other law students. They got to talking, and she admitted that she’d given the defendant permission to drive her car. They were dating, but he used it to pick up his ex-girlfriend. When she found out, she was furious and reported the car stolen. Lily’s professor was thrilled. They got the case thrown out the next day. All because people just liked to tell Lily things.
Lily flushed and brooded over the memories of Shane. How dare he show up in her mind? She shook her head and picked up her phone for a welcomed distraction, momentarily forgetting her new friend.
“Planning your escape?” Adam asked. She looked up, the hint of an excuse dancing on her lips, but Adam interjected. “I’m only kidding. I know you have friends waiting for you. It’s just nice having someone to sit with for a while.”
“What about you?” Lily asked. “No friends to share some beers on the beach with?”
Adam leaned back hard in his rusted chair, setting his beer between his legs as he looked out over the ocean. “No,” he answered, shrugging his shoulders. “Not tonight.”
“Sounds like you’re at peace with that fact,” Lily said.
“I guess you could say I am in the market for some new friends. But I’m okay with being on my own for right now. That’s why I come out here every so often. To think without any distractions. I grab a six-pack and come out here to enjoy the view. Then I saw you, and something about you told me that maybe you were looking for something different out of life, too.”
“That’s very perceptive,” Lily said. “But don’t you think most people are looking for something different in life? I think some of us are just more aware of that desire than others.”
“Maybe,” Adam said. “You might be right. But when you become aware, it’s your responsibility to do something about it. That’s what separates the people who live from the people who just get by. It’s why I’m going to school to get a degree in social work. I want to help kids like me who get stuck in bad situations find their way out.”
“I’d say it seems like you’re doing more than getting by, now,” Lily commented.
“I am. I’m living now. At first, it was for other people, but I think I’m living for me now, too,” Adam said.
The two strangers looked out over the ocean in silence. The hue of the clouds slowly turned from rusty orange to a coral red, and it made Lily wonder how the fish perceive the sunset. Was it just as awe-inspiring for them?
The alarm on Lily’s phone buzzed and hummed the Game of Thrones theme song.
“Oh, that’s my friend back at the hotel,” she lied. “Hold on a second.”
“Hey, Ella,” she said, silently praying that no one would call her while she pretended to talk with a friend who didn’t exist. Ella exists, Lily thought. You just pretend she doesn’t.
Lily shook away the intrusive thoughts and returned her attention to her fake phone call. She decided to keep it short, throw in a little jab at Becky’s showering habits, another friend she made up on the spot, and end with a request that Ella call her when it was her turn to shower.
“I’m sorry,” she said as she walked back to her chair. “One of my friends took an extra-long shower, so they called to tell me I didn’t need to rush.”
“They must really trust you to hold your own,” Adam commented. “I’m surprised no one’s come down to check on you.”
“I can hold my own just fine. This isn’t our first girl’s trip together. They’re used to giving me some space,” Lily lied, then quickly added. “But they always check up on me, that’s for sure.”
“They sound like pretty good friends, then,” Adam said. “I’ll have to keep an eye out for some like that.”
“It sounds like none of your old friends make the cut anymore,” Lily commented.
“Not quite. I only recently decided to start making some changes. Well, a lot of changes. It’s a quick way to lose friends.” Adam downed the rest of his beer and reached into the cardboard six-pack for a second.
“That must make it a little hard to keep making positive changes in your life. It sounds like you are pretty set in moving away from your past, though.” Though this wasn’t necessarily an interrogation, Lily knew her labeling tactic would keep Adam talking. At least, that’s what she’d learned in her negotiations masterclass. And the longer someone talks, the more likely they are to reveal their truth, whatever that might be.
“I am. I have to be. I made a lot of mistakes over the years. But last year, one of those mistakes gave me a gift—my daughter. As soon as I met her, I knew I needed to change. Be better for her, you know?”
Lily nodded but remained silent. This was Adam’s stage; she was merely a captive audience. Lily barely noticed the indigo sky slowly chase the red clouds toward the horizon as Adam recounted his story. From months spent in juvie, to drug addiction, and through his recovery process, Adam’s story unraveled around him. It was like a boa constrictor that suddenly decided to release Adam from its grasp. She watched his breaths become deeper and heard him become more assured. She clung to every word so tightly that she was almost able to ignore the growing pressure in her bladder. Almost. She held on until tears stung the corners of her eyes.
“I am so sorry, I really do want to hear the rest of this, but this beer went right through me,” Lily said, jumping to her feet. She looked at her things scattered beneath her chair and realized she wouldn’t make it if she had to carry them.
“I will watch them, don’t worry,” Adam said. Lily continued to dance in the sand as she decided what to do. He seemed trustworthy enough, but could she trust him with her things?
“Here. I’ll give you my phone number. That way, if I run away with your things, you can at least give the police the number of the person who robbed you.” Adam was half-joking. He wasn’t completely foolish, and he knew Lily wasn’t wholly trusting.
It wasn’t a foolproof plan, Lily recognized, but time was of the essence. To trust him or not?
“Fine,” she said. She typed his number in her phone as fast as her fingers would allow and turned to sprint toward the bathroom on the boardwalk.
“Don’t you want to call it? To make sure it’s really mine?” Adam asked. For the first time all afternoon, his smile was flirtatious. And there it was: his truth. She’d walked right into it, and she was out of options. She flashed him a knowing smile and called the number on her phone as she sprinted toward the bathroom. She didn’t need to wait to hear his phone ring. She knew it wasn’t fake.
** Want to know what happens between Adam and Lily? Tune in next month for Chapter 4 of Finding Lily! **