Finally, Yours by Elizabeth SaFleur

Julianna raked her fingers through the sand, the tiny broken bits of shells scraping her skin. A cold bite of ocean water ran up her legs, forming gooseflesh. The Atlantic always was freezing in May—or at least to her.

She lifted her face up to the sun; leaned back on both hands as another wave crashed over her feet and calves. A seagull cried overhead, breaking into the rhythmic woosh-tinkle-woosh-tinkle of the water.

Her sandcastle has long been reduced to three lumps where once proud towers crafted by her own hands had stood. Ah, well, there was always tomorrow to build another. She pushed herself to standing. Her stomach rumbled for lunch.

She paused. But was it time? Who could know since every day had been the same? This quarantine-stay-at-home thing was officially old. Yet who was she to complain? Living at the beach and being able to get outside, take salty air into her lungs, stretch her legs—it was a far cry from her Atlanta apartment. She nearly shuddered at the thought of this pandemic hitting last year when she had nothing but a thousand square foot apartment to her name—oh, and one cheating husband to share it with. Neither were hers any longer since she cashed out of that city life and moved to the Outer Banks to work in Oceanbrook rental company office five months ago.

Thank all the goddesses for that bit of luck. Well, until the job vanished. One pandemic, and poof! No more need for her.

She peered up the beach strandway and then turned to stare down the expanse of beach in the other direction. She was utterly, completely, miserably alone. No mate. No job. Nothing. Nada. Nilch. Nyet.

A new wave of water washed up to greet her, and her feet sunk into the sand. Yes, most definitely time to go. She trudged through the softer sand and gingerly stepped up the wooden steps that led over the dunes. She paused at the top, and a sharp glint of sunlight cut into her face—just as it had every morning this past week when she got to this spot.

That man had opened his window again, the glass reflecting the sun’s glare into her face. He had to be doing it on purpose at this point. Three mornings in a row, she got to the top of the walkway and a flash of light assaulted her. A dark-haired man would appear in the window, watching her traverse the wooden walkway that led to the road.

Voyeuristic prick. He was probably judging her for being outside. Well, it was allowed on this beach strand and she’d take any bit of freedom granted her.

With shoulders thrown back, she marched up the walk. A tiny pain pierced her heel. Dang it. She’d gotten another splinter. That’s what she got for heading down to the beach without her flip-flops. Heck, she had nothing on but a cotton sundress thrown over her nude body, the wind whipping the fabric tight against her legs. She grabbed the rail and lifted her foot, and it figured a gust of wind lifted her stupid dress until she was “bare crotch flashing” the guy in the window – because of course it did.

She dropped her foot and hobbled the rest of the way. She almost flipped him the bird but then what good would that do? She didn’t really know what he was up to, and her sudden bursts of anger over nothing only made her feel even worse that her start-life-over time had to start with a world-wide event that devastated her new job. Then when they closed the surrounding counties to only residents—and wouldn’t you know it she had yet to get her new driver’s license to prove she now was a resident—she was stuck. At the beach. On a permanent vacation. With an attitude problem.

She used to be so much more gracious than this. “I mean, come on,” she aloud to no one. “I’m at the fricking beach when the rest of the world isn’t.” She may now be jobless, single, alone, and soon to be broke, but ... She really had to stop thinking altogether.

Gratitude, she needed to practice way more gratitude. Okay, tomorrow she would wave at the gentleman—as she would now call him in her mind—if he was there again. And, she would count her blessings of which there were a million compared to many. "Remember that," she said to herself.

The next morning,she had the foresight to at least put on her bathing suit in case the wind got any similar ideas to once more lift her beach wear. She also remembered flip-flops because getting that splinter out of her heel took twenty minutes. Not that she had sooo many other things to fill up her schedule.

She slipped off her shoes once she reached the end of the stairs and dug her toes into the powder soft sand. Maybe she’d take a walk today instead of building a sandcastle. The tide only washed her creations away anyway.

She stopped in her tracks. Someone had already built something. Pushing her feet through the heavy sand she finally reached the sandcastle someone had left. Fancy. A keystone wall connected five, round turrets. This person’s towers even sported designs, like someone had stamped a crest into each one.

She glanced around. No one was about, but whoever this early bird was, he or she had some skill and great sandcastle tools. She’d only been using her hands. Sometimes building a drip castle, letting the wet sand seep free through her fist. Other times, she packed stiffer sand into crude and lopsided walls and towers. Once she even dug out a moat to surround her creations, letting the waves come and fill the canals.

She dropped to her knees to inspect the crests—each one different on each tower.

A shadow fell across the castle. “Not as good as yours but—”

She shrieked and fell backward onto her hands. The sun was so strong, the man was shadowed with a halo of yellow light around his head and shoulders.

He held up his hands. “Oh, sorry. Didn’t mean to disturb you.” He had a British accent – and wow, he had some white teeth or he just was that tan. He backed up a few steps, his face’s features finally showing themselves to her. Oh, it was the voyeur—maybe.

She slapped sand off her palms and rose. “Oh, you didn’t.” After dusting off her dress and making sure it was covering every part of her body, she peered up at him.

“Six feet.” He smiled.

“What? Oh, yes, we need to stay six feet apart.”

“I’ve seen some of your sandcastles. You inspired me.” He shrugged and nodded down to his super fancy castle. “Hope I didn’t take your spot.”

“My spot? Oh, no.” She lifted her arms, let them fall to her sides. “The beach is a public place. Or at least it usually is.”

“I hear we shouldn’t be out here at all.”

“They kept this stretch open to residents provided we do the—” she waggled her finger between her and him “—social distance thing.” She looked down at the castle. “Nice job. Guess you have molds?”

He slowly shook his head, raised his hands, and wiggled his fingers. “I have these.”

Oh, wow. “And a great deal of patience then.”

“Some things are worth taking their time with. Like saying hello to my neighbor. I’m Gerard Thomason, by the way.” He dipped his head. His smile was warm, kind. He wasn’t wearing a wedding ring but then again neither had her husband apparently, as reported by the woman who showed up at her doorstep demanding to know where her brand-new fiancé was. Why was she noticing this detail about this guy at all?

“Julianna Trel—uh, Morgan.” Dang it, she almost said her not-anymore married name.

“Well, it’s genuinely nice to meet you Julianna Morgan. I confess, it’s been a while since I’ve talked to another person. I’ve been seeing you come down here alone and thought …”

He trailed off, probably because she’d begun backing up and even without a mirror she could tell her face must have registered pure horror.

“Oh, I realize that sounded terrible. I mean. Well, I’m a security agent from London. Well, until recently. I’m retired now and I still get a strange feeling seeing women traipse about alone. Oh, bloody hell, I’ve gone and offended you. Being the American woman you are. Independent sort.” The man had blushed—adorably.

“You got ID?” So, that’s all she could come up with? Oh, perhaps it was because she also hadn’t spoken to another human being in over eight weeks.

He patted his T-shirt and shorts. “Um, sorry. I guess you’ll have to take my word for it.”

Could she? Her radar had been honed within an inch of its life lately—thank you lying, cheating husband—and this guy wasn’t giving off any bad vibes. Still…

“I usually come down in the evenings,” He scrubbed his hair. “Not wanting to disturb you. But then I saw you’d hurt yourself yesterday and … Well, my imagination got the better of me. Old habit of the job, I suppose.”

He was being so sweet and she was being … something not sweet. “Splinter. It was stupid really. I’d forgotten my shoes. I’ve been forgetting a lot of things lately.” Like her manners and trust and how to talk to a live person.

“Happens when you don’t talk to others much.”

She lifted one shoulder. “Your internet not working well either?”

“Pure rubbish. Can’t make Skype or Zoom work for my life.”

She laughed, partly because it was true and partly because she just liked his vibe.

“Well, anyway. I’m off then. Nice to meet you, Julianna.” He dipped his chin again and turned.

“Wait. I mean… Tomorrow I was going to have another go at a sandcastle."

He arched an eyebrow over his very nice, brown eye. “Care for some company? All at a safe distance, of course.”

“Tell you what, you spill your sandcastle secrets, and sure.”

“Excellent. My secrets are your secrets.”

“Have many?” Wait. Oh, my God. She was flirting. How did that happen?

“Well, getting those perfect angles on those walls,” He inclined his chin down on his creation. “Does take something extra special.”

“Oh, really?” Jesus, even her tone was flirty.

He laughed. “Tomorrow then. It’s nice to have something to look forward to. And, I'll bring ID.”

Her cheeks lifted wide. It felt so good to smile for a change. It truly was nice to have something to look forward to—and with one very handsome live person.