“First rule of surfing,” he instructed. “Don’t fall off.”
“Ha. Ha.” I said. “Something tells me it won’t be that easy.”
He launched into a really thorough but entertaining breakdown of the basics of surfing. Before I knew it, he had me on the board and I was learning how to balance and stand. It wasn’t easy, staying on a very buoyant moving object in choppy water took a lot of muscle tone that I unfortunately didn’t possess.
As we played, the tide began to come in, the waves getting just a little bit rougher. After a mouthful of awful-tasting water, I sat on the sand bar that had formed in the water and told him to show me his moves.
He didn’t hesitate and grabbed up the board, wading farther out into the deeper water to catch a wave. I couldn’t help but admire the way he looked with his waterlogged board shorts hanging low on his hips, plastered to his butt and thighs, and his broad shoulders glistening under the rising morning sun as droplets of water trailed down over his corded muscles.
He knew the water. He understood the waves. He moved so confidently and assuredly I could have called him the water whisperer. He was so in tune with the surf that he seemed to understand exactly how each wave would crest and how to follow it expertly.
Suddenly, getting up at six a.m. seemed like the best thing I’d ever done.
After catching a few waves, he slid to a stop beside me. “Want to give it one more shot?”
“Sure,” I said, and he wrapped his hand around mine, keeping hold of it while we jumped over waves.
I could get used to this.
Early morning kisses, coffee on the beach, playing in the sun and the sand. Cam was definitely on to something with the whole “Pura Vida” thing. Of course, none of this would have been as much fun if he wasn’t with me.
“Looks like a good one’s coming in,” he said, pointing out into the distance where a wave was just beginning to form.
He positioned the board and me, repeating what to do one more time as the wave traveled closer. Then he was yelling for me to go, to catch the wave.
His passion was catching and so I went, concentrating on everything he showed me, wanting to make him proud.
And then I jumped up on the board, my legs wobbly and threatening to collapse as cool sea air sprayed my skin. I was afraid I might fall, but I held firm as I coasted along with the wave. I smiled. It was incredible.
Behind me, Cam let out a great whoop and I turned to smile at him.
That was my mistake.
I stopped concentrating. I wasn’t paying attention. Well, I was paying attention, just not to what I was doing.
The surfboard crashed into the sand bar where I’d just been sitting and I went flying, plunging into the churning, dark waves.
Washed up. That’s exactly how I felt in the moment. The waves were punishing, tumbling over me every single time I thought I found my footing. The sand beneath me would feel like concrete in one moment; then the next it would give way like a sink hole and suck me farther into the water.
I flailed my arms about, trying to swim toward the surface, trying to break free, but because of the way I was being pounded, I began to lose which way was up.
I opened my eyes, trying to discern the direction, but all I could see was cloudy water that would suddenly turn white when a new wave crashed around me. I fought hard, twisting and turning, holding off the panic that sank into me like a set of icy, sharp claws.
When I finally managed to break the surface and gasp for air, I was punished by yet another huge swell of water that shoved me back under with the force of a bulldozer.
And then my legs were somehow above my head and I was sinking, sinking until the back of my head struck something so unforgiving that my struggling ceased.
Even though I stopped moving, my body did not. It was still being tugged at by the very greedy sea.
Finally I settled, sinking to the hard-packed sand where I rested my cheek against the warmth.
The water hadn’t been this warm moments ago.
The sand didn’t feel quite as gritty as it usually did.
And the sound… the sound of the waves seemed farther away.
“Breathe, damn it!” someone yelled. “Breathe!”
I began to cough—my throat making these retching gurgling sounds—and then water began to ooze out of my mouth. I was thrust onto my side as the water continued to come up and I continued to cough.
When the water was gone, oxygen arrived. It filled my lungs completely. What was once empty was now overfull. I gasped in great breaths, relief pouring through my body and making me sink back onto the ground.
“Harlow,” a voice said.
It was a really good voice and my body rolled toward it.
“Baby, open your eyes.”
I did, blinking away the water that made my vision blurry and squinting against the sun peeking through a cloud.
“Cam?” I said. The back of my throat burned and so did my nose.
His face was pale, his hair plastered to his forehead, and he was hunching forward over me like I needed some kind of shield.
I almost drowned.
I groaned. “There went my surfer of the year award,” I whined.
His laugh was strained as his arms encircled me and dragged my sand-crusted body into his lap. “I think you just took about ten years off my life.”
“This isn’t your fault,” he said, stroking my cheek. “I should never have set you loose on that wave. The water was getting too rough.”
“I had a good time,” I protested, trying to sit up. Pain shot through my head. “Until I hit my head.”
“You hit your head?” he said frantically as his fingers sank into my hair.
“Fuck,” he swore. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“If it wasn’t for you, I’d be shark bait right about now.”
I felt a faint shudder move through his limbs when they tightened around me. “I tried to get there sooner. The current grabbed you and pulled you away.”
“No, it isn’t,” he said, his voice hard. He slipped his arm under my shoulders. “Can you sit up? I need to check your head.”
I did and then lifted my fingers to where my skull throbbed.
Cam brushed away my fingers and then gently probed the area I pointed out. “You’re not bleeding, thank God,” he announced. “But you have a knot the size of a walnut back here.”
“I’m taking you to the hospital.”