Even without his glasses on, Finn could’ve sworn it was her, gliding through the rocky belt separating the Railway Trail from the sea.
His heart stuttered and his breath morphed into a whispered lyric.
‘So many dreams swinging out of the blue. Oh, let them come true.’ Forever Young. It was their song.
‘Is that on the playlist?’ asked the man walking beside him but Finn was distracted, marvelling. How could he see her with such telescopic clarity, when the world itself was a blur?
‘I recognise those denim shorts,’ he murmured. Peter’s brow furrowed.
Finn’s rational brain struggled. His perfect vision had to be an illusion, the upshot of years spent obsessing. He wiped his glasses, looped them over his ears and looked again. There was a female figure on the rocks, stripping down for a sunset swim. Probably a tourist, his brain supplied, but his heart rejected logic. It knew.
‘It’s Sam,’ he declared. Peter followed his gaze, and frowned.
‘Your mind’s just playing tricks,’ he assured him, patting his charge’s shoulder.
‘It’s her,’ Finn insisted, ‘Do you think I’m a fool?’
Finn didn’t feel foolish, as he pictured his world, incredibly, slipping into its natural orbit.
He felt Peter’s fingers curl into a grip, though the reply was light-hearted.
‘Naturally, and that’s some crazy tourist. Imagine swimming before Bermuda Day. Brrrr.’
Finn squirmed, the hold tightened, and Peter dropped the pretence.
‘I should’ve known coming here was a mist…’
‘I’m chasing after her, Pete,’ Finn interrupted, jerking his shoulder, ‘Let go’.
Peter had never understood the gravitational force that she exerted but Finn had chased after Samantha Wakefield all her life. From the first day of pre-school, when she’d grabbed his crayons and run giggling across the yard.
His eyes gleamed.
‘I should have tackled you right then, minx,’ he called into the breeze, ‘Saved myself trouble!’ The words confused Peter enough to let go and Finn stepped towards the solitary figure, standing above the water. It was exactly where the chase with Sam had ended. For the umpteenth time, he saw her plunge off the ledge.
‘No! Sam, wait!’ he shouted, already running.
‘Stop!’ Peter yelled, ‘Get a grip on yourself, man. You’re getting married tomorrow.’
Finn ignored him and within strides all else fell away, forgotten; his world became overwhelmingly blue. The darkening sky seeped violet and indigo into the cyan ocean, singeing the cloudbank, smearing a livid trail along the horizon. The only relief was the ghostly figure with midnight hair, fighting against the waves.
Finn stumbled and half a decade tumbled with him down the slope. He was back in the summer after university, still calling after Sam.
She didn’t heed him but strode forward, nose aloft, sniffing the early evening breeze. Sam didn’t stagger, as Finn did, over the jumble of boulders; she flowed. He was sure her feet weren’t even touching the ground. She seemed part of the vista, almost enveloped by sea and sky, swathed in sorrow. Finn was seized by an irrational panic. What if Sam kept going, over the cliff, into the blue? He rolled his eyes. The ink wasn’t dry on his physics degree and he was indulging in fanciful illusions, instead of offering practical support. But wasn’t that what this walk was about? Keeping the body active so the mind might follow? Finn wasn’t sure if he believed that old wives’ tale. But he’d never tried to get over a forlorn love.
Finn wasn’t agile like Sam. His movements were careful, probing for stable footholds before shifting his weight. A childhood spent trailing after his best friend (and supreme athlete) hadn’t stopped him feeling like an idiot whenever he fell down. By the time he caught up, Sam had fashioned her canvas shoulder bag into a cushion and was wriggling into a cosy groove. Finn eyed the jagged limestone dubiously, manned up and squatted down.
‘How can you sit on this? It’s literally shooting darts up me,’ he complained, squirming. Sam laughed.
‘Nice of you to join me, slowcoach. Water?’ She held up a plastic bottle, one of those ergonomic ones with the special grip. A good sign. She must be back in training. Aloud he said, ‘I’m fine, thanks,’ though actually he wouldn’t have minded a drink. But he remembered from of old that Sam easily dehydrated, and earlier she’d complained of cramp.
He gave up trying to get comfortable on the instrument of torture and slid down into the groove by her feet, grating his lower back in the process. Inwardly he chided himself for his clumsiness, disregarding the pain. More importantly, had he ripped his Graham Foster design Tabs on their inaugural outing?
To fit his lanky form between the rocks he had to angle his legs awkwardly. He nearly kicked Sam in the manoeuvre. A colt was how his mother described him, but she’d been saying that since he was 15. At 21, Finn reasoned, it was time he grew into himself.
‘You look well,’ Sam complimented, and he wondered if she could be serious.
He leaned against the rock she was perched on, half-turned towards her, half out to sea. He sucked in the turquoise warmth of home, absorbing with it a sense of wholesomeness and wellbeing.
‘Bet you missed this at Cornell,’ Sam enthused.
‘Bet you missed it in London as well,’ he rhymed.
They often chased each other’s sentences, fed one another’s thoughts. But she looked down and a shadow fell over her smile. That stupid Cockney, Dean. Finn mentally kicked himself. Sam fiddled with the fleshy leaves of a purslane by her sandals.
‘Remember we used to call those “baby palm trees”?’ he reminded her. The distraction worked.
‘We put some in that diorama of Bermuda we made for your Aunt Jane,’ she giggled.
‘And we didn’t believe the lady in the post office that vegetation wasn’t allowed into America,’ he added.
‘I still think she just wanted our amazing creation for herself,’ Sam finished the story and they both laughed. She prodded his calf with her toes.
‘It’s good to have you home.’
‘Definitely,’ he agreed, nodding, ‘It’s good to be home’.
‘Look how much salt is on these leaves,’ she commented after a moment, wiping her fingers on her denim shorts.
‘It builds up over years, I guess,’ he replied, and thought of emotional baggage.
They fell into a companionable silence, watching the sea. Finn decided heaven must be blue.
‘The ancient Greeks couldn’t see blue,’ Sam said, and the intersection of their thought processes unnerved him.
Was the random comment an effort to fend off sad reflections, he wondered. How could one colour represent such different things?
‘Where’d do you hear that?’ he hedged.
‘I read it in the Culture section on the BBC. Some guy in the nineteenth century studied the works of Homer. Blue’s not mentioned once.’
Finn flinched. BBC, that figured.
‘Why would anyone waste days of their life close-reading epic tomes of boredom?’ he asked, ‘I can’t imagine anything drier’. Sam raised an eyebrow, possibly thinking of the scientific phenomena he had tried to interest her in over the years. Finn blushed.
‘It took months actually,’ she corrected, ‘He wouldn’t have had some algorithm to do it back then, you know.’
‘You couldn’t use an algorithm to extract data like that. Good job you went for performing arts,’ he teased. She rolled her eyes.
‘Whatever. You’re missing the point. They didn’t see the colour. Is
n’t that crazy?’
‘It does seem kind of bizarre,’ Finn conceded.
‘Especially when you think of all those islands. It’d be just like this.’ She swept out her arm in an arc. The sides of Finn’s mouth twitched, itching to mock the dramatic gesture. As if anyone could miss the wall of sea and sky; not even a boat relieved the panorama.
‘Could they not physically see it or did they just not recognise it?’ he queried instead.
‘You mean, did the colour not exist?’ she asked.
‘No, of course it existed. Colour is just our visual perception of different wavelengths. That wouldn’t change over such a short period.’
‘I said ancient Greece,’ Sam emphasised, and this time he couldn’t restrain a smirk.
‘The passing of a mere moment for the universe,’ he pronounced in mock-dignified tones.
‘Yes sir, Mr. Scientist,’ she laughed. ‘Still, isn’t it weird that they couldn’t see something that’s all around them, right under their noses?’ Finn missed a beat before agreeing.
‘Yeah, weird.’ His eyes darted towards her but there was no irony in her expression, so he dismantled his wry look. He’d invited her out to take her mind off Dean, not make matters worse by reminding her how obvious the signs had been that he was a dead-end. Last summer, Finn would probably have laughed at her gaff, without deliberating over her reaction. Would that be healthier? To just be open? But he knew he’d delayed too long; laughter would sound hollow now.
Also, there was a double barrel to that blunderbuss, and Finn was afraid of misfiring it, fatally injuring their friendship. So for both their sakes, he was anxious to avert the conversation. He settled for kicking a rock instead. That hurt only his ankle.
For a while, neither of them spoke. Finn felt the silence weighing down the blue space that had been light and airy between them. He looked over, guessing that her thoughts had returned to Dean. Sam sat hunched forward, elbows on her knees, cupping her chin between her palms. Her eyes were closed, her face impassive except for an almost-smile. Finn suspected it was just the pressure of her fingertips lifting her cheeks. Would she never get over that two-timing wastrel?
His eyes roved over the smooth lines of her thigh, her toned calf. She was definitely back training. He compared his memories from Christmas. She’d been a real mess. Finn sighed.
‘Hmm?’ she murmured, turning slightly without opening her eyes.
‘Nothing, it’s just so peaceful,’ he lied, admiring the lavender blush of her eyelids. Hardly breathing, he watched for them to flick up, unsheathing two piercing, electric irises. Every swallow sounded louder than the cawing gulls as he waited, fearful and hopeful of being caught in flagrante, staring. But she seemed to be concentrating on her breathing, harvesting health-giving oxygen, pausing, then expelling the used-up air into the wide blue yonder.
Finn drew an unsteady breath himself, and envisaged reaching across the half-metre separating them, running his fingertips up the downy hair on her forearm, over the bony nodule at her wrist, to hover at the parting of her lips, and touch the warmth she exhaled. He imagined pressing his fingers to her mouth, making her hear what a waste of energy Dean was, how much better she could do. For a nanosecond, he believed he could let loose the words that gave him headaches from their Brownian motion, bouncing around, shrieking in his head. I love you, Sam. He concentrated his gaze, trying to float the words towards her. He shifted his weight. Would they really be so hard to say?
‘I used to tell people you were my boyfriend when I first went to England,’ she remarked, apropos of absolutely nothing.
‘Oh God,’ moaned Finn. Had he spoken or had she actually wire-tapped his brain? He wasn’t sure which would be the worse scenario. Either way, he could sense it; they were skipping straight to the ‘letting down gently’ part, without him ever finding courage to ask.
‘There’s no need to look horrified,’ she complained. Finn realised that the electric blue irises were probing but his muscles refused to reassemble his face. He hoped the inferno in his cheeks would consume him.
‘I’m not horrified,’ he choked out.
She pressed on.
‘It was just because everyone assumed it. No one else kept up such regular correspondence with a guy. I didn’t really see it as untrue. More like, well, premature, maybe. Something like that.’ She trailed off, apparently waiting. But Finn’s mind wouldn’t throw him a buoyancy aid. He was floundering in deep waters with no life-preserving words. He was shocked that Sam’s cheeks were flaming also. Awkwardness was his thing. She was the one with poise and grace, who could conceal her feelings. Wasn’t that why it was so hard to ask about her hurt? And so frustrating that she’d never noticed how he felt, even before that loser came on the scene?
‘I hadn’t realised,’ he finally offered. Sam laughed, a strange, strangled sound.
‘What were we saying about things right under your nose?’
‘I can’t believe this,’ Finn groaned, shaking his head. The irony. He was living a personal Comedy of Errors. She’d liked him and he’d been oblivious and now he was in love with her and it was too late. Not see blue? The ancient Greeks were having a laugh.
‘You don’t need to act so embarrassed, Finn. It was ages ago and obviously it’s over.’ The emphasis cut him.
‘Obviously,’ he repeated. Dragging more than one word from his incinerated throat was impossible, like quenching the sun…or rewinding time. Over. Obviously.
‘Well, that was embarrassing,’ she declared. ‘Relax, I won’t be making any more confessions, that’s for sure.’
‘Ok,’ he stammered.
‘I’m going for a swim,’ she snapped.
‘What? No,’ he cried, collecting his senses, ‘It’ll be dark soon.’
‘Go on back without me,’ she continued cooly, ‘I’m training for the triathlon and you’ll just hold me back.’ Her words stung but they were true. Nonetheless, Finn argued until she dived under the water, cutting him off.
Back on the trail it was hard to see much, impossible to make out a lone swimmer with his short-sight. While he hesitated, the earth shuddered on its revolution, swallowed the sun, and stained Finn’s world a depressing nightshade. He shivered, grimaced, and lurched back the way he’d come.
An hour later, he was sitting beside Sam again, holding her hand in an ambulance. And the blue lights were flashing. Obviously.
Peter arrived panting behind him, hauled Finn upstanding and back to the present. ‘For goodness’ sake, do you want to be in a sling for the photos?’ he demanded.
Finn baulked. This was exactly how he’d fractured his collarbone five years ago, clattering spectacularly into Sam as she towelled herself off after her swim. He’d been racing to find her. To find, embrace and promise to love her. Forever.
‘You know it’s forbidden to see the bride the night before the wedding and I’m not falling down on the job,’ Peter insisted, tugging at Finn’s sleeve.
Peter was dead right, Finn realised. Sam would absolutely murder him when she climbed out of the water and caught him traipsing after her over rocks in the dusk. He grinned. Peter threw an arm around his shoulder.
‘So, back to the playlist. Who sings that one? About dreams swinging out of the blue?’