“That was fast,” said Bob.
“Summer always is.” Susanne slipped her fingers around a few of his. They watched the afternoon sun hover over the calming ocean from their bench.
The beach was littered with people. In the distance, Bob heard a young child shrieking her lungs out. The sounds of yapping dogs chimed in. Bob cursed Hollywood for making reality feel less romantic than it should have been. A small family passed by with the screaming child in forceful tow. Bob gave the freckled girl a scowl.
“When you do head back?” he asked.
She gave him a deep look in the eyes and again fell in love with those oceans of blue. “You know when I leave,” she said. She squeezed his hand.
“Yeah,” Bob said, nodding. “Are you excited?”
“Only a little?” he asked. A flock of seagulls landed in the sand and surveyed the bare spot where the small family had been.
“Nervous I guess.” Susanne swallowed and looked out over the sea. The slowing breeze tugged at her blonde bangs. Thin squint lines folded the small love mark on her face. “Law school isn’t easy, and Stanford is far away.”
“It’s not that far,” Bob said. He knew it was a lie but he said it anyway.
Susanne smiled and leaned her head on his shoulder. “What will you do?” she asked.
Bob felt his heart sink. “Just stay at the gas station, I guess. Just another summer in the books for me.” The sun lingered, lingered high in the afternoon sky. Bob wished it would never come down. “I can’t afford to go to any real college, and besides,” he gave a limp shrug, “my dad needs me here.”
“I like your dad,” she said. “He’s a good man.” She placed his hand on her leg.
“Yeah,” Bob said. “Yeah.”
A rare tranquility fell over the busy beach. The breaking waves paused and gave way to silence. The barking dogs faded away. Even the seagulls found the time right for quiet. Bob asked the question he never wanted to speak. He feared the answer that he already knew. “Will you be back down here next year?”
Susanne kept her head still and mingled her fingers with his. “No.” The silhouette of a pelican dive-bombed into the water. “I doubt my uncle will live that long. I’ll have no reason to visit. No reason to stay.”
Bob wanted to press the issue, to argue, to say what he needed to say. But he knew there was no use in covering old ground. He watched her fingers dance playfully with his. He noticed she had her nails recently painted. Little dolphins.
She never did come back the next summer, or the one that followed. They did their best to keep in touch as the months went on, but life has a funny way of stealing time. Bob knew she was busy and under pressure, under strain. He cared for her and wanted to know how things were going, but he knew well enough. She was smart. She was beautiful. She was certainly capable enough. The summers rolled on, each quicker than the last, and Bob found himself daydreaming of a black sports car pulling up to the pump for a fresh tank of gas. A stunner, a real ten, would come in to pay for her gas. She would flirt and she’d smile and of course he wouldn’t recognize her. At least, not until she took off her big sunglasses and he saw the love mark.
One day, a black sports car did.