This story is one of the July Writing Challenge entries chosen to be a featured story.

In the last, fleeting moments of summer, I sit in your hoodie on Long Island Beach with the burnt sand crinkling beneath my feet and the sticky, sweet air hanging atop my shoulders. The sky has radiated darkness for hours. The teal clouds ominously reverberate as if threatening to swallow you and me whole.

But we have not budged.

I grip the cold bottle of coke in my hand like it is my lifeline, letting the condensation drip onto the broken nail you accidentally snubbed with the car door two days ago. You cradle your knees to your chest, unmoving, and watch the waves roll. Watch how they recede and regurgitate in quiescence.

We don’t want to admit it, but the makeshift fire is the only thing remaining crackling between us.

You finally turn your intense gaze away from the waves to face me, and the flickering flames almost appear to bring a new translucency to your eyes, illuminating the corrugated curves of our deep chasms.

I think back to how I first stumbled into that field of wildflowers with you fourth of July, how you plucked a string that was tender in me, and how you tasted like smoldering barbecue melting away long, long Februarys. I think of the way you clasped my hand a little too roughly from the driver’s seat, the way you traced my veins every night as if you were mapping Rome, and how I can still taste the electric drug of being wanted pulsing beneath your fingertips. I remember how those delirious moments during 3 am scrabble in your seashell basement made me think that your too large oversights and too small steps fit me like a missing letter. Made me believe that summer lust had no dusk.

Now, the fading remnants of you inside your swollen hoodie drown me. The heavy atmosphere suspends itself as if holding its breath, and I slip you off my shoulders like a charred dream. Dawn stretches herself sober, folds and unfolds, and exhales across the waves in relief. You take one final look at me before your body begins to slowly disintegrate into the hollow breeze, along with the rest of the summer. At the last second, I feel you almost blindly reach out to grasp onto me, but you cup something round and whole that’s already complete — and you slip, slip away.



Grace Zhang

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