Alex is sure he's straight. He's never even thought about guys in that way. So when he and his best buddy Dave, Dave's girlfriend Kate, and Cherry, who is sort of Alex's girlfriend all go Alex's parents beach house on Long Island, he assumes it will be a relaxing but uneventful summer week away. Their neighbour is the enigmatic and handsome Marcus. The girls think he’s handsome and he and Alex keep meeting each other’s eyes. The four friends decide to take a swim off the coast, which turns frightening when a shark is seen among the swimmers and heads straight for Alex...
“You know I said; I thought something was missing from my life? I knew after you kissed me that first time; what it was. Someone... amazing.”
When Alex and his friends arrived at his beach house in Long Island, the first thing they noticed was the bright blue convertible in the driveway of the Sanderson’s house.
“Wow, that’s a 1962 T-Bird!” Dave, Alex’s best friend, left his girlfriend Kate’s car to stand at the edge of the drive, hands on hips, and gaze admiringly at the car. “You sure have interesting neighbors.”
Alex got out of his own car — between the four of them, they’d driven two up for New York City – and looked at the T-Bird in confusion. The Sandersons were a couple approaching retirement who favored Volvos – high quality, dependable, but not overly flash — and there were no Volvos in sight.
“I don’t think that’s theirs,” he said. “Maybe a friend?”
Kate got out of her car and went straight to the trunk — her interest in the car discussion was clearly zero. Cherry, who had been in Alex’s car, got out and stood next to him. Cherry had short red hair, and looked very pixie like but was tall, while Kate had long brown curls, a wide mouth and was quite short. She was the perfect contrast to Dave – basketball player height with a close cropped do.
Dave said, “Maybe whoever owns it will let us take it out for a try —”
Kate interrupted him. “So you can add ‘vintage thunderbird’ to your list of cars you’ve crashed?”
“Hey, it was that one time — okay, two, and maybe three...”
Alex sniggered, and went to the trunk of his car, tuning out of what was going to be a long rambling justification for why Dave was totally not at fault and it was all the other drivers, blah blah. Dave was a good guy, but Alex was pretty happy it had been Kate who drove up and not him.
He looked at his own car. Second hand, sure, but his mom had bought it for him and it was a stylish Lexus. He liked the car, but it often made him feel guilty. It brought to mind his father’s words:
“You’ve been given everything. Use it wisely.” ‘Wisely’ had a very specific definition.
Alex supposed that was true. He’d done alright in the looks department: blond hair, and at least his button nose had remained cute-looking rather than making him look piggy-like (God, if he’d become like that girl from his kindergarten class...). He wasn’t tall enough for the football but he’d played some when he was in high school, his broad shoulders making him like a bull on the field. And he was smart enough to get into Cornell, which was great.
Damned if he knew what he was going to do after, though.
Alex opened the trunk and passed Cherry’s bags to her. She smiled at him, and looked at the ground in a shy way.
Oh dear, Alex thought.
Alex wasn’t sure what to call Cherry. They had classes together at Cornell, were good friends, and he thought his parents would like her. It had been on something of a whim that he asked her along with them to the beach house. Alex had been glad when she’d beamed and accepted, but all through the drive up she’d been looking at him with dreamy eyes.
They went into the house, all unpacked, and made a shopping list of food for the week. Kate and Dave were planning a trip to Europe and so they all had agreed to eat in the whole time to save money – with the exception of one seafood meal. That was despite them hearing about the fancy restaurant that had opened up just near the marina down the beach from them. Dave’s mom had said she’d tried the one in New York and thought it was fantastic.
“Ah well,” Dave had said. “I’m not that much into food anyway.”
Alex didn’t mind. He, however, was into food, and so had been appointed the chef for the week. Made sense really with him hosting, but he also knew they’d be eating ramen if it were left to Dave and mac and cheese if it were left to Kate.
They went to the local store and bought what they needed. Then, after putting everything away and Alex whipping up a fresh salad with squid, they changed into their beach clothes and went for a walk.
Alex loved the beach. He’d been coming to this Long Island bay since he was a kid, so when his parents had said they needed to be in New York all summer, Alex had begged them to let him go alone with his friends.
His dad, of course, had been skeptical.
“Wild parties so you can trash the place?”
It took much of Alex’s strength of will not to roll his eyes. Dad would have just said he was a bratty teenager if he did.
“Geez Dad, who do you think I am?”
Dad had folded his arms. “Someone who can’t make up his mind about anything and let’s his friends walk over him.”
Alex had fumed at that - typical of his dad to bring up things that weren’t even relevant to the conversation. Just because he was nice to his friends didn’t make him a push over.
“Come on, it’s only Dave and Kate, and there’s this girl –”
“Oh, a girlfriend?” Mom had been listening, trying not to upset her husband, but the mention of a possible girlfriend always seemed to brighten her up.
Alex had felt a bit sad at that. He really wanted to make Mom happy, but he couldn’t lie to her and say Cherry was his actual girlfriend. There was no harm in suggestions though.
“I don’t know, maybe she will be, but she and Kate get along so I thought...”
Dad scowled, but said, “Well, if it’s just the four of you, and you don’t do anything stupid... I know you’ve all just turned 21 so you think you can drink the world dry –”
“Dad, Kate’s totally allergic to alcohol, and we’re gonna be dry in solidarity with her.”
“Oh honey, I think it sounds like a great idea,” Mom had said, stroking her husband’s arm.
So, here they were, walking on the beach. Dave and Kate were ahead, alternatively snuggling and poking each other in the ribs, while Alex walked slower, with Cherry by his side. He looked out over the water, felt the sand under his feet, and sighed, happy.
“Thanks for inviting me,” Cherry said.
Alex looked at her. “Glad you could come.”
Cherry tossed her short hair back, and smiled. That did make Alex smile, actually. She was very cute.
The walk was long, so by the time they got back to the house, it was time for dinner. Alex prepared, and Kate and Cherry insisted on helping, dragging Dave into it too. Alex felt like he was conducting an orchestra, and soon had Kate and Cherry taking care of the risotto and Dave keeping an eye on the grilling. It got a bit steamy in the kitchen, so Alex excused himself for a few minutes.
Alex stepped onto the deck, and sighed. The night was warm, but the air ran through his hair and cooled him down. It was kind of sexy, the heat and breeze on his skin. He closed his eyes, enjoying it.
Alex jumped. He turned to see a man on the Sanderson’s deck, leaning on the railing. He wore mid-calf chinos and a pale blue shirt. He had black curly hair that framed his face, and his skin was pale, ivory colored. There was something haunting about how he looked. Like he was a spirit or a ghost. And something more, but Alex couldn’t name it.
“Sorry, I startled you. Thought you had seen me.”
He had a deep voice, with a purring timbre beneath it. It was a voice of authority, and it felt like it belonged to an older man. This guy was maybe only 30, if that.
“It’s all right,” Alex said, shrugging. “It was so quiet out here, you know, just thought I must be alone, and you know, it’s one of those nights, and you know...”
How many ‘you knows’ you going to keep saying, dude? Alex asked himself.
He let his voice trail off. The man said nothing. His dark eyes were on Alex, serious and focused. He didn’t seem to mind that Alex had been babbling, but Alex still felt foolish.
Alex cleared his throat, and asked, “Are you friends with the Sandersons?”
The man shook his head. “Only met them once. I bought the place from them. I think they’re retiring down in Florida somewhere, didn’t want to manage this place and the one in Boston.”
So he was their new neighbor. It was going to be strange not having the Sandersons there.
“Right... well, my parents own this place, have ever since I was a kid – like, really little.” He held up his hand to show how big he’d been as a toddler. “They’re not here this weekend, I brought three of my friends along.”
It felt like a prompt to say more, rather than polite words.
“I love it here. I think you will too.”
“It’s a lovely bay. I can see why you like it.”
The man made what felt like a smile, but it didn’t reach quite reach his eyes. Those remained a bit... sad.
“Alex, it’s – oh, good evening.
The man nodded. “Good evening.”
Before Alex could say anything Dave blurted out, “Say, you own the T-Bird?”
The man nodded.
Dave broke out a wide smile. “Sweet car! I always wanted one – or a Cadillac, never could decide.”
“I couldn’t either, so I bought both.”
Alex wasn’t sure whose jaw dropped first, his or Dave’s. It wasn’t like he or Dave were exactly short of money – thanks to their parents – but a guy not that much older than them having two amazing vintage cars? That was special.
“We’ve gotta talk more,” Dave said, voice in awe.
“Yo, you too!” Kate bellowed from inside. “Soup’s up!”
“Well, nice to meet you,” Alex said.
The man nodded. “Hopefully we can talk more later.”
Dave and Alex went to the dining table where Cherry and Kate had set dinner up.
“What took you so long?” Cherry asked.
Dave said, “We were just talking with – say, what was his name?”
Alex realized that he hadn’t asked, and said so.
“Doofus,” Dave said, pretending to whack Alex across the back of his head.
“Oh well,” Cherry said with a shrug. “Let’s eat.”
They tucked into dinner. Alex was pretty pleased with it, if he did say so himself. That the others liked it pleased him even more.
There was a Nintendo Wii in the house, so they played that for an hour or so after dinner. Alex’s heart wasn’t quite in it though, and he was pretty tired after the hours of driving. Alex excused himself, and went to bed early. Cherry gave him a look but he couldn’t read it.
He got into his pajama shorts, no shirt – it was so warm that night – and crawled into bed. He tried to sleep, but his mind played over several things.
Next year would be his last year at Cornell, and he still had no idea what he wanted to do with his life.
Dad had an idea. Go to Harvard Business School and go into business, make as much money as he possibly could and have a family. Mom, however, always said, “I want you to find something you’ll be happy doing.”
Alex left the bed and went to the window. It looked directly onto the beach. Beyond that, the bay was bejeweled in moonlight. The sound of the water lapping at the shore came to his ears, despite Kate’s loud laugh, Cherry’s light titter, and Dave’s raucous guffaws. It made Alex smile to hear his friends having fun, even though right then he felt apart from them.
His gaze shifted to the house next door, where the man with the haunted face lived. Alex started when he saw that a light was on, the ceiling to floor glass windows of the living room just in front of the deck appearing like a glowing hub. In the middle, the man lay back on a couch of navy and white sailor stripes. He had a glass of wine in his hand, and his eyes were staring fixedly out over the bay. That same concentrated look he’d give Alex. There was more behind his look though.
He looks like I feel, Alex thought. Lost.
Alex sighed, and went back to bed. He had a fitful sleep that night.
“Hey Alex! You coming?”
Alex shook his head, snapping himself out of his reverie. It was early the next morning, and he was standing on the deck of the house, his thoughts drifting. He shook his head again, and realized that he’d been staring at their new neighbor, who was lounging on the deck of his place.
A moment of panic flared in Alex. Had the man seen him? His eyes seemed to be closed, almost like he was asleep.
Phew, maybe not then.
On the sand below, Dave was waving up at him, trying to catch his attention. Kate and Cherry were next to him.
Alex called down to him, “Yeah, give me a second, will ya?”
“One.” Dave held up an index finger. “That’s your second up!”
Alex laughed, and padded down the wooden steps to the beach.
Dave clapped him on the back. “Come on, let’s hit the water before the crowds and the screaming kids wake up.”
Kate grabbed Dave’s hand and they dashed off together. Alex and Cherry grinned at each other, and chased them.
As they got to the water, Alex glanced across, and realized that the man next door was now at the water too. He was wearing dark three quarter length cargo pants, and a white shirt opened at the chest. He also wore a straw hat – probably necessary with pale skin like he had.
“Morning!” Alex called out.
The man looked up, blinked at Alex, and the side of his mouth quirked up.
Alex went to him. Better introduce himself now before it got awkward.
“I’m Alex Diamond. The neighbor.”
The man held out his hand. “Of course. I’m Marcus Reed.”
Alex took his hand. “Marcus Reed...” he repeated. He was sure he’d heard the name before, but he couldn’t think where.
Then he realized that he was still holding Marcus’s hand and hadn’t shaken it. He did so quickly.
“Good to meet you.”
Their hands were locked. Alex first thought was to drop it quickly, but instead, he pulled back slowly.
“You going for a walk?”
“Well, I own a restaurant near the marina, so I’m going to check that out, and then I’ve got a boat I’m taking out for a bit.”
“Right – oh wait!”
And that’s when it clicked into place. Marcus Reed, the restaurateur who had opened up the new place at the marina.
“You own... you have like five of these places, right?”
Marcus nodded. “That’s me.”
Alex went to say something else, but Dave appeared at his side.
“Hey, man with the T-Bird,” Dave said.
“Hello again,” Marcus said.
“Ah, guys, this is Marcus – he’s our neighbor – and this is my best friend Dave and this is Kate and Cherry.”
They all shook hands. Even though he wasn’t much older than them, Marcus seemed so much more sophisticated. Just the way he even shook hands – perfectly business like. Dad would have been impressed.
“Marcus owns the new restaurant, the one we were talking about?”
“Oh really?” Cherry said. “Cool.”
Marcus nodded, but didn’t say anything.
A silence fell, no one sure of what to say. At last Marcus said, “Well, you enjoy your day, maybe I’ll see you a bit later.”
Marcus turned and walked up the beach. When he was at a safe distance, Kate declared,
“Hey!” Dave whipped around.
“Come on, a girl’s gotta look sometimes. And I still love you, sweetie.” She slapped his ass, and Dave jumped, turned on her, and chased her into the water, Kate squealing as he tried to catch her.
Alex and Cherry followed them at a slower pace, Cherry giggling, Alex shaking his head.
“Do you agree with Kate?” he asked.
“ ‘bout what?”
Cherry nodded. “Yes. But I’d say he was more than cute. Like... beautiful.”
The word was like a punch to his gut. For some reason, his body burned a little, and it wasn’t from the sun.
Cherry didn’t notice, and said, “Kinda young to own a restaurant, though.”
Alex said, “I read about him. Founded one place in New York and now he’s got them all over. Good business sense, apparently. Now let’s get into the water instead of talking all this business stuff!”
They dove into the water, paddling at first, and then swimming to where their feet couldn’t touch. There was very little surf on the bay and there was no current. It made it safe to swim out further where their feet didn’t touch the bottom. The element of risk was kind of wonderful to Alex, and he loved looking back at the shore.
It was beautifully cool. Alex continually ducked his head under and emerged again. The feel of the water caressing his body was amazing.
They came to a stop, all panting from the swim. Dave and Kate began splashing each other. It wasn’t Alex’s thing, so he and Cherry just laughed.
Then Dave and Kate started kissing. Alex looked away, and found he was looking at Cherry. Her eyes were on his. She open her mouth, and licked her lips. Kissing her wouldn’t be so bad, Alex thought. She was very cute. Mom would like her.
Suddenly, Kate screamed, “Oh my God!”
Alex blinked. Kate pointed, her face white with fear. Darting in the space between the four of them was a shark.
“Holy shit!” Dave bellowed, and grabbed Kate, who screamed again, now only nonsense words and sounds.
Cherry became very still. She looked like she might sink in the water. Alex’s thoughts were all jumbled together. Stay still or swim? Sharks are attracted to movement, so if they swam...
He tried to swim to Cherry, but as he did, the shark fin turned.
And like a knife above the water, it was headed straight for Alex.