They picked up fish and chips from the only stand still open after Labor Day and spread their feast on a blanket. Henry watched the tiny moments of embarrassment flicker across Karen’s face when a piece of fish fell apart before it reached her mouth and when she wiped tarter sauce from her chin.
“What are you staring at Henry?” she asked.
“The most beautiful girl in the world eating fish and chips on the beach. I think I’m in heaven.”
She rolled her eyes and shook her head. “I’m a mess. I haven’t slept in days.”
“You’re beautiful. I would have taken you to the moon to get your mind off your mother. I’m glad you agreed to come.”
“I’m really glad you asked,” she said. “I can’t remember the last time I was at the beach. It’s so quiet today.”
“The tourists have gone home for the season. It’s just the locals and the kids playing hooky from school.”
“And me playing hooky from life.”
“I wish you didn’t have to work so hard.”
“Can I tell you a secret?”
“Sometimes I wish that too. I get up every morning and put on my uniform and I go work. I try to pretend my mother and I are still shoring each other up. But I know it’s me holding her up. I smile through it all—greasy food, bad tips, achy feet, drunken mother. But the fact is, I wish I had it easier too. I wish my Dad had never left. I wish I was still his princess. I wish I was a college student instead of a waitress.”
Karen had never been so open before. Henry wanted to tell her he’d be there to shore her up. He’d be her Prince Charming. But he stayed quiet, afraid to break the spell.
“It’s made me who I am though,” she continued, shaking off the melancholy that had crept into her voice. “When you don’t have a lot, the little things mean more. Look at the waves. See how the green explodes into whiteness when they hit the shore? If I came to the beach all the time, I wouldn’t notice how beautiful it is.” She held up her glass bottle of Coca Cola. “I love Coke. I’d rather have a Coke than ice cream or candy. We never have it at home because it’s expensive. If my dad never left, we’d probably have an icebox full of the stuff and it wouldn’t be special.”
“You are so different from anyone I’ve ever met. I think that’s why I love you. I wish I could take away every moment of pain you’ve ever had, but I’d never want you to be different than you are.”
“You love me?”
“I love you,” he whispered, leaning in to kiss her. It was soft and sweet and perfect.
“I love you too,” she said when they pulled apart. She stared into his eyes for a moment. “Can I ask you something Henry?”
“Why did your mother start crying at dinner last week?”
I’m linking up with Write on Edge this week. The prompt was to use the phrase “to the moon” in a piece 500 words long. This is part of an ongoing series. You can read the rest of Karen’s story here.