Jeff Foster exhaled deeply as he swam to the surface of the water, swiped a hand down his face and smiled at his beautiful wife Caitlyn. She snickered, exposing two rows of immaculate white teeth; she was a health nut and always on schedule when it came to her teeth. Her long black hair clung to her forehead, laid carelessly across the tops of her shoulders and floated along the water’s bright blue surface. The sun was a bright yellow beacon in the clean blue sky and the breeze coming in from the west felt cool and inviting. Perfect day for a perfect swim.
“What’s so funny?” he asked.
“You’ve got something on your right ear.”
He touched his right ear and pulled back a long wet string of seaweed. He blushed, his face twisted with loathing, and tossed the weed farther into the water. As it drifted away, Caitlyn waddled through the water and wrapped him in her arms. They stood like that for awhile, feeling each other’s breath on the nape of their necks, the rhythmic ebb and flow of the water and their chest and their fingers tracing cryptic shapes on their shoulders and arms. Whenever they held each other, the world slowed to a sluggish pace as if time had slowed down just for them.
Suddenly, Jeff felt her slide away from him. When he saw her head fall under, he dove in after her. Caitlyn waved, twisted and kicked away from him. He swam after her, his hands and feet cutting smoothly through the light-spangled water. They floated above the sandy bottom, passing sea creatures and jagged green reefs; they passed a school of fish before turning thecorner around another reef.
A thin blade of sunlight pierced the surface of the water and caught Caitlyn’s hair. She resurfaced first, then him and swallowed a great gulp of air. Beyond the shore, one and two-story beach houses sat huddled under the unblemished blue sky; to the northwest, a tall brown cliff stared out over the water like a national landmark. When she saw him standing behind her, he tickled her ribs and chased her, their legs kicking up great white plumes of water. They ran up the sand, laughing loudly and fell onto a large plaid blanket.
He laid across the blanket, his towel tucked under his head and exhaled. She set her head on his chest and traced more cryptic shapes across his flat hard stomach. He raked his fingers gently through her slick raven-colored hair, felt its texture spreading gooseflesh up his arms. She eased herself closer, kissed him and nestled her head against his left shoulder. A lingering sensation spread through him, filling him with a nostalgic euphoria.
Just being with Caitlyn had been enough. She’d given him so much over the years, he wouldn’t ask God for anything else. With all the memories combined, they’d had their fair share of good and bad times: Caitlyn dancing her way on stage during Swan Lake, hugging him at the kitchen table when he cried after his mother died of heart failure, putting together a candle-lit dinner to celebrate his brand new promotion at the ad-agency, building the bird house in the backyard and relaxing on the beach. He never wanted her to work a day in her life and treated her like a woman should. He treated her lavishly and although he wanted the best for her she never complained when he brought her something home from work.
“Thank you.” He whispered in her ear.
Raising her head off his shoulder, she asked, “What for?”
“Giving me the best years of my life.”
“We’ve had a great run, haven’t we?”
“I can’t live without you, honey,” he said, running his finger through her hair again. “I go to work everyday and I can’t stop thinking about you and even though we’ve talked on the phone during my lunch break it’s still not enough to make me happy. You’re everything I’ve ever dreamed about and I know whatever I say isn’t going to change things but you’re the only woman I’ll ever truly love.”
“I want you to be happy, Jeff,” she said, as a tear formed in the corner of her eye. “But I don’t want you to be alone, though. Find someone, Jeff. Make me happy in death by making someone else as happy as you made me in life.”
When Caitlyn stood up, Jeff opened his mouth to say something but he couldn’t find the words. There wasn’t anything he could say to change the situation; it was Fate, if nothing else. She ran down the shore, her slender pale body snug under her red and white-striped bikini, and dove headfirst into the water. He called her name, begging her to come back but his pleas fell on deaf ears. All he could hear was the distant crash of the waves slapping against the foot of the cliff, the water softly licking the shore and the slow beat of his heart.
He knew there was no going back.
He unrolled the bright yellow beach towel, spilling his white cotton tee-shirt, keys and wallet onto the picnic blanket. He took the laminated newspaper clipping from under his keys and scanned it for the millionth time. A head and chest photo of a raven-haired beauty was featured at the head of the clipping; below the photo, the name KAITYLN MARIE FOSTER was printed across in bold black font. Below the name was the headline BALLET DANCER TRAGICALLY DROWNS. He read the article aloud to himself, remembering every printed word.
“Caitlyn Marie Foster, twenty-nine, drowned in Madison Beach on Tuesday, March Thirteenth Two-Thousand-Twelve. She was best known for her performance of Swan Lake and a starring role in December’s showing of “The Nutcracker”. She was survived by her husband Jeff Foster, her parents Hugh and Natalie Downing, two sisters, two nieces and a great grandmother. She will be laid to rest at Barron Funeral Home on Friday, March Sixteenth at noon. Donations are welcome.”
Knowing she would be at peace allowing him to move on without her, Jeff slid into his tee-shirt and sandals and rolled his blanket and towel together. Tucking it under his arm, he gazed at the vast blue water where true love would always exist and took the long quiet walk back to his car.
Illustration by: Jordan Wester