We wander to the end of the beach, away from the sprawling sunbathers, and sit down on my fraying blue and white striped beach blanket. The turquoise and lilac Cornish sea rolls up the pale fluffy sand, flattening and darkening it. This should be my focus: being on a date in this beautiful place.
Daniel’s warm sweaty hand finds mine. “Swim?”
“In a moment,” I say, stretching out my podgy legs. My long dark hair curtains around my face. The bright green kaftan reaches down to my knees, covering most of the problem.
“Okay.” His strong chest twitches. He releases my hand and brushes a fly away, before lying back, propped up by his elbows. Closing his eyes, he tilts his face towards the sun.
Now is the moment; I can do it unseen, slide my defence off, rearrange myself before he notices.
It’s done. The silky kaftan pools beside me and touches his leg. Daniel notices instantly, half opening one eye and then both, squinting. I crush a handful of sand and count a silent tick, tick, tick… Will I reach four before he sees I’m disgusting? Five before he says it?
It had seemed such a simple thing: Yesterday told me something that it never should have, pressurised me when it had no right. “Wear the bikini,” it said. “He liked you enough to ask for a second date.” I’d turned to the mirror. “You are beautiful; you don’t care what anyone thinks; you are beautiful as you are.” But Yesterday lied and Today is killing me.
Daniel twists onto his side to face me and reaches out, following the lines on my stomach with fingers that had only ever felt my hands before. I’m hurt by their gentle touch, physically hurt; it spreads up my stomach, shoots through my chest, and forces out through my throat: “No!”
His hand jerks away immediately, because he’s a good man. All the girls want a man like him — and once he’s realised his mistake, one of them will have him.
“My sister has those,” he says. “My mum, too.”
“The…” He gestures to his own smooth stomach. “The line things.”
My skin had stretched, not during a pregnancy but during my explosion into teenage-hood, breaking into burn-like ridges on my tummy and arms. The marks would never fade. Disgusting.
He frowns. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to…”
“It’s okay,” I say.
It’s not okay. I’m not okay. But he’s the okay-ist person I’ve ever met.
“Swim? It’ll feel much better once you’re in,” he says, glancing back and forth between me and the water. “You’ll see.”
“In a moment.”
I sit up, slowly, feeling the stomach rolls form. He leans over and gently kisses the stretch marks on my upper arm. This time, the gentleness leaves no more than a hazy burning sensation, which quickly rises to my cheeks.
“You hot tiger, you,” he murmurs into me.
“Stop it, silly boy,” I say, trying not to laugh.
I don’t want him to stop it though. Not ever.
He pulls away, smiles, and leaps up. “Let’s go!”
I drag myself up from the blanket, its edges flipping in the breeze; I pin it down with my bag. The turquoise and lilac sea smiles at me. It’s not bothered by anything; neither is he.
There’s a crinkly sunburnt woman along the beach, splayed out, letting the sun have its way. She opens her eyes when a group of young men pass, obliviously kicking up sand, some of which lands on her feet. She doesn’t even bother reacting. No big deal.
Daniel’s waiting for me at the edge of the frothy shallows. “Come on, tiger!”
“Just a moment,” I say, adjusting my bikini bottoms.
This time, it’s a short moment. A new feeling spreads through my whole body: the joy of being on a date in this beautiful place. I gather up my hair, tie it into a ponytail, and follow him into the sea.
Hannah Retallick is a twenty-seven-year-old from Anglesey, North Wales. She was home educated and then studied with the Open University, graduating with a First-class honours degree, BA in Humanities with Creative Writing and Music, before passing her Creative Writing MA with a Distinction. She was shortlisted in the Writing Awards at the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival 2019, the Cambridge Short Story Prize, the Henshaw Short Story Competition June 2019, the Bedford International Writing Competition 2019, and the Crossing the Tees book festival competition.