"Brody?" I called over the noise of the tide.
"I heard you," he said. "I'm thinking. I have trouble giving a shit about my own safety. I'm trying to consider this as a normal person would, for the sake of your safety."
"That's sweet of you."
He laughed. "You're welcome. Yeah-"
His voice was drowned out by an approaching roar. Before I could turn, a huge wave crashed over my head, forcing me under the water. The surfboard squirted out of my arms, and the tie tugged my ankle. I did a flip and grabbed for the board before it escaped out to sea, dragging me with it.
I surfaced spluttering. Brody was laughing and trying to shake the water out of his ears. "You okay?"
"As I was saying," he said, "yeah, I think we should go to shore."
* * *
An hour later, we were still lying on towels on Granddad's deserted beach, kissing in the darkness. Though he'd been exploring my breasts with his hands and then his mouth, I'd wanted to keep on my bathing suit top for a while, in case someone strolling on the beach wandered by. But when Brody fitted himself between my legs and lay on top of me, with only his bathing suit and my bikini bottoms between us, I forgot my modesty. He slowly circled each of my breasts with his tongue.
He held himself above me in mid push-up, his forearms trembling. He said softly, barely audible above the wind in the palms above us, "I have a condom."
I swallowed. "Okay."
"Do you want to?"
My whole body said yes, rising along the length of him, desiring him. And he felt it. He sucked in a small gasp.
"I want to," I breathed. "But I'm not on anything, and I would be terrified of getting pregnant, even with a condom."
He smiled with his mouth only. His eyes were worried.
"But I'll get on something," I said, "and then I want to."
He nodded. "Okay." He lowered himself over me and kissed my lips once more, deliciously, slowly. Then he rolled off me. "Sit up. Let me tie you."
I found my bathing suit beside me and clutched it to my chest as he tied two bows in the back, his fingers sliding intimately across my skin. We both lay down on the sand again. His feet captured one of mine and massaged scratchy sand between my toes.
All the while, he was inhaling deeply like he couldn't quite catch his breath. "Wow," he murmured, "I feel like I've just run wind sprints in practice." His voice shook.
Down by our sides, I felt for his hand, grasped it, and squeezed.
He took one last long breath and seemed to relax. I couldn't hear him breathing anymore over the surf. The waves rolled in and slipped out. The planet was breathing. Overhead, the front edge of the tropical storm sped through the sky, dark purple clouds glowing on a periwinkle background
"Are you thinking about how you'd compose a photo of this?" he asked.
"Not exactly. I was thinking I could never take this picture. It would be a huge disappointment, because the lens wouldn't quite capture the intense color of this sky."
"You're so artistic," he said. "It seems like you could just paint the world the way you wanted it, and then you wouldn't have to worry about catching it just right."
"The world is beautiful exactly like it is," I said. "You just have to know how to frame it, and bring it into focus."
I watched the clouds race overhead. Everything in my life seemed more in focus at that moment. My body still tingled where he'd touched me. I felt close to him. His transgressions of Friday night seemed a million miles away. I was beginning to understand how Mom could forgive my dad so many times, if this was how they kissed and made up.
"Do you think everything we feel for each other is physical?" I asked. "Like, we've done some things together and that makes our brains think we should be together?"
"You're dividing the mental and the physical," Brody said, "the head and the heart. I don't buy that division."
"What do you mean, you don't buy it?"
"I mean, sure, you see it in poems and songs, but it's a metaphor. It isn't real. Your brain is part of your body. It's one whole system that has to work together, or not. Nobody knows that better than me."
Right. He was still afraid of getting another concussion-as he should be, honestly. My relaxation programs had helped, but he was still working on staying in the game.
"What you're really asking me is whether what we have together fits into a box you've made." He held his fingers around an imaginary box in the dark in front of him. The box was small. And I was surprised, once again, that he understood what I was thinking a lot better than I understood it myself.
"I'm all for standards," he said. "But it seems to me that you built that box a long time ago, and it hasn't been working for you lately. Maybe it never did."
He turned to me and put one big, sandy hand up to cup my chin. "Here's what I know, Harper. I've never felt more comfortable than I do right now, right here, with you. If this was taken away from me, I would fight to get it back. I'm pretty easy to please, wouldn't you say? I'm more of a go-with-the-flow guy than a fighter. But I'm determined to keep football in my life. And I'll do the same to keep you in it too. Of course, now I've compared you to football, which is insulting, sorry." He took his hand off my chin, reclining on the beach again with the muscle control of many hours spent in the school's weight room, and closed his eyes.