Ocean Palm Hotel

He hadn’t moved all afternoon, guitar cradled against his chest. He’d played a note every now and then but mostly he just ran his fingertips along the strings as he watched people pass by below. He peeled its wooden body from his skin as he slouched a little further down on the lounge chair, an uncomfortable but ignorable dampness collecting under his back and thighs. The morning clouds had evaporated in the growing heat leaving behind a breathless humidity that was now trapped under the umbrella above him, the fading ocean breeze not strong enough to shift it.

Daylight began to disappear and so did the sundrenched crowds. He was about to move too – if he left tonight he could arrive in time to sleep through most of tomorrow, ready for the night ahead. He pulled himself up to sit a little higher, his back a little straighter. He was taking one last glance over the beach when he saw her. She wasn’t walking along the edge of the water or along the boardwalk like most but instead she was halfway up the beach, trudging across a belly of soft sand. She kept her head down, hands holding the hem of her shirt. From this far away there was nothing extraordinary about her but he watched her curiously, waiting to see what she would do next, if anything.

She kept walking, each step paced out exactly like the last. But then she hooked a right, heading towards him. Her head was still down so he didn’t think she’d seen him watching her but he started to panic as she got closer, heart beating a little faster. She disappeared for a moment and he heard her pushing open the gate below. His head fell to the side, waiting for her to appear, and that was when he saw the sign, neon’s flashing as the hotel’s emblematic palm tree swayed side to side. Stupid, he thought, of course, she’s a guest here, sighing as he slipped down further on the chair, gathering his will to leave.

But then a honey coloured crown of hair came into sight as she climbed the small flight of stairs. Out of the corner of his eye he watched as the rest of her rose into view. Her hair was wavy and wet, drops of water gathering at the tips, blinking in the last of the day’s light before falling onto her shoulders and deepening her sky-blue shirt. Her feet were bare, each step soundless and soft against the terracotta tiles as she crossed the courtyard to stand beside him.

‘May I?’ He startled when her fingers wrapped over his, a hum, a deep vibration as her palm pressed his against the guitar strings. Looking up he caught a burst of gold, a hazel eye. A sideways glance of light fell over her face, curving shaded valleys and moonlit mountains onto her cheek. She smiled. His single nod and wide eyed stare turned into a rush of movement.

He sat up, catching hold of the guitar before it was hurtled from his chest in his haste. She sat in the lounge chair next to his and the guitar was passed between them, seemingly of its own will. His heart was beating faster than before but now it was matched by a giddiness in his chest.

He pulled his legs up, knees to his chest, spinning sideways in his chair to face her. Her eyes closed softly as she settled, the daylight fading into dusk around them. She sat with her legs crossed, the blonde maple wood curving to the arch of her thigh. When it came, her voice was as soft as her touch on each string. He didn’t recognise the tune she played, or know the words she sang, but both burrowed their way into his mind, his memory. A warm sadness.

She must have mistaken his blank look for one of disinterest, mumbling as she laid the guitar flat across her lap, ‘Sorry, I just… I’ve been trying to get that song to work for over a year and it just came to me, down near the point, how to put it all together.’ His heel slipped off the edge of the chair, the slap of his sole hitting the tiles rebooted his brain. ‘It was…it was beautiful,’ he lowered his other foot to the ground, ‘Really. Beautiful.’ A loaded silence filled the air, both blushing as eyes darted and lips sounded out the start of quickly discarded words.

Their voices burst forward at the same time. She shook her head and smiled, he laughed and looked down at his hands. The knock of her ring against the neck of the guitar made him look up, his hand reaching out as it passed between them again. ‘I better get going. Got a gig a couple towns over,’ she stood up between the lounge chairs, her toes almost touching his. He whispered a goodbye, staring up at a delicate face coloured bright by the sunset.

She didn’t make a noise as she crossed the courtyard and disappeared down the stairs. He waited for the squeak of the gate and then he stood up, walking over to the railing. The clatter of keys rang out between them and he smiled as she walked into view, her arm outstretched, fingers feeling the flow of air, palm pushing against a sudden gust of wind. She spun around and waved as she reached a faded blue pickup truck with greying tires and a rash of rust over the front wheel well, putting the key in the door and unlocking it without looking.

He watched as she slid into the truck. The sound of the door slamming shut bounced around the walls of the courtyard and he felt it move through his chest. He watched until her brake lights turned the corner before he turned to leave, his mind following her as he walked away.

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