It’s 3 a.m in the quiet, still California air. The sun won’t be rising for another couple of hours and I can’t go back to sleep. This is my normal routine these days. Since coming back to America there hasn’t been a day I’ve slept past 3 a.m. Actually, sleeping in until 3 is a serious accomplishment.
Today I’m feeling particularly restless. My chest is tight as my heart pounds inside. The air doesn’t seem to be flowing to my lungs quite right and I can feel my face growing hot as tears threaten to start falling.
So I whip the blanket off my sweating skin. Despite sleeping right in front of the air con, and knowing that this is the coldest room in my sister’s house, I keep waking up damp with sweat. I need air.
Normally my sister would also be awake at this hour preparing her morning routine of coffee and a quick round of Sims. However she isn’t restless like I am, she is preparing for work. Something I haven’t really known for the past year. I sigh as I try to disregard the feelings of failure lurking up inside me.
I enter into the warm living room where the door seals off the cold air from the other part of the house. I walk to the huge window that overlooks the ocean from this side of the street. I guess I’ll go there and listen to the waves.
I grab a water from the cupboard and my copy of “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles” and head out the door. The air is cool but sticky, promising that as the sun rises it will bring an intense heat with it. I walk out of the yard and make my way across the street barefoot.
“California,” I think. “The only place worth being up so early.” There are no cars ont he street and no voices within range. I find my way to the long steps that lead down to the beach. At this hour the tunnel is perfectly blackened by the trees and bush that surround it. I can hardly see my feet below me as I walk down the steps tenderly.
About a quarter of the way down I begin to hear the waves crash violently against the shore and my chest finally loosens. This is my favourite sound. The ocean. With as much as it’s strength frightens me, it brings about a calm like nothing else in this world. I wonder sometimes if the ocean had been my true home once upon a time.
As I near the end of the tunnel, the slight light of this hour welcomes me. My feet finally reach the sand and my heart feels content. The salty sticky breeze caresses my face and I can smile slightly. I feel at ease here.
I walk softly down the shore avoiding the touch of the ocean’s waves. I ponder about what could be swimming here at this hour. What is awake around me? That’s when I notice him…
He sits atop a large rock formation. This rock looks perfectly shaped for creatures like us to climb atop. It’s almost as if a perfect trail was carved around to guide us to it’s peak. The wind ruffles his dark hair. I shuffle about shyly and brace myself to walk past another soul cautiously.
I’ve nearly passed by unnoticed when I hear a deep, but gentle, “Good morning.” I glance upwards to see him smile kindly from atop the rock. “G-Good morning.” I stumble and force a smile as I plan to return to my silent retreat.
“Care to join me? The sun should come up soon.” He invites me as his eyes turn back towards the violent morning waves. I inspect the rock silently gauging how I might climb up it as I mull over this stranger’s invitation. I’ve just spent a year taking risks and doing things I would never normally do. What harm could watching the sun rise with a stranger do?
I begin climbing the rock with out saying a word. I feel that my actions emit an obvious yes to his invitation. There is no reason for words. I reach the peak with no problems and sit at a comfortable distance away from this stranger.
“What brings you out here so early?” He questions, not taking his eyes off of the ocean.
“I suppose it’s jet lag.” I mumble. He doesn’t press any further. After a few minutes of silence pass I decide to return the question. “What about yourself?”
After a moment of hesitation, he responds, “Sometimes I just get restless. My mind doesn’t really quiet down so I spend all night awake keeping busy and then I come here to wait for the sun.” His head tilts slightly to the side as his eyes narrow in some form of concentration towards some far off thought at sea. I notice that he is tanned and his eyes are a deep brown. At least that’s how they appear in this faint morning light. It must be about 4 am now.
“You don’t really look like a girl from California.” He speaks suddenly and I notice he is looking at me too. I must have made a face because he continues, “You’re not all that tanned, and you have a different accent.” I note that he is at least slightly observant.
“Nah, I’m not. I’m from Michigan. I’m here visiting my sister.” I start to get a strange feeling inside that begs me to leave, so I stand and stretch. “I’m going to walk around a bit.” I state as I begin making my way back down to the sand. Before I can say ‘nice to meet you’ he is on his feet following me down the thin trail.
“I’ll tag along if it’s fine.” I’m not sure how to respond. He says it in a way that isn’t a question. I try to swallow the sick feeling in my stomach. There should be some people along the beach, there usually are, so I try to take comfort believing that it isn’t just us two alone this morning. But as I scan the sand, I’m realising, there isn’t anyone in sight.
I walk a bit briskly through the sand back to the area which I entered, but I’m afraid of letting this stranger follow me home, so I feel compelled to stay on the beach. We walk along in silence and I decide to climb some rocks near the ocean’s edge. Waves bombard the furthest rocks creating massive splashes of salt water over my skin.
“May I ask you something.” His voice becomes louder to overcome the roar of the ocean. “What are you doing here?” I’m a bit taken back by his sudden question. What am I doing here? I wonder that almost everywhere I go. I turn around to face him and am startled with how close he’s followed behind me. My surprise catches me so off guard that I stumble backwards over the sharp surface of the rocks and feel myself falling backwards. I’m not sure what impact to brace myself for. Sharp rocks, or the black sea. I close my eyes in preparation for what comes next. A firm grip wraps around my arm and tugs me forward.
I force my eyes slowly open as my body leans at an awkward angle. I glance behind me as waves beat against the rocks. I return my gaze to the tan hand that has saved me and look towards the stranger. “Careful. I don’t think you want to die out here.” He smiles, and I can feel my body go cold. But he pulls me up the rest of the way. “Not today anyway.” He adds as he grabs my hand and leads me back towards the safe soft sand.
“I’m Alex.” He says releasing my hand and running his through his shaggy hair. “Be careful with books like this by the way.” He continues as he picks up my novel from the sand. “Invites all kinds of crazy ideas into your head.” He brushes the sand off of the cover and hands it to me. “Murakami is quite the guy, huh? Writing about things that you think only you feel?” Alex pushes a strand of hair behind my ear before turning and wandering towards the tunnel I emerged from. “Later, Holly.” He gives a loose wave without looking back, leaving me clutching my book and wondering, ‘When did I tell him my name?”