The day’s going fine until the woman in the leopard print swimsuit sprawls beside us.
Jade does that sideways thing with her eyes as the woman spreads oil down one long dark leg and mutters out of the corner of her mouth.
“God, look at those hands. She’s an Amazon.”
The woman’s hands are now briskly rubbing shoulders wide enough to be a man’s and she smiles at us with brilliant white teeth before stretching out on her towel.
Jade sighs, flopping onto her belly, and says she’s the sexiest thing she’s ever seen.
I shrug like always and look at my own pale skin that burns so easily in the sun. Jade squints at me through her shades, waiting for me to say something. I don’t know if I should be focusing on the fact that she’s a woman or that she’s black.
“What about Danny?”
Jade’s grin shows her tiny perfect teeth and I know I’ve missed the mark again.
“What about him?”
I blush as Jade stands and brushes sand from her short legs. She’s always been tiny. I think they’re the same length as when we were still ignoring make-up and stealing fruit from neighbours’ trees.
“I’m going in,” she says without looking at me and runs into the water, skipping over the churning whitewash. I lurch up on my feet and each step I take towards the ocean is sucked into the hot sand and I sway a little like I’m drunk. I walk until the surf is lapping around my waist. I step up on tippee-toes as a wave rolls through me and don’t see that she’s snuck up behind.
I yelp at her tackle and we go down with her legs wrapped around my waist and the bubbles rush through my ears. Her hands slide over my shoulders, slippery with sunscreen lotion and as we splash back up for air and I get a face full of wave and go down again. Through the burning in my nose I kick up hard and launch myself at her and she’s laughing so much she can barely swim. As my hands grab onto her waist I remember how it was at the beach when we were still young enough to play these games.
How we would swim out past the second sandbar and our hands would eventually slip beneath bathers. How our giggles became breath held underwater, and how cool that water felt against the heat of her hands.
I realise she’s stopped her thrashing and giggling. We settle in the water, still touching, and she kicks her legs together like she has a fin and glides away. I swim after her but she’s too quick. She duck dives to the surface and I watch her swim back to shore.
On the drive home she pushes her finger deep into my forearm and a white oval blooms.
I sneak a look down where she pressed and see a fine crescent marked there. The mark is a little jagged because she’s been biting her nails again. She points at the side of the road and squeals as I take the turn-off to Danny’s house.
“Look at the blackberries. Remember how we used to pick them on the way home from the beach?”
She smiles as we pass the brambles, entangled in the barbed wire fences at the side of the road.
“Remember how you cut your hand on the fence?”
I shake my head, still smiling at the road but her voice changes to flint.
“Of course you do. Remember how I dressed it with a piece of my t-shirt I ripped off?”
I swallow the taste of salt but I don’t answer and we drive the rest of the way in silence until we pull up in Danny’s driveway. She makes no move to get out and reaches towards me. I see that her fingers are shaking as they rest against my thigh.
“Are you sure you don’t remember?”
I reach out for her hand but it withdraws and Danny is leaning in the car, kissing her neck and asking how the surf was. I keep my smile on and reverse out while Jade stands on the lawn and watches me leave.
Of course I remembered how we’d pick them.
How we would pretend we’d gone wild in the woods. How she’d pluck off a blackberry and pop it in my mouth to prove we could survive. How once she pushed me back into the brambles and kissed me hard with the taste of blackberries in both our mouths. How I groped at the fence as she pulled off my bathing suit and I didn’t even notice it ‘til later, when we were dressed again, and she tore off the bottom of her t-shirt and wrapped it around my hand.
We never spoke about it and we never went picking blackberries again. Sometimes I’d go alone and see the perfect berry just out of reach. I’d weave my hand inside even though the thorns would tear at my skin, and my blood mingled with the inky berry stains. I’d push through to the ones that the birds couldn’t get to.