Beck pulled into the parking spot along the public access area to the beach. It was a warm night but the night breeze was blowing so she decided to reach for her jacket in the backseat. She jumped out of the car, throwing her shoes to the passenger floorboard. She would not need them after all, the walk from this spot to the beach was easy on the feet. She knew the path like the back of her hand, having walked it a million times over the years. It was her thinking place. She felt the picture in the pocket of her jacket and removed her hand, as if it had burned her. There was so much to think about now.
The long strand of beach was vacant, leaving only the lifeguard stands, pulled back to avoid the high tide, dotting the landscape every quarter-mile. The sun had set an hour ago but the sand was still warm as it pulled at her feet. The smell of salt air cleared her mind and allowed her to process the events of the day. Beck looked over her shoulder to where she had entered the beach. She could not shake the feeling of being followed. It would be impossible for anyone to know where she was, especially here. She turned back to the beach in front of her. She pulled the picture from her pocket, an old black and white photo of her as a child. She was sitting on her father’s lap in a tree swing. The picture was her only link to her father that she had. Her mother had died while she was so young and had never told her the story of her father, where he had gone or what became of him. She was angry with her mother. His name was not listed on her birth certificate. No clues to his identity, or hers for that matter. Her eyebrows pulled together and her forehead creased, making the sunburn on her face sting a little. Why had she given up so easily? Why hadn’t she fought harder. People fought cancer and won all the time. She just left her here, alone with an aging ultra strict grandma who would pass a short two years later. Foster care through the teen years. Learning to be street smart and realizing she had to be book smart too. Beck snorted in discontent at her foolishness. Her mother adored her, and she had adored her mother. Or adored the memory of her mother, long passed. Her mother was the reason she went into research. So was her grandmother, in a way. Only because she wanted no other little girl to be forced to live with a crotchity old bitch because she lost her mom. The anger let go of her heart. She was sure her mother had intended on telling her the whole story. When the time was right. Only when the time was right, her mother was gone.
A movement at the edge of the resort caught her eye. She turned to see what it was, spooked. Then the sound of laughter made its way to her as two young kids ran past her and toward the edge of the water, teasing each other with gentle shoves closer. She smiled at their innocence, lucky bastards, and continued down the beach. But the feeling of being followed creeped back to her. Her spine tingled and as she turned around she saw him, standing a few hundred feet away. The light from the walkway where the kids had just run from illuminated his form against the dark beach behind him. How long had he been following her? Had he been hiding in the shadows? Should she be afraid? How had he found her? A million things zinged through her mind as she looked toward the next resort and for possible exits from the beach. The next resort was further away than she cared for, it’s walkway acting as a beacon to safety. Fight or flight, this was the moment. Then an image of her mother passed through her mind and she stopped soundly, turned to him and squared off. “Are you following me?”
It was his voice. Something about his voice. And then she bolted for the walkway. Her heartbeat was pounding in her ears. She had always hated running in sand, which right now felt more like quicksand, slowing her pace and holding her back. She made it to the edge of path and tried to come to a stop quickly, the rocks were her kryptonite. There was no way she could run competently on the rocks on that path. As she turned around to make a split judgment she realized it was too late, his hand was already on her shoulder and she was trapped.