It's two in the morning. I can hear the waves rolling up to the shore like whispers in the darkness, telling their secrets and receding back into the night. One by one they beckon me to leave my bed and join them.
I haven't heard Mum's voice, or Arthur's, in some time. No light under the door — they are asleep, and I can be alone. I tiptoe across the room to my window and slide it upward with practiced softness.
The sea breeze swoops soundlessly into the bedroom, billowing my pajamas and tickling my hair. "Come, Jeremy," calls the muted ocean. I can't see it but I know it's there. I climb out.
My bare feet are cold and tender on the wooden deck. I stumble noisily into the back of Arthur's patio chair before I can get my bearings, and whirl back toward the house to see if anyone heard. Seconds seem like hours. But the windows remain dark, and I press on.
Down the three steps to the balmy sand; I brush the tall grass on either side with my fingertips. The waves are louder now, a hushed roar anticipating my arrival. I quicken my pace. Nothing is visible in the moonless void but I follow the call as clear in my ears as the sound of my own name: "Jeremy, Jeremy, Jeremy."
I push past the sea oats and I'm on the beach. Down the sloping dune I shuffle, across the flat pebbles and spiny seashells, until the sand becomes silt and the water kisses my ankles. I sit in the surf and wait for an old friend.
If the waves are my confidants, the lighthouse is my guardian. On a cape far across from shore it stands as it always does, its outline barely visible against the night sky. The beam revolves slowly, carefully, constantly, in weather fair or otherwise. Tonight the air is salty and carries a hint of winter. I watch as the beacon reveals hidden cloud linings on the horizon, thunderheads skulking in the darkness and suddenly betrayed by piercing light.
And then that light is sweeping up the coastline toward my position, illuminating the terrain in some places and casting long, black shadows in others. I shiver as it passes over me. Most nights it's welcome... but not tonight. The breeze slithers through my sleeves and around my neck. The water turns frigid and curls my toes. It's at that moment I realize I can't hear the waves anymore over the sound of my own pounding heartbeat.
The patio light is on. I see it in the corner of my eye: Up the hill, Arthur's beach house has awakened.
Already a figure is standing on the deck, silhouetted against the light. Staring out toward the blackness where I sit, stabbing ineffectively at the night with a pocket flashlight. And shouting a familiar, angry shout.
I can't discern the words from here but their intent is clear enough. The back door slams like cannon fire. The figure is moving down the steps now, he'll be here in moments. The lighthouse passes over and for a second I see the glint of his eyes, the permanent scowl, the rope in his hands. His flashlight beam jags across the sand with every lumbering step.
"Jeremy," he shouts.
I don't move. He still hasn't seen me.
"Jeremy!" He stops twenty feet away from where I sit and pans the light across the beach, stopping on my face. I cringe.
"Run," says the wind softly in my ear.
"Run," say the waves, whispering against the shore.
"Run," says the lighthouse with a blast of blinding light in Arthur's eyes.
I seize the opportunity and do exactly that: I run. To nowhere in particular, with only instincts and adrenaline to guide me through the impenetrable night. "Son of a bitch!" screams Arthur. "Get your fucking ass back here, you fucking son of a bitch!"
But I don't turn back; I keep running, faster than I ever imagined I could. Youth and sobriety triumph. The wind compels me forward down the coast, scooping me up like a trimmed sail in a regatta. The sound of the waves has become a roaring applause. Every footfall kicks up a wild spray of mud behind me.
And the flashlight beam in pursuit slows down, and the screams of profanity fade into the distance, and still I keep running. For hours, it seems, I keep running, until the tears stream cold down my face and my legs buckle and I collapse headlong into the sand.
I don't know where I am. Every inch of this beach is identical in the dark. Far away I spot the beam of the old lighthouse continuing to revolve, a single glimmering star hovering where black sky meets blacker sea.
For a split second the scene flashes bright as daylight, chased by deafening thunder, and my guardian suddenly vanishes behind a curtain of the coldest, inkiest rain. The deluge echoes across the waterfront, a million spattering voices telling me in unison that I am alone.
Alone, as I've dreamed for years to be but have never dared to try.
Alone, and cold, and afraid.