Miami Beach was bright and hot, and crowded with sand bunnies. Liz saw one of these brazen bunnies stop and cast an envious glance in Shad's direction. Shad watched entranced, as she sauntered away.
Angry and frustrated, Liz wrapped the long fingers of her left hand around Shad's right hand.
Shad's gaze slipped downward. He grinned.
"You don't have to hold on that hard," he told her. "I'm not going anywhere. Honest."
Feeling like the biggest fool in the world, Liz loosened her vice-like grip on his hand.
It took another fifteen minutes before they found a postage-sized spot of sand they could call their own. Shad stood to one side, an amused smirk on his face, while Liz pulled her beach blanket from her canvas bag, unfurling it like a sail, and spread it out on the whorled and uneven sand.
Liz reached inside her bag. She pulled out her bottle of sun tan oil and proffered it to Shad.
Shad knelt down behind her. Slowly and methodically, he rubbed the cool, thick lotion into her pale neck and shoulders, and that portion of her narrow back that wasn't protected by her bathing suit, then moved on to her arms.
Liz closed her eyes and smiled. For such a big, strong man, Shad had a touch like a sweet caress. Liz felt her body melt like a candle with desire.
After he was done, he hunkere down beside her and handed the bottle back to her.
"What about you?" she asked.
He frowned and made a face, wrinkling his nose, and shook his head. "Nah."
"You don't want to get sun burned."
"That's all right."
"You want to go for a swim?"
"You go ahead. I'll sit here and watch for awhile."
As Liz strode down the sloping stretch of sand, she could feel Shad's eyes on her, watching her; she smiled. She waded into the water, until the cool waves sloshed against her narrow hips. Liz ducked her head and bent her knees, bolding both arms out in front of her, and jack-knifed her long, skinny body into the rising swell of an oncoming wave. She swam underwater for about fifty feet without opening her eyes, then turned, and swam back to where she'd started.
She left the water and strolled back to Shad. "So, how's the water?" he asked.
Smiling a playful smile, she bent over Shad and shook her head. A fine spray of salty droplets pelted his hair and face, and smooth, bare chest.
"Hey!" he laughed and fell back on his elbows, away from her. "Come on! Cut it out!"
"Wimp. I think we should take a walk."
Shad looked startled. But she accepted the hand she offered him and allowed her to hoist him to his feet.
She led him along the upper edge of the beach, where the land rose upward in a flat, grassy plateau. Shad looked anxious and nervous. He kept looking at her out of the corner of his eye, attempting to discern from her eyes and the determined look on her face, what she had in mind.
They went around a little corner, which partially screened them from the curious eyes of the restless crowd. Liz whirled around on her feet, so that she and Shad stood facing each other.
"What would you say if I told you I didn't want to be your friend, anymore?" she asked him.
He looked at her. "Huh?"
"What if I said I wanted us to be something more than just friends?"
"You mean like boyfriend and girlfriend?"
"Maybe even more than that."
"Are you serious?"
Shad looked forlorn. "You found the ring, didn't you?"
"I was afraid that might happen." He looked away and sighed. Unable to look her in the eyes, he said, "I really hate to have to tell you this, but that ring is not for you. It's for Mary Ellen Moultrie."
"Mary Ellen Moultrie! Why her?"
"Ah, come on. You know we've been seeing each other for over a year now."
"Yes. But I thought she was just someone for you to hang out with while I was busy with my modeling."
"Well, gee. Maybe after ten years, I got tired of waiting for a certain someone to finally realize that what she's been searching for has been standing here, in front of her, all this time."
"So you're going to marry Mary Ellen Moultrie?"
"If she'll have me."
"Congratulations. I'm happy for you. I really am."
"We still friends?"
"Oh, we'll always be best friends. You can count on that."
They returned to their blanket. Liz decided to go for another swim. This time, Shad accompanied her. They spent the next half hour frolicking like a couple of crazy teenagers on spring break. They dived and swam and splashed each other, and even played a frisky game of tag.
Liz waited until Shad stood next to her. Then she hooked her left foot behind his right foot and kicked upward. She derived a great deal of satisfaction from watching him sail backward and downward with a whoop and a holler, arms flailing, and disappear beneath the churning surf with a resounding splash!
He re-surfaced a second later. "Hey!" he gasped, coughing and sputtering. "What did you do that for?"
"Because," she said.