Sometimes, his work resembled magic.
Or at least, chasing it.
They explored the woods, then doubled back to the rear fields. Plots of land were fenced off with various herbs, vegetables, fruit, and flowers being tilled and nurtured.
Suddenly, Sam stopped and let out a cry of delight. “A swing!” she said, pointing down the hill.
He followed her gaze and saw the lone wooden swing swaying gently back and forth in the slight wind. It was tied with rope to a giant oak tree, whose branches hunched over like an old man, offering play and shade to whoever took a seat. He’d seen it before, and though charming, it didn’t seem impressive. “Yeah. You can use it if you want.”
She took off, springing across the hill toward the tree and then plopping her butt on the wooden plank. Her feet moved a few steps back, and then she launched herself into the air with a delighted laugh. “Oh my God, this is awesome!”
He shook his head, a smile tugging his lips, and moved closer. “Haven’t you ever been to a park?” he teased.
“Tons. The city parks are epic, but not like this. Not a swing tied to a tree on a big-ass farm,” she called out. Her ponytail bobbed behind her. Her feet pumped back and forth, taking her higher.
Pierce, overcome with a strange impulse, began taking her picture, moving to different angles, catching aspects of light as it dappled through the trees, trying to pin down Sam’s playful, childish delight for a simple board tied with rope.
When she jumped off, her cheeks were pink and she was out of breath. “Sorry. I bet you think I’m pretty silly.”
“Actually, I think just the opposite.”
“Good. Your turn.”
He jerked back. “Oh, I don’t need to. I’ve seen this before.”
She frowned. “Seen, yes. Swung? I bet no.” She took his camera from his grasp, and suddenly he felt naked. “Go. Just for a minute. No one’s looking.”
He glanced around. She was right. It wouldn’t hurt to do it once.
He trudged down the hill, sat on the swing, and began to move. The tiny flip in his belly yanked him back to his childhood, when slides and spinny things and swings ruled. When it didn’t matter who was looking because you were always chasing the clouds. He closed his eyes and let himself go, pushing away his foolishness.
And thought about how much Taylor would love this.
When he returned to Sam, she winked. “Told ya.”
“You were right. That was awesome.”
They grinned at each other. There was no chemistry between them, but a pleasant ease and affection that reminded him of how a sibling would be. Even though she was a relative stranger, he sensed she felt the same.
Pierce showed her the chicken coop, where the fowl ran free. The chickens squawked and showed off and shook their wings, fat red jowls jiggling, making them laugh. Finally, they headed to the market and ordered veggie wraps with goat cheese, herbed potato salad, and mesclun salad with strawberries and walnuts. The lemonade was tart and cold, and they savored the crispness of the bread, the creaminess of the cheese, and the snap of the marinade. They grabbed a chocolate chip cookie to split for the road and headed back out.
He drove down Ocean Drive and spent the next few hours showing her his favorite hangouts and introducing her to everyone they met. Though Sam was shy, she was sweet. He’d already caught his friend Nick’s lovestruck expression and figured he’d soon get a call, begging him for her number. In each new place, Samantha found something she loved that he’d either forgotten about or had taken for granted. Seeing things through her eyes helped remind him why the Cape was special.
The last stop at the end of the evening was Higbee Beach. It was a wildlife paradise with two miles of nature trails, dunes, scrub shrubs, and ocean. It was a sanctuary to various animals, especially a large variety of birds, depending on the season, but Pierce hadn’t gone in a while. As he led Sam on the long track from the parking lot through the woods and dunes, he remembered why he loved it so much. There was an untamed wildness here that the other more civilized beaches on the Cape lacked.
“This seems more like a hiking trip than a beach,” Sam commented, huffing a bit as they headed through the lush foliage.
“This place is unique. It’s off the beaten path. There’s no lifeguards, beach-tag checks, or crowds. You’ll see.”
He took a few photographs, allowing the setting to saturate him in order to guide him to the right shots. They came out from the trail and stopped.
“Oh my,” she said.
Yes. It had that effect on people sometimes.
Dogs walked on leashes or bounded in the surf, playing with balls and sticks and various fetch items. A few beach chairs had been set by the water, some way back on the edge of the trees, and others close to the craggy, slick black rocks. A woman on horseback guided her filly through the mild waves, the horse’s head bobbing up and down as she held her place in the saddle. An older couple with binoculars and muted-colored bird shirts wandered from the trails, engaged in a lively discussion as they pointed back and forth.
It was a haven for misfits, which made for the best type of environment because everyone fit in.
Sam squinted in the sun. “Is that guy naked?”
Pierce turned and nodded. The older man perched under an umbrella wore thick black sunglasses, lots of white suntan lotion, flip-flops, and nothing else. “Yeah. It’s not officially a nude beach, but people seem to do what they want here. Everything goes, and everyone minds their own business.”
“Interesting. While I respect his freedom, I don’t need to see his business.”
He laughed. “Got it. Let’s go over here. There’s interesting shells and horse crabs littered on the surf. We can check it out.”
They walked down the beach in companionable silence. Sam found a starfish, and after confirming with him that it wasn’t dead, she relaxed with relief and forced him to take a ton of photos. A giant flock of birds swooped down in a unified dance, screeching with glee. He watched a young couple caught up in each other, arms wrapped tight, foreheads pressed together, ensnared in an intimate moment of time that might never come again. He caught the shot, changing the focus and light a few times before capturing the magic. After a quick check, he confirmed he wouldn’t need a signed release if he used it. The woman’s back was turned, and Pierce couldn’t see the man’s face.