The Hill

“Will you take my hand?”

 

I don’t know why Sean asks. My hand has been his for a year, and I’ve never refused him, but our relationship should be at the point where he just reaches for me.

 

I certainly won’t mind; his warmth is something I crave, something I can’t live without.

 

Smiling, I extend my hand toward his open palm and slide my fingers between his. He tugs me closer and we walk down the white-sand beach, united.

 

A warm, ocean breeze blows in my face, making my skin sticky and my hair a matted mess, but I’m not complaining. Sean never has either. We live for the salt life.

 

He laughs. “Ah, lunch hasn’t blown away.”

 

“Lunch?” I ask, leaning back.

 

Sean points ahead, squinting his eyes against the midday sun. I follow his finger. A red and white checkered blanket is staked to the ground, accompanied by a light tan picnic basket with a rainbow colored umbrella towering above what he calls ‘lunch’.

 

“This is different.” I’m not sure what else to say. We’ve taken this walk every day since we met at work a couple years ago, but he’s never done lunch before.

 

“I can’t surprise you once in awhile?” A big, Cheshire grin spreads across his beautiful tan face, lighting up his eyes. He looks like a little boy. “Race ya.”

 

I drop his hand and run off, looking over my shoulder. “Go!”

 

“You big cheat.”

 

It takes him all of two strides to catch up to me. He slides his arms around my waist and spins me to face him, but we lose our balance and tumble into the sand a good twenty feet from our meal.

 

“I would have beat you,” I say, stifling my laughter.

 

We lock eyes. His are so big and beautiful, golden brown with flecks of green. Sean clasps his hands around me. “I love you, Maggie.”

 

I could spend eternity in his arms, living moments like these over and over again. And I’d never tire of hearing those words come from his mouth. “I love you, too.”

 

He cranes his neck, surely checking on the status of our lunch. The winds on the beach are unforgiving. Give them enough time and they’ll blow anything away.

 

“How did you arrange all this?” I ask, getting to my feet and offering him a hand.

 

“I have my ways,” Sean says, grabbing hold of me, then he sprints toward the picnic.

 

“Who’s the big cheat now?” I trot after him anyway.

 

Placing one hand in front of him and the other behind, Sean bows. “My lady. Please, have a seat.”

 

“You’re a dork.” But I love every ounce of you. “I’ll take the shade.” I plop down on the cheap, plastic tablecloth he must have picked up at the Dollar store and scoot back. I prefer the sand. “So what’s this about?”

 

He roots through the basket, crinkling bags, clinking bottles, and eyeing everything like he’s impressed by the contents. “Turkey sandwiches and Doritos.”

 

“Sean?”

 

Tossing a bag of chips my way, he laughs. “Tom Myers died.”

 

“Oh my God, Sean. Why are you laughing?”

 

“Guess what was in his will?”

 

My appetite is gone. Too concerned for my future to think about anything else, I leave the bag by my feet. “I don’t want to play games, Sean. What are we going to do?”

 

Sitting next to me, Sean crosses his legs at his ankles and rests on his palms. He’s way too relaxed about this. Our boss died. How did I not know this? No one said anything at work.

 

“Maggie, he left The Hill and all his bank accounts to us—”

 

“Didn’t he have a kids?”

 

“Estranged. You know that. When’s the last time any one of them came to help him out when the radiation treatments got too tough?”

 

Never. That’s why Sean and I are always so tired. Our routine has been to work at the surf shop, then home, then shifts with old Tom. Maybe that’s why I haven’t heard about his passing yet . . . last week when I got a cold, Tom insisted on hiring a caretaker. “So . . . it’s ours?”

 

The boyish look reappears on Sean’s face. “On one condition . . . .”

 

“And . . . ?”

 

“I already asked you. I’ve been asking you every day for the last year. Will you take my hand?”

 

My heart stammers against my ribs, threatening to make me faint. “You want me to marry you?”

 

“Never any doubt in my mind. I’ve known since the first day you walked into The Hill looking for a job renting boards. I think it was your cute little southern drawl that did it.”

 

I glare at him. “I did not have an accent.”

 

“You did, and everyone noticed.” Sean tips his head back, blinking his sun-kissed lashes at me. “You’re kind of leaving me hanging here . . . .”

 

“I can’t believe you felt the need to ask. Of course I will.”

 

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