The last summer
Bethan leaned against the splintering wood of the ice-cream hut and stared out across the crowded beach. It was just about warm enough to take off her hoody and bare her arms to the air. It wasn’t, contrary to the opinion of one rather large man, warm enough to lie, spread-eagled in a thong, in the weak May bank holiday sunshine. In Wales for God’s sake.
The queue for ice cream snaked around the hut and along the seafront, but Callum caught Bethan’s eye and slipped her a wink and a Mr Whippy with raspberry sauce and nuts from the side door. They shared a tight-lipped isn’t-this-bloody-awful-but-hey-ho smile before Callum had to get back to work. Bethan took her ice-cream to the far end of the beach, where the tourists didn’t go.
It wasn’t as nice down here, but at least it was quiet. Bethan loved the main beach on winter mornings on her way to college when noone was around, except dog walkers and seagulls and mist. When the sea hurled itself grey and furious at the shore and you couldn’t tell where the water ended and the sky began. The sand seemed to stretch out forever and the whole place was wrapped in a kind of desolation that resonated in her chest.
And on early spring evenings when she and Callum and Alun and Lisa would make a fire and watch the sun set early, holding bottled beer through long sleeves and stealing smokey kisses with one another in the starlight. They would pass joints and play games, share secrets and stories.
She only came to this tucked away spot in the holidays when the main strip was filled with pinking, garish tourists. Here among the broken bottles and dirty sand there were no screaming children or plastic parasols, no tang of chip chip-shop vinegar or wet, excited dogs. There was just Bethan and her thoughts. The last summer.
It would all be different soon. They all swore they’d stay in touch and that coming together in the holidays would be like they’d never left. Theirs was true friendship and it would take more than a few miles to come between them. No-one they’d meet at university could know them like they knew each other. Some things were just too strong to stop, they had all agreed it.
But Bethan knew better. Without really realising, she had begun to memorise things, storing them up like little polaroid pictures in her mind to take away with her, intact and preserved forever. The smell of salt and woodsmoke in her hair; the way Lisa held the joint with her thumb and forefinger like she was in a 70s prison film; the way Callum’s face freeze, mask-like, when he thought no-one was paying attention, as he stared out to sea, taking in the scene as if it were the last time he would ever see it. He never said, but she knew he felt like she did about it all.
Bethan pulled her knees up to her chest and licked away the dribbles of ice-cream that ran down the cone, tasting in it every summer she remembered while she dreamed of what September would bring.