Today’s Friday Flash Fics reminded me of a previous one I’d written a while back, “Treading Water,” and before I could stop myself, I wondered if it was worth checking back in with Yves, and then this happened.
On the flight, his sister’s words had snuck their way into Yves’ brain like they always managed to do. The same place? It won’t feel as magical the second time. Why not go somewhere new? By the time the seatbelt sign had pinged off and he rose, he was in full-on regret mode, and hoping to just have a passable time.
Then he’d stepped out of the airport, and there was sunlight and warmth and greenery and his sister’s voice vanished without so much as an echo. This place. This place was never going to be anything but magic.
He took the shuttle to the resort hotel, got himself checked in, got a new plastic wrist band—not green this year, but yellow—and unpacked his single carry-on and backpack in his room. Time zones were doing their usual thing to his head, but he didn’t care if he slept tonight or not. He had two whole weeks here to adjust, and there was a beach and sand and surf and he was alive.
Yves kept waiting for the moments of shock about that to pass completely away, but they didn’t. When he’d been given the all clear and his final treatment, it felt like every thirty seconds or so something would remind him: you’re not dead, you’re alive, you survived. His therapist had used the metaphor of a button in a box with a ball. The ball was the trauma, the button was being reminded, and the ball started off big and heavy. The slightest jostle to the box would make the ball hit the button.
And the button would blare out one of the varying messages: You nearly died! Why did you survive when other people don’t? What if it comes back at your next check-up?
Over time, Dr. Macedo said, the ball would shrink. It would take more of a jostle to make the ball hit the button. But the ball would never go away. There would always be the button, and always be a chance that ball would bounce just-so in the box when life knocked it and hit the button.
In a way, this trip felt like leaning on the button, but in a good way. Saying Yeah, I know, I’m alive, isn’t that awesome? to the button.
A year ago, he’d been so nervous. Not to mention having lost more weight than he could afford to lose thanks to the treatments. His hair had barely begun to grow back, and he was pale and shaky. He hadn’t been ready for the trip, he’d been shocked. Stunned into having the opportunity.
And it had been one of the best rash decisions of his life.
This time, he was pale because he’d come from Ottawa winter, but other than that? He was probably in better shape than he’d ever been before he got sick, and his hair had finally recovered enough to get a hair-cut.
“Screw it,” he said, and changed into shorts and a white T-shirt. He noticed the scar across his abdomen in the same way he always did now: in passing, a part of him. It was still capable of sending the ball ricocheting against the button, but it didn’t happen every time. He’d even had a few dreams now where the scar was present and he hadn’t woken up immediately.
Yves hit the beach. The sun was low on the horizon, but he didn’t care. It was so warm, and the wind was beautiful, and it smelled so wonderful. He walked, soaking in the warmth, and smiling at the people leaving the beach for the day. He couldn’t help but glance out into the water, and maybe he was looking for five handsome men he’d met before—or, okay, one in particular with the curliest hair and a soft-looking goatee—but the ocean was more or less empty, and he hadn’t really thought about the men—or that man—that much.
By the time the sun kissed the water, Yves finally felt some fatigue. Walking had been a great idea. He turned around, spied the hotel off in the distance, and smiled. He felt grounded. Connected. Stable. Then, on a whim, not even sure he could still manage the feat, he did a handstand.
He fell almost immediately, but in the sand it didn’t bruise. He laughed, then eyed the mess he’d made on the beach, and considered.
He tried again. And again.
The fourth time, he got his balance right, and with his feet curling just-so in the air above him, Yves laughed and held himself upright. His arms shook just a little, his shirt was falling down, and he felt fantastic.
“Thank you, thank you,” Yves said. He tried to glance—but the world was upside-down—and then managed a mostly-graceful end to his handstand. He rose, wiping the sand off his palms, and then froze, his laughter fading.
Brown eyes regarded him with a similar surprise. The curly hair was a bit longer, and the goatee was now a full beard.
“Canada,” the man said. He looked at Yves and then nodded. “It is Canada, yes? You’re from Canada?” His English had improved. Yves felt terrible that he hadn’t so much as opened his own little dictionary from the last trip.
“Hi,” he said instead. “Yes. It’s me. It’s been a year, so…” He shrugged. “I wanted to celebrate. So I came back.”
“I should call my friends,” the bearded man smiled all the wider. “We can go swimming again.” He was dressed in a blue button down shirt and shorts, something that looked more like a working uniform than casual wear. And he was carrying his shoes and socks.
“I just got in today,” Yves said. “And I didn’t have dinner. I have no idea what time it is, or if you’ve eaten, but…” He felt the ball hit the button. You don’t deserve this! He swallowed, and forced himself to keep going. To hell with the ball. “I never got to thank you for last year, and I’d love to treat you to something.”
The bearded man nodded. “I would like that.”
Beside them, the sun dipped below the horizon. Yves reminded himself, like he did most nights, that it was okay. The sun would be back in the morning.