Ten Years Later
I stood on the sand staring out at the ocean where my nine-year-old son rode a decent-sized wave. His form was excellent, his confidence off the charts, and my chest swelled with pride as I watched him on the water. After a nice snap out of the top, he came into the flat section and took a dive, popping his head up a moment later.
Cupping my hands around my mouth, I shouted, “Beautiful work, Eli!”
He waved, then laid face down on the board and paddled back out.
I crouched down to get a better look at what my younger two were up to. Phoebe had just turned five, and she was showing two-year-old Alfie how to transfer sand between plastic buckets with his tiny blue spade.
“Good job, you two,” I said, straightening Alfie’s hat. “Are you having a good time?”
“Yes,” Phoebe said with a pout, “but when is it my turn to go swimming?”
I ruffled her blonde hair, then replaced the hat she’d thrown away on her head. “Soon, sweetie, but for now, keep your hat on, okay? And can you play a little longer with Alfie? I think he’s having fun making sandcastles with you.”
Alfie blew a raspberry and flung a handful of sand at my stomach, and Phoebe sighed. “Fine, but he’s not very good at getting the sand in the bucket.”
“He’s still little. He just needs practice. Hey, what if I ask Grandpa to take you to the edge for some more water?”
Phoebe bounced to her feet, I scooped Alfie up onto my hip, and we wandered the short distance to where Dad and Maz had positioned their towels under a huge yellow beach umbrella. They had a cooler filled with sandwiches and bottled water between them, and Phoebe went straight to it, pushing things around as she hunted for hidden treats.
“Today’s the day, huh?” Dad asked, watching Phoebe from the corner of his eye.
I grimaced and looked out at the three surfers bobbing in the back. “That’s what she says.”
“Don’t worry. She’ll be right.” Dad whipped a small paper bag of sweets from his pocket, and Phoebe squealed as she snatched it from him. Alfie reached out his chubby hands for them and tried to throw himself out of my arms. Maz laughed and reached out to me.
“Here, give him to me. You focus on Emily. She’ll be up soon.”
I gratefully handed over the baby, then turned towards the water and crossed my arms, my focus all on the waves. Eli had joined the others now: Will and Isaac, and there right alongside them, Emily.
A set came and went, and I waited for the lull to pass. Dad and Maz came and stood beside me, Alfie in Dad’s arms, and I hoisted Phoebe onto my hip. Was the audience making Emily nervous? I had butterflies in my belly, too, but I wasn’t about to look away.
Emily had been an anxious swimmer right from the start, but once it was clear we’d be living the rest of our days in the Bay—and as soon as she realised our kids would spend a lot of time in the water, on and off their boards—she became determined to learn to swim properly. I taught her everything I could, and she’d enrolled in adult lessons at the public pool as well. Once she’d mastered her strokes and built up some strength, she tackled her next fear: waves.
When I wasn’t there to take her out, Isaac or Will offered to help, and she’d gradually learned her way around the ocean. If she hadn’t mastered her fears completely, she’d at least found a way to stop them from mastering her. She’d come so far, and as I’d watched both her and Eli in the water over the years, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons. They’d learned alongside each other almost from the start, but Eli had never had to overcome a phobia the way Emily had, and he’d taken to the ocean like he was born for it. He’d been surfing well for more than a year, but Emily wasn’t there yet. Or she hadn’t been. Until today.
We watched, and we waited, and then she started to paddle.
I knew Will and Isaac were there to keep an eye on her, and Eli was equally focussed on making sure she was all right, but my muscles clenched all the same.
The set rolled in, Emily gathered herself, and then she dropped in.
I held my breath at the sight of her on the face of the wave, her feet set perfectly on the hot pink board I’d bought for her years ago. She didn’t try anything tricky, thank God, and before I knew it, she’d turned back over the top of the wave, and it was over.
The uproar on the beach was epic. We cheered and shouted, waving at her. Pheobe screamed, “Yay, Mummy!” and Eli was on the next wave, coasting in to meet her. She paddled in, dragged herself to her feet, and walked out of the surf, board under one arm, laughing and pushing her dark hair—which she wore in long, loose waves now—off her face.
“Oh my God, that was amazing,” she panted, taking a wriggly Alfie from Dad. Our little boy wrapped his chubby arms around her neck, planted a wet kiss on her cheek, then spat at the taste of salt on his lips.
“Was that seriously your first wave?” I asked, shooting suspicious looks at Will and Isaac, who were coming in from the water behind Eli.
Eli came barrelling in and threw himself at Emily so hard she was forced back a step. “Not exactly.” Emily laughed as she hugged Eli around his shoulders. “I’ve done it once before, which is how I knew I was ready to show you.”
I put one arm around her, Phoebe sandwiched between us, and my other arm around Eli. “I’m proud of you, Jones.”
Saltwater ran in rivulets down her cheeks, and her eyes were glassy with tears. “Thanks, Ford.”
I kissed her, then looked down at my little family. To think I’d almost run away from all this.
“All right,” I said, emotion making my voice gruff. “Miss Phoebe tells me she’s ready for a dip. Who’s coming with us?”
Phoebe launched herself out of my arms, Eli darted away to collect his board, and little Alfie squirmed so much that Maz swooped in to take him from Emily and change him into his swimsuit. When it was just Emily and me for a brief, welcome moment, I circled her with my arms again, pulled her tiny body against mine, and kissed her one more time.
“I’m the luckiest man in the world,” I told her, picking her up and squeezing her hard. When I set her on her feet again, Emily stared up at me with the wide green eyes I fell in love with more than a decade earlier.
“I love you,” she said.
“I love you more,” I replied, and I sealed it with another kiss.