We paddle in the shallows, waves splashing over our ankles. The water cools the skin and forces blood from the toes so we flatten the ribbons of sand with stamps to squeeze warmth back into our feet.
The sky ripples with cloud, and wind squeezes under cuff, up trouser leg and down collar. Our shoulders hunch and hands search into pockets to stave off the cold.
She gossips and smiles, but anxiety billows and ebbs in my stomach even as I grin at her stories. Somewhere at the base of the dunes, where the grass gives way to sand, lies the source of my tension. A ring, sized to slip over her finger, sits in a box, which in turn lies in a bag. It cannot be seen from here but each time she glances up the beach time slows as I wait for awareness to break across her face.
She asks what we will do next. I tell her we need to leave and my gut stabs with nerves as the moment of action draws near.
We pad across the expanse, tracking footprints over blankness, to where our shoes and socks sprawl in the sand. The ring lurks here and spikes my heart with adrenalin.
We both sit to brush sand from our feet, and I glance left and right, again and again. We are alone, only a gull wheeling over the rocks will bear witness to this moment.
I rise from the log, turn and drop on one knee to face her. One hand wrestles the box from the bag, the other flips the lid. Under light filtered through cloud, the ring gleams.
Write like Hemingway she said, all nouns and verbs, no adjectives or adverbs. So I did.
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