I loved the sea until that day. Marian and I lived on the beach during the summer months. She would knock on my door at eight o'clock every morning, and we would race to the end of the street where the steps to the beach began. There were over two-hundred steps that crawled down the gradual cliff covered with lush ferns, moss and ancient evergreens. I can still remember the rich smell of earth and leaves that mingled with the sea breeze. We would bound down that cliff, trying to see who could skip the most steps. Marian always beat me because her legs were longer and I was scared of breaking something. She was always the more daring one.
When the sea came into sight at last and we could hear the thunderous roar of the waves, it exhilarated us, and we descended even faster in our excitement. Our sandals came off as soon as we made it past the sharp rocks and onto the comfort of the sand. There is nothing like the feel of warm sand between your toes. I would sit there in the sand and relish in its texture, letting it pass through my fingers and digging my feet into it. Marian was never content to sit and look at sand; she had to be swimming or climbing the biggest rocks or tormenting crabs. Sometimes I would join her, but I my favourite thing to do was to lay on my back with my eyes closed and let the waves embrace me. The arms of the sea rocked me back and forth, lulling me into a state of indescribable peacefulness. Those times at the beach were where some of my most cherished memories were formed. It was also that beach which came to be the source of memories that still haunt me even now.
Marian and I were both sixteen on the day that everything changed. School had just started, and we were mourning the end of summer, for we knew that our carefree days on the beach were running out. We were both growing up and taking on responsibilities in an adult world. Summer would soon become a time for work, and play would become a trivial, frivolous thing that was reserved for the very young. I usually dealt well with change, but this shift from childhood to adulthood was like a huge leap over a deep canyon, and as I reached the edge, I grew more certain that I would fall. Marian seemed frightened of the change as well, but she approached it differently. She laughed in its face, refusing to succumb to it. It was her idea to go down to the beach after school that day, even though the rain was falling furiously.
"I don't know," I sputtered as we stood outside the school with the rain beating down on our hoods. "We're going to get soaked if we go down there now. Besides, I have homework to do."
Marian scoffed at the thought of homework. "Come on, Amy, can't you do that later? This is way more important than homework."
I wanted to go home, but I saw the look of determination in her eyes and I knew that I would never win this argument. "Okay," I said, "but only for a little while."
Marian sprang into action, grabbing my wrist and leading me to the bike rack where our bikes were locked up. She swiftly unlocked her bike and jumped on it, shouting, "race ya there!"and took off.
With a groan, I hopped on my bike and started pedalling. I could see her ahead of me as she wove through the masses of students walking home from school. I followed her path, but avoided the large puddles which she passed through so gallantly. She didn't care that the muddy water splashed up her legs and dulled the brilliant whiteness of her brand new sneakers. She was oblivious to everything besides her destination. Nothing could have stopped her from reaching the stormy waves that day. I know that now.
She recklessly threw her bike aside when she neared the steps and began her descent to the beach. I leaned my bike against a tree and did the same with Marian's bike once I retrieved it from the middle of the road. By the time I made it to the steps, Marian was already at the bottom.
"Wait for me!" I yelled at her with all the air in my lungs. She turned around briefly, then disappeared behind the trees.
I ran down the steps as fast as I could. I skipped as many as five steps at a time in my haste, praying that I wouldn't slip on the rain-slicked ground and injure myself. Even a simple twist of an ankle would have been enough to prevent me from catching up to Marian, and I knew I had to reach her. Luckily, I arrived at the bottom safely.
I found her standing on the massive rocks that boldly jutted out into the face of the presently violent ocean. I gasped as the raging waves pummelled the rocks with powerful force, but the boulders stood tall and cast the white water upward into the sky. Marian faced the spraying waves with the same resolve as the rocks on which she stood. She was drenched in seawater and rain, but I was the one who shivered. I didn't know if it was from the cold wind on my wet skin or from my own fear. It was probably a mixture of the two. Despite my shaking body, I managed to climb the slippery rocks to where Marian was standing.
"Isn't this great?" she shouted through the deafening crash of the waves.
I remained silent, but nodded my head. I didn't want her to see my apprehension, knowing that she would only scoff at it. She seemed to be enjoying herself so much that I couldn't ruin it for her by complaining. I always felt like such a cautious prude around Marian and I hated it. Her wildness enthralled me, but I could never be so impulsive and confident, no matter how hard I tried. I suppose it was never in my nature to be daring, just as it was never in Marian's nature to be careful. Some things cannot change while other things cannot stay the same.
A exceptionally large wave hit the rocks unexpectedly and knocked Marian off her feet. Her head cracked against the stone and I shrieked as the sea greedily swallowed her. I wanted to jump in after her, but my feet were embedded in the stony floor. I could only cry out. I cried out to Marian to come back to me, I cried out to the sea to bring her back, and I cried out to myself to do something to save her. But no one listened. My feet finally found me again, but instead of jumping into the icy depths of the ocean to rescue Marian, they ran towards the steps. The rain poured down my forehead and blended with the tears in my eyes, blurring my vision as I climbed to the top of the stairs. Despite having raced up that cliff almost every day without losing my breath, I was gasping when I reached the top this time. When I grabbed my bike, Marian's fell to the ground. For a brief moment, I stared at the collapsed bicycle with a hopeless sense of dread, then I hastily pedalled away to find help.
They found her body the next morning on a nearby shore. The sea had consumed her like a fruit and left us with the unwanted core. I don't remember my own reaction to the news as much as I remember that of Marian's parents. Her mother collapsed in a hysterical heap, bursting into heart-wrenching sobs while her husband placed his hands around her trembling body. He was silent and unwavering, but when I looked closer, I saw that his eyes were brimming with tears. I suffered a terrible loss that day, but when I looked into that man's eyes, I realized that my pain was minuscule compared to the anguish of outliving your child.
I went home and crawled into bed where I remained for the next few days. I kept seeing Marian falling into the water over and over again. I played out all the possible scenarios in my head, digging myself deeper into an abyss of guilt.