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A Beach In Winter   
by Martha
marthalgm@yahoo.com


"Hey, Frohike, wake up. Which way do I turn?"

Langly had pulled up to a stop light just inside of Morehead
City. He knew that he would need to cross a bridge but never
having been to the area before, he did not know if the one just
ahead was the right one. Byers reached around from the front
seat and grabbed Frohike's knee to jostle him. "We're almost
there, and we need some directions."

"Oh, yeah," Frohike replied as he sat up, straightening his
glasses. "Turn onto that bridge up there and then take a left on
the other side."

They had left the DC area six hours ago. Frohike could make this
drive in his sleep, and sometimes he had. But it had been at
least a year since he had been to the beach house. And having
someone else drive this time was a nice change. Still, coming
back again, this time with Langly and Byers in tow, made him a
bit apprehensive.

Langly made the turn that put them on the bridge that spanned the
inlet separating Morehead City from Atlantic Beach. He did not
understand at first Frohike's insistence that they take Langly's
Mustang. The others drove larger cars that would have been more
comfortable for the long ride. But when he rolled down his
window earlier to let in some fresh air, he could feel the warmth
in the breeze. It may have been February and winter in DC, but
it was early spring in eastern North Carolina. Frohike was
right; a convertible was the only car to take to the beach.

Frohike tried to sit up straight in the back seat. Not an easy
thing to do, what with the long-legged driver and passenger up
front. He managed a somewhat cross-legged stance between the two
front seats and leaned forward to get a better view of the
approaching town. He reminded Langly again to take the left turn
upon hitting the island and directed him through the town traffic
to a small neighborhood of cottages.

Now this is a new experience, Byers thought as they followed a
narrow driveway - parking underneath a house. The beach house
rested on ten-foot pilings set in concrete. He'd heard of the
hurricane parties that beach residents would throw but wondered
at the sensibility of staying put if the tide really came in so
high.

They all piled out of the car and grabbed their bags from the
trunk. It was only to be a short stay, less than three days, but
they needed the break. Langly was even forbidden from taking
along a laptop. One by one, they climbed the wooden staircase
from the carport to the first floor. Rounding the corner, they
came across a porch that ran the length of the house, with
several rockers and lounge chairs on the far side. Byers turned
towards his right, looking out over the ocean and noting from
this vantage point just how close to the ocean that they really
were.

Frohike pulled open the screen door, unlocked the front door, and
stepped inside. Not much had changed. The living area was still
a combination of oversized chairs, couches, and tables. One long
dining table was in the back corner with the compact kitchen off
to one side. The staircase behind the table led to the two
bedrooms just overhead.

He dropped his bag on the nearest chair as the other two followed
behind. "You guys can take the rooms upstairs. These couches
are just my size." He headed towards the kitchen. "I'll start
getting dinner ready."

Langly climbed the narrow staircase first and took the room on
the left. He half expected to find a somewhat dusty and stale
room from a house that had been closed up for several months.
But this was not the case. The windows facing the ocean were
cracked open, letting in the strong breeze and gently rustling
the curtains. The bed had a firm mattress, not soft or lumpy in
certain places, with several blankets and comforters folded up
neatly in a nearby chair.

As he began to unpack, Langly sensed a certain ringing in his
ears. He had first noticed it while driving but dismissed it as
part of the traveling noise. He closed one of the windows,
thinking that it may be coming from outside. The ringing didn't
abate itself. I'm just getting old, he thought. <<I've been
listening to music too long and too loud, and it's finally
catching up with me. Maybe Byers brought some aspirin with
him.>>

Byers, meanwhile, was unpacking in the other bedroom. A break
was just what the needed. After the events at the research
facility, he knew that he was ready for some time off. At least
there were no phones in the place. They couldn't get into any
trouble if no one could reach them.

The sun had set in the half hour since they entered the house.
The three sat at various places around the dining table, eating
the lasagna that had been provided by a local restaurant and
delivered earlier in the day by the crew hired by the rental
agency to prepare the house for their visit. They ate listening
to a local oldies station - the only music that all three could
agree upon.

After dinner, Langly excused himself, blaming a headache, and
went on up to bed. Byers volunteered to clean up, while Frohike
grabbed a beer and headed for the porch. He pulled one of the
rockers closer to the door and sat down, leaning back and resting
his feet on the porch railings. Although it was dark out, he
could tell that it was getting near low tide. The ocean surf
seemed further out than when they first got there. Out there, in
the dark, with the soft music behind him and gentle ocean in
front of him, Frohike sensed a familiarity. As if he had been
transported back in time some years. It was the same house, but
the company was different. And so was I, he thought.

Byers finished up in the kitchen and went to check on Frohike.
He knew what this house had meant to Frohike and knew that he
often ended up here alone over the years. But this was the first
time that he had invited the others along. It was simply too
tempting an opportunity to pass up. Talking Langly into coming
without going into a lot of detail took some doing, but he
finally convinced him that they just needed to get out of town
for a few days.

Byers went to the front door. "I'm going on up. You coming in
soon?"

"Yeah, in another couple of minutes."

Upstairs, Langly had piled the extra blankets and comforters on
the bed and burrowed underneath the covers. Even after the
aspirin and food, the ringing in his ears was still present. It
was all he could do to concentrate on the waves rolling in on the
shore outside his windows, to lull him into sleep.

Byers had also heaped the blankets on his bed against the chill
of the night. He forced himself to stay awake, though, until he
heard the front door close and the shuffling of feet in the room
below. He just wanted to be sure that Frohike was inside for the
evening, like an anxious parent waiting up until the child had
returned home.

* * * * * * *

Langly was the first one awake. If he didn't know any better,
he'd have thought that he was hung over. He had slept hard and
coming out of that slumber through the fog took him several
minutes. Once he sat up, the chill in the room motiviated him to
get dressed. Grabbing a comforter off the bed, Langly silently
crept down the stairs, past a snoring Frohike, and out onto the
front porch.

He pulled the rocker that was left by the door a few more feet
down the porch to a sunlit spot, wrapped himself up in the
comforter, and sat down. He let the sun bathe his face, and it
was beginning to do wonders for his sinuses. Having left one of
the windows open while he slept may not have been a really smart
thing to do, but the sun sure felt good.

It had been a rough winter for them, he thought. <<First, there
was all that cloak-and-dagger stuff about the Cigarette Smoking
Man. Frohike had us going for weeks on that. And I still don't
think that we got it all right. And then there was that break-in
a few weeks back. How does Mulder talk us into doing things like
this? He nearly gets killed, and Byers is scared shitless for
days. Next time we get invited to a surprise party, I want to
know who the guest of honor is.>>

The warmth and the quiet must have lulled Langly into a nap,
because the next thing he knew, Byers was standing at the railing
in front of him, coffee mug in hand and dressed
uncharacteristically casual, staring out into the ocean. As
Langly shifted in the rocker while trying to stand up, Byers
turned around and snickered, "You could sleep anywhere, couldn't
you?" He held open the screen door, urging Langly forward. "Come
on; Frohike's cooking breakfast."

* * * * * * *

After breakfast, Frohike took the others to see some of the
sights. They spent a couple of hours wandering at The Circle, a
sort of amusement and family recreational area just off of the
beach. In the seventies, it had a seedier appearance with an
assortment of bars, nightclubs, and pinball halls along with the
rides. A major overhaul in the eighties turned those bars and
nightclubs into restaurants, and the pinball halls became video
arcades. But it was still a place to see and be seen.

Byers had taken a perverse interest in the bumper car ride,
zooming around the outer edge, chasing Langly down at every
chance. Frohike tried to run interference to help Langly out,
but Byers was really quite good at evading those traps. Frohike
mentally filed this little tidbit away.

Langly got his revenge at the Tilt A Whirl. With his long arms,
he was able to monopolize the wheel and, with a strength not
readily associated with someone who spent most of his time in
front of a computer, gave his two companions the spinning ride of
their lives. Byers suddenly began to wish that he had not eaten
such a large breakfast. Frohike was just hanging on for dear
life - and loving every minute of it.

Frohike then took them over to Fort Macon, an old fort dating
back before the Civil War era that was now open to the public.
He climbed the stairs and walked a familiar path along the outer
wall. In the past, he had enjoyed spending time here, climbing
to the top of the existing ramparts, watching out over the ocean,
exploring the underground cells. Today, it just seemed as if he
was retracing old steps, dragging the guys along in an attempt to
turn time back a number of years. A force of habit. Never
expecting, but alway hoping, to run into her.

A stream of screaming school children ran by Frohike, breaking up
this thoughts. He found Byers following the tour guide as she
was explaining the mechanisms of the cannons located near the
front entrance. <<Ever the scholar. Where does he keep all that
info?>> From this viewpoint, his eyes swept the interior field.
Where had Langly gotten to, he wondered.

Langly had discovered the darkened room that was once the
munitions stockpile. There was barely enough room for him to
stand fully upright and being cut off from the sunlight brought
an instant chill that he could feel creeping down his spine. He
walked across the damp dirt floor to a corner and, half
squatting, half leaning againt the stone wall, gave himself a
breather. The visiting schoolchildren were starting to get on
his nerves, and he couldn't seem to shake the headache and
ear-ringing that had plagued him since yesterday. <<Some
vacation; every time I slow down to try to relax like Byers'
says, I get blindsided by this throbbing.>> Langly leaned his
head back against the cold interior wall, hoping that it might
help ease some pain. All it succeeded in doing was making him
shiver again. He finally gave up and slowly eased himself up the
wall and walked outside.

Warmth. Sunlight. Much better, Langly thought. This was
something that he didn't get to do a lot of - standing in the
full sunshine with absolutely nothing to do but soak it in.
Scanning the interior field, he caught Byers' eye and joined in
the tour group. Always the instigator, Langly asked a few
bizarre questions of the tour guide, who became flustered while
trying to think of an answer. A sharp look (and an even sharper
elbow to the side) from Byers elicited a small apology and
silence for the rest of the tour.

A short time later, the two caught up to Frohike, who was more
interested in people-watching than exploring. A late lunch was
suggested, and Frohike knew exactly the right place.

About halfway back to the house, Frohike instructed Langly to
pull over into an unpaved parking area that was across the street
from a number of buildings that lined the piers overlooking the
sound. The smell of fish and other foods combined with the
salt-laden air only fueled their growing hunger. The boards that
made up the sidewalk creaked somewhat as they made their way to
one end of the middle building. The double screen door swung
outward and banged behind them. There were a number of heavy
wooden tables with benches and individual chairs neatly lined up
in rows and against the walls. Since it was still off-season
with little traffic, the three sat themselves down at a table in
the corner.

A waitress brought a small basket to their table, filled with
freshly baked rye bread miniloaves and honey butter on the side.
They placed their orders (Frohike had the clam chowder, Byers
asked for the cream of shrimp, and Langly ordered the oyster
stew) and dug into the warm bread and sweetened tea. Within
minutes, the steaming bowls of soups arrived, followed by silence
as the three eagerly attended to their meal.

On the second round of bread and tea, Byers began telling a story
about a visit that his family had taken to the beach when he was
a child. It was the first time that he could remember seeing the
ocean and wanted so badly to tag after this sisters as they
played in the waves. But his sisters argued that he was too
small to take out with them and left him on the shore. His
father eventually took pity on the child and carried him out
there, with the boy riding on his shoulders. "I couldn't
remember a better time at the beach. The next time we went, I
was much older and bigger, and playing in the waves just wasn't
the same. I wanted to be four again. It was a great time."
Looking over at Langly, he added, "And how about you?"

Langly had to finish a mouthful of bread before answering. "I've
never gone. I think my parents had some sort of aversion to
sand. If I had, I must have blocked it out."

The two then looked to Frohike for his contribution to the
conversation. But he was already halfway through his
recollection. How was he going to explain it? The best time
that he had at the beach was the one weekend spent with her at
the house when he never *saw* the beach. It became a private
joke between the two. It would always remain his favorite memory
of the place. As he looked up across the table and saw the
others waiting for his reply, Frohike could feel a blush slowly
crawl from his neck to his forehead. And the others took note.
"Guess that answers that question," Byers added as he reached for
his glass of tea.

* * * * * * *

After the drive back to the house, Langly headed straight for the
water rather than go inside. He had refrained from venturing out
earlier, not really understanding the attraction of the waves and
the sand to the others that walked the shoreline. But he didn't
get this kind of opportunity often.

He removed his shoes and socks and left them a few feet from the
waterline. He first stood on one leg and then the other while
rolling up his jeans to just below his knees. Langly walked to
that juncture where the dry, lightly blowing sand became firmly
packed and damp and let the waves come to him. That first slow
crawl of icy saltwater reached his toes and made him
instinctively jump back. But he wasn't giving up that easily.
He walked back out and met the water as it was coming in,
encircling his ankles and then receding back to the ocean. The
sandy spot where he was now standing was softer than where he had
started out. He began to wriggle his toes, to dig them into the
sand and feel the tiny granules between his toes. The water
would then cascade over his feet, washing away the sand he had
just dug up and making him start all over.

Langly couldn't remember how long he stayed in the water,
allowing the waves to eventually reach his calves. He noticed
some movement over his right shoulder. Byers was getting ready
to join him. "Tide's coming in," Langly warned him. "Better
move the shoes further back."

Byers waded out to met him. At first, he winced at the cold rush
of the surf and allowed himself to get used to the temperature
before venturing out near Langly. The two allowed the waves to
continue coming in at them while they observed a fishing trawler
out near the horizon. "Don't you want to go out further?" Langly
asked him.

"Nah," Byers replied, shielding his eyes against the sun as he
looked back at Langly and the house. "Besides, you're the one
who should really get out there. I can't believe that you've
never let those waves crash over you just once. Just don't get
any bright ideas." As Byers finished that last sentence, he knew
that it was the wrong thing to say. You don't dare or not dare
Langly to do something - it was the surest way for him to do it.

Langly was quick. He grabbed Byers by the left arm and began
dragging him out towards the ocean until the two were nearly
waist-deep in the freezing waters. As one particularly fierce
wave collided with Langly's back, he began to reconsider the idea
of venturing out this far. He let go of Byers' arm and gestured
for them to go back to shore.

"Damn, that water's cold," Byers blurted out. "You know, Langly,
I'd still like to think that I might want to have kids someday."
Byers continued walking towards the house while Langly stood on
the beach. "Are you not coming in to change?" Langly shook his
head and, searching for a particular spot where the late
afternoon sun could beat down on his back, sat down and looked
back out towards the horizon.

* * * * * * *

As Frohike sat on the porch watching the two playing in the
water, the strains of a familiar song wavered in the background.
<<I'm getting old. I can usually name that song in two notes.>>
Any other time, he would have gotten up to turn the radio off.
But today, at this moment, he let the song continue. It was one
of her favorites. How fitting that certain passages would
reflect their break-up.

Girl, I can't let you do this, let you walk away
Girl, how can I live through this when you're all I
wake up for each day

But you did. Hell, you even carried some things to her car.
That was noble of you. You helped her pack; you helped her
leave you. She wanted to go so you just let her. It never
occurred to you that she wanted you to stop her, did it?

I never had much going, but at least I had you
How can you walk out knowing I ain't got nothing
left if you do

We were too much alike and in some ways perfect for each other.
Both loners. Insecure about our own feelings and overly
confident about our abilities. We liked things precise, defined,
spelled out.

But she also wanted more. She wanted time. And she wanted it
spent with you. But not with the group. With you. Not that she
was jealous of the time you spent with the others, but she just
thought that a relationship was more than just sharing work. And
friends. And she was right.

You're my reason for laughin', for cryin', for livin'
and for dyin'

She even waited while you loaded the last of her items into the
car. She even let you load those things. She wanted you to say
something, and you wanted to say something, but you were both too
damn pig-headed to give in.

You're all I've got to get me by
You're my soul and my highest inspiration
Without you, baby, what good am I

So she's been gone, how many years now? Seven; no, eight years.
And you still come back to this place. Your place - her place.
She's the one who got you to start coming here. This is where
she wanted to spend her free time. And she wanted you to spend
it with her.

If she really loved you, would she have left? Of course. How
arrogant to think otherwise. She shouldn't have had to wait for
you to come around. She wouldn't ask you to give up a small
portion of your life for her. And she shouldn't have had to -
you should have done it on your own. You stupid bastard. You
spent those first few weeks afterwards being disappointed -
disappointed at her for not understanding and disappointed in
yourself for not providing a little leeway. And then that
disappointment faded and revealed the stillness of your broken
heart, and you havent' gotten over it yet.

This is why you keep coming back here. You want to find her
again. In the place where data collection, conspiracies, and
publishing deadlines are hundreds of miles away. Where it's just
the two of you and the long horizon of the ocean. Where your
brains can shift into neutral and coast into that slow walk of
watching a spectacular sunrise over the calm waters. Where
nothing else matters except holding the hand of the person who
had chosen to spend her life with you.

It was nearly high tide. The crashing surf was making its way
toward the beach house. And with each successive wave that came
barreling ashore, Frohike could feel a part of him being carried
back out to sea, cleansing him until all the hurt and regrets had
been sucked away and only the emptiness of the moment remained.

Byers rounded the corner at the top of the stairs that lead to
the front porch. He noticed Frohike in one of the rockers,
leaning on his hand as if he had fallen asleep. As he quietly
drew closer, he noticed by the expression on the other man's face
that he was not asleep but rather very lost in his thoughts.
Byers tried to pass behind him unnoticed so as not to disturb or
intrude on his reflections.

"Hey," Frohike said as he turned around in the rocker, "you're
all wet."

Byers stood with the screen door partially open. "Thanks to
Langly. I'm going up to change."

"Bring back a beer on the way out?" Frohike asked. Byers nodded
and then went upstairs.

Frohike got up out of the rocker and leanded on the porch railing
to get a better view of Langly sitting on the beach. <<That
kid's all elbows and knees.>>

Langly let the sun warm up his back. His jeans, soaked through
by his little escapade with Byers, were shielded from the sun by
his body, but he stretched his legs outward at an angle so that
the sun would dry out his feet.

He watched an older couple and their dog walk along the shore,
as if they were heading back towards town. Would that be me in
thirty years, he asked himself. <<Not at the rate I'm going.>>
Dating was not as high a priority for him as it might be for some
others. <<What would we talk about? Computers and current
conspiracy theories just don't seem to be high on the list of a
lot of women.>> And the women he knew weren't interested in him
in a social setting. <<Maybe I should hit the clubs more. Or
take the guys up on their offers when they go out. They don't
seem to have any trouble meeting people.>>

Langly's thoughts were interrupted by a number of gulls that were
circling overhead, calling to each other, and every few minutes
dropping to the ground to poke at a shell and then fly off again.
The fluttering of their wings and their cries were mixed in with
the sound of the roaring surf. In the distance, he could hear
the barking of the dog that had passed by earlier, and the radio
from the house began to seep into his hearing range. It was then
that Langly first noticed that the ringing in his ears that had
been present since he started on this vacation had ceased.
<<When had it stopped? Who cares - just be glad that it finally
did.>> He marveled at the joy of the silence and took one deep
cleansing breath. He would have to remember this moment in the
future - when real life gets all too real, this is where he would
return.

Langly got up and turned to walk back to the house. The view of
the porch that greeted him stopped him in his tracks. There sat
Byers, straddling the porch railing, barefoot, in jeans and a
pullover fisherman's cable sweater, wearing sunglasses and
holding a beer bottle. Opposite him was Frohike, also sitting
on the porch railing with his back against one of the posts.
Both of them apparently singing with the radio what sounded like
a rather imaginative and slightly obscene version of The
Kingsmen's "Louie, Louie". No doubt about it - I'm home, thought
Langly, as he quickened his pace to join his friends.


end