The next time Samuel sees Clara and Lyla, the girls are holding hands walking down the beach. They’re whispering in each other’s ear shifting attention between the water, sand, and vanilla sky.

Samuel feels like they don’t notice him. He feels like no one sees him at all. And although the perpetual emptiness that he spent most of his adult years trying to mask with shallow encounters is undoubtably present – somehow it doesn’t hurt.

Nothing hurts.

As soon he gains this awareness, the girls take notice of him. They’re steps quicken in his direction. They’re giggling about what he slowly understands.

Turning over his shoulder, he sees Clara’s mother pull her car over and frantically exit. She stumbles during her run toward the brush that conceals her daughter’s body.

Clara’s body is not what has attracted her attention, however.

Samuel’s foot is sticking out from the pile of dry sticks that cracked beneath the weight of his final fall. Out off all the times that Samuel has collapsed, this has been his favorite.

After the three unite, they hear nothing but Vivaldi. The atmosphere smells like patchouli and tastes like absolution.

The only current concern vibrates from the trembling body of a petrified parent whose chattering teeth click against a gun barrel.

Her biggest regret is ever asking Clara to remember.

Some things we’re meant to forget.

photo: Vanilla by Jessica Tremp