Ryan Boone sat on top of the lightning-white sand dune underneath the darkening sky as the sun was starting to set over the New Jersey shoreline. This was the first time he came to this spot since…since…well, he still couldn’t believe what had happened. It was late March 2013, and there was a crisp, chilly breeze in the air. He should have brought a sweatshirt with him, he thought to himself. Wearing only khaki shorts, flip-flops, and a gray Harley Davidson T-shirt adorning his 6’2″ muscular frame, he was still used to those warm and sunny California springs. The storm clouds were getting closer and closer. It’s going to be a big one, he thought.
There were about a half-dozen shrieking seagulls circling overhead, but there was something refreshing about the sounds of their screams. It was a familiar sound, one that he had grown accustomed to over the past year living here. Ryan threw out some pieces of bread for his old friends. “Sorry, I haven’t been here in a while,” he said.
He looked out into the surrounding unsettled Great Egg Harbor Bay and noticed it was empty. All the boats had docked due to the impending storm. But it was fitting. He didn’t really want anyone around right now. All he wanted was just him and these letters he held in his pocket. As he grasped the envelope and pulled it out, he felt his hands shaking. Why was it so hard? Why couldn’t he just open it? For the past year, he had been as strong of a man as any man could possibly be. But now, this envelope, this piece of paper, was breaking him down.
He stared at the sealed envelope for a moment before placing it back in his pocket. He noticed the corners had slightly folded over and the blue ink that read “Ryan” on the front had faded a little bit. It had been two months since he got the letters, and it looked like they had been through a war, just like he had been for the past year and a half. They had been constantly in and out of his pocket every day with his every intention of opening them, but he had yet to. Every time he looked at them, he felt sick to his stomach. He began to think about how he got to this place in his life. The last two years had been the best years of his thirty-six-year-old life, but now he was in the darkest place he could ever imagine. He was in hell, he thought, and he couldn’t imagine that a heaven even existed.
He slowly pulled the envelope out again and brought it to his nose, desperately trying to capture any familiar scent from it that would take him back to the happy times. The times when he had never felt so alive. As he brought it down from his face, he started to weep. This was the only thing he had left to hold on to, and he needed to somehow find the courage to open it. He thought about how strong she had been to write these letters, and he felt that he owed it to her to be strong enough to read them.
Ryan gathered himself together as the storm clouds drew closer. The sky was darkening, and the hungry seagulls continued to circle overhead. He threw the last of the bread to them. “Sorry, guys, it’s all I have left.” The wind was starting to pick up, and it was biting at his face. The sand was circling around him with each gust. He needed a way to read these letters before the storm came in.
Ryan wiped his tears away from his misty eyes and slowly slid his finger underneath the sealed flap. He pulled the first letter out and took a deep breath as he began to unfold it. He glanced at the top of the page.
To my beautiful-faced boy.
As he read that first line, he began to weep again. After folding the letter back up, he shoved it back into his pocket. He didn’t understand how she expected him to do this. He wasn’t strong enough. Not yet. But he knew he needed to be. Just like she was.
As the storm clouds drew closer, lightning was flashing in the distance. Ryan closed his eyes and remembered the times they would dance in the rain. She would twirl her body around, looking up toward the angry sky with her hands in the air. She would drag him to their private beach, and they would dance chest to chest as the wet sand would bond to their bare feet. It was as if they were in their own little world and nothing else mattered.
The distant thunder startled Ryan out of his memory, and he suddenly remembered why he was there. Larkin’s letters. His hands trembling, he pulled out the letter again and began his journey. He didn’t know where this journey was going to take him, and he could only hope that these letters would take him to somewhere better than where he was now.