A shoe is the first thing to wash up on the pebbled beach of Sunstone Island; a red patent leather pump, scratched and ruined and tangled in lake weed.
Andre Freeman doesn’t notice it as he makes his way along the water’s edge. He’s preoccupied. In his pocket, he closes his hand around a maroon velvet-covered box, worrying the metal closure with his thumb. He’s already been gone far too long. Lauren is probably getting worried, but the question he’s been planning to ask her weighs on him, heavier by far than the ring in his pocket.
A sudden bout of nerves sent Andre outside for a cigarette before their appetizers even arrived. Once he stepped through the door, though, he found himself unable to light it.
He’s mostly quit, thanks to actually sticking to his New Year’s resolution for once. Besides that, Lauren hates the smell. He knows that if she says yes--and damn, does he hope she will--she’ll want to kiss him. The last thing he wants is to ruin the moment because he tastes like an ashtray.
“You can do this,” he tells himself, rubbing the velvet box as he takes another fortifying breath. Still, it’s not until he feels the first drops of summer rain that he starts to walk back the way he’d come.
The shoe completely escapes his notice. He trips over it and goes sprawling with an undignified yelp, ring box still clasped tightly in his hand.
He hears Lauren laughing at him before he sees her, and looks up from where he’s landed on his hands and knees in wet, pebble-strewn sand. The sight of her there, her eyes warm in the fading light of dusk as she walks toward him, sets his stomach flipping all over again. It’s as good a time as any, he thinks.
Almost as soon as he pushes himself up into a more respectable kneel, and Lauren’s mouth falls open in understanding, the rain grows heavier.
“So, this isn’t exactly how I wanted to do this,” he starts, squinting through the sudden downpour, but before he can get to the part he’s been planning Lauren’s gaze shifts from him to something behind him in the water.
“Andre--” she says, a strange, uncharacteristic quiver in her voice, and he twists to see what she’s looking at.
Emerging from the lake is a woman, broad shouldered and doe-eyed, and despite having apparently just emerged from the lake and into a rainstorm she looks completely dry. Her hair floats around her in berry-red wisps, and some strange trick of the light makes it seem as though she’s surrounded by dancing flame.
She’s beautiful in a terrifying kind of way. She looks at the two of them like she’s found something precious.
When she stretches out her hands, the water parts around her to reveal bare legs that glisten with silvery scales like the belly of a fish, and Andre can’t help but push to his feet. Lauren’s hand slips into his. Her skin is hot beneath the cool mist of rain.
A little further along the beach, a couple drag themselves onto the pebble-strewn sand, dazed and confused. Andre and Lauren pay them no mind.
Hand in hand, they follow the woman down into shifting water.