The horizon is an endless expanse of vivid blue, the skyline and sea blending into one. A man lifts his forearm over his eyes as the sun sparkles too eagerly off the rippling waves. A cool wind carries the scent of salt water as it passes across his face. He breathes in the future, exhales the past.
It hits him at once that this is the place That Man ran away to. The warmth of the sea breeze and the whisper of the waves are what his lifelong friend exchanged their past for. And it is what he too will now experience every day as “Henry.”
That small thought carries Henry towards the doors of the inn where the inn’s young driver, Luca, is patiently waiting to escort him.
The seaside town is a mix of historical splendor and tropical rustic, every building lining the street falling somewhere between the two. Stepping inside the inn, Henry is hit with the cool blast of a fan.
“Great to have you,” the innkeeper chimes from behind a counter lined with boxes of candy, snacks, and fishing knick-knacks. The innkeeper is a 30-year-old amber-toned woman wearing a colorful patterned dress. She has a cheerful smile that lights up the already bright building.
In a single glance, Henry’s enhanced eyes are able to take an entire scan of what appears to be a general store. Based on Luca’s continued path with his suitcase, the stairs at the back corner lead to the guest rooms on the second floor.
Henry nods towards the innkeeper as he accepts the silver key she holds out. “Thanks for having me, Ms. Azalea.”
“Azalea will do. Luca will take your luggage upstairs for ya.”
She pauses as she takes a moment to examine Henry discreetly. He controls his expression, not stressing over whatever backstory she is creating for her new guest—a 30-40-something polished-looking white British man in expensive linen traveling clothes that try too hard to look effortless.
She continues quickly, “We live next door so if you ever need anything, just come knocking. But during the day, I hold up the store so it’d be a miracle if ya couldn’t find me right away.” With her last sentence, her chin lifts as she stretches her lips in a proud smile.
“Thank you. Do you mind if Luca locks up my room? I’m going to go straight out and tour.”
Azalea’s hazel eyes widen as she flails her hands. “No problem! Nobody would think to come here, y’know, but we have lots of activities great for visitors!”
She begins listing off activities and Henry listens politely, telling himself that a moment longer won’t cause the sea or the man to disappear.
“As long as you can handle spice, I really recommend it,” she finishes a couple of minutes later.
Henry pivots his loafer towards the door as he smiles. “I look forward to trying it.”
“But Mr. Henry,” Azalea reaches out her hand to give him pause, “are you still unsure of how long you’ll be staying?”
A soft expression brushes over Henry’s face as he glances down towards his buried emotions. “Has any tourist ever stayed permanently?”
Azalea stops breathing and is quiet before saying, “Half a year ago about we had an outsider come. But, Mr. Henry, if someone is touring a town with the mind of finding a home, can you really call them a tourist?”
That Man’s nostalgic face floods Henry’s mind while he tries to settle on a response to the woman. “Sounds like an interesting man.”
The smile Azalea has worn up to now disappears. Her eyes gaze into Henry with wonder. “He is.” Slowly, that smile creeps back as she gives the gaze of a woman twice her age. “I’d say he’s a tourist attraction all himself. If you’re going out now to look around, you’ll spot him even if you don’t see him.”
Her words are curious, but Henry figures there is no clarity he can’t glean by going out himself. Nodding once, he turns towards the door.
Stepping back out before the beachfront, Henry takes no moment for introspection this time. He immediately begins to stroll along the street, head turned beachside.
While the shops and beach aren’t deserted, the few people he encounters only give him friendly nods, treating him more like an old neighbor than a rare tourist or new resident. It is intriguing but not unsettling.
He has travelled only two blocks when a lone boardwalk appears, framing a small repose in the endless blanket of sand. On one end the boardwalk leads to a sturdy pier where a fishing boats tied to its posts bob atop the sea. Following the boardwalk the opposite way leads to a wooden bungalow.
He halts his steps then crosses the street to the beach, looking at the bungalow and then the pier. There is movement within the boat and before he can even form a thought, a tanned, toned figure stands and leaps onto the dock. As his breath hitches, Henry’s mind travels back to that letter he had burned.
Half a month ago, the sunlight streamed in through the window of his home office, a hemisphere away from where he was now. In his left hand, an envelope shook, one of its corners displaying a return address without a name and the other corner a palm tree. In his right hand was an unfolded paper, the illuminated black strokes upon it handwriting he was more familiar with than his own. The tone of the letter was casual as if the one who wrote it was at his side, speaking into his ear.
This is for your eyes only. Did you really think I would leave without saying anything to you, my best friend and closest colleague? It's belated, but here you go.
I've set up a new life in a town by the sea. It's a nice place with nice people. Peaceful. It's a good place to start a fresh, simple life.
By the time this letter reaches you, I won't remember that I even wrote it. You're not surprised, right? After all, I told you I wanted to retire that life. How can I do that with memories? This way, I can really start over.
So then, why—I'm sure you're wondering—bother to include a return address? If there ever comes a day that you're OK with shedding our past and starting over, it be nice to meet you for the first time again.
If it's not what you really want, don't come. Don't sacrifice for me anymore. It's fine. I won’t even know someone could've shown.
But if you’re curious what we could become if we met again, you know where to find me.
The man at the pier wraps a rope around his strong, sturdy hands. It is truly Henry’s best friend, whom he thought he would never see again. In Henry’s eyes, it feels like the man's every movement is zoomed in and in slow motion.
Swallowing down his shock and awkwardness, Henry walks through the sand towards the man he’s forever loved but he has to pretend he doesn't know. He pastes on a friendly but distant smile and crosses the wooden planks of the boardwalk. The man turns to look at him.
The last time Henry had seen him, the man’s skin was shades lighter with a gray cast and he had a lifeless look in his eyes. This person before him now has a healthy glow with brown eyes that sparkle.
As Henry approaches, unknowingly stiff in his steps and expression, the man lifts the corner of his lips in a smirk identical to the one Henry is familiar with.
“Hi,” Henry greets. The man says nothing during the short pause but his blossom-shaped eyes are fixed to Henry's. “Are you a fisherman?”
The man glances at the boat briefly before replying, “I am.”
Henry turns towards the boat and lifts his chin to peek inside for any signs such as gear or buckets of flopping fish.
“Why?” the man interrupts, raising an eyebrow. “Interested?”
Henry falters, unsure on exactly what the softly smirking man is getting at. Interested in… what?
Henry’s query had been thoughtless, randomly picked as a conversation starter. The battered appearance of the fishing boat gives certainty it is this man’s trade. So the man’s question can only be either is Henry interested in buying fish, in fishing, or in becoming a fisherman?
The man’s twinkling brown eyes settle on Henry’s sand-filled brown loafers and his smirk grows. Perhaps the question is not what Henry is interested in, but what is Henry doing here by the dock.
Azalea’s spiel about island activities including taking a fishing tour with the local fisherman resurfaces in Henry’s brain and he grabs that escape route.
“Are you heading out or coming back in? How much for a guided fishing tour?”
The smirk fades as the man returns eye contact then looks far down the beach. Henry looks as well, but only sees the same never-ending shoreline he saw on his walk there.
“I don’t usually do tours,” the man says, bending down adjust the rope on a post. The similarly colored muscles of his arms ripple, leading Henry to feel self-conscious of his gaze. “The wharf at the South end is where fishermen congregate.” He drops his arms. “I’m just a humble man who sources his own meals from the sea.”
Henry gazes again at the man before remembering he’s talking to a stranger. “Oh, I see! Haha, so that’s what the innkeeper meant,” he replies, packing on the innocence. “No wonder I was surprised to see such a small pier.”
“A lone man doesn’t need much.” The man stands up straight, eyeing Henry’s blonde Ivy League Haircut. “What brings you to this town?”
It’s a difficult question until Henry reminds himself they’re strangers. He offers an honest smile. “I’m starting a new life and this seemed like a good place to begin my journey.”
The man has a visible reaction, expression and body tensing for half a second before his lips curve into a bright, crooked smile. “Well then,” he begins, voice low and gritty, “maybe I’ll make an exception for you. If you don’t mind fishing with a non-professional.”
Henry’s heart skips a beat at the prospect. “I don’t mind at all,” he struggles to sound casual.
A breeze blows the man’s dark shoulder-length locks across his face. “The winds of Fate brought a stranger to my private pier. I should make the most of it.” Pushing his hair away to the crown, he reveals a smirk again, as if maintaining an inside joke.
Henry wonders, does he know? The letter said he erased his memory, but might it have failed? Why else would he speak of Fate? Why else would he smile at Henry in such a familiar, heart-racing way?
“I’m Kenji,” he finally introduces, holding out his hand and causing Henry’s breath the hitch. “What should I call my fishing partner?”
It’s difficult to hold back all the emotions that come bubbling up hearing the man use that name when he could use any other. Out of all the ones he used in the past 100 years, he chose that one—the one he possessed on their first meeting.
“My name is Henry.” Following suit, he extends his hand.
When their palms meet, it’s like that fateful day from a century before.
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