The first time I saw her, she was dancing on the beach. What a beautiful vision, her rhythmic movements flowed as gentle as the ocean waves behind her. I'd never seen such a style of dance before, but at seventeen years old, I hadn't seen much of anything at all.
I was taking my morning walk on the beach. My injury from a qualifying floor gymnastic routine was not deemed serious enough for surgery. Also there was no time before the competition for a recovery from surgery
This left only one option, which was to exercise and strengthen the tendons around the injury. Most times this was an excruciating ordeal as I readied for an important competition; The Summer Olympics, hosted by this country. To my parents and my trainer, there was no withdrawing from competition in their minds and no honor in failure if I gave up.
My walks in the morning gave me time to prepare my mind for practice days that were nothing short of grueling. At this moment however, such thoughts departed. I was transfixed by the grace and beauty of this marvelous being before me. Her bronze skin gleamed in the shining rays of the dawn.Tiny jewels wound around her numerous long plaits of hair sparkled like tiny stars. I stood and watched as if I had been commanded to. I was so in awe of how she moved gently yet athletically, never losing her footing or rhythm despite the shifting sand beneath her bare feet.
She was dressed in a swimsuit, with a sheer covering tied around her waist. The beauty of her body wasn't hidden by any of her garments, causing me to stare all the more. Drawing slightly closer, I could hear the music inspiring her dance. It was joyful and infectious enough to cause me, a nondancer, to sway in time to it's melody. I felt hypnotized and helpless before this vision of sight and sound. When the last turn of her dance left her facing me, I remained caught up and found myself staring at her beautiful face.
She lifted her chin and glared at me, making it obvious I was viewing something only the elements around her were worthy of seeing. I said nothing, but turned and quickly jogged away. As I put distance between us, I thought I heard a voice call after me.
"Heh, how was your practice?"
"It was fine Daddy, just…"
"Well," his daughter sighed, "I'd finished, and when I looked around I caught this guy staring at me."
Her father stopped pouring his coffee, turning to face her.
Seeing her father's concern, she quickly added, “It was really nothing though, seems like I surprised him as much as he surprised me. He just took off.”
Her father wasn’t relieved. He finished pouring his coffee but the concern was still visible on his face. “This time he ran off, what about the next time when he doesn’t.”
“Oh Dad,'' she sighed, as she slid into the seat across from him at their kitchen table.
“I told you I didn’t like the idea of you alone on the beach like that. Your brother should have gone with you” he said.
“Daddy, you know Marcus doesn’t move until late afternoon. Besides, you even said I could go alone if I went real early, remember?”
Her Father sighed,“Yeah I remember, but that’s changed. Some random guy was watching you and I find that unacceptable. So from here on out, he goes with you, no matter what time it is.”
She slumped in her seat. ”I like practicing as the sun is coming up. I’m inspired then,” she moaned. “It’s impossible to be inspired when people start piling in once the day has started.”
He glanced over at his daughter, she was so much like him when it came to her love of dance. More importantly, her talent at seventeen far surpassed his at that age. She was already gaining attention from prominent dance companies in New York, where she lived with her mother. Now, staying with him for the summer, she filled most of her days perfecting her dance skills by creating her own choreography. She would become completely discouraged if something kept her from it.
Sensing her potential distress, he knew he was losing the battle, he was caving in.
“Baby girl,” He began gently, “I just want you to be safe.”
She raised her eyes to look at him as he continued, "I told your mother, I felt you were safer here with me in San Diego, rather than in New York. I don’t want to be proven wrong.”
“You won’t be Daddy. I’m sure that guy won’t come back, please, don’t make me have to wait on Marcus to go with me.”
After another deep sigh, her father lowered his and nodded. “Then I’m asking that you don’t get so lost in your early morning inspiration that you’re not watching out, ok?”
Smiling wide, she got up and leaned over giving her Dad a kiss on the cheek. “I’ll be more careful, I promise.” she headed for the stairs, leading up to the bedrooms, “Guess I’ll get a shower now. Will you be home early?” She asked, pausing on the stairs.
“I hope so,” he answered. “I’ve got some smoothing out on that choreography for the final scene, shouldn’t take long.” She watched him as he placed a small stack of papers in his briefcase sitting on a lamp table near the stairs. He looked up to where she stood on the steps, taking note of the skimpy bathing suit she was wearing. “What did this guy look like?” he asked suddenly.
“Oh, ah…” she began. "I didn’t get a real good look at him, he had on dark clothes, shorts, a jacket and a baseball cap.”
“He looked built, kinda tall and muscular.” she continued, “When he ran, he took off like a sprinter or something.”
Her father looked lost in thought for a moment, “Well, I did hear that the Bernstein house was sold to some foreign nationals. “I’m not saying, they could be trouble,” he added as looked at her again, “But I also want you to do something else for me. For starters, you make sure you put on more than a swimsuit, since you're not going there to swim, and if you see someone coming just clear out, ok?”
“Ok Dad.” she smiled, before heading up the stairs.
He turned, heading for the door, briefcase in one hand, iPhone in the other, still feeling a little unsettled by his daughter's encounter. “What I don't need is some incident where my baby girl comes up missing. I would never be able to explain that to her mother." He sighed deeply as he stood by his car, then calming himself, he got in behind the wheel and quickly formed a plan; “Well, either Marcus gets up to watch over his sister, or that car I leased for him goes back, that's it!”
With that resolve, he proceeded to pull out of the driveway and continue on to his workplace.
I didn’t tell my Dad everything I remembered about the first time I saw him. I remembered more than just the clothes he wore. He was a foreigner, but that didn’t matter because what I remembered the most was the smile I saw on his face. It wasn’t like the smile of some random pervert, it was a gentle smile, like he had no bad intentions. I remembered how he was swaying to my music and how cute he looked. Oh, how I wish I would’ve spotted him sooner. I would’ve asked him to come dance with me...maybe he'll come back, I remembered how I hoped he would.
At the break of dawn, he stood in the warm ocean water nearly up to his knees. The gentle waves sloshed back and forth, comforting the soreness of his leg from his exercises the day before. He didn’t however find the waters half as comforting as the idea of talking to the mysterious dancer. He hoped he wasn’t being completely delusional in believing she would return to the same place at the same time. He hoped most of all, that he wasn’t delusional about talking to her if she returned.
"So you're back," She said, walking up to the water's edge near him
He turned, surprised she had approached so quietly. "Hi, " he said as he waved feeling thrilled, yet awkward as he slowly strolled from the water. "I was hoping you would come back."
"Why, looking for free dance lessons ?"
He found himself snickering, while trying not to sound as nervous as he felt.
“I could never be a dancer." He said softly before raising his head and looking into her bright eyes. Before he completely lost himself in them, he managed to say, “My name is Aaron Li Chen," and he held out his hand to her.
She took his hand, "Nice to meet you, I'm Summer Carson".
He held her soft hand until they both let go at the same time.
“You're new here, aren't you?” she asked.
“Yes, we moved in about two weeks ago.”
There was a brief silence before Aaron offered more information about himself. “My family is renting the house here. As soon as the competition is over we’ll be returning to Hong Kong.”
“Oh,” Summer responded, wondering why she suddenly felt sad. Trying to dispel the feeling, she quickly asked, “What competition?”
“The Summer Olympics in Los Angeles “I’m part of the Chinese gymnastic team.”
“Oh wow,” she began, “You’re a gymnast.” Smiling slyly she added, “And you say you’re not a dancer.
“But gymnastics is a form of dance in my opinion” Summer continued, “The rhythm may be different, but there’s a rhythm just the same.”
He thought about her statement, “Well, I guess so.” he conceded.
“Wait,” she began, “I can show you.” She turned and went over to where she had dropped her carry-all. Pulling her small music player out of the bag, she immediately began to push buttons on it to bring up the music of her choice. When it played, she began to spin and sway to it. As he watched, she tried to get him to imitate her movements.
"No, no" he smiled, "you are the dancer, there's nothing I do in routines that comes close."
"What about this?" she said as she turned and did a full flip followed by a handless one, landing solidly on her feet. Being some distance from Aaron, she noticed the wrap on his right leg. "You've got an injury."
His elation over her acrobatics turned to embarrassment when she called attention to his bandaged leg.
Summer came closer, her expression full of sympathy, " What happened to your leg?"
He didn't answer, but looked down, not willing to look her in the eye. Summer went to silence her music and sat on the sand with her back against a boulder. "I'm so embarrassed, "she began, her head down. " Here I am, trying to make you dance and showing off in front of you...I can be so stupid sometimes."
He stepped quickly to where she was sitting and sat down beside her, " Don't be embarrassed, " he began, "You haven’t done anything wrong."Aaron sat up straighter, looking away from her as he spoke, " I've been taught you should never apologize for your talent, and you, Summer have great talent." Aaron then leaped up with an agility that surprised her. " Holding his hand out her, he added, "Let's dance"
I remember so clearly the moment we became lost in each other's eyes and each other's souls. It was during our first dance together on the beach. I had been amazed at how quick he learned the steps to some salsa and rumba dances. I told my Dad about Aaron, becoming a friend and no longer a stranger, causing him to release my brother from guard duty. So, we spent many early mornings dancing together in the sand. He was making it so much easier to create choreography from the male standpoint, choreography I needed for my auditions when I later applied to dance school. I felt I was making it easier for him as well as he told me about how well his training was going. Aaron attributed it to our dancing in the sand. He said he had learned a new way of balance and control
through how he danced with me.
As it grew closer to the start of the Olympics, our dances at dawn came to an end but not our relationship. Summer and I found other times and other ways to be together. Our parents I'm sure would never have approved of our methods, but it was our slow farewell to each other. Summer had to return home to New York before the start of the games. Her school began classes. I remember, I messaged her every night once her classes started and talked about important things and sometimes unimportant things. Exactly what any of those things were at the time, I don't remember, because the sound of her voice was as comforting watching her dance, the rhythms were the same.
I remember I messaged Aaron every night following the day's competition. He was so happy for his team and how well they were doing. I was more excited over how well he was doing. By the end of the games his team had won one bronze, and two silver medals. For his individual competitions, he had one silver and one gold. The gold one was awarded for his greatest accomplishment; the floor gymnastic competition. I recalled Aaron saying 'we' had won it.