The concrete promenade gave way to the pebbles of Brighton beach before a fleeting strip of sand was swiftly covered by the incoming tide. Jack lurched across the shingle, salt air bringing dizziness, wobbling legs, rising nausea. The incoming horror of sobriety, he wasn’t used to it.
He stopped before the lapping water, breathless. Jill stood beside him, bare toes flicking pebbles towards the sea. Jack pulled his flask out, unscrewed the cap and tipped it upside down, the last of the bourbon splashing over the rocks.
“Very impressive,” said Jill. “Bit late for a show now isn’t it?”
Jack grimaced. “Guess I should have tried sooner. Maybe now’s the time to see the world the way it really is for a change. Maybe I’ll like it better.”
The police let him go eventually. Jill had advised him to omit her from his version of events. He had gone to the shelter looking for her of his own accord, becoming suspicious of the predatory Jeremy and heroically rescuing his latest victim. There was evidence of many before her.
Memory filled in his own injuries as the alcohol faded from his system. Thrown out of pubs, falling over curbs, up and down stairs, splashing fat burning skin from a reeling attempt at late night cooking. Embarrassment at his own self-inflictions as stinging as the physical pain and longer lasting.
Jill closed her eyes and breathed in as the cool dusk breeze ruffled her hair. She really was beautiful, Jack had been too sodden and self-involved to really appreciate her, while she was alive.
“You want to go somewhere?” he said. “Maybe hang out for a while. I mean, we can still be…”
Jill smiled. “Think watching you sober will be more fun than watching you drunk?” She looked down at her toes. “If I stay, I’ll only ever be able to watch. Not everyone gets second chances. However long there is…” She paused and her smile returned, broader now. “I’m going to take a swim.”
Jill skipped over the pebbles and waded straight into the incoming tide, laughing as she splashed the chill seawater over her. It was a pure laugh of innocent, carefree, fearless joy, infecting Jack as he watched her. A wave broke over Jill, enveloping her pale frame and she disappeared in the wash before it petered out on the shore. She was gone.
Jack froze, trying not to blink against the sting of the salt that ran down his cheeks, wanting to hold that image of her forever, knowing he would never see her again. If they hadn’t quite managed a second chance, at least the poison of anger had dissipated, even if only replaced with regret.
He just didn’t know what to do next.