“I’ll come back for you next summer,” Tim had said. He squeezed Laura’s hands in his, gazed into her eyes.
“I won’t be here,” she replied, regret flushing her face. She fingered the cheap plastic beads around her neck, the ones he won for her tossing ping-pong balls at little fish bowls.
“I’ll come anyway.”
She hadn’t lingered a moment more, but turned to walk into the beach sunset. The lake reached out and wiped her footprints clean behind her.
It was as if she’d never been there at all.
Six bells chimed behind him, and Tim turned to gaze at the wooden tower jutting up from the center of the empty amusement park. The clock face reflected orange and black rays, the kind only a dying summer sun could muster.
The season had passed before it even began.
They all did.
But Laura always returned.
The first year, Tim almost missed her, sitting outside the ice cream shop with her family.
“So you really did come back for me,” she called to him as he shuffled by, sweeping the sidewalk.
“I work for the park,” he said. Laura laughed at his obviousness and played with her cheap plastic necklace.
They had come back to the beach, together, the next year, and for half a century more, just to say goodbye to summer.
Tim faced the setting sun again and followed the shore line with his eyes, searching for any sign of Laura’s footprints. They were all gone.
But there in the sand, where she had stood just last year, and all those years before, something hard glistened under the fading sun.
He stooped and plucked it between two fingers.
It was a creamy plastic pearl, the kind you might find strung together on a cheap carnival game necklace.