That morning as we had come round the steep hairpin bend on the number 8 bus from town, the bay shimmered below us, the sea lay unnaturally still and a heat haze had thrown the scene out of focus.
I was hot, way too hot, I could feel the prickling of sunburn starting on my arms and moved further into the shade, my head throbbed. A drop of sweat meandered down my back to join its allies in the waistband of my shorts. “aren’t you hot?’ Jessica, who always looked cool and perfect, shook her head.
We were sitting on the decking step at the back of one of the beach chalets overlooking the tennis courts, waiting for the match to start. I watched Jessica eating an ice-cream, her tongue scooping the dripping stuff round the edge of the cone and sucking the chill sweetness with her unfairly generous lips. I wished I was Jessica. I licked my fingers, sticky from the ice-cream drips of a 99 flake and rubbed them dry on my blouse. A smear of the white cream on my leg was only slightly paler than my skin despite my having spent all day, every day at the beach all summer, though I did have plenty of freckles on my nose. We lit and shared a No.6 cigarette, one of the two singles we’d bought from the local newsagent, he was always happy to split a pack for teenagers.
Langland Bay was packed that day, it was the annual August Tennis Tournament and all the boys were taking part. I wasn’t interested in tennis, just the boys, just one in particular. Andy Brown was the one, we’d been going out since the 19th of June and it was our Summer of Love. But this day was his day, he was going to win the tournament.
I was in love in the way that 17 year olds are, I thought I knew all about love and that Andy was ‘the one”. Six foot one, blonde with clear blue eyes and soft lips framing the whitest teeth, his skin the golden brown that only blondes turn in the sun, with the fairest hairs lying along his sinewy arms. He was funny and charming and when he looked at me I felt special, made important by his approval of me. He was in peak condition, when he played he was energetic, fast and he glistened with sweat, it was a sign of heat regulation not stress. The heat was his ally, other contestants found it enervating but he blossomed, the hotter the weather the more he sweated and the better he played, he knew he could win.
Andy was about to play the final match, standing at the gate to the court having a last fag before he began, smiling with confidence he soaked up the attention from his young girl fans. He was their favourite, all the 10 to 16 year old beach girls knew him, he was their heart-throb. The crowd was eager for the duel, people were restless in their seats, the hum of chatter broken now and then by single shouts of support.
The air felt thick with heat, the smell of sun oil, cigarettes and greasy food from the beach cafe. There was no breeze today. The umpire called for the match to begin, Andy threw me a look and shouted ‘Watch me, I’m going to win‘ and sauntered onto the court.
Jessica was the kind of girl Andy should have been with, she matched him just right, with the long brown legs and luscious blonde hair. Jessica had other ideas though, she liked older men and Andy liked me for all my chubby whiteness, mousey hair and tendency to overheat.
We stood up straining to see the action over the heads of the people in the court-side seats. Andy intimidated his opponent, he was casual, assured and served a succession of aces. I knew he was going to win but I couldn’t bear to watch. “I’m going for a walk, I’ll be back”
I wandered off and sat on the wall over-looking the bay, out of sight of the court. I closed my eyes and listened to the sounds and breathed in the smells that made up the place. Squeals of delight from children, turning to moaning when they got hot and tired, the smells of pasty and chips with plenty of vinegar, the feel of gritty sand stuck between my toes and the hot tarmac under my feet, my hair stiff with tangles and dried sweat and sea-salt. This place felt full of excitement, the promise of good times to come, it was going to be the best summer.
Hearing the crowd cheering the end of the match and the chanting AnDy, AnDy, AnDy, I walked back to the court to see not just the Triumphant Champion but my boyfriend tangled in the embrace of my best friend. Jessica seemed to have set aside her penchant for older men in order to bask in the reflected glory, posing as the girlfriend of the winner of the Langland Bay Tennis Tournament.
Neither of them looked up from their embrace or noticed me as I walked past trembling with the shock of the betrayal. I stood in the shade by the pines and watched from a distance, they’d forgotten me. They wandered off in the opposite direction as though they’ve always been together.
I could feel the shame rising into a blush spreading up and across my face, I felt even hotter, though I was in the shade, my blouse was soaked in nervous sweat and I felt sick. I refused to cry, I would not let the tears come, I crossed my arms and pinched the soft flesh inside each arm and bit my lip.
Later on, alone on the number 8 bus, I sat right at the back upstairs, tears seeped down my cheeks on the long ride back into town. If only I had pulled myself together sooner I could have taken appropriate action. I remembered the sand bucket that always sits beside the court, supposedly to put out fires but always full of cigarette stubs. I should have picked it up and thrown it over their heads. I imagined what all that dirty sand mixed with cigarette ash and stubs would have done to his white shorts and Aertex shirt and her smug pink lips and teeth filled with grit. I lit the last No6 and enjoyed the pleasure of not having to share it with Jessica and blew perfect smoke rings with every puff.
Langland Bay was never the same after that day, I would go back there every now and then and wonder what had happened to Andy and Jessica, I had not seen either of them since. When my daughter was about 5, I took her with my mum and we sat on the beach making sand castles. As I was looking out to sea a man walked by, slightly stooped, a beer belly and thinning hair. It took me a few seconds to see, it was indeed the champion of the 1967 Tennis Tournament, that perfect specimen of youth and beauty reduced to a dreary Mr Average. I would like to report that I laughed so much that I cried but the only tears that day were my daughter’s when she dropped her ice-cream in the sand.