Abigail Ellazaire navigated the vintage white pickup truck into the parking space in the free lot near Pier Park. She preferred this section of Panama City Beach because it drew the tourists, particularly young singles. It was a Saturday morning, mid-August, and throngs of people mobbed the beach. But Abigail thrived in a crowd. It increased the chances of meeting someone exciting. Something that would never happen in her quiet little town of Locha-Oki by Florida’s Apalachicola National Forest.
Her twin sister, Delilah, didn’t care where they lounged. She realized when they started that Abigail would steer them toward the masses. That’s what Abigail always did. Although Delilah enjoyed the stillness of their hometown, she recognized it was important to interact with others. And, with her sister’s guidance, she was learning to connect.
Once Abigail parked, she plaited her long auburn hair into a thick braid that hung down her spine, while Delilah pulled hers into a ponytail at the crown of her head. Without needing to speak, they both climbed out of the front cab and moved toward the back of their truck, where they had tossed the beach gear before leaving the old farmhouse. After many years, the process became rote. Delilah unloaded the ice chest while Abigail grabbed the umbrella and chairs. Delilah hoisted the blue tote out of the corner while Abigail slung the red one over her shoulder. Each donned a sun visor and crossed the parking lot to the beach.
At ten o’clock, the white sand was already burning hot. Still, Abigail removed her flip-flops, letting them dangle from her fingers as she trudged across the beach toward the surf. Delilah followed close behind her. Heads turned as the identical teen-aged pair—tall, slim, and tan in matching swimsuits—passed by to claim a section of sand near the water’s edge. Abigail dropped the chairs, and Delilah wordlessly unfolded them as Abigail positioned the umbrella.
“You found a great spot,” Delilah commented as she hung a towel over her chair. “I’m glad it’s close to the bar and grill. We can get something to eat. That should help.”
“I hope so,” her sister replied. “School starts soon. We’re running out of time.”
“Don’t worry, Abby. We’ll be okay. I have a good feeling about today.”
Abigail smiled and inclined her head toward the waves. “Ready?” Delilah nodded, and they both sprinted to the water. The two stood and faced the horizon that sprawled before them, letting the foamy edges of the sea lick at their ankles. Abigail chuckled when a wave unexpectedly crashed at Delilah’s feet and caused her to stumble backward.
When she regained her balance, Delilah noticed a young man watching her. He sat near the water’s edge on a towel spread in the sand. She smiled at him, thinking he was probably a college student in his early twenties. She could tell her smile surprised him. His eyes widened and he stilled, as though frozen in that moment. His reaction could be a sign of shyness, she thought. Or perhaps he felt awkward that she caught him staring at her. Either way, Delilah decided that he was a suitable candidate with his muscular build and attractive facial features.
As the rushing surf again reached her toes, Delilah splashed the salty water in her sister’s direction. Abigail turned and Delilah subtly tilted her head toward the young man on the towel. The motion was almost imperceptible, but Abigail recognized the signal. She peered at him and, with an indiscernible nod, responded to Delilah’s silent question with approval. Delilah grinned at her twin in acknowledgment.
The two girls splashed in the frothy waves. They sashayed back and forth in the sand and sea, laughing as the surf sprinkled their long legs with sparkling water droplets, until they were directly in front of the targeted young man. The twins lingered there, flouncing in and out of the waves and waiting for the perfect swell. Abigail spotted it first and gave a shout, then Delilah readied herself. It was a routine they enacted many times. The wave hit and Abigail gently pushed Delilah backward, making it appear that the force of the seawater knocked her off her feet. Delilah tumbled into the young man on the towel. The impact of her fall sent sand flying around them both.
“I am so sorry,” she exclaimed as she scrambled to get up. “Are you okay?”
Stunned, the young man stammered an almost inaudible reply. “Yeah.”
“Let me help you brush the sand off your towel.” She stepped closer to him and gestured that he should stand. “I’m Delilah.”
“I’m Jacob,” he mumbled as he stood and swiped at the sand on his legs. Delilah grabbed his towel and lightly shook it.
“Why don’t you join us?” she said as she gathered his towel in her arms. “The blue and white striped umbrella is ours. We have water in our cooler, too. The sun is absolutely boiling today.”
Before he could reply, Delilah grasped his hand and led him toward their set-up. “We don’t live too far from here. We came for the day.” She spread his towel on the sand next to her chair, then dug through their ice chest and extracted a bottle of water. “What about you? Where’re you from?” she asked as she handed the water to him.
Jacob studied Delilah as he accepted the bottle. “Talkative, aren’t you?” he muttered as he took a swig. Then he reached down and scooped up his towel. “Thanks for the water. But I prefer sitting in the sun. Over there.” He turned and walked away from Delilah.
“Jacob, wait!” Delilah called as she scurried after him. She caught up and clutched his arm. “What’s wrong? You don’t like talkative?”
“I don’t like pushy,” he replied as he wrestled out of her hold. “I know your type. You think you can do whatever you want because you’re attractive.”
“Oh.” Delilah paused, taken aback at his response. Rejection was an unfamiliar experience for her and she wasn’t sure how to react. She stood motionless, torn between the challenge of winning over Jacob or finding a new candidate. As she contemplated what to say next, Abigail rushed over to join them.
“Jacob, this is my sister. Abigail,” Delilah uttered softly. She glanced at Abigail and bit her lower lip. “You can probably tell we’re identical twins.”
“Hi, Jacob.” Abigail latched onto her sister’s hand and gently squeezed it, a sign that she picked up Delilah’s subtle cue. “We don’t know many people around here, so Delilah is always trying to make new friends.”
“You seemed nice, that’s all,” Delilah continued. She shrugged and started walking back to their umbrella. Abigail shot Jacob an apologetic smile, then followed her sister.
“Wait,” he called after them. The sisters stopped and turned to face him. “I was being a jerk,” he said. “Can we try again?”
Abigail grinned at Jacob. “Sure. I’m Abigail and this is my sister Delilah. Would you like to join us? It’s hot in the direct sun, and we have room under our umbrella. You don’t want to get a sunburn.”
Jacob focused his gaze on Delilah. “That okay with you?”
She scrutinized him before answering. “Well,” she started, “I know your type. You think you can do whatever you want because you’re attractive.” Then she snickered and grabbed his hand. “But it’s fine with me.”
Jacob spent the morning with the twins. Under the umbrella, the trio became acquainted through lighthearted conversation. Jacob reported on his favorite local hang-outs, and the sisters shared stories about their rural roots in Locha-Oki. Delilah described their family farm, which was about an hour away from Panama City Beach and close to Dead Lakes in Gulf County.
“Unless we venture down here, we don’t see anyone except for family,” Delilah commented.
“Yep,” Abigail added as she applied sunscreen. “Not many folks live in our town to begin with, and our farmhouse is about six miles out. We’re a bit isolated.”
“What about you, Jacob?” Delilah asked. “What’s your story?”
Jacob explained that he was a student at Florida State University’s Panama City campus and studied computer programming.
Abigail nodded with approval as she grinned at her sister. “Yeah? Are you from around here?”
“I have an off-campus apartment near the university. I share it with two other guys. But no. I’m not from around here.”
“I bet you miss your family,” Delilah said as she scanned his face. “Do they live far from here?”
“I guess it depends on what you consider ‘far.’ The drive to my parents’ house is about two-and-a-half hours. Is that far?”
“Enough to be homesick,” Delilah answered as she rose from her chair. “It’s getting too hot to sit. I’m ready to splash in the waves. Jacob, wanna join me?” She held out an upturned palm.
He accepted Delilah’s hand, and they both ran into the surf. The sun was bright and the water warm as they waded beyond the crashing waves. Delilah led Jacob farther away from the shore, where the swells peaked at heights just below her shoulders. When she looked down, Delilah could see her toes through the clear aqua water. She turned toward the shore and leaned back, letting her body rise and fall as she floated on the surface of the swells. Several pelicans flew overhead, occasionally dipping down to skim the water and catch a fish as they proceeded along the shoreline.
As she drifted, Delilah felt Jacob eyeing her. She swung her head to grin at him, then sank under the water and let the waves wash over her. Beneath the surface, she positioned herself behind him. When she popped up for air, Delilah wrapped her arms around his waist and laughed.
“Mmm,” he murmured as she placed her wet, salty cheek on his sun-baked shoulder. “That feels nice.” Jacob swiveled to face her, then pulled her closer. He paused with his nose against hers and a question in his eyes. Delilah silently mouthed “yes,” and Jacob gently kissed her. She savored the tingle from the saltwater on his lips.
“You taste delicious,” she whispered. “Please don’t let go, I’ll probably float away if you do.” As she kissed him back, Jacob continued to hold her close as the seawater rose and fell around them.
While Jacob and Delilah embraced each other in the water, Abigail sipped a cola under the umbrella and observed her sister. Their plan was progressing much better than she had dared hope. More than likely Jacob would go home with them tonight. If he did, this would establish Delilah as a worthy huntress and ease some of the pressure on Abigail. As the dominant twin, responsibility for procuring qualified specimens fell on her. The task was daunting, and Abigail needed Delilah to manage half of the burden. Although the girls were adept at synchronous thought, self-doubt had kept Delilah from mastering her role as the pursuer. After today, though, Abigail believed confidence would no longer be a problem for her sister.
As Abigail watched Delilah and Jacob romp in the waves, she wondered if Jacob’s absence would alarm his roommates when he didn’t return to the apartment tonight. But then, she reasoned, why would it? Abigail imagined it was normal for guys in college to stay out all night—or even all weekend. She chastised herself for borrowing trouble. The key to the hunt’s success, she knew, was to appear laid-back and easygoing and never arouse suspicion. Jacob’s friends would never discover the truth. No one had… so far.
To be continued.
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Delilah noticed a young man watching her. He sat near the water’s edge on a towel spread in the sand. She smiled at him, thinking he was probably a college student in his early twenties.
Written by Allorianna Matsourani