I'll be here by the ocean, just waiting for proof
That there's sunsets in silhouette dreams.
They met on a darkened beach where the lights of the city reflected distantly down the shore. California sun and California sea, L.A. lights and night-lit neon. They were both running from something and they both said it was the cops because it was easier.
There was a pier, and they were at the end of it, one misstep away from the ocean. A siren echoed from a vague, undefined space of coastline.
Rusty had come from down the beach, sockless in his sneakers, sand between his toes. Danny had been a black shape, hunched a little, sitting on the splintered wood at the end of the pier. Rusty had hesitated – whether because he wanted to be alone, or because he thought that the contemplative shadow staring into the still water did, or only because he was tired of not trusting people, he didn't know – but there was something of the sun in his hair, one bright gilded, misguided hope still left in him.
Danny's footprints had come from the suburbs hidden by a thin line of scraggily-covered dunes, from streets whose names were unfamiliar and places far away from the ones he knew.
They said they were running from the cops, because they always were going to meet with a lie.
Rusty walked to the end of the pier and sat, listening to the water sigh and churn between the wooden poles beneath him. Danny looked up, briefly, as if afraid he would be caught. Somewhere behind Danny was Vegas, and the light still reflected gold in his eyes. Rusty stared out over the ocean.
"City or beach?" he asked.
"City," said Danny, and Rusty was captivated by his voice. Bitter and raw and a little alone.
Later, Rusty would realize how rare it was that Danny's voice was anything but quarter-century scotch made into sound.
"I go for both," said Rusty, leaning back on his hands, placing them carefully so shards of weathered wood wouldn't slip under his skin.
"From around here, then?" asked Danny, absently, like he hadn't thought beyond the question enough to care about the answer.
"No," said Rusty. "Other coast."
"No kidding." He was holding something, but Rusty couldn't see what it was. Something flat, something he was rubbing with his thumb.
"Would I lie to you?" asked Rusty.
And there were several things that Danny could have said in response, would have said in a subway or a bar or an airport or the sunlight. In the dark, in the muffled silence of the shore and the openness of the water before them, none of them seemed right.
"I don't know," he said instead. His thumb stilled. "Would you?"
Rusty laughed a little, and he sounded young. His face was in shadow, but his hair caught glints of light and made them gold. There was silence on the pier, where distant sounds of traffic and drunken shouting could diffuse through the rarefied air between the end of the dunes and the start of the pier.
"No stars," said Rusty.
Danny snapped off a long splinter and tossed it to the lapping wavelets below. "No," he said.
"Ever wonder," Rusty asked, "why people love the beach?"
"Not really," said Danny.
"You know." Rusty leaned back on his elbows. "The sand gets everywhere, and you get sunburned, and either it's too hot or it's too windy, and there's always some fat lady next to you screaming at her kids and getting her beer-bellied husband to rub sun screen onto way more skin than you ever wanted to see."
Danny snorted, but for the first time, he lifted his head a little and the silence felt friendlier.
"And if you're in Jersey, see," said Rusty, voice easy, "someone's always swearing at you or trying to steal your stuff. So why bother?" Danny didn't say anything, but it was a silence directed at Rusty. "It's because of the ocean. That's why."
"What do you mean?" asked Danny.
"I mean…" Rusty looked at him for the first time, a half-grin on his face. "Haven't you ever wanted to run away to sea?"
Danny looked away, suddenly, at the blank piece of wood to his left, where the pervasive light of Rusty's eyes didn't reach.
"You look at all that water, gray-blue away to the sky, and you think maybe you could get somewhere. Or you look at it and you think that even if you don't, that's not important. You look at the ocean, and you cease to matter. And at the same time, you're the only one in the world."
He stopped speaking, and Danny almost said something, and then he almost asked something, but by then it was too late and the silence too complete for anything easy to break it.
"It doesn't have to be the ocean," he said.
"What?" asked Rusty, as if from a distance, as if from beyond the pier where he sat next to Danny, across an ocean or a continent, on another beach altogether. His eyes seemed dim.
"You don't have to look at an ocean." Danny cleared his throat. "For you to think you're the only one in the world."
Rusty looked at him, but there was no question in his eyes. Perversely, Danny answered it.
"You… don't end up thinking that for long, though," he said.
Rusty hesitated, and it was almost a physical thing. "And then you run away to sea?" he asked, cautiously.
"Yeah," said Danny. He cleared his throat again. "And then you run away to sea."
A siren wailed some indefinable distance away, and Rusty tensed as if from habit.
"Cops?" Danny asked.
Rusty took his eyes off a bubble of foam, a vague light spot on the water, and glanced up at him. "Yeah."
"Yeah," said Danny in agreement. And then, as if making a decision, "Yeah." Rusty looked at him inquiringly. "Me too," said Danny.
Silence again in the suburbs, and from the neon reflections down the shore. Sand sifted against the silvered wood of the pier, and somewhere a wave split apart on the rocks.
"I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky," Rusty murmured softly.
"What's that?" asked Danny sharply, and Rusty looked up, surprised.
"It's poetry," he said. "Something my mom used to quote."
Danny snorted. "Parents," he said, and Rusty thought he would go on but he said nothing more.
"What've you got there?" Rusty asked. "In your hand?"
Danny had been rubbing whatever it was again, and he looked down in surprise and stared as if his thumb no longer belonged to him.
"It's just a playing card," he said. "Ace of diamonds."
"Ace of diamonds," Rusty repeated.
"It's supposed to be lucky. I was just in Vegas for a while – a guy over there gave it to me." His empty hand made a fist, suddenly. "What a worthless piece of shit," he said, and his voice broke. "It was all bullshit."
"Hey, hey, easy," said Rusty.
"You want it?" Danny asked, holding the card out. "No, you don't," he said, when Rusty opened his mouth. "It's bad luck – only trouble. I hate it," he said. "I hate it." He held the card over the end of the pier and stared at it.
And held it, and held it.
He put it down on the pier beside him, and set his head in his hands.
"Sorry," he said, the word muffled through his palms.
"Maybe your good luck's coming," said Rusty.
Danny rubbed his face briskly with the heel of his hands, as if to get the blood to flow there once again. He looked at Rusty for a stretched moment. "Maybe it is," he said.
"You were in Vegas?" asked Rusty, and Danny nodded. "You twenty-one?"
Danny grinned for the first time, impishly, and Rusty saw what was under the darkened face. "Nope," he said, and Rusty grinned back.
"Did you see that famous casino?"
Danny snorted. "Which one?"
"I don't know – starts with a B, I think?"
"The Bellagio?" Rusty made an affirmative sound, and Danny chewed on his lip contemplatively. "Yeah, I saw it."
"Cool," said Rusty, wanting to ask more.
Danny smiled. "It's nice," he said, "but it's just another casino, really. You know?"
"No," said Rusty, and grinned at him. He looked at the water and stretched.
"It's warm here," he said.
"It's California," said Danny.
"What do you care?" Rusty asked, pulling off his shoes. Standing up to peel off his shirt, he said, "You just came from the desert." His words were muffled by his t-shirt.
"What are you doing?" asked Danny.
Rusty shucked off his shorts, standing in nothing but his boxers, and grinned at him, a flash of teeth in the darkness. Then he gave a blood-curdling yell and jumped into the ocean, flecks of spray splattering the bottoms of Danny's khakis.
Danny laughed as Rusty came up, hair plastered to his skull so that Danny could see the shape of it.
"Come on!" said Rusty. "What're you waiting for?"
"No way," said Danny.
"Come on," Rusty said, striking out away from the pier, and strangely enough, Danny had no choice but to follow.
He left his clothes in a crumpled pile on the dock and jumped in beside where Rusty was waiting for him. He started swimming. "Race you!" he called over his shoulder, and Rusty swore and started swimming.
They swam all the way out to the buoy that marked the end of the public beach water and hung there, panting. Rusty flipped onto his back and floated, sea salt thick in his mouth. Danny floated along beside him.
"You think anything's up there?" he asked, nodding towards the empty sky.
Rusty looked over at him, small eddies of water between them. "What do you mean?" he asked.
Danny struggled silently for a moment, then grinned. "Aw, hell, I don't know," he said, and looked over in a way that made Rusty find himself grinning back.
They floated until the water dried cool on their skin and the salt began to itch. They swam leisurely back to the shore and hauled themselves onto the sand, walking carefully over the splintered wood to sit down at the end of the pier once more.
After a long while, just when Rusty was thinking of pulling on his clothes again, Danny said, "I think you'd like Vegas." Rusty looked at him and raised his eyebrows. "Lots going on. Always something to get your fingers in." He leaned back on his fists. "Different types of people, you know? The rich, the super-rich, the broke waiters and the blackjack dealers, street kids and suburb kids, all at the casinos. Desperate or not. It's like… I don't know. The one place for all of humanity. Like luck's some great equalizer. And it's all anybody is looking for."
The sea breeze riffled his drying hair. Rusty didn't breathe, but Danny just shrugged and reached for his shirt. They dressed in silence.
"New York's the same," Rusty said. "Except instead of looking for luck, I don't know what they're all looking for. They don't know what they're looking for."
"Something to look for, I guess," said Danny, but he didn't smile.
"Like artwork," said Rusty.
Danny looked at him, a little surprised.
"You ever been to the Met?" asked Rusty.
"No," said Danny.
"You should go one day," Rusty said. "It's… I don't know. You should go, one day."
"Maybe I will," said Danny, "if it's so…" He trailed off, his voice fading into the sound of water on sand.
"I don't know anything about art," Danny said.
"Sure you do," said Rusty. "Everyone knows about art."
"Your mom say that, too?" Danny asked.
Rusty nodded slowly. "She did." He sighed. "Did you parents miss you, when you went to Vegas?" he asked, and Danny stiffened.
"No," he said, and Rusty didn't say anything.
He didn't say anything for such a long time that he had started predicting where he'd see the first star, somewhere out over the dark horizon. There was a bright spot, somewhere, and he picked a place where he thought the clouds might clear. A little to the left, away from the city lights. He was choosing between one empty, navy-gray place and the next when Danny spoke again.
"I went home," he said, and it was dark on the coast, so dark that Rusty could no longer see the blur of his face, could only hear his voice rising as if from the wood, from the sea and the sand. "I went home," Danny said, "after Vegas."
There was another long silence because Danny had kept mostly silent, but for all that Rusty had talked, he hadn't said anything. And he continued not saying anything while Danny went on.
"It was sunny. We lived in the suburbs – you know?" he asked. "Nice house, or decent enough, flower boxes on the windows and stuff." He snorted. "Geraniums. Red ones."
Rusty nodded, but he knew Danny couldn't see him in the dark.
"The kitchen window was open – that was the first thing I noticed. We had these yellow curtains that my mom always liked, and they were blowing all over the place. I went to the fridge, but it was empty."
Rusty heard him swallow.
"I guess it was my fault, maybe, for not calling them more often. They didn't know if I was even alive, the last three weeks, because I hadn't called them. They left the furniture, so I thought they might have just gone on vacation or something, that they were coming back. But I went to talk to the neighbor, and she said no, they packed up all their clothes and stuff and moved to an apartment in Miami, no forwarding address.
"But they left my stuff. All my clothes and books and stupid shit, they left it all the way I had put it when I went to Vegas. Fucking school awards and sports medals and drawings from when I was a kid – they didn't take any of it."
Somewhere, a car honked and tires screeched, and somewhere someone laughed, and down the shore the lights kept their own council. Danny breathed, shakily, like the salt air was poison on his skin, and the end of his breath was caught in a wave.
"Tide's coming in," said Rusty, and he felt Danny nod beside him. "You make a habit of hiding from the cops on abandoned piers?" he asked.
"Do you?" Danny asked, and Rusty let the bright flash of his teeth shine through the space between them.
He took a moment to gnaw thoughtfully on his lip. "I'd lend you my mom," he said carefully, "but you'd have to get rid of her dealer boyfriend, and kick her coke habit."
"Thanks for the offer," Danny said.
Rusty looked at the sky, where a star now caught the edge of the horizon and lit the tips of the waves on fire. "Hey," he said. "Hey, it's a star."
"Really?" asked Danny, looking up.
"Would I lie to you?" Rusty asked.
Danny's gaze was steady, searching. "I don't know," he said. "Would you?"
Rusty looked at him, where his eyes caught the edge of silver from the sea and the collar of his shirt glowed bright next to his salt-dry skin. "No," he said. "No, I wouldn't."
Danny stood up, cracking his back like soft gunfire. "You got a place to stay?"
"No," said Rusty.
"Come on. I got a hotel room."
"Just like that?"
"Just like that."
"You're not going to ask my name?"
"You going to tell me your name if I do?"
"Danny Ocean," said Danny.
"Ocean?" asked Rusty.
"Yeah," said Danny. "Move your Jersey ass. It's getting cold." But he stared into the dark water for a long moment, while Rusty waited in silence. Then he tossed the ace of diamonds down on the waves.
"What if your luck was coming?" asked Rusty.
"Then it'll come," said Danny.
And Rusty believed he was telling the truth.