Michelle could see that Ashton was having a friendly conversation with Mason as they paddled out, but his countenance changed when he got to a certain point in the breakers. His stance shifted. He was all business.
Ashton did a perfect duck dive under a large wave, and Michelle lost sight of him for a few minutes. Her anticipation was rewarded when he suddenly popped up onto a crest and slid down the wave as if it had been placed there just for his use.
“He makes it look so easy,” Brock said.
“Too easy,” Kimball added.
“Wow…” Michelle’s comment was barely a breath. The smoothness to his ride was undeniable. It was obvious why he was a professional surfer. “He’s beautiful.”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Victor mumbled.
“Did I say that out loud?” Michelle brought her hands up to her cheeks but couldn’t take her eyes off Ashton.
He swooped down and up and down and up, flowing through the waves with a rhythm and skill that defied anything he’d taught the group. This kind of talent couldn't be taught. It was just inherent. He seemed to know where the wave was going before the wave knew itself. He managed to make his body fall right into the correct position with every flip of his board. It was magical to watch.
Mason trudged up to the beach much sooner than Ashton and fell onto his towel and groaned. “I take it back. That kid’s a machine.”
Michelle and the other nine guys watched Ashton finish his run before he rode his board almost all the way to dry sand, hopped off into the ankle-deep water, and lifted his board under his arm. Before coming too close, he shook the droplets of water from his hair. Brock rose from his spot near Michelle and handed a clean towel to Ashton along with a water bottle.
“That was fun to watch, dude.” Brock made a show of quickly returning to his spot before Ashton could encroach and sit next to Michelle. His tactic backfired when Ashton crouched down in front of Michelle and lowered himself onto the front edge of her towel, effectively monopolizing her view.
Ashton winked at her, then turned his attention to Brock. “Thanks, man. It felt really good. I haven’t been on my board in, like, three weeks.”
“How often do you normally surf?”
“About seven or eight hours a day?”
“Most days, yeah. Then a couple hours in the gym.”
“There’s something wrong with you, man.”
“Have you ever surfed the really big waves?” Kimball asked.
“Heck yeah! I wouldn't be a pro if I couldn't handle a few mavericks.”
“Those monster swells are pretty dangerous,” Casey said. “They can get you killed.”
“So can a car accident, but I still drive,” Ashton replied. “There’s no better adrenaline rush than riding the big waves.”
“What’s the biggest swell you ever rode?” Mason asked.
“About 25 feet.”
“No freaking way,” Brock said.
“Way. There’s nothing like the rush of a 20-foot drop.”
“Were you, like a surfing prodigy?” Brock asked.
“Nah, I didn’t start surfing until I was an adult. I’d actually been in Hawaii for two years before I even got in the water.” Ashton glanced at Michelle and held her eyes for a few seconds.
Ah, so that’s why you were in Hawaii. Michelle sensed Ashton wasn’t ready to admit out loud that he had served as a missionary. Remembering how it had made Michelle feel when he had called her out in front of everyone, she just nodded with the slightest bob of her head, letting him know she understood.
Missionaries aren’t allowed to go swimming. It’s one of the many guidelines they live by while serving. No swimming, no dating, no drinking alcohol. She looked down at her hands folded in her lap and gulped.
Michelle was disappointed with Ashton’s drinking habit, more so than if he’d never served as a missionary. She held Missionaries to higher standards. They made promises to God that were sacred, and Ashton had broken those promises. Everyone makes mistakes.
“Once I got in the water, I didn’t want to leave. The only way they could talk me into going home was the promise that I could come back the next day.”
“You make it look effortless,” Michelle said.
“People say that, but they don’t realize how much work I put into it behind the scenes.” Ashton picked at the frays on his towel.
“How about some Ultimate Frisbee?” Victor called from a few yards away. His distraction from the Ashton Fan Club discussion was a little too obvious. He held up a quality disc and waved it in the air with a grin. The guys scrambled to get up and quickly divided themselves into two teams of five, Victor on one side, Ashton on the other.
Michelle watched the guys in wonder, realizing she could have eliminated all but two of them on week one. Ashton and Victor. They were so different and yet equally attractive in their own right.
Ashton was fun and exciting and made Michelle’s blood race. Victor was stable and mature and incredibly sexy, and his eyes, woah. Michelle’s insides were weak and fluttery. He could easily get her into serious trouble.
The game was remarkably fun to watch. Ten guys with swim trunks and no shirts, running, jumping, tackling each other, giving each other high-fives and fist bumps.
It was nice having them in their element, not dressed up and pretending to be what she wanted them to be, as if any of them knew what she really wanted. They were sheer testosterone running back and forth on an invisible field with imaginary boundaries and goal posts. They were boys. Pure and simple.
This is going to make excellent television. She sat back to enjoy the show.