“Are you excited?” Ashton bumped Michelle’s shoulder as they trudged through the sand, each carrying a surfboard.
“I’m nervous,” Michelle admitted. The board was heavy and awkward tucked under her arm. The swimsuit she’d chosen that looked so modest on the rack next to the bikinis, covered way less than she was comfortable with. “You’re not going to let me fall, are you?”
“Of course, you’re going to fall.” Ashton leaned his head back in a hearty chuckle. Michelle didn’t find that funny. “You’ll probably fall more than you’ll surf. That’s the way it works.”
“I don’t think this is a good idea.” Michelle stopped and planted her feet in the sand. A queasiness replaced her excitement. It took Ashton a few seconds to realize she was no longer walking with him and he turned around. Michelle felt her lower lip quiver. “You’re laughing at me.”
“Come on, babe.” Ashton trudged back through the sand. His surfboard didn’t even look heavy in those strong, tan arms. He brushed his shaggy hair off his forehead. “We’ll go over a quick little beach instruction before we get you out in the water, okay?”
“Okay,” she squeaked. He was so close Michelle almost thought he was going to lean down and kiss her, but he just winked.
“Want me to carry your board for you?” Ashton asked.
“No, I need to learn how to do this. All of it.”
“Are you two done flirting now?” Brock asked. “Can we get this lesson underway?”
“No, we’re not done flirting.” Ashton winked at Michelle again. “But yes, we can get our lesson underway. Everybody flop your boards down on the sand and face me.”
All the guys made it look so easy. Michelle’s board slipped from her fingers and landed on her toes, bringing tears to her eyes. She whimpered but tried to hide it from the guys. Victor noticed.
“Are you okay, sweetheart?” Victor picked up the board and crouched down to check on her toes.
“I’m fine, really.” Michelle giggled when Victor tickled the bottom of her foot. She reached a hand into his hair and twirled a curl around her finger. When his hand left her foot and reached up her calf muscle, Michelle stepped back, almost falling against Kimball. He caught her and helped her upright again.
Michelle felt very exposed with Kimball’s hands on her bare arms, and Victor crouched in front of her.
“Go ahead and hop on your boards,” Ashton called. When she caught his eyes, they held concern and he raised his eyebrows. She could almost hear his unspoken question, you okay?
Michelle nodded, and her face flushed. She shooed the guys away from fussing over her and followed Ashton’s instructions.
“Have any of you ever surfed before?” He raised his hand like a second-grade teacher encouraging a classroom of students.
“I have.” Mason raised his hand in a half-hearted gesture. “I’ll probably be able to give you a run for your money out there.”
Michelle was impressed how well Ashton kept a straight face, but Brock laughed out loud and slapped his knee.
“I can’t wait to watch that,” Brock said.
“I’ll appreciate an extra set of hands out there while we’re teaching everyone else.” Ashton kept his stoic face but couldn’t hide the twinkle in his eyes when he glanced at Michelle. “Okay, now everyone lay down on your bellies with the line going right down the center of your body. Your toes should be touching the back.”
Ashton meandered in and out and around each of them checking to see that they were positioned correctly.
“Once a big-wave comes, I want you to pop up,” Ashton said.
“I don’t see any big waves coming this far up onshore.” Brock’s teasing tone was accompanied by his hand up to his forehead, searching the horizon.
“You’re going to have to use your imagination. Trust me, you’ll thank me later for this little shore demo.” Ashton kicked sand onto Brock’s legs in response to his teasing. “Now, there are four steps to the process of getting up on your board. Mason, you can demonstrate the moves as I describe them… since you’re already a pro at this.”
“I didn’t say I was a pro,” Mason mumbled, but readied himself for the demo.
“Put your hands right next to your chest,” Ashton said. “Then push all the way up so you’re on your knees. Next, bring your front foot forward, there you go, and then your back foot’s already back there, so leave it back there, but you’re going to stand up on it.”
As Mason tried to follow Ashton’s instructions, he wobbled a few times but managed to get into a standing position on his board.
“Nice job.” Ashton’s compliment sounded sincere. Michelle decided he was a patient teacher. She took a breath and tried to relax as he continued focusing on Mason. “You want this line to go right down the arches of your feet. There you go. And bend your knees. Everybody I teach thinks they should stand straight up and go ‘whoo hoo’ and then they fall over.”
Michelle snickered, watching Ashton fall back into the sand. He rolled onto his side and grinned at her.
“Keep laughing, babe. You’re next.”
“I don’t know. I think we should stay on the shore and let you and Mason show us how it’s done.”
Ashton scrambled to his feet. “You’re not getting out of it that easily. Come on, let’s get you up on your board.”
They spent the next twenty minutes practicing on the beach, Ashton calling out instructions to everyone, but giving Michelle as much of his attention as he could. By the time they were comfortable with popping up onto their boards, Michelle wasn’t as nervous, until they started walking toward the water. Some of the guys ran to where the water pooled around their ankles and trudged into the waves. Ashton held back with her and spoke softly.
“I know you’re a little scared, but once you pop up, get on your feet, you’re going to have the biggest smile on your face.” Ashton reached for her hand and squeezed it gently. “Your first time is something you’ll never forget.”
Michelle gasped and met his eyes. A tiny smile hinted along the edge of his lips.
“Surfing,” Ashton whispered. “Your first time surfing. What’d you think I was talking about?”
Michelle pushed his shoulder. “You’re a bad boy, you know that?”
“You have no idea.” Ashton leaned closer and Michelle could barely breathe. His words, so close to her ear, were seductive in their simplicity. “Bend your knees, keep your arms out, get your surfer-dude look on, and shoot the waves. You’ll look back at me, throw your arms in the air in celebration, and then you’ll fall.”
Ashton leaned over and kissed her cheek, then ran into the waves.
“You’re a jerk, Ashton,” Michelle called after him.
“I believe you’ve told me that before,” Ashton called back. “Come on, you’re wasting daylight!”