Merlin pulls the scarf tighter around his neck The wind tugs at his clothes and sends the occasional thin spray of saltwater at him. He draws his breath and face the wind.
He's not a hermit, despite what the townsfolk say. He just likes to be alone on his holidays. His days are filled with people and noise and he loves it. But it is good to go away and just smell the salty sea and feel the wind. He rents out his little cabin in the summer and has it to himself the rest of the year. There's not many people at the beach in the off season. But this week he seems to have made a friend. It's a black four legged friend with curly fur who has so far brought him three balls in different colours. Today is no different, the dog comes running from where ever it belongs, bouncing happily and slobbering all over the ball before she drops it at Merlin's feet. They play fetch for a little while, before the dog takes off and leaves Merlin with another slightly chewed ball for his collection.
Someone had to be be spending a fortune on toys for this dog. Perhaps it was time to see who it was. He could at least return the balls, hopefully Curly the dog wouldn't feel offended and still come to play.
It seemed Curly was training to be marathon runner. Merlin climbed over rocky parts and long stretches of sand following the paw prints. He wasn't sure whete he was heading. But there was a cabin or house he'd seen once when he had been out on the boat, he must be getting close to it. He did feel a bit silly, but it might be a fun story to tell his second graders when he got back.
The prints led to a rock blocking the shoreline. Though the prints where gone, Merlin thought it would do no harm to climb up and see. He found a narrow path and followed it. Finally he could see a figure ahead, dark against the pale sand. Curly was running in large circles around him or her, sometimes chasing a ball.
He reached to pat his jacket pocket to make sure the balls where still there.
Merlin froze in place. This was odd. He hadn't noticed anyone else being there, but now there were two fairly large men staying at a distance, but clearly not wanting him here. One had long blond hair in a pony tail, the other looked more like a marine or something from a movie.
This was weird.
“Sorry guys, I didn't mean to interupt, I was just trying to return something.”
He reached for his pocket again, a move that made both men very, very tense.
“Keep your hands where we can see them!”
The man, at least it seemed to be a man now, on the beach turned towards them and Curly came running with the same enthusiasm as always. She eagerly dropped her new ball at his feet, bouncing and dancing, expecting him to play.
“You know, Curly, this might not be the best time for this.”
Curly replied by nosing at his jacket pocket, probably smelling her property in there and wanting to see.
Slowly, to not spook the creepy guys, he pulled out the balls from his pocket and put them on the ground before him. He sits down. The dog was beside herself with excitement, and Merlin smiled. He took the new ball and threw it back and forth from one hand to the other, with Curly as a thrilled spectator.
He tried to explain the situation to the men.
“See, the dogs comes to visit me, I stay a bit furter down the shore, and she brings a ball and leaves it there. I thought I'd return them.”
He adds another ball to his hands and then another. But the time the beach-man had come up to them, all five balls were in the air. The kids loved to see him juggle, seems Curly did too. He threw a ball and Curly caught it and brought it back, thrilled with all the attention.
“Seems at least Gwennie believes your story.”
The beach man is casually dressed, but casual in a way that oozes money. Up close it's no longer a mystery who these men are, or why they find his presence there a bit odd. Merlin didn't mean to interrupt anything. If there was anyone who could do with a break from everything, it was the crown prince. And yes, the prince is hot and newly out of the closet, all the more reason to let him have his privacy.
“Gwennie, is it? Hello Gwennie. Urgghh... Clearly she likes the sound of her own name.”
He gets up to avoid the doggie kisses. She seems to remember that her owner is there too and leaps to his side holding the red ball in her mouth. He takes it and she watches him expectantly.
“I did wonder where these went. So who are you then?”
Merlin smiles shyly.
“I'm Merlin, I'm your neighbour, it seems. I own the little red cabin down there.”
“The teacher” Ponytail guy adds.
“Right.” That seems to calm them down a bit. At least he's not labelled a treat to the kingdom or something then. Guess he shouldn't be surprised that they had checked the area and the people first.
“And you like long walks on the beach and happy dogs.”
“I like the peace and quiet. And walks on the beach. And Curly, I mean Gwennie. Yes.”
The prince actually smiles at that.
“She's a labradoodle.”
The prince nods.
“And you? Unless that is a state secret or something. I'm guessing it is. Forget I asked. Um... your highness.” He realises he's been talking to the prince and forgetting all proper titles. His mother would be appalled.
He trails a bit backwards, no one is stopping him so perhaps he should just leave before he makes an even bigger fool of himself.
“Well, sir, it's been... interesting. I hope you have a pleasant stay.”
The prince smiles and Merlin's stomach does little somersault.
He smiles back and feels like an idiot. He pets Gwennie goodbye and leaves the way he came, not looking back. He thinks he will stop the story with the dog when he tells his little students about his vacation. To his surprise, Gwennie comes to visit the next day as well, just like the days before. A big vote of confidence, he decides. It's a slow start to a long, lasting friendship. And many long walks on the beach.
Follow up: cause you're a forever kind of guy.