"I know you're gonna miss me
But it's only summer love
Baby, we're together It can not last forever
Cause it's only summer love."
T-Spoon, "Summer Love" (1999)

Chris and Virginia only met a month ago, but the way they're gazing into each other's eyes it's clear that, here in the beach town where they shared their first drink, they've fallen into something.

Something enchanting and unpredictable; something soothing and invigorating; something, come to think of it, a lot like the beach itself - mystical, soul-freeing and powerful enough to lead them, despite their jobs, despite children back home, despite trepidation about dating, to meet in Dewey Beach, Del., three more times since then.

Just last week, Virginia, for the first time, put a name to it.

"I love you," she told Chris, then slapped her hand over her mouth. "Oh, my God, that's the second time I've said that today."

If we listen to the songwriters - and what do they really know? - it's probably only summer love: that fleeting infatuation that knocks you over, then leaves you when the air turns crisp.

These days, especially in places like Dewey Beach, known for its nightlife and bar scene, that's the way a lot of people seem to like their romance: temporary, convenient, free of obligations, expectations, sometimes even last names.

But for Chris Clark, a 39-year-old divorced engineer from Wilmington, Del., and Virginia Toci, a 35-year old widowed caterer from Hackensack, N.J., their relationship - though spurred on by the sun and the sand, the booze and breeze, the moonlight bouncing, that way it does, off the ocean - is more than the typical beach romance.

They met like thousands of other singles do in Dewey every summer - at a bar. He was staring at her. She, her courage boosted by beverage, walked over and introduced herself. She hadn't dated since her husband died in 1999.

Chris had been planning on buying a drink even before she came over. They talked all night. Chris gave her a ride back to where she was staying. They exchanged phone numbers.

They got together again, in the sobering light of day, and, while it was awkward at first, they connected.

They stayed in touch by phone, rejiggered their work and family schedules so they could meet again in Dewey Beach, and again, and then one more time as August faded away. "Last Wednesday of the Summer," read the sign at the Starboard, the bar in which they first met and where, after meeting at the ferry, they sat again eight days ago, shoulder to shoulder, well into the night.

Spending time together, they've learned they have differences: Back at the Starboard for breakfast the next morning, he ordered scrapple with his eggs; she refused a taste, and didn't even want to sit at the same table with it. He likes to sit on the beach and read; she likes the hubbub of the boardwalk. He calls what you put on top of spaghetti "sauce"; she calls it "gravy."

They have more, though, in common: Both played soccer in high school. Both spent summers at the beach growing up - he in Dewey, she at the Jersey shore. She has two children, he has one. Both are huge New York Giants fans and plan to meet at Sunday's Giants game for their first non-Dewey date. And both are still getting over the pain of previous relationships - in her case, the death of her husband seven years ago; in his, a marriage that ended in divorce six years ago.

"You bury yourself when something like that happens," Virginia said, "and then when you actually meet somebody, it's hard to unbury yourself."