"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."
Being at the beach, they agree, makes it easier.
"I grew up at the beach, I'm just very comfortable here," she said. "Everything is more relaxed. You smell the salt water. I love the smell."
"You become more of a free spirit here," Chris said. "People just lose their inhibitions and do what they want to do."
David "Ducky" Sheetz, general manager of North Beach, another Dewey Beach nightspot, can attest to that.
He thinks a combination of factors are at work - the natural beauty of the beach, the gentle breeze, sunsets and moonlight, and just being in a vacation frame of mind. Alcohol consumption and scant clothing probably play roles as well.
"There's an acceptable lack of clothing at the beach," he said. "No one in Williamsburg is walking around in a bikini."
A few years ago, because of the increasing number of weddings at the bar, Sheetz went online and got ordained, so he could fill in when a minister didn't show up. But marriage, he says, is probably not the outcome of most of the hooking up that goes on in Dewey Beach.
"For 99 percent, it's probably just that one night. There's not a lot of inhibition here; it's 'hey, it's the beach, let's have some fun.'"
Virginia and Chris, as fun as August was, think they are in the clutches of something more than a summer fling.
"To me it is," she says.
"I'm hoping it is," he says.
"Time will tell," she says.
"They say that you're no good
But you're my summer love ...
You say that it's all gone.
But baby you are wrong.
This love is way too strong
And now I can't let you go."
Shola Ama, "Summer Love" (1997)
Nataliya and Ady didn't exchange a word for the first two months they worked together at Trimper's, the amusement park on Ocean City's boardwalk.
She'd noticed him from afar, but usually when Nataliya, from Russia, was working on, say, the Wacky Worm, Ady, from Romania, would be working the bumper cars. Or she'd be on Wipe Out and he'd be on the Ferris wheel. Or she'd be on the kiddy airplanes and he'd be on Tilt-A-Whirl.
Then one night, they both were assigned to the merry-go-round, jumping aboard to take tickets from the riders who bobbed up and down on the brightly painted, hand-carved horses.
Amid the calliope music, as they spun round and round on the 104-year-old carousel, their eyes connected. Words followed. And by the end of the night, a date was planned.
The next day, they went to Playland, a video arcade where Nataliya likes to race the cars. They walked the boardwalk. She went to his place, met his friends, and picked up an orange stuffed fish he had in his room and carried it around much of the night. They had so much fun they forgot their original plan - to both get piercings.
Before they parted, he told her he was leaving Trimper's - the next day, in fact - to take a summer job remodeling homes in Chicago. Nataliya cried, and asked whether they would see each other again before summer ended and they returned to school in their respective countries, which are even farther apart than Chicago and Ocean City.
"Every day after he left, for two weeks, I cried. Every day. I felt that I lost something," Nataliya said. "My friends say, 'How can you fall in love with a guy you know only one day. But I never felt the same in my life."
Since he left a month ago, they have e-mailed - daily at first, every few days now.
"Hi sweety, I'm sorry, but I was busy and didn't had time for internet," he wrote in one that Nataliya shared, with Ady's agreement. "How are U? I am good, but I miss U very much. Trust me, everyday I think about you, your beautiful smile, beautiful eyes, and lips. That day was wonderful for me too. I hope maybe someday we're gonna be together again just like that day."
Later, on Aug. 14 ... "It is very hard for me to come back now. How's Trimpers? I really miss your smile ... I send u kisses, sweet beauty ... I want to have some picture with U and your beautiful smile ... "
On Aug. 17 ... "It is very hard for me to forget U. Please keep the orange fish toy that U take from me."
On Aug. 27 ... her 20th birthday ... "I'm really sorry girl I'm not with U in this important day for U. I hope you are thinking about me because I think about you every day."
Nataliya Guseva and Adrian "Ady" Bologa are two among thousands of foreign college students who descend on Ocean City each summer, often working two or three jobs, to make money for school. For most of them, there is little time for love, but sometimes it wacky-worms its way into the picture anyway.
"They might be meeting each other, but I don't think there are a whole lot of romances. Many of them have two or three jobs, and, unless they work together, there's not opportunity for that," said Lynn Davis, wife of Baptist pastor Terry Davis, who opens his church every Monday to provide free dinners for the students.
Nataliya, who has been to the beach only twice this summer - though it is only 50 yards from her room - works from 10 a.m. until midnight, six days a week. She gets an hour off for dinner, and two 10-minute breaks. She sleeps three hours a night, and if she goes out, it is usually just to visit friends a few doors down from her room above the amusement park.
Still, in her second summer in Ocean City, the public relations student managed to find something she wasn't looking for - she thinks it's love - despite little free time, and a boyfriend back home.
"I don't want to be with him anymore," she said of her boyfriend. "Before this summer I wanted to marry him. I will have to tell him when I get home."
She has told only her mother in Yekaterinburg about her new love, and her new doubts about her older one. "My mother told me if there is even just one thing you don't like about a man, you shouldn't marry him."
Nataliya, who went ahead and got her piercings without Ady, plans to return to Russia at the end of the month, after spending a week visiting relatives in Los Angeles.
Ady, 21, is returning to Romania on Oct. 1 to resume studying geography.
"Oooooo, was a wonderful day for me," he said in an e-mail interview, recalling his time with Nataliya. "We walk on the beach. Important thing was that we were together all day, and at the end of the day I kiss her. Was the best kiss I ever receive.
"I don't now if we can consider [us] as 'boyfriend and girlfriend' but I have a very strong feeling for her," he added. "Is a big distance between Russia and Romania."
"Autumn leaves, when they fall
Whisper to the wind,
Ringing out, telling all
Of the summer's end.
Now you're gone far away,
How I long to hear you say
'I love you.'"
Roy Orbison and Bill Dees, "Summer Love" (1965)
Jennifer and Preston got to Bethany Beach on a Wednesday. They got married the next day.
In a way it wasn't all that spur of the moment. They'd been dating since after high school, living together for years, had a child together and just this year, bought a house.
Still, it was only eight days before they were to leave for their annual family beach vacation, that they decided there would be no better time, or place, to get married.
"We wanted it on the actual beach. It's nice and peaceful and quiet, but because of the time frame we couldn't pull it off," she said.
Instead, Jennifer and Preston Howard, of Norristown, Pa., got married Aug. 17 in Lewes, Del., in the backyard of a friend of Cathleen Logue's, a wedding planner based in Millsboro, Del., who they found through her Web site.
Logue, owner of Weddings By Cathleen, handled all the logistics, officiated and photographed the wedding - probably the quickest one she's ever thrown together.
Many of her weddings, she says, are on the beach, often because that's where a couple's relationship began or where the proposal took place - "especially at sunset," she said. "It's the ocean air. There's something in the ocean air that brings out the romance in everybody.
"The beach just has all the elements - sunrises, sunsets, long walks along the beach in the evening. It all just kind of sparks taking the relationship to the next level."
All proceeds from her business go to her church, the Lighthouse Church of Love and Hope, which has a small congregation and no building. Logue hopes to someday buy a little white chapel.
As for the Howards - Jennifer, 29, works for a medical company, and Preston, 32, is a machine operator - they say the wedding, even though it wasn't on the beach, went off without a hitch. The day after, they took a walk along the seashore.
"It was all absolutely perfect," she said. "We couldn't have asked for anything else."
"Who will kiss you, hold you tight
Two silver silhouettes
In the summer moonlight ...
Will you walk along the beach ...
Counting stars way out of reach ...
Will you tell your heart, beware
This is just a summer affair
Or will you fall in love for keeps
Like I did last summer."
Andy Williams, "Summer Love" (1960)
Bob and Vivian were kindred spirits who had never met, even though they worked for the same big outfit, the Central Intelligence Agency.
When another employee told Bob about a group beach house that Vivian organized, he went to Dewey Beach with a friend to check it out, and decided to get in on the deal.
At the beginning of the summer, Vivian, an operations officer, was dating a member of the Air Force, and Bob, in clandestine services, was busy "checking out the other girls in the house." Up to 30 people could be there on a busy weekend, sometimes resorting to sleeping in closets and the bathtub.
By the Fourth of July, Bob and Vivian had become good friends, and that weekend, while working together putting on a pig roast, they shared their first kiss. It was on the beach.
Not long after that, on their way home from a party, they stopped and sat on the beach and shared more, realizing that, in addition to all else they had in common - both being Democrats, both being against the war - they had strong feelings for each other.
That 2 a.m. rendezvous would be followed by many more. They'd grab a blanket, leave the zaniness of the house and head for the beach. Conversation came easy. Sometimes they spent the entire night there.
"There's nothing more beautiful than the sunrise over the ocean," Vivian says.
"The beach is very conducive to romance," Bob says, pulling a photo of Vivian out of his wallet, taken in one of those boardwalk photo booths that spits out a series of tiny prints.
Was it a summer fling, destined to be as fleeting as the season? Was it love, or just the magic of a moonlit beach, salty air, soothing surf and caressing breeze, all further fueled by a few drinks? Not even they knew for sure at the time.
They do now.
"It hasn't been fleeting for me; it will be 40 years come December," Vivian said.
The war the Barrys were against was in Vietnam; the year they first kissed was 1964. Two years later, they got married. In 1985, they returned to Dewey Beach and opened a bed and breakfast called Barry's Gull Cottage. Several marriage proposals have been made in the hot tub there, Vivian says, and some of those couples now come back with their children.
While at least two other couples from their beach house ended up getting married as well, the Barrys say the young people who pour into Dewey nowadays seem more intent on finding a mate for the summer, or even just the weekend.
"In the last five years, I've noticed a big difference in the romance that goes on down here," Vivian said. "A lot of the people now, either they are too committed to their careers, or they don't want to get tied down. I don't think they even think about finding somebody to be permanent with. It all seems very casual. Maybe they're just putting on a facade, so they won't get hurt, or won't feel so let down if something doesn't happen. It's kind of a shame. People should be open to meeting someone and falling in love."
For their 30th anniversary, the Barrys renewed their vows - on a beach in Florida.
For their 40th, even though it will come in the dead of winter, they are considering doing it again, possibly at Dewey Beach, maybe even at the spot on the beach where they first expressed their feelings for each other. Who knows, maybe they'll even spread out a blanket and sit under the moonlight.
Like they did that summer.
firstname.lastname@example.orgFor a photo gallery and previous installments in the series, go to baltimoresun.com/shorestories.