RIPTIDE – CHAPTER ONE

Riptide_h11210_300Craig and I had been standing in the congregation at First Baptist Church on St. Simons Island, Georgia, singing “The Bond of Lovewhen he stopped singing and handed me a sealed envelope. I turned towards him and whispered, “What’s this?” but he was already striding up the aisle toward the exit.

My stomach knotted as I stood there with the bulky envelope in my hand. Looking around, I realized that the music had stopped and I was the only one standing. With a flush creeping up my neck, I grabbed my purse and fled up the aisle. Fortunately, this wasn’t our home congregation in New York where everyone knew us.

Outside, I caught sight of Craig getting into a silver Lexus. I peered at the driver. A woman. Marlee, one of the investment advisors in his firm? What was she doing here?

Marlee stared at me over her shoulder then grimaced and hit the gas. The wheels kicked up gravel as she accelerated out of the parking lot. I stared after them with my mouth open until the fluttering clouds of Spanish moss hanging from the ancient oaks hid them from view.

I gazed at the envelope then jammed it in my purse. No need to read it—yet. Instinct told me what it contained. Sorry, Ashlyn, but this is not working. I’ve tried, but I just don’t love you anymore. I want a divorce. Blah, blah, blah.

Our attempt to recover what we’d lost by spending two weeks on romantic St. Simons Island had failed. Was this it then? Twenty-one years and two kids meant nothing? How would I explain to Tiffany and Tyler?

Something black and terrible began to gnaw at my insides as I searched the parking lot for our car. Tears streaked my makeup. At least he left the car.

I fumbled in my purse for the keys, opened the door, jumped in and started the car. Skidding out of the parking lot, I drove with one hand and pounded the dashboard with the other. The arrogant brute. A dear-John letter during a church service no less! Real macho. Well two could play at that game. If he thought I’d just roll over and play dead, he was sadly mistaken. I’d make him regret this day.

Gritting my teeth and swiping at the tears I couldn’t stop, I drove without thought while rage ricocheted inside me. When I ran out of road, I screeched to a halt, slammed the door and set off down the beach. Oblivious of cruising terns and diving pelicans, I walked aimlessly on the hard sand kicking every shell I saw, imagining it was Craig’s vaunted manhood.

In spite of my attempts to avoid softer patches, the heels of my Sunday pumps sank into the sand and I tumbled backward. For a few minutes I lay there not caring about the effect ocean water would have on my best dress. Then I slipped off my pumps and stared at them.

Aren’t heels archaic anyway; as archaic as marriage? As outmoded as promises—til death do us part, for better or worse, in sickness and in health? Is that what I am, prehistoric? The model Christian wife; gentle, obedient, faithful? Well if I get my hands on him again, I’ll show him how gentle I am—and how faithful.

Tears began streaming down my face anew. I thought of all the advice I’d given clients in my family therapy practice. Just be patient with one another. Hah. Forgive one another. Double hah. Not so easy now to spout glib clichés about being forgiving.

As I sat there in the damp sand feeding my rage, the scrape of a beach chair on a deck made me aware of how strange I must appear from the cottages fronting the ocean. Grasping my shoes in one hand, I leapt to my feet and set off barefoot down the beach.

I must have walked for miles, oblivious to my surroundings until I found myself on a wooden pier staring at the water swirling at my feet. How had my life come to this? The face that stared up at me looked otherworldly, a phantom with red-rimmed brown eyes, wild fawn-colored hair, and a brooding mouth. I reached up to touch the mole on my left cheek—to see if it was really pulsating or just a trick of light. I shivered.

A shout woke me from my brooding. “Are you all right ma’am?”

I became aware of the reek of fish and the shrieks of seagulls wheeling overhead. I frowned as other sounds pierced my consciousness: the creak of ropes, the scrape of metal, the lapping of waves. I turned towards the voice. “What?”

Two piercing sapphire eyes set in a leathery face looked down on me from the deck of a shrimp boat. My mouth fell open. What was I doing here?

“Please ma’am, move back from the edge of the dock. It’s dangerous with the tide coming in so strongly.”

I stared at my bare feet. They curled over the very edge of the dock. I swayed. A hand reached out and grabbed my arm, pulling me back from the brink.

I turned toward the man who had jumped down on the deck to keep me from falling. “I’m sorry. I was distracted.…Thank you.”

The man who held my arm in his massive, calloused hand had bushy brows and a stubbly, creased face. He wore a captain’s hat perched on his sun-bleached hair. My nose wrinkled at the pungent odor of fish that wafted from his boat.

He dropped my arm and moved back a step. “I thought you’d fall. The water here in the sound is treacherous.”

With my free hand I reached up and patted my windblown hair. “My mind was on some … some bad news.”

He cocked his head to one side and squinted at me. “Are you sure you’ll be alright? I can drive you back to your hotel.”

“No, no, I’m fine.” I grimaced. “Although I must be a sight.”

He crossed his muscled arms over his faded gingham shirt. “A sight? You are that; right perty.”

I looked down, then turned away and headed back up the pier as a flush began to creep up my neck for the second time that day.

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