I'm cheating a little tonight. I feel lousy (thanks schoolkids--so happy to have your newest virus). And this picture seems perfect for this scene: one from my first novel (the one I'm trying to finish a rewrite of so I can start submitting). So, here's Kirk at the Beach in a scene called "Decisions."
Thanks for reading!
Kirk sat in the damp sand. Sherry was asleep, and would be for a couple more hours, thanks to the Ambien her doctor had prescribed. Kirk was tired, too, but was still up early to watch the sun rise. It would be a waste to be at the beach and not watch the sunrise.
It was chilly this morning, and the dampness was seeping through Kirk’s pants. He shivered a little and pulled his knees in to hug them against his chest. Even before, well, before all this, Sherry wouldn’t have been with him this morning. Even on their honeymoon. “Vacations are for sleeping,” she said, and “I’m more of a sunset sort of girl.”
He had smiled, swallowing the disappointment that she wouldn’t share even one of the mornings with him. He didn’t want to push. Maybe he should have. He could have explained how special beach sunrises were to him, how he and his mother had shared them when he was a child, trying to sneak out of the beach house without waking his younger brothers. They would collect shells and spread them out on a towel by category. There were spindles, cups, spoons, and worry stones. After the sort, they would choose one of each kind to keep and throw the others back to the sea. In bad times, they would throw them with force. In good times, they would gently toss them or try and skip them across the waves.
He had never talked with Sherry about how he had taken his mother back to the beach one last time when the diagnosis went from bad to terminal and held her against the chill air like she was the child in his arms.
He didn’t want to push. And she never asked.
He’d always had the sense with Sherry that you don’t push her. She seemed tractable enough, a people pleaser, a go with the flow girl. But as soon as she felt forced to do anything, she could dig in her heels so hard that nothing could move her. It was one of their main causes of argument. The fact that he got this and knew when to back off was probably what had kept any of those arguments from escalating into something worse. He’d become a master of laying hints and dropping suggestions, gently manipulating her in the direction he wanted her to go. It was like sculpture. More delicate than it seems. If you force it, it’ll crack and break into pieces.
Sometimes he hated that he was good at it, that he could manipulate her. It made him feel dirty or mean. Like he was running an experiment. Other times, he thought it was just being a good husband, knowing how to handle the woman he loved, helping her the way she needed to be helped.
Still maybe he should’ve pushed. It would’ve meant a lot to him to share a beach morning with her. Had he ever really told he that? Did she even know that he wished she would go with him? There was a part of his soul that only came out early in the morning watching the sun come up on a lonely beach. He’d always imagined that, when he married, he and his wife would share everything. But here was an entire part of his life, the quiet pensive side. And she knew nothing of it.
There was something so soothing in a morning beach. Usually, there were no people, or very few. Anyone who was there wanted to be alone, too, and would smile or wave and move on. The sound of the surf was a glorious noise, tugging at the dark places in his mind and washing the ugliness out to sea. It would wash back up later, the trouble, but it would be smoothed out and bleached white. Somehow, he always left the beach feeling like he could handle it again. It was a kind of alchemy. You couldn’t analyze it. You couldn’t force it. It just was.
That’s why they were here. He said it was for Sherry, a little vacation, a chance to reconnect. But really, it was for him. He needed to think. He needed to understand. He needed to make a plan. And he had no idea what it would be.
Kirk was not a man who struggled to make decisions. He often said that the secret of his success was just a willingness to make a decision and see it through. At work, it was okay if his decision turned out to be wrong. At worst, they wasted some hours working down the wrong avenue or doing research that ended up not applying. But this was different. He had to look at all the ramifications. He had to be sure he was doing the right thing. If he left. If he stayed.
It had been two months since, since the incident. That’s what he had started to call it in his mind, anyway, an innocuous, nonjudgmental word, not a bit like “kidnapping” or “psychotic break.” It’s what he would call it if he ever spoke it aloud—The Incident.
It was November now. Pretty soon they were going to have to start the whole holiday machine. Kirk wasn’t sure he had it in him this year. He still felt sideswiped, wounded, empty, betrayed. So angry. He knew these feelings. This was grief. This was what it had felt like when he lost his mother.
But what had he lost? The baby that wasn’t a baby? That hurt. But he didn’t think it was at the heart of his grief. After all, he hadn’t even known about the baby until it was gone. Hadn’t opened his heart to him or her, hadn’t made plans for a person he hadn’t even known was formed.
Kirk got up. He was cold. He needed to walk. He hadn’t even known. That was the crux of it, wasn’t it? Sherry hadn’t told him anything. In all their months, hell, years, of struggling to make a baby together, she had never let him in the room with her when she took the test. He’d never been there for the moment of truth. She’d done her grieving alone and left him to do his own.
And, when she had reason for hope, she’d done that alone, too. She’d told him it had been six weeks. For six weeks, she walked around with a light inside her, a glow called hope. And she hadn’t shared it with him.
Kirk found he was throwing shells and stones into the sea. He stopped and looked down at the shell in his hand. It was a flat one, a shard that had been worn smooth by the sea. He rubbed his thumb along it. A worry stone. He put it in his pocket. It was going to take a lot of worry stones to rub this one out.
What hope did they have? He thought he loved her. He thought she loved him. But what hope did they have if they didn’t share the hope or the grief? Were they really only fair weather friends, after all this? Did she really have his back? Did he really have hers?