The foam residue of the lapping waves drew an irregular line on the rocky beach just ahead of his feet. The overcast sky suited his mood and he stared blankly into the dark gray waters. Jason Sewell had much he wanted to forget, but his overactive mind would not let go of those days, weeks, months, years he wanted erased from his memory.
The pain and relief of that last day at the hospital as his wife finally escaped the months of agony of her breast cancer tore at him. He saw again the released doves climbing into bright sunlight as the grave side services ended. These memories, and more – too many more – he wanted gone.
Above all he wanted the years of guilt he felt gone. The year that had passed since he watched the doves fly had done little to dim the memories and had eased the guilt not at all.
He sensed, rather than saw, someone approaching. He looked up over his shoulder at the oncoming figure and as his eyes focused on her, the bleakness which had infected him faded. He felt a smile begin to break the hard lines of his face. The overcast began to clear behind her and he squinted up at her. He saw a slender woman, neither young nor old, looking down at him. Her short auburn hair, backlit by the pale sunlight breaking through the clouds, framed her face dramatically.
She responded quietly, with only the slightest hesitation, “Good morning.”
His grin grew somewhat lopsided at her soft and slightly husky voice.
“Peaceful here, isn’t it?” he asked as he rose to greet her. At 58, he was beginning to understand that he moved a little slower than he did at 35.
She was a few inches shorter than he was, and what he had taken for sun glinting in her hair, was a touch of gray.
She grinned back at him and stuck out her hand.
“My name is Marianne and I haven’t seen you here before. Do you come here often?”
Her hand all but disappeared in his own as he shook it. His own grin broadened.
“No, I haven’t been here before, but now that I have found it, I may be back. I appreciate the peace and quiet. My name is Jason.”
He thought he saw a flash of surprise on her face followed quickly by a faintly apologetic look.
“Oh! I hope I didn’t interrupt you. I didn’t mean to…I come here for the solitude as well and don’t wish to disturb you.”
“A most pleasant interruption and one I appreciate. I needed it.” He shook his head almost imperceptibly as though to shake off something he found unpleasant. Before she could respond, he continued, “I suppose I should apologize for disturbing your own quest for peace and quiet.”
His lopsided smile returned.
“Not at all,” she said, “I can hardly expect to have a public beach all to myself, now can I?”
She grinned back at him and it seemed to him they shared a slightly conspiratorial secret. He brushed at some imaginary sand on his seat and pants legs.
“I suppose I should be going. ‘Promises to keep and miles to go’ and all that.”
“Will I see you here again?” she asked.
He paused for just a heartbeat.
“I hope so! This seems a good place to be and a good time to be here. Nice to meet you, Marianne. I hope you enjoy the rest of the day as much as I have the past few minutes.”
Abruptly, he turned and strode purposefully across the beach toward the railroad tracks and the tiny parking lot beyond them. As he neared his car, he wondered at the pleasure the sound of her voice and the touch of her hand had brought him.
Over the next couple of weeks, they met at the beach a number of times. Conversations grew longer and a bond began to develop. Initial impressions were confirmed – she was 53 and divorced. New impressions were formed. Marianne warmed up to him very slowly, and he was even more guarded than she.
But the bond was becoming a relationship and a day came when he suggested they adjourn to a Starbuck’s not far away to continue the conversation over coffee. A dinner date seemed the logical next step. Continuing new impressions. A graceful dancer, she seemed to appreciate his less than polished, though enthusiastic, efforts. The bleakness infecting him that first day on the beach had not returned in some time. When she was near, Jason was happy and comfortable – contented, even.
Several more dates – a movie, an art gallery walk, a carousel ride at Westlake Mall decked out for Christmas – and as the evening drew to a close at her door, Marianne leaned close to him, and returned his gentle kiss eagerly.
“Would you like to stay tonight?”
Her invitation floored him. This was not something he had even considered. A romantic relationship, personal involvement, commitment to another. These thoughts had not even crossed his mind. And if they had, he would have dismissed them immediately. Flustered, he mumbled something and fled.
He was alone now, and so far as he had considered such things, he would remain that way.
His phone call the next morning was not a success. He could hear the confusion and hurt in her voice. He was acutely aware of his own muddled thoughts. Unexpectedly, that disarray and indecision was combined with a pain he also did not understand.
Late that night, he returned to the beach where he had first met Marianne. He barely noticed the bitterly cold wind blowing off Puget Sound as he squatted just behind the wave line. Jason pondered the hope and joy he felt when he was with Marianne. The contentment and comfort she brought to his troubled soul. What had he done to deserve such happiness? The bleakness from which Marianne had pulled him that first morning on this beach engulfed him again, stronger and more painful than ever. Most of all, the guilt he felt from the years of his marriage threatened to overwhelm him. He could not, he would not, face the possibility of again causing the kind of pain he knew he had caused his wife in the years of their marriage. He was alone now, and he would remain that way.
It was three days before Jason resumed his early morning visits to the beach. He was both afraid of seeing Marianne there and desperately wanted to see her again. He missed the happiness he felt when he was with her. His fear eased as he stared into the dark water for nearly an hour, alone with the circling gulls and his confused and painful thoughts.
Again, he sensed, more than heard, the approaching intruder on his beach. A glance over his shoulder confirmed his fear. At the same moment, his heart leapt with joy as he saw Marianne.
As he rose to meet her, she stopped several yards away and waited for him to come to her. Her eyes searched his face and Jason could feel her questions. He took a single step toward her and hesitated. He saw the disappointment in her face, the pain in her eyes at his hesitation. Marianne took a single step forward and raised one hand to him, her eyes pleading. Jason did not move. She must have found the answer she sought in Jason’s face, for she dropped her hand and turned away, slowly walking toward the parking lot. Her head was held high.
Jason turned back to face the dark water again. He was alone now, and he would remain that way.