Mattie opened the front door. "I'll be back in a while, Henry," she said, then stepped onto the porch and clicked the door shut.
It opened behind her and Henry stuck out his head. "Wait, I can come with you."
She shook her head. "I need some time alone. Okay?"
He frowned. "Take your raincoat."
She turned her back to him and walked toward the seashore. If he'd asked her what was bothering her, she couldn't have answered him. It was nothing and it was everything, which made it all the harder to figure out how to solve it. The rocks glistened
Why was she so angry with him? Away from the shoreline, the ocean had smoothed itself into calm gray-blue, the late afternoon sun silvering the waves. No, she didn't want to leave him, she knew that much. But she wished he wasn't so solicitous. All it succeeded in doing was making her feel guiltier about her discontent. If they'd talk, if they'd argue like other couples, then they'd be on an equal footing, and maybe they could break through, that counseling jargon again, into some kind of understanding and ultimate closure.
The tide lapped the flat shoreline as if the ocean had lost its energy, the tide spilling itself on compacted sand. Usually, after a storm, she'd find small chunks of sea glass, opened clam and abalone shells, tangles of seaweed, but today nothing had come in. She breathed in the salty air, hoping that it would settle her, but it didn't. Henry would ask her, as he always did, whether she'd found her way back, meaning had she reached a settlement with whatever it was that had upset her.
Simply, she hadn’t and she wouldn't go home until she had. The late-day sea breeze hadn't kicked up yet and she was warm. Since there was no one else on the beach, she could leave her boots here and tromp barefooted to their usual turning-around point where the tidal creek trickled around boulders that seemed to have been dropped into place long ago and never been budged since. Henry would tell her that she'd end up cutting her feet. She shrugged. He'd never know. Plus, she was quite capable of thinking for herself. Why was it when she took off like this by herself, she still managed to only think about the two of them?
She walked barefoot for twenty feet, then turned around and noted how her tell-tale tracks
She couldn't see her boots from here. With the sun lower, the air had cooled and she shivered. Well, if she walked briskly, she'd warm up. It took her several minutes of walking before she realized that her tracks were gone which meant that she'd misjudged the time of the tide. Hopefully, she'd left her boots on high enough ground. Henry was right—left to fend for herself, she was an idiot. Her eyes stung from the saltwater that dribbled from her wet hair down onto her face.
The shock of feeling chilled had brought her irritations with Henry to an abrupt end. She'd never be able to sneak into the house without him catching her, and he wouldn't believe her that she'd deliberately plunged into the seawater, and she'd have to confess to her foolishness. What had seemed so clear when she left the house were now a maze of loose-ended thoughts, tumbled over by her annoyances with herself.
She trudged along the shoreline watching where she put her feet so she wouldn't end up making this mess even worse. The water whooshed in, swirling around her toes and then pulling away from her, and she almost lost her balance. It wouldn't be much better to walk in the higher, drier sand where broken shells and ocean debris was buried, but what choice did she have? She should have found her boots by now. How many times had Henry told her she was no good at judging distances? The man was always right. She winced, bit her lip so she wouldn't tear up.
"Hey, Mattie, lose something?"
She looked up. Henry stood a few feet in front of her, holding a boot in each of his hands. She felt her cheeks heat up.
"Put them on." He stooped down and she leaned on his shoulders while he tugged them onto her feet. "You're freezing. Come on, let's get you home." He held her close to him.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. "I'm sorry."
He touched her lips and shook his head. "I'm the one who shut you out. I'm sorry."
She looked back across the sand at the listless ocean and the gray-blue sky and then tripped and Henry caught her elbow. Sometime, somehow, she needed to reconcile this split in her heart between needing him and needing herself.
Author Bio: Brigitte Whiting lives in Maine and often uses settings and experiences from her backyard in her writing. She earned Fiction Writing Certificates from Gotham Writers Workshop and UCLA-Ext and is working on her WVU-MFA Certificate. In addition to facilitating WVU classes, she meets weekly with two local writers' groups.