Chapter 1 - Joan
I wiggled my toes in the hot sand of my favorite beach and wished I could stay. If ever I needed a break, this was it. The rental I’d be living in for a month was called Sea-renity, and it promised the serenity I needed after what had happened in my life recently. I’d been coming to Sandy Shores for vacation since I was six years old. Dad would load the whole family into the car and drive across country to get there as fast as he could. I remember being lulled to sleep by Disney movies I’d watched over and over in the back seat of the SUV. We played word games, using billboards and passing cars for letters I would “spy with my little eye.” My dad would pitch a tent near the sand dunes, and he’d have a bonfire where we built s’mores and toasted hot dogs. I remember one trip where it rained and rained and rained. My wonderful dad held a huge golf umbrella over the fire and told us it wasn’t rain, but heavy dew. He’d had a fantastic capacity for fun. I hoped I could be more like him.
I smiled at the thought of happier days. So much water had passed under the bridge since those simple, childhood memories were made. I kicked sand into the air and waded into the foamy water’s edge. The warm Gulf caressed my skin like an old friend wrapping me in a hug. I turned my face up to the blue sky and tried to find animals in the clouds like I did when I was as a kid, but all I saw were clouds. I’d grown up and lost that innocent wonder. I’d come back to find it.
I had a whole month to unwind. Unlike my father who’d loved to drive, I’d taken a flight that landed as close to the little town as I could, then rented a sedan and an adorable beach house. No trips to a port-a-potty in the middle of the night for me. I had no desire ever to sleep in a tent again. I’d shed my usual business attire and packed only sundresses, sandals, shorts and tees. I planned to soak up the slow pace and let my shoulders relax for the first time in months. I would think about the fact that my boyfriend of two years and best friend since college were on their honeymoon later, when my vacation was over. Four weeks without stress was what I’d come for, and I planned to protect my time, to relax, and to reinvent myself.
I walked out of the water and strolled along the beach searching for sea shells. When the first thing I found were angel wings, I believed it was a good omen. I stooped to pick them up carefully, remembering from past experience that the delicate connection between the two shells could snap at the gentlest touch. The shells were a lot like life, I thought, as I marveled at the little miracle in my hand.
A tennis ball came out of nowhere and hit me on the arm, knocking me out of my reverie. I dropped the shells and watched them separate. Looking around, I spotted a man running toward me. He was tall, dark, and rather handsome, but I was angry. I didn’t want to be bothered. I’d come here to reconnect with my old self, not to meet strange men who might want something from me.
“Sorry,” the man said as he retrieved the ball. A dog ran up beside him and stood panting, his eyes eagerly watching. The man tossed the slobbery tennis ball, and the dog ran into the waves for it.
“That’s all right. Just don’t do it again,” I said. I turned to walk away a bit embarrassed by how rude I’d been.
“Hey. It was an accident.” He followed me, and now his dog was running in front of me wagging its tail happily. It was a medium sized mutt with a friendly personality, but I wanted to be left alone.
“I realize that.” I stopped and turned to the man, since he didn’t seem to be going away. “I simply wish to be alone.”
“Why? It’s a beautiful day, and people here are very friendly.” He had golden eyes and a sensuous mouth. He w...