“No. Absolutely not.” I gripped the phone with white knuckles as I paced around my yellow studio. “I will never agree to that.”
“Ha. I knew you wouldn’t accept those unacceptable terms, June,” Cherie Poitras, my divorce attorney, cackled. “Your soon-tobe- ex-husband has a monstrous addiction to being a jerk but don’t worry, we’re not quitting. Quitting causes my hot flashes to flare.”
“I don’t want your hot flashes to flare, Cherie. And I’m not quitting, either. I can’t.” I yanked opened the French doors to my second-story deck as lightning zigged and zagged across the night sky through the bubbling, black clouds, the waves of the Pacific Ocean crashing down the hill from my blue cottage. “If I could catch a lightning strike, I’d pitch it at him.”
“It would be thrilling to see that,” Cherie declared. “So vengefully Mother Nature-ish.”
“What a rat.” I shut the doors with a bang, then thought of my other life, the life before this one, and shuddered. I could not go back to it, and I was working as hard as I could to ensure that that wouldn’t happen. There wasn’t enough silk and satin in that other life. There wasn’t any kindness, either. Or softness. “I so want this to end.”
“He’s sadistically stubborn. I have been buried in motions, requests for mediation, time for him to recover from his fake illness, his counseling appointments, attempts to reconcile . . . he’s tried everything. The paperwork alone could reach from Oregon to Arkansas and flip over two bulls and a tractor.”
“That’s what we’re dealing with, Cherie, bull.” I ran a hand through my long, blond, messy hair. It became stuck in a tangle.
“Sure are, sweets.”
“He’s doing this so I’ll come back to him.”
“That’s true. He’s a tenacious, rabid possum.”
“I don’t ever want anything to do with the rabid possum again.” I was so mad, even my bones seemed to ache. Cherie wished me a “happy wedding dress sewing evening,” and I wished her the best of luck being a ferocious attorney who scares the pants off all the male attorneys in Portland and went back to stomping around my studio.
My studio is filled with odd and found things. I need the color and creativity for inspiration for the nontraditional wedding dresses I sew. Weathered, light blue shutters from a demolished house are nailed to a wall. Two-foot-tall pink letters spell out my first name. On a huge canvas, I painted six-foot-tall purple tulips with eyes, smiles, and pink tutus. I propped that painting against a wall next to a collection of mailboxes in the shapes of a pig, elephant, dragon, dog, and monkey. The monkey mailbox scares me.
I dipped a strawberry into melted chocolate and kept stomping about. I eat when I get upset or stressed, and this had not proved to be good for the size of my bottom. Fifteen extra pounds in two years. After only four more strawberries, okay seven, and more pacing, I took a deep breath and tried to wrestle myself away from my past and back into who I am now, who I am trying most desperately to become.
“Remember, June,” I said aloud as my anger and worry surged like the waves of the Oregon coast below me. “You are in your skylighted studio. Not a cold, beige home in the city. You are living amidst stacks of colorful and slinky fabrics, buttons, flowers, faux pearls and gems, and lace. You are not living amidst legal briefs and crammed courtrooms working as an attorney with other stressed- out, maniac attorneys hyped up on their massive egos.”
My tired eyes rested, as they so often did, on my Scottish tartan, our ancestors’ tartan, which I’d hung vertically on my wall. When I’d hung it in our modern home in Portland, he’d ripped it down and hid it from me for a month. “Tacky, June, it’s tacky. We’re not kilt-wearing heathens.”
I am a wedding dress designer in the middle of a soul-crushing divorce. I am a wedding dress designer who will never again marry. I am a wedding dress designer who has about as much faith in marriage as I do that the Oregon coast will never see another drop of rain.
A blast of wind, then a hail of rain pummeled my French doors.
I ate yet another chocolate-covered strawberry. I have been told my eyes are the color of dark chocolate. Not a bad analogy. I washed the strawberry down with lemonade, then ate a carrot.
No, I have no faith in marriage.
It was a bad day. A very bad day. And I knew there were more bad days to come with my ex.
I did not see the wave erupting from the ocean like a sneaky, amphibious water assault. The Oregon coast, stunning and breathtaking, can, infrequently, whip out dangerous waves that arch and stretch and cover anyone in their path with freezing cold water, a bit of foam, and a mouthful of long seaweed. If you are lucky, it will not pull you out to swim with the whales.
But I had committed the cardinal Oregon beach sin: I put my back to the ocean. Never do that.
An hour before, I’d pulled on a raincoat and rain pants and headed out for my usual five-mile “Sanity Walk,” which I do each day to settle my worries. I need to get away from work and my sticky workaholic tendencies, and an overload of him, whom I try not to think about because he contaminates my brain synapses and makes them explode.
Between the raindrops, off in the distance, I could see rays of sun slanting through the clouds, a promise of a reprieve from an early summer rain. To my right, near the rocks and tide pools, I saw a black butterfly shell and turned to pick it up, to see if it was whole, unbroken. I am always searching for whole butterfly shells. I have never found one. The left wing of this shell was halfway broken off...
I was soaked and choking as a wave poured down on my head. Another wave knocked me off my feet, then covered me in salt water. I struggled to find my footing, to figure out which way was up, as I fought vainly against the pull of the waves and the freezing cold. My face at one point was planted straight into the sand.
I tried to pinwheel my arms, but that didn’t work. I tried to hit the ocean floor with my feet, but they were tossed up and over my head. I was under a wall of water, heading out into the ocean, a rock scraping my back. The water sucked and spun me out and around, as if I was a black butterfly shell and it was trying to crack me in half.
I tried to breathe and choked, inhaling water, the cold claws of panic paralyzing my mind as I fought against drowning, seawater pouring over me, my head bopping through to air, then churning waves covering it again. I struggled and fought against the undertow, still not sure which way was up.
I felt a hand grab mine.
Within a millisecond, I was hauled up as if I weighed no more than a seagull. An arm curled around my waist, and I was thrust up against a wall of steel, the freezing water pouring off my body. A hand pounded my back as I doubled over and indelicately wretched out sea water and, I think, part of a shell, maybe a seahorse or a shark, and sand. I made another gagging sound, more water poured out, that strong arm still linked around my waist as body- freezing water swirled around us. I wretched again.
I spit out sand, my whole body going into semishock as I shook and shook. Sucking in air with a gurgly, gasping sound, my lungs totally depleted, my legs shaking, my hair glued to my head, I held on tight to the wall of steel as another wave rolled in. The wave receded, as fast as it came, the chilly water circling our thighs.
“It’s okay,” the wall of steel soothed, both arms tight around me. “I got ya. You’re okay.” He hit me on the back again, and once more I released part of the Pacific Ocean. I inhaled again with a jagged breath, vaguely thinking I sounded like a hyperventilating octopus, however that would be.
Seconds, that was what it took. Seconds before my life was suddenly in danger. Seconds after that and I’m being pounded on the back.
“Sorry about that,” the man drawled. “I’ve never hit a woman, but this seems to be an occasion where it might be beneficial.”
I leaned against his chest, arms around his waist, my whole body trembling, and between long strands of sandy, soaked hair, I eyed my rescuer.
He was a giant. I was being rescued by a green giant with blondish wavy hair.
“How ya doing?” he asked, his emerald eyes concerned, brow furrowed. “Can you get enough air?”
I studied those eyes for a minute. Honestly, they were hard to look away from, bright and intense, steady on. “Yes,” I gurgled out, “I have air.” I then leaned over, coughed in a particularly disgusting fashion, and this time spit up seaweed. I dragged one end of it out of my mouth until I had about six inches hanging from my fingers.
“Better now.” My voice was still hoarse, sand crunching between my teeth. “I had not planned on seaweed for lunch.”
“Good.” He still held on to me so I wouldn’t collapse. “I personally prefer clam chowder. Garlic bread. Less green, more flavor.”
Ah. A man with dry humor. If I wasn’t busy spewing out more sand, I would enjoy the verbal sparring. Leaning over again, his arms supporting me, I choked out yet another piece of seaweed and a mouthful of water. “Tastes terrible.”
“Some people eat it with a dash of salt. Me, personally, it has never held appeal at all. At least you didn’t swallow a fish.”
“For that, I am grateful.” I wiped my mouth. I was stunned. Overwhelmed. Two seagulls squawked above. “Thank you very much.”
“You are quite welcome. Any time.”
“Thank you,” I said once again, my teeth now chattering, as he guided me out of the water and onto the sand, an arm still slinked around my waist. He took off his green rain jacket. “Here, take off your jacket, we’ll put this one around you instead.”
“That’s chivalrous, but I’m soaked. You take it. It’ll get wet.” My body jerked as if it was being electrocuted. “Please. Wear it. Let me help you. You’re shaking too much to do it yourself.”
That was true.
He unzipped my jacket and took one of my arms, then the other, both rattling around from cold and shock, and pulled my rain jacket off. He threw his jacket around me, stuck my arms back in, and zipped it up. I was instantly dwarfed by the giant’s jacket. He pulled the hood over my head.
“But you’ll get wet now,” I gasped. “I am not going to get anywhere near as wet as you already are. Please. Wear it.”
He was wearing a blue sweater and I noticed that his chest was flat and the type you could sleep on, not that I would sleep on a man’s chest ever again. No way.
“Thank you. I’m so, so glad you were here.” A sense of utter relief, utter gratefulness flooded over me. Had he not been here, not taken action . . . I could have died. That had not been on my agenda for today. I bit my frozen lip and tried not to cry.
“Happy to be here. I did have to run faster than I’ve ever run in my life, but I’ve got my exercise in. I’m renting a place up the hill, just arrived today, came out for a walk, and saw that huge wave hit you. It came out of nowhere, didn’t it?”
“As if it dropped out of the sky.” I pushed my dripping hair out of my eyes and stared at him, the wind lifting that blondish hair around a supertough and strong-looking jaw and prominent cheekbones. “Good of you to make a run to rescue me.”
He bowed. “My pleasure.”
Those green eyes stared right into mine, as if the drowned rat in front of him was interesting and appealing. I could not look away. The rain sprinkled down, and there we stood, staring at each other. My, how his eyes were a light and wondrous color, bold and sure, as if he wasn’t afraid to look away from life . . . the trustworthy, strong, I have a deeper side to me and I want to know the deeper side of you sort of gaze.
He shook his head, blinked a couple of times, and smiled again, his eyes crinkling in the corners.
Wow. Rough and tough and manly. Wow.
“Take off your shirt.”
What? I felt myself prickle under his jacket, a blast of fear shooting through me.
“No, no, no.” He put his hands up. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that. But you’re all zipped up under my jacket. Can you take off the wet clothing on your upper half so you don’t get colder on our walk back?”
“Oh, okay.” That made sense, since I was shivering so spasmodically.
“I’ll turn around to give you some privacy and keep an eye on the ocean while you wriggle out of whatever you can.”
I thought of taking my clothes off in front of this macho he man. One graphic picture jumped into my mind after another, and my breath quickened. Honestly, June. You almost drowned and you’re thinking about getting naked? You haven’t thought about a naked man in over two years.
“Are your hands too cold to do it?” His face creased into worry lines. “No. Yes. No and yes to you.” I coughed. Please, June, don’t embarrass yourself. “I’ll be fine.”
The water off the Oregon coast is so absolutely freezing it hurts your brain, even in summer, but as we stared at each other from inches away, my head tilted back; I felt a blush climbing up my neck.
He blinked again, as if he was somewhat rattled, too, then turned around. I started to strip while sneaking peeks at his backside. Huuuuge shoulders. A solid man, not skinny. Tall, rangy.
I wriggled underneath the jacket, still warm from his manly man heat, and managed to pull my sweater and T-shirt off. I hesitated on my bra, then thought, what the heck. I was going to freeze to death if I didn’t. The rain coming down wasn’t helping. I dropped everything in the sand, stuck my arms through the jacket’s sleeves, then rolled my soaking, sandy clothes into a ball.
“Okay, I’m undressed,” I said, then stopped. Come on, June! Think! Don’t say it that way! “I’m undressed but dressed. I’m dressed in your coat. Not naked undressed.”
He turned around and I could tell he was chuckling on the inside.