We were having bonfires on the beach every night. Luna was tutoring an English major who was attending Flagler College and in return for Luna’s help she studied in Zoe’s rooms in the evening by a small book light as Zoe slept, so I could go out and mingle without having to take a monitor along with me. I was also free to drink some red wine and not worry about anything. Luna was adamant that I needed to have fun again to shed this awful anxiety business. It was either Zoloft and Ativan or bonfires and red wine and I thought myself to be terribly lucky that I had that choice.
People would just walk up the beach and join us at the fire sometimes. Luna and I kept the doors locked to the house and carried a key so that we didn’t have to worry about anyone coming in that we didn’t know. But mingling under the stars every night on large blankets by a flickering, warm fire with the crash of the ocean, was pure bliss. Chris picked up Zoe from preschool and spent all afternoon with her before bringing her home for dinner. We didn’t speak when he dropped her off but he always looked really sad and confused as he leaned against the doorway while I pulled her gently inside. I tried to smile at him but it was a struggle since he looked so anguished. I couldn’t help but think about the months that I felt like that, while he was away on tour, and found it hard to feel sorry for him with that memory. I realized that we were just constantly punishing each other and I wondered if that was ever, ever going to stop.
Then tonight as I lay under the stars on a large, brown fuzzy blanket, as soft as the ones I used for Zoe when she was a tiny baby, I held up my glass and looked at the fire flickering behind it. I positioned it so that it looked like the flames were dancing out of the glittering red wine, then jumped when someone sat down unusually close to me. I took in a quick breath when I saw it was Chris and the others around the fire buzzed with excitement that he was here, which instantly aggravated me.
“Hey” he said, and moved some sand around in a circle with his toes.
“Hey.” I sat up and looked at his face. Of course it looked beautiful in the firelight and he smiled at me which tugged at my chest. I looked back at the flames and leaned against him and he put his arm around me and we sat quietly for a while. Some people tried to engage him in conversation but he only shrugged his answers and when the others realized Chris was refusing to be the center of attention, they left him alone. It was nice to just sit with him for a while and listen to the conversations going on around us.
“It’s nice to see you” he whispered in my ear.
I nodded and took a sip of my wine and looked up at the stars.
“I wish I was here with you every night” he said.
I was quiet. I was free without him but it was still amazing to have him here right now. But more than this would be suffocating.
“So who is the dude with the fried blonde hair, straight out of the North Shore movie?” he whispered.
I giggled, “I don’t know, he showed up last week and comes almost every night.”
“How does he have a burnt nose in the winter?”
I tried to stifle my laughter. “He must just go surfing every day, I suppose, even though the water is freezing.”
He nodded, “C-razy” he mumbled and I laughed out loud. Then I relaxed a little more onto his chest and he took a piece of my hair and started to braid it, just like he always used to when we were first together and we were around other people, but wanted to be somehow intimate. He was the only guy I knew, that could braid hair and I always liked to watch him tuck Zoe’s hair into utter cuteness tied up with bows. He was such a good dad. I closed my eyes and thought about if I could handle being with him, how much better life would be. Maybe if I went into counseling or something, maybe if we went together, maybe we could find some place to start. Maybe we could start small, and go from there. Heck, maybe this was our start. That thought got my heart thumping and I realized I was panicking again. So I quickly told myself, ‘no. This was a one time thing. Chris was going to leave after this bonfire and that was it.’ Just that thought helped me to settle back down again. He finished my braid and I took his hands and wrapped them around me so I could hold them over my belly.
“What about a bike ride tomorrow?” he said. “I bet we could get Luna to watch Zoe and we could just ride around downtown, look in the little shops and maybe get an early dinner somewhere? No pressure?”
I thought about the word, pressure, like that was the only word he said in the whole sentence.
“Maybe” I said, and I felt him sigh against my back. I folded my fingers tighter into his and he lifted them to his mouth and kissed them.