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I waited until the beach was clear of people before I walked out of the water. I didn't know what would cause more of a stir, the sight of a naked girl or the sight of her dragging what appeared to be a dead seal from the water behind her, but most likely both. It wasn't something I was willing to find out.
This beach wasn't usually well populated anyway. The sand rockier with shells sharper than most tourist liked. Which was just the way I liked it. It was more known for us locales who longed to enjoy the smell of the salty air, the warm waves crashing against our feet with the silence required to really appreciate and bask in its relevance and beauty. Or locales who wanted to party, or engage in illegal activities, or be alone together for a different reason than just the breathtaking views and contemplating their place in the universe.
I shivered and wobbled as my body once again adjusted to walking on two legs, while I made my way up the familiar path of sand leading to a cluster of rocks. I immediately missed the warmth of the skin I now drug behind me, the feel of the waves against my sleek body as I cut through them, weightless and free. Unlike the confines of the cold, harsh, world and the body I now found myself in. I knew it was winter by the sting in the air, but not exactly when.
I dropped to my knees and began to dig through the sand in the same spot just like I had countless times before. The brutal Maine wind left me shaking and covered in goosebumps, and motivated me to dig faster and harder. Finally my nails scrapped against the lid of the red cooler. I swiped the sand away with a final impatient sweep and tore off the lid.
Tucked safely inside, like always, was clothes, money, bottled water, protein bars, and a cell phone. I rummaged through the goods, selecting clothes appropriate for the current season, jeans, a sweater, a jacket, and boots. I dressed quickly, and fought my dark hair back from my face as it hung in sodden clumps. My hand enclosed around the note in the cooler and a smile crossed my lips at my brother's messy, fast handwriting. Welcome back Mare! Can't wait to see you! We have lots to catch up on, little sis! Call me to pick you up! Love Zale.
I fished the cell phone out of the cooler and turned it on. As I waited for it to be operational, I thought of my brother Zale. How he came out here and restocked this cooler, recharged and changed out the batteries on this phone every time I was away. And the cold in my bones immediately disappeared and I felt guilty that I had even grumbled about coming back, leaving the water. Zale alone was enough to pull me back to this body, but I also longed to see my father too. He and I were not as close as we once were, since I had started going away, but I still missed and loved him.
When the phone screen clickedon, I inhaled a deep breath when I realized it was January 16th, sixwhole months since I walked down the moonlight beach and slipped inside my hide,letting the waves carry me away. I had never been gone for this long before. Guilt and shame crept over me as I dialed mybrother's number, even though it was preprogrammed in the phone. I would neverforget his number or him or anything that mattered, even though my memories andthis body grew fuzzy while I wore the skin that was currently lying on the sand beside me. I promised them I would always come back when I left, that I wouldn't stay gone like mom finally did all those years ago.
My brother's phone went to voicemail. I had missed the sound of his voice, just how much I realized when tears pricked my eyes by the sound. "Hello, you've reached Zale's phone. You know what to do at the beep." Just the way it took my legs time to readjust it also took my voice a couple award clearings and a cough and it came out a bit hoarse and rough in the beginning.
"Hey..Hey Zay. I can't wait to see you too big brother. I missed you like crazy! I love you! Put the hot chocolate on and I'll meet you at home. I'll find my own way back! See you soon."
I slipped the phone and money into my pocket. I drank some of the bottled water, realizing I probably should have downed some before I made my call. My thoughtful brother even included mouthwash, toothpaste, and a toothbrush, which I gratefully used now. After a steady diet of seaweed and fish, I knew my breath was something awful. So was my tangled hair, but I didn't bother with it. I removed the duffle bag from the cooler, carefully put my skin inside the dark bag, reburied the cooler and headed off the beach with the bag slung across my shoulder.
It was only late afternoon, but the thief of winter was soon to rob the day of light and leave darkness in its place. I watched the world around me. The familiar shops, and houses of the coastal town I'd grew up in and knew as well as I did my own bodies. Most made of the stone built to withstand the harshness of the salt and wind of the sea that battered it. A small price to pay in return to live near its shores. There was a beauty in the stone, not just because it was my home, but because it stood strong and true, weathered but not beaten.
I walked past my old house, but it was the one in my mind that would forever be home. The charming, cozy seaside cottage which the swing Dad had built us was still swaying in the wind. So many memories filtered through me. Mostly good ones that made me smile, but not all. Like the day in my twelfth year of life, my father had packed us into the car, boxes in the trunk, and said we were leaving. It was Zale who'd said "What about Mom?" And Dad had turned to us in the back seat, his grey eyes steel, and said "She's not coming back. She's made her choice and now I have to make mine."