My attention drifted diagonally across the sand to the only other people on the beach. A woman and a little girl were sitting next to each other with their legs crossed in child’s pose, a position I recognized from the one yoga class I ever took.
Their eyes were closed as they breathed in and out, taking in the sounds of the ocean. Desperate to calm my mind, I did something I normally never would. Approaching them, I asked, “Do you mind if I join you?”
“Not at all,” the woman said. “We’re almost done with our warm-up meditation, though. Take a seat on the sand and do what we’re doing.”
Closing my eyes, I willed the anxious thoughts of Graham and Genevieve away and tried to focus simply on my breathing and the sounds around me. Over the next half-hour, I followed along as this mother and daughter moved together with synchronized precision, teaching me various positions such as downward dog. I tried not to think about the fact that they reminded me a bit of Genevieve and Chloe. This girl was only a little older than Graham’s daughter.
I definitely felt calmer by the time we were finished.
The woman handed me a water from her bag. “Are you from around here?”
“No, actually. I’m here for the week, visiting from New York.”
“I’ve always wanted to go to New York!” the little girl said, turning to her mother.
“Maybe your father and I can take you next year.”
Excitement filled the girl’s eyes. “Really?”
“Do you take a lot of family trips?” I asked them.
“Mostly short weekend ones, yes. My husband and I share custody of Chloe with her mother.”
I nearly choked on my water. “Did you say Chloe?” I turned to the girl. “Your name is Chloe?”
“Uh huh.” She smiled.
“That’s a beautiful name.”
Turning to the woman, I asked, “So…you’re her stepmom?”
“Wow. I just assumed…”
“That she’s my daughter? Because we’re close?”
“Well, you’d be right. She is my daughter. I don’t consider her any less of a real child because she’s not blood-related to me.”
“I’m lucky to have two moms,” Chloe said.
I nodded in silence. “Yes, you are.”
“Well, we have to run. Chloe has ballet practice.” She held out her hand. “I’m Natasha, by the way.”
I took it. “Soraya.”
“It was wonderful to meet you, Soraya. Hope you enjoy your stay in Hermosa Beach.”
“Maybe we’ll see you in New York next year!” Chloe said, jumping up and down.
I smiled. “Maybe. Thanks again for the yoga class.”
Left alone again on the sand, I contemplated what that encounter meant. In the days leading up to my ending things with Graham, I’d been looking for signs to justify that my leaving him was the right thing. I wasn’t looking for any signs at all today, yet that one hit me in the face like a ton of bricks.
That was no coincidence.
I’d never once considered that a child might view having a stepmother as gaining a parent rather than losing one to another person. My own personal experiences had been guiding my decisions. Theresa never even tried to get to know me, let alone acted like a second mother. She never made an effort to include me in anything that my father and her daughters did together. It wouldn’t have been like that with Chloe and me. Why had I never thought of it this way? Fear, stress, and guilt had blinded me, and now I was seeing things for the first time from an entirely different perspective—now that it was too late.
LATER THAT AFTERNOON, Delia and I were relaxing in the air-conditioned living room after an afternoon at the beach.
I’d impulsively picked up my phone and opened up the text message chain between Graham and me, looking through all of the old texts from the beginning of our time together. The very last one from him was sent the morning before he caught me with Marco. It simply said, I love you.
Delia didn’t know what I’d been doing for the past several minutes. She probably thought I was just surfing the Internet. When she noticed the tears start to fall from my eyes, she came around and suddenly snatched the phone from my hands.
“Looking at old texts from Graham? That’s it! I’m taking this and shutting it off. I didn’t take you all the way to California for this shit.”
“You can’t just take my phone!”