Frozen Sea

Sixteen-year-old Alaska's whole world is slowly but surely starting to crumble. Her boyfriend is charged with the rape of her best friend, and she is staring at a long, lonely summer of secrets and unimaginable pain. Losing herself in surfing and her night shift at the local pub seems like the only way to pretend none of it is actually happening for real. Until she meets Connor, a mysterious musician on a holiday of inspiration, Alaska finally realises that sometimes the only way to move on is to face up to reality.

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20. XIX

Pedalling hard, the rain running down my face in thin, cold rivers, I cycled furiously down the end of the highway, my tyres squealing as I made a sharp turn onto the forest path. My knees were covered with flecks of dirt and oil grease- effects inevitable with taking a bike ride on a wet summer afternoon. My hair was damp, hanging in wet matted strands down by the side of my eyes; I shook them away as I saw the thick green woodland finally appear into view.

The pain shooting through my thighs was my first attempt at making me forget about my meeting with Lily. However the pain, reverberating through my chest at every breath was a reminder that forgetting was never that simple. In my life, the forest had always been synonymous with forgetting, or at least distraction. My dad had used it when I was younger during the many episodes I had of missing my mum, but as I grew, the forest had become my own place of respite and calm. If I was a good girlfriend (and God knew that I wasn't), the best thing I could have done was to go to Connor. But although Connor would listen, he wouldn't understand, and perhaps I was mental enough to believe that the trees would- but it was still worth a shot.

"It's like I'm not really here," Lily had said to me, "It's like I'm just a shitty hologram or something, looking on at everyone else's world."

"It doesn't have to be like that, Lily," I'd told her, "You're still alive. You're still you."

I didn't know what I was most shocked at, the fact that Lily was cursing, or the way that I was lying, awfully at that, to save her feelings. Lily and I never lied to each other. But Lily had changed. But, I guess things change when your best friend has been through things she doesn't want to talk about.

"Please. I was a bitch to you last night. When would I ever have talked to you like that?"

"You were drunk," I'd replied, as if it were the perfect explanation. 

"Alaska!" Lily had cried, her nails digging into the soft fabric of the sofa, creating tiny, fairy-like dents. "For God's sake, stop making excuses for me. I'm a horrible person."

"Lily..."

"The worst thing is," she had continued, "I feel like there's nothing I can do about it. Like what happened changed me forever, and now that's that, I can't go back to the person I was. I feel helpless. Like I'm drowning."

Drowning. The word had echoed distantly in my head from that moment until now, where in the quiet of the forest it had stopped. Silence.

It was unnerving. Birdsong tittered above my head but it was no longer soothing- it sounded like a death-call. I stumbled for a moment until I found a fairly clear patch of grass. My body collapsed and, ignoring the dewiness seeping into my shorts, I pulled out my mobile. I pressed speed dial, and he picked up on the first ring. Connor was breathless. "Alaska, thank God," he exhaled. There was a silence, as if he expected me to say something. I didn't. Then, "are you okay? Who are you with? Where are you?"

The million dollar question. I closed my eyes. "The forest."

Anyone else would have been exasperated at this answer, there were about a hundred forests in Cornwall, but Connor just sighed. "Right," he said. "Well. I'll come and find you. Stay where you are." He cursed softly before hanging up.

When Connor's headlights finally appeared out of the gloom and he pulled up beside me, I was shivering. I had done what he said: I had stayed exactly where I was. Connor screeched to a sudden halt and was out of the car and by my side in an instant. "Alaska," he said, and looped his arms around my waist, straining me closer. I pulled him towards me, wanting him closer, but then his lips were on mine and he was kissing me roughly, fiercely, giving me no time to even take a breath. "Connor!" I gasped, pulling away. His eyes were dark, searching me.

"Don't ever do that, again. Please." He kissed my forehead, slowly, lingering, and then rested his on mine. "Always stay with me."

"I only went to Lily's..."

"Alaska." Connor's voice was hard, and scratched. "Promise."

The wind whistled whiningly around us as I tightened my grip on Connor. "I promise," I whispered into his chest. His arms loosened, dropping back to his sides. He put up a hand to stroke my cheek, once, twice. "You said two hours. It's been seven."

"I know. I'm sorry." Connor stared at me for a moment, as if he was seeing if I really meant it.

"Let's get you home," he finally said. I didn't even have to ask to know that he didn't mean my home. Once we were buckled up and speeding down the highway, I put a tentative hand on Connor's knee. "What's your problem?" I hadn't meant it to come out the way it did, but I couldn't take it back. Connor looked sideways at me. "What?"

"We've been dating two days, and you're already acting like a husband suffering from PMD," I informed him. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing." Connor's grip on the steering wheel tightened. 

I sighed. "Connor, half the time I feel like you're about to blow up. You're so angry."

"Enough." His voice cut through the air sharply, making me jump. I took my hand off his knee. "Connor, I..."

"I said, enough." He raised a shaking hand that had been fiddling with a polystyrene cup stained with coffee and clicked on the radio to a heavy metal station. I let out a shaky breath and leant against the window, the misty glass cooling my hot cheeks. There was something going on with Connor, and as much as I hated to believe it, I knew deep down that it was my fault. If I hadn't left to go to Lily's and left Connor alone like I had, he probably wouldn't be this anxious. A few stop signs later, we pulled up to a petrol station. "Need anything?" Connor asked gruffly before slamming the door loudly in my face. I had barely murmured an answer before Connor was stalking off into the buttery light of Snack and Stop, his head down and hood up, hands stuck deep down into his pockets. 

I leant back and closed my eyes. The heavy guitar and thumping bass slipping from the radio was... fairly comforting. I pulled the blanket out from under the seat, from our night on the beach, and covered myself in it. I was tired. Troubled. Warm...

"Alaska." Connor's voice snapped me back to awareness. He slid into the drivers seat and buckled up, chucking a bag of crisps and a bottle of water vaguely in my direction. "When was the last time you ate?"

"This morning," I said, unscrewing the cap of the water. "Thanks."

I should have been ravenous, but the crisps felt dry and uncomfortable as they slid slowly down my throat. Connor himself took a big glug of energy drink before flicking the car into motion. "You're tired," he observed. "You should sleep."

"I'm not," I lied. The last thing I wanted to do now was sleep.

The moon cast an eerie glow over the wheat fields towering above us in the landscape. The trees were swaying violently in the wind, making the shadows they threw upon the ground even more sinister. Eventually it was Connor who broke the silence. "I'm sorry," he said, "about earlier." His fingers danced on the dash-board, a weird, contorted, devilish dance. Tap-tap. Tap-tap. Tap-tap. The rain, having started about five minutes before, was growing heavier now, pouring down the windows in endless torrents of blackness. "Was it about that girl?"

Silence. Connor's face froze. "What girl?" His words were careful, measured. Forced.

"The girl with the tattoos. In that photo by your door."

"You don't know what you're talking about." He spoke too quickly.

I bit my lip. "I saw it, Connor."

"No you didn't!" he suddenly yelled, thumping his fist hard on the dashboard. I tried to ignore the dent, but my eyes kept on getting drawn to it. "Pull over," I murmured, my gaze still distracted by the dent. When he didn't respond, I raised my voice, trying unsuccessfully to keep the tremor out. "I said pull over, Connor!"

He obliged jerkily, his face hidden from my view. I waited until Connor had stopped the car, and then I unbuckled my belt, yanking open the car door before he could stop me. "Alaska..."

I left Connor slumped at the wheel and moved clumsily over to the side of the highway, where I slumped down upon a thin patch of grass. The night was cold, and I shivered, but I knew that there was something else bothering me- and it wasn't the bleak temperature. Connor was hiding something.

Of course this wasn't something that I hadn't experienced with Carter- God knows that he was lying every single time he opened his mouth- but somehow this felt different. Carter lied so he could go and meet other girls behind my back; Connor was lying to protect someone. It made me feel sick just to think of what secret could involve a young girl. Connor was secretive, I knew that, but there was a difference between keeping quiet about your family life and keeping quiet about a teenager. The thing that scared me the most was that I didn't know why. I could handle the truth. What I was lied to about frightened me.

"Alaska."

I jumped, even though I knew who had spoken my name. "Listen to me." I waited until I felt his shoulder brush against mine. He sat down next to me with a sort of heaviness, like the very world was perched precariously on his shoulders. "I don't know if I want to listen," I said. "I don't think I want to know the truth. Not this time."

Connor groaned, rubbed the back of his hand over his eyes. "God, Alaska. I want to tell you. I do..."

"But?" I interjected harshly.

"I... can't," he spat out. His shoulders sank lower with each word. "You can trust me, Alaska." When I didn't reply he urged me," you know you can!"

"No, I don't, Connor." I turned to face him now. "I don't know you. You've never told me anything that much about you. I don't even know why you were there at the Bush that night."

Connor stared at the ground for a moment, shocked. Then he looked back up at me. "You really think I have something to hide?"

"That's my point. I don't know."

Connor stood up and held out his hand. I ignored it and got up quickly, walking ahead of Connor and getting into the car. He strapped himself in and glanced at me. "Do you want me to take you home?"

I sighed. "Is someone at your house tonight?"

"No." Connor's voice was hard, as if he was trying to disguise some feeling.

"Okay," I said, leaning forward and turning up the car heating. "Okay. I'll come home with you. Then, you'll explain everything."

 

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