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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19. XVIII

"Are you sure you don't want me to come?"

I grabbed the mug of coffee Connor had slid over the kitchen counter and lowered my eyes, blowing gently on the brown liquid to cool it. "I'll be fine."

He came over to where I was perching on the cracked-plastic bar stool and rested his chin on my head. "You don't have to do this." I wrapped my arms around his stomach and rested my cheek against his chest. "I do. She's my best friend, Connor."

"Was." He lifted up my chin so that I was looking straight into his eyes. "She was your best friend, Alaska. She's been through stuff she's not going to forget in a hurry. Why drag up the past now?"

"Because it's our past," I explained quietly, "what happened involved both of us. He was my boyfriend, my responsibility. I'm not going to run away and leave her to deal with this on her own."

"Maybe that's her way of dealing with it."

"Well I don't believe that."

Connor sighed and plonked down opposite me, seemingly resigned. "You never give up, do you?"

"Nope."

He smiled crookedly, a loose strand of his charcoal hair covering one eye. "I was hoping you'd stay here with me." His voice was dripping with endearment. I leant over and kissed Connor's cheek gently. "I'll be back later. Two hours tops."

"I'll be here."

"I know."

Connor walked me to the door, one arm protectively strung around my waist, and the last thing I noticed before he shut the door was the tattooed profile of the beautiful, angel-faced girl hanging in a silver frame just above Connor's shoulder.

                                                                   * * *

 

The one singular piece of advice I remember Mum ever giving me before she left for the States was this: don't leap into a situation unless you're absolutely sure it won't end up in disaster for either you or the person involved. This, as I raised a trembling hand to the iron panther on Lily's front door, I contemplated; then realised that the only motherly advice I had ever received I was deliberately ignoring. 

The knock that reverberated through the hallway beyond the door was sharp, echoing. A part of me still wanted to turn and bolt back down the street to Connor, but the more prominent, pleading part of me, wanted to see Lily and restore our friendship to what it used to be. I heard a slight murmur of female voices, then a shadow passed over the tinted glass. I took a step backward, trying to slow my pulse unsuccessfully. If anyone should be upset about this, it should be Lily. But even so, I held my knuckles to my lips as the catch clicked and all of a sudden, there she was.

The look that Lily wore on her face astonished, yet still managed to upset me. It wasn't one of fierce dislike, hatred, or even hurt; it was a look of unmistakeable tiredness. Her chocolate brown curls were knotted and spilling out of a velvet scrunchie on the top of her head, a few loose pieces hanging down in front of her bleak, tired eyes. Normally effortlessly clad in something subtly tasteful and expensive, Lily was now wearing a cheap, red velour tracksuit; patchy and thin from her ballet dancing days. My eyes sunk down to her feet, bare and unprotected, her toes curled and painted hurriedly in a tasteless oyster pink. I looked up just as Lily's eyes met mine. Her face looked grey and sickly, an outbreak just forming on her chin and nose. Lily stared at me with wide eyes. "Hi."

"Hello." I hated that I couldn't stop my voice from wavering. This wasn't Lily. This wasn't the Lily knew. Long ago I had accepted that my best friend Lily had long departed and had left me with the cold, bitter girl from last night- but even that was better than this miserable creature; a mere shadow of the girl I knew before.

I watched Lily clasp her hands together nervously, her fingers knotting around each other agitatedly, trembling slightly. Her voice was thin and wavery when she finally spoke. "What are you doing here?" Her voice trailed off at the end, fading into a hoarse whisper, her hazelnut eyes darting furtively around her. It was as if Lily was waiting for something to appear out of nowhere and attack her. I stepped forward onto the snow-white porch, ignoring the distant hammering in my chest. "I just wanted to know if you were okay," I said. "You know, after..."

"Last night," Lily finished for me, shoulders relaxing a little, her eyes softening slightly. She seemed as if she was scared I was going to say something else. "I'm sorry. I wasn't myself."

If Lily had said this a few months back, I would have swiped her playfully on the arm with put-on annoyance, laughing, saying that, 'we all get drunk sometimes'. But somehow, I knew that this wasn't that simple. "Did you get home okay?" I ventured, a cool breeze playing on the hairs on my arms, encasing my warm skin.

"Not really." Lily's lower lip wobbled, only slightly, but enough for me to see. "I had to sneak out of Olly's house first thing this morning."

"Oh Lily." For Lily was crying now. Not soft, sad tears, but huge racking sobs, her whole body convulsing with the sheer force of it. For a moment I wondered if this was the first time Lily had properly cried since... it happened. But no. That was too horrible to believe. Almost automatically, as if we had been best friends for years, I pulled Lily towards me and let her sob into my chest. Her hands clung fiercely to the small of my back, fingernails digging in as if she was worried that I was going to leave her. 

"Do you want me to come in?" 

For a second the thought that Lily was still going to push me off her and slam the door in my face lingered in my head, but then she pulled back to look at me, and sighed. "Yes. Yes, please."

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