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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21. XX

"Coffee?"

I shook my head lamely, the T.V buzzing annoyingly in the background, the rain spattering against the windows dismally in the late twilight. Connor turned to glance at me, one hand stirring sugar into his coffee, the other reaching for the milk. 

"Is there going to be a point where you stop freezing me out?" he asked. I drew my knees towards my chin, the buzzing growing louder by the minute. I closed my eyes. "Is there going to be a point where you tell me the truth?"

Connor sighed at the comeback. "Can we please just get along?" he pleaded with me. "I don't like arguing with you."

"Could have fooled me."

"I thought we were good together, Alaska. I thought that you trusted me. I told you, I'm going to explain everything." He came over to sit on the sofa next to me, cradling his mug of coffee. "In time. When I'm ready." I scoffed, and Connor put a hand on my arm, traced delicate circles onto my bare skin. "Forgive me."

His voice was so soft, so tender and warm that for a moment, I forgot myself. I let his lips brush mine, gently, and I was overcome by the gesture. Tangling my fingers into his ashen curls, I kissed him deeply, pulling him closer with every breath, my heart racing with a feeling I wasn't quite sure of yet. Connor's lips were softer than before, his hands warmer as they travelled up my back and rested at the nape of my neck. I sighed, pausing for breath, and Connor pulled me gently into his lap. The kiss deepened, and, losing myself, I let Connor unbutton the delicate pearls on my shirt. I closed my eyes, just letting myself feel, and then my fingers preceded to unclasp the buttons of Connor's own shirt. His hands were everywhere; tracing patterns on my back, then travelling downwards to sketch soft circles onto my bare thigh. For a moment I wanted it. Wherever I was, I wanted to lose myself in it- savour every feeling, every breath, every moment with Connor. The kiss grew deeper still... and then the phone rang. 

"Shit," Connor murmured against my collarbone. "Sorry." He disentangled himself carefully out of my arms and, flexing his muscles quickly as if he had just undergone rigorous exercise, flicked open his mobile. "Oh, it's yours," he said, and before I could stop him, he reached over the countertop, brushing against a set of china mugs and plates sloppily, and answered my phone. "Speaking? Oh," he caught himself, reddening slightly, "Mr. Cartwright. Hi."

Crap. My dad. I hated myself for being distracted enough to forget about the fact I was potentially, okay definitely, driving my dad to distraction with worry. I hadn't been home in two days, without letting him know where I was. For me, that was a record.

"Connor!" I whispered angrily, hurriedly buttoning up my shirt over my laced blue bra, "For heavens sake! Give me my phone!"

Connor shushed me, held the phone closer to his ear. "Yes. Well, um, I'm a friend of Isaac's and she's here. Yes, she's absolutely fine. We've just been hanging out here, playing video games and stuff. Alaska was going to give you a call later." I sighed heavily at Connor, signalling pathetically for the phone. He ignored me. Evidently, he was enjoying this. 

"I think she's staying at Clarissa's tonight," Connor continued, walking over to the fridge where he pulled out half a sandwich, and took a bite. "You know, girls sleepover or something. I don't really get it." I heard a faint chuckle at the other end of the phone. Clearly, my dad was having just as much fun. 

"Well, she's just taking a shower at the moment, but I think she's planning on coming home tomorrow. Yes, I'll tell her you called. Okay. Bye." Connor ended the call, then grinned at me. "Just hand me the Oscar."

"You're an idiot."

"Maybe," Connor said, "but at least a good-looking one."

I rolled my eyes at him. "You just had to use Clarissa, didn't you?"

"Oh, yeah." Connor finished his sandwich, then leaned over so that all I could see was his face. "Now where were we..?" I kissed him back for a moment, and then stood up, brushing imaginary dirt off my shorts. "I think that the moment's passed. You can put your shirt back on, now." Connor smiled crookedly, but obliged. "That was nice though," he chuckled ruefully. Then he glanced at me. "Does this mean that you're blanking me again, now?"

"I never was, Connor," I smiled. "It's just..."

"What?" Connor looked concerned. A muscle jumped in his jaw. He took me by the crook of the arm and pulled me back to the sofa. "Tell me." His voice was soft. It still amazed me that, in the short time that I had known him, Connor always knew when I wanted to talk about something, and when I didn't. This time, I did, and leaning on his shoulder while I talked about Carter was one of the most comforting things in the world.

"I thought that was what he meant," Connor said, "when he was getting pissed at the thought of me taking you to bed. That you had already slept with him."

"No." I almost smiled, thinking about how bad I would feel if I had. "I mean, we did lots of things but... not that."

"I see." There was a strange look on Connor's face, as if he was trying to figure something out. "May I ask why not?"

I stopped. I hadn't been expecting that question. The thing is, I had never really asked that question myself. I knew Carter had, God knows how many times, but I hadn't taken any time to reflect on it myself. My friends had asked me, Carter had asked me and now, four months later, Connor was asking me the same question. I pressed my lips against his shoulder blade, letting his signature scent of pine and coffee wash over me.

"I wasn't ready," I said, "I'm still not."

"But I thought..."

"I know. I'm sorry." It wasn't until now that I realised that I had led Connor on. Massively. "I didn't mean to make you think anything. Anything that I hadn't done."

Connor pulled me into his chest, his lips against my hair. "You think I mind?" he murmured, "You think that for one second it would change anything between us?"

I smiled. As we sat there, lost in our own individual thoughts, the light pattering of the rain outside only adding to the warmth of Connor's living room. I let my eyes wander over the room; the yellowing cream wallpaper, the mismatched floorboards, odd bits of furniture that didn't really match with anything else spread out across the room like a museum. That's what the house was- sure, once upon a time it could have been a grand family home filled with the sound of children's voices, the smell of home cooking and a million pairs of football boots littered on the front door mat. But now, it was like a house people looked at. Not somewhere anyone lived. The only item I could see in the whole room of any personal value was Connor's guitar, propped up against the door like it was of upmost importance. Suddenly, my mind wandered back to this morning, when I had found myself in Connor's hallway as he walked me to the front door, surrounded by pictures of Connor and his brothers. There was something about them that hadn't been quite right. Something... 

Connor's mobile buzzed.

Gently, he pulled his arm away that had been resting around my waist and eased himself off the sofa, running a hand through his hair as he did so. I shut my eyes, nestled into the sofa so he thought that I was asleep. I heard Connor groan softly, then, "What do you want?" His tone, although muffled, was hard and aggressive. I opened one eye. Connor was leaning against the countertop, his fingers drumming out a constant, complicated rhythm, his eyes fiery and angry but still... bleak. His face had turned a sickly grey, and it appeared tired. "Alex, I don't have time for all of this shit. Just tell me when you're coming home."

I couldn't ignore the wobble in Connor's voice. My heart sank. "I need money." The phone reverberated loudly and a distant voice shouted and swore colourfully at Connor. I winced. Connor rubbed a hand over his face shakily. "I've just eaten the last thing in the fridge. The gas and electric has nearly run out. I'm going to have to sell the T.V this weekend if you don't pay up." Connor let out a weary breath. "Unless you want me to start selling mum's jewellery." 

More shouting.

I looked over at Connor, who was now pacing agitatedly as the phone buzzed loudly against his ear. This was the first time I had ever heard him mention his mother. It was common for fathers to not be in the picture nowadays- I had learnt through many hard lessons not to ask that question anymore- but to not ever talk about your mother was bizarre. A mother felt more permanent somehow. More constant. Of course, I was the odd one out in the case, my mother living the high life in LA, and I lived with my dad, but Connor appeared to live with neither. I watched as Connor's face fell, the harsh light of the overhead lamp casting dark shadows over his normally caramel-coloured skin. He swore under his breath, to my ears a mere mutter. "Fine," he said. "But I want a hundred in my account by the end of next week. Add fifty to it if you're not going to be home until next month."

He hung up, throwing the phone across the room against the hard ceramic tiles of the kitchen wall. I held my breath as Connor buried his head into his hands. After a moment loud, gulping sobs rung loudly across the room. I moved from the sofa into Connor's arms in a matter of seconds. He clung to me tightly as he cried into my shoulder, his fingers splayed out at the small of my back. "You were listening the whole time." It wasn't a question. 

"Yes," I said, "I'm sorry." 

"Don't be. He's an asshole." I watched as Connor pulled away and walked over to the sink, switching on the tap roughly and drenching his face in the cool, cloudy water that erupted from it. I held my breath. "Who... was the asshole?"

The muscles in Connor's arms froze as I spoke. He reached forward for the tea towel, old and patched and threadbare, a weird yellow-brown colour, and turned to face me, water dripping from his liquorice curls. 

"My brother. Alex."

Of course. My mind drifted again back to last night, when Connor had revealed just that little bit about himself on the beach, the sea lapping up against our toes deliciously. "Yes. You told me that you had three brothers."

"I do. Jonah, Marcus and Alex. Alex is the eldest."

I stood rooted to the ground helplessly as Connor swept around the room quickly, gathering up odd cups and plates, stained and greasy with small remnants of food still stuck to them. I watched as he threw them into the sink, began scrubbing hard with an old brush, his whole body turned away from me. I moved forward and cautiously placed a hand on his back. "What was the matter?" I asked. "He seemed pretty angry. So did you."

"He's messed up," Connor replied harshly, his voice devoid of any emotion. "He doesn't come home very often."

"Why?" Compared to Connor's my voice was a pathetic little squeak. "What's wrong with him?"

"He's on crack, to put it simply."

I stopped. Stared wide-eyed at Connor.

"Well, on and off. Lives in some pathetic bedsit in Plymouth with his mates. They all do it. I guess it's like one big fucking house party over there." There was a tremor in Connor's voice, one I had gotten to know quite well. It was a tremor for when he was angry. Violently angry. "So he's pissed off to go and sniff up cocaine, and Jonah and Marcus are off touring festivals or some shit like that." Connor was shouting now, soap suds flying in all directions as he scrubbed furiously at a plate. "And I'm here... here stuck looking after an..." Crack. The broken plate fell to the ground with a smash. I stepped back, not sure if I should run away from him or hold him. I was scared now, but not of the fact that Connor was capable of breaking a china plate with his bare hands. I was beginning to be frightened of how little I knew about Connor, especially when he had this many secrets I was unaware of- and that were potentially dangerous. 

I swallowed, forcing saliva down my throat so that I could produce a sound. Connor was slumped over the sink, the broken plate in a crumbled heap and his feet. His fingers were drumming loudly on the surface top. I moved to stand beside him, put my palm over his agitated fingers to stop their frenzied, distressed dance. "Connor," I asked softly. "Do you live here... on your own?" The nod that came next with the quiet tears that followed made my heart feel like lead, and my eyes an overflowing pond. 

"Won't your mother mind if you sell her jewellery?" I ventured, my tears making my voice thick and deep. "Is she... dead?" The silence that came next explained everything. We cried together for a moment, two hearts hurting but for entirely different reasons, and then Connor slid an arm slowly around my waist. "Come with me."

I stumbled blindly up the stairs, the tears blurring my vision, Connor leading me up to the first floor, then to a narrow, thin, second set of stairs. "I didn't know that you had three floors..." I began, but the look on Connor's face silenced any further questioning. I took his hand, squeezing his fingers comfortingly, and then, after struggling up another set of stairs we arrived at a mouldy, wooden door. I didn't have time to say anything before Connor pushed it open, a waft of rotting fruit and sour milk filling my nostrils disgustingly, and suddenly, in that single moment, I understood everything.

The room was cold, musty. Curtains of dirt hung suspended from every blanket and cushion, mould stuck to every crevice on the ceiling and every crack on the wall. From what I could see of the windows they were almost grey with dirt and grime, but most of them were covered up with huge, black bin liners. Ironically, there were lace curtains hanging in front of the bin liners, and they once could have been a pretty pearly white colour- but now they were yellow and covered in a film of thick dust. 

My eyes darted to the floor. Old magazines, apple cores and milk cartons littered the dingy carpet. Empty packets of pills covered the bottom side of the bed, which was positioned in the centre of the room, the a grand, dreadful centrepiece. On the upper half of the bed though, that's where my eyes focused next. And once they had focused there, I could not force them away. Propped up in bed, with a million cushions and a fluffily green blanket nestled around her, was the creature. It had large, brown eyes, wide and scared like a deer, with wispy silver hair coming down like a waterfall all the way to it's thin, brittle wrists. The creature's face was wrinkled and grey, it's thin, grey lips protruding out under the creases and folds in it's skin. The creature raised a shaking hand, almost as a human salute, and let out a high, ear-splitting moan. Suddenly the creature dropped it's arm, causing a cloud of dust to erupt from the bedsheets. For all of this time, Connor had not once let go of my had. But now he did, walking away from me and towards the creature, who he kissed and stroked the thin hair of tenderly. Then Connor turned, looked at me with his warm, syrupy eyes. "Alaska," he said. "This is my mother."

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