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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24. XXIII

"You ready?"

"Ready as I'll ever be."

Isaac grinned at me. Held out my gloves. I returned a watery smile and pulled them on, letting my hair fly backwards in the biting wind. We grabbed our boards, began jogging towards the frothing surf, the early morning sun glinting off the water like tiny pearls in a giant green-blue oyster. Somehow, 'just a barbecue' had turned into a full-day Isaac special, and that evidently included a seven o' clock surf. Fantastic. Just before I turned to flip my board onto the swelling waves I looked back up the beach where Connor was perched on a huge black rock precariously, reading a paperback, the pages flapping and fluttering in the wind. He wore washed-out denim quarter lengths, bunched up around his knees, and an unbuttoned grey shirt, the colour contrasting vividly against his hard, tanned chest. He looked up at me, waved, his eyes glinting. I returned the gesture, taking a breath before I threw down my board and leapt on, paddling hard to reach Isaac who was already far out, perched on his board while the waves frothed and broke around him.

I closed my eyes for a second, letting the warm glow of the sun wash over my face, the scent of the salty sea air fill my nostrils, the slapping of the water on the underside of my board lull me into calm. Despite the inevitable chilly breeze that forever haunted Cornwall- hung over it like an omnipresent, persistent rain cloud- the morning was warm, and I watched as the last rays of the rising sun dappled beautifully on the normally grey water. Suddenly there was a whoosh next to me as Isaac sped quickly onto a wave sideways, his arms working hard, his feet kicking violently, and then up he was; his graceful body was bent and poised like a swan's, water spitting into his face and hair, his eyes dancing as he rode faster. For a second I just stared at him, at Isaac, at my best friend, completely in his element, nothing on his face but pure joy. There was so much Isaac wasn't credited for; sure, he was popular with most kids in Seaview, a straight A student at Haven College, but the one thing that made me the most proud of Isaac was the fact that he had taken on a sport that had killed his mum when he was just a kid himself. The locals, whenever anyone turned up to watch him surf, always said that he looked like his mum when she rode the waves. They had the same beauty, the same poise about them, apparently, and a part of me wished that I could have known her.

Isaac approached me now, laughing, shaking glittering droplets of water out of his long hair as he paddled closer. I held out my palm for a high-five. He slapped it. "Nice one," I congratulated him. "Your turn," Isaac returned, jerking his thumb towards a giant, looming blue towering right above our heads. I chuckled at him, swatting his arm with my glove-clad hand. 

"Good one," I said to him, as we rose above the swell as it passed beneath us, turning up the sand on the sea floor into clouds of golden dust. "You know I'd never catch that. Not without..."

"Carter," Isaac finished for me, his eyes, fanned by his whirring lashes, boring directly into mine. I turned my board, facing away from him. My lower lip trembled. It was true: five months ago, I would have sure as hell caught that blue, caught it wholeheartedly, even, spinning and jumping and crouching into the spray just as Isaac had done. But something had changed after Carter and I had broken up. Isaac had noticed it before I had, but once I had figured it out for myself, it was kind of embarrassing it hadn't come to me before. It was so blatantly obvious.

I couldn't surf without Carter.

Just as he had left me, so quickly and easily as a Cornish summers day, so did my natural 'knack'. When Carter had taught me how to surf, it came so effortlessly and simply that I never thought I'd lose it. I guess Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird had the right idea: I never actually loved to surf until I thought I'd lose it. It was the kind of thing you saw on T.V: when an athlete had an accident and then swore off the sport for life, never putting so much as a toe inside the stadium or gymnasium ever again. This was the same thing. Except that I hadn't had a big accident. I, myself, was one big accident waiting to happen. The first time I surfed after Carter left me, my dad thought I had been on a suicide mission. I caught a blue. I caught it and never stood up. The water had engulfed me for so long that I no longer struggled, just remained tangled in my leash in the gloomy, sunless water until Isaac finally realised and pulled me out, spluttering and gasping for air, my ribcage aching from the effort.

After that, I realised that the water had become my enemy. 

And now, after all that time, I was trying to make amends.

I thought back to that disastrous evening back in late July. The way the sea had felt like ice. The moon, casting eerie shadows over the water. The image of Carter resounding lucidly in my head like a highway billboard...

Isaac was splashing me, sprays of water flicking upwards into my face, my hair. Even though the gesture was playful, his eyes were serious. "Alaska?"

"I'm not into this." My voice was a weak wobble. Isaac reached forward on his board and touched my splayed fingers, gripping onto the fibreglass for dear life. "I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't mean what I said. You can surf just fine without Carter."

"No, I can't. You're right. I can't do it."

Before Isaac could say anything more, I turned the board and caught a wave, remaining flat on my stomach until I reached the shore. Connor was already running down the beach to meet me, his bare feet kicking up clouds of sand around him. His eyes were dark, their glowering gaze fixed on Isaac, still perched on his board way out, swallowed by the waves, his eyes lingering on Connor and I. Connor looped his arm supportively around my waist, covered my shoulders with a towel he had brought with him. 

"What's he done now? Did he try anything?"

I sighed, shivering slightly as the breeze blew into my damp hair. "Relax, Connor. I just wasn't ready."

"Ready?" He narrowed his eyes, concerned. "Ready for what, exactly?"

"It's complicated," I breathed, my gaze fixed on Isaac paddling up to shore.

"Oh." Connor took a strand of my hair and tucked it back behind my ear. "You're talking about Carter, aren't you?"

I nodded silently.

The wind was stronger now, rustling Connor's curls violently as he wound his fingers through mine and walked us up to the top of the beach, slowly. I kept my eyes fixed down to the pebbles littering the sand, afraid if I looked up at Connor, tears might spill. I thought of Isaac, paddling furiously back to shore just to exchange one last word with me, his eyes pleading and desperate, scared to death that he had hurt me. But there was no use talking. Not now. What more had I left to say? That I was too broken? He knew that already. I was missing Carter? But that was a lie. Every time I was with Isaac there was a glitch, something that went wrong that seemed beyond my control. We fought, we argued, we ignored each other and now, we left each other. Or rather I had left him. Our relationship seemed broken, irreparable. 

And now, we couldn't even go surfing together without me doing something stupid.

Connor squeezed my hand for a moment. "When you said he knows..."

"Yes. He knows that we slept together."

"But how..?"

I sighed. "His amazing initiative."

Connor put a finger softly under my chin and lifted my gaze to meet his. "So what now?"

"I don't know, Connor," I said, exasperatedly."I just don't know. But I have a bad feeling about this."

Connor dug in his pocket for his car keys, unlocked his Volvo with confused severity. "A bad feeling?"

"Yes. I have a feeling something terrible is about to happen."

 

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