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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25. XXIV

The first thing I noticed as Connor pulled up to the gravel lot later that evening, once the sun was enjoying it's last few moments of light and the sky had turned a beautiful marbled pink, was the twirling ribbons of smoke unfurling from the bonfire in the centre of the beach. I looked over at Connor. He had changed for this evening: dressed in grey skinny jeans and a pressed white T shirt, he looked as if he had stepped straight from a men's fashion magazine. I had changed also, however I feared that it hadn't had the same drastic effect as it had on Connor. My powder blue thigh-length dress and silver sandals weren't enough to even appear in my school newspaper.

Nevertheless, I was still looking forward to tonight; I had even spritzed a few drops of my mum's signature sandalwood perfume on my neck, and added a few bracelets to my skinny white wrists. Connor was, on the other hand, apprehensive. Social occasions where Isaac was the central attraction were not really on his list of top ten ways to spend your Friday night. But his protestations fell on entirely deaf ears; Connor and Isaac might not have realised it yet, but in fact they had more in common than they realised. For a start, they were both turning eighteen in the Fall, and although I wasn't expecting a joint pub crawl to celebrate, it would be nice if they finally came to the recognition that, in fact, they weren't such polar-opposites as they believed.

We approached Isaac now, dressed in a light cotton button-down shirt and beige camo shorts, the light sprinkling of hairs on his arms and legs reflecting golden-brown in the dappled sunlight. His hair was tousled and thick with sea-salt from our earlier surf, his eyes dancing and glittering with the reflection of the flames in the fire pit as his mate told a joke. Isaac was slouched on a slick grey rock, one hand stuck deep into the pocket of his camos, the other holding a beer, his posture relaxed and amiable. He stiffened when he saw Connor and I. A silence seemed to spread like wildfire across the group of teenagers. All eyes turned to Connor.

"Oh," Isaac spluttered, placing his beer hurriedly on the flat surface of the rock, "Hey. I didn't know you were still coming."

A light breeze played on Isaac's hair, ruffling it gently, a blush spreading across his cheeks. Connor stepped forward with a box of beer, making the first move. "Here," he said, his eyes lowered to the grainy sand. "Thanks. For inviting us, I mean."

The silence seemed to deepen at the sound of Connor's voice. Isaac leaned forward, took the beers in his huge hands. "It was no problem," he replied. "And thanks."

Connor tipped his head slightly, the smoke from the fire clouding his expression. The distant murmur from the party grew louder as they realised the boys weren't going to backhand each other. "Alaska," Isaac continued, looking at me neurotically under his long eyelashes, "Are you okay? Earlier..."

"It's fine," Connor cut in for me, "She's fine." I squeezed his hand gratefully. I felt him return the pressure, gently. 

"What?" Isaac's eyes narrowed. "You answer for her, now?"

"Please don't start," I interjected, putting a restraining palm on Connor's chest as he stepped towards Isaac threateningly. "Come on. No arguments tonight."

Isaac sighed. Reached for my hand. Connor pulled me back a step, slid a protective arm around my waist. "You're right, Alaska. No arguments." He gave me a final, sad smile as he turned back to his friends. I elbowed Connor in the ribs, sharply. "There was no need for that." He chuckled, pressed his lips against my hair. "On the contrary. There was every need in the world."

I exhaled noisily and grabbed a beer, turning to a pair of solitary rocks on the left hand side of the bonfire, away from the crowd of teenagers drinking and laughing by the pit. Looking around at the teenagers present, there were quite a few people I recognised, though I didn't know any of them well enough to talk to. The girls, some in my year but mostly in the school year above, were dressed in skimpy pastel-coloured dresses and playsuits, their tanned, henna-clad skin soaking up the last few rays of sun. The bracelets on their arms and ankles glittered and clinked together melodically, harmonising with the sweet, high notes of their laughter, echoing across the beach. The girls were, save a few, grouped together with one or two of the boys Isaac had invited, dressed equally well in light shirts and chinos. Their feet were bare on the pallid sand. In their hands they held beer bottles, cigarettes, girls. I took one more quick sweep around the party: no Will. No Carter. I let out a breath, then felt Connor's voice at my ear, quiet, concerned. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing. That's the problem." When he didn't respond I continued. "Everything's perfect. Something's going to happen." I swigged my beer dejectedly.

I felt Connor laugh, his shoulders shuddering slightly against mine as we sat peacefully in the dim shadows of the sun. "You're so pessimistic it's unreal," he said, "Just be happy. For once, why not actually enjoy a social occasion instead of waiting for the trap door to open?"

I tried to smile, but the muscles in my face felt frozen and stiff. "I can't help it. Social occasions aren't exactly my thing." I thought back to Isaac's Hawaiian Beach-themed party. I shuddered. Connor leapt up suddenly, grabbing my hand. "That's the old Alaska," he said. "Tonight, we'll meet the new Alaska."

I couldn't help giggling as Connor spun me around him, twirling me like a stupid Disney princess, our shadows reflected on the sand contorted and merging together as we danced. Laughing hysterically, our thin, cotton clothes billowing out behind us in the breeze, we ran towards the sea. Our feet kicked up sprays of cool, Cornish sea. Connor's arms hanging loosely around my neck, my hands gently tracing the small of his back, we kissed, our mouths working slowly, intimately. The sun now gone, the pearly light of the moon lay dappled at our toes, reflecting shiny rays on the sea, turning it a beautiful, milky white. 

It was Isaac who broke the bliss.

"Everyone!" He was shouting, his hands stuck firmly to his hips, his normally sugary, caramel eyes dark, and fixed straight at Connor. "Let's dance."

It sounded like a death-call.

We walked slowly back up the beach, our fingers wound together tightly, our heads cushioned on each other's shoulders, our feet making soggy indents on the damp sand. Cascades of forgotten or empty beer bottles lay littered on the sand, burnt-out cigarette butts sprinkled in between them, their owners having abandoned them in favour for one last sweet kiss in the moon's chalky shadows. Connor laughed again, but this time it sounded a little uneasy. Everyone was either dancing around the bonfire pit, their arms twined around a member of the opposite sex, or manning the small record player one of the guys had brought, along with a handful of Muse records. The music had already started by the time we had reached the pit, a slow dance, whose notes echoed softly in and among the surrounding cliff faces. Connor had taken my hand and was about to pull me into the swaying mass of teenagers, when Isaac suddenly appeared and placed a cool finger on my arm. I jumped.

"God, Isaac."

"Sorry." His eyes were liquid gold. His smile velvet. He looked at me through the locks of hair gently spilling over his eyelashes. "Want to dance?"

Connor scoffed. "You must be joking."

Isaac stiffened. "What? You've already had your dance, mate."

I remembered seeing Isaac when Connor and I were at the sea front. His hands held rigidly at his sides. His eyes cold, dark. Staring at us. 

Connor was pulling me away now, his touch gentle and lingering but nonetheless forceful. "Yeah? Well she's my girlfriend."

"Alright, Connor." I sighed. I disentangled myself from Connor's firm hold. "One dance, Isaac. That's all you're getting."

Connor's jaw dropped, entirely taken aback. His eyebrows furrowed, his fists balled. "Alaska..."

"Connor." I leant forward, placed a warm, fleeting kiss on his hardened cheekbone. "I'll be back in a moment."

Isaac didn't take his gaze off mine all the while we wandered around the pit, finding an untouched, sandy spot. When we did, Isaac placed one hand lightly on my waist, the other on the nape of my neck, where an old locket my grandmother had given me at my Christening hung suspended. I put my hands timidly on Isaac's waist, aware of how close his face was to mine. Isaac's cheek was pressed against my cheek, his hair falling onto my bare shoulder like a waterfall, the music reaching a sugary climax.

"Her boyfriend is watching you!" A boy behind us cheered raucously, and the whole group laughed deliriously. I even felt Isaac chuckle, and the grip on my waist tightened, not noticeably, but hard enough that I felt it. Turning my face slightly, out of the corner of my eye I spotted Connor, slumped on the same rock we were sitting together on minutes before, his shoulders collapsed, his eyes fixed on the sand beneath him, his mouth gulping desperately at a half-empty beer bottle cradled in his hands. I closed my eyes for a second, pretending for a moment that it was Connor's arms I was in, it was Connor's smooth but steady hand around my waist, his cheek resting against my face. But it didn't work.

Part of me knew what was happening. As sure as the blood that was pulsing wildly through my veins with every passing second, something had changed within Isaac over the past few weeks. He was changed. Or maybe, it had always been there. A feeling. Lingering. Deep inside of him, maybe so deep even he hadn't noticed it before now, threatening to erupt and spill over, affecting not only himself but me and Connor and... Everyone.

Our world.

I pulled back for a moment, searched Isaac's face. The music had stopped. Beer bottles clinked. The drinking games had started.

We were the only couple left on the dance floor. 

But we weren't a couple.

"Isaac," I began, but before I had finished, before the words had even finished forming in my mouth, before I had even worked out what to say, because there was nothing to say, Isaac's lips were on mine. Hot, furious passion soared through him and gathered in his lips, the lips that were, before I could stop them, trying to plead some sort of feeling out of mine. Isaac's mouth was angry, fierce, pressed up hard against mine, forcing a reaction within me that simply didn't exist. I stood there, motionless; my blood was frozen and my arms dropped, dangling against my sides as Isaac's hands were everywhere: my face, my back, my neck, my waist. I felt hot tears suddenly mixed in with the kiss, and that's when I realised that I was crying.

Soft, silent, helpless tears.

And then suddenly, Isaac's lips stopped. He was no longer in front of me. All I heard was the punch, a loud, flat, echoing impact that seemed to reverberate along the beach and around the jagged rock-splits. Suddenly there were people crying, one girl screaming, a sudden yelp of shock as one guy held the unconscious Isaac upright as another mopped up the pool of blood that had incidentally gathered at the sand at his feet, staining it a deep crimson. I just stood there, the world continuing on spinning around me, everyone else at the barbecue moving but my bones had been frozen to the exact same spot I had been standing when Isaac had kissed me. My whole body seemed to be cemented to the sand.

I managed to move my eyes upwards, then immediately regretted it. Connor was standing by the side of the pit, nursing his right fist, his previously pristine white T shirt splattered with blood.

The blood of my best friend.

The blood of my gay best friend who had kissed me. 

I had started to stumble forwards, my arms reaching out desperately for him, for Connor, tears pouring down my face in a torrent of anguish, when a huge, burly guy stopped me by the shoulders. "Please, Alaska. Leave him."

"Fuck off." I heard my voice, but had no control over what I was saying. "Leave me alone. He needs me."

"No." The boy growled. "What he needs is space and time to calm down. And a lawyer."

But I was sobbing now. Huge, racking, gulping sobs that shook and pulsated through my whole body, causing convulsions and spasms I no longer had the control of. It was me who needed Connor. I needed him to hold me, to stop me from falling apart. After what had happened with Lily and Carter, I had glued back the pieces of my body that I couldn't hold together, but now the glue had loosened; the breakage was now irreparable. At some point a girl from school had taken me by the arm and led me to a rock outside the drama and was consoling me with kind, gentle words, but I just shouted and swore at her until my voice was sore and scratched.

Police sirens. Loud and echoing through the early twilight. Bright lights. Deafening cries. Questions. All the questions. Before I knew what I was doing I was running, racing away from the beach, from Isaac, lying unconscious in a pool of his own blood; Connor, who was now the murderer, and the sea; the slowly moving ocean that was steadily but purposefully moving up the beach minute by minute to swallow up the sand and engulf the multitude of sins that had occurred on that same spot just moments before. 

 

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