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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30. XXIX

I pulled into the rainy, grey tarmac lot slowly, the early morning rain pattering lightly against my windscreen. Finding a space easily, I watched as a bright orange truck slid past me, the greasy-faced boy in the drivers seat flashing me a grin as I let him past, and I cut the engine. Taking a moment, I slumped back in my seat a little, letting the mist and rain droplets shield myself from view. Kids from my class, sporting dark raincoats and bright lever-arch files sauntered into college amicably, chatting and laughing with each other. I looked on, wanting to be like them yet thinking of nothing worse at the same time. After a while the bell rung out, echoing across the student lot sonorously, and I got out the car, walked over to the boot to get out my backpack as the rain blurred my vision and dampened my hair lightly. As the rain intensified I pulled up my hood and followed a group of unisex raincoats towards the entrance, shouldering my backpack and keeping my eyes firmly fixed to the ground. Today was not the day to be noticed. No day was the day to be noticed.

"Hey, Alaska!"

8am, and already too late. Sighing, I turned around to face Benny, a new intake like me, a sweet, rubber-faced boy with deep dimples and a wayward shock of bright red hair. "Hey, Benny. Frankenstein essay due next period. You got it covered?"

"Ah, shit." Benny rubbed a freckled hand over his face. "Knew there was something I'd forgot. Do you mind if I...?"

I reached into my backpack and pulled out my stapled creation. "Sure, Benny. No worries." We weren't lit partners for nothing.

"Thanks. Hey, do you think you could give me a lift home today? I got a ton of Tech stuff to bring home."

"Sorry," I hitched my backpack further up my shoulder as disappointment clouded Benny's expression. "I can't today. Connor's picking me up."

"Oh," Benny said, "right." My heart sunk as I watched my only friend walk away from me hurriedly, clutching at my essay as if he were afraid I would grab it back. In this place, I only had to mention Connor's name and I could clear a corridor.

When I first started college, barely over a month ago now, I had done everything I could to hide my identity. I didn't tell anyone my name. I wore a hoodie constantly, even when, by some miracle, the sun was shining. Some students recognised me, either from my last school or from the avid descriptions from town gossip, but they were always too scared or too wary of my history to say hi. Not that I expected a warm welcome. Why would anyone want to know the girl who had stood there and watched while her best friend had struggled with depression, and eventually committed suicide?

Suicide. Yes, that's what they were saying now. The local press had started it. What happened as a result spread like wildfire. While some locals insisted to the papers that Isaac was the happiest kid they had known and had just been the victim of a terrible occurrence of fate, others still stood by their belief that what he had done was deliberate. Not that I could argue with them. His diagnosis of depression didn't help his case.

Sure, he had been far out. Isaac knew the lay-out of the beach like the back of his hand; there was no way he miscalculated the position of that rock. It had been Isaac himself who had nicknamed it 'Deadman's Head'. If he had been alive, he would have laughed at the irony of it.

But Isaac wasn't alive. He was dead. Cremated; his body just a mere mountain of ashes floating in the sea, where we had all gathered one misty Monday morning to remember his life. We did it on top of the cliff face; no priest, no prayers, no promises of an afterlife. It's what Isaac would have wanted. That's what Ella told us, anyway. Isaac had never believed in a God. Ever since his mother died, he had thought the whole idea of religion to be kind of fruitless. He knew that he wasn't going to be saved. Even if there was a Heaven, Isaac said, he wouldn't be allowed in anyway. "God doesn't like gays," he had said.

I had expected to cry that day, but I didn't. The only funeral I had been to, Isaac's mother's, everyone was crying. Dad had said that it was because her death was an accident. Unexpected. The funerals of the elderly, he had said, no one cries. They've lived their life. There's no sense of waste, or dissipated achievements.

Everyone cried at Isaac's funeral. A multitude of people turned up, from the local villages, schools, churches, people who I had never seen before, as well as kids and teenagers from school and the surfing community, that it had become a health hazard for everyone to gather on the cliff. As Dad and I walked hand in hand with Ella and a couple of Isaac's close mates up to the stretching skyline, a throbbing crowd of people gathered on the rocky sand below, a further stretch of cars lined up along the snaking country lane, all queuing up to pay their respects to a boy who they might not have known, but who they always felt the presence of. It wasn't long until even the car park filled up, and soon people began to just stop in the middle of the road, sit up on the roof of their cars in order to catch a glimpse of us on the cliff face, giving Isaac wings.

Because we had to let Isaac go. That was what Ella said. Just because we had burned his body, it didn't mean that we had destroyed his soul, too. We were giving Isaac space to breathe. By releasing him back into the sea, back where he belonged, we were doing more than just liberating his body. We were setting his soul free. On the morning we had set the date, Ella had tried to laugh about it, turn everything into one, big joke. "I know Isaac was a very 'in your face' type of guy," she had chuckled, only one small, glassy tear hanging suspended on the edge of her tear duct. "But we need to check the weather. That won't be a day we'll want Isaac in our face."

I guess that's why I hadn't broken down that day, even though I was expecting it, bracing the inevitability like a cool, Cornish breeze. What we were doing, it was like redemption. Like freeing Isaac from all the shit we had put him through during the past few months somehow made up for the fact now he was dead. That reality still didn't seem palpable to me. When I took a pinch of Isaac from the pretty engraved silver case Ella had bought, it didn't seem like it was really him. How could anyone really believe that that grey-white chalky substance was once Isaac Reynolds: surfer, party-animal, waiter, friend.

Once it was all over, and Isaac was careering beautifully into the frothy, arctic surf, we hadn't ended it like you were supposed to. No prayers. No hymns. We led the congregation in a tearful, shaky rendition of Isaac's hymn, Weightless, vaguely suitable, yet absurdly inappropriate at the same time. Isaac would have loved it- about two hundred people all simultaneously swearing down one of the quietest country lanes in Cornwall, their tear-stained faces grinning helplessly at the insanity of it. What happened afterwards passed in a blur. Dad and I joined Ella and everyone else who had turned up to the funeral for tea at the Castle, Isaac's former home, where we smiled and nodded and recollected vague, insignificant memories of mine and Isaac's childhood with people we hadn't even met before, accepting people's condolences with what we hoped looked something like grace. Dad had to grit his teeth and smile unconvincingly every time someone congratulated him on finding Isaac's body. I kept reminding him that people meant well, but for him, every reminder of that evening felt like another slap in the face. For Dad, finding Isaac was of no significance. Saving him would have been something worth living for.

Every second some person or other would tap me on the shoulder, murmur to me some memory of story they had of Isaac, as if mere imaginative faculty could conjure him up, make him alive again. I had only been half-surprised when, later on in the afternoon, a girl my age with long, chocolate brown hair came up behind me and squeezed my hand. "Hey."

Lily was dressed majestically in a beautiful black silk dress, her slim wrist decorated in a silver chain-link bracelet. "Lily."

"How are you coping?" Even with all the conversation taking place around me, I could still easily pick up her sweet, delicate voice, and her soft brown eyes spoke a million words. For once, we were on level pegging. We had both experienced unimaginable pain. We had both lost something vitally, and intrinsically important to us. And finally, we both shared in a collective sense of guilt. "I'm okay."

"You're not okay." Her dark eyes pricked with tears. "Don't lie to me. I'm really sorry I've left it this long to speak to you. I didn't know how you wanted to deal with it."

"That's the point." I tried to keep my voice level, but with every word the sounds kept on breaking up between half-caught tears. "I'm not dealing with it. I don't know how to deal with it." And before I could cry, Lily had taken me in her arms, and was holding me. No one would ever know how much that gesture meant. There was no amount of words that anyone could say that would equal the preciousness and sheer quantity of comfort I had gained from that one small act of kindness. Everything I had done to Lily, the hurt I had caused her, the pain I had allowed her to feel, felt redeemed in that one embrace. Like I had been forgiven. 'What's done is done,' she had whispered to me. Those four words brought sudden, unrelenting, helpless tears to my eyes.

And even now, as I walked down the corridor, faced with expressions on the other student's faces that I couldn't read, I was still in a state of shock. There was nothing here that could remind me of Isaac, or what had happened that fateful evening on the beach. I hadn't gone to Isaac's old college for a reason. Here among the blue-lined corridors and huge wooden lockers, there was no memory of him: no lingering smell, no photos, no old belongings that someone had forgotten to clear from his locker. It was as if he had never existed. Here, I was free to believe that Isaac was still alive. I was free to think that I had done everything I could have done to save him.

The days passed quickly now. I ate, I slept, I did my homework. My surfboard collected dust at the back of the shed, along with everything else that reminded me of Isaac: old mix-tapes, ticket stubs, postcards, photos. It was like we had just fallen out. Or he had moved abroad. He didn't feel like he was gone. Dead.

I was still waiting for the reality to hit me, cold and harsh, like the first wave of a brisk, winter morning.

 

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