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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28. XXVII

"I honestly can't believe you're making me do this."

"You'll thank me later."

"Oh, I seriously doubt it."

It was late morning. Dark, heavy clouds hung in the gloomy sky over my dad's truck, winding down the Highway, turning up the puddles of last night's rain on the wet tarmac. Despite my protestations, my dad had insisted on driving Connor and I to the hospital, a good few miles out of Seaview; a kindness probably fuelled by fatherly instincts of protecting his daughter for as long as possible having to face the guy who, just a few weeks before, had thrown back all the years of friendship and trust they had shared, back in her face.

Getting dressed that morning, I had faced a few difficulties. Funnily enough, I had never had to dress for the occasion of visiting my once-best friend in hospital; someone who had once been my soul mate but now, I was supposed to be trying to forget. In the end I had chosen a plain, navy eyelet-lace shirt and faded jeans, my hair hung loose and wavy over my shoulders. Connor wore black, a colour that contrasted oddly with the tanned complexion of his face. My dad looked behind at the two of us in the back seat. Smiled. "You look nice," he said, gesturing to my shirt. I turned my face towards the window, mumbling a thanks. I hated the fact that, today of all days, my dad was trying to make me feel better. We drove in silence for a while, my dad's favourite playlist buzzing through the loosely-wired speakers in the front by the dash board, Connor's fingers tracing light circles into my hand. Not even my dad made small talk. Perhaps it was him who found the situation the most helpless. 

It took about an hour to get to the hospital. Dad took a dodgy turn and swerved up right by the entrance, slowed the truck to a shuddering halt. He turned back to look at us, his blue eyes crinkling slightly. "Here we are. You sure you don't want me to come in with you?"

Connor curled his arm around my waist. "I'm sure we'll be fine, Mr. Cartwright. You head on home. Thanks for the lift."

"Any time, son."

As Connor and I slid out the back of the truck Dad wound down the window, beckoned for me to go to him. "Don't let it upset you, Alaska," he murmured. "You've moved on. Don't let Isaac get in the way of that."

"I won't, Dad."

"And let Connor look after you. He knows what he's doing."

I looked behind at Connor, his body stooped, hands deeply rooted in the pockets of his jacket, his head bent low, peering at Dad and me with his velvet eyes. "I know, Dad."

He rolled the frosty windows back up slowly, the glass clouding his crinkled features, the rain water from last night glittering on the faded paint of Dad's truck. As he finally pulled away into the cloudy morning Connor moved closer towards me, rested a tentative hand on my shoulder. "Let's go."

A breeze played lightly across my face, a few strands of hair flew tangled and flying back from my eyes. "He's got ten minutes."

The corridors inside the hospital were cold and white. The smell of death and disinfectant filled my nostrils thickly, making my throat close up and my eyes water. It was hard to breathe. Connor took my hand, squeezed my fingers lightly. "We can leave."

"I think it's a little late for that, Connor."

His eyebrows furrowed, his eyes dark and searching. "It's never too late, Alaska."

"Whoever made that up is an idiot."

We continued on in silence for a while, our feet making light thudding sounds on the sick-coloured linoleum, the bright overhead lights casting eerie shadows of our slowly drifting figures onto the floor. I tried not to look sideways where the wards were stuffed full of the pregnant, the sick, the dying lay castrated in their beds. However much I tried to put it out of my mind, every patient reminded me of Connor's mother. The innocence. The vulnerability. It made me feel sick to even think of her in a place like this. This was somewhere people came to die. This was where Isaac's mother had passed. This was the place where he had taken one last look at his her, at that face that was so still, so peaceful, so... calm. The eyes pale and milky with sea water. The cheeks crusted with salt. The hair, hanging long and limp down the side of her slender neck tangled with remnants of seaweed braided in between. I closed my eyes. How it must be hurting Isaac to be kept in the same hospital that, only ten years ago, he had watched his mother die. 

Suddenly, Connor's voice was at my ear. "Alaska."

​We were at reception. The young woman seated at the desk tapped her electric pink false nails irritatingly. "Yes?"

"Isaac Reynolds."

The woman raised one pencilled eyebrow. "And you are...?"

"His friends. Best friends." Connor licked his lips and pushed back his copper hair attractively. "Please. We just want to see how he's doing."

I watched as the girl hesitated, then relaxed. Her eyes sparkled with elation as one of Connor's long, slender hands rested on hers, stilling the tapping. She flicked back one strand of bleached blonde hair. "Ward Seven. Ten minutes."

"You're a star."

The woman giggled as Connor threw one last gorgeous lopsided smile in her direction as he led me away, by the crook of my elbow. "Sorry," he said, "that was shameful. I won't do that again."

"At least it got us in." I leant closer into Connor as we walked up another flight of stairs. His delicious, comfortable scent washed over me and I breathed it in, sighing. Connor's lips were at my neck. "What's wrong?"

"I can't do this." The words that came out sounded thin and scratchy. Connor noticed the crack in my voice and stopped, taking me by the shoulders and holding my gaze so I couldn't look away. 

"Listen to me. Everything's going to be okay. It's going to be just fine. Don't worry about..."

And that's when I saw him. My eyes, in that one second of momentary wander, had caught the sight of him; that skinny, pale, coffee-eyed boy lying propped up in the hospital bed, sad eyes fixed straight ahead, his long waterfall of liquorice hair hanging limp and lifeless along his cheekbone. Isaac's mouth was set in a straight, hard line, and it quivered, slightly. My eyes drifted down to his skeletal hands that were rested in the creased folds of his hospital gown, clenched together, the knuckles white as snow. He looked tired. Defeated. As if, after everything he had been through, he was giving up. I turned to face Connor. "If you've done this to him..."

"Alaska." Connor lifted my chin with a cold finger. My anger began to evaporate with his touch. "He's done this to himself."

For a second I just stood there, staring dumbly at the door to the ward, my body completely rooted to the yellow flooring. Just a moment ago, I had been angry at Isaac. Furious, even. One kiss. That was all it had been. It sounded so trivial. Insignificant. Stupid. Looking at him now, his blank, hollow eyes staring emptily at the whitewashed wall, I mentally slapped myself. After all we had been through, I had ended our friendship this way. 

Connor had evidently noticed the change in my expression. The grip on my hand tightened. "All right," he said. "We've seen that he's okay. Let's go."

"Hold on. You were the one who forced me to come here in the first place."

Deep, creviced worry lines appeared on Connor's forehead. "I thought..." he stopped, closing his eyes. He let out a long, tired, breath. "I thought he'd be..."

"Unconscious?" I snapped, "Dead?"

"You know that's not what I meant," Connor said pleadingly, "please. Don't be angry with me."

"I'm not. Just wait in the relatives room, will you?"

An unmistakeable wave of hurt washed over Connor's face. "What? You're actually going through with this?"

I stole a glance into the sun-bathed ward to our left. A nurse dressed in crisp, powder-blue was bending down to Isaac, her hands clasping his warmly, her soft, melodic voice speaking soundless, soothing words to her patient. Isaac didn't respond. Didn't even look at her. His eyes seemed dead, unresponsive. Empty. I turned to Connor, and noticed that he was staring too. "I don't have a choice, Connor."

He sighed. The murmur and defeated sink of his shoulders that followed was a clear indication that Connor understood. I watched as he sloped off back down towards reception, the sleeves of his black shirt scrunched up around his elbows, his hands stuck deeply into his pockets. I let out a shaky breath. This was it. No turning back.

The world turned into a blur as my feet carried my body into the ward. All the noise, all the chatter, all of the beeping sounds that pulsated and surged through the hospital quietened to a soft buzz as I came face to face with Isaac, the soft sunlight that now came dappling through the windows and streaming through the glass doors of the ward lying reflected in a puddle at my feet. When I finally looked up, I realised that my eyes were filling with tears. "Isaac." There was nothing more to say. Nothing I could say. My heart shattered into a million pieces as, for the first time, I realised that a part of Isaac had died inside. And, at the same time, most of me had died with him.

Isaac stared at me with a look so confused that, for a moment at least, I wondered whether he had who I was. Then, as the realisation came gradually pouring back into his eyes, I finally grasped what had happened. As soon as Isaac had arrived at hospital, he had done nothing but try to forget me. Just as fiercely as I had tried to forget him.

"Alaska."

It killed me how brittle his voice sounded. Isaac licked his lips, heaved himself up in bed, wincing in pain with the effort. "Don't," I interjected, "please. This won't take long."

"I didn't think you'd come," Isaac began,"I thought you..."

"What? You thought I'd hate you?"

There was an uncomfortable silence. Isaac looked at me under a curtain of his dark hair, hanging thin and greasy down to his shoulders. "What question do you want answered first?"

"Why did you drop the charges?"

Isaac made a noise that was sort of in between a laugh and a cough. "Ella persuaded me that Connor was right for what he did."

"He wasn't right, Isaac." I gestured around us to the ward in which Isaac was currently bound. "None of this is right."

"But I deserved it though, didn't I?"

I closed my eyes. Isaac's slow, heavy breathing sounded louder and louder in my ears with every passing moment. "Okay. Next question. Why are you still in here?"

"They're waiting for space in the psych unit," Isaac answered easily, his bleak eyes penetrating hard into mine, "They're calling it depression." He said it like a dirty word. "I call it being fucking miserable. Same bloody thing. They don't listen in here."

My hands grew clammy. A cold sweat broke out on my forehead. I couldn't take anything in. My throat had dried up to the point that I had to make a special effort just to get the words out. "Does Ella know?"

"She's pretending she doesn't. It's fine. Doesn't really bother me."

"Does she visit you?"

Isaac scoffed. "Hardly. But why would she, when this was the place she had to watch Mum die?"

"I thought you had forgotten."

"Alaska." A muscle jumped in Isaac's jaw, and he swallowed, all the tendons in his face clenching with the effort. "You don't forget something like that."

My eyes drifted around the rest of the room, taking in the atmosphere like a spoonful of thick, pungent medicine. A congregation of worn-out, faded 'Get Well Soon' cards hung suspended like morbid decoration across the pale window frame. Isaac's gaze followed mine. "Don't you have another question?" He asked, carefully. "Like, why I did it?"

I turned my face away. "I don't care. I don't want to know."

"Yes you do." The tone of his voice was hard, bitter. "You want to know if I'm still gay."

I could feel my head shaking, slowly side by side, as if I was trying to tell myself that none of this was actually happening. "You're gay, Isaac. You always have been."

"No!" His fist landed hard on the cast iron bed post. His eyes were alive now; fierce and terrifying and glistening with angry tears. "That's just what you chose to believe. That's what you've been telling yourself ever since Lily was raped. You were trying to keep yourself safe."

"No, Isaac. No..."

"Yes, Alaska." His voice was dripping with venom. Cracked. Raging. "You thought I was the only guy you could trust. The only person you would let be close to you. Not even your own father..." He broke off, shook his head disgustedly. "You lived with me, remember? After what happened, you blamed everyone. Blamed everyone else for your mistake."

The tears were pouring incessantly now. Isaac, for the first time all morning, was sitting bolt upright, his face taut and indignant, his jaw clenched, his eyes glittering with perpetual anger. Isaac wasn't finished.

"You know what the worst thing is, Alaska? I believed you. Every single word you said. I thought you were sorry. That you were shocked at what happened to Lily. But now I know. I know who you really are."

My voice was thick with tears, my vision blurred and murky. "Why are you saying all of this, Isaac? What have I done to you?"

"Your ignorance." He spat the word out like a wad of phlegm. "How you didn't even notice what Carter was like until it was too late." His chest heaved more oxygen into his cadaverous stomach. "Or maybe you did. What do we really know about you?"

"We?"

"It could have been Ella. Or a kid from school. Or anyone."

"That's not my fault."

"Maybe not." Isaac pulled at the thin material of his hospital gown. "But it is your fault that you didn't do the checks on your current criminal love interest."

"What are you talking about?"

"Connor." Isaac swallowed, his hands jumping to his throat as if to help the lump subside. "Someone had to do their research."

I stood there numbly, letting Isaac's words wash over me like the tide, coming in to take the bad stuff away. But life wasn't like that. This was real, staring at my straight in the face, forcing me to listen.

"Connor," Isaac continued, his watery mahogany eyes glinting in the sun. "He's not who he says he is."

"Don't, Isaac." I hated how my voice was suddenly hard, threatening. "Don't go there. I'm leaving."

"Alaska!"

A cry. A wail. Whimpering. I looked back around. Isaac lay there, his hair matted and sweaty, sticking to his dewy forehead, his arms thrashing into the empty air, reaching for something. Reaching for me. Clawing everything that he had lost in the past ten years back to him, wanting them to keep him safe. I watched helplessly as a handful of nurses and doctors ran to his bedside, held down his quivering frame.

"I can't do this! I can't live like this anymore!"

Those words echoed around the ward like a death sentence. But now, I was no longer the victim. 

"I want to die!"

It was my friend. My best friend. Stuck in a system of files and doctors and social services, in a hospital where his own mother took her last breath, at risk of losing everything he had ever lived for. 

Everything was slipping away. 

"I think it's time for you to go, love," a red bob-haired nurse said to me, softly. "This happens quite a lot. Not your fault. I just don't want him upset any more than he already is."

I felt myself stepping back towards the door, my legs made of lead, a cold sweat building up gradually on my neck and temples. I couldn't breathe. My best friend was broken. In a few minutes, everything in my life had fallen apart. And it had only taken one person for that to happen. 

My vision was blurred as I made my way out of the ward. The hallways seemed colder now, endless. The smell of death was suddenly more pungent; the floor an even yellower yellow. 

Isaac was gone.

But he had still blamed me. 

The last thing that I ever heard Isaac say to me was when I had gotten past that first, difficult couple of steps that forced us further apart than we already were. The words were strong, resounding down the corridor. Desperate.

Calculated.

"Alaska! I'm in love with you."

 

 

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