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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29. XXVIII

The beautifully vibrant, ruby red wine frothed and glittered majestically from the bottle held by the young waitress, first filling my glass, then Dad's. He looked at me over the silver wine cooler, where the waitress had just replaced the bottle. His eyes, a perfect, unclouded blue, crinkled. This, not forgetting my 15th birthday celebration, was only the second time my dad and I had eaten a meal at The Bush together. I didn't know what we were celebrating. I don't think Dad did, either. I think that it was just a fruitless attempt to cheer me up. When he had told me this afternoon, over another endless mug of watery tea, I hadn't even bothered to ask if Connor could join us. I knew that my dad needed this night, if anything just to keep him sane, make him believe that he was doing everything he could do to help me. Even though there was nothing he could do. Nothing anyone could do. I was beyond repair, having been glued back together one too many times, the hinges holding me together hanging loose.

Dad reached over the table and squeezed my hand tightly. "We should do this more often," he said. I murmured a reply I hoped sounded vaguely enthusiastic. The chatter swelling around us in the crowded eating area was quiet and unrelenting. I tried not to think about how empty this room was without Isaac there. Dad watched my face; I could tell by his eyes that he knew what I was thinking. "You miss him."

"No." However much I tried to hide it, my voice was weak and wavering. My eyes glistened. "I'm just worried about him." I thought about how he had blamed me for what happened to Lily. How he had screamed my name down the bleak corridor when I left him. How he had told me he loved me. That echoed around my head incessantly.

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

"That's not a crime," Dad told me. "It's okay to be worried." He took a gulp of his wine. "You and Isaac have been friends for years, Alaska."

"I know that."

My eyes wandered over to the crowd of families and couples enjoying a warm, late August evening in Seaview's best bar, chatting amicably and unaware of the broken life of the young waiter who, just last month, had been here laughing and smiling and... free. The small, buttery-gold flames of the candles on the tables reflected up into their tanned faces, knives and forks clinked together musically as they ate. Isaac would have loved this. He always liked the weekend rush, the busy, late summer evenings. He would chat to the kids and make them laugh with his stupid, tragic jokes. Everyone loved Isaac. The one thing I would regret would be that somehow, I couldn't force myself to love him the way he so desperately wanted me to. But I couldn't go back. There was nothing I could do to change anything, now. It was all too late.

Dad's phone rang.

Even though the restaurant was still surging with clamour, the ringtone still sounded piercingly and unexpectedly into the evening. For a moment, Dad's eyes locked with mine, the pupils widened like a vortex, threatening to swallow me into the deep darkness. A cold sweat broke out on my forehead.

"Hello?" Dad's voice was strained and tight. His grubby fingernails drummed listlessly onto the table. "Sorry? I don't understand..." The wrinkles he had been trying to hide for months deepened across his eyes and forehead, intensifying where his eyes scrunched together. They flashed to me, silently horrified by what he was hearing, yet sad. Unmistakeably sad. "Sure. I'll be down there as soon as I can."

He hung up, slowly, not being able to control the shaking of his hands as the phone slipped out of his grip and onto the stony floor.

"Dad?" My voice was a timid whisper compared to how I was feeling. He opened his mouth to answer me, but instead his lip trembled and he let out a long, shaky breath. "Alaska. I don't want you to panic, honey."

"Dad, what's going on?" The panic had already began to bubble up inside of me, taking over every feeling, clouding my rationality like a thick, grey smog.

"It's... Isaac."

My jaw faltered. The taste of metal oozed out in between my teeth as I bit down too hard on my tongue.

"Chris told me not to worry. Just to get down to the beach as soon as possible."

"The beach?"

"There's been an accident." Dad looked at me under his lashes, already dripping with shocked tears.

"Isaac's been in an accident?" My voice was robotic, hard. It was like none of this was happening for real. Dad reached over for my hand but I snatched it away, brought my trembling fingers to my face. "Which beach?" Like it mattered. Like anything mattered anymore.

"Duckpool."

A low moan sounded through my lips. Suddenly everything seemed unreal and foggy, like I was stuck in the middle of the worst possible dream. Tears lingered behind my eyes, but they wouldn't spill. Every single part of my body had frozen; I was completely rooted to the spot. I just stared emptily in front of me while Dad gestured shakily for the bill, then led me out into the cool, dark evening, supporting my arm awkwardly.

It was only when we got to Duckpool that I realised how very real this was. Standing there, an ambulance helicopter obscuring my view to the sea, crowds of teenagers I recognised from school and Isaac's college dotted along the sand, their tanned faces pained and tear-streaked, it was difficult to deny the reality happening right before my eyes, out of my control. As soon as we got to the water's edge Dad broke away from me and raced into the water, his shaggy hair flying back behind him, his arms flailing, spray erupting from the unperturbed ocean with every stride he took. It was then when I realised Dad's chronic fear of the sea was nothing compared to the need he felt to save Isaac's life.

There was now a crowd of men all paddling ferociously out deep into the water, the sound of their splashing contrasting horribly with the wails and cries of the teenagers on the sand. A few came and placed their hands gently on my shoulder, and I fought the urge to shake them off. Getting angry wasn't going to help Isaac. As far as I knew, nothing was going to help Isaac now. Soon enough the orchestra of noise around me faded, and only three words remained, resounding around my head like a broken record. 

Let him live. Let him live. Let him live.

An hour passed before anything changed.

When it did happen, the change was all of a sudden. Unexpected. Unwanted. Out of the crowd of male faces dotted in the sea, close to the rock everyone was saying Isaac crashed into, I spotted Dad. His hair was flattened onto his pallid face, his eyes an icier blue, wide and panicked. I could just about make out the words he was yelling towards the life guards, strapping together their kit on the sand.

"We've got the board! We've found it!"

He held up the snapped, rugged end of Isaac's long-board above his head, like a trophy. A distressed response followed from the crowd, most of them now thinking the dreaded outcome was inevitable. I turned to a girl by the side of me, her pretty, heart-shaped face stained red with tears, her arms wrapped tightly around her boyfriend, who was staring fixedly and agitatedly into the sea. "Excuse me," I said shakily, "Do you know what actually happened?"

She looked up at me. Offered a weak, watery smile. "Not really. I heard he went out deep. Got caught by the rip. Smashed into that rock over there." The girl gestured to the jagged, ink-black rock the men were combing for the rest of Isaac's board. And potentially Isaac.

"Okay. Thanks." It was hard to hide the wobble in my voice. The girl took my hand, squeezed it vigorously. "I know he was your friend. I'm really sorry."

I nodded silently, flinching at the word 'was'. I looked back, just as the girl pressed her lips against her boyfriend's neck, a fresh set of tears pouring down her cheeks. I wished that Connor was here. He would be the one holding me together; instead, I was relying on the small slither of hope that Isaac might not be dead yet. The sound of the helicopter and the shouts from the men in the sea grew deafening. I knew Isaac wasn't dead. During the next half hour, I repeated that sentence to myself so many times that I almost began to believe it.

I believed it until my dad began to scream.

"Oh God. No. No. Please God. Don't let it be... No. Not Isaac. Please, God..."

But Chris had already began to lead my dad away, supporting him as one of the lifeguards lent him a float, my dad sobbing and thumping his fist down on the foam. I had never seen him so distraught in all of my life. This wasn't just any grief. It was the grief of knowing that a young man had lost his life to something he had loved passionately. Something his mother had loved passionately, before it killed her too.

My blood had frozen to ice. All around me, people were screaming, sobbing, falling to the grey, stony sand in distress while some, like me, just stared. The reality hadn't get processed. In my head, Isaac was okay. However, the actuality of what was happening wasn't helping that.

"Where is my brother?"

The panicked yell had come from behind me. Still in a horrified daze, I turned around. Ella was racing down the beach in her strappy white sandals and a grey maxi dress, her liquorice hair flying back behind her like a jet-black cloud. Sweat poured down from her temples, her dark eyes darted between the teenagers and the rescue crew, searching for Isaac. For a moment hers locked with mine. She read my expressionless face with the kind of confusion a stranger would feel towards another. Tears began to fall endlessly down my cheeks as I broke down, wailing into my trembling hands, the reality of what was happening finally beginning to become apparent in my mind.

My best friend was dead. He wasn't coming back. I was never going to see him again.

I would also have to live with the fact that the last ever time I spoke to him, I had denied him of the one thing he had craved for the most.

Love.

But before Ella could reach me, whether to hug me or slap me, her eyes still not understanding fully, they brought out the body bag.

That was the moment that Ella understood.

I watched as she silently fell to her knees in unprecedented horror, her small, pale hands covering her mouth as tears fell soundlessly down her face in relentless rivers. I wanted to say so much to her, the sister of my now-dead best friend, the person who, having lost her own mother, had behaved so much like one to me. But there were no words. Nothing I could say would change a single thing.

They were returning the now-full body bag to the helicopter, Chris and two other men from Seaview carrying the burden my dad hadn't been strong enough to bear. Judging by the lines in the orange material, I could just about make out the shape of his body; where his broken arms stuck out distorted, cut and mangled from the sharp crevices of the rock, the long legs, the end of the bag shaped by his delicate feet. Isaac's face would be unrecognisable. Bruised. Cut. Torn. Slashed. Bloodied. The thing that killed me the most was the fact that I could probably never bring myself to properly say goodbye.

As the door of the helicopter slammed shut, the teenagers began to make their way back across the stony beach, their cries soft and quiet now, their heads leaning on whoever it was who would take them back home and make sure they were okay after the trauma of the evening. I had decided not to call Connor. It would be selfish to make him face the guilt. Somehow, we would both have to come to terms with the fact that we had both hurt Isaac irrevocably, and now they was nothing more we could do to help him.

My eyes wandered over to where my dad was sitting on an upturned rock wrapped in a towel, his eyes cold and distant, not taking in any of the comforting, gentle words of the other men. He looked broken. Defeated. Finished.

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

And that's when the world went black.

 

 

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