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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31. XXX

It was nearly the end of another long day. Huge, luminous clouds had been looming over Seaview all day, and every single time I had looked out of the window light spatters of rain covered the glass decoratively. The end of the week hadn't come soon enough. As the final bell resounded throughout the corridor I opened my locker, shrugging on my rain jacket as the hall filled with shouts, chatter and loud, hooting laughter. I felt a hand at my shoulder and turned around, it was Lily. Since starting college, Lily had changed a lot. Gone were the luxuriously long, mermaid-like locks she had sported ever since I could remember; Lily had cut her hair into a short, cute, pixie-style bob. It suited her too, it made her look younger, and the short curls of hair that lined her cheekbones shaped her face delicately. Her radical fashion sense had died down a little too: today Lily wore jeans alongside a loose-fitting checked shirt and converse. The most abstract change, however, was the fact that now, after almost five months of anger, upset and pretending that the other didn't exist, Lily and I were best friends again. After the funeral, it had happened almost simultaneously. Suddenly, everything that had happened before seemed insignificant. Meaningless. Almost as if the pain I had experienced with Isaac's death somehow cancelled out all the wrongs I had done to Lily. Maybe she had finally realised how terrible I felt for what had happened to her that night. It was just sad that it had taken Isaac's death to change that. 

"So, anything exciting planned this weekend?"

I smiled at Lily weakly over my locker. "Not really," I said. "Unless you count two essays and a ton of reading as fun."

"Same." Lily nudged me in the ribs, her coffee eyes glinting. "But Connor's picking you up today, isn't he?" I noticed that she made a conscious effort to brighten her voice. 

"Yeah, I guess." My locker swung closed with a bang. "It's not what you think, though. We're going to see Ella."

"Oh, Alaska." The multitude of faces around us seemed to evaporate for a moment. All I felt was the hard grip of Lily's fingers on my arm, the only sound her comforting voice, the one thing visible to me the warmth of Lily's burnt-sugar eyes. "Was the last time you saw her...?"

"The funeral. Yep." I let my gaze sink down to the ground. "I don't even know if she wants to see me."

"Hey. You, Ella and your Dad were the three people closest to Isaac. Of course she wants to see you."

I mumbled unintelligibly, pulling the collar of my jacket closer around my neck. When Connor had first mentioned the proposition of going to visit Ella, I had just gone along with it, if nothing solely for Connor's sake. Ever since Isaac's death, Connor had been the lynch target of the town. In Seaview, nothing too violent could ever happen to anyone in broad daylight, but Connor had received enough death stares and malicious notes through his letterbox to know that he was no longer welcome in Seaview. Somehow, everyone knew about the contestation between Isaac and Connor, and what had happened that 

And with that, Ella took Connor into her arms, rubbed his back with her hands. Her eyes were glistening with unfilled tears. Her perfect red lips were pulled tightly into a straight line, as if to hide the emotion. It seemed like the longest moment before she released him, and she brushed a hand against her eyes before gesturing us to follow her into the kitchen. "Coffee, or tea?"

Even though I had visited the castle countless times throughout almost the whole of my life, for so many times I couldn't even remember, it felt different. This wasn't the same castle where I had spent so many lazy Sunday afternoons playing video games with Isaac, or the garden where we had drunk homemade lemonade until our stomachs hurt, or spent hours in the wood-panelled kitchen perfecting our signature cream scones. This didn't feel like the same place where Isaac had held his crazy house parties.

This place was different. 

It didn't seem like the same castle where, just a few months back, brightly coloured garlands had been strung over the vintage peaked ceiling, neon lights had decorated the dark, starless night, teenagers had danced and laughed, their bodies blurring together as the music thumped and pulsated endlessly. 

As we made our way through the murky entrance now, all of that seemed to evaporate around us. There was no life in the castle, anymore. Whilst Isaac was alive, it was him who had brought happiness to what would normally be a dark, miserable place to live. Now that Isaac was dead, it had reverted back to that state. Isaac had taken all the life from the castle with him.

Connor and I sat down in two wooden chairs at the huge mahogany dining table whilst Ella made the coffee. The kitchen was just as vast and magnificent as I remembered it, though there were pale, photo-frame shaped silhouettes on the floral wallpaper where it was clear Ella had taken action to remove memories of her dead brother from the house. The blank spaces were eerie, and the absence more obvious. Connor kicked me under the table, then gestured with a flick of his head up to the peaked ceiling. A stray piece of neon orange paper fluttered desolately. I swallowed, my throat closing up. Every little reminder of Isaac was like a separate stab in my chest, a tightening of the noose that was permanently around my neck.

Ella turned around with a steaming pot of coffee and a plate of fresh scones with a pot of cream. Another memory. Another stab in my chest that demanded to be felt.

"How's college?" Ella asked me, her quiet voice ringing through the silent kitchen. I began pouring the coffee slowly, not taking my eyes off the pot. "It's okay, I guess."

"Made many friends?"

"Not really. It's hard to, you know, after..."

Ella nodded, her soft eyes understanding. She turned to Connor. "How about you?"

"I'm taking some time off. Studying at home. At the moment the police said that going to school would be too dangerous."

"Oh, God. Sorry, I forgot." Ella placed her hand on Connor's. "Before Isaac died, I had no idea that the people here in Seaview were such vultures. They'll do anything for someone to blame."

"I think it's more than just a scapegoat, Ella," Connor replied, cooly. "People want to hurt me. Nothing I can do or say is going to change their minds about who they think I am."

"It doesn't matter what they think." Ella's voice had taken on a harsher tone. She looked at Connor with a fierceness I had only ever seen her direct at Isaac. "They didn't know Isaac. They don't know you. No one knows for sure what Isaac was feeling, or why he did what he did." Ella sighed heavily. "It might have started because of what happened at the barbecue. It might have been because of Lily's rape. It might have been because of you and Connor together."

"Ella," I interrupted quickly. "Did you know that Isaac was in love with me?"

There was a silence for a moment. Ella's eyes were downcast, her fingers were knotted together in her lap. "Of course I knew."

"How long?" I hated the fact that my voice was breaking. I tried to stop the pooling of helpless tears in my eyes, but my attempt was fruitless. 

"Scarlet, please..."

"How long?"

Ella raised her head to look me straight in the eye. "I found out the night of the Hawaiian party."

I let out a shaky breath. "That was months ago. Why didn't you say anything?"

"Please, Scarlet," Ella begged, "he didn't want me to say anything." She rubbed a hand over her tired eyes. "God knows, if I knew what was going to happen, I would have told you straight away. If I had known you were with Connor..." She stopped talking for a moment, exhaled loudly, a solitary glassy tear rolling slowly down her cheek. "He told me he was going to tell you himself, at the party. He was going to tell you everything. I believed every word he said. How stupid of me. If I had known that he was going to let it get that far..."

"He tried." My voice was a hoarse whisper. "In the kitchen. I think that he was going to say it then. I didn't listen."

He took my hand, holding it to his heart. I was overwhelmed at the gesture, it was something he had never done before. "Alaska, I need to ask you something, and I want an honest answer." Then he dropped my hand. "What's the point? You're not even listening."

"I'm sorry, Isaac, I am..."

"It's not your fault," Connor cut in quietly. "You weren't expecting that."

"Scarlet," Ella added, "the worst thing you can do is blame yourself. Believe me, I know what it can do to you. I'm sure Connor knows, too. The best we can do for Isaac now is to keep his memory clean. No secrets. No lies."

I took another sip of the dark coffee, allowing the warmth to slip down my throat and fill my body with comfort. Connor linked his fingers through mine slowly, then raised his eyes to meet Ella's. "How do you do it?" he said. "Stop yourself from going crazy, I mean?"

Ella's dark eyes crinkled. "You have to look forward. After Isaac died, I found it hard to imagine me living a life without him in it. It seemed selfish. What gave me the right to be happy when my brother was dead?"

From a distance, I could just about hear the muted roaring of the waves crashing up against the cliff face where the castle was perched precariously. It was peaceful. Tranquil. Therapeutic. 

"But soon enough I figured that wasn't going to change anything. Me living a miserable life just because I felt guilty wasn't going to bring Isaac back. Nothing was. What's the point of wallowing in something that's never going to change?"

​"So what now?" Connor picked up another scone. "What have you done? To move on, I mean."

"The castle's on the market," Ella began with a small smile. "Once me and Jamie are married, we're going to move somewhere smaller. With less memories." She held up her left hand where a beautiful stone-encrusted ring glittered and shone in the muted sunlight. I smiled a proper smile for the first time in the past few months, and I meant it. "Congratulations," I smiled. "When did Jamie propose?"

"About a month ago. He figured I needed the distraction. Just bad timing I guess. We both really wanted Isaac to be there, planning the wedding with us, choosing the music, making the invites."

"He will be there." Connor's voice piped up quietly. "He'll be watching. He'll be with you."

There was nothing more to be said. After we had cleared up the tea things, and said our goodbyes to Ella and the castle, Connor and I began making our way back to his car, glittering with the Cornish rain that had fell that afternoon. Dusk was just beginning to close in on us, and the buttery-gold sun was just beginning to sink behind the huge cliff face, the beautiful pink-orange light reflecting on the dusky green hilltops that decorated the landscape. Connor and I would go back to mine tonight. We were both tired, and at the moment I could think of nothing better than sinking into bed, with Connor by my side, and drifting at last into a deep sleep. For the first time in months, I finally felt at peace. Like all the ends had been tied up. All the guilt had been lifted off my shoulders. I knew now that I was no longer culpable. I let out a breath, tasting the sweet, salty air of Seaview. This was the taste of freedom.

"Scarlet!"

Ella's shrill cry echoed around the courtyard and I turned around, Connor's arm draped around my shoulder. Ella came running out from the huge double-bolted doors of the castle and through the wrought-iron gates, a snow-white envelope clutched in her hands.

"I almost forgot to give this to you."

I frowned, peering at the spidery script, where 'To Scarlet' was scrawled almost unintelligibly on the front. It was obviously Isaac's handwriting. "What is this?"

"If I'm honest, I have no idea." Ella's eyes were wide. "I found it last night, in Isaac's room. It looked like he was planning to give it to you. Or at least for you to find it."

With trembling fingers I took the envelope, pressed it against my nose to see if it carried the faintest trace of my best friend's scent. "Do you think it might...?"

"Yes." Ella's grip on my forearm was tight. In her eyes was a rush of urgency, like a last, final hope. An ultimate desire for answers. For the truth. "I think this letter might explain everything."

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