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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33. XXXII

During the past few years, I had replayed this moment so many times in my head that now it was actually happening, it hardly felt real. My dad stood in the hall, his bare feet cushioned by the rose-patterned carpet; a huge, plastic smile plastered across his face. In one hand he held my rucksack, in the other an envelope stuffed full with dollars. "Are you sure you've got everything you need?" He eyed the small suitcase Connor was hauling down the stairs, one step at a time. "That doesn't look very big."

"Try it from where I'm standing," Connor panted.

"We're only going for two weeks, Dad," I placated, ignoring Connor as he finally staggered up beside me, my suitcase landing on the carpet with a thump. "I don't have a lot to take, anyway. You know what it will be like up there."

Even now, after weeks of planning and preparation, I still didn't think that my dad had quite got his head around the fact that Connor and I were going to LA, to go and stay with my mother. At first, he had tried to reason with us. He had used every excuse under the sun: from the distance, to the weather, to the fact that Christmas wasn't quite the same in America. But even my proud, self-reliant father could't deny the fact that he needed the break. 

The past few months had been hard on the whole of Seaview, but my dad had perhaps suffered more than anyone. While Connor, Lily, Ella and I, and all of Isaac's friends had been martyred in the local press for being so brave and helpful with the investigations that succeeded his death, my dad had been completely and utterly ignored. Ever since finding Isaac's body, he had been a different person. I hardly blamed him. For months he had fought to ignore his own feelings of grief and spend every moment of his time dealing with mine. No wonder he was days away from having a mental breakdown. It didn't help that Connor, who was normally the one who would help my dad pick up the pieces, was in the the middle of his own crisis, too.

So it had been I who, during another silent Saturday afternoon where Dad was glued in front of the football, had broached the subject of spending Christmas at Mum's. His words had been careful, measured, but I could sense that behind his controlled exterior, his mind was going into panic mode. At first, he thought that there must be a hidden motive as to why Connor and I would decide to travel halfway across the world to stay with a woman, whom I had last seen when I was six years old, and who had not bothered to come back since.

However, once I had fed him the line of wanting to get out of Seaview, escape the press and the memories they were after, he seemed to be okay with it. It was just my mum who needed convincing next. Although we exchanged emails on average once a month, and never forgot a Christmas or birthday card, we weren't exactly what you'd call close. I had always felt that she had kept in contact out of motherly duty and mere habit, rather than actually wanting to know how I was doing. Whenever I read her messages, it was always like I was speaking to a stranger, who just happened to share the same surname as me. I never connected the woman who sent the emails with my mother.

But surprisingly, this time, she hadn't been that hard to convince. Nevertheless, I still wasn't certain whether the seemingly overjoyed tone in her emails were genuine or forced through a tight, LA-whitened smile. One particular email included the contact details for a five-star hotel in central LA, with a note underneath reassuring Connor and I that 'all expenses are paid for'. I could read between the lines: even with her huge American mansion, there still wasn't room for me in her glamorous life.

If anyone had been happy about the trip, it had been Connor. For him to be able to escape, even for just two weeks, from all the people in Seaview who wanted him dead, it was invaluable. I guess Dad was relieved too, in a way. While Connor was safe in another country the other side of the world, he could relax. If anyone ever did manage to get revenge on Connor, his blood would be permanently stained on my dad's hands. Another 'accident'. Another death. Another gnawing feeling of culpability. He looked at us now, his eyes tired and patterned with creases, his worn, grubby hands clutching my rucksack with a strong, fatherly intensity not unknown to him. He needed the break. I walked over to him and wrapped my arms tightly around his waist. He squeezed my shoulder, hard. 

"Two weeks, Dad. That's all."

"I know, honey," he said, "but it's hard, you know." His icy blue eyes bore into mine intensely. "In the eleven years you and I have lived here together, I've never let you go." The long, deep sigh that followed was shaky. Broken. "I'll... miss you."

And that was the moment when I knew that Dad was being totally, and completely, honest with me. No fake smiles. No pretences. And somehow, I found myself loving him the more for it. I stayed there, my face pressed into his plad shirt, smelling of paint and tea and warmth, letting just a few tears escape. As much as I knew that it was only going to be a couple of weeks, and that I was finally going to see Mum, and that I had Connor by my side, I couldn't stop the feelings of betrayal creeping up my spine. Before, I had thought I was doing this for Dad. I had told myself that he needed space. That he wanted to be alone. However, I had convinced myself so much in my head that eventually, I had started to believe it. I had never even stopped to think and ask Dad what he wanted. Maybe, in reality, he wanted the exact opposite of what I was prescribing him. Maybe he wanted Connor and I there, beside him, making sure that he was okay. Maybe he just needed someone to talk to.

Connor could sense my relentlessness. He walked over to where I had moulded into Dad in the middle of the hallway, and ran a hand up my back, comfortingly. "Come on, Scarlet. We're going to miss our flight."

"Sweetheart," Dad murmured against my hair, "I'll be fine. I promise." 

"You'll call me?" I asked, hating how weak and pathetic my voice sounded.

"Everyday," he reassured me, "now go. Have fun. But not too much fun." His eye twinkled familiarly. I planted a last kiss on his cheek. By the time Connor had pulled out of the driveway and we were zooming down the Highway, through a tumult of thick, grey fog, I had begun to feel a little better. It took about twenty minutes for the despair to set in. Connor knew better than to say anything. We listened to the dreary patter of rain on the windscreen and muted hum of the traffic as the minutes trickled by. It was hard to imagine that, this time tomorrow, not a drop of rain would be in sight. I was happy, but sad about that all at the same time. Rain had always been a comforting, constant factor in my life. I wasn't ready to lose that, too.

While Connor wasn't looking, I stuck a hand in my pocket. Isaac's letter rustled under my touch. Even though a good few weeks had gone by, I still hadn't shown Connor the letter. And surprisingly, he hadn't asked to see it, either. It was as if Connor knew, without even reading the letter, that Isaac knew his secret. Whatever his secret was. It killed me to think that Connor was hiding something from me. But what made it hurt even more was the thought that whatever he was hiding could have something to do with the beautiful teenage girl in the frame.

Looking at him now, it was hard to believe that he could be involved in anything that could hurt anyone. I had always thought that Connor wasn't on tour with his brothers because he had to take care of his mum. But I guess we all have secrets we can't, and don't want to share. Slowly, he slid his fingers through mine, looking at me under his eyelashes. "Everything's going to be okay, Scarlet."

Yes, I thought. It would be.

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