Anything to make this less embarrassing.
Clearing my throat, which was no easy feat when it burned like I’d swallowed a shot glass full of wasabi, I tried to stick as close to the truth as possible.
Which was the best I could do, since I wasn’t exactly good at lying. I could pretend with the best of them (especially to myself), but actually looking into the face of someone I cared about and flat-out lying—no, I totally sucked at that.
“I’m not exactly sure what happened. One minute everything was fine and then my legs went out from beneath me and the undertow caught me. Pulled me down.” It wasn’t exactly the truth, but it wasn’t a lie either.
Again her face danced in front of my eyes, but I pushed it away, told myself that I was being stupid. My panicked mind had conjured her from leftover nightmares—she was no more real today than she had been six years ago when I had gotten tangled in a kelp bed at midnight. And yet, she’d seemed so real that I couldn’t help wondering …
Forcing a smile, I looked into Mark’s searching eyes and saw echoes of the same fear and anger and adrenaline that continued to race through me. “Hey, thanks for saving my life, by the way. I appreciate it.”
He didn’t say anything, but the glare he shot me told me to quit while I was ahead.
I chose to ignore it. “Seriously, though, I’m fine now.” I met each set of concerned eyes in turn, then pushed lightly to my feet. It was a relief to find my body once again under my command—such a relief that I just might have been able to pretend those frightening moments, when I’d been sure I was going to die, had never happened.
I glanced around for my board, was thrilled when I saw it lying, discarded, next to Scooter’s. “Thanks for catching my board, man,” I told him with a smile.
He flashed me his lady-killer grin in return, though his green eyes still showed a little worry. “Are you kidding me? I couldn’t let it get toasted—it’s a Brewer.”
The reverence in his voice as he said Dick Brewer’s name was just one of the many reasons Scooter had never kept a girlfriend for longer than a few weeks—despite his gorgeous face; sexy, sun-streaked blond hair; and laid-back personality. But the simple fact was, no girl had ever meant half as much to him as catching a really good wave.
Now, that wasn’t to say that I was knocking his awe for my board. It was incredibly sweet—especially since my dad had had it custom designed for my sixteenth birthday by one of the original, and best, surfboard gurus of all time. The fact that it was purple and orange—as well as perfectly balanced and formed—only made it that much sweeter.
The idea that in a week it might be completely useless made me dizzy all over again.
“True.” I nodded at him, making sure to keep my face serious as I headed for my board. “But thanks, anyway.”
“Where do you think you’re going?” Mark asked as he came up behind me.
“Home.” I glanced at the clouds. “It looks like the sky’s going to open up any second. Besides, we’ll be late if we don’t hustle.”
My words got the guys moving, exactly as I had intended them to. Most of us were already on probation for tardies—and though we didn’t mind wasting away in detention if it meant catching some really great waves in the morning, it was sacrilegious to waste the afternoon surf for any other reason.
Even if that reason was my near drowning from bizarre and inexplicable circumstances.
After assuring themselves that I really was all right—for about the zillionth time—the rest of the guys scattered, leaving Mark and me alone on the beach. As I looked into his concerned face, I had the sinking feeling he wasn’t going to be anywhere near as easy to get rid of as the rest of them had been. So I did what any self-respecting girl would do—I grabbed my board and booked it.
My house was just across the street from the expanse of loose sand we were standing on, and suddenly I wanted nothing more than to get inside. To get as far from the ocean and Mark and what had happened as I possibly could. To have a few minutes alone so I could figure out exactly what had happened—and what I was going to do about it.
“Hey, wait up,” Mark called, but I continued walking across the sand in a long-legged stride that was nearly a run, my surfboard bumping against my hip and thigh as I led a one-woman charge for my garage.
I was going to cry, I just knew it, and the last thing I wanted to do was break down in front of Mark. I never, never, never cried in public and I wasn’t going to start now—not even if, in this case, “public” was the boyfriend who had just saved my life.
I knew I owed him a lot, knew he deserved more than for me to just dump his ass on the beach and run, but I felt like I was going to explode. Stuff like this wasn’t supposed to happen yet. I wasn’t ready for it, hadn’t prepared for it.
Not that there was really a good way to prepare for drowning, but still. I needed more time and I should have had it. My seventeenth birthday was still over a week away. I’d spent the last year dreading February 27, and now it was turning out all that focus on a date was for nothing. My body—or at least this thing inside of me—wasn’t playing by the rules.
I had just reached the sidewalk at the edge of our driveway when Mark’s hand closed around my elbow. It was big and cold and wet, his fingers slightly calloused from years of carrying and waxing his board. For a second—one long, frightening second—I imagined what it would be like to sink into him.
To not fight.
To just be.
But since my mom left, I’d made it a point not to depend on anyone—except maybe my dad. It’s too easy for someone to leave, to just walk away without a backward glance. Even Mark. Maybe especially Mark, since we’d broken up so many times before. Yet now, today, I wanted his comfort more than I could ever remember wanting anything.
Except leaning on him wasn’t exactly fair—not when I couldn’t tell him the truth. Not when my whole life could change in the blink of an eye, as today had proven.
Maybe, after the next few weeks or months were over … after all this just went away (please, God, let it go away)—maybe then I could relax enough to let my guard down with him. Until then …
I sighed. Until then, I had to hold it together. Keep the freak-outs to a minimum and my boyfriend’s questions at bay.
“Chill, Tempest.” He smiled at me then, that surfer-boy, endless-summer smile of his that had had young hearts all up and down this long stretch of coast beating too fast for as long as I could remember. Even mine.
“The guys are gone and you don’t need to put on the whole big, bad attitude for me.” He stepped closer, crowding me in that way he had that either thrilled or annoyed me, depending on my mood. Today it angered me, because it was accompanied by a look that said he was going to push until he got answers, and after my tumble, I wasn’t sure I was up to evading him. ”You’ve got to be pretty shaken up—I know I am.”
He had no idea just how shaken up I was, and I had no idea how to tell him. How could I when I’d worked so hard to make sure he never knew the real me? Never knew the secrets I kept hidden inside myself, secrets that I couldn’t share with anyone.