Read Sand Jewels (The Wishes Series) Online
Authors: GJ Walker-Smith
Part of me wanted to run inside and lock the door. Any man who put his life on hold for the sake of his bratty younger sister was a little off kilter. A bigger part of me wanted a repeat performance of the night before. There was something special about Alex Blake, and I wanted to hang in there long enough to find out what it was.
5. SICK DAY
For someone who’d claimed not to like secrets, I was enjoying ours far too much. I saw Alex every day, usually more than once. He was a creature of habit. I’d wake up every morning and make a beeline for the lounge room windows. Without fail, I’d see him hundreds of yards off shore chasing waves.
Despite the fact that it screamed stalker, I’d gone as far as buying binoculars so I could get a better look. I liked studying Alex. The man with a wildly complicated home life found complete solace in the ocean.
The evil sister did too. I liked to study Charli as well – when she was half a mile off shore and I couldn’t hear her.
Their routine was always the same. She’d trail behind her brother, paddling hard to get to where they needed to be. Eventually Alex would stop and let her catch up. He led her through the ocean the same way he led her through life, always stopping to let her catch up.
Alex’s take hadn’t been so poetic when I mentioned it to him. “She’s only small, Gabs,” he replied. “It’s a long way to paddle.”
As much as she grated on me, Charli really didn’t impede on the time I spent with Alex, probably because she knew nothing about it. We’d steal a moment in the mornings when I went to the café for coffee and thanks to Charli’s out of control social schedule, most weekends were our own.
Wednesdays were not usually our day so I was surprised when Alex turned up at my door just after eight o’clock.
“What are you doing here?” I asked, grabbing his hand and pulling him through the door.
Alex pulled me in and kissed me as if it had been weeks since we’d seen each other. “I have the whole day planned,” he murmured. “Let’s go.”
Breaking free of his hold on me, I giggled. “I have to be at school in twenty minutes.”
“Are you sure?” he asked, drawing out the words. “You don’t look very well.” He put his hand to my forehead. “You might be coming down with something.”
I brushed his hand away. “Really?” I asked, playing along.
“Yes. You should call in sick, just to be sure.”
I’d never faked a sick day in my life. I wasn’t even sure how. Alex obviously had a few ideas. He coached me through the phone call before I’d dialled the number.
Tiffany, the school’s admin assistant answered. I coughed a little bit, explained how ill I was and told her that my lessons were in a daily planner on my desk. She didn’t even question it. Instead she wished me well and told me to get better soon.
I felt horribly guilty, right up until Alex pulled me into his arms and promised me a wonderful day.
“Where are we going?” I asked, trying to remain upright as he pressed his lips to the side of my neck.
He straightened up and smiled at me, doing nothing to help me hold my ground. “We’re going to the beach.”
I felt a little deflated. I loved to look at the beach – or paint the beach. Trudging along it and getting sand in my shoes held no appeal.
I linked my arms around his neck and gave my best pouty look. “We could just stay here for the day,” I suggested.
He swooped down and kissed me hard on the lips. “Nice try, sweetheart. Let’s go.”
A day at the beach was bad enough but what Alex had in mind was much worse. I knew it wasn’t going to be good when he started unloading gear from the tray of the Ute.
When he handed me a black wetsuit, I began to panic. “What do I need this for?”
He glanced back at me, grinning. “We’re going surfing,” he replied casually. “You keep telling me that you can’t see what all the fuss is about. I’m going to show you.”
“No, no, no.” I grabbed his arm in a plea for understanding. “I don’t surf.”
Perplexed by my panic, he stopped what he was doing, turned around and took my face in his hands. “I’ll teach you. The water’s perfectly calm and this will keep you warm.” He patted the wetsuit he’d given me.
Alex was nothing if not persistent. Despite my protests, we ended up at the water’s edge just a few minutes later. I looked to the sky, praying for a massive storm and then thought better of it. It would probably spur the adrenaline junkie on even more. When he started pulling on his wetsuit, I knew I’d reached the end of the line.
“Let’s go, Gabs.” He reached behind his back, dragging the zipper upward. “Chop, chop.”
I shook my head. “No. I refuse.”
Grinning slyly, he stalked through the sand toward me. “You refuse? I’m offering to let you in on the secret of universe and you refuse? I’m gutted.”
“What secret?” I scoffed.
“Peace,” he swooped his arm around me and pulled me in close, “love, harmony, all that good stuff.”
I was feeling perfectly peaceful until he’d dragged me to the beach.
“No. Let me go,” I demanded. “This very minute.”
Alex didn’t let me go. In a move I could never have predicted, he scooped me up and began carrying me toward the water. By the time we got there, I was rigid with fear.
“Stop,” I whimpered, “right now.”
Finally picking up on my terror, Alex stopped dead in his tracks. He lowered me to my feet and I crumpled in a heap on the sand, sobbing like a little girl.
He sat down beside me, pulling my head against his chest.
“What’s wrong?” He sounded as panicked as I felt. “Tell me.”
I swallowed hard, trying to get the words out. My first attempt sounded like gibberish so I tried again. “I can’t swim.”
Big masses of water that looked like they could swallow me whole incited immediate fear. It was irrational and embarrassing and something I’d never been able to conquer.
He pulled away from me and lifted my chin, chasing my eyes. “Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked softly.
“It never came up,” I muttered, still struggling to pull myself together.
There was nothing I could do to stop the tears rolling down my cheeks. I felt pathetic.
“I am such a dick,” he muttered, brushing my cheeks with his thumbs. “I’m so sorry, Gabs. I had no idea.”
“It’s okay,” I replied. “I never told you.”
My secret was out. I wasn’t the fearless warrior princess a man like Alex probably wanted. I was a wimpy spoiled princess with a penchant for books about art and expensive shoes. If he’d dumped me back at my cottage and run for the hills, I wouldn’t have blamed him. But Alex didn’t run.
He took me back to the cottage and straight to bed, which is where we stayed for the rest of the day.
I loved my job with the exception of one particular class. The rowdy group of year elevens I faced that morning were a motley bunch. A handful of students actually wanted to be there but the majority saw my class as somewhere to pass time – a bludge session, as they called it.
I walked in and quickly scanned the room. I could gauge how difficult the hour was going to be based on who’d bothered to show up. Almost half of the class seemed to be missing. It didn’t even upset me anymore.
“Right,” I announced, slamming a book down on my desk. “Eyes to the front.”
Everyone twisted in their seats, giving me the impression I had control of the room. It was fleeting.
Charli Blake strolled in the door a minute later. I didn’t particularly care that she was late. What riled me was the fact that she said nothing by way of excuse or apology. She just ambled down the aisle between the rows of desks as if she was the queen of the whole world.
“Stop walking,” I ordered.
A pin drop could’ve been heard as she slowly turned back to face me.
“Why are you late?”
She shrugged. “No reason.”
“Well, considering that you have no respect for my time, I’ll assume that you’ll have no problem sharing some of yours with me this afternoon,” I told her. “See you in detention.”
Her already big brown eyes grew wider. “Today?”
After thinking it through for a long moment, the obnoxious girl waved her hands, bowed down and curtsied. “As you wish, Mademoiselle.”
As expected, her juvenile display earned her a round of stifled giggles from her teammates.
I loudly shushed them, demanding silence.
Charli continued on her way, pulled out a chair at the desk farthest from mine and sat down. I braved her baleful glare for the rest of the hour. Never before had a student rattled me the way she did.
I never told Alex about her antics. It would only serve as more worry for him. He’d confided that the evil sister was wreaking more havoc than usual of late and he had no clue why. I certainly had no answers for him. As far as I was concerned, she’d always been an insolent witch.
When Charli failed to show up for detention, I knew I had no choice but to clue Alex in. I’d planned to tell him when he came for dinner the next night but the second I opened the door to him, I knew there probably wasn’t going to be a good time to broach the subject.
“What’s the matter?” I asked, grabbing his hand and pulling him inside. Alex looked completely broken. I expected to hear something truly dreadful. He didn’t even kiss me. He trudged across to the centre of the room, leaving me hanging.
I closed the front door and leaned my back against it as if I was barricading us inside. “Say something, please,” I begged.
After a long minute of silence, he flopped down on the nearest sofa, rested both elbows on his knees and buried his face in his hands.
I moved to sit beside him.
“Some days I have no clue what I’m doing,” he muttered.
I gripped his wrist, unsuccessfully trying to pull his hands free of his face. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“How am I supposed to deal with her? Do you know, Gabi?” he asked desperately. “If you can give me any insight into what the hell spins through the mind of a sixteen-year-old girl, I’d love to hear it.”
I let go of him and slumped back in the cushion. “What has she done?”
I shouldn’t have sounded as irate as I did, especially considering the story he went on to tell me was so tragic.
“She was supposed to stay at Nicole Lawson’s last night,” he choked. “Imagine how it felt finding out that she spent the night at Mitchell Tate’s dive of a shack.”
“She told you this?” I asked warily. I couldn’t imagine Charli volunteering that kind of information, especially to Alex.
He finally lifted his head to look at me. “No. Jasmine told me. She couldn’t wait to bring me up to speed,” he said bitterly.
My mind reeled as I tried to come up with something supportive to say. “Alex, I know that – ”
He jumped off the chair and cut me off with a disgruntled growl. “She’s sixteen, Gabrielle! I could understand it if she was in a relationship with him but there was nothing!” he ranted. “It’s all around town. Why would she do something like that?”
He looked absolutely stricken. I had no answers for him. I forged ahead anyway, trying to calm him. “It will pass. Gossip is always fleeting.”
He spun back to face me. “Do you really believe that?”
No, I didn’t believe it. I had a sinking feeling that Charli Blake had just committed social suicide.
I didn’t see Alex again that weekend. He spent two days holed up with Charli at home. They didn’t even go to the beach. My heart broke, and not just for him. I’d been in Pipers Cove long enough to know it was going to take Charli years to live down the mistake she’d made.
None of us were immune to errors in judgement and a dose of humiliation can be a great driving force when it comes to moving forward. The problem was, I didn’t think sixteen-year-old girls had the wisdom to see it.
No one expected her to show up to school on Monday, least of all me. I expected fifth period French to be the toughest for her. It was the last class of the day and from what I’d heard at lunchtime, the torment had been constant since nine o’clock. Year eleven French was the worst of the worst as far as wretches go.
If she’d failed to show up, not even I would’ve blamed her – but she did show. I wanted to leap of out my seat and offer her an armed escort as she walked in the door. She looked terrible – the kind of look that comes after crying solidly for two days.
The whole room fell silent as Charli slowly took the walk of shame down the aisle to her desk at the back of the class. I thought she’d pulled it off until a boy cowardly called her a slut and tried masking it with a fake cough.
“Who said that?” I demanded.
No one owned up. I felt the best plan of attack from there would be to quickly move on. I ordered them to take out their books and copy the notes on the board.
Charli sat down trying her best to appear unaffected by the cruel words. I knew better. She was blinking at a rate of knots, desperately trying to stop the tears spilling over. She didn’t speak for the whole lesson and made the wise move of making sure she was the last to leave at the end of class.