Authors: Jamie Blair
LOST TO ME
Published by Jamie Blair
First Edition: August 19, 2014
Copyright © Jamie Blair, 2014
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Dedicated to first love.
ALL IS LOST
My toes tunnel in the sand, seeking solace from the scorching heat. Waves crash onto the beach, echo in my head, and attempt to soak the memories I carried here to drown. But they float to the surface, always resilient, claiming prominence in the forefront of my mind.
I’d once been ashamed of the small birthmark sitting like a strawberry-shaped beacon on my right cheek. Now, I can’t remember why I was so embarrassed by it, or why it ever mattered.
A little girl in a pink polka dot bikini runs by, chasing a sand crab. She looks up and catches sight of me. A look of fear—no, sheer terror—crosses her face. She points and starts screaming. Her mother runs to her side, looks at me, smiles a mortified apology and leads the little girl away.
I pull the brim of my straw hat down further and open a paperback in front of my face. Tears slip from my eyes and roll down my cheeks over the ridges of red scars that bloom there. The doctor says they’ll fade in time. It’s only been a month. Some of the stitches inside aren’t even dissolved yet.
I shouldn’t feel sorry for myself. At least that’s what everyone says. I’m alive and lucky to be. But, I can’t help it. I had everything.
Why me? Of course, that’s the ultimate question that runs rampant through my mind. I’ve spent hours upon hours the past month going back over everything, trying to reason myself through this.
Three words echo in my ears and in my nightmares.
Be careful Lauren.
The words my mom shouted down the stairs as I dashed out the door to meet Kolton.
Be careful Lauren.
I lean back on my beach towel exposing my body to the harsh sun. My goal: to make the rest of me as red as my face. Maybe that will help disguise the scars so I don’t scare any more little girls. I close my eyes to the sun and a glowing red fills the inside of my eyelids.
The color of the blood.
I open my eyes and sit back up. My prom dress had been red, too. I only remember flashes of that night, but one image sticks in my mind—blood dripping from my face and chest onto my silk dress and seeping in. A flawless match of color.
I lie on my stomach and rest my head on my arms. The little girl is calm again under a beach umbrella, digging in the sand with a purple shovel. I close my eyes. There’s no red this time, just darkness. The movie reel of prom night starts to loop, as it always does and always will, when I close my eyes.
It starts with the first time we went out, almost two months ago, on spring break in Virginia Beach.
I wiggled and flexed my feet with my legs dangling over the side of the pier. The sharp edges of the wood planks dug into the backs of my knees. With my elbows propped on the railing, I shifted trying not to get a splinter as I focused my camera on the dolphins swimming past.
Three dorsal fins surfaced. Three sleek black backs arched. I pressed the shutter button and captured a continuous set of pictures, three frames per second while the dolphins dove back under the waves and reappeared.
I lowered my camera and scanned back through my shots. They weren’t bad, but none were contest-worthy. Photos of dolphins were too common to enter anyway.
“Hey. You can’t sit with your legs hanging over the edge.”
I glanced up through squinted eyes, trying to see the guy standing beside me with the sun at his back. “Says who?”
He knocked on the flotation device he held under his arm. “Me.”
Floatie, red swim trunks with a white stripe down the side—I jumped up. “Sorry. I didn’t realize you were a lifeguard.”
He smiled and leaned against the railing. “What gave it away?”
He nodded to my camera hanging around my neck. “Get any good shots?”
I gazed out over the water to where the dolphins had been and shrugged. “Not really.” When I looked back, he was studying me. I lowered my head, fiddling with my camera, swinging my hair down the sides of my face.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
I met his piercing blue eyes for a second before I had to shift mine away. “Lauren.”
His hand ran over the top of his intentionally messy dark hair, and he tilted his head like he was trying to remember something but couldn’t recall it. “What’s your last name?”
Was I in trouble with Mr. Pier Police or something? “Kelling. Why?”
I could tell by the way he twisted his lips that something niggled at his mind. “Lauren Kelling. Lauren Kelling,” he muttered under his breath and scuffed his bare foot on the pier. When I pushed my hair back behind my ear, he focused on the birthmark on my cheek then lifted his chin and smiled. “You have a cottage down on Sandbridge Beach.”
My insides froze. “How do you know?” Did I know him? He kind of looked familiar.
“Lauren Kelling. You wore a bathing suit with ladybugs all over it when we were little.” He relaxed against the railing laughing at my expression, which had to be one of confusion if it matched what was going on inside my head. “You don’t remember me?” he asked.
I ran my eyes from the top of his head down past his eyes, over the faint sprinkle of freckles on his nose. I took in his smile and the dimple it made at the corner of his mouth.
The dimple gave it away. “Kolton?”
He laughed and nodded. “Yeah. You remember now?”
“Yes, I remember! How are you?” I couldn’t stop staring at him. It had been so long since I’d seen him—since we were kids.
“Good. How’ve you
been?” Kolton stepped forward and took me into a quick, awkward embrace. My camera pressed between us. He smelled like coconut tanning lotion and saltwater. “You still live in Fredericksburg?” he asked.
Kolton let go, and I stumbled forward. He held my arms and steadied me. “Thanks,” I said. I felt stupid for tripping, and when I blushed my birthmark was always more noticeable. I reached up and covered my cheek pretending to scratch it. “Yeah, we’re here for spring break.”
“Cool. You’ll be here all week then?”
“Until Sunday.” I remembered him pushing a yellow Tonka truck through the sand when we were little and me stomping my foot in his way making road-blocks.
“What?” he said. “What are you smiling about?”
“Do you still have your yellow truck? What did you call it? Stinger or something?”
“Speeder. ” He rolled his eyes, teasing me. “Why would I call it Stinger?”
“Because it was yellow like a bee. Bees have stingers. Stinger would’ve been a much better name for it.” He laughed, and his eyes trailed over my face.
I looked past him and scratched my cheek again, leaving my fingers to linger as a birthmark cover. “Well, since you’re in charge, the soda machine over there took my money but nothing came out. What can you do about that?” I pointed to the vending machine across the pier.
“I got this,” he said. I watched as he went up to the machine, jabbed the coin return twice and rocked the machine back and forth. Then he came over to me, handed me my Diet Coke and four quarters. “You just have to know how to work it.”
“I guess you do.” I opened my soda and watched my finger trace the letters through the condensation on the cold can.
My phone alerted me to a text message. I checked it. “That’s my mom. She’s here to pick me up.” I started to walk away, slow and reluctant. “Thanks for helping with the soda. I’m sure I’ll see you around.”
“Sure. Hey, what are you doing later? Want to get pizza with me? I’m off in an hour.”
I opened my mouth to answer
but instead shrugged, knowing I’d have to answer a million questions before I was allowed. “I have to ask my mom.” I pulled a piece of paper and a pen out of my bag and jotted down my number. “My sister’s on her way here with my niece and my brother-in-law. I’ll ask if we have plans tonight. Give me a call in like thirty minutes.”
Kolton folded the paper and squeezed it in his hand. “Thirty minutes.”
I waved and tried to not to look too terrified about our possible date—if that’s what it was—and jogged down the pier.
I trotted up the steps of our cedar-sided house on stilts to the front door, plastic grocery bags dangling from my hands. The waves rolling behind the cottage past the sea grass crashed and hot wind blew sand through the air, stinging my skin. Sandbridge Beach was my favorite place on earth.
Mom and I stood in the kitchen putting groceries away. She pointed to two packs of Diet Coke and bottles of water on the floor by the door. “Can you put those in the fridge?”
“Yeah.” I stooped down and hefted up the big pack of water bottles.
“Get any good shots at the pier?”
“Not really.” I tore open the plastic and pulled two bottles out. “I ran into someone I used to know. Remember Kolton from when I was little?”
“Kolton Seidel?” she asked. “The little boy with the brown curly hair? I’m surprised you recognized each other. It’s been a long time.”
I loaded the water into the fridge. “I didn’t recognize him at first. He knew me though.” My birthmark was something people didn’t normally forget. “He asked me to go get pizza with him in a little while. Do you mind?”
I didn’t miss the quake in my voice and held my breath as she shoved a box of crackers into the already over-stuffed cupboard. I was afraid she’d say no, but I was afraid she’d say yes, too. I wanted to go more than anything, but just thinking about it make me so nervous, I could die.
“Where does he want to take you for pizza?” She delved into another grocery bag, trying to be nonchalant about this interrogation.
“I have no idea. Probably not Toronto though.”
She spun to look at me, confused. “Toronto?”
“Yeah, you know, in Canada?”
She smirked. “Lauren, I think it’s important to--”
“Mom! It’s just pizza, and you know him. You know his mom.”
“It was a long time ago.” She rubbed her forehead and sighed. “Amy, Dave and the baby won’t be here for a few more hours. I guess you can go. I want you back by nine and don’t you dare have your phone turned off.”
“Thanks, Mom.” I took a few more bottles out of the pack of water and noticed my hands shaking as I placed them on the bottom shelf. “I feel like I’m going to puke. I mean, we’re just friends, but I don’t really know him anymore.”
“You’ll be fine. Don’t be nervous. Tell him about your photography and ask him what he likes to do.” Mom wadded up the grocery bags.
As I stacked the soda in the fridge, my phone rang. A nervous thrill ran through me. I told myself it was just Kolton—just the boy I used to be best friends with.
“Do you want me to answer that?” Mom asked, eyeing my phone on the counter, a knowing smile forming on her lips.
“No. I’ve got it.” My hand shook as I pressed answer on the screen. “Hello?”
“Lauren? It’s Kolton.”
“Hey.” I bounced on my toes, leaning against the counter.
“Can you go?”
“Yeah, I can go,” I said. “What time? Do you want me to meet you somewhere?” I hadn’t thought about asking Mom to borrow the car. I glanced over at her, but she was pretending not to listen.
“I’ll pick you up. How about in an hour?” he asked. Behind his voice, men talked about fishing and seagulls squawked. He was still on the pier.
“I’ll be ready. We live--”
“I remember. See you soon.”
We hung up, and I bounded up the stairs. There were four bedrooms and mine was right at the top of the steps. My suitcase sat on the end of my bed. I flung it open and started tossing out clothes. Shorts and t-shirts lay strewn all over the white, eyelet quilt, and bathing suits dangled from the brass headboard. I knew I had the perfect outfit somewhere, and I was manic about finding it.
I wasn’t sure why, but when I thought of Kolton now, after seeing him again, it was different than any other time I’d thought of him over the past ten years. I’d always wondered what happened to him, but I couldn’t picture him older than eight, the age he was the last time I saw him. He remained frozen in time, like the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny, just someone magical from childhood.
The nervous twinge in my stomach told me he still had his magical effect on me, but in a more grown-up way.
After a quick shower and blowing out my hair, I tugged on a pair of jean shorts and a light pink sleeveless shirt. Standing in front of the mirror in the bathroom, I cursed my wretched birthmark. All the expensive makeup in the world couldn’t hide the hideous splotch beneath my eye. I doubled up on my concealer; hoping and praying it would make a difference tonight.
“You look nice.” Mom stood just outside the bathroom door.
“I look like crap.” I threw my bottle of cover-up back into my makeup bag. “I’m not going.”
“Lauren, calm down.” She placed her hands on my shoulders and looked in the mirror, into my eyes. “The only person that birthmark bothers is you.”
We both turned our heads to the sound of a car pulling into the driveway. My stomach dropped.
She kissed my cheek. “Go have fun.”
I took a deep breath, ran my fingers through my hair and traipsed down the stairs. An older, black mustang sat in the driveway below. Kolton was climbing the outside steps to the door. The sight of him in tan cargo shorts and a blue polo that matched his eyes sent a smile to my lips, and a flush of heat through my body.
“Bye, Mom! Be back later!”
“Bye,” she called. “Be careful, Lauren!”
“Okay, Mom.” I rushed out to meet him before I was faced with inviting him in and subjecting him to a game of twenty questions.
“Hi,” I said. My smile shook with nerves. His short, dark hair was gelled into an intentionally messy style, and his blue eyes narrowed with his grin. He smelled of sun, salty air, and a hint of spicy cologne.
“Hi.” He held out his hand and took mine. “You look great. You didn’t have to change.”
Embarrassment made my face hot. Kolton thought I went to a bunch of trouble to look nice for him. And I did, but he didn’t need to know. “It was a long drive. I wanted to freshen up.”