Authors: Alyssa B. Sheinmel
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Classics, #Fairy Tales & Folklore, #Adaptations, #Family, #Siblings, #Love & Romance
But, my parents don’t know that. “I’ll just be gone a couple weeks, remember? Mom said I could take her car.”
“Oh,” he says. “Of course. Must have slipped my mind.”
I shrug. “It’s okay, Dad.”
“Do you need anything?” He reaches into the pockets of his bathrobe as if he expects to find something in there for me.
I shake my head. “Nope. I’ve got everything I need.” It’s the last lie I’ll tell him today. “Say goodbye to Mom for me when she gets up,” I add, and he nods and walks back to the house. I wait until he’s out of sight before dragging two of my brothers’ surfboards from the garage and loading them into the car. They’re so long that I have to roll down the windows in the backseat so that the ends of the boards can stick out the sides.
Before I get in the car, I crouch down to kiss Nana goodbye. “You keep an eye on them for me, girl. I need you to take care of them this time.”
I pull away slowly, watching the glass house recede in my rearview mirror. I turn east instead of north. Before I can head back to Kensie, I have to talk to Fiona.
“Please, Fee,” I beg. “I really think I need this time.”
We’re sitting on the terrace behind Fiona’s house, which is held up on stilts driven deep into the earth below us. Her house perches at the top of a hill, just like mine. But you can’t see the ocean from here. We’re surrounded by woods, and the air is heavy with the scent of eucalyptus trees.
“You were right,” I say. “I just need some time by myself. I’m going to drive up the coast, check into a little hotel on the water, and…” I pause, trying to think of something that Fiona will approve of. Finally, I say, “Spend some time alone with my thoughts.”
“Well, why didn’t you tell your parents that? Why did you have to say that you and I were going off on a road trip together?”
“Fee, you know what my parents are like. They’d never let me go off alone, not after John and Michael…” I trail off.
“I don’t like lying to them,” Fiona says, sitting up so straight that I imagine someone’s placed an invisible ruler along her spine. I think suddenly of the time in sixth grade when I saw a test on our teacher’s desk a few days before we were supposed to take it and told Fiona the questions. She was so excited—a guaranteed A! It wasn’t really cheating, she said, since I saw the test by accident and we were still going to have to study the answers to those questions. I played along for a while, but the morning of the test I found myself standing at the teacher’s desk, begging to be given different questions. Now, I almost smile at the role reversal.
“I know,” I say. “And I can explain everything to them when I get back, I promise. I just can’t deal with their worry right now.”
Fiona nods knowingly. “I’ll do it,” she says finally. “If they call me, I’ll say you’re in the shower or drying your hair or whatever.”
I smile and lean forward, placing my hand over hers. “Thank you.”
Later, Fiona walks me to my car.
She pulls me into a hug, and I squeeze her tightly, sorry for lying; sorrier still that I can’t tell her the truth.
The scent of eucalyptus is replaced by salt water as I drive from Fiona’s neighborhood down to the ocean. This time, I drive straight past the lookout parking lot and up a curving road to the cliffs above, where the houses sit.
The road winds around the rocks, like whoever built it was trying to disturb as little of nature as possible. When I finally reach the top of the cliffs, there’s only one house in sight, and it’s not Pete’s. I step on the brake and let the car idle. I must have made a wrong turn. But how can I have made a wrong turn? There was only one road.
The house in front of me looks a lot like Pete’s. It’s the same house—the same design—except for the fact that it’s not quite so run-down. Someone must have repainted it recently; this near the ocean, exposed to the salty air, homes aren’t usually so smooth and bright. There’s a car in the driveway, a navy blue truck, the bottom half of which is covered in sand. Looking at this house, I’m certain that in its backyard is a pool filled with gleaming blue water. I can almost taste the chlorine.
Suddenly, the garage door begins to open. I pull right into the driveway, along the passenger side of the truck. I just need directions down to the beach from here. I open my door, careful not to hit the side of the truck. It’s obvious that the person who owns it takes good care of it.
I can hear some whistling on the other side of the truck, hosing the sand off from the driver’s side.
I see his feet first; bare and dark tan. They grip the concrete driveway the way a surfer’s feet grip a board.
“Excuse me?” The guy stops whistling and steps out from behind the truck. He’s young and startlingly handsome; his eyes are bright blue, and his dark hair is still wet from this morning’s surf. He’s wearing only board shorts, damp with spray from the hose.
“You headed for the beach?” he asks.
I nod. “Yeah. I thought I was turning into the lookout, but I ended up here.”
“You surf?” he asks, glancing at the boards sticking out of my car. He smiles, his eyes as clear as a Siberian husky’s.
I shake my head. I’ve always thought that you could tell just by looking at me: I’m not a surfer.
“Not really,” I answer. “Not like you,” I add, gesturing to the collection in his garage. It’s big enough to fit at least two cars inside, but instead it’s filled to capacity with surfboards. I’ve never seen so many surfboards in my life: stand-up paddleboards that seem three times my height, shorter boards that look kind of like water skis or snowboards, with salt-stained foot straps and sharp fins that I’ll learn later are for tow-in big-wave surfing. There is even one hydrofoil board, something I’ve only ever seen pictures of in my brothers’ magazines, plus a beat-up Jet Ski painted camouflage green. And there are dozens of traditional surfboards, ranging from about six to nine feet.
He breaks his gaze with me long enough to glance behind him at his collection. “Those,” he says, shrugging. “Haven’t used most of those in a long time.”
He bends down, picking up the hose and turning it back on, turning back to his truck. He uses the hose to point. “You can take the stairs down to the beach if you follow that road.”
I look over my shoulder in the direction he’s pointing. You’d never know there was a road if someone didn’t point it out.
“Not much of a road,” I say.
He shrugs. “Yeah. Nowadays no one much drives in that direction, so the reeds kind of took over. You’ll make it though,” he says, gesturing to my SUV.
“Right,” I say, opening my car door. Before I pull away, I roll my window down.
“Thanks,” I shout to him.
“For pointing me in the right direction.”
He shrugs and smiles easily. “You’ll have to let me know whether it turns out to be the right direction or not.”
The road leads to Pete’s driveway. Technically, it leads to the stairs, but the stairs up the cliffs snake up behind Pete’s house, so I find myself parking just outside his driveway. I could have pulled all the way into the garage; the door is wide open and the room is empty, the complete opposite of the house I just left behind.
I consider knocking on Pete’s door. Maybe he can help me. I shake my head, get out of my car, and head for the stairs, climbing down to the beach, bringing my notebook with the photo from my brothers’ room with me.
Once on the beach I can see that there’s no denying it: the photo is an exact match. Standing on the beach, in front of the wooden stairs, I hold up the photo. I compare the stairs in the picture to the stairs I’ve just descended. They’re identical. My brothers were here.
“Whatcha looking at?” says a voice I already recognize. I spin around and see Pete, soaking wet, emerging from the ocean, his board balanced on top of his head. He grins at me; he seems actually excited to see me. I guess Belle didn’t tell him that I stopped by the other night, that I know all about them.
I slip the picture back into the pages of my notebook. “Nothing important,” I say carefully.
“Want to head out?” Pete asks, gesturing toward the water. “The waves are amazing today.”
I look out at the ocean. The waves do look amazing;
, just like my brothers said. My heart starts to pound, adrenaline swirls around my belly. I do want to head out there. Badly. But I can’t. Not now. Not with Pete. Not after he lied to me. And not when I finally know where to start the search for John and Michael.
“I didn’t come back here to see you, Pete.”
Pete’s grin vanishes.
“I know you lied to me,” I add.
Shock creeps up his face like a rash. It’s strange to see him looking so rattled, this boy who seems so constantly at ease.
“Wendy, I can explain.”
“Explain what? Belle already told me.”
“Belle told you?” He sounds genuinely panicked.
“Why did you kiss me the other night when you have a girlfriend?”
Pete’s face falls. He hesitates for a split second before he says, “I didn’t—”
“Don’t try to deny it.”
, Pete.” I spit the word out like it tastes sour.
“I didn’t lie.”
“Seriously?” Can he really still be trying to deny it?
“I mean—I’m sorry. I can explain about Belle.” He steps closer to me, shadows darkening the planes of his face in the late afternoon sun. He reaches out and takes my hand in his. I try to ignore the electric shock that thrums through my body at his touch. “Please let me explain.”
I wrench my hand away. “I don’t feel like listening to any apologies right now.”
“I’m not sorry,” Pete says.
“I’m not sorry I did it. Things between Belle and me—they’re complicated, but the truth is, we were together for all the wrong reasons.”
I press my hands together, trying to rub away the memory of his touch. “
Pete nods. “Yeah. I broke up with her.”
I swallow. “Look, I don’t want to be a home wrecker…”
Pete smiles, and suddenly I’m furious.
“Is this just some kind of joke to you? Am I a joke?”
“Of course not,” Pete says quickly. “It’s just funny to think of you as a home wrecker. You probably have a nicer home than any of us.”
I don’t say anything.
Pete shakes his head. “Look. You’re not breaking up anything. Things went wrong with me and Belle a long time ago. But maybe it took meeting you for me to finally face it.”
I take a deep breath, trying to ignore the warmth that creeps up from my belly at his words. “It doesn’t matter,” I say softly. “You’re not the reason I came back here.”
“Why did you come back here?”
Pete shakes his head. “Wendy, I told you—”
“I know, I know. You don’t know them. But they
“How do you know that?”
“I found a picture of Kensington in their room,” I say proudly. “
. They surfed this beach.”
“Just because they were here once doesn’t mean—”
I cut him off. “Someone here might remember them.”
I think he’s about to contradict me, but instead he says, “Okay. Let me help you.”
I’m surprised by his offer, but despite everything I’m not about to turn it down, either. After all, he’s the only person I know in Kensington, and I have to start somewhere. “How can you help?”
“Well, for starters, I can give you a place to stay here in Kensington.”
“What, at your house?”
“Were you planning on camping out down here at the beach?”
I shake my head, but the truth is, I haven’t planned much of anything at all.
Pete smiles when he realizes I’m considering it. “There’s plenty of room,” he says, heading in the direction of the stairs. I can’t think of a better idea, so I follow him.
“Just one thing, Wendy,” Pete says.
“We’ll have to make sure it’s cool with everyone.”
“What do you mean?”
On top of the cliffs, I get in my car, and this time I drive right into Pete’s driveway. He lifts my duffel bag from the backseat, where it’s wedged beneath John’s and Michael’s surfboards.
In Pete’s living room, sitting on a beat-up couch, are three boys I recognize from the bonfire my first night here, their hair soaked from the sea, surfboards strewn on the floor around them. Perched on top of the kitchen counter off to the side of the room is Belle, her board lying flat beside her. It’s at least twice as tall as she is.
Pete and I have barely stepped inside the front door when Belle says, “What’s she doing here?” The other boys look from Belle to Pete to me, waiting for an explanation.
Before Pete can say a word, I begin speaking.
“I’m Wendy,” I say, avoiding the angry look in Belle’s steely gray eyes. “I’m— I’m just looking for a place to crash.” I haven’t forgotten what Pete told me the day we met: his friends won’t exactly warm to me if I show up and start peppering them with questions. Maybe if they know me first, if they think I’m here for my own reasons, they’ll begin to trust me.
“Why?” Belle says. “You look like you’ve got a nice plush home to crash in somewhere.”
I nod. “I do. My parents’ house down the coast. But I just can’t take being around them right now. It’s been a really rough year at home. My parents—they’re in a bad place, and I’m…” I pause. “I am, too, I guess. I just needed to come somewhere a little bit…” I bite my lip, looking out the window at the setting sun. “To get away, I guess.”
I take a deep breath, before I add, “And I want to learn to surf.”
The three boys glance at one another, then at Belle. Finally, one of them asks, “Why do you want to learn to surf?”
I smile. “Because I took a wave the other day, and now it’s all I can think about. I even dreamed about it.”
The boy breaks out in a grin. “I’m Hughie,” he says.
“Nice to meet you, Hughie,” I answer.
Beside me, Pete speaks up. “Listen, guys, I think we should let her stay.”
“Of course you do,” Belle mutters.
“It’s not like that,” Pete says, and much to my surprise, Belle stays quiet. “We all came to Kensie because we needed to get away from something. Or find something.”