Copyright 2016 Benedicte Parthenay
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It was where the waves met the sand that her story had truly begun. The cries of the sea birds and the salty spray across her face, the taste of grit and smell of the ocean that carried her back there every time. The wind rushed around the bay, ripping and tearing at anything it could and sent the ocean raging against the cliffs and hurtling itself against the sand. A few birds struggled to maintain their course. Winter had declared itself master; storms and cyclones bearing down on the coast of the country, unrelenting to those who tried to habit it.
It was here, in this inconspicuous bay, that June had tried to end her life and then found it again. She smiled faintly as she breathed in and watched the chaos around her, revelling in the show that nature was displaying. It was a common suicide spot as the railing around the top of the cliff suggested, large warning signs every few metres or so. June breathed into her cupped hands and then briskly rubbed them together; regretting her decision to not bring a pair of gloves. From her vantage point atop the cliff she could see the world, how small she was compared to it all. She released a sigh and entwined her fingers with some of the fencing, the wire digging into her flesh as she clutched at it.
Memories stirred themselves from the hidden places of her mind, the ones that she tried only to remember at this place. It hadn’t been like this then. There was no wind, the sky had been clear rather than the dark grey that hung over the bay today. Perfect as a painter’s landscape. June inhaled just as she had before, lungs filling up.
Warm arms had clasped around her waist and her fall was suddenly halted. Her feet scrambled for a hold as her body tried to right itself whilst still held securely by the stranger. June’s heart fluttered and raced as she gasped, sharply drawing breath as she removed herself from the restraint. She had been so prepared, she had been ready for this and now it felt like everything had gone sideways – quite literally.
‘Are you ok?’
June turned to the voice, her eyes catching only the tangle of windswept brown hair and tanned skin of the man who had saved her. She sat down on the ground, finding herself unable to stand up.
‘Uhh, I’m going to call an ambulance.’ he said uncertainly, pulling his bulky mobile from his pocket.
She stared numbly at him, overwhelmed and conflicted by her feelings: relief, anger, sadness. Her body seemed to tingle as she sat. The man knelt in front of her and she fixed her attention on his grey eyes to stop the world from spinning.
‘The ambulance is on its way. I’m going to stay with you, my name is Rowan.’
He spoke in a quiet, slow manner to her and on any other occasion June would have felt insulted; instead she nodded mutely.
It was like a calling. She still visited the beach but avoided the cliffs, which left a bad taste in her mouth, instead sitting on the sand and watching the waves roll in. She never expected to see Rowan again, deciding his intervention was merely an act of fate and his role in her life over, so when he emerged from the water in an imitation of a Hollywood film June felt her heart hiccup and she waved at him. He smiled, wide and easy, adding a handsomeness to his face that distracted her from the crookedness of his teeth.
‘I didn’t expect to see you here.’
He took a seat beside her, sand sticking to his wetsuit as he did so, his surfboard rested on the ground beside him. June pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them, a timid smile on her face as she replied. ‘This beach means a lot to me. I keep coming back to it, willingly or not.’
The conversation drifted off much like the tide from the shore and June turned her attention to the horizon. A comfortable silence settled over the two. Although Rowan was still a complete stranger to her, the fact that he had saved her life seemed to make that bit irrelevant. She hesitated before she turned to him suddenly. ‘I never thanked you. For saving my life. Can I buy you a coffee some time?’
‘Sure, that’s cool with me.’
It felt good to be impulsive again, fearless. She pulled her mobile from her pocket, handing it over to him.
‘You don’t have to wait in here, you know.’
June stood in front of Rowan holding a Styrofoam cup of water in her hand. They were in the waiting room at the psychology clinic and he looked uncomfortable. He was out of his element, the surf and sand had been traded for cream walls and blue carpet. Rowan had overdressed, she hadn’t had the heart to tell him he could walk in as casual as he liked. She felt touched that he had even agreed to take her into the clinic.
‘I promised your mum that I would.’
June frowned and took a seat next to him, passing him the cup and taking his other hand. She liked the differences in their skin and how their hands seemed to fit together. He still smelt like the sea. He was careful around her, probably because he knew how far she had been willing to go.
‘You shouldn’t let her get her way too often,’ she said lightly.
‘She said the same thing about you.’
Their eyes met and they shared a smile. His fingers danced along her skin gently, playing a rhythm. June looked at the people arriving and leaving but she could still sense his eyes on her. She heard her name and she stood up, releasing his hand. He held on to her fingers. She looked at him.
‘You’re fearless, you know that?’
She gave a genuine smile, ‘It’s been a long time since I heard that.’
They stood thigh deep in the water. June’s arms wrapped around her mostly exposed body as she shivered, trying to listen to the instructions Rowan was giving her. The fluorescent green and orange surfboard floated over the choppy waves, rising and falling between them as he made gestures with his arms. Teaching her to surf had been his idea, something about exercise increasing happiness or something. June would have been far happier still wrapped in her sheet with his body heat warming her. She briskly rubbed her upper arms as goose bumps appeared.
‘I asked if you wouldn’t mind hopping onto the board.’
‘Oh.’ she said and shimmied her body onto the board whilst he held it still. June tucked her legs underneath her and splayed her palms across the surface, her balance unsteady. Rowan released his grip on the surfboard after a few moments and June wobbled dangerously before she capsized and tumbled under the water. She arose a few moments later coughing and spluttering, her hair stuck to her skin.
‘You’re supposed to stay on babe.’ Rowan teased as he helped her back on.
‘This was your genius idea. You know I have no sense of balance.’ June quipped back and then sucked in a breath.
The air seemed to tense up and a heavy silence fell between them. The moments before her jump played through her mind over and over again, what if’s presenting themselves. She gripped the edges of the surfboard hard and felt herself shrink.
‘I’m not ready for this.’
She was falling. Her eyes watered from the intensity of the wind against her face and she found it hard to breathe. The crash of the waves against rock echoed in her ears and she saw the cold, watery death that awaited her. June windmilled her arms in vain as the ocean rushed up to meet her and she sucked in one final breath before she sliced into the water. She struck out with one of her arms, connecting with something solid.
‘Woah! June… June!’
She let out a muffled cry as she struggled towards consciousness, her chest heaving with exertion. Rowan’s warm arms wrapped around her and she felt his lips against the back of her neck. June clenched her fists to stop her body from shaking, needing to feel the reality of the cotton threads against her skin.
‘I keep falling, I can’t stop falling,’ her voice shrill, ‘what if I’m still falling and none of this is real.’
‘Hey, hey. This is real, babe. I didn’t let you fall then and I won’t now.’
‘I can’t do this Rowan! I don’t want to live with this – this thing – these nightmares! I’m not getting better. It’s hopeless!’
‘Do you want to die?’ he asked quietly.
‘No.’ she said, the sound tiny in the dark.
‘I can’t even wrap my head around how you felt back then but June, you don’t want to die anymore. You want to live.’
June nodded her head and sank back onto the mattress. Rowan settled back down beside her, pulling his arms away and returning to the normal distance between them. Giving her space. Always giving her space.
‘Excuse me?’ Rowan said incredulously.
June looked up from the French book she had been reading and grinned, ‘ Tu es mon petit phoque. It means you are my little seal.’
Rowan picked up the French phrase book that sat next to her and lightly tapped it against her forehead, ‘Sounds like dirty talk to me. Are you actually going to use that when we go for our anniversary?’
‘Nah, think I might keep that one especially for you.’
‘You used to be such a nice person,’ he said as he picked himself off the ground and offered her a hand up. They had taken advantage of one of the nicer days to spend some time in the park, where she was less likely to end up with sand in her bed at the end of the day. She side-eyed him and he broke into the grin that she loved so dearly.
‘I am nice, I did agree to help you bring your surfboard over with us when we go. Goodness knows I feel like the third wheel in this relationship with that thing.’
He brought his hands up to cup her face and kissed her fiercely. June focused on the grey eyes like she had in what seemed like an eternity ago and bit her lip to stifle the grin forming as she gripped her hands around his wrists. He brushed his thumbs across her cheeks and whispered so that only she could hear. ‘Fearless.’
‘Courageux,’ she whispered back and closed her eyes.
June sat on her front porch, left leg bouncing up and down. The space around her was illuminated by the front light as well as the other street lamps dotting down the street. She checked her phone for what felt like the thousandth time and placed it back into her pocket. She couldn’t help but feel a sense of dread in the pit of her stomach the longer she went without a word. Everything had seemed alright when he had left at dawn like he usually did, with a whisper in her ear and a kiss on her cheek.
She unlocked her phone once more and dialled his number, pressing the phone to her ear as she chewed her lip. Voicemail again. June pulled her coat around her tighter as she stared out into the blackness, trying to make out any people walking past. Nothing. Her phone buzzed suddenly in her hand and she jumped before she collected herself and answered the call.
‘It’s Fern. June, it’s about Rowan.’
June listened in growing dread as Fern’s voice broke and she started crying. Her stomach curled into knots as she listened to the raw sobs on the other end of her phone, the words she wanted to say stuck in her throat.
‘The lifesavers pulled him out. They said he got stuck in a rip and nearly drowned. He’s in the ER.’
June let the phone drop from her ear even as his sister continued talking in gasps. He nearly drowned. She could hear laughter coming from the house next door, oblivious to anything outside their walls. Her eyes burned as tears forced their way out and she stopped herself with a shaky breath. He was still alive. June collected herself, he needed her right now, needed her the same way as she had needed him that day.
The weather was too miserable for him to even consider surfing that day, June had been adamant on that front. Part of her worried that she was being too clingy and anxious; treating him as if he was fragile. He had finally come around to talking to someone about his experience; to deal with the dreams he had of drowning. June watched him quietly as he looked out the window of their house, never feeling like he had been so distant before. He glanced in her direction and June managed a small smile as she walked over to him, holding out a mug of tea that she had made as consolation. It seemed like a hollow gesture, insignificant compared to what he must be going through.
‘Maybe tomorrow.’ she said, more to herself than to Rowan.
‘Thanks, mum.’ he quipped back as he took the mug.
June frowned slightly and began to turn away before her hand was taken in a soft warmth. Her eyes flicked down to their entwined hands and she gave a gentle squeeze.
June released her grip from the fence as she surfaced from her memories. She took a step back and brushed her hands over her cheeks, wiping away the tears that had escaped before she picked up the cloth bag she had brought with her. Her feet followed the winding path back down towards the beach, ignoring the splatters of rain that began. She had promised Rowan that she would meet him here, even though the weather was terrible and she had forgotten her gloves.
June stopped underneath one of the rocky outcroppings on the beach, the waves washing over her gumboots as she watched the birds above her before she turned her attention to a figure leaving the water. She stood in silence for a minute before she pulled at the drawstring bag and stuck her hands into its depths, removing the thick, spongy towel that she had carried with her. She held it out, the fabric flapping wildly in the wind before Rowan plucked it from her hands. He was home. The dreams of drowning had faded, she had gently encouraged him as he pushed himself in to going back into the water, swallowing his fears. It was his first time back on the water, his surfboard brushed free of the dust that had coated it. For the first time she felt a sense of freedom, felt the first tendrils of peace at her life. She only had one thing left to give him.
‘Happy anniversary.’ she grinned as she pulled out tickets from her anorak pocket.
‘You’re kidding.’ Rowan’s eyes widened as he grasped the tickets in his fingers, staring in disbelief.
‘You’d better pack your surfboard, mon petite phoque.’
He pulled her to him suddenly, arms wrapped around her tight, sea water and sand leeching into her clothes. His lips found hers and she threaded her fingers through his hair, keeping them close even as they pulled apart.
‘It still sounds like dirty talk to me.’
About the Author
Benedicte Parthenay is a newly emerging writer from Perth, Western Australia. She graduated with Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing at Edith Cowan University with interests in Children’s Literature and History. She created and writes for Not Your Average Damsels, a blog that is run by and written for women, covering a wide-range of topics. Her first published work is Snow Gum River.
Other works by Benedicte
Please visit your favorite ebook retailer to discover other upcoming books by Benedicte Parthenay:
Snow Gum River (2014)
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