This is chapter one. What happens to Cerys here has great significance later on in the story, but you also get to see Cerys being ‘real’ and then completely faking it. That’s something she does a lot.
The songs referred to throughout this book can all be found on YouTube or at https://squigglyballpoint.wordpress.com
Thursday 25th July
For the second time in my life I was convinced that I was going to die. The difference this time was that I wasn’t alone. It wasn’t the waves breaking above my head, or the shock of the cold, or even the temporary blindness that had me paralysed with fear though, it was the water in my lungs and that feeling of not being able to breathe. I must have opened my mouth to scream as I fell overboard but instead I’d taken in a whole lungful of water on my way under. I couldn’t catch my breath at all and it was terrifying. There was no room for air; just the pounding of my heart in my ears and a desperate choking panic.
To be fair, I had a lifejacket on so I didn’t stay under. I came back up to the surface almost instantly, but without being able to breathe it didn’t make much difference. I thrashed around helplessly trying to find the boat again, but the wind and current had already whipped it away from me. I could hear shouts, but with the lifejacket puffed up around my face, I had no idea which direction they were coming from or how far away they were now. Spots popped in front my eyes and I wasn’t sure if it was from the lack of oxygen, the bang to my head or a full-on panic attack.
But just when I thought I was about to pass out or die, I felt the creak and slap of the dinghy as it swung round behind me and someone grabbed hold of my outstretched arm and pulled me backwards. My shoulder hit the side and strong hands grabbed my lifejacket and hauled me in. The boat rocked violently but stayed upright and I landed in a heap on the deck, shaking and gasping. My rescuer smacked me on the back until I retched onto the floor. Not cool. Definitely not attractive. But I’d never been so thankful to get a lungful of air in my entire life.
“Thanks,” I coughed, and took a glance up at him. His name was Charlie and luckily he was a big, strong guy; strong enough to haul a wet teenage girl out of the sea, anyway.
He was also married to Ingrid who was crouching just behind him. She looked concerned. They were a completely loved-up young couple who, for some inexplicable reason, had decided to book a sailing holiday in Scotland for their honeymoon. I was in the same boat as them for the equally inexplicable reason that I’d agreed to go on holiday with my parents again this year. They were somewhere ahead of us in another boat and I prayed they hadn’t been watching. Death by drowning must be absolutely horrific, but death by ritual humiliation probably wasn’t much better. I leant back against the side, sucking in air until I thought I might hyper-ventilate. My head was throbbing and I felt dizzy and sick from the bang to my face.
Ingrid knelt down by my side still looking worried. I think she was asking if I was OK. I’m sure she meant well but right then I really needed her to back-off a bit. I just nodded and made a move to get up. I was fine and I really didn’t want her to start making a fuss. Or at least if I wasn’t fine, I was totally going to fake it until I was.
“Yeah, I’m good. Thanks. Sorry. I just lost my balance when we rounded the headland. I didn’t expect the cross-wind to be that strong.” I winced.
“You hit your face too.” Ingrid reached to touch my temple but I jerked my head away.
“It’s OK!” I lied. I can’t stand people making a fuss. I knelt up carefully and managed a weak smile, glancing nervously over to the other two boats in the distance. Neither of them seemed to be heading back towards us so with any luck they hadn’t noticed a thing.
“Well, you frightened the hell out of me!” laughed Charlie. “Capsize drill isn’t till tomorrow, right?”
I was truly grateful for his attempt to laugh it off and smiled shakily back at him. I still felt a bit unsteady but to be fair we were drifting in the middle of the bay in a strong wind so it might not have been entirely to do with my nerves.
I made a tentative move forward to take up my position again but they both insisted that I sat back down where I was. They probably thought I was too much of a liability to do anything else. Normally I would have argued, but to be honest I was still feeling a bit weird, so I tucked myself as far out of the way as possible and just let them get on with it.
It was early evening and the sun was just starting to dip towards the highest mountains. The other boats were turning towards the landing beach so we nosed around and followed them in. The wind that had come up out of nowhere had died down completely again now and the sails flapped idly. I glanced back at the stretch of dark water behind us. It seemed deceptively calm now, but a shiver ran through me which had nothing to do with the cold. That had been such a freak accident, completely out of the blue. It gave me a bad feeling and I couldn’t shake the sense that things could easily have been so much worse if Charlie hadn’t been able to reach me when he did. If I’d been on my own I could have died. That was a stupid thought though. I just wasn’t cut out to do water sports. Either way, my mind snapped back to the present. I needed to come up with a plan, and quickly.
“Would it be Ok if we just didn’t mention this to anyone?” I asked casually.
Ingrid looked sceptical.
“My mum will just get upset,” I continued. “She’s a bit over-protective and she might try and stop me coming out tomorrow. I really want to pass the course at the end of the week.”
This was a complete lie. My mum knew I could handle myself, and I couldn’t have cared less about getting my Elementary Sailing Certificate.
The truth was I just couldn’t deal with the fall-out. If I told my parents what happened they’d be concerned again. They’d start asking if I was OK in that over-careful tone of voice. They’d be checking for injuries and watching me for the rest of the week to see if I was really alright and not just faking it. I’d been through quite enough of that in these last few months and there’s no way I was going to put myself through any more of it. Besides, they needed a break too.
Sometimes you just want to be anonymous. Sometimes you just want to slip under the radar. That was why I’d agreed to come on this stupid holiday in the first place.
Of course my plans didn’t work out completely. They rarely do. By the time we’d moored up, the others had already gathered around the Land Rover on the road above the beach. Our sailing instructor Richard didn’t miss a trick.
“What happened to you?” he called as we trudged back up the shale slope. Everyone, including my mum and dad, turned to stare at me as I dripped my way towards them.
“Oh. So funny!” I shouted over to them. “I wish you could have seen it. We got stuck on a sandbank back there and I had to push us off. I shoved the boat too hard and, well, as you can see, I kind of fell in. Totally went under. It was hilarious!”
I cast a sideways glance at Charlie who jumped in right on cue and backed me up like a complete pro.
“Yes, I feel bad. It should have been me really. But she insisted. Does she get extra marks for effort?” He asked.
Then I caught sight of Ingrid walking behind him, looking from him to me in total disbelief. She hadn’t quite figured out that her face was a complete give-away and I silently willed her to catch on. But she looked like a woman who’d just found out that her new husband could fake it almost as well as I could. It was kind of funny and despite my strung out nerves I had to bite my lip and stare down at the floor to stop myself from laughing. I’d have to apologise to her for this later. Being an ‘A’ level drama student has its perks after all, and there have been times in my life lately when it’s come in very handy if only because I’ve learned how to lie through my teeth whilst keeping a completely straight face. In fact, if I ever failed to get a job in the future I could probably make it as a professional poker player.
Richard didn’t look totally convinced though, but if he doubted that I was telling the truth he didn’t challenge me about it. Maybe it happened all the time. Or maybe he just didn’t fancy taking on an emotional eighteen year old girl right then.
“OK then,” he hesitated. “You didn’t hurt yourself at all?
I shook my head.
“And the boat’s OK?”
I nodded fervently.
“Right. Well then. No harm done I guess. I don’t suppose you brought a change of clothes with you today though, did you?”
“No.” I winced inwardly. He just had to bring that up, didn’t he? “But it’s OK. I’ll be fine till we get back.”
My mum looked skywards for a second but had the sense not to comment. This was embarrassing. They’d been reminding me about it every day this week and I never remembered. I’d just assumed that I’d never do anything as stupid as fall out of the boat!
Luckily the Land Rover was one of the old ones with wooden bench seats up each side so no-one was going to mind it getting wet. I climbed in last and squashed myself up by the rear door hoping I could make myself invisible for the short trip back up to the house. My dad kept glancing over at me but I shot him a look; one that clearly said ‘I didn’t ask to come on this stupid holiday so don’t even go there!’ and to be fair he didn’t. I might not show it but I love my dad sometimes.
At least the drive back took my mind off things. The scenery was stunning. The dark waters of the loch, which had seemed so deadly only a few minutes before, were now almost a flat calm with just a few ripples blowing over the surface. The scudding clouds were sending shafts of sunlight across the water and the mountains on the far side of the bay were turning beautiful shades of purple and blue as the sun dipped away behind them. Even though it was the height of summer it was quiet out here, and calm. It was nothing like South London. I took a breath and tried to relax.
The road followed the side of the loch for about half a mile until we turned off to the right up a steep wooded track that led onto the lower slopes of the mountains. We drove past a dense copse of trees before turning into a large clearing with a gravel driveway which opened out in front of the house.
I was still amazed at how lovely it was. The house itself was modern but beautifully understated and had been designed by the semi-retired architect, and his wife Connie, who’d started the sailing school here a few years before. It was half built into the hillside and the wooden timbers had weathered over the years so that now it blended in so well that it was almost invisible from the road below. The main part of the house was a huge single open plan living space on the first floor, like a barn conversion, with storage rooms built in underneath and a detached double garage in the gravel driveway at the side. The family bedrooms were at the back and a wide balcony circled round the front three sides so that you could look out over the trees and get a glimpse of the loch below. An open flight of stairs led up to the front door on the first floor. This was where we met for meals and down-time in-between the sailing lessons, but we were staying in one of four wooden cabins which had been built for the guests, just out of sight up around the bend.
As it turned out, Connie’s husband had died only a year after the sailing school opened, but she had been determined to keep it going in his memory. She hired a sailing instructor, offered holiday jobs to her son and his friends when they were home from college and advertised sailing courses and painting classes.
She’d told us all of this on our first evening, when we’d all been getting to know one another, but so far I hadn’t seen her son or his friends. She said they’d been offered some well-paid temp work on one of the fishing trawlers at the coast this summer, and were only coming back to help out at weekends. So I wasn’t expecting to see much of them at all. They weren’t due back until Friday and we were leaving on Saturday. So when the Land Rover pulled up on the gravel driveway and I stepped down to walk back up to our cabin, I really didn’t expect to bump into them coming round the corner of the garage.
Theywere so deep in an animated conversation that they nearly collided with me as I tripped over my wet trouser leg trying to sidestep them.
“Hey! Sorry.” One them laughed and put out a hand to stop himself from walking into me. I flinched instinctively.
He was so tall that I had to glance up to catch his face. The only thing I really took in was a black biker jacket, collar-length dark hair, even darker eyes and fantastic cheekbones. I know that’s a really strange thing to notice about someone, but it certainly defined his face. He was what you’d call classically poster-boy handsome. I immediately dropped my eyes back to the floor. I couldn’t deal with this right now.
“That’s OK,” I mumbled and manoeuvred around him trying to keep my head down.
I was vaguely aware that his two friends were looking at me as well and I glanced over, caught the eye of the nearest one for just a second, and really wished I hadn’t. He wasn’t quite as tall, but had broader shoulders and dark brown hair that flopped over his eyes in a cute kind of way, except he was possibly too lean and muscular for the word ‘cute’ to be appropriate.
I was painfully aware of how I must have looked to him. He nodded and half-smiled, but his eyes didn’t linger on me. Why would they? I didn’t care though. Truly didn’t care. If he looked straight through me that was a bonus as far as I was concerned. I felt instantly uncomfortable and decided to make a break for it. The last thing I wanted right then was any unwelcome attention. I’d just travelled five hundred miles to get away from it.