Undertow a compilation o.., p.12

Undertow: A compilation of short beach stories, page 12

 

Undertow: A compilation of short beach stories
 



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  “So what are we having? Do you think it’s warm enough to sit out on the deck?”

  “Lamb with new potatoes and greens. Why don’t you open the doors and see? You can look round the courtyard if you like. You didn’t see it last night.”

  “Sounds lovely.” I walk over and open the kitchen to the courtyard with one slide of the impressive wall of glass. Borders of flowers line a huge deck and gravel area. It’s closed in, so there are no views of the ocean on this side of the house. Although it’s been a warm day, the chill in the evening air reminds me that it is still spring. It will be a few months before the heat of the day carries through to evening. I retreat back to the kitchen and decide that a cosy meal inside would be a perfect end to the day.

  “Too cool?” Aeron asks as I step back in and try to close up the wall of glass.

  “I’m afraid so.”

  “Maybe later in the year, when it’s warmer?” Aeron looks up at me and I freeze at his comment. We are to enjoy each other’s company for the week I am here. Nothing more. I lower my gaze and ignore his comment. I don’t want to dampen the evening or ruin the moment by reminding him there won’t be another time.

  “Can I get a drink? Wine?”

  “There’s a Merlot open on the side. The glasses are in the cabinet to the right.”

  The rich smell of lamb and fresh mint lighten my thoughts. Aeron brings the steaming plates to the table. I look up with a smile, but shadows shroud his face. Apparently, I haven’t got the feel for his moods after all. He appears unhappy about something. I assume it was my reaction to his comment earlier. Determined not to let it ruin the evening, I load my fork and hope he’ll lighten up.

  My wine is empty before he speaks. “How was your day? I’m sorry I haven’t asked before now.”

  “I met with the real estate agent today. They will put the house on the market as soon as I can clear out a few personal things.”

  “Why do you want to sell it? It’s your family home.” I can hear his confusion at my decision in the question. Of course. He’s still living in the house he grew up in, whereas I couldn’t wait to leave Oxwich behind.

  “It’s my parent’s home. Was their home. I wouldn’t want to keep it simply because I grew up there. I haven’t been back in ages and I didn’t stay when I did visit. My home is in London and has been for years.” I see puzzlement cross his face. “My parent’s house is a simple two up, two down cottage. If it was anything like yours then I might want to reconsider selling, but even so, I’d never move back to Oxwich.

  “Do you still have friends here in Wales? People you grew up with?”

  “No, not really. Most of my friends are in London, or dotted around. I made some friends through work and I’m still in contact with a few university friends. You?”

  “Oh, I have a few close friends, mainly in London. I tend to be quite focused on my work when I’m home.”

  “So you don’t see other people much?”

  “Define what you mean by see other people?”

  “Go out, socialise, have people over for dinner.”

  “You’re here for dinner.” He doesn’t tell me any details about his friends or how he spends his free time. Perhaps that’s part of who he is. At least we’re talking now. He’s not sitting silently in his chair, brooding.

  “It’s delicious by the way. I’m guessing Welsh lamb?” I smile, teasing him. Finally, the shadows seem to clear from his face and I’m rewarded with his wicked grin.

  “I don’t care where you come from, you can’t beat Welsh lamb. More wine?”

  We continue to drink into the evening and settle into his sitting room. The wine is nearly gone and I wonder if I will stay tonight. I didn’t bring an overnight bag as we haven’t discussed it. Perhaps he’ll sweep me upstairs and make the decision for me. Thinking back to his comment about being back here in the summer to enjoy the warmer weather makes me reconsider. If he is already making plans for beyond this week, perhaps a little distance tonight might be best.

  I stretch and move to stand up, indicating that it is time for me to go home. The thought of making my way back down to the beach in the dark, alone, is a little concerning.

  “Ready to call it a night?”

  “I think so. It’s been a wonderful evening. Thank you for cooking.”

  “It was my pleasure. Thank you for brightening my day.” He moves over and cups my face in his hand, looking down with tender appreciation in his eyes. His handsome face has me swooning and I question my decision to leave. I could quite happily be whisked up to his bed if he’s going to continue seducing me with his eyes. “Come on then, I’ll walk you back. We can’t take the beach as the tide will be too high.”

  “Oh, okay.”

  We leave the house and head down the drive, which is hardly wide enough for a car. A faint glow from the moon and the yellow beam from Aeron’s torch light our path. My trip here this afternoon started out playful and naughty with the promise of the passion evident between us. Now, heaviness grows, dampening the carefree nature of our time together. Uncertainty about my week with Aeron clouds my feelings and muddles my thoughts. Keeping my heart out of our time together is proving impossible. Aeron knocks down all of my defences and forces me to consider a life I cannot have. There is no future for us beyond this week. Aeron has made his feelings about London and Oxwich clear. His reaction to me selling my family home was the final proof. For us to consider a relationship, there would be sacrifice. I’ve already given up my marriage and family. I’m not prepared to sacrifice my job. How can I when I’ve already given up so much?

  It’s a much longer walk than if we’d taken the beach, but we’re outside of The Apartments before I can fully dissect my thoughts.

  “What are your plans for tomorrow?” Aeron says.

  “I need to go into Cardiff to see the attorney and run a few other errands. I’ll be gone for the day.” Aeron shifts in his stance as the silence stretches between us.

  “I’d like to join you for a drink in the evening. Here.”

  “Of course. I’d like that.”

  “Call me when you’re ready and I’ll come down. Do you have a car to get into Cardiff?”

  “Yes, I have a rental.” Another pause and I wonder what he’s thinking to make our exchange turn stilted.

  “Okay, well, goodnight.”

  I feel like I’ve been walked home from my first date. I suppose this was sort of a date. But Aeron’s in his thirties, not a teenager. Thoughts of first dates blow from my brain as his lips touch mine. His confident and purposeful kiss clear my worry and doubt and draw me closer to him like he did earlier. I can’t hold back a soft sigh and his answering smile lightens his eyes as I pull back to look at him.

  “Sweet dreams, baby.” With that, he turns and walks back the way we came. I watch his dark shadow disappear into the night, the little yellow light of his torch carving a path through the black.

  In my room, I collapse behind the door. I take a deep breath before I strip out of my jeans and put some underwear on. My logical mind, the part of me that has shut out emotion, runs over my thoughts and feelings, trying to regain some composure. Perhaps my reaction to Aeron is a response to losing my mum? Am I looking for an emotional connection now that I don’t have anyone? It’s absurd, but I feel more than I should for a one week fling. It’s barely been a few days. Our initial attraction has only grown. I’m excited by the possibilities with Aeron. It has been a long time since I’ve let anyone in. When it was clear that Jim and I weren’t going to work, my barriers got thicker. Stronger. If Jim wasn’t going to be there for me, then I didn’t need anyone. I fought hard to become successful even without the support from my husband or family. The divorce was the final layer of protection I needed. Aeron tearing through it all is terrifying.

  Chapter Six

  I risk turning my phone on and it vibrates across the bedside table with incoming messages. Looking at the screen, I can see Penny is still desperate to reach me. I turn
it off before facing the day.

  More than the funeral, my meeting with Mother’s solicitor drives home the reality of her death. Standing in the small office, I’m left with memories and a few sheets of paper. That isn’t enough. My mum meant more to me than that. I want to see her again. I want her to wrap me up in her arms as she did when I was a child and tell me everything will be alright. The regret that has been clawing its way out of my chest finally escapes. My eyes sting as they flood with unshed tears. The loss hits me like a wrecking ball. Struggling for breath, I collapse into a chair.

  I don’t want the house. I want the time I didn’t spend with my mum back. I don’t spend the money I already have. I don’t want the inheritance money. It’s tainted. The loss of my family is too high a cost. The numb feeling in my heart permeates my chest. I can’t stop it. I can’t control any of this.

  Struggling with my emotions, I flee the solicitors and head to the Marriott Hotel. They have a business suite where I can access my work emails and distract myself. I boot up my laptop and let the emails load, hoping that by answering a few I can regain some firm footing and stop Penny’s incessant messages on my phone. As I stare at my inbox, I can’t bring myself to do anything with them. Thoughts of my family and my life as a child are too fresh in my mind. They are my priority at the moment, not work.

  I arrange the payments for the funeral and solicitor and then close my laptop. Heading back to the car, I leave the computer in the boot.

  The drive back to Oxwich doesn’t stop my racing emotions. More questions run through my mind about my feelings surrounding this town. Peaceful calm immerses me every time I set foot on the beach. The allure of Aeron drags me in deeper, adding another emotional connection. Frustration turns my stomach sour as I struggle to accept that I like this town and this man more than I want to.

  I bypass my room when I arrive and go straight to the little restaurant and order a large gin and tonic. Taking it outside, I sit on the terrace and look out to sea. The sun still shines, although the heat is weaker now. The memories that this place brings back are fresh in my mind and I watch visions of myself as a child running along the sand with my mum.

  Something close to rage boils up from within me. I don’t want to feel this way, consumed with feelings that are all new to me. Heartache, sorrow and loss mix through my body. A deep aching hole inside of me where my buried feelings reside turns my stomach. Despair at my lack of control for what is happening to me heightens my anger. I have always been able to lock out my emotions, to concentrate on my job. On top of my grief, why did I have to have feelings for Aeron? Why did he have to live here? Haven’t I had my share of complications already? Why can’t I get on with my life and be happy? It’s overwhelming. I want to lash out, to hit something or throw something. I barely stop myself from hurling the glass as far as I can. I feel shaken to my core, my emotions raw and painful. Why did Mum have to drag me back here just to leave me alone? The tears I’ve been fighting all day finally break free and I wish they could wash away the anger inside of me.

  * * *

  Aeron

  Knowing Tori will be busy all day, I catch up on my work. Since our little game yesterday, even my study haunts me with thoughts of her. Never have I been as preoccupied as I have been over the last few days. Despite it being a bright day, the beach has been quiet. At least my compulsion to watch has diminished. Focusing on Tori has quieted my ever-present need to watch. I check my phone to see if she’s messaged a time to meet and I’m met with a blank screen again. Usually, I’m pleased that I’m left on my own, but with her...

  I shake my head to free my whimsical thoughts. Despite spending more time together, she hasn’t relaxed her view that we’re a one-week fling. Her stubborn insistence would be admirable if it wasn’t stopping us from being together past seven days. When we are together, I feel an ocean of emotions between us. But as soon as we are out of the bedroom, she locks all her warmth, all her responsiveness back up. It is blindingly obvious that her career in London is her priority. I don’t know how to change that. The only time I can reach her is through sex.

  Moving to the scope, I scan the beach and then focus on The Apartments. Instantly, I recognise Tori sitting outside, staring ahead as the waves hit the beach. I can see the tears on her cheeks. The urge to go and comfort her surprises me. She hasn’t rung. She’s not ready to meet. But that shouldn’t stop me if I want to see her. Fuck! What is this woman doing to me?

  ***

  I walk to the terrace where she sits. She doesn’t notice me. Her eyes stare at the horizon without seeing, tears glistening on her cheeks. I can’t forget that she’s dealing with the huge loss of her mother. I walk straight up to her, pull her from the chair and crush her against my chest. She buries her head into my shoulder and her frame shakes with soft sobs.

  “Shh, baby, I’ve got you. Shh.” I squeeze her and stand with her in my arms as she gives into her grief. She slowly softens against me, content, or more likely resigned to a situation she can’t escape. After a few minutes, she peeks up at me. Her hazel eyes are tinted red and clouded with still more tears.

  “Let’s get you inside and get you a drink.” I walk her into the dining area and order two large brandies to be bought to her room. I let her lead the way. She fishes the key out of her pocket. I open her door and sit her on the bed.

  “I’m sorry, Aeron. I didn’t want to go to pieces like that, especially not on your shoulder.”

  “It’s fine. I’m glad I was here. Why don’t you take a shower? You will feel better and then we can have that drink.” I read the emotions crossing her face as plain as day. She’s embarrassed that I saw her in such a vulnerable position and is hesitant to accept my help. There is also a softness in her eyes that I’m hoping means she is glad I’m here.

  “That sounds like a good idea. I won’t be long.” She closes and locks the bathroom door and I can’t help snickering to myself. Even when she’s in the greatest need of support, she’s apologising, fighting to gain her ground back.

  I survey the room. The bed takes up most of the space. There is barely enough room for me to move around. Tori’s things obscure a small tub chair squeezed into one corner of the room so I take the last option left. I lie on the bed, prop myself up on the multitude of cushions, and wait. The brandy arrives before Tori finishes in the bathroom. She emerges wrapped in a fluffy white robe. The tie cinched at her waist accentuates her delicious curves. She looks fucking delicious, even if her eyes are sombre. She sits up on the bed and leans back against the cushions, mirroring my pose. I hand her a brandy.

  “Thank you. Umm, that’s good.”

  “I know. Can you guess where it’s from?”

  “Probably France.”

  “Wrong. Wales.” She turns toward me, a slight smile on her lips.

  “Really? This is good. It’s not as heavy as brandy is normally. Not that I drink a lot of it.”

  “You looked like you needed it, baby.” I reach for her hand and I’m pleased she doesn’t pull away.

  “I did. And, thank you for holding me. I... I needed that.” Her response floors me. She’s been so sure of herself, in control, at least until I have my hands on her. To admit this vulnerability makes me want to drag her off by her hair to my house, lock the doors and claim her. I won’t, though. At least I won’t drag her by her hair. We’re both quiet as we sip the liquor but there isn’t anything awkward about the silence.

  “Shall I order another drink?”

  “Yes, why don’t we ask for the rest of the bottle?”

  “Fine by me. We did have plans for a drink tonight.” I finally see a proper smile grace her lips.

  I walk around the bed to leave when Tori pulls my arm back. “Thank you, Aeron. I really mean that.”

  “It is my pleasure, baby. Now, don’t go anywhere. I’ll be back with our drinks.”

  * * *

  Tori

  Aeron’s departure gives me the fraction of time I need to compose myself. I
m still quaking from the finality that swamped me at the solicitor’s. The despair and anger are new to me. Neither my divorce nor Dad’s death had this profound an effect. Showering didn’t offer me the solace I was counting on to ease my hurt. My mind was too busy thinking about the wonderful man sitting on the other side of the door.

  Now, with alcohol added to the mix, I doubt that I can control my body’s reactions. If I permit myself, I could get lost in this charming, handsome-beyond-measure man. He overwhelms me. I can’t deny it. His focus, care and sensitivity have awoken parts of me I never knew existed. The things he has me do bring light to my muted life. Being with Aeron is exhilarating. I feel free and confident. The sexual woman encased within me is blossoming into a sensuous creature. I had anticipated a one-night stand. Nothing more. How can I fight against something that feels so right? The sex, our connection, the potential for something longer – I feel vulnerable. Can I really open my heart to this man? Can I trust my heart with the grief and guilt so fresh and raw? The click of the door signals Aeron’s return and I struggle to pull myself together. I offer a lame smile.

  “I see more drink is in order.” He grins and holds up the bottle.

  “Please.” I giggle, relieved at Aeron’s light nature in the situation. He tops up our glasses and comes to lie next to me on the bed. “Do you want to talk?”

  “What about?”

  “Your family, your mum?”

  “No. Not yet.” We lie next to each other and sip the rich brandy. I wait for Aeron to broach another subject I don’t want to discuss. I feel vulnerable and am conscious of the danger in giving too much of myself to this temporary man. Yet as I think the words, a part of me yearns to feel the support that comes from sharing with another. When have I ever had that with someone?

  “When did you get divorced?”

  “Last year. It was over quite quickly considering.”

  “Considering what?”

  “That Jim wanted half of what I was worth. We settled and agreed on a sum and I haven’t heard from him since.”

 
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