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Soldier Down

15TH OF JULY

Samantha

There’s no light coming in from the window as I leave the bed. I search around my bag, grab a pair of thick leggings and a long sleeve top, and I quietly get changed. I open the door without making a sound and I tiptoe to the lounge. I grab my jacket from the hook, zip it all the way up and slide open the lounge door to step out into the deck.
The world is so quiet. There’s no birds singing yet, and all I can hear is the crashing of the waves on the sand only a few meters away. I head to the wooden steps that lead straight to the beach, and not caring about the cold, I leave my slippers on the first step. I walk down slowly, the morning dew wetting the soles of my feet and sending shivers up my spine. I grab the handrail to make sure I don’t slip, and let the coldness make my fingers go numb.
As I step onto the sand, my heart is so full I almost feel like crying. I wiggle my toes and let the sand get in between them. It’s still dark, and I can barely see the sea in front of me, but I can hear the waves crushing lightly, and it makes my heart flutter.
Once I’m close enough to the water for the foam to barely touch my toes, I fold my leggings up, all the way to my calves, and take a few more steps forward. The water kisses my feet fully, and I watch it dance around my ankles. To my surprise, the water feels warm compared to the cold air surrounding me.
I turn around, and I look up to the little house past the deck. The sun is poking up behind it, making the sky turn peachy while colour slowly slips into the world. As I’m standing here, I watch the sky turn from orange to pink, hues of lilac and purple showing up like brushstrokes. I feel as if the sky is Mother Earth’s canvas, and I’m watching her paint as new colours keep showing up in the sky. Before I can stop it, a tear rolls down my cheek, and I’m reminded of my dear Little Prince.
'One day, I saw the sun set forty-four times! You know, when a person is very, very sad, they like sunsets.'
That quote always gets me thinking. So I turn back around and look at the water, unwiped tears running freely down my face. There’s a little hill to my right, green bushes and little trees cutting off the beach into a dead end. To my left, the beach seems infinite.
The sand is almost white, with a glint of orange as it reflects the sun. I’m surrounded by the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. And in the quietness of the morning, the cold seeping all the way to my bones, I notice a sense of aliveness I don’t think I’ve ever experienced before.
That’s when I realise, that there is something the little prince didn’t know. And it’s that one can also love the sunrise when one is very, very happy. Because as another tear rolls down my cheek, I realise this is probably the first time in my life that I cry out of happiness.
“Thank you,” I say as I look out into the ocean. “I don’t know who I need to thank for bringing me here, but thank you.”
This is, in a way, a sad kind of happiness because it's laced with years and years of unshed tears and unspoken words. Standing here, I understand how this is the first moment of real peace I’ve had since this journey started. The last couple of days have been so full of adrenaline, unexpected adventures, and unsettling news, that I had almost forgotten why I was here to start with. So I tell myself I’m standing in the land where I was born, my feet connecting to the Earth underneath me, the Earth that bore me, the Earth that bore my roots.
I’m as close as I might ever be to my father.
I reach up to grab the pounamu hanging from my neck, and I squeeze it tight inside my first. The emotions are a whirlpool inside my chest, and I take a few deep breaths to let it all sink in.
After a few more minutes of silent contemplation, I wipe my cheeks, put the pounamu back under my top, and head back inside. I need a really hot shower, or else I will catch a cold… Or my fingers will fall off.
I get to the top of the steps, grab my slippers in one hand, and head inside trying not to make any noise. I grab my phone from the little side table by the entrance, and text my mum good morning as I walk towards the bathroom. As I'm hitting send, I blindlessly reach my hand to grab the knob on the door. Instead of grabbing anything, I hit air, so I walk straight in, my eyes still on the screen.
And I hit something solid.
“Wow,” I say maybe a little too loud as I backstep.
I look up, and curse under my breath as I stare into those haunting green eyes once more.
“This is becoming a pretty funny coincidence,” says Tane in a voice that is merely more than a whisper, which reminds me that Emma is surely still sleeping.
I look down feeling a bit embarrassed as I rub my forehead, but then I quickly look back up as I realise he’s only wearing a towel wrapped around his waist... and nothing else. Oh, my goodness. My eyes weirdly linger around his torso as I can’t seem to look at him in the eyes again, but I can’t look down either. That would be worse, so much worse. Em’s voice rings in my head as I notice the perfect six pack, and I can’t help the image of a chocolate bar popping in my head. Oh my, oh my, I hate you right now Em. The memory makes my cheeks burn so badly that I’m sure Tane can tell I’m blushing.
I need to say something, come on brain, come up with something, anything at all. I notice the necklace around his neck then, and my eyes are drawn to that pounamu as if a magnet was pulling me forwards. I have this weird urge to touch it, but before my hand can make it all the way up, I snap it back down and cross my arms over my chest. His greenstone is in the shape of a double twist, probably about 5 cm long, and I find my eyes still glued to it.
“Sorry,” I say as I find my voice again. “I just wanted to take a shower.”
Yeah, well, obviously if I’m here it’s because I needed to use the bathroom, no need to clarify why, was there?
“All good Sam, the bathroom is all yours,” he says in a rough morning voice, “I’m done anyways.”
There’s an awkward moment when none of us moves, as I’m still half blocking the door and there’s not enough room for him to get past me. He takes half a step back, as if to let me in, so I step to the side and plaster myself against the door frame.
“You go,” I say, as I motion with my hand for him to get out.
He walks out, and I hold my breath as he walks past me and towards his bedroom. As soon as he’s out of the way, I close the door behind me and lean against it.
I put a hand against my chest, trying to calm my heart.
“Fuck my luck,” I mutter under my breath.

✢✢✢
Emma
There’s too much sunlight coming from the window, and I cover my eyes with a hand as I sit up slowly, my head still spinning and my stomach churning.
“Fuck my life,” I mutter under my breath.
Why did I have to drink so much? Maybe I overdid it a little with all the vodka... But that’s okay, I’m gonna get up, suck it up, and get going with the day as planned. I get changed as quickly as I can, putting on some black tights under a short sleeved red dress, and a fluffy cream cardi on top to keep myself warm.
As I open the door, the smell of bacon hits me square on the face. Fuck yes! I can hear the sizzling of a pan, and I head straight towards it, my stomach already feeling excited.
“Come to me, babe!” I sing.
Is there anything better than curing a hangover with bacon? Possibly not. I half run to the kitchen, my arms already half open to hug Sam when I stop dead on my tracks.
“Morning,” Tane says as he looks over his shoulder. He’s standing by the stove, cracking an egg with one hand as he drops a couple pieces of bread on the toaster with the other. His hair is a little damp, and he looks so much more awake than I feel.
“Oh, hi,” I say, trying to hide my surprise. “I thought Sam said she was going to be cooking breakfast today.”
“Yes, but I volunteered, it’s the least I could do after you gave me a roof. I'm just trying to return the favour,” he says. “Sam is reading a book in the lounge if you’re after her.” He adds as he flips over the bacon.
“Thanks! How are you feeling after last night?”
“Good, actually. I was up early, had a shower to wake myself up, and it really did the trick.” He laughs a little as he says it, and I feel like I’m missing something.
I wish I had whatever trick he has, because he’s looking like he didn’t drink a single drop.
“That’s great,” I say. “Oh well, I better go find Sam.”
I turn around and head out, prancing around to the lounge. I make sure to put on a huge smile on my face before addressing Sam, who’s comfortably sitting on the couch by the window.
“Morning!” I say as excitedly as I can.
“Morning sleepy head, how are you feeling?,” she replies as she rests the book on the little side table.
“Not too bad,” I lie. “Been worse.” That part at least is true.
I look at the book Sam was just reading, and I’m not even surprised to see that she’s reading Turtles all the way down again. She gave it to me the first time I went over to organize the trip, and it took me a couple of weeks to read it, but once I gave it back to her, she re-read it in a matter of hours. I liked the story, but I just don’t get the need to read a book you’ve already read.
“How many times have you read that in the last two months?” I ask with a smirk.
“Only a few,” she says with a shrug. “I just really enjoy rereading the amazing quotes in it. They get me thinking.”
I know what she means, the quotes were all highlighted when she gave me the book, and there were a couple notes on the side. I even replied to a couple. I understand why she can relate with the main character, Aza, I could even see a bit of the resemblance myself, and I know that Sam thinks like her in certain ways. I’m glad her anxiety is not as bad as Aza's though.
“How early were you up, anyways? I didn't hear you at all.”
“You never do,” she says with a chuckle, “I got up early enough to enjoy the sunrise,” she adds.
Before I can answer, Tane walks into the room, a couple of plates full of eggs and bacon on his hands.
“Let’s eat,” he says.
We sit down, and he puts the plates down on the table, serving Sam and then me. He returns with his own plate a moment later, and sits in front of us. I can’t help but notice the way he’s looking at Sam, a half smile on his face. A shred of jealousy lights up on my chest, but I shove it down, way down.
We eat mostly in silence. The eggs are poached to perfection, runny yolks and firm egg whites, the bacon is crunchy and the wholegrain toast is surprisingly delicious. Sam is quieter than usual, her eyes on her plate as Tane keeps glancing at her every other minute. What did I miss out on? I kick Sam under the table, and she looks at me as she raises her shoulders like asking me what. I try to ask with my eyes what’s going on, but either the friendship connection is broken, or she’s playing dumb, because she just shrugs and keeps on eating. I think it’s most likely the second option.
I look at Tane’s damp hair, at the way he’s still glancing at Sam as he eats.
I look at Sam, really look, and notice that her hair is a brighter orange than it was yesterday, which means she showered this morning and used her orange conditioner.
I look back at Tane, his half smile still there.
I look back at Sam, her eyes glued to her plate.
I’m definitely missing a piece of the story here. And I’m so sure something happened between these two.
As I do the dishes after breakfast is finished, I’m feeling a little bit better, my stomach full and my head less cloudy. I burp loudly, and out of the blue, better turns into worse. I feel lightheaded, and I grab the edge of the counter top as my stomach churns. I can hear Sam and Tane going around the house gathering what we’re gonna need for today’s adventures. No conversation between them. I swallow hard and keep on washing as fast as I can.
As I dry the last plate and put it away, my stomach churns dangerously.
I barely make it to the toilet before my whole breakfast comes rushing out.
“Perfect,” I mutter.

✢✢✢
Samantha
“No, you’re not gonna lose a day because of me,” Em says. “You can both go and have a fantastic day, go see the rest of the Coromandel while I curl up in a ball and deal with the consequences of my own actions.”
Emma crosses her arms over her chest, and I laugh a little despite the situation we’re in. Em can be so stubborn sometimes, but I still don’t like the idea of leaving her alone.
“Are you sure?” I ask once more. Em’s being so insistent, and I don’t really have a solid argument against her, except for the fact that I don’t want to be alone with Tane, but I can’t say that to her.
“Sam, we’ve been discussing this for like… fifteen minutes now, just go, enjoy the day, tell me all about it when you’re back. We are lucky to have this place booked for another night, so I’m gonna make the most out of it by enjoying this comfortable bed.”
“Okay,” I say begrudgingly.
I double check that Em’s got everything she may need for the day, and hang my bag over my shoulder.
“I’ll see you later this afternoon then,” I say as a way of goodbye.
“Sure, be as late as you want to,” she replies. “And don’t you worry about me, I’ll just text you if I need anything at all.”
With that, I leave the room and head out for the day.

✢✢✢
Emma
I’m so sure there’s something going on there. Sam hasn’t shown any kind of interest in anybody since her breakup, but I know her, and I can tell there’s something there in the way she acts around Tane. I don’t get why she’s being so shy though, it’s too much, even for her.
I have to admit that watching the way Tane looks at her, makes me wish someone would look at me like that. But I know what I have to do.
It’s time for me to step to the side.
I grab my laptop and spend a few minutes checking my business page, emailing my assistant and contacting a few providers that I like to keep personally in touch with. After that, I check my personal emails, and see an email from sergiomoon@moonenterprises.com.
“That’s weird,” I mutter.
I open up the email, and read the short text.
When are you coming back?
C.E.O. Sergio Moon
Moon Enterprises Ltd
+54-9-4985-62315 int. 5
“Oh, thanks so much daddy, that was heartful,” I say sarcastically.
I close the computer and grab my phone without replying. Before I can think about what I’m doing, I’ve opened the dating app.
I haven’t accessed the app in weeks, but maybe I can have a look and see if there’s anybody interesting in this side of the world. Even if it’s just to chat with someone and have a laugh.
I swipe left a few times, not really paying much attention, when I notice a pretty good looking guy that picks my eye. He’s got dark hair and dark eyes, a square jaw… Basically, just a typical good looking guy, but there’s something there that looks kind of familiar and has me looking at him. I tap to check more photos, and holy guacamole! This guy is ripped! I think this might be a scam, so I go to read his profile… and I realise it’s in Spanish. What a dork! I never changed my configurations, and I’ve been looking at guys in Buenos Aires this whole time! Today is definitely not my day!
Then I read the guy's name, and a spark brightens in my chest.
“Miguel,” I say as I let the word roll off my tongue.
I swipe right.
It’s a match.
I clutch the phone to my chest and fall backwards on the bed.
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