Chapter 16 - Knox
I’d been seeing Snow for well over a month. It had been the best damn month and a half of my life. I quite simply hadn’t felt this much in years - I didn’t even know I was capable of still feeling like this. Alive. Consumed. Happy, even.
That blanket of sadness and guilt had lifted so much since she had come into my life. It was almost as though the universe was telling me that I’d paid for my sins, and I deserved to have something good again. Something like her...
But I knew that I’d be punished again, soon. That she’d be ripped from my life, that I’d be alone again, perhaps like I deserved to be. Because did a sinner like me really deserve someone as pure as Snow?
I was wrestling with my conscience, every single day, every single time I saw her, because I knew that I had six weeks left. I could see that Snow was falling, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I had feelings for her too. Feelings I was trying to contain because I knew I couldn’t afford to fall in love with her.
We were explosive together, but it wasn’t love - it couldn’t be. We were extremely compatible, sexually, and otherwise. I enjoyed her company. She made me laugh with her wit and engaged me with her intellect. She made me forget. She made me feel alive again when I had her in my arms. But I knew this couldn’t last. It was at the forefront of my mind, every single day, every single time we hungrily devoured each other. Yet, no matter how hard I tried to keep some distance between us, the fact was that I couldn’t help myself around her.
An unseasonably hot spell of weather had settled over the city for this time of year, and Snow and I were heading to the beach for the day. I tried to convince her to stay with me in my family’s beach house for the whole weekend, and I could see how she was wrestling with herself, but she just smiled, a flash of something deep and dark inside her eyes, as she made up an excuse about having to study the next day. Like me, she was probably trying to protect herself - not to get in too deep, although with every day that passed, we were getting in deeper and deeper, and we both damn well knew that.
It wasn’t a question of whether this was going to hurt anymore - it was a question of how much.
“A penny for your thoughts?” I asked as I watched her surreptitiously as I was driving up the coast. She’d been quiet today. There was something on her mind; I could see that. I was starting to become familiar with each and every mannerism, with each and every expression on her exquisitely soulful face.
“Just thinking,” she smiled and looked at me, but she didn’t fool me.
I knew I was probably pushing her, taking her to the beach again after what she’d been through. She told me she hadn’t been back since that day that we crossed paths again, and I saved her life. And it was as though I wanted to make sure she’d be okay after I left - that I didn’t leave her with scars. Because I knew from painful experience just how deep something like that could cut and scar if you didn’t deal with your emotions - if you tried to suppress them and pretended they weren’t there.
She admitted to having nightmares of that day she nearly drowned. She didn’t like to talk about it much, but if her nightmares were anywhere near as suffocating and dark as mine, I knew I had to try and help her face her fears rather than run away from them and pretend they weren’t there, because that only made things worse in the long-term.
“Are you... scared?” I asked carefully, placing a hand over hers.
“A little,” she admitted honestly, but the way her voice cracked, betrayed that she was trying to be brave.
“You don’t have to go in if you don’t want to. You can just sit in the shade on the beach if you’d like,” I reassured her. I knew we probably weren’t going to be taking giant leaps today, and that was okay - she had to start somewhere.
The thing was, she stubbornly refused to see someone after what had happened to her that day. And even though she admitted to me that she’d been having nightmares, I had a fair idea that she hadn’t told her family. That she’d been suffering alone, her cross heavy and solitary on her shoulders to bear. Because that was the kind of girl my Snow was - she was strong, so strong, she didn’t like to admit when she needed help. But the thing was, I knew better than most others that even a rod made of steel could snap at some point if it was under enough pressure.
I pulled into our beach house driveway, and her eyes darted around, taking in the place. Her family owned a place near ours, from what she’d told me, along the same stretch of beach. Our place was more modest than theirs, if theirs was the palatial oceanfront estate I was thinking of, but it was still a mansion by anyone’s standards. The fact was, my family most certainly was extremely well-off, although not nearly in the same league as Adam Davis; then again, not many people were.
She exhaled a shaky breath and smiled bravely at me as I turned off the ignition of my car.
“I’m proud of you,” the words fell over my lips before I could help myself. It was the truth, though.
Her smile widened, and her eyes glimmered with unshed tears.
“Thanks. Don’t be too proud yet, though,” she tried to lighten the atmosphere, and I nodded, squeezing her hand before I exited to open her door.
We walked inside, hand in hand, and her eyes widened as she took in the unobstructed view of the beach right beyond the glass sliding doors.
“Are you okay?” I was watching her carefully, but her face didn’t give much away, although she radiated tension.
“Yeah. It’s still beautiful, although it’s deadly...” she murmured, a look of naked fear suddenly inside her eyes.
“You have to remember, Snow - almost anything can kill. A car, a plane, a mountain, an animal. Hell - even the stars could kill us if they started falling to earth at exactly the right trajectory and speed,” I said softly, not wanting her to feel like I was judging her. Because I knew exactly what she was going through right now.
“That doesn’t make any of those things less beautiful, though,” I added as an afterthought.
“You’re right. I’m okay, I promise,” she smiled again, and I took her in my arms, because I wanted to, and because I could see that she could do with some strength right now.
And the thing was, even though my mind went there too every time I saw the ocean, I’d come to accept that it was a force far greater than me. I respected and feared it at the same time, because it gave life, and took it away just as easily. And over the years, by facing my fears, again and again, I’d come to appreciate the ocean anew - to the point where I got back into surfing and indulged that passion of mine again. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I still thought of her - fleetingly, but still, every time I entered those treacherous indigo waters.
“Thanks for bringing me here. I... I think I needed that little push,” she said, resting her head against my shoulder.
“I know,” I sighed, feeling her heart slamming erratically against mine. I wanted to protect her, but at the same time, I knew that the best way of protecting her was to help her overcome her fears.
“I’m sorry, Knox. I’m sorry for what I put you through that day,” she almost-whispered, and her voice cracked as I felt a hot tear fall onto my shirt. I tightened my arms around her, and we breathed together for a moment before I responded.
“Don’t be sorry - I’m glad I was there, and I saw you. And I’m glad that we crossed paths again, because my life of late has been a hell of a lot better than it’s been in years,” I admitted honestly.
“I’m glad we crossed paths again too. And... I know how hard it must’ve been for you...” her voice trailed off as I felt another tear seeping into me.
I sighed. We hadn’t talked about this. About what had happened five years ago. I didn’t like talking about it - not even with my closest family. They knew better than to ask, and they knew to keep a respectful distance on a particular day of the year, on the anniversary of that terrible day. But somehow, it just felt right talking to her about it like this. Perhaps because we skated that thin line between life and death together. Perhaps because she understood. Because I trusted her. Because we both emerged from the shadows together.
“I couldn’t lose someone else again, Snow,” I admitted, my voice unsteady just thinking about the possibility of losing her.
“I’ve heard about it... it was in the media obviously, and my parents mentioned it as well, at the time. How old were you?” She probed gently.
“That’s so young,” she said, her voice bleeding with sympathy. “Did it happen here, too?”
“Yeah.” My heart started to hurt again, thinking back to that day, and that old, familiar feeling of guilt was creeping up on me again.
“I hope you don’t blame yourself...” she probed gently, and I sighed. Because how on earth was I supposed to respond to that?
“It’s hard not to, Snow,” I admitted to her what I hadn’t been able to admit to anyone close to me since it happened.
“It was a tragedy. It wasn’t your fault. From what I’ve read about it, it was a really unfortunate set of circumstances.”
“She was out there with me. One moment she was there with me, riding on her surfboard, the next she was swallowed by that wave, never to surface alive again,” the words ripped from my throat, and I felt my eyes prickle, feeling that rush of familiar emotions threatening to drown me again. “I should’ve done more, looked after her better, out there,” I admitted some of the guilt I’d been carrying with me inside for years.
“You couldn’t have, Knox. It was a freak accident,” Snow said softly, and I felt more tears soaking into my shirt.
Harlow was my girlfriend and my first love. She was like the sun - always smiling, her sandy blonde hair streaked by light. We’d met on the beach, in fact, this same beach where we were standing today. Our love for surfing was what caused our paths to cross, but it would also ultimately cause our demise.
The fact was, when Harlow’s lifeless body was found, she’d suffered an impact to her head. It seemed that her head hit a rock, likely after she lost consciousness. Her surfboard’s cord snapped, somehow, and when I realized that she went under, I swam towards her floating surfboard. A crucial minute later, I realized that her surfboard wasn’t attached to her ankle anymore - that the cord had ripped off. I started looking for her frantically, but wave after wave pounded me, flinging me helplessly around, and it was an impossible task to try and find her. I raised the alarm, and before long, the sea was teeming with lifesavers, with other surfers, even a police watercraft to look for her. And it was about fifteen minutes later that she was found, but it had been too late by that stage.
To this day, I blamed myself. I was so absorbed in conquering that wave that I didn’t have my eyes on her. Had I looked more closely, had I been quicker, she could’ve still been here today. It was my fault. I’d gone in with her - she’d been my responsibility.
“It was my fault,” I admitted all of the guilt that was still eating me up inside. And my heart felt like it had been ripped out of my chest again, just then. I closed my eyes and envisaged the commotion on the beach that day in my mind’s eye again. The paramedics rushing around, trying to resuscitate her, the police taking statements, questioning me. But was even worse, was the judgment, the raw anguish in her parents’ eyes. That look would haunt me for the rest of my life, weighing heavily on me, like I’d been tried and found guilty of a crime.
“I know nothing that I say will change the way you feel, Knox. But there’s no way that what happened was your fault. As you said, a lot of things can kill, so can the ocean. You should stop blaming yourself. It was one of those really tragic things that just happens sometimes. Good people die, Knox. It isn’t fair. It isn’t right. It doesn’t make sense - especially when someone so young and full of life suddenly gets taken from us.” She paused and I was drowning in the intensity of her gaze. She felt intensely, and right now that compassion and empathy were radiating off her, seeping right into me.
“But what also isn’t fair or right, is that someone with a good heart - like you - who did nothing wrong and was a victim of circumstances as much as she was, is living with such guilt inside. You saved me, Knox - if it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be here today. And to me, you’ll always be my guardian angel,” Snow said softly, baring her beautiful soul.
I cupped her jaw and lifted her chin, and I brushed my lips against hers, letting them linger there. And for a moment, that guilt, that hurt, became more bearable again. Because being with Snow made things more bearable, somehow. Everything was more bearable - hell, even the nightmares were starting to become less frequent and intense these days.
But I was realizing fast that this thing with Snow was fast becoming dangerous, too. We were becoming closer and closer. It wasn’t just an explosion of lust between us anymore. There were real feelings on the line. And no matter how hard I was trying to slam on the brakes, the fact of the matter was that this thing between us was as real as it was temporary. I just hoped that it wouldn’t end up killing us both.