Chapter Five: Under the Metal Roof
Our clothes are soaked after five minutes of walking. Ace lets go of my hand to push the wet strands of hair out of his eyes, and then he loosens the straps on the backpack before taking my hand into his warm grasp again.
At the end of the driveway, I turn to look at the house. My heart falls when I see the waves crashing against the side of the house.
So many memories in that house. Aidan kissed me for the first time on the private beach. He told me he loved me for the first time in the same lounge where I told Ace how he died.
Looking at Ace’s hand in mine, I wished for the world to wash away my memories of Aidan. I was ready to let him go. I couldn’t keep living with him clouding every moment. I couldn’t keep seeing his death.
Worst of all, I had to get the image of his dead body out of my mind.
Ace tugs my hand, getting my attention, and pulls me toward the road away from the drive. I look back at the house one more time, and through the thick rain, I can almost make out Aidan standing by the front door, his brown curls flat from the water. He’s smiling and waving.
With a heavy heart, I turn and take one step away. Another step takes me out of view of the house. Another step, and all I can think about is Ace’s warm hand grasping mine.
Thinking about Ace is better than thinking about saying goodbye to my dead ex. The warm hand in mine is a reminder that Ace is here protecting me, and Aidan is my past.
We don’t talk for a long time. I’m shivering, and since we’ve left the house, his hand has gone cold, and mine is numb. I just hope he doesn’t let go.
Another thirty minutes pass by slowly. I’ve never been one for exercise, especially walking miles. My Converse aren’t the right shoes for all this walking. I glance at his feet to see a pair of black Timberlands. He isn’t wearing the right shoes either.
I’m hungry, and my feet hurt. Blisters have formed along my heel and under my toes from rubbing against the wet fabric. The rain has lightened to a drizzle, and the sun fights against thundering clouds, but never wins.
He’s gotten us onto the A1A now, and we’re walking toward Atlantic Ave, in hopes of finding a shelter, or even a sign for one. Hope flickers inside my cold heart when I see a gas station in the distance. “Do you think anyone is there?” It’s the first thing I’ve said since we left. My throat is dry – a sip of water would be so nice.
“No. But we can rest under the overhang for a few minutes. We need to eat and drink something.” It takes us another thirty minutes to reach the deserted overhang.
There’s a decent-sized dry spot where we sit down and rest our legs. I close my eyes, enjoying this moment. I take off my shoes next, and while he’s going through the bag, I’m able to see the clothes aren’t too wet. I’m grateful that I’ll have something to wear when we reach the shelter. I’m so cold and long to change into something warm.
He hands me a bar, then pulls out a water bottle. After taking a long sip, Ace hands it to me, and I quickly bring the bottle to my lips. The cool liquid goes down my throat smoothly. I didn’t realize just how thirsty I was. When I pull the bottle from my lips, he’s finished his bar, so I hand him the water bottle back. There’s still a quarter left.
“Are you sure, princess?” I nod, and he doesn’t ask again, bringing the bottle to his lips. I watch his Adam’s apple move as he swallows. The more I watch him, the more I notice just how sexy he is.
Sometimes he makes the word ‘princess’ sound so lovely, and others, he says it as though I’m some stuck-up snob who should be in a huge palace. I wish he were consistent, so then my heart would make up its mind about him.
“Can I have my phone?” I ask, and he pulls it from the backpack a moment later. It’s already four P.M. There’s still eighty percent battery and a missed call from my mother. “Do you want to call your parents?” He hasn’t spoken to them, or anyone at all since we were trapped at the house.
“No; they won’t care anyway.” He looks away from me, and I decide that’s a conversation for another time. He doesn’t look too keen to talk about it anyway. After my situation, I understand the need to keep secrets, and I know how hard it is to open up about personal problems. I just thought he might be more comfortable to share with me now.
He hasn’t shared anything with me. Maybe he was right last night to not get too close. It was better if I didn’t know why his family didn’t care, but I wanted to know. I wanted to know where the pain in his blue eyes came from.
“I’m going to call my mom and tell her what’s happened.” He doesn’t answer me. A gust of wind blows through the gas station, and I shiver, but it doesn’t seem to affect him. Pressing my mom’s contact, I listen to it ring over and over.
“Celine, oh, God, Honey, I’ve been so worried.”
“Oh, Mom, we had to leave the house. Water was rushing in. it was starting to flood when we managed to get out. Ace heard it and woke us both up.” I hear her gasp and then call my father over.
“Oh, my God, Celine! I knew something bad was going to happen. I’m going to fucking kill your father. Where are you now?”
“Some gas station on the A1A. We’re heading toward the Ave. Hopefully, there’s a shelter there. We weren’t safe at home anymore. We don’t know where to go.”
“We never should have let her go alone to the house, Rick. Now look what has happened!” Mom is screaming, and I have to pull the phone away from my ear.
“It’s too late to worry about that, Kendall. We need to help her find a shelter now.” She’s put the phone on speaker, and I can hear my dad.
“Tell them we should be at the Ave in maybe two or three hours, depending on our pace,” Ace pipes up, still looking away from me. I have to keep calling him Asshole to remind myself that he truly is one. I have to guard my heart and keep my distance.
“Asshole says we should be at the Ave in two or three hours. Do you think there will be a shelter, Dad?” Ace huffs and glares at me.
Finally, he’s looking at me again.
“I don’t think so. That was probably an evacuation zone. Your best bet is to find a school or hospital. It’s getting late, so you need to hurry or you’ll be outside for the night.” Ace and I share a panicked look – we hadn’t thought about that.
Dad continues, “Once you get to the Ave, you can just follow it. There’s a school around there. Not the greatest area, but you should find shelter there. Mom and I are going to see what we can find and call back when we have more information.”
“I love you, Honey. Be nice to Ace. He came to help you with your Jeep, and I bet he’s just as scared as you are. He’s just a young boy, not a big, ugly man like your father. Don’t start acting like a bitch.” I hear my dad protest, and Mom laughs.
“I love you guys so much.”
“Stay safe, baby girl,” they say as the line drops.
Ace has turned to look away again; he’s deep in thought, staring at the deserted road. “Dad said to go down the Ave to find a school. That should take us another two to three hours from the Ave. We need to get going soon, so we can make it before the sun sets. I don’t want to be wandering the streets in the dark.”
“Sounds like a plan, Princess. We can go in five minutes. I need a rest.” He leans back against the backpack and closes his eyes.
“Didn’t you hear me? That’s another five hours, if we’re lucky, and it’s already four P.M. I want to go now.” The sky rumbles in agreement, and the wind picks up again. Someone’s patio furniture blows by as it starts to pour again.
“Five minutes. Just five minutes, and I’ll get us to safety. Trust me.” Last time a guy asked me to trust him, I almost died. I wasn’t ready to trust anyone again just yet.
I close my eyes, calming my uneven breathing by listening to the waves crashing against the bushes. The noise is soothing in my panicked state. The sound of the ocean was the only noise I could handle after the accident. My mom and I would sit on the beach for hours in silence.
If only she knew how many times I went over the accident in my head while we were sitting there, she probably would’ve stopped taking me. But sitting on that beach every day helped me come to terms with Aidan’s death.
Ace suddenly gets up, swings the bag onto his shoulders again, and starts walking toward the A1A, leaving me behind. I scramble to get up, shoving my shoes back on, then I rush to his side. He doesn’t apologize – as expected.
We walk for another hour, and I wish the rain would stop for just a few minutes. We haven’t spoken since the gas station. I hate the silence. I hate when he acts like an asshole. Especially when I saw last night just how kind he can be. I hate that I keep analyzing everything he does when he definitely isn’t thinking about me that way.
I’m glad he didn’t kiss me last night. I would’ve regretted it this morning. After this hurricane, I hope we never see each other again. I don’t need his friendship. I don’t need his pity. I was fine before him, and I will be after.
My phone rings in my pocket. Pulling it out, I see Ryan’s face flash on my screen. “Did Mom and Dad tell you?” Ace turns around to look at me, sees the phone pressed against my ear, and continues walking.
“I should’ve come with you to the house. I’m sorry. You wouldn’t be alone right now, walking miles to find a goddamn shelter.”
“I’m with Ace, remember? I’m not alone.”
“I don’t care. I don’t trust him enough to take care of you. Not after everything you’ve been through. I promised you I wouldn’t let anything happen to you. I promised Mom and Dad I would protect you after what happened with Aidan.” He’d always blamed himself for that night – he was in charge of me, and he let me go out when it had been raining.
He takes all the blame when it wasn’t his fault. It was mine. It was mine for getting on that bike, and it was mine for not stopping Aidan from racing.
“It wasn’t your fault, Ryan, and this time isn’t, either. Ace isn’t Aidan. I’m not going to die. I promise you, Ryan, I’m going to be okay. It’s just an adventure, a really fucking scary adventure.” He laughs.
“Can I talk to Ace?”
“I told him about the accident.” Ace stops this time and looks at me again.
“Don’t you fall in love with him, Celine. I’m warning you. I won’t let you get hurt again.”
“I won’t, Ryan. I promise, I won’t.” I hand the phone to Ace, who looks surprised. We’re standing in the middle of the deserted road.
I promised Ryan I wouldn’t fall in love, and I won’t. I wasn’t going to love Ace. I wasn’t going to get on his bike. I was done being foolish. Instead, I would be his friend and nothing more.
I continue walking, leaving Ace behind me as he listens to Ryan. “Yes, I know, Ryan. Nothing has happened. I told you nothing would. I’m doing as you asked me; I’m keeping her safe, she’s hydrated, and she’s eaten. I can’t help the fact that we’re soaked to the bone, and she might get sick. I’m doing my best in a shit situation.”
Ace is silent for a minute, and I hate he’s only doing this for Ryan and not for me. I hate to think of what would’ve happened if Ryan hadn’t gotten him to come help me. I hate to wonder how I would have coped on my own.
“Stop being an ass. I won’t tell anyone about her past. I wouldn’t do that to anyone. We all have a past, Ryan.”
The rain picks up again and so does the wind, as the two seem to be holding hands.
“Did your dad find out if there’s a shelter near us?” He’s picked up his pace and walks beside me. His hand brushes mine, but his fingers don’t reach for mine.
“What’s the school name, so I can check maps for how far it is?” Ace asks Ryan.
I cross my arms, taking my hand away from any possible connection.
“Okay; we’ll call later when we make it. Hopefully, there’s power at the shelter and a phone charger so we can keep in touch until you’re allowed back into the area. Worst case, we’ll stay there until it’s safe to travel, and then I’ll get us transportation to your house.” He pauses, listening. “Yeah, I’ll tell her. Bye.” He puts my phone in his pocket.
“Tell me what?”
“He loves you.” We go back to silence, both of us listening to the crashing waves and pitter-patter of rain. If I’d been at home, I would be curled up in a blanket watching romance movies with a bowl of popcorn. How I wish that were the case.
Thunder rumbles in the looming gray clouds, and lightning ripples across the sky, lighting up the dark road for a minute. I see a cat run from one bush to the next and wonder if it knows the danger that’s coming.
I’d driven this route so many times, and I never even considered how long it would take if I walked. I never would have thought I’d have to walk this far. A twenty-minute car ride has turned into an all-day adventure.
The rain stops for a moment and our sighs of relief fill the silence. Then it pours, taking away any relief we may have felt. My hair sticks to my face, and the smell of rain permeates the air. I shiver again, fighting the urge to cry. I want to go home. I want to have a hot shower, wrap myself in a blanket, and forget about Ace.
Hours pass by slowly. We don’t stop for a long time, and eventually, I can’t take another step. It’s getting darker now, and the Ave is still far away.
Another deck chair blows in our direction. Ace pushes me out the way quickly and then steps away, arms crossed over his chest. We still haven’t spoken, the sounds of nature being our only reprieve from the silence.
“I need to stop.” My throat is dry, my lips chapped and sore, and my eyes burn from squinting through the rain.
“Can you make it to the next gas station?” He points at a metal roof in the distance, so far from us.
“I’ll try.” Each step is agony, and I’m fighting a limp now, my old injuries resurfacing.
Toe, heel. Toe, heel. Toe, heel.
I focus on the sound of crashing waves to ignore the aching in my feet. It doesn’t work for long, and I’m falling behind. Ace stops and waits for me when he notices.
He silently reaches for my hand and pulls me along. Hot tears roll down my cold, windblown cheeks.
“Almost there – you can do it.”
“I can’t; it hurts.” I swallow the lump in my throat.
“We’re almost there, then we can rest.”
With every passing minute, the sky gets darker, the wind colder, and my fear grows.
Eventually, we reach the shelter of the metal roof, and I collapse, my legs giving out as I crumple to the ground. Ace sinks down next to me, taking the backpack off and stretching.
He pulls out my phone and hands it to me. The screen is bright in the darkness, as none of the streetlamps have come on tonight. It’s seven P.M., and I have a lot of missed messages from my family.
I call Mom, and my throat burns when I hear her voice. “Where are you now, baby?”
“Far, Momma, so far. I’m so scared,” I cry into the phone, feeling my warm tears roll down my cheeks, further soaking my shirt.
“You can do this. You’re strong. You’re strong, my girl. Don’t cry.” I nod, looking at Ace for strength. He takes the phone, his other hand finding mine.
“We’ve found shelter for the night. It isn’t much, but it’s shelter from the rain for now. It’s dark here, so I think the power has gone.” Ace pauses, closing his eyes. “I don’t think it’s safe to continue. She can barely walk.” He pauses again, listening to Mom. “I understand she has injuries from the accident. I’m doing my best here . . . We’re going to stay here tonight . . . I’m okay. We’re okay.” He hands the phone back to me.
“Be strong, my beautiful girl. Don’t cry anymore. Be strong, and the night will be over soon. I love you.”
“I love you more.” I end the call before I can’t control the emotions swirling inside me.
“I’m so sorry, Celine. I’m sorry I didn’t get us there in time.” Ace has taken his black boots off, and he’s let go of my hand to rub his feet. I do the same, ripping off my Converse.
“It’s not your fault. None of this is your fault, Ace.” He seems surprised because he looks at me differently.
“How about another bar and some water?”
I smile, seeing the humor in his eyes. “I’d love that; thanks.”
We talk for a while, our arms crossed over our chests to keep out the cold. He tells me about what he wants to do in the future. It’s really nice to talk to him, to share my hopes and dreams.
He’s telling me about the time he tried to join a frat when my eyelids grow heavy. Sleep sounds so good right now.
“Come here. I’ll keep you warm so you can sleep.” He opens his arms for me, and I freeze.
“What do you mean?” I shiver in the darkness.
“Let me hold you, Celine. I won’t bite.”
“I’ll be fine. Goodnight, Asshole.” I curl up on my side, shaking like a leaf, but I will my eyes to stay closed. He grumbles about me being stubborn but says nothing else.
Within a few minutes, I hear a soft snore coming from him. Meanwhile, I’m still shaking. I scoot closer to him, hoping to steal some warmth.
He must feel me near because he reaches out and puts an arm around my body. “Shh; go to sleep, princess.” I’m too tired to fight him, so I lay my head on his warm chest and close my eyes, listening to the storm raging around us.