“Where’s Chase today?”
I shrug, looking up to meet Caleb’s gaze, “I honestly don’t know. He never came in this morning.” I explain briefly before adding, “So if it’s about another surfboard you broke, you’re on your own. I sure as hell am not fixing it.”
“Jeez.” Caleb chuckles, “You’re quite a grump without Chase.”
“Am not!” I snap teasingly.
“Whatever keeps your boat afloat Gabs.” Caleb winks at me playfully to which I roll my eyes at him. “I just love these one-on-one moments we have together.” Caleb grins, pushing my buttons and knowing it while doing so.
“We have so many one-on-one moments because you don’t do anything.” I point out. All what Caleb does is surf. “Even Stells is busy today.” I remind him. It’s usually Caleb and Stells with free time, but today Stells is seeing her relatives. She keeps herself preoccupied when necessary. Caleb seems to think surfing all day is a blast and that doing other things is not important. He’s a surfing addict. He probably has it worse than Chase even.
“Psssh what a loser.” Caleb scoffs, “No one wants to keep busy.”
I shake my head at him, a small smile on m face. “You’re impossible.”
“I’ll take that for the compliment it is.” Caleb grins down at me tauntingly.
“Don’t you have other people to go bug?” I joke. I don’t really want him to go. I enjoy his company…at times that is.
“Plenty. But you’re my start up for the day.” Caleb teases just as Jacob pitches. Jakie’s not doing anything either ’cause school on spring break. He’s enjoying vacation at it’s best. Everyone else has responsibilities to tend to.
“Hey Sis.” Jakie greets, earning a warm smile from me. You gotta love Jacob.
“See, look, here’s my second victim right on time.” Caleb motions to Jacob as he takes Jacob under his arm and forces him into a noogie.
Jacob merely laughs. used to Caleb’s behavior by now. He shoves Caleb away before turning to me in question, “Where’s Chase today?” He asks, inquisitive. I shrug in response, wondering when I became Chase Fuller’s keeper. “Damn. I wanted to ask him for some pointers.”
Caleb feigns hurt as he places a hand over his heart, “I’m offended. You cold always ask me form some surfing tips NewSchool.”
“Stop calling me NewSchool.” Jacob says, “Besides, I want pointers from a professional, not an idiot who surfs in rock pools.”
Caleb’s grin drops, “One time and everyone holds it against you.” He mutters beneath his breath as Jacob and I laugh at his expense.
Jacob changes the subject, “So you getting your cast off tomorrow? Well so says Stella. She knows everything about everyone.”
I smile, elated that this stupid cast can finally be removed, “Yeah.”
“That’s great OldSchool.” Caleb cheers with a single fist raised in the air.
I narrow my eyes at him, “Stop calling me OldSchool.”
Caleb and his nicknames.
“You don’t surf anymore, hence, you’re old school. Jakie over here is moving past the basics of surfing, hence the term new school.” Caleb explains with that devious grin of his right intact.
“Don’t force me into hitting you.” I warn him as I gesture to Jacob to hit him. Jacob shrugs but complies nevertheless and whacks Caleb upside the head.
“Gabriela!” Someone shouts - someone I really don’t feel like seeing.
Where’s Chase when you need him?
I duck behind the counter. Caleb glances down at me, “What are you doing OldSchool?”
“Get rid of him.” I plead, staying hidden. I need the cover from him.
“I got this.” Caleb assures me.
“Hey man, where’s the chick that works here?” I hear Austin ask Caleb. He’s probably here to pester me for that date that I agreed to.
“She’s hiding from you under the counter.” Caleb throws me under the bus just like that, not that I expected anything else from him. I was hoping the good in him would shine through. Caleb is pure evil.
Jacob goes along with it as he knocks his fist on the counter, “C’mon out Gabs!” He calls, enjoying himself and my situation way too much.
Caleb jumps over the counter when I don’t respond. He wraps his arms around my waist and forcefully lifts me up so that Austin and Jacob’s faces come back into view. I struggle against him but to no avail. Caleb ends up dropping me directly in front of them.
I’ve never been so tempted to strangle someone in my life. I’ll never trust Caleb again.
I sheepishly wave at Austin, my cheeks flushed red in embarrassment. He glances down at me with amusement in his hazel brown eyes. “Fancy seeing you here.” He teases, deciding not to linger on the fact that I’d literally just been hiding away from him.
“I work here.” I exclaim, not impressed by him trying so hard. There’s like a million other girls on this beach that would kill to have a life guard on their arm, can’t he go bug one of them instead?
“Yeah. I noticed.” Austins grins, “Almost tripped over my own feet the first time I saw you.” He flirts, hitting on me in front of my friends - friend who by the way will never let me live this down. Caleb’s going to tell everyone. He could never keep a secret and this one’s no different. He’s a blabber mouth.
“I know right. Have you ever seen someone so ugly?” Caleb jokes, earning him a flat look from me. He offers me a smile, “I’m joking Gabb Gabbs. You’re beautiful.”
“Better.” I reply, satisfied.
“So I’m sure you’ve heard of the ’Beach Junior Lifeguard Program…” Austin trails off, dropping hints here and there.
“I have.” I answer nonchalantly, not bothering to give another response. I don’t mean to come across as rude. I just don’t know how else to get it through his head that I’m not interested.
A chuckle spills from Austin’s lips as he flashes me that kilowatt smirk of his, “You sure don’t make it easy for a guy.” Austin scratches the back of his head as if on edge, “Just come with me. It’s not anything hectic. It’s simple. Just come with me next week and see what I do. You’ll love it.” Austin insists and the thought of him inviting me to something civil is rather gentleman like of him. I approve. I respect him for it.
“Okay.” I breathe, agreeing. “I will go but only because it’s a child event and because it’s at a decent place and not some dumb party.”
“Great. I’ll meet you here next week Friday at seven a.m. sharp.” Austin grins as if over the moon that I had finally accepted to a date.
As soon as Austin is out of hearing sight, Caleb begins the expected mocking, “What a hunk huh Gabb Gabbs?” He teases, “You always seem to leave the guys running after you.”
Jacob bursts out laughs at my expense too.
“Shut up.” I narrow my eyes at the both of them. I’m never going to live this down.
They only laugh louder as a result.
“What’s so funny?” Zeke asks as he comes strolling into the shack, taking a seat on his usual chair.
“Gabriela’s getting her game on.” Caleb intervenes, answering for me.
“He does not speak the truth.” I frown, pouting up at Zeke unhappily. Stupid Caleb!
“Yeah.” Zeke takes Caleb’s side, “Gabriela was always a player.” He lies, messing with me.
My mouth falls agape at this, my eyes having widened, “Was not! Am not!” I defend myself, correcting his bizarre untruthful theories. I turn to Jacob, “Take my side will ya!” I whine, needing some backup. Where’s Stella and Duke when you need them? I feel like I get picked on the most when they’re not around.
“Sorry Sis, I don’t take the side of playgirls.” Jacobs winks my way teasingly. It earns him a hit upside the head. “I take it back, I will defend playgirls.” I hit him again, “You’re not a playgirl.” He finally caves, throwing his hands up in surrender.
“Better.” I say before turning to Zeke, ready to ask him why Chase is not in for work today. However, I quickly stop myself, refraining from asking in case of unintentionally outing Chase. Perhaps Chase has not mentioned his absence from work to Zeke. I don’t want to cause any trouble when I’ve just won Chase back. I’d be devastated to lose him again. I can’t go through all of that again. “Shouldn’t you be studying Microbiology Zeke?” I ask instead, knowing that he hates it when I get on his case about that. He’s never been big on theory. Zeke’s more of the practical kind of guy.
“I studied all morning, mom.” He emphasizes the lats word to get his point across. I cross my arms over my chest and give him a look, “Okay fine, half the morning.”
“Zeke.” I drawl, waiting patiently for some honesty from him. He’s incredibly easy to read.
“Okay an hour.” I continue to stare at him, “Fine, twenty minutes.” He gives in to my demanding staring, caving to my will. He’s weak.
“Only twenty minutes Zeke?” I ask, exasperated. This guy needs to study more if he wants to pass the semester and get his degree.
“Yeah…” Zeke admits - reluctantly, “Then I made paper airplanes with my notes.” He confesses, a twinge of guilt in his voice.
It’s not surprising. Zeke gets distracted extremely easily. He has a short attention span. In my personal opinion, he belongs in the waves, not in the books. I know he misses it - surfing. He could make a comeback if he tried, I know he could. He was that talented.
“You’re my idol.” Caleb praises Zeke, dead serious.
Zeke pops the collar of his shirt in pride, “I’m everyone’s idol.” He replies boastfully as he places his shade son cockily, “I mean c’mon, I’m Zeke Ferguson.”
You’d think he’s Chuck Bass by the way he goes on about himself.
“True that my friend, true that!” Jacob pipes up, agreeing, “You’re my role model too.” Jacob agrees with Caleb - the both of them look up to Zeke for some reason beyond me. Zeke tends to think a lot of himself.
“Get out of here and go surf already.” I suggest, practically kicking Caleb and Jacob out the surf shack. They’re making Zeke all the more egotistical of himself - the outcome can’t be good. Zeke has enough pride as is.
Jacob shrugs before grabbing his board and heading for the ocean. He’s rather keen on surfing today.
“I will…” Caleb agrees much to my own surprise, but of course, there’s a catch, “If you come watch me.” He adds bravely, knowing my circumstances but taking a shot on me nonetheless. It’s always been Chase, Ty and Caleb who push me. Stells, Duke and Jacob tend to hang back. I love them all for their unique personalities. I need to be pushed every now and again; other times I need to be told that it’s okay to back out.
I furrow my eyebrows in thought of an excuse. It’s difficult for me. I have a new found fear of the ocean, but at the same time I miss surfing in the way that I’m sure Zeke does too. It’s hard for me to see the others out there surfing when deep down, I want to be in the water right beside them. I used to love watching others surf. There was nothing and no one to hold me back from joining them in the sea when I felt up to it. Now there’s so much holding me back, now I hate watching others surf. It only reminds me of a life I used to have and a life I can never have again.
“Caleb…” I stammer, faltering mid-sentence as I contemplate on explaining my fears to him. Would he even understand? He’s Caleb after all.
Fortunately, Zeke, having had similar circumstances, understands.
“She’s working stupid.” Zeke purposely covers for me, the good side to him outweighing the bad in this current moment.
Caleb, being the overgrown child he is, mimics Zeke, “‘She’s working stupid’.” He rolls his eyes at us melodramatically, “Work is for losers, chums!” He bids us goodbye before following after Jacob, his new surfboard for the day in toe. It’s a good thing Chase never fixed that last one. I knew it wouldn’t be worth it.
Zeke leans forward across toward me, his elbows atop the counter and his chin resting in both his hands as he gives me a knowing look.
“What?” I huff, unable to block out his intense staring.
He shakes his head, saying nothing in spite of us both knowing where this is leading. “Let’s close early today.” He advises, “I’ll help you pack up.” He offers politely, catching me off guard.
“Thank you?” I question more than state. Maybe he’s taking it easy on me because Chase isn’t here to help out with everything.
After we’re finished closing up, Zeke turns to me with a stern expression - one you simply cannot defy (especially considering he’s my boss and can fire me at any given moment, not that he will), “Take a walk with me.”
I’m not sure what he’s up to, but I follow him down shore in any case. Curiosity at it’s best.
Zeke starts the conversation simply, “Chase called in sick today, in case you’re wondering.”
I was wondering.
I nod, “Thanks for the update.” I breathe, feeling a little bit deflated on the inside. Chase is unusually healthy and rarely gets sick. In all my life of knowing him, he’s only ever been sick twice, one of those times due to immense stress. “Though I appreciate the small talk, let’s cut to the chase. What are you on about?” I ask, straight forward as ever. Beating around the bush is unnecessary. I don’t need sugar coated formalities. I can take just about anything after all I’ve been through, after everyone I’ve lost.
I walk alongside Zeke, my gaze drifting off to the blackened sea as the sun begins to fade behind a cloud.
“I was twenty one when my long term girlfriend - the girl I planned to marry someday - was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She died a few months later.” Zeke delves right in, my own heart breaking for him. I can hear in his tone of voice that he has yet to move on from the issue, making me feel that much more for him, “I was a mess. She was literally everything to me. I couldn’t think straight. My mind was all over the place. Grieving and mourning was never enough for the great loss - still isn’t. Nothing could make up for the tragedy and what I had to live through. I lost passion for everything, including surfing. As you know, I ended up retiring as a professional surfer at the young age of twenty one.”
I knew Zeke stopped surfing at twenty one due to personal reasons, I just never knew what the personal reasons were. No one did. Zeke kept it private so that the media couldn’t spread stories and make it all the more difficult for him.
“I’m sorry.” I murmur softly, giving him my condolences. As someone who has lost too many people I care about to count, I can relate. I get where he’s coming from and I understand. I understand what he had to go through because I was there. I can sympathize with him from my own experiences.
“I’m twenty six now. My run’s over. It’s been five long years. Do I miss surfing? Sure. Do I regret my decision in quitting on it? No. It was for the best at the time and still is. I had a good couple years, but that’s over for me.” Zeke continues as we head further down the beach together.
I glance sideways to see the sun setting over the ocean’s sparkling blue horizon, the sun no longer at it’s peak. The sight is exquisite and brings some sense of peace to me - something familiar that I can hold on to. I’d always loved the sun set. Rays of pink and orange filter across the clear sky as the day slowly comes to an end, the seagulls above us letting out cries as they too head home in order to shelter themselves from the cool evening air.
I turn back to Zeke, “What are you trying to say Zeke?” I ask, missing the entire plot. What am I suppose to get out of this? Obviously he’s trying to relay a message to me. That’s just how Zeke operates. He’s predictable like that - in the good sense.
“Fall down seven times Gabriela, stand up eight.” He states the motto I used to live by at one stage when things got a little out of hand for me, “I know you’ve been through hell and back in these past couple years, yet here you still stand. You’ve come this far. You’ve survived this long and that in itself is a victory. My shot in surfing might be done, but yours has just come. I know you’re afraid -“
“Petrified.” I correct him before correcting myself upon adding more thought to it, “Actually, terrified.”
Half a smile traces Zeke’s lips as he tries to remain serious, “I just want to encourage you to get back out there. Being afraid -” He fixes his lip up, “petrified and terrified…” He emphasizes for me, “is acceptable and understandable considering what happened out there two - going on three - years ago.” He says, motioning out to sea.
I follow his gaze.
My eyes scan the viscous, humongous waves forming out back. I shudder in pure fear as a cold shiver runs down my spine at the thought of ever coming into contact with such powerful waves. The waves are ruthless and merciless. Waves destroy and wipe out any obstacles in it’s path/wake - including surfers. Matt. I can’t face that - not again.
Zeke notices the obvious panic in my eyes as he places a steady hand on my shoulder as if to comfort me, “What counts, is whether you choose to overcome the fear in this lifetime or not.” He says before adding, “You’ve got potential kid. I remember the way you used to surf so fearlessly - courageously. You had skill. Don’t let the past define you, don’t succumb to your nightmares and don’t let your fear stop you from the dream. I’ve seen the way you stare out at the ocean longingly.” Zeke points out.
Had I really been that obvious about the nostalgic feeling I get whenever I look out to sea?
“You’re not done with the sea and you know it.” Zeke whispers, his words laced in true conviction.
“Zeke…” I manage to get out as tears cloud my vision. He’s spot on. I do miss what I fear. How is that even remotely possible?
“The waves are gonna keep coming Gabriela and you’re going to keep getting hit - knocked down. There’s no stopping the waves of life, it’s inevitable. You either get back on your board and face the waves…or you drown.”
After that talk, I find myself on the front doorstep of my neighbor’s home. Zeke’s words had really gotten to me. I’m a little confused as to what it is I should do. Of course I miss surfing. At one stage, surfing was my life - my way of releasing pent up fury and frustration. It was the ‘out’ I could take from life for a few minutes. Surfing was more to me than just a hobby - it was my drive to keep on pushing, to keep on fighting. Without it, I don’t feel entirely like myself. A piece of me is missing, lost at sea. There’s no doubt in my mind that I want to surf again, however, the ocean is the obstacle. No surfer is afraid of the sea. I need to choose one or the other - fear or passion.
I’m taken out from my thoughts as the door swings open, only to reveal Mrs Fuller’s face. She glances down at me with the beautiful blue eyes her son had inherited from her, “Gabriela my dear!” She chimes as she draws me in for a warm embrace. “It’s wonderful that you stopped by. The last time I saw you was at the dinner.”
“Sorry I’ve been so scarce.” I apologize as she ushers me in with enthusiasm.
“My dear, you’re always welcome in my home.” She assures me before raising a skeptical eyebrow at me, “You’re here for Chase, aren’t you?” She prods, having seen me survey the house for her son. I don’t even get chance to answer before she’s talking over me, “Absolutely fantastic! I’m overjoyed that you two are getting along again. Chase briefly mentioned something about you two working at the surf shack together again. I, personally, think it’s great.” She exclaims in a high pitched tone - a clear indication that she’s happy, at pure bliss even at the revelation that I’ve re-befriended Chase.
“Zeke informed me that he’s sick.” I reply, “I just thought I’d stop by for a bit and check up on him.”
I don’t bother mentioning Zeke’s last name. Everyone in Half Moon Bay knows who Zeke is. He was once a legend in surfing - thee Zeke Ferguson - which is why I value his words so highly. His opinions, suggestions and advice are important to me. His words don’t go unheard. He may be a jokester, but he also has that deep side to him - the side to him I most respect.
“Oh lovely.” Mrs Fuller smiles, “He’s upstairs in his room. You’re more than welcome to go see him, but be warned, he’s just been in an argument with his father about studies, the future and what not. He may not be too pleasant to be around right now. It’s the aftermath. He’s had time too cool off, so fingers crossed he won’t be such a pest.”
I nod in understanding. Mr Fuller tends to push Chase past his limits leaving Chase feeling drained, down and empty inside. As if Chase needs to feel so emotional when he’s sick as is. Poor guy. I’m no stranger to the pressure I’ve seen Mr Fuller place on Chase’s shoulders. His expectations of Chase often exceed Chase’s capabilities. It’s unfair on Chase. Often a time, Mrs Fuller needs to step in in order to subdue her husband. Mr Fuller has always been ridiculously hard on his son.
“Look Gabriela, you know I love my son, but lately he has such a bad attitude toward everything in general. It’s difficult for us - as parents - to watch him fall apart when we only want the best for him. It’s why we push him so much.” Mrs Fuller tries to reason upon seeing the look of disapproval on my face.
“If you really want what’s best for him, then allow him his happiness.” I reply, “Everyone knows that his heart is not set on actuarial science, it never has been. His heart is in surfing. That’s where he is now and that’s where he belongs. Why, with all due respect, is it so hard for you as his parents to support him in that - accept his dream? Surfing is his passion. You can’t expect him to give that up when it’s been his saving grace for all these years.” I give my opinion, standing up for Chase. I love his family and think of them as my own, but I disagree with their parenting strategies. Chase deserves a break every once in a while. He’s not a robot and soon, he’s going to burn both ends of the candle until there’s nothing left.
“And say his career in surfing fails, what then? How does he support himself and a family then?” Mrs Fuller questions, trying her utmost best to mask the surprise in her features. Did she really expect me to stand idly by whilst she tries to justify why they’re mistreating Chase?
“If he fails, then he can go study like Zeke. Allow him to make his own decisions. It’s his life. I understand that you want to keep hims sheltered, but it’s time you let him make his own mistakes. It’s the only way he’ll learn. He needs some freedom and less boundaries. He needs space, not direction. The days for guidance are over. He’s not a kid anymore. He’s turning twenty this year, as am I. I don’t mean to offend anyone Mrs Fuller, I just want Chase to be happy. That’s all I’ve ever wanted for him, truly.” I explain where I’m coming from, hoping that I haven’t crossed some type of line.
We’re not children anymore. I have the right to voice my opinion. Someone needed to tell his parents and unfortunately it had to be me. They’re incredibly overbearing at times that it’s literally exhausting. Wrapping Chase up in cotton wool, as if to protect him from the world, does him no good. I’m not saying Chase is being babied, I’m just saying that he’s kept too sheltered.
Mr and Mrs Fuller have driven their goals into Chase’s head so much that I’m surprised they haven’t actually sat him down and brain washed him into their will. I’m aware that no parent is perfect. We, as humans, all have our faults. But something has to change. Chase’s parents don’t need to support his decision in his surfing career, but the least they could do is accept where his heart and passion is at. Surfing is Chase’s life - literally.
I hate seeing Chase stressed. He has the A type personality where he has to be the best at everything. Not only do his parents push him, he pushes himself too. Chase is probably his worst critic. He’s more hard and intense on himself than any of us. He always land up at a point where it becomes too much fro him to handle and eventually, he cracks. I’ve seen it time and time again. It’s not his parents that have to pick him back up off the floor, it’s me. They haven’t seen him broken, not in the way I have. They haven never seen the effects of the pressure they put on him because Chase doesn’t allow them to see it. He’s afraid to fall in front of them and so he hides his exhaustion with his rebellious nature.
His parents never see what they’re doing to him. They tend to forget that their son, although he may be a prodigy, is still only human. Even the toughest of the tough can come crashing down at the darkest of times.
If they keep pushing him like this, he’s definitely going to come crumbling down. That’s his ritual: you push, he pushes back just as hard until he wears himself out. He’s stubborn in that way. I can still remember, back to high school days, where his grades were absolutely everything to him. He was so concerned and focused on his results all day everyday, that he forgot to let go every once in a while.
Being the most intelligent in school as well as the best in surfing had never been enough for his parents. Doing good was expected of him and failing or slacking was never made an option for him. It caught up to him. Eventually, he had a break down and landed up sick in hospital for a week. His stress levels were much higher than the average person’s. His stress was so intense that the doctors told his parents to back off and let him be a kid for once in his life. They were the sole cause to him missing out on most of his childhood.
What it all comes down to: Chase had been so stressed out that particular year - year eleven - that he became physically ill. If that’s not bad parenting, then I don’t know what is.
Mrs Fuller nods at me in understanding, “I hear you Gabriela. I’ve taken all what you’ve said into account and perhaps you’re right. Perhaps we’ve been too hard on him. I don’t want to make the same mistake and go back down that road where he landed up in hospital.” She says quietly as she gestures to the stairs that lead up to Chase’s room, “If you truly want him happy Gabriela, go see him already ’cause that’s when he’s the happiest. Truly.” She offers me a lighthearted smile before leaving me be.
I’m just glad she reciprocated what I’d said. I only wanted her to listen and she did. Hopefully she and Mr Fuller will ease up on him now. He could do with some rest. He can’t keep going through life with all the added pressure of his parents.
I enter Chase’s room silently in case of him being asleep. He’s in bed and his bare back is to me. However, he must have heard the door open because he mutters begrudgingly, “I said I’m done with college mom.”
“It’s not your mom.” I reply back tentatively.
Upon hearing my voice, Chase sits up quickly like a lightning bolt. My eyes meet his tired blue ones. There’s a calm smile resting on his lips and his expression is dazed with shock, “What are you doing here?” He asks softly as he quickly scrambles up to fix his hair and scruffy appearance, “Not that I’m not happy to see you.” He quickly adds, careful not to offend me. He’d definitely not been expecting me. I smile a little at the fact that he cares how he looks in front of me. It’s cute. For someone who’s supposedly in a grumpy mood, he’s being awfully sweet.
“I heard you were sick, just came by to check up on you.” I confess coyly, shying away from his piercing staring. He sure knows how to make a girl feel uncomfortable.
“Thanks.” He replies back in a mere whisper as if touched by the small gesture on my part.
“What are friends for?” I reply back as I take a seat on the edge of his bed, “Besides…” I grin, using the same words he’d used on me, “I’d do anything for you.”
Chase, having realized that I’m quoting him, chuckles.
“So how are you feeling?” I ask, changing the subject altogether.
“Better.” He answers without hesitating, “All of a sudden, a lot better.” He subtly flirts, winking at me playfully yet sincerely at the same time.
You may not be able to stop the waves from taking you under, but you sure as hell can learn to surf them - even the roller coaster ones that you call feelings.