BackWash

By CJ Adler All Rights Reserved ©

Romance

Afresh

“Okay, I’ll admit, this isn’t as awful as I’d been predicting.” I confess to Stella from beside me as I watch Austin teaching self rescue to the children who had volunteered for the ‘Junior Lifeguard Program’. I turn back to Stells, “Thanks for coming with. I appreciate it.”

Stells merely smiles gently in turn. She knows I didn’t want to face this ‘date’ alone.

Austin runs out of the sea in just his red lifeguard board shorts, “You sure you don’t want to join?” He asks me with that dazzling grin of his face.

Truth is, I’d love too.

I glance out to sea before hesitantly before shaking my head, “I’ll pass.” I stick by what I originally said. I’d have to decline the offer.

Austin frowns as if trying to figure me out, his hazel eyes flashing confusion as he lets me be and goes back to his course. I’d helped him all morning with the kids when they stuck to the shore. Unfortunately, I can’t allow myself to be of help when in the water.

The purpose of the ‘Juniour Lifeguard Program’ is instruction and practice in open water swimming. It teaches leadership, teamwork and of course, aquatic safety. It’s hosted every year here in Half Moon Bay for a month. Today was merely introduction seeing as it’s the first day. Fun activities such as swimming, paddle-boarding, body boarding, body surfing, skin diving, wind surfing, kayaking and of course, surfing are all included.

Chase is the surfing instructor for the kids. He’s a small part of the program. Unfortunately, it means he has to work with Austin. For some reason, it puts me in an awkward position. I feel stuck between the two, hence, why I practically dragged Stells here. I need some girl back up. Granted, Chase has been acting low key today whilst Austin refuses to leave me alone. I’d be lying if I said that he isn’t growing on me. He’s really good with the kids and that’s an attractive characteristic trait in anybody.

“Miss Gabby?” One of the students glance up at me with round, innocent eyes, “Why don’t you help out there?” She motions to the ocean, “You were so good when helping us with CPR on the beach front.”

“Thanks Sweetie,” I smile down at her, “I just…” I trail off, at a loss for words.

Stella fills in for me, “She hasn’t been permitted to help in the sea, doll. Sorry.”

The girl nods in understanding before going back to her classes.

I glance over at Stells, ready to thank her. She sees it coming and lifts her hand as if to stop me, “Don’t mention it.” She smiles.

I nod at her - grateful - before going back to watching Austin playing with the kids in the sea.

“You like him, don’t you?”

I turn to Stells to see her giving me a skeptical look as she motions over to Austin.

I shrug, “I don’t know.” I admit, “We’ll see.”

“He’s cute.” Stella teases, waggling her eyebrows mischievously.

“You two really need to stop talking about me behind my back,” a familiar voice says as someone wedges themselves in between Stella and I, a weight crushing down around both our shoulders.

We glance up to see Tyler leaning on both of us, his arms around both of us as he grins down at us.

“I have a boyfriend.” Stella reminds him like always as she throws his arm off her shoulders.

“Yeah, but Gabriela doesn’t.” Ty smirks down at me, winking suggestively as if to imply something. I move out of his reach as a result.

“Too bad she’s into Austin.” Stells teases Ty, Ty’s smirk fading into a frown upon hearing her words. Stells sees this and swats him on the chest, “Lighten up. It was suppose to be taken as a joke.”

Tyler definitely didn’t take it as a joke.

“I’m not into him.” I correct Stells and shoot her a playful glare.

Ty, not in to this topic, changes it as his eyes stray off to the sea, “Why is that asshole here?”

I follow Ty’s gaze to see Chase coaching the basics of surfing.

“Don’t call him that Ty.” Stells frowns at him, “He’s not so bad. He’s been through hell too, you know. Put yourself in his shoes before judging him.” Stells reprimands Tyler, not big on gossiping. We’ve never been a gossiping crew. We’re the people who try to see the best in everyone. If we have a problem, we’ll say it to your face. Stells, herself, refuses to keep quite if she has an opinion on something - like now.

Tyler sighs, “Why do you always have to make everyone feel bad Stella?”

Stells gives a peppy smile in turn before flipping her long caramel hair over her shoulder, faking attitude, “It’s what I do.”

“You weren’t there when he said all that sh*t to Gabs.” Ty defends himself and me in the process. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t touched by his thoughtfulness.

“Gabs has clearly forgiven him - by the looks of it anyhow.” Stells looks to me for approval. I nod as she continues, “See.” She motions to me, Ty following her actions as he sets his dark eyes upon me, “If Gabriela - of all people - can forgive him, why can’t you too?”

Caleb had also forgiven Chase, but then again, Caleb is the most forgiving person I’ve ever encountered in all my life.

Ty keeps his eyes on me as if contemplating the idea. He groans before nodding at Stells, tearing his eyes away from me, “Fine.” He agrees, “I’ll try to see the good in that asshole…” Stells rolls her eyes at his contradicting statement as he gestures to me, “For Gabs.”

A smile twitches at my lips. Ty returns the smile, shooting me a flirtatious wink. I merely shake my head at him, averting my eyes from his. Stells notices the action between us, but says nothing, almost as if she’s routing for something to happen between us.

“Yo OldSchool!” Leb shouts as he comes running to join us, “How’s the date going?” He asks me.

Ty raises an eyebrow as he turns to me, “You’re on a date right now?”

Stells gives Ty a flat look, “Relax. It’s more casual than anything.”

“That’s what she said.” Caleb jokes as we all turn to give him a deadpanned stare.

“That makes no sense.” I say before turning back to Ty, “You know Austin?” I ask him.

“A good friend of mine, hence why I’m here. Came to support his crap.” Ty replies, now curious to my relation to him.

“He asked me to come to his ‘crap’ as you say.” I explain, making sure to add, “That’s all.”

“That’s what he said.” Caleb tries the same joke twice. We all turn to give him a look as he falls silent and pretends to zip his lips closed.

Tyler - of all people - just has to be friends with Austin.

“Your cast is off!” Caleb, breaking his pack to silence instantly, exclaims in enthusiasm before he high fives me, “Nice.” He says, having only noticed now that my cast is off.

Yeah…he’s super slow.

*~*~*~**~*~*~*

“How did your date go then playgal?” Zeke prods, a cunning grin on his face as he purposely pushes for a reaction out of me.

After talking to my friends, Austin found me and I spent the rest of the remainder of the morning with him, not wanting to come across as rude. I didn’t agree to come, only to blow him off. He swiped my phone and then returned it to me. It was then that I saw he had added his number and took down my own. The date was laid back and sweet, I wouldn’t mind seeing him again. He seems to get me and what it is that I want.

“Hardy ha ha.” I glower at Zeke, “You’re so funny.” I reply back sarcastically before annoying me on purpose too, “Shouldn’t you be studying or something?” I mock him with a devious grin to my face as his own expression dies.

“Oh, so it’s gonna be like that then?” He teases, making no mention to our serious conversation that took place last week.

Chase, all the while listening to us bicker, says silent. It’s odd. He’s usually quick to defend Zeke and join in on the argument.

“Indeed,” I reply back to Zeke before nudging Chase softly, “You alright there Fuller?” I ask, sensing his drop in mood. I suppose he’s tired after coaching all morning and maybe still not feeling one hundred percent better since his cold.

“You have been awfully quiet.” Zeke points out the obvious.

“Yeah, yeah.” Chase rambles out quickly as if he’d been in his own world, “Fine, fine.” He tries to assure the both of us - though, we’re not buying it, not at all.

Chase.” I drawl, “C’mon. Be real. What’s eating at you?”

“Why did you agree to a date with Austin?” Chase suddenly asks, out of the blue.

I chew on the inside of my cheek as I try to process his question. Why would he be interested in my business?

Zeke, now feeling awkward, takes a step back before exiting the surf shack altogether, “I’m just going to go…study…and stuff…” He stammers before making an escape, leaving me entirely alone with Chase.

“Because he’s sweet.” I eventually answer.

“You planning on seeing him again?” Chase questions.

I shift awkwardly, this conversation now feeling more like an interrogation.

I shrug, “Probably not.” I answer, true to myself, “I barely know him.” I breathe out quietly before finding it within me to ask, “Why does this concern you in any case?” I ask, forcing courage and confidence.

“We’re friends, right?” He answers my question with one of his own. I nod. “The of course it’s my concern who you date. As your friend, I want you to be happy. I know for a fact that Austin can’t live up to that. You deserve better. Austin’s a man whore. Just ask Tyler. They’re friends for a reason.”

Tyler’s a flirt and I know he’s not exactly innocent in nature, but still, he’s my friend. If I can see past Ty’s flaws, then surely I can do the same with Austin.

“Let’s not jump ahead of time, Chase.” I smile up at him, “I’m flattered that you care so much, but you might want to tone it down a notch. I’ve only been out with Austin once, chill.” I advise in an attempt to reassure him otherwise.

Chase pursues his lips as if thinking before he nods to me, “Okay.” He agrees way too easily, “I will drop it.”

The only time Chase drops things easily, is if he has way to get even - to earn himself payback. Technically, I didn’t do anything wrong. However, it’s crystal clear that Chase sees me as someone who did him wrong. I can read him like an open book. He’s become that transparent to me.

“Excuse me?” A drop dead gorgeous surfer taps on the counter to gain our attention and assistance. I recognize her instantly. She’s one of BackWash’s main models used to advertise, promote and sell all kinds of surfing wear and gear.

Chase glances at me before he purposely offers her a charming grin as he takes it upon himself to see to her, “Hey Siviana.” He greets, giving her an acknowledging nod followed by a flirty wink, “What can I do for you?” He asks her, his voice lower as if he’s trying to seduce her.

Of course he’s on a first name basis with a town celebrity.

He’s really a hypocrite. One second, he’s calling Austin and Ty man whores, but how much worse is he - has he always been?

“Hi Chase.” She greets him with a playful roll of her eyes as if immune to his flirting. “I’m just in desperate need of a shortboard gun. I need something to cut edge on the waves. Got any left in stock?”

“Borrow or buy?” Chase questions as he leans a little closer to her, his eyes straying back to me for a second to see if he has my attention.

He does.

“The board, or you?” Siviana responds to his flirting through flirting back.

It quickly turns into a full on flirt fest after that.

I glower at the two as I search the small back room for a shortboard gun. I’m certain she’s forgotten about the board by now. She obviously wants a date with Chase more than a ride with the board. I’m not annoyed in the fact that Chase is flirting with her, I’m annoyed in the fact that he’s been flirting with all female customers since last week - since I went to see him when he’d been terribly sick with flu.

I’m not stupid. I know Chase well enough to know how he functions, how he operates. As soon as we get too close for comfort - for him anyway - he draws back, pushes me away and later, shuts me out entirely.

He’s a coward. He knows as well as I do that we could be something more - we’ve always had the potential to be more - but he’s always the one that opts out in the end. He’s afraid of commitment and he knows that with me, it would be all about the commitment.

Commitment is the very foundation of a serious relationship.

I’m certain that the words ‘serious relationship’ petrify him.

It’s why I’ve stopped pursuing Chase. You lose interest when you realize that you’re thee only one still holding on. It builds up until you reach that climax where you let go because it’s just not worth it anymore.

That’s where I am.

I’m tired of putting myself out there only to be subjected to ridicule and rejection. I’m starting afresh with my life and if that means giving Austin a chance, then so be it.

I grab the step ladder and climb it as I reach for the surfboard. I’m unable to no matter how much I strain with effort to tug it down.

I just love how these difficult situations always fall into my hands…

Watch me break my wrist again and get another cast on the very day my previous cast had been taken off.

With much effort and a jump, I manage to grab hold of the edge of the shortboard gun. I pull on it before it topples off the shelf, just missing my head in the process. It lands on the floor with a thud. I hop off the step ladder and dust down the filthy board before walking back to the front and handing it over to Chase. He and Siviana are too busy hitting n each other to notice me clear my throat. I angrily and abruptly slam the board on the counter, creating silence between the two as they look at me in astonishment. I don’t bother to explain myself as I impulsively storm out the surf shack.

I’m tired of always doing all the work around here.

But that’s not true,’ my own conscious thoughts remind me.

Chase is constantly working on upgrading, improving and fixing old boards. I merely use it as an excuse to justify my actions back there. Truth is, I don’t exactly know why I’m so infuriated. All I know, is that I am.

Zeke can’t really complain. It is closing shop time in ten minutes anyway. The sun is already starting to set, array of beautiful colors as always.

I vaguely hear Siviana ask Chase what my problem is.

I wish I knew.

Chase tells her to hold on, shoving the surfboard into her arms roughly before I hear him chasing after me.

I mentally sigh as I pick up my pace, continuing to walk along the shore at a faster pace.

“Gabriela!” He calls after me, “Hold up.”

“Leave me alone Chase!” I call back to him, not bothering to slow my pace, stop or turn around to face him.

“For short legs, you’re damn fast!” He jokes before sprinting the rest of the way, effectively stopping me. I shove his hand off my shoulder and keep walking, my hair blowing furiously in the wind. Strands of my brown curls whip in front of my face, almost blinding me as a result. I hear Chase chuckle at the fact as he steadies me with his hand for a split second in order to prevent me from face planting into the sandy bay.

“Go away.” I mutter, beyond irritated. It says a lot seeing as I’m almost never annoyed by anyone - not even Caleb. I usually keep my temper intact. I’m not one to act out, unless I’m furious. Currently, I am.

Chase is most definitely intelligent enough to figure out that I’m behaving out of character for a reason, hence why he’s chased me down.

He stops me again, yanking me to a stop as he tucks the strands of my hair blowing in my eyes behind my ear. He laughs upon taking me in, “The frown you’re sporting matches your messy hair right now.” He teases, hoping to get himself back on good terms with me. He’s doing a lousy job. I glare at him flatly, “What was that back there?”

I ignore him as I continue on walking aimlessly without direction. I don’t know where I’m going, but I know I’m going somewhere.

Chase’s eyes glimmer up in amusement as he matches my strides effortlessly, “We can walk all night Gabriela, or we can just talk.”

In other words, he isn’t going away.

Maybe if I run -

“Don’t even try to run, I will easily outrun you.” Chase says as if reading my mind. He knows my thinking patterns all too well.

The next waves comes in shore. Feeling frustrated, I turn and kick the cold, salty sea water up at him. Chase freezes as an expression of shock morphs its way over his expression, the water droplets dripping down his face and shirt.

He’d definitely not expecting me to resort to something so immature and petty - a water fight.

I stifle a laugh when he shivers and frowns at me in bewilderment. The laugh forming in my throat dies when a slow, vexatious grin curves his lips, “You play dirty, Hill.” He whispers before, in the blink of an eye, he splashes me back - just about soaking me wet.

I gasp as the cool water hits me a second time.

“Chase!” I whine before drawing my foot back and kicking more water at his face, getting my rightful vengeance.

“Gabriela!” He whines back in a mocking voice, taunting me before he swashes me with another handful of water, showering me so that even my hair becomes soaked under all the sprays of water. I’m transported to years back where the two of us had a water fight - one I had too initially instigated. The memory is fresh in my head as we relive it.

I end up laughing aloud as I run away from him, trying to dodge his water attacks. He’s the clear winner here - though, I refuse to admit defeat.

He draws me back by my waist before tugging me to him, splashing me in the face yet again. I slip out his grip, splash him back, before making a run for it.

“Stop!” I plead, still laughing, as he runs after me, chasing me down the beach front at sunset, the both of us shivering as the wind picks up - yet somehow, it all seems worth it.

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