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One With The Ocean

I shield my eyes from the sun as I stare aimlessly out into the great unknown.

“You ready?” Chase asks, strolling by on the hot sand, his famous white surfboard under his arm.

Hesitating, I fumble with the zip of my old black wetsuit. I have my bikini underneath. “Chase…” I stutter, “I don’t know about this.” I second guess myself.

Just looking out at the enormous waves has my heart racing in fear.

Chase says nothing, but merely brushes my hair aside - over my shoulder - before zipping up my wetsuit for me. He spins me around to face him, “It’s too late to back out of this, Gabriela.” He says sternly, “I’m going to be here every step of the way.”

I believe him, yet still, it’s not enough to stop my hands from shaking. I’m so petrified, I’m trembling all over. The longer you stay out of the sea, the scarier the sea seems to get. I should have faced this fear long ago before it escalated to what it is now.

Before I can protest any further, Chase hands me my black surfing board. When I’d taken the board off my shelf at home, it was thick in dust. I had to wipe it down before waxing it.

“You really need a more girly style.” Chase remarks, his gaze slowly traveling over my form and surfing attire. Compared to Stels, I’d be the tomboy between us. She has a colorful wetsuit and a purple surfing board. I’ve always been about black - hence my black wetsuit and black board. It just goes with my tan skin. “Though,” Chase smirks slightly, “I gotta say,” he breathes before letting out a low whistle, “black is definitely your color.” He winks at me, suggestively.

A blush rises, a faint pink dancing across my cheeks as I duck my head in embarrassment.

Chase doesn’t wait a second longer before sprinting the rest of the way down to the strand. “Get over here!” He calls, gesturing me over as he sets foot into the water.

Seeing his pleading eyes, I mentally sight to myself before forcing the steps needed in order to reach his side.

It’s our off day today, thus Chase made it the day to get right back into surfing. I miss surfing, but I’m also reluctant to face my new found fear of the ocean. It terrifies me. Every time I get close, I’m just reminded of Matt drowning. I always end up bailing out like a coward. Even Brent couldn’t help me. Who’s to say that Chase will succeed?

But then again, if anyone can help me, it’s Chase. Not only do we have a history, but he’s also a professional surfer. The rest of my friends are all amateur surfers - well except for Zeke, he’s a retired pro. Caleb and Stels hope to make pro soon. Ty and Duke could care less. Jacob has his own agenda.

Surely a championship surfer like Chase will be able to help me achieve my dream: to surf like I used to. Two years ago, I was well on my way to making pro. All of those past accomplishments mean nothing now. It’s all been thrown away, scratched off. Now it’s time to start right back at phase one.

“Thank you.” Chase suddenly says, his sincere voice breaking me out of my reverie. He sees my confusion and explains, “I know this isn’t easy for you, so thank you for trying and giving me a shot at trying too.”

I’m the one who should be thanking him for taking valuable time out of his day to waste on me. I hope, for his sake, that it will be worth it.

“If it’s gratitude time, I might as well say thank you for keeping this confidential.” I reply back, referring to the fact that he hasn’t said anything to the others just yet. I’d prefer to show them, not tell them. I’m hoping Chase can get me there.

“Don’t sweat it.” He answers nonchalantly as he begins to wade into the cool water.

He’d taken me to a reserved beach. This way, we won’t bump into the others. The quiet shore guarantees our privacy.

The idea is not to learn the basics, but to get over my fear of the ocean. I still remember all the basics to surfing. It’s like riding a bicycle, you just don’t forget. I’m aware of ocean conditions, wave breaks, wave etiquette as well as safety in and out of the water. Even the simple techniques such as paddling out to sea, push up and pop up techniques, riding waves and balancing is at the back of my head. I remember how to do everything, I’m just out of practice - hence Chase’s help.

“So listen Gabriela,” Chase sees my apprehensive stare and so takes the initiative to grab my hand as he tugs me along with him so that I’m knee deep in the water, “We’ll start out in the shallow areas. We’ll ride the whitewater until you’re comfortable enough to venture further out.”

Even the whitewater seems intimidating.

“You alright?” Chase asks, releasing my hand as we make waist deep waters. I nod hesitantly. Chase chuckles, “I’m right here Gabby.” He reassures me for the second time, letting it be known that he won’t let anything happen to me. The thought is comforting and in the moment, I find myself completely trusting him.

Chase holds my surfboard flat in he water, steadying it for me as I find the courage within me to slowly climb on. “We’ll take it slow.” Chase encourages me on as I find my feet, standing up on the surfboard as he holds it in place for me. “There we go. Nice and easy Gabs.” Chase smiles up at me, his one hand set on my waist, the other on my board. He releases his hold on me when he sees that my balance is still perfectly intact.

I could’ve stayed on my stomach and just paddled, but even that’s too boring for me. If I’m going to do this, it entails me standing up.

Chase cheers me on as I take up my first tiny wave of the day.

Confident in my stride, I surf the wave until the very end, thoroughly enjoying myself as an unintentional giggle escapes my lips. I find myself laughing for the moment as I ride the small wave all the way to shore where the small breakers are.

That might have just been easier than I expected.

“Yes!” Chase choruses in glee as he fist pumps the air, as if genuinely happy that I’d got back into it so easily.

I hop off my board and dive into the shallow waters before breaking surface, a wide smile on my face as my wet locks curl around me. “I don’t know what I was so afraid of, ” I start as my eyes land on Chase, “that felt amazing, like floating on air.”

I have missed feeling this rush of adrenaline that comes with surfing - the wind blowing through your hair, the water spitting out at you here and there and the sun fanning it’s heated rays just above you. It’s incredible! I want this feeling to last this time. I want to feel this alive all the damn time.

I get back on my board, flat on my tummy, as I paddle back out to waist deep waters where Chase still stands. I don’t hesitate to embrace him tightly, grinning into his chest as I grab hold of that inner joy he’s managed to reignite within me with both hands, “Thank you.” I exclaim in a hushed whisper, adoration for him in the moment. “Thank you so much.” I express just as we both rise up over a swell (a wave that hasn’t quite formed yet) lulling by.

Chase merely nods, saying nothing too exposing on the topic, “I didn’t do anything. You did that all on your own.” He insists, releasing me quickly as if the idea of me being flush against him is a little too overwhelming for him. Before I can get anything more out, he’s already paddling out further into sea. Stupidly, I follow after him, not wanting to be left alone. Being abandoned in the ocean is a thought that just does not sit well with me. Chase turns back to face as if he’d expected me to follow, “Just a little deeper Gabriela.” He tells me, predicting me to keep paddling out with him.

The deeper we get, the faster my heart begins to race.

I cautiously put a stop to it as I sit up on my board, my legs dangling in the cool water on either side of me. Chase, as if sensing that I’d stopped moving, turns back to me for an explanation. I take the opportunity to voice my concern, “Chase I’m not sure this is for me just yet. Can we call it quits and head back shallower?” I ask, my previous confidence having diminished in the deep waters below us. I’m no longer feeling sure of myself and uncertainty in the water is enough to cause some damage. As a surfer, you have to be sure of yourself. It’s dangerous to be weary in the water. You have to feel comfortable and in control of what it is you’re trying to accomplish.

Chase pulls a face at me, “Aww come on Gabs.” Chase presses, putting me on the spot, “You’ve come this far already. What’s going a little deeper going to do? It’s just slightly bigger waves. Judging by the first wave you took on, you’re more than ready for this. The skill is still there, set in place inside of you. You just have to reawaken it.”

“Chase…” I drawl out in hesitation, “I really don’t know if this is such a good idea. I think I’ll just turn back.” I deny his offer to go any further out.

“Gabriela, please.” Chase begs in desperation, his face sullen with disappointment.

That’s how I end up falling into peer pressure as I keep going, deeper and deeper, out with him. It’s enough to chill my bones. I just don’t feel one hundred percent certain about this.

I glance back to see how far we’re out. The shore seems so out of reach right about now. As I turn back around, I see a massive wave forming in the distance. It’s headed our way at an immense speed. I freeze in fear, this being a complete mistake hitting me hard. I should have never allowed Chase to convince me to do this. It was unfair of him to play that card on me.

The surge of the ocean pushing me back tells me that the wave is going to be a powerful one and if I were to be hit, it would be a powerful hit too.

Panic begins to set in when it finally dawns on me that these are waves I’m not ready take head on just yet. My experience with this is long behind me. It’s all new to me again.

“We won’t make this one in time. You know what to do. Just swim under before it breaks atop you.” Chase advises, suggesting that I’m a pro surfer like him. I’m far from it. The fact that he’s treating me as his equal is flattering, but I need a coach right now, not a partner.

The gigantic wave begins to roll forwards, picking up speed as it soon reaches us. The tip of the wave curls over just as the wave begins to break over us.

It’s like looking into the eye of the storm, I end up going into full blow out panic when Chase leaves me to dive under the wave as not to be hit by it.

I find myself lost in the moment, momentarily tensing up and forgetting to dive under.

By the time I’m able to console myself, it’s too late.

The wave sweeps right over me, taking me with it’s unruly force. It feels as if a ton of bricks collapses over me. I’m forced under and I’m tossed about ruthlessly as if in a beater. I’m dragged beneath the depth of the water as the wave takes me back to shore. Unable to catch my breath and unable to break surface against the powerful force, I’m taken under again and again until I’m left weak and breathless.

In that moment, I find myself giving up. I’m taken back to when Matt died. I relive the moment when I’d thought we were going to drown. I couldn’t find an escape, I couldn’t come up, just as now - I’m in the same predicament.

It’s unfortunate that I revisit that dark place now of all times.

My panic escalates to a point of no return. I’m fighting the sea like I had that day. However, this time, I’m not fighting for Matt, I’m fighting for myself. It’s not good enough. I don’t have a good enough reason to keep holding on.

Tumble after tumble, I take the waves violent tremors. Every time I make an effort to save myself and come up, another wave passes over me, taking me in its unearthly wake.

But unlike before, no hand reaches down in the water to save me. Chase is nowhere in site, in spite of him promising to look out for me.

I wasn’t strong enough before and so as a result, Matt died. I can’t be that same weak person anymore. I can’t always rely on Chase. I have to be better than that, for Matt. The deep embedded guilt urges me to do this for Matt, to not give up for Matt. He’d want me to save myself.

On my own accord, I open my eyes only to see where the surface is, the light breaking across it. I kick once, twice, pushing myself up with strong movements until finally I can breathe again. My head breaks surface with the help of my float enabled board still connected to my ankle via a leash.

Tired, I grab hold of my board, not quite able to pull myself atop it. After that, the tears just begin to flood down my face, my hands still shaking, my legs burning and my heart still beating furiously in my chest.

I thought I was going to drown.

I thought I was going to die in the way Matt had - my worst fear of all time.

Chase, having been looking for me, spots me and paddles over to me as fast as he can. “Flip! Gabriela!” He calls as he reaches me, “Are you okay?” He breathes out in his own panic at having momentarily lost sight of me, “After that one wave, you just completely disappeared out of sight.”

Still in the water, I ignore him and rest my cheek and elbows on the smooth surface of my board as I try catch my breath. This is his fault! I knew I wasn’t ready and yet still, he pestered me into doing it. Shaking my head, I clear the thoughts. I don’t want to have to slip up like last time and blame him again, but in the moment it’s all I can think of doing. “You said you’d be with me the entire time!” I hiss angrily at him, “You lied.” I conclude in a sob.

I know I’m being unreasonable, but I have to vent.

Chase, having noticed the tears falling from my eyes, comes to realize just how scared I had in actual fact been. He winces at my words as an apologetic expression crosses his features. “I’m sorry.” He says in response, his face pained at my sadness.

I don’t say anything more and instead, involuntarily cry as I’m reminded of the day I lost my brother. This incident - accident or not - felt too familiar. That treacherous wave transported me back into time when I’d really been drowning.

I undo my ankle leash in an attempt to just get out of the cursed water. I’ve had enough for one day. This was just plain uneventful.

Filled with nothing but dread, I’m caught off guard when Chase slips his arm around my waist, only to lift me up effortlessly onto his surfboard. I turn so that I’m facing him. I glance up at him, stunned that he’d just set me on the board with him.

“I’m not going to just let you walk away this time.” Chase explains himself, “I can’t have you pissed with me again. I just can’t.” He tries to emphasize in order to express himself, “I just got you back, I won’t lose you over this.”

His words only fuel my sadness as the tears fall more rapidly now. The way he said ‘over this’ so casually means that he doesn’t get it. He doesn’t understand the extent of my fear. He cannot relate and that really bothers me. It makes me feel alone.

If Matt were here, he’d get it.

Chase lifts his hand only to trace the side of my face lightly with his fingertips as he tries to soothe me, “Gabriela, baby, you’re okay.” He whispers as he tries to understand why I got such a fright. I appreciate his effort, but he’s a pro surfer who has a taste for the ocean. He’ll never get it.

It’s not about being okay now, it’s about not being okay in the moment.

I wasn’t okay just a few minutes ago.

I flinch back from Chase’s touch, still finding it within me to be mad at him, “I told you I wasn’t ready and you still forced me to venture further out, beyond the whitewater. I wasn’t ready. I told you that!” I raise my tone toward the end, now getting defensive. I’m peeved because he can’t see the issue through my eyes. I need him to understand, but he can’t. He can’t see why this is so difficult for me. He hadn’t been there when I’d almost drowned with Matt. Sure, he’d saved me, but he hadn’t been in the dauntless water with me. “I told you and you didn’t care.” I conclude, tears still misting my eyes.

He took me out deep way too early. This was still only my first day back at surfing. I’m still inept in most things revolving around the ocean and surfing.

“I made a mistake, Gabriela. It’s not fair to pin the blame on me.” He exclaims, exasperated as he tries to get me to hear him out. “I’m allowed to make mistakes.”

“Not when it could cost me my life.” I retort back bitterly, fazed that he’s taking this so lightly.

“Don’t be so dramatic!” He snaps at me, agitated by my arising anger, “Being swept under every now and again is part of surfing. You can expect that.”

I fly off the handle after that, “You don’t understand!” I shout at him, furious. “You don’t know how it feels to be back in the very mass of water that washed my brother out to sea before taking him away from me forever!”

I guess it always goes back to Matt. It’s like no matter how hard I try, I’ll never be able to escape that fateful day.

“I thought you’d be able to handle it!” He shouts back, reacting to his temper taking charge, “I guess I was wrong. So much for having faith in you.” He ends spitefully, “Should’ve known that it would get me nowhere. Never has.” He scoffs bitterly.

I gape at him in shock, his words flowing through me like painful poison - a slap to the face. Time seems to come to an excruciating standstill, until I find myself staring up into the eyes of a stranger.

We’ve reached our second falling out.

I can’t be one with the ocean when I’ve never been more frightened of it up until now, and I’ve never felt more further away from Chase than I do now.

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