I stare up at Chase, patiently waiting for an answer. It never comes. Instead, I’m met by excuses.
“I don’t remember,” he lies to my face, pretending to not recall any of it.
I urge him to open up, “Yes, you do.”
This is the last time I’m trying with him. After this, it’s over.
“It wasn’t important,” he tells me.
“Then why do you still remember it?” I ask, putting him in a corner.
“It doesn’t matter,” he confesses, “not anymore.”
I swallow the hurt and nod, “Yeah, I thought so.”
At least, I got an answer…
He frowns, having caught on, “Gabby-“
“I’ve seen enough to know that this…” I motion in between us, “isn’t going anywhere.”
“I need you to stay away from me, Chase.” I cut him off, not wanting to hear any more.
“I don’t think I can do that,” he confesses sheepishly, embarrassed.
“Well then find a way because I can’t do any of this anymore,” I breathe out coldly. I’m done with him. Caleb’s right. I won’t be held back by him anymore. I’m done waiting on him to make up his mind. It’s over.
I don’t know why I didn’t cut him off sooner. There’s no room for him in my life. He doesn’t help me, he drags me down with him. It’s a toxic relationship.
I avert my eyes from him, my thoughts dwelling back to all that he has said to me since coming back:
‘Stay out of my way as much as possible and I’ll stay out of yours.’
‘Your words mean nothing to me now, Gabriela.’
‘So much for having faith in you. Should’ve known that it would get me nowhere. Never has.’
‘I don’t need you. I never did.’
Chase lifts my chin up with his thumb ever so carefully - cautiously - so that he can have my undivided attention. My gaze meets his yet again, by his own doing, only to find so much desperation filled in those bottomless pools of blue, up until the point where I feel I’m drowning and can’t quite surface for a breath of fresh air.
“I know you’ve given me so many chances as is - but please, just give me one last chance. Don’t shut me out. I won’t screw it up this time, I’ll try to do better. I promise.” He pleads with me, trying to reason me out of my set decision. His persuasions skills are weak. “Please,” he repeats, his tone laced with raw emotion.
It’s difficult not to fall apart at the seams by just staring into his weary eyes. He’s hurting and he’s just as hopelessly lost as me. Caleb is his friend too and I know he’s going through the same motions as me, the same turmoil. I know that, but I’m done trying to fix him. I have my own life to think about, my own to live.
“You don’t need me, Chase.” I remind him of the words he’d once used on me, “You never did.”
“I do.” He nods as if admitting something, “I do need you, Gabby.” He confesses in his state of weakness, making me wonder what happened - where his confidence went. He’s in shambles because himself is not ready to say goodbye to Caleb either.
His soft side has been sparked. It hurts me to see Chase hurt. I absolutely hate seeing him like this - hopeless, lost, without direction, without purpose, without a cause. He has no drive left. He might as well be a zombie.
“I’m sorry, Chase,” I apologize, “I care about you, I do, but I need to be me by myself…at least for now.”
I leave him alone after that, a dejected expression on his face, under our cherry blossom tree.
I wake up bright and early the next morning, four a.m sharp. It’s a cold morning, yet still, I find myself sitting on the soft white sand as I look out at the sea. As expected, Caleb’s the only one in the water. Chase and the others use a different beach for morning surfs. I’m currently on Caleb’s turf. I had planned it as so.
Sitting here reminds me of all the dawns I spent with Brent, with Matt.
I watch Caleb surf and he’s exceptionally talented. It’s only now that I see he surfs with a passion and hunger that no one else, not even Chase or Zeke, have. He surfs in the way Matt used to. He surfs because he has nothing else left to lose, because it’s his life - his oxygen. Before, I didn’t understand his obsession with surfing 24/7. Now, now everything has been brought to light. I get it. I finally understand him.
As Caleb’s time here on earth slowly comes to an end, I spend the next couple of mornings watching and filming him surf. I have something for him before he goes. It won’t undo anything, but it will make his passing the slightest bit easier.
I make a habit of leaving when I see him paddling back to shore as to not be seen by him, but on one specific day I slip up and he catches me taping him.
’A bit stalkerish Gab Gabs,’ he’d said, unfazed by the fact that I’d been filming his talent, his skill and technique - him, all that makes him, him.
I got the feeling that he knew what I was up to, but for some reason decided against saying anything.
Along the way, he unintentionally managed to inspire me.
His passion is also apparently contagious because in the following weeks to come, I found myself in a wetsuit with my old surfboard under my arm. I’d built up the courage to just do it and get it over with, to face my fears and own them, to banish the past’s powerful control over me.
The day I surf again, is today.
I hesitantly glance out to sea. Fortunately, the ocean isn’t flat, nor is there a storm on the way. I’m good to go. The waves are fairly big and it, of course, intimidates me, but I will not be deterred by fear anymore. I’m determined to overcome this. I will conquer this fear because I’m sick and tired of being held back - by Chase, by my past, by fear. No more. I want to live again. I want to feel alive again.
I step into the water, the coldness coming to me as a complete shock. It’s enough to steer me backward, but my legs have a mind of their own, because I just keep on going, step by step, one foot in front of the other. Once I’ve ventured past the breakers, it’s then it hits me.
The fear sets in, burying itself deep within me as it occurs to me that no one knows where I am right now. If something is to happen…
My shortened, panicked breaths stop when I see a massive swell forming in the distance. Sitting on my shortboard, I glance back to see that I’m far off from the shore. I’d never make it back in time.
What the hell am I doing?!
I suck in a deep breath and then slowly release it, hoping to recover and console myself before the wave hits. I can do this, I know I can. Determination overpowers my inner struggle as I lean on my stomach and begin paddling for the swell, for my home break. I choose, on the brink of me stumbling, to face my fears instead of cowering behind the waves.
I manage to get into position in time, spinning my board around so that I’m facing the beach. As the lip curls over, I begin to swim into the wave. I grip the rails of my surfboard and swing my legs out from underneath my body so that I’m crouching on my board with my left foot in front of me and the other at the back. I waste no time in jumping up to my feet, managing to keep my balance all the while in doing so.
In spite of my absence in the surfing world, everything still comes to me as second nature. It’s natural. It’s as if I’ve always been meant for the water.
I throw my arms out in order to gain more speed as I begin to move with the wave. I race around the first section of whitewater and use my front foot to make a bottom turn up on the wave. I’m set up for a sleek off-the-lip maneuver, taking advantage and using it as my lift. I rocket up into the wave, the nose of my board pointing straight up into the air. I quickly whip my torso around and set my surfboard back in place, droplets flaying in all directions as a result of the arc I created.
The drop down sends a wave of energy down my spine and it’s in that moment of pure adrenaline that I truly let myself go, living for the moment. I race faster down the line of blue-green water, doing small and effortless bottom turns here and there as I go.
It’s only when I see that the section in front of me is close to breaking that I gear up for a final trick. I have to time it perfectly. When the lip curls over, I ignore the spray of whitewater and dig my hand in to make one last bottom turn, anchoring myself as I go.
I hit the whitewater just as the lip snaps over and end up soaring through the air. I hold onto my rails as I’m overcome by a foreign, yet oddly familiar feeling of weightlessness. I haven’t felt anything like this in a long time.
Something deep within me stirs, some part of me that I was sure didn’t exist anymore wakes up and urges for me to continue on with this life. It’s the part of me that I was sure died, the part of me that’s been hiding all this time, the part of me that chose to go into hibernation for a good couple years.
It’s in that split second of floating through the air, just above the water, that I feel like me again - the real me, the one I’ve seemed to have lost along the way.
I find myself smiling in the moment as time comes to an endless standstill, everything paused as I take it all in.
I’ve never felt so close to Matt and Brent before. Their spirits are revived inside me, living on to tell each of their stories. It’s almost as if I can feel their presences, feel them here right beside me in this fleeting moment of time. For the first time, I don’t feel so alone anymore.
A momentary thought runs through my mind as I course through the air: ‘I’m finally free.’
I brace myself as I crash back down into the wave, bending my knees to absorb all impact, with a grin on my face.
I haven’t just faced my fear today, I’ve conquered it.
It’s my comeback from the past and into reality’s good graces.