A Love Letter to Whiskey(3)

by Kandi Steiner

And though I shouldn’t have resented my mom for not telling me sooner, I did. She didn’t deserve me to blame her for letting me think my father was a good person, but I did. And so, my life was never the same.

Like I said, it wasn’t that I hated my mom, because I didn’t. But there was a raw wedge between us after that night, an unmovable force, and I felt the jagged splinters of it scrape my chest every time I looked at her.

So, more often than not, I chose not to.

“Okay,” she replied, defeated. “Well, I hope you have fun.” I was still rummaging, searching for my bottoms, and she turned to leave but paused long enough to call back over her shoulder. “I love you.”

I froze, closed my eyes, and let out one long breath. “I love you too, Mom.”

I would never not say those words. I loved her fiercely, even if our relationship had changed.

By the time I found my suit, dressed, strapped my board to the top of my beat-up SUV and made it to the beach, the weight of the day was threatening to suffocate me. But as soon as I set my board in the water and slid on, my arms finding their rhythm in the familiar burn that came with paddling out, I began to breathe easier.

The surf in South Florida was far from glorious, but it worked for my purposes. It was one of my favorite ways to waste a day, connected with the water, with myself. It was my alone time, time to think, time to process. I used surfing like most people used fitness or food — to cope, to heal, to work through my issues or ignore them, depending on my mood. It was my solace.

Which is why I nearly fell off my board when Jamie paddled out beside me.

“Fancy meeting you here,” he mused, voice low and throaty. He chuckled at my lost balance and I narrowed my eyes, but smiled nonetheless. Everything I thought I knew about his body was erased in that moment and I swallowed, following the cut lines along his arms that led me straight to his abdomen. There was a scar there, just above his right hip, and I stared at it just a second too long before clearing my throat and turning back toward the water.

“Thought you had plans with Jenna.”

He shrugged. “I did. But there was a cheerleading crisis, apparently.”

We met eyes then, both stifling laughs before letting them tumble out.

“I’ll never understand organized sports,” I said, shaking my head.

Jamie squinted against the sun as we rode over a small wave, our legs dangling on either side of our boards. “What? You’ll never understand having a team who works toward the same goal?”

I scoffed. “Don’t be annoying. You know what I meant.”

“Oh, so you hate fun?”

“No, but I hate organized fun.” I glanced sideways at him then, offering a small smirk, and I grinned a little wider when the right side of his mouth quirked up in return. “I didn’t know you surfed.”

“Yeah,” he answered easily. “Believe it or not, us organized-fun people enjoy solo sports, too.”

“You’re really not going to let this go, are you?”

He laughed, and I relaxed a bit. So what Jamie was impossibly gorgeous and had the abs of the young Brad Pitt? I could do this, be friends, ignore the little zing in my stomach when he smiled at me. It was nice to have a friend other than Jenna. Where she made friends easily, I tended to push people away — whether by choice or accident. Maybe the Jamie-B-Jenna tricycle wouldn’t be so bad, after all.

But when I truly thought about that possibility, of having a guy as a friend, my stomach dropped for a completely different reason. A flash of Mom bent over our toilet hit me quickly, her eyes blood-shot and her truthful words like ice picks in my throat. I swallowed, closing my eyes just a moment before checking the waterproof watch on my wrist.

“We should try to catch this next wave.”

I didn’t wait for him to answer before I paddled out.

We surfed what we could, but the waves were sad that day, barely offering enough to push our boards back to shore. So eventually, we ended up right back where we started, legs swinging in the salt water beneath us as we stared out at the water. The sun was slowly sinking behind us, setting on the West coast and casting the beach in a hazy yellow glow.

“Where do you go when you do that?”

“Do what?” I asked.

“You have this look, this faraway stare sometimes. It’s like you’re here, but not really.”

He was watching me then, the same way he had the first day we met. I smoothed my thumb over one of the black designs on my board and shrugged.

“Just thinking, I guess.”

“Sounds dangerous.”

He grinned, and I felt my cheeks heat, though no one would know but me. My skin didn’t reveal a blush the way Jenna’s did. “Probably is. You should steer clear.”

Jamie chewed the inside of his lip, still staring at me, and opened his mouth to say something else, but didn’t. He turned, staring in the same direction as me for a few moments before speaking again.

“So what are you thinking right now?”

I let out a long, slow breath. “Thinking I can’t wait to get out of here, move to California, and finally surf a real wave.”

“You’re moving?”

“Not yet. But hopefully for college.”

“Ah,” he mused. “I take it you have no interest in going to Palm South University, then?”

I shook my head. “Nah, too much drama. I want a laid-back west coast school. Somewhere with waves that don’t suck.”

Jamie dipped his hand into the water and lifted it again, letting the water drip from his fingertips to the hot skin on his shoulders. “Me too, Brecks. Me too.”

I cringed at the use of my name. “It’s just B.”

“Just B, huh?”

I nodded. “You want to go to school in California, too?”

“That’s the plan. I have an uncle out there who has some connections at a few schools. You have a specific one in mind yet?”

“Not yet. Just somewhere far from here.”

He nodded once, thankfully not pushing me to expand on that little dramatic statement. We sat in silence a while longer before paddling back in and hiking our boards up under our arms as we made the trek back to the cars. The sand was a bit course under our feet, but I loved the way it felt. I loved everything about the beach, especially surfing, and I glanced over at Jamie, more thankful than I thought I would have been running into him.