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Authors: Mia Castile

Tags: #Romance, #General, #Fiction

The Ocean

BOOK: The Ocean
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The Ocean

by

By Mia Castile

Chapter 1
As If It Wasn’t Enough

Gianna

I hugged Mitchel goodbye. I hoped it wasn’t the last time I would ever see him, but a smal voice told me it might be. I felt lost. We stood in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, waiting the final moments before I would head off to security.

“You’ve got your ticket, right?” He nervously checked his pockets as if he were looking for something, pausing only to push his wire-rimmed glasses up his nose. My mother had made a good choice with Mitchel . He was a lawyer, and we lived in a northern suburb of Indianapolis. We had come to Chicago for a final shopping trip before I was exiled to Florida. I was leaving my gated community to return to the first home I had ever lived in. We had struggled over the years, and when it seemed like we were final y happy, boom! Cervical cancer. My mom had passed a month earlier, and though my brother Alex had already been in St. Petersburg for three weeks, I had dragged out the relocation for as long as my biological father, Oliver, would al ow. Now, the man I had wished for the past four years to be my father, the man who felt like my real father, was being forced to tel me goodbye.

“Yes, I’ve got it right here.” I held it up to show him.

“Good. One more thing, Gianna.” He final y found what he was looking for in his front pocket. He pul ed out a smal velvet drawstring pouch. I watched him warily because I hated surprises.

“I’ve been looking for this for a week.” He started to chuckle. “Your mom hadn’t worn it in years, but I think she would want you to have it.” He loosened the top with one hand, cupping my hand with the other as he tipped it over. Out fel a smal white gold ring. I knew this ring. It was my mother’s wedding gift from her father when she’d married Oliver, my father. In cursive, LOVE was carved on the top of it, the letters connecting and blending into the band. I remembered the story she’d told Alex and me growing up. “My father, a hardworking man, told me that as long as I was loved, I would find my happiness. I was loved by him, and I am loved by you, so no matter where we are, I am happy.” I just stared at it as I said, “I thought she lost this a long time ago; she stopped wearing it when I was stil young.” I sighed, stil admiring it, as I slipped it on the middle finger of my right hand.

“She thought she had too, but I found it in the attic as I was going through some things from before we lived together. It must have slipped off when she was packing the boxes. After I found it, I misplaced it too.” I laughed at his absentmindedness. Mitchel was a bril iant litigator, but sometimes he had trouble finding his shoes in the morning when they were in the shoe rack in the mud room where they always went. I didn’t know how he’d survive without us.

“There are more things I’m having shipped to Florida, but I wanted to make sure you had this. It’s important that you know your mother wil always be with you, watching over you and smiling. She was very proud of you and Alex.” A single tear threatened to escape my eye. I wil ed it to stay, at least until I was out of his sight. He had wanted to adopt us when he first married my mom, an act that my father had refused to al ow. I couldn’t forgive Oliver for that. To be honest, there were a lot of things I couldn’t forgive him for. But for that, I wouldn’t forgive him. Mitchel promised to visit over our fal break, and I nodded in agreement. I hoped my father wouldn’t find a way to prevent that from happening. Mitchel represented stability and integrity, everything that my real father did not. So I hugged him goodbye, trying to remember everything about this moment.

When I found my seat on the plane and buckled myself in, I final y al owed the brimming tear to escape. I sat between a kid who looked as if he were in col ege and a man in a suit with his laptop open. The business man had huffed annoyance when he realized mine was the middle seat. I didn’t like the window seat; I always got dizzy looking out the window. I never liked the aisle seat after a mishap with an airline attendant and drink cart a few years before. The result was three broken fingers on my right hand. It usual y wasn’t a problem because I sat with Mom and Alex.

Thinking about them together, I al owed another tear to escape my eye. I leaned my head back and looked up at the air vent, waiting for the plane to move, to do anything. Nothing happened. Tear three escaped my eye. The kid on the other side of me looked like he wanted to say something to me, but I ignored his glances. Instead, I closed my eyes and found myself in a happy memory. I closed them tighter, and I could smel the floral arrangements. I saw the four of us standing there on the sandy beach with the wind blowing in our hair, my mother and I wearing flowered halos around loose soft curls, Mitchel and Alex in khaki shorts and button-up Hawaiian shirts, sand between their toes. I saw the Hawaiian justice of the peace smiling at the newly married couple who were so in love. They were married the second day of a three-week family vacation. We’d never been anywhere for a vacation before that. How my mother had found Mitchel was a mystery to me even now.

Another tear slid down my cheek. I opened my eyes to the air vents again and looked down at the ring that said LOVE. I felt a strange sensation, like my mother was wrapping her arms around me in that moment. I closed my eyes again.

The captain came on saying we’d be leaving shortly, and then the flight attendant began speaking about safety procedures. I reached under my seat and grabbed my messenger bag. I found my iPhone and put the ear buds in my ears. Drowning out the flight attendant, I played the loud rock music. I went to my mobile email and sent two messages. First to Alex, it was simple and short.

Alex,

Arriving on time, don’t be late!! Phone off now but will turn it on when I land. Luv u Gia.

The next message I sent was to Mitchel . He wouldn’t get it for another three and half hours. Even if it made it to his phone before then, he wouldn’t check it while he drove.

Mitchell,

I couldn’t say all the things that I’ve wanted to tell you these past few weeks but thank you, for loving my mom, and for loving us. Even though we couldn’t call you dad, you were our dad. Thank you again for the ring; it means the world to me to have a part of Mom with me. I will call when I’ve settled in.

luv –Gia.

I switched my phone to airplane mode before I glanced at the boy by the window just long enough to see he was stil watching me. I leaned my head back as we took off and let the music fil my ears. My eyes unfocused, and I didn’t look at anyone or anything. It was me and the music for the rest of the flight.

Final y, we landed. I gathered my guitar and luggage. As I exited the sliding doors from the baggage claim, I was assaulted by the heat and bright sun. I turned on my phone. I had a new text message.

Truck won’t start. Find a cab.

“Great,” I sighed. I walked up to the first cab I saw. There, leaning against the passenger side door, was a short, skinny Asian man in his forties.

“Where to?” he asked in a thick accent.

“St. Pete.” I half smiled.

“That far. You pay, and not stiff me for going so far?” He didn’t crack a smile. I dug out my wal et, opened it enough so he could see in as I fanned a row of twenties.

“Do you mind if I see your ID?” I asked as I put my phone on picture mode.

“No. I don’t mind, looks like we don’t trust each other.” I took his ID and took a picture of it. I texted the picture to Alex with the message: This is my cab driver.

“Hey, you’ve gotta make a living and I’m a sixteen-year-old girl traveling alone,” I smirked as I typed and he helped me load my luggage in the trunk.

“Where, St. Pete?” he asked as we both climbed into the car, him behind the wheel, and me behind the passenger seat.

“Can we go to the St. Pete Pier first?” I was feeling overwhelmed, and I was not looking forward to the reunion with Oliver.

“No problem, your dime, or twenty.” Ah, a joke! I smirked again and put my ear buds back in my ears as we drove away from the Tampa Airport. I didn’t feel like much more smal talk. I watched the scenery change from large city, to beachy forest, to smal town. I was here. I was home. We drove up and parked by a meter, the LCD screen on it flashing that it had expired.

“You feed that thing.” The driver nodded toward the meter as he reached for a newspaper in the passenger seat.

“I wil and feel free to leave the meter running.” He looked at me in the rearview mirror with a shocked expression, but he reached and turned it off. I got out and fed the meter. First, I walked to the pier. It was an old gray worn wooden platform with an equal y weathered wood railing encompassing it. A few older men sat on a bench with fishing poles, their lines strung out and disappearing in the wavy water. I remembered the last time Alex and I had stood at the end and watched dolphins dance in and out of the water in the distance. He was seven; I was six. This was the only ocean I had ever seen. Alex told me it wasn’t the ocean; it was the Gulf of Mexico. To me it was just an ocean.

I stood there for a long time watching the Gulf’s choppy water. The breeze chil ed my legs beneath my short jean skirt. My black blouse was thin, and my skin goose-bumped under it. I walked the length of the pier to the path that led to the beach. I slipped off my sandals and carried them in one hand. In the distance there were people jogging in pairs, some with dogs. A group of boys were playing footbal in the distance, and a couple was having a romantic afternoon picnic. About halfway between the couple and the boys I sat down, tucking my skirt under my thighs and pul ing my knees up to my chest.

I watched the waves rol in. They rol ed out, in, out, as they had always done. There was something comforting in that, knowing how constant this place was even after al these years. This was where I came as a little girl. As soon as I realized I could escape, I came here. Sometimes, I just sat here for hours watching the waves until Alex would come for me. He only came after our father was finished hitting our mother and had either passed out or left to tend the neighborhood bar he owned. Alex never told our parents where I went to escape. It didn’t matter where I was in the house or what the time of day, when my mother screamed to us “LEXIE, GIA RUN!” we ran. We each had our hiding place from him. He never came to look for us; he real y didn’t care. Alex would creep back to check whether it was safe to return. He was always the braver of the two of us; then when he was sure it was OK, he’d return with me. The two of us would put our mother back together, icing her face, bandaging any scrapes, picking up the broken dishes or furniture. I don’t remember when it began. I just remember it always happened.

I was lost in thought, so of course, I didn’t see the footbal hurtling toward me. I was entranced by the waves and my memories, but I snapped out of it when I heard, “Hey, look out!” I turned my attention to the direction of the voice. I saw the footbal sailing toward my head. I leaned a little too much, landing on my side as the footbal barely missed my head. Sand was everywhere, in my caramel-colored hair, al over my skin, and down my blouse. I was utterly mortified. Running toward me was a tal tan boy, shirtless and wearing long cargo shorts. His messy dark hair that framed his face and white teeth smiling at me captured my attention first. His hazel eyes sparkled, and I gazed at them longer than what I probably should have.

I stood, dusting myself off, trying to avoid his gaze and failing miserably. He reached for the bal and as he straightened up, he appraised me from my bare feet up to my eyes, which were scrutinizing him as wel . He realized I’d watched him sum me up and looked away briefly, his face darkening slightly with a blush.

“Sorry about that. My buddy,” he pointed to another shirtless boy who was waving both hands while yel ing “sorry” to me, “has got no aim. Or the best aim in the world, depending on how you look at it. I’m Travis.” There was that perfect smile again.

“Gianna, it’s OK.” I fanned my shirt a little as sand continued to fal out of every crevice of it.

I picked up my sandals as he asked, “Are you new to town or on vacation? I don’t remember seeing you around.” He shuffled the bal between his hands.

“Just arrived, but now I have to go. Thanks for saving me from the footbal .” I smiled and took a step back from him, captivated by his eyes.

“No problem. Anytime. Real y.” He stood there and watched me as I inched away. Final y, I turned and walked away. I didn’t look back. It was real y hard, but I’d seen al the sappy movies where the girl regrets looking back because she usual y gets caught by the boy who is stil watching her leave. When I made it back to the pier, I turned to walk the final section to the sidewalk, and then I couldn’t help myself; I looked over to see if he’d gone back to playing with his friends. He stil stood there, shuffling the bal in his hands and staring at me. His focused look suddenly turned into a great big smile that reached his eyes. I chuckled and shook my head, suddenly understanding why it was so much cooler not to look.

I made my way back to the cab. The cabbie looked up from his paper as I climbed in. I told him the address as I leaned back in the seat, but he didn’t say anything. It was three streets over and down two blocks. I watched the scenery pass by the window. The neighborhood looked different but stil felt the same. He pul ed up in front of a house, and I sat there mesmerized by it. I remembered it as blue. Oliver had painted it an olive green color, and the trim was bright white. The porch had a green wooden floor with white pil ars along a white railing. A dark cherry wooden door made the home seem welcoming and inviting. My mother’s flowers stil lined the walkway and flower bed in front of the porch. I was frozen.

BOOK: The Ocean
13.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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