Lightning Bay (Love's Battlefield): Episode 2
She's back. Saskia Berry, the girl I once called my best friend and shared everything with, is back. As in, she's standing right in front of me.
Why the hell did no one warn me this was going to happen? Jo and Evan should have said something. Anything. Springing her on me like this is the worst thing they've ever done. And considering some of the pranks Evan has pulled on me over the years, that's saying something.
"Cam, it's good to see you," Kia says softly, her soft hazel eyes telling me she means it.
I hate how much I want to tell her the feeling is mutual. Not a day has gone by when I haven't thought about and dreaded this moment. Now, here she is.
Stupidly, part of me is rejoicing at the sight of her. That's history for you. This girl used to be my confidante and the person who knew me best. I have so many memories of the two of us. At times I've missed her so damn much the pain has near destroyed me. But she's nothing to me now. She can't be. Not when I've worked so hard at putting my family back together. Her presence here in the Bay threatens everything I've accomplished. My family asked for my loyalty, and they have it. I owe it to them to continue to be the glue that holds them together, and that means forgetting Kia and everything she ever was to me.
Something that will be damn near impossible with her back in town.
"Well, it isn't good to see you."
Evan shoots me a warning look. "Chill out, Anderson. We thought you were working this week."
So they hadn't decided to spring her on me, they'd been hiding her instead. Perfect.
"You should have told me she was coming, Evan. And you," I say, pointing to Kia. "You're supposed to be thousands of miles away. Somewhere I don't have to look at you or think about you."
She visibly flinches, and I resent the pain it causes me to speak to her that way.
"Cam, come on," Evan says. "It's her first night home."
"I had to come home eventually," she says, pleading for my understanding. "I couldn't stay away forever."
She can't stay. I have to drive her away. There's too much at stake for her to be back in Lightning Bay.
"Who said anything about forever? Until one of us dropped dead would have sufficed."
Jo slams her palm against my chest. "Stop it! It wasn't her fault. You can't hold the accident against her forever. It was her father driving that night, not her."
"Don't tell me what I can and can't do, Jo-Jo. She might not have been the one driving, but she was the one who gave her father the car keys. It was her car they drove away in, or have you forgotten that?"
"Because he begged me for my help!" Kia yells. "He told me he was in trouble. I had no idea he was taking your mum and sister with him. I never would have given him the keys if I did."
"And the fact he'd been drinking didn't deter you at all!" I explode.
"He swore he was fine, Cam. Maybe I shouldn't have believed him-"
"You've always seen what you wanted to see when it comes to him, and this time your ignorance cost me my family."
That night my family went from being a unit of five to a unit of three. There have been times since when I've wondered whether my sister and father would survive the pain of that enormous transition. I've feared both of them would check out of this life and leave me all alone. Devoting my time and energy to help them get their shit together means I've abandoned my own need to grieve. But finally, after all this time, I'm starting to see the payoff.
Addie has finally stopped screwing every guy that moves and drinking herself into a coma every night. My father is getting help with his grief and depression; he's stopped flying into a rage and hitting the bottle too hard. My family is starting to heal and knit back together, but Kia's presence in town is likely to set them both off all over again. They blame her for the accident more than I do.
Just when I thought we were getting back to some kind of normal, Kia shows up and jeopardizes it all.
"You're right," Kia says. "And I'll never forgive myself for that, but-"
"There are no buts, Saskia. He never would have had those keys or a car if it weren't for you. He'd already been convicted of drink-driving. He had no car, and he had no license, and yet you still handed your keys over as if it was nothing. You didn't think. But then you never think, do you?"
Her eyes are full of apology, but the misery in them only makes me angrier.
"One of the people I trusted the most in this world let her father drive away over the legal limit with my mother and baby sister in the car. I will never forgive you for that. I can't."
"Cam," she whispers. Begs. "You're not being fair. You can't put it all on me when our parents were the ones having an affair."
As if the accident alone hadn't destroyed our family enough, we'd learned that my mother and Kia's father had been sleeping together. The night that Kia's father had run a red light and been hit by a truck, the three of them had been leaving town together. And the reason they were running? My dad had threatened Kia's dad, so they'd decided to skip town and shack up somewhere as some make-shift family. They'd rented some little shithole one hundred and twenty kilometres away from the Bay.
Everything about that night – about what happened – is so fucked up. Addie has blamed me for bringing the Berrys into our life on more than once. Sometimes I wonder how different my life would have been if I'd never spoken to Kia on her first day of high school. Would Mum and Mollie still be alive?
Is what happened all on Kia? No, and I can admit that. I can even acknowledge that turning my back on her still eats away at me at times. Loyalty is something I pride myself on, but family comes first. And Kia's family and my family are done. So done, we need a new word for it. And I can never let go of the fact that Kia could have stopped the accident from happening if she hadn't been off in her dream world, like usual.
"You want to talk about fair?" I ask her, bitterness circulating through every cell in my body. "I lost half of my family in one go, and yours is playing at putting itself back together as if the accident never fucking happened. How is that fair?"
Her eyes are wide as she takes in what I've told her. After a second, she shakes her head. "My mother would never forgive my father. Never."
"You've been gone for two years. You know jack shit about what's going on here, so don't pretend like you do. Stay away from me. And stay away from my father and sister, too. They don't want you around any more than I do."
It's not until I feel my girlfriend put her hands on my arm that I realize just how tense I am.
"Cam. What's going on?" she asks.
Kia freezes as she takes in Brooklyn's familiar gesture.
Brooklyn's hatred of Kia was an issue for me back in high school, but it isn't now. I've gotten to know Brooklyn very well since Kia left town, and sure she's still a bitch, but I kind of admire that about her now. The fact is, she practically raised herself. Brooklyn is as tough as nails. When Kia and I were friends, I used to appreciate the fact that Kia needed me – that she was someone I could look after and take care of, but Brooklyn doesn't need me. She's used to taking care of herself, and with everything I've got on my plate right now, that's a relief.
Plus, Brooklyn is hot as hell and has had a thing for me for ages. When she made a move on me six months ago, I couldn't turn her down, and I didn't want to. While Kia has been away, running from her guilt and the fallout from the accident, Brooklyn has been here helping me when I need it and letting me vent about my family. She's listened to my worries about Addie and offered advice, and it was she who sat with me in the hospital the night my dad tried to off himself.
Brooklyn turns me around and stands on her toes, and I dip my head, knowing she wants to kiss me. She's staking her claim.
I want to be into it, but I just feel numb as her lips move against mine. I'm too full of turmoil to appreciate her efforts right now.
When I finally break away, I see that Kia is doing her best to hold her tears in. At the last moment, she fails, and one slides down her cheek.
Immediately I squash the guilt and regret I feel. It used to be Kia and me against the world. Now it's her versus me, and every point matters.
"Aw, what's the matter, Saskia?" Brooklyn asks in a faux-sympathetic tone. "You look like you lost your best friend."
Kia whirls around and runs down the beach as fast as she can.
I stand there, trying to look like I'm entirely unmoved. As long as no one guesses just how much I'm not, then it doesn't matter how much I wish I could run after her.
Jo shoots me a glare and races off after her. Evan, however, isn't as quick to follow them.
"We go back a long way, Anderson. I know tonight was a shock for you. That's the only reason I'm going to let you off the hook for being a jackarse tonight. But I'll tell you this; she's back in the Bay with no plans of leaving. You'd better get used to the idea. If I have to pick sides, you're not going to like who I side with."
"You do what you have to," I tell him.
Indeed, Evan and I go back a long way, but that doesn't mean I'm going to let him tell me how to act around my former best friend. He didn't lose anyone in the accident that night. He wasn't the one who had to make a choice between his family and his best friend. He never had to hold his fractured family together by giving up all the essential things. Maybe if he had, he'd understand.
Treating Kia like she's not the girl who once meant everything to me will be challenging, but I have to keep the distance between us. Because if I let Kia know how much I've genuinely missed her – if I allow myself to dwell on the friendship we used to have – I'll never be able to stay away. And then my father and Addie will self-destruct.
I won't let that happen.
"Come on," Brooke says, tugging on my arm. "Forget him. Forget her."
I nod, letting her know I'll try. But Lightning Bay is too small a place to forget anyone. And when Addie and Dad find out that Kia is back, there's a good chance I'm going to be picking up the pieces all over again. Not just theirs, but mine. Because with Kia back in town and the two of us at odds, there's no way there won't be carnage. That's just what happens when the person you cared about most becomes your enemy. It's an all-out fallout. One I'm not looking forward to in the slightest.