Lightning Bay (Love's Battlefield): Episode 7
On my third day of training, Riley drives me to work. The short trip to my latest hell – Lightning Bay Cinema – is filled with Riley’s heavy rock music, and I believe we might part ways with less than a dozen words said between us until he pulls into one of the outer bays of the car park and lifts the handbrake.
“How are you holding up? All right?”
My hand pauses on the door handle as I turn to look at him.
“Yes, though, it’s a good thing you gave me a lift. If I had a car here, Cam would slash my tyres.”
Or Brooklyn would.
Riley’s lips are a thin line, his eyes hard. “How far do you think he’ll go?”
I’ve asked myself that same question several times over the past couple of days. I’m afraid I’m going to find out exactly how far he will go – and how much he hates me – before this week of training is over.
So far the name of the game he’s playing is humiliation. He knows I’m the quiet type and that I embarrass easily, and he knows that I hate feeling stupid. Subsequently, he makes fun of every question I ask, picks apart every roleplay I perform, and every answer Jeremy calls on me for. And he encourages the entire group to laugh at me with his biting comments.
If it had been anyone else behaving toward me as Cam has so far, it would be awful, but it’s so much worse because it’s Cam. He’s exploiting my weaknesses, using an intimate knowledge of what hurts me the most to twist the knife as deep as it will go. The past two evenings I’ve left work feeling like the shit someone walked into the new carpet at the cinema.
Things are only going to get worse. Cam won’t quit messing with me until I leave.
Climbing out of the car, I shut the door and lean my forearms on the open passenger window. “I don’t know, but I’m not quitting. No matter how hard it gets. I’m not running away. I’m not escaping this time.”
“Kia,” Riley starts. “I’m-”
“Don’t say you’re sorry, Riley. You were right about me. I mean, the bit where you said I was like Dad. It’s why I’m here.”
He frowns. “I wasn’t going to say sorry. I was simply going to say that if you need me, I’m here. If you need to talk, or if you need the shit kicked out of someone, you just need to say the word.”
I offer my brother a small smile. He’s hard-arse in a way he never was before I left. I hate that he’s turned into this version of himself in order to deal with everything that’s happened to our family. But we do what we must in order to survive. I chose to run while Riley chose to stay, and he got tougher because he did. Now, it’s my turn to toughen up.
“I appreciate the offer,” I tell him. “But I don’t want you beating up anyone for me.”
His mouth kicks up at the corner. “I’d enjoy it.”
“Who are you?” I ask, only half-joking. “Where did my sweet brother go?”
For the first time since he showed up at the airport alongside Dillon and my mother to welcome me home, he offers me a real smile. It’s a smile that reminds me of the brother I would talk with every night before I left town. Before my whole family had their life turned upside down because of me.
“He’s long gone, Kia. Sweetness is weakness. I’m not weak anymore. I’m a survivor. A fighter.”
There’s something in his voice that makes me study him. He’s so much stronger than before I went away. His muscles are much bigger than they used to be. He’s working out seriously. I thought he’d put on muscle just from working at the garage, but what if that’s not the entire reason he’s so much stronger than he was?
“Riley, you aren’t, like, actually fighting, are you?”
Thoughts of the types of underground MMA matches I read about in my books suddenly fly through my head.
“I have my work, my family, and my band. You really think I need anything more than that?”
“That’s not a no.”
His grin grows. “The guys at the garage know how to throw down and they’ve taught me a thing or two. If it comes to it, we’ll all be there for you. They’re my family and I’m yours. Family stick together, Kia. Don’t forget that. Dad turned his back on us, but we still have each other.”
See, Cam and Riley are so alike. Riley has made the Andersons the enemy in the same way Cam and Addie have made me out to be their enemy. Pointing that out to my brother, however, won’t change his feelings toward Cam. Nor will it mend the strained relationship Riley and I have shared since I arrived home.
“I appreciate it, Riles.”
Riley nods. “Don’t let him get to you, Kia.”
With that, Riley drives off, leaving me aware he never told me that he’s not fighting.
I sigh and look at the cinema in front of me. I’ll worry about Riley later. Right now, getting through another day of training is my priority.
Just as I begin walking across the pedestrian crossing in front of the cinema, I turn my head in the direction of the car that’s driving into the lot. I’d know the blue Ford anywhere. From this far away, I can’t see Cam’s face, but I certainly hear him gun the engine. I freeze where I stand as he starts speeding towards me. As if I’m stuck in a nightmare, I want to move but my feet seem to be glued to the tar beneath them. I’ve merged and become one with the road.
Perhaps I have a death wish and that’s why I can’t move. Either that or I’m stupid enough to test whether he’ll stop.
When his determined expression finally fills my vision, I’m jarred out of my dream-like state. Realising he has no intention of slamming his foot on the brakes, I dive out of the way. It’s not until I’m tumbling to my knees in front of the cinema, breathless, that I realise my heart is beating too hard. I blink, seeing stars flash behind my eyes, explosions of colour which terrify me. My blood is rushing too fast, and I can’t hear anything except the low silent hum of my body getting ready to pass out.
Panic. This is just panic. Just the blood rushing through my veins too fast.
Except it’s not just that. I know Cam hates me. I know he hates the fact I’ve come back to Lightning Bay. But I never really believed he wanted me dead. If I hadn’t moved, would he have hit me at that speed? He could have killed me or given me brain damage. Or both.
My lungs feel like they’re giving up on me. I can’t breathe. I wanted answers to just how far Cam would go to get me fired or to drive me to quit, and I’m afraid I can’t handle the answer to my own question.
I can’t see him, but I’m grateful when I hear Jeremy’s voice. He’s the only person who has been nice to me these past couple of days. Everyone else seems to have fallen under the spell of hatred Cam continues to weave around me at every opportunity.
Jeremy puts his hand on my arm, his touch warm and reassuring. My vision is still so blurry, I can’t see where I am or where I’m going, I just know I’m being guided up steps, and then finally I’m sitting.
“You’re having a panic attack,” Jeremy says. “Tuck your head between your knees.”
I feel his hand on my back, the pressure of his hand soft and gentle as I do as he says.
“What happened?” he asks.
I can’t reply. My mind is going back over every interaction I’ve had with Cam since I returned to Lightning Bay. Cam wants to hurt me, and he doesn’t just care about inflicting emotional pain. He’ll settle for physical if it means he gets results.
As my breathing returns to normal and spots stop dancing in front of my eyes, the soft hum in my ears becomes quieter. I take a deep breath and look around me. We're in Jeremy's office, and he’s kneeling in front of me, studying me intently, eyes narrowed, brows pulled down. When he puts his hand on my shoulder and squeezes gently, I’m worried I might cry. There’s something about kindness and compassion when you most need it that threatens to make you bawl when you really don’t want to. It’s on the tip of my tongue to tell him everything, to tell him that Cam nearly ran me over. Yet I stop, unable to speak the words. I want to tell him, but I just can’t.
Cam needs this job as much as I do. Perhaps that’s something I shouldn’t care about considering his front bumper nearly acquainted itself with my body. But the reason he needs this job is because of his father. And why is Cam’s father the way he is? Me. My presence and my actions two years ago are a large part of the reason his father’s mental health is suffering. I can't throw Cam under the bus, as much as I really want to right now.
Besides, even though Cam is my enemy and he just upped the game in a way I never imagined he would, he still warned me about Wayne and Brooklyn’s bet. What was it he said? “You’re expecting me to try and tear you down. You’re not expecting it from him. It wouldn’t have been fair.”
Bringing Jeremy into my war with Cam makes me cowardly. For so long, I looked to others for protection and help, allowing others to shield me. I’ve been weak. I desperately want someone to protect me from Cam, but cowering from this fight means I haven’t changed at all. I can’t drag anyone else into it. I want to save myself this time; I need to.
“I think it just all caught up on me at once,” I say, offering my boss a weak smile. “Being back in Lightning Bay. Working with Cam.”
Jeremy purses his lips. I’m not sure he believes me. If our positions were reversed, I’m not sure I’d believe me either.
“Are you sure about that?”
“Yes. Thank you for helping me, but I’m okay now. Work is about to start so I better get to my locker.”
He sighs and pushes himself to his feet.
Carefully, I stand, trying not to wince at the pain in my knees. “Thanks for everything, Jeremy.”
“Kia,” he calls before I can open his office door.
I turn to face him, my stomach dropping when I see his ultra-serious expression. “Take care out there.”
I nod before opening the door and walking out.
A second later, Cam appears, blocking my path to the staffroom. I don’t know what to say to him as I stare up at him. His nostrils flare and his lips are flat. Eyes that were once so kind and full of warmth and affection are now cold and hard. This guy, the person I was once closest to, just tried to run me over. I don't even know how to deal with that right now. The adrenaline that surged when Cam came gunning for me has left my bloodstream and I feel cold and shaky.
He sneers. “Did you run and tattle to the boss-man?”
I glare up at him. “No.”
He scoffs, clearly not believing me.
When I go to walk past him, he blocks me again. “Liar.”
“You've called me a lot of things, but I'm not a liar.”
“Neither am I. Quit Saskia. Quit, and I’ll ignore your presence in Lightning Bay.”
Does he really think nearly running me over will make me leave? Of course, he does, because I’ve never been the person who swings back at an opponent. Cam wants to break me - to chase me out of town. It worked last time, so he thinks frightening me and being horrid will be enough this time. Well, I might not be the person I want to be, but I’m working on it.
I stand up straighter, imagining a steel rod filling my spine as I hold his gaze. “I’m not quitting. I told you that I need this job.”
He shakes his head, crossing his arms, his mouth a tight line. “Quit, or I’ll make your life harder.”
I scoff and mimic him, crossing my arms. “You already tried to run me over.”
The cruel smile on his lips twists the tender and vulnerable organ beneath my ribcage.
“And yet here you are, still well and truly alive.”
“No thanks to you.”
He loses the smile altogether. “My mother and sister? They’re dead, and that is thanks to you.”
Brooklyn chooses that moment to join us, looping her hands around Cameron’s neck, smiling at me like she wishes she’d been the one to aim her car at me.
“Pity he missed you, huh?”
I feel sick as the two of them stand there, staring me down with rage in their eyes, but I want to think the desire to vomit isn’t from jealousy this time. Rather, it’s from the anger I feel. The rage.
Funny how once upon a time I used to take my strength from Cam. Now he’s again inspiring me to become stronger. His hatred and anger - his determination to see me crumble – are feeding my need to fight. Survival is a powerful motivator. While I didn't come here with any desire to tear Cam apart or hurt him – I don’t even want to hate him – I do want to stay alive. If that means swinging back at him in my own way, I will.
Photo by Ivan Samkov from Pexels
The next morning, I walk into work with my head held high. Fake it till you make it, that’s what they say. I spent last night brainstorming ways to make Cam back down or back off. Unfortunately, I didn’t come up with anything so I’m doing the only thing I can do this morning, pretending I’m stronger than I am.
“Did you hear?” one of the girls at the candy bar whispers loudly to her co-worker as I walk past. “She’s full-on hooking up with Jeremy Rawson.”
My stomach knots and an angry flush heats my skin as I try not to break into a sprint to my locker. I nearly sigh with relief when I get to the staff room, but my reprieve doesn't last long. Emily Watts is having a loud conversation with a guy and a girl next to her locker.
“Did you know she killed Cam’s sister and mother?” Emily declares loudly.
“How can Jeremy let her work here?”
“Because she’s hooking up with him, as I said.”
“Doesn’t he have a girlfriend? A baby?”
Emily stares at me while addressing the girl who asked the question. “Someone who kills her best friend’s sister and mother hardly has a care about wrecking someone’s family, Valerie.”
I shove my things in my locker, not caring how much noise I make. One guess who started the rumour.
Cam knows how much I hate being the centre of attention. But this rumour isn’t just about me. I thought Cam wanted to keep other people out of our war. I thought he had some sort of moral code he was employing – some rules. Clearly, I was deluding myself about that, too. This doesn’t just affect me, it affects someone else, and the anger I’ve been holding onto since Cam sped towards me yesterday threatens to take me over.
The entire morning, I do my best to ignore the way the other trainees stare at me, point at me, or look at me with disdain. My face is too hot, though, and even though I try to tell myself it’s because I’m angry, I’m also crazy-embarrassed. Every time Jeremy tries to meet my eyes during training, I can’t look at him. I don’t know if he knows what everyone is saying about me – about us – but if he doesn’t yet, he will soon enough.
By the time Jeremy dismisses us for lunch, I have no appetite, but because I don’t want to give Cam any indication he’s getting to me, I walk into the staff room to retrieve my purse from my locker.
Cam sits at the lunch table, surrounded by other trainees, and some of the other staff that are on a break. He looks up briefly when I walk in and then goes back to talking.
My relief that he’s ignoring me lasts only until I reach the space where my locker is. Or should I say, where my locker was?
That’s right. It’s gone. Just completely gone, like it’s walked itself out of the staffroom. My purse, my bag, my lunch - all gone.
Whirling around, I take in the table of people who are now watching me and failing at muffling their laughter.
“Where’s my stuff, Cam?” I ask, walking up to the table, refusing to be intimidated by his mocking and cruel gaze and twisted smile.
He sits back, throws the chip he was holding onto his plate and smirks up at me. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Don’t play games. It’s bad enough you tried to run me over yesterday, now you’re stealing my stuff? My locker?”
“Don’t be such a drama queen, Saskia. Tried to run you over? I can’t help it if you were standing in my way when I was driving into the car park.”
“Yeah right. Where’s my locker, Cameron?”
“I don’t know.” He shrugs. “Perhaps Jeremy took it somewhere.”
“Why would he do that?”
“You’ll have to ask him.” He loses his smirk and glares at me. “You two are on such good…terms now.”
The entire table snicker in response.
“Whatever this is between us-”
“There’s nothing between us! You made sure of that, Saskia.”
“That’s right,” I say, heat scorching my throat and face. “I made sure of it. So, don’t bring anyone else into this.”
“Then you leave him out of it.”
“I am leaving him out of it.”
Cam raises an eyebrow. “Didn’t look like it to me.”
“He was helping me.”
“Ah,” he nods, smiling unkindly. “You’re still getting people to fight your battles for you.”
“I don’t want to, and I’m doing my best to avoid it, but you make it impossible not to bring him into it when you do stuff like this.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. If you’re implying that I somehow walked out of here with a locker in front of all these people…” He looks around the table, frowning. “Any of you see me moving a locker?”
All of them grin and shake their heads.
I glare at him, shaking my head before I leave them to their laughter. Outside the staff room, I pause for a moment before going back to the meeting room where we undertake training. Jeremy is pouring over his notes, and I want to walk away and leave him to it. After the rumours I’ve heard circulating, I really shouldn’t involve him, but the locker belongs to the cinema, and even if I don’t mention Cam is responsible, I need to tell him my locker is missing.
“Jeremy?” I knock on the door.
Looking up from his notes, he smiles when he sees me. Then he sees my expression and his smile slips.
“What’s wrong, Kia?”
“My locker is missing from the staff room.”
His frown is instant and he strides towards me. “What do you mean it’s missing?”
Looking up into his kind but perplexed eyes, I shake my head. “I know it sounds crazy, and I don’t know how it happened, but it’s gone.” I make a move with my hands. “Vanished into thin air.”
Without a word, Jeremy drops his notes on the large conference table and heads for the staffroom, leaving me to follow him. The knot in my stomach grows tighter with every step that takes us closer. As we enter the staffroom, everyone looks up from their seats around the table. Jeremy’s gaze flicks from person to person before he pins Cameron with his glare. When Cam’s angry gaze swings around to silently accuse me, I wish I could go back in time and deal with this myself.
And that feeling only gets stronger when I look to the spot where my locker should be and find that it is there now.
“Kia?” Jeremy asks, walking over to my locker. “Are you sure…?”
My face feels as if it’s on fire as Jeremy watches me. Once again, I feel stupid and humiliated. “I swear my locker wasn’t there a few minutes ago.”
Jeremey looks over to the crowded lunch table. “Did any of you happen to see someone walk a locker in or out of here?”
“Saskia already asked us,” Wayne says. “We told her we didn’t see anything. And as you can see, it’s still there.”
“We think she might be delusional,” someone says.
“Always has been,” Cam chimes in, crossing his arms and smirking in my direction.
The rest of them shake their head as Jeremy looks at each of them.
“I’m pretty sure we would have seen something like that,” Billy, another trainee, says.
Jeremy looks at me again, studying me carefully before turning his attention back to the locker. “Open it, Kia. You better check that everything is in there.”
I let out a breath I wasn’t even aware I was holding. He believes me. Of course, the fact he does probably paints a bigger target on my back and makes the rumours Cam has been spreading about me and Jeremy appear more valid. Still, I can’t help but be relieved Jeremy doesn’t think I’m insane.
Jeremy nods when I look at him, and I reach out and put my hand over the combination lock, expelling a shaky breath. I can feel the eyes of everyone at the table on me and as I flick the numbers into place. The moment the lock gives way, I know that something isn’t right.
Before I have time to acknowledge my hunch, Jeremy grabs my locker door and swings it open, causing hundreds – and I do mean hundreds – of coupons and freebies to fall onto the floor.
“Oh no, Sir,” Wayne moans loudly. “She’s been stealing.”
“I hope she doesn’t get special treatment because of…well, you know,” a girl I don’t recognise says.
Jeremy looks at me. I don’t know what he sees when he looks at me because his expression is unreadable. “Kia, I think you better come to my office so you can explain.”
“Someone is about to get spanked,” Wayne calls out, making everyone laugh.
“Of course, he wants her to cum to his office.”
Jeremy walks out of the office, and I cast one look at Cam, who isn’t smiling. He doesn’t look as satisfied or smug as I thought he would, just determined. He warned me that there isn’t anything he won’t do to get rid of me.
Has he already succeeded in getting me fired?
There is absolutely nothing redeeming about Cam right now. I hate him!