Lightning Bay: Love's Battlefield: Episode 5
Threats and Ultimatums
Jo lets the grains of sand she’d been holding slide between her fingers while looking at me. “I really think you should take the job.”
“I know. And I’m seriously considering it. I just have to weigh up whether I can work with Cam or not.”
After the interview, Evan met up with Jo and me at the beach. Now that I’ve filled Evan in on what’s happening, the three of us are sitting on the sand, discussing the pros and cons of me working at the new cinema.
“Forget Cam,” Jo grumbles. “He can keep his job in P.C., can’t he? He doesn’t need to transfer here. He certainly doesn’t need to bully you into finding another job. It’s not like you haven’t been looking. He has no right trying to control what you can and can’t do in Lightning Bay.”
From the moment I walked out of Jeremy’s office, Jo has made it clear she thinks I should take the job. She’d also made it clear that she and Cam are no longer on talking terms. Apparently, the two of them were locked in a battle of wills while I talked to Jeremy. Knowing my presence is now wreaking havoc on their friendship only adds to my ever-growing pile of guilt.
“You might be right,” Evan starts, “but if Cam is so determined to stand in her way-”
“She should just let him?” Jo snaps.
“I’m not saying that.”
“Then what are you saying, Evan?”
“Guys,” I jump in. “Please don’t start fighting about this.”
“I’m not saying she shouldn’t take the job,” Evan explains, ignoring me completely. “I’m just saying that his behaviour won’t make things any easier for her.”
“Coming back here was never going to be easy for her, thanks to Cam.”
“I’m right here. Please stop talking about me as though I’m not.”
Jo turns to me. “You don’t deserve Cam’s hatred, Kia. The real person he’s angry at is his mother. And I hate that he’s made you his scapegoat. Worse still, I hate that you’re okay with it.”
“I’m not okay with it, Jo.”
She raises an eyebrow. “Are you sure about that?”
“I am,” I say. “I mean, I’m not. I’m not okay with it.”
That doesn’t mean I don’t understand why I am the target of his anger.
Cam’s loyalty to his family has always been unswerving, and his relationship with his mother was a close one. His decision to blame me for the accident stems from his inability to handle the thought of his mother being anything less than perfect, I believe. He refuses to acknowledge his mother’s infidelity, or her decision to get in the car with my father, or her choice to place her eleven-month-old daughter on her lap when they drove off.
The conversation that took place on the beach during my first night home, proves that maybe he will never acknowledge her part in it – just mine. Two years did nothing to dull his hatred. There were moments while I was overseas when I deluded myself into thinking that when I did come home, Cam would forgive me. I was naïve and ridiculous.
“Then why don’t you ever stand up for yourself?” Jo asks. “Why are you willing to walk away from a perfectly good job because of someone who refuses to see things the way they actually are?”
“You know why, Jo.”
Aside from the fact that Cam will make my life difficult if I take the job, I’m still stupidly in love with him. Jo has told me I need to get over Cam. How on earth does she think I’ll accomplish that when I’m working side by side with him and seeing him nearly every day? Watching him make out with and hang out with Brooklyn constantly will tear at me.
Wiping the sand from my hands, I say, “I hate that he blames me, but I understand perfectly why he does, and maybe…maybe I owe it to him to be his scapegoat.”
“Why? Because you feel like you deserve the blame he’s cast at your feet? Trust me, you don’t. It wasn’t your fault, Kia. How many times do I have to say it? How many times until you start to believe it?”
“Two people died because I didn’t trust my gut. Instead, I trusted my father. They died because I was in a rush to get ready for our Graduation dinner. How easily could you absolve yourself of what happened in the same situation? I didn’t drive the car, but without the keys, Mollie and Cam’s mum would still be alive.”
“You don’t know that. Your father could have stolen a car, or-”
“But he didn’t because I gave him mine. I have to own my part in what happened, Jo. I know Cam blames me entirely, and that’s not fair. I don’t deserve to be held accountable for everything, but I am at least partly to blame. Cam clearly needs me to be a scapegoat for the accident. He can’t deal with it any other way. Maybe this is a way I can make up for my lack of judgement that night.”
Jo makes a disgusted noise. “So, you’ve decided you’re going to let him keep blaming you? That’s so, so…”
“Martyristic?” Evan offers.
“Pathetic, I was going to say. I bet you any amount of money, Kia, that you wouldn’t be taking his crap and letting him use you as a dumping ground for his anger if you weren’t head over heels in love with him.”
My eyes dart to Evan – a friend who I’ve never told about my feelings for Cam. Evan, however, doesn’t look surprised in the slightest.
“What?” he asks. “Am I supposed to be oblivious to the fact you’ve been pining for Cam since forever?”
“Great,” I mutter. “I’ve been obvious.”
Evan shrugs. “Not to Cam.”
“Your guilt and your feelings for Cam are making you act like an idiot,” Jo says. “What you’re doing isn’t noble. It’s stupid. Cam doesn’t need you to take the blame. He needs to wake the fuck up and deal with what actually happening that night, instead of his own warped version.”
“And in your opinion, taking this job is going to do that?” I scoff. “More than likely, it’ll be like waving a red flag at a bull. He’ll dig his heels in and become more insistent I’m the reason everything in his life is the way that it is. And being his scapegoat from a distance is one thing, but if I have to see him every day at work…. God, it’s hard enough co-existing in this town without him as my friend. I’m still getting used to that. But working side by side with him when he views me as his enemy – as someone he hates – well that would be…”
“Painful,” Jo finishes for me.
Considering how I still feel about the guy? Absolutely.
By telling myself I’m choosing to be Cam’s scapegoat, it’s easier to maintain the illusion I have some control over the situation – that I’m choosing this situation. But I can’t do that on a daily basis. No way.
I run a hand through my hair – hair that is quickly becoming tangled in the light and salty breeze that’s coming off the bay. “I wish it wasn’t that way. I wish I was braver and stronger. I wish that I was over him already.”
Jo’s gaze softens on mine. “But you’re not, I know. And I know that working with Cam will be hard on you. Heartbreaking, even.” Jo looks at me meaningfully. “But Jeremy seems really cool. Not all bosses are that nice. And he really seems to like you and want you there, working for him. How many times do you think you’ll get the opportunity to work for someone who goes out of their way to recruit you?”
“In this town? Probably not many.”
“Exactly. Think about it,” Jo says. “It seems like fate. Your brother told you just this morning about the Diamond section, and then you went down there just in time for Jeremy to interview you. I think the pros totally outweigh the cons. Plus, Jeremy is really freaking hot.”
Evan makes a noise of disapproval and glares at Jo.
A few or so years back, I thought that Evan had a thing for Jo. I never found out whether he did or didn’t, however, because Jo completely freaked out when I mentioned it to her. She insisted Evan was like a brother to her and made me promise never to bring it up with her or Evan again.
“Dating the manager might be frowned upon if she does end up working there, don’t you think?” Evan asks.
“Don’t worry,” I assure Evan. “I’m not at all interested in dating the boss. As easy as he is on the eyes, he’s with someone, anyway.”
Jo pouts. “What makes you say that?”
“Well, he has a three-month-old. It didn’t make itself. And he said that he stopped travelling so he could settle down. Why would he do that if he wasn’t in a relationship?”
She sighs, clearly put out by my logic.
I relent a little. “He would be a great boss to work for, though. Which, by the way, he actually told me before my interview ended.”
“Did he really?”
Evan sneers. “He sounds arrogant.”
I smile. “He’s really quite nice. I like him.”
“Enough to take the job?” Jo asks. “Because I forgot to mention this morning that when our lease ends, Bethany says she’s moving back home. Meaning that I’ll need a housemate if you’re interested.”
“I am,” I say quickly. Then I put my head between my knees. “I really, really need this job. I need the money. What am I going to do?”
“You know,” Evan starts. “You could take the job short term. Until you find something else.”
“Jeremy said the exact same thing,” I tell him.
“Well, I’ve already told you my thoughts on the matter,” Jo says. “But if the idea of staying just until you find something else appeals to you, then do that. At least that way, you’ll have some money coming in.”
I nod. “I hate not being able to contribute financially at home.”
“And if you do decide to take the job,” Evan continues, “maybe you could talk to Cam about it first. Give him a heads up that you plan on working with him but you’re going to be looking for something else at the same time.”
Talk to Cam and tell him I’m going to take the job? I want to do that as much as I want to plunge my head into a bucket of razor blades.
But maybe it’s what I need to do. Maybe if I explain to Cam that I’m desperate for the money and I’ll be out of his hair as soon as possible, he won’t have such an issue working with me. Cam has always been fair and reasonable with everyone – before he blamed me for that night, anyway. Can I appeal to his sense of fairness?
And Jo’s right, Cam can keep working in P.C. if he really hates the idea of seeing me on a daily basis. Otherwise, he’ll just have to remind himself frequently that I won’t be there forever.
Covering my eyes from the glare of the sun, I look at Evan. “Does he still surf on Saturdays?”
“As far as I know, yeah. Over at Packer’s Peak.”
Packer’s Peak is a beach ten minutes down the road. Lightning Bay has wonderful beaches, but Packer’s Peak has better waves.
“Well, if I can borrow Mum or Riley’s car, I guess I’m headed to Packer’s Peak this afternoon.”
“Do you need back-up?” Jo asks.
“Nope. After the argument you two had this morning, I should probably do it alone.”
I could use the support, but I don’t want to put Jo in the middle any more than I already have.
“If you’re sure,” Jo says.
Mum’s reaction to my news about the job offer at the cinema only cements my resolve to take the position. Of course, she told me she didn’t want to force me to work with Cam, but the relief on her face when I said I was thinking about taking the job, if only for a little while, was obvious.
Three hours after my conversation with Jo and Evan, I’m headed to Packer’s Peak in Mum’s Hyundai.
I park at the top of the cliff that overlooks the surf beach. The sun burns my exposed skin as I step out of the car, and I wish I’d put sunscreen on. At home, I changed out of the clothes I wore to the interview and now I’m wearing a pair of short denim shorts, ballet flats, and a light orange singlet with a bikini top underneath.
Photo by Ben Müller from Pexels
Walking over the barrier made of large grey bricks, spotting Cam the moment I look over the rail. He’s dressed in a blue and yellow wetsuit, the top half of which he’s just shrugging out of. I watch as he bares his perfect chest to the sun, letting the suit hang from his hips. He brushes his wet hair out of his eyes before laughing and looking at the people sitting on the sand near him.
The conversation we need to have would be difficult enough if he was here alone. I hadn’t counted on having an audience – one that likely hates me if they’re friends of Cam and he’s told them anything about me. Perhaps coming here was a mistake?
As though he's sensed me, Cam looks up and his gaze collides with mine, knocking the wind out of me. At first, I’m not sure he knows it’s me, but when his friends turn around to look up at me, scowls on their faces, I know better.
The last time Cam saw me standing on the beach, staring at him, he left his friends to approach me, but he doesn’t do that this time. I don’t want to go down there, but he isn’t giving me much of a choice.
When he tears his gaze away from mine and laughs at something along with his friends, I have the worst feeling they’re laughing at me.
Ignoring the way my heart is in danger of bursting out of my chest, I hold onto the memory of Mum’s expression of relief and start down the steep stone steps built into the rocky cliff face.
“Oh look, it’s the bitch from hell,” a guy with golden dreadlocks and angry grey eyes says.
Adrenaline rocks through me, priming me for a fight I don’t want to have. Other than Cam, these guys are strangers to me, and yet I’m sure that each of them hates me because of whatever they’ve heard from Cam and other people in the town. All of them look at me as though I’m a bag of dog excrement that might be thrown at them at any given moment. I wrap my arms around myself, trying to hide from their angry eyes. There’s no one else around but the five of us – no one to run to; no one to protect me and save me.
The hard glint in Cam’s eyes makes me swallow. My eyes drop from his, but staring at the hard, sculpted muscles of his body and the all too familiar desire unfurling low in my belly despite the situation have me quickly looking back up again.
“Twice in one day,” Cam says, grabbing the surfboard he’s standing beside before plunging the bottom of it into the sand again. “And you’re interrupting my surfing afternoon. Why the fuck are you here, Saskia?”
I flinch. “I’m sorry for intruding, but I really need to talk to you.”
“I have nothing to say to you and I’m pretty sure you have nothing to say to me. Nothing I actually want to hear, anyway.”
I glance at the three guys still giving me the evil eye. “Could we go somewhere else?”
He lets out a short, abrupt laugh. “I’m not going anywhere. This is my one free afternoon, and seeing you is messing it up enough. If you have something to say, say it and then leave.”
He’s so cold that I can’t help but shiver. My heart lodges in my throat and it’s an effort to talk around it.
“I know you don’t want me to,” I start, “but I’m planning on taking the job at the cinema in town.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” he asks, taking a step towards me. “You came all the way here to ruin my weekend by telling me that?”
It’s all I can do not to step back. “I wanted to give you a heads up. It’s only going to be temporary until I can find something else.”
His stare is hard. “Can’t you just wait for something else to come up?”
“I would but my family…they need my help, Cam. They need me to take this job.”
I want to explain the situation to him – to tell him about our finances, my finances – but I’m confident he won’t be very sympathetic all things considered. He doesn’t care.
“My heart bleeds for all of you.”
His words prove it.
“Perhaps you could continue working at the cinema in P.C.; I know you want to be close to your girlfriend, but-”
“You think that’s why I’m switching to the new place?” Cam asks, his eyes flashing with fire and ice. “News flash, Saskia, I’m moving because I need to be closer to Dad. You probably don’t know this, since you’ve been globetrotting and living it up for the past two years, but he’s kind of a mess since your dad killed my mum and sister. Something he wouldn’t have had the chance to do if you’d actually stopped him from driving.”
“Why the fuck couldn’t you have just stayed away?” he shakes his head. “I’m warning you, if you take the job, I’ll make your life so miserable, you won’t have any choice but to quit.”
I don’t doubt he’ll do his best. Fear and adrenaline shoot through me, hitting me in the pit of my stomach and making me feel sick. His friends holler out, communicating their agreement. No doubt they’ll help him make my life a misery if he asks them to.
How far will Cam go to drive me away? I don’t want to know. Guilty of such a horrendous act of betrayal in his eyes, he wants to punish me for the mistake I made – a mistake I will forever regret and be guilt-ridden over. And maybe I deserve to feel guilty, but will there ever come a time when he won’t feel the need to make me pay for it?
He doesn’t understand that the guilt I feel – the anger I’ve turned inward because of how easily I deluded myself into believing my father is already a punishment of sorts. He doesn’t understand that on top of the guilt and my anger and the fact I live with the decision I made, I lost his friendship, his respect and his comfort. I lost him. And being forced to watch him with Brooklyn while working with him will tear my heart out again and again. He doesn’t need to inflict any more pain upon me.
If I had another job to go to – if the Bay View Tavern had been hiring – we wouldn’t be having this conversation. I wouldn’t be here asking him for his understanding. But that isn’t the case and I don’t have any other options. I made a mistake that night, two years ago. Two people are dead, but I’m not. I’m alive, and even if Addie and Cam wish I was the one who died, I must find a way to live with the guilt and the pain caused. I have to find a way to live in the Bay.
“I told you, this is just temporary,” I try to reason with him one last time. “You don’t need to make my life a living hell, Cam. I’ll be out of there as soon as I get the chance.”
“I don’t care, Saskia. You take that job and I won’t pull any punches getting you fired or making you leave. The choice is yours.”
I shake my head. There’s no denying I’m terrified of what he might do, but I can’t back down.
“I’ve made my choice,” I say, hating the way my voice trembles.
Impossibly, his voice hardens and the ice and fire in his eyes explode. “So be it.”
“So be it,” I repeat, swallowing hard. “I’ll leave you to it, then.”
Turning around, I head in the direction of the cliff-side steps, but I don’t get more than a few steps down the beach when something hits me on the back of the neck. Whatever it is, it hits me with such force, I actually fall to my knees. Reaching up to grab my neck, I whimper as my fingertips graze the stinging flesh at my nape. I scoop off whatever it was that hit me before looking at my hand to see what it is. It appears to be one of the jellyfish that dot the shoreline. Tears sting my eyes as the chorus of laughter behind me registers, ringing in my ears.
I turn around, my whole body trembling as I look at the guy who has held my heart for years. “Did you really throw a jellyfish at me?”
Cam’s smile is twisted. “It wasn’t me.”
His arms are crossed, and I don’t know if he’s telling the truth. My gaze slides to the three guys still laughing their asses off on the sand. It could have been them. I’d be more inclined to believe it was one of them and not Cam, but I have no way of knowing.
The way he’s looking at me – his twisted smile – it’s so unlike the Cam I grew up with. The Cameron Anderson I fell in love with – my best friend – is gone. The evidence of that has been staring me in the face since we came face to face for the first time in years, however, I haven’t really admitted it until now.
The man standing in front of me is a cold stranger who is out to get me. One who will stop at nothing to make sure he knows how much he hates me – how much he wants me away from him. One who revels in the pain and humiliation of his enemy. Me.
Tears slide down my cheeks as I turn away from him and start back down the beach. I know there might be another flying jellyfish coming my way, but I’m not prepared to stay any longer when I’m starting to lose it.
When I get to Mum's car, I climb in and put the keys in the ignition. If I drive away while I’m still crying, I’ll total Mum’s car. I doubt that will go down well. Instead, I put a CD into the disk drive and skip ahead until the track selection lands on one of my favourite sad songs – a song by Ariel Carter, “All This Must Come to an End”. Then I let myself weep.
I weep for myself and for Cam. I weep for the friend he once was and the man he now is. I cry for everything I’ve lost, including my chance at happiness with my first and only love. I cry for my family who has struggled without me for two years, for my mother who doesn’t seem to be herself anymore. I cry for Riley and the responsibilities that have fallen on him while I was overseas, and for Dillon who has suffered silently and never stopped being positive. I cry until I can cry no more.
And when my eyes are dry and sore, I wipe my nose and face and get out of the car again, looking over the railing at Cam.
Within seconds, he looks straight up at me and I stare straight back down at him. Riley has heard me crying every night, but as of this moment, I’m done with tears. They won’t alter the past or bring back Mollie or Cam’s mum. They are a waste of energy. I will regret the decision I made the night of graduation for the rest of my life, but I must find a way to live with myself and the decision I made, and that means not hiding out in my room and pretending the world doesn’t exist.
So. This is my goodbye. It has to be. It won’t be easy, but I have to find a way to move forward – to live without Cam and stop mourning everything we had. As well as everything we never had.
The Cam I once knew – my best friend – he isn’t in there anymore. Gone is the person who protected me from the bullying of others, looked after me and swore we’d always be friends. Gone is the person I considered to be the most loyal, trustworthy and fair person I knew; a champion of the underdog. He no longer exists.
In his place is an enemy, and that is how I plan to treat him from this day forward.
“Goodbye, Cam,” I whisper.
Then I get back into Mum’s car and drive away, leaving my heart on the beach with the stranger I once loved above all else.