A Reason for Being: Chapter Seven

Point of Negation, A reason for being, death to stock photos

Chapter Seven

 Fifteen months earlier.

 

Berhansen. Magician. He’s a magician.

The thought pounded through Meredith as she ran up the beach, leaving a puzzled and sand-splattered Tyler staring after her.

She didn’t stop running until she reached the Guesthouse, a cheap hostel situated right on the beach. She nodded hello to a couple of surfers smoking in the tiny, scrubby garden and went up to the room she shared with four other girls. She grabbed her sponge bag and headed to the communal shower to scrub the sweat and salt and sand from her body, then dressed and headed for the tiny mess hall whence she could smell eggs and coffee and toast.

Halfway down the stairs, she paused. She could see a familiar dark head standing at the desk, talking with Peggy Sue, the freckly redheaded receptionist.

“I know,” he said, displaying a charismatic smile. “I know it sounds strange that I don’t even know her name, but I was hoping if I described her, you could maybe tell me if she’s around. You know everyone who goes through this place. About average height, athletic build, runs every morning, dark hair, fierce face?” He glanced up and caught sight of Meredith on the stairs. A smile came over his face and he turned back to Peggy Sue. “On the other hand, Pegs, looks like I’ve found her. Thanks for all your help, anyway.” He moved to the bottom of the stairs and stood there, looking up at her.

Heaving a sigh, she started down the stairs. “Are you stalking me?”

“You forgot to give me your name.”

“And I don’t intend to.” Meredith pushed past him and hesitated. She was starving, but she didn’t want him following her into the mess hall where everyone would be able to listen in on their conversation. Already, Peggy Sue was watching them with acute interest on her freckled face. She veered right into the garden instead.

He followed her, amused. “Are you always this unfriendly with strangers?”

“Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to talk to strangers?” she said over her shoulder. “Especially strangers who won’t tell you their names?”

He paused. “Actually, yes, she did try her very best to drill that particular piece of paraenesis into me. But I guess her well-meaning advice always kind of washed over me like a wave over a rock.”

“You should listen to your mother.”

“I thought women didn’t like men who listened to their mothers.”

“Women like men who aren’t idiots or stalkers.”

“I’m not a stalker.” He leaned his elbow on a fence post and grinned at her. “I’m just a guy who wants to buy you breakfast.”

Almost as if on cue, her stomach rumbled. He looked down and grinned wider. “And if I’m not mistaken, you’re not exactly averse to the idea of breakfast either.”

“I’m averse to the idea of breakfast with you,” she retorted. “Actually, if you’d leave right now, I can get my own breakfast in the mess hall, thank you very much.”

“Oh, come on,” he said. “And what kind of a breakfast would that be? A couple of pieces of stale bread and some half-cooked eggs made on a greasy frying pan that hasn’t seen a sponge in two weeks? I know what the food at the Guesthouse is like.” He looked into her eyes. His eyes were as green as the sea over a coral reef on a perfect day, she thought. Not a day like this.

“I know a place,” he said, “just up the coast, about fifteen minutes’ ride away. We can take my bike; you’ll like the coastal scene. They do great breakfasts, the best waffles in town, stacks of pancakes as big as your head. Fluffy omelettes filled with mushrooms and tomatoes. It’s right on the beach. After that, if you want, if you haven’t decided you’re thoroughly sick of me and my face, I can take you around the island. There’s a waterfall with a track that’s framed with tons of flowers – orchids and morning glories and hibiscus. It’s beautiful. You’ll love it. I know a little cove on the other side of the island with the smoothest white sands you’ve ever seen, and a cave beneath the cliffs. They say pirates used to smuggle stuff up the cove and bury their hoards in the cave. And there’s this rock place where the old witch men and women of the island used to conduct human sacrifices, it’s kind of crazy, but it’s also a very beautiful place up in the hills, with an amazing view of the ocean and the islands beyond. Do you know how to surf? I could teach you to surf. Come on, what do you say?”

She shook her head. She was wavering, he could see. She was softening.

“If I go to breakfast with you, would you leave me alone after that?” she demanded.

He laughed and pulled away from the fence post. “Come on. We’d better hurry if we want to beat the morning rush crowd.”

 •

He was right about the breakfast. The waffles were fluffy yet crunchy, topped with sweet berries and sticky with maple syrup. They washed down their food with tall glasses of orange juice, and she had to admit, he was good company. He told her about the island, about its folklore and history. He had summered on the island every year with his family since he was little and knew the place like the back of his hand. He made jokes. He made her laugh, in spite of herself. He teased her and she found herself teasing him back.

“So,” he said at the end of breakfast, “what do you say about that waterfall? It’s a ten-minute hike to the falls, but the trek alone is so beautiful, it’ll be worth every step of the way.”

She frowned. “I only agreed to breakfast. I didn’t say you could be my personal tour guide.”

“Oh, come on,” he said. “You can’t disagree that I’m good company. I don’t suppose you had any other plans for today, did you?”

She ducked her head so he wouldn’t see her smiling, but he saw it anyway. He smiled as well and nudged her knee under the table. “Come on,” he repeated.

She made a last-ditch attempt to warn him off. “You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into. You don’t even know my name.”

“I’ll take a chance,” he said. “Live dangerously, why not? What do you say? You wanna live dangerously too?”

She laughed and looked up at him. “Okay,” she said. “Fine. You win. But if you regret this later, remember, you asked for it.”

 •

He had been right about breakfast and he was right about the coastline. It was gorgeous, even if the weather was a little grey, the waves a little rocky. They sped down the road on his motorcycle, a Triumph Rocket III, and Meredith was very careful not to touch him any more than necessary. She could see him looking at her in the rear view mirror, smiling at her. He stopped the bike at a couple of particularly scenic points to show her the view.

The track to the waterfall, as he said, was fringed with hundreds of lush, brilliantly coloured tropical flowers, framing the tiny rough path. It was beautiful, and she couldn’t stop herself from staring all around, eyes wide. He made her stop a couple of times and took pictures of her framed among the flowers on her camera. He asked her to smile, but she didn’t, so the photos he took were of her, serious-faced, surrounded by flowers, crimson, burnt orange, purple, yellow, and pink.

They heard the roar of the waterfall long before they came upon it. There was no one else there. They climbed the wet rocks and jumped into the pool at the bottom of the falls, treading the icy-cold water. It was there that she told him her first name, whispering it so he had to bend low to catch it over the roar of the waterfall. “Meredith,” he repeated, almost as softly. “That’s a beautiful name.”

She did not tell him her last name. For names, all names, had power, and Meredith had long ago learnt to be very careful about how much power she’d allow anyone to have over her. It was not safe … for them.

When a small group of tourists arrived, shattering the peace with their loud voices and the whine of their camera shutters, they picked up their things and headed back up the track.

He took her for lunch at a small beachside shack and ordered the fish and steamed clams with pineapple and lime for her without even asking if that was what she wanted, and which turned out to be incredibly delicious. Then he took her to the pirates’ cove and they explored the small cave which Meredith personally thought was too tiny to be a hiding place for pirate treasure. The water, although still rough, was relatively calmer in the shelter of the cove, and they waded and swam a little and climbed some of the larger rocks to look at the tide pools. Finally, as the afternoon grew late, they started back to the hostel.

“So there’s this place I know by the harbour which does great seafood,” he said as they walked up the path to the Guesthouse. “I was thinking we could go there for dinner –” he stopped. “Why are you laughing and shaking your head?”

“I’m laughing and shaking my head,” she answered, “because you’re expecting me to come out to dinner with you, just like that.”

“Well, why not? Didn’t you have a good time today?”

“I did,” she admitted. “It was a really great day. Thank you for taking me around the island and showing me these wonderful places. But I don’t think we should see each other anymore.”

“Why not?” He moved a little closer; his hand brushed hers. “Come on. You can’t miss this place. They have the best seafood on the island, it’s as fresh as it can get. And the harbour lights are spectacular at night. There’s a cruise ship just come in this afternoon. It’ll be all lit up.” His hand brushed hers again. “What do you say?”

She sighed heavily. “Oh, all right.”

He grinned. “I’ll pick you up at seven.”

 •

She was waiting for him in the garden when he arrived. Sitting on the old swing in the corner, watching the sun set over the sea and frowning, because she felt like an idiot, sitting there and waiting for him, wearing her white dress, the only dress she had, and her hair freshly washed with a white gardenia behind one ear. She felt like an idiot because why did she feel she had to get dressed up and wash her hair and put on perfume and a flower for him?

She kind of knew the answer, though, when she saw him enter the garden and did a quick stop on the path as soon as he saw her. He stood there for a moment, just staring at her, then he slowly walked over. She felt her heartbeat quicken.

“Hi,” he said. “You look amazing.”

A slow heat rose up Meredith’s neck. “Thank you.”

He held his hand out. “Ready?”

She took his hand and stood up. He didn’t let go as he led her from the garden. She didn’t let go either.

 •

The restaurant was a low building situated by the harbour, small and intimate with red-and-white chequered table clothes, homemade candles burning on each table, and some fairy lights and fishnets strung around for a bit of ambience. The food, as he had promised, was superb. They ordered several beers, and by the end of dessert, she could feel her head spinning. She was drunk, she realised that. And she was enjoying his company. Enjoying it far too much.

After dinner, they took a short walk down the harbour before heading along the coastline to a nearby beach. It was quiet and dark, and Meredith took off her shoes as she followed Tyler down the sands.

They stopped at the edge of the water. The wind had more or less calmed toward evening, and the waves rushed up to shore and out again, leaving lacy white foam at their feet. The clouds had cleared a little, and one or two stars peeked out at the earth below.

“This is nice,” she said with a sigh. “I’m glad I came here after all, instead of to the Rockies. That had been my original plan.”

He turned to look at her. “I’m really glad you came here too.”

She found she couldn’t look away from his eyes. A single warning bleated within her – no, it’s not right, you should stop before it’s too late –

She had the feeling it was already too late.

He bent his head to hers. No, no, move away. She didn’t move. His lips brushed hers. And then she too was lost.

 

***

Go on to: Chapter Eight

Go back to: Chapter Six

New to A Reason for Being? Start from: Chapter One.

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