Me and me, p.1
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       Me and Me, p.1

           Alice Kuipers
 
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Me and Me


  Dedication

  To my sister, Anneke.

  Far away but always near.

  Contents

  Dedication

  PROLOGUE My birthday: morning

  CHAPTER ONE Day 1: early

  Day 3: period three

  Day 7: Sunday afternoon

  Day 13: late afternoon

  Day 17: afternoon

  CHAPTER TWO Day 1: early

  Day 3: period three, almost

  Day 7: Sunday afternoon

  Day 13: late afternoon

  Day 17: afternoon

  CHAPTER THREE Day 21: 8 a.m.

  Day 24: lunchtime

  Day 29: Saturday, early

  CHAPTER FOUR Day 21: brunch practice

  Day 24: lunchtime

  Day 29: Saturday, early

  CHAPTER FIVE Day 32: Tuesday, after school

  Day 38: morning

  Day 41: too early

  CHAPTER SIX Day 32: after school

  Day 38: dawn

  Day 41: too early

  CHAPTER SEVEN Day 43: 3:53 p.m.

  Day 43: 3:53 p.m.

  Day 43

  CHAPTER EIGHT Day 44: late morning

  Day 44: dawn

  CHAPTER NINE The Day Before: infinity point

  Acknowledgements

  About the Author

  Credits

  Copyright

  About the Publisher

  PROLOGUE

  My birthday: morning

  “I like surprises,” I say, as I strap myself in.

  Alec turns his dark gaze to me. “Good. You ready?” He seems folded into his truck, huge in the front cab.

  “I think I’m ready. I, uh, I noticed the canoe.” And the orange roses between our seats, filling the space with their heady scent.

  Alec jars the truck into drive. I glance at his silver thumb ring and notice the way the cuffs of his rolled-up sleeves are slightly dirty, as if he’s been hauling stuff or doing yardwork. I love his outdoorsy look, his clothes from those stores where they have tents set up in the backroom. Makes him look like he’s ready to chop down trees or build a fire. I can feel every movement of his foot on the pedals, the way his hands hold the wheel. I want his hands on me like that.

  “Those are for you.” He juts his chin at the roses and smiles over at me.

  “Thanks.” I lift them to my nose. They smell of summer and of the past. A reel of the cemetery plays in my head.

  Lucy:

  Where are u?

  Lark:

  ???

  Lucy:

  Breakfast, right?

  B4 I work?

  I was going to practise tarot reading

  on u for ur birthday . . .

  She sends a photo of herself at D’Lish, where we both work. Her strawberry blond hair is done in loose braids. She’s pulling a pouty sad-face.

  Lark:

  Sorry!!! Going on a date.

  Lucy:

  Now? Who with???

  Lark:

  Last-minute decision.

  Alec messaged last night.

  He brought a canoe. Forgive me ;-)

  Lucy:

  Alec Sandcross? Nice!

  I know how you feel about birthdays

  but 17 is a BIG DEAL

  Lark:

  Stop!

  Lucy sends a snap of herself sticking out her tongue.

  Lark:

  Tonight instead? Meet me and the band.

  They have something planned.

  Lucy:

  I’m already coming after work.

  Txt me later.

  As Alec drives, he bites his bottom lip, which is pierced in the centre with a silver stud. Cute habit. I’ve seen him do it in class, when he’s figuring something out. I wonder if he’s noticed what I’m wearing; I pick at the meant-to-be-there rip in my pastel green jeans. My leather boots come close to the knee. My pale shirt has tiny pink flowers peeping out from beneath my long black hair, which is loose.

  He pulls onto the highway, and soon the city falls away. “I think you’re going to enjoy today.” The prairies stretch out like a vast ocean before us. I drum my hands on my knees to the radio—Seafret—and then I’m thinking in lyrics. Wanna give your heart to me. The fire in the woods. Cut down, cut down just one tree . . . I note the words on my cell.

  “So, you canoed before?” He checks his rear-view mirror and overtakes a car in front of us.

  The song tugs at me. “I’ve got a lyric idea. Sorry. Can I just finish this?”

  “Oh . . . sure.” Alec falls quiet, hand on the wheel, staring ahead.

  The words are flowing; sometimes it happens like that, and a whole song appears where seconds before there was nothing. Whenever this happens on a date, boys think it’s a challenge. They want my full attention. But Alec just drives. Time flashes by. It’s as if I’ve dived into deep water and I’m exploring a coral world, blue and beautiful. There’s a psychologist that we learned about recently who talks about flow. I get it when I’m in the zone like this. I only emerge when Alec pulls the truck into the lot at Pike Lake.

  Songs almost never appear all at once. This one came out fully formed, so I’m feeling a little pumped.

  “All done?” he says, turning off the ignition.

  “Yeah. Sorry about that.”

  “It’s cool. But now you’re done, let’s go.” He grins, unfolds himself from the truck and shuts his door.

  I jump out too. The lot fronts the beach, a thin strip of sand that runs along the treeline for three hundred metres or so. Beyond the beach is the silk-calm lake. I breathe in deeply, meditating on the clear view. The fresh breeze gives me goosebumps.

  The place is almost deserted. Through a line of pine trees, I spot a couple and a small, blond child. I realize that it’s the Fields family. He’s the Martin Fields of Fields’ Studios, which was why I took a babysitting job with them six months ago. Except he was always at work, so I hardly saw him. Whatever. I fell in love with his little girl and worked for them for about two months, before they decided to hire a full-time nanny instead.

  “Annabelle?” I yell.

  She turns and whoops but then pauses, as if suddenly shy. Suzanne—her mom—pushes her wild, curly hair from her face and waves hello. She walks over. Annabelle follows.

  “Hi, Lark.” Annabelle tips up her chin. “I’m nearly five now.”

  “Wow! You grew up. Soon you’ll be older than me!” I count to five.

  She giggles, and her blue eyes meet mine.

  “Want to help me load the cooler?” Alec calls from the back of the truck.

  Suzanne nods in the direction of their two canoes, which are already at the edge of the lake. “We’re hitting the water too.”

  “Come find us out there.”

  “Mom?” Annabelle asks.

  “Sure. Though I’m not sure we should disturb your privacy.”

  I smile. “No, come and find us on the water. Seriously. Sorry, Alec, I’m coming.” A gust of cool wind ripples the water. I wave to Annabelle. From across the beach, Martin is still talking on his cell.

  Back at the truck, I heft the cooler with Alec, the weight straining my muscles. “What are we eating?”

  “By the end of the day,” he says, “you’ll be awestruck by my gourmet cooking skills. Now, help me get the canoe off the top.”

  We carry it down to the water. Then, suddenly, I’m diving back into the song I was writing—one of the opening lines would work better if I added a word near the end to change the rhythm. Wanna give your heart to me, the fire in the woods, cut down, cut down, just one tree . . . We slide the canoe into the water. It thunks against the sandy ground and cold water slops over my pant leg.

  “I’ve . . . I’ll just be a moment, promise.” I slide my cell out of my ba
ck pocket.

  “Okay. If you want. But I’m going to show you something amazing.” Alec waggles his eyebrows.

  “Is this ‘something amazing’ out on the lake or something you can do?”

  “I am, indeed, talented”—he winks to show he’s kidding—“but no . . . no, you write your song.”

  I tuck my phone away. “This better be good,” I say, smiling.

  A gull swoops overhead, a long way from the ocean. I pull off my shoes and socks. The icy water makes me gasp. The canoe wobbles as I climb in to join him and slip on my life jacket. The bottom of the canoe is hot from being in the sun on the roof of the car. The temperature contrast on my feet unfurls something in my chest. I ease fully into the moment.

  “I wish I could sing,” Alec says. “It must be awesome to be able to express yourself like that.”

  “Everyone can sing,” I say.

  “Not true.”

  “Okay.” I sit on the front bench and turn back to Alec. “Not exactly true. But what I mean is that everyone can do something well. My mom taught me that.” There she is. My mom. Even when I forget all about her, she’s still watching over me. She left me a video. In it she tells me she’s always there. Once I wrote a song with that as the hook.

  Alec passes me a paddle, and I dip it into the water. The sound of the splash makes me think of ice cream, of summer, of holidays on the lake when I was a kid. In mutual but not uncomfortable quiet, we head along the side of the lake. When I glance back at Alec, he smiles languidly. My heart does a pancake flip. Alec points out a beaver that glides by in the shallows.

  A little while later, he interrupts the silence to say, “My dad used to take me on the water. He thought fishing was good for, I don’t know, turning me into a man. ’Cept I hated it, which drove him insane. I couldn’t stand being cooped up in a small space—I wanted to swim, kept jumping in. Disturbing the fish. He used to yell at me, which was . . . well, not exactly relaxing.” He steers the canoe toward a small inlet, where the reeds hide us. His voice floats forward to me. “We don’t go on the water together anymore. And it’s weird, but without him around, I don’t mind the small space. Maybe that’s because you’re here.”

  We both stop paddling and let the canoe drift. My paddle drips freezing water over my knees. I swivel so I can see him. He leans his head to one side and smiles. His paddle is still in the water, and he occasionally re-angles it, making a deep ripple.

  I point at the piercing in his lip. “Did it hurt?”

  “I was, like, thirteen. I got into trouble. Big trouble. Call it rebellion.”

  “You seem like a good student. Into nature and stuff, not drugs and parties.”

  “Not that sort of rebellious.” He has placed his paddle across the canoe and now rests both arms on it. “So, have you canoed much before?”

  “We canoed and camped every weekend during the summer when I was little. Dad doesn’t look like it now.” Alec stays quiet while I speak. “He has a heart thing, so he can’t really exercise now. It means he’s put on some weight, and he isn’t so outdoorsy anymore, although he loves yardwork.”

  “What sort of a heart thing?”

  “They don’t really know. If he runs or gets his pulse up, I guess, his heart kinda skips.”

  My heart is skipping now. I don’t want to talk about this. But I say, “It sucks. Some sort of scarring, maybe. I always think it’s a broken heart ’cause of my mom.” I lean back into paddling. My arms feel the pull of the water, and I fill my body with the sensation.

  Alec seems to get the topic isn’t my favourite, because he doesn’t push; everyone at school knows what happened to my mom. Instead, as he paddles he shifts to a new subject.

  “How long have you played guitar?”

  “Since before I can remember. Dad got me a ukulele when I was tiny, because I wanted a guitar so badly, but a ukulele is smaller, easier to start with. But tell me about you. I mean, stuff I don’t know from class.”

  “What do you know from class?”

  I lift my oar and turn back to him. Boy, he’s cute when he looks at me like that. I say, “Um, you’ve been living in Edenville as long as me. Like, forever. You live with your parents. You work at Eb’s Outdoors. You aren’t good at math. You are super good at history.”

  “I am too good at math.”

  “Whatever.” Smiling, I tilt my face up to the sun. It means I’m not looking when Alec stands up. The lurching of the canoe makes me grab the sides. “What are you doing?”

  “Fancy a swim?”

  “Sure. But I don’t have a swimsuit.”

  “Neither do I.” His eyes are alight.

  “Ah. The amazing thing you promised,” I deadpan. “Alec Sandcross gets naked and goes for a swim.”

  “No, that’s not it.” He pulls off his shirt. My eyes travel over his tanned muscular arms and six-pack. “There maybe isn’t anything amazing . . .”

  I splash water at him. “You lied to stop me writing. I thought that might be the deal.”

  The canoe tips but rights itself as I wobble to my feet.

  “Okay then, the amazing thing . . . is that you’re going to take your clothes off too,” he says.

  I unzip my life jacket. I hesitate and check around. The Fields family can’t be seen, and the water is glassy quiet. Alec smiles his lazy smile. Then I do it. I pull off my shirt. Thank God I’m wearing a decent bra.

  Faltering and goofing off, suddenly we’re giggling as he crouches and tugs off his jeans and I do the same—tricky in a canoe. We’re stripped down to our underwear. The sun is amazing-warm against my skin. He steps closer along the canoe, causing it to wobble again. I bet he’s gonna come up to me and kiss me.

  Instead he turns to the water. “Come on.”

  A shout stops us. “Help! Oh my God, someone help me!”

  It’s Suzanne. I thought we were far from everyone, but I catch a glimpse of her flailing in the water just through the reeds.

  And a red life jacket.

  Annabelle!

  She’s floating face down on the other side of the canoe from Suzanne. Alec and I glance at each other. Alec dives and I jump. The water is as cold as death. I lift my face to orient myself, pushing hair out of my eyes, and then, focused, I knife through the water.

  Now Annabelle is about ten metres away from me. Suzanne still flounders in the reeds.

  “Help her!”

  Just then, Alec cries out. I glance back. He’s about ten metres behind me, blood pouring from his temple. His eyes are glassy.

  “I banged my . . . I . . .”

  He’s sinking. “Alec!”

  “I can’t get to her!” Suzanne fights the reeds that have entangled her.

  I turn back. I’m halfway between Annabelle and Alec. I have to save them. Alec is going under. Annabelle is face down. I can’t breathe. Pain radiates through my chest. I tread water, frantically looking one way and then the other.

  I do not know who to choose.

  Suzanne screams, “Lark! DO SOMETHING!”

  But I can’t.

  CHAPTER ONE

  Day 1: early

  My stomach hurts, and my eyes ache. I haven’t slept. I sit on the front step, holding my coffee cup tightly. Tangled branches overhang our yard. It’s not even nine in the morning, but the heat is rising already. I’m listening to St. Vincent while I watch Dad pick tomatoes. Even from here, their leaves smell rich and dense, almost spicy. Because he’s a mechanic, he has grease on his shirt from work, but it hasn’t stopped him wearing it again.

  Alec’s blue pickup truck arrives. I remove one earbud and watch him get out. He’s wearing his usual outdoorsy clothes, and he’s holding three red roses. Roses again. I think of the orange ones that I left in his truck yesterday. I wonder if he threw them out after what happened. Alec steps through our gate, seeming giant in our nineteenth-century English garden–style yard, his shoes crunching on the gravel path, and he holds out the bouquet to me. My eyes travel over him. The neat stitches are
stark against the skin of his temple. His shirt is pale green, and his hoodie is emblazoned with the words “Hit The Woods.” His sleeves are pushed back, revealing his strong tanned arms. The air stills, and a bird calls a warning overhead.

  “You look . . .” He pauses, as if he’s finding the right word, his tongue resting on the right of his bottom lip, close to his piercing. “. . .lovely.”

  “I look tired.” I smile wanly. I take the roses. “Thanks.”

  “I didn’t sleep either.” He turns to my dad, who has emerged from the bushes. “Mr. Hardy? A pleasure to meet you.” He even reaches out to shake Dad’s hand. “I mean, I know we saw each other yesterday.”

  He means at the hospital, where Dad had to come and get me. Where Alec had to be checked over. Where little Annabelle is in a coma.

  Suzanne asked us not to visit her. “Family only, please,” she said. Not unkindly, but with a quiet firmness.

  Alec continues. “But that feels like months ago . . .”

  “Call me Vince. Mr. Hardy makes me feel old.”

  “Will do. Thank you, Vince.” Alec turns to me. “I just wanted to check you were okay.”

  I tremble. I can still hear that desperate cry. Lark! DO SOMETHING!

  Day 3: period three

  Alec’s thumb circles my palm, and shivers spread through me. I could write about this feeling, put it in a song. I think about the last time I wrote a song and push away the lyrics that are trying to come. Instead I peek at his hand, his silver thumb ring, his bitten nails. He’s wearing one of those checkered shirts that make him look like he’s on his way to hike up a mountain. His jeans have that rugged look too—not skinny or trendy. The man-outside look works for me. Yep. Works for me. The piercing in the middle of his bottom lip doesn’t quite fit the look, but I like it too. It contrasts totally with what I’m wearing: a black shirt, short black skirt and knee-high low-heeled boots.

 
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