After school, I headed out with Aoife, looking forward to showering at her place. We walked through the gates, and I got a surprise to see Noah on his bike waiting to collect me just like yesterday.
“He’s back again,” Aoife said, eyebrows raised.
I frowned. “Let me go talk to him. I’ll catch up with you.”
She nodded. “Sure, I have to go meet Jimmy outside the supermarket anyway. We’ll wait for you there.”
Aoife’s boyfriend had graduated the year before, and he was working stacking shelves at the local grocery store. He also played the drums in a rock band called The Magnificent Owls.
“Okay, see you in a few minutes.”
Inhaling deeply, I made my way toward Noah. He was almost finished smoking his cigarette, taking one final drag before tossing it to the ground and stubbing it out with his boot.
“What are you doing here?” I asked when I reached him.
His lips made a funny shape. “Did you think it was a one-time thing? I hate to break it to you, Estella, but you’ve got my attention now. I’ll see this through ‘til the end.”
“What is this?”
He was momentarily distracted by the students leaving the school behind me. I recognised the excited whispers and giggles Noah’s presence tended to solicit.
Now he leaned forward so that his mouth hovered over my ear. “Get on the bike, baby.”
I startled at his endearment. Noah’s voice was equal parts husky and authoritarian, and it had a shockingly weakening effect on me. But no. No. I had to stand my ground. No matter how sexy his command was, or how it awakened a part of me that hadn’t yet fully blossomed.
“I can’t,” I said, holding his gaze.
“Because I don’t want to know what else Vee will do to me if I arrive home with you again,” I told him honestly.
His eyebrows drew together. “What has she done?”
I exhaled tiredly, my gaze on the ground. “She locked me out of the bathroom this morning. I had to come to school without washing, which is one reason why you shouldn’t want me on the back of your bike. I stink. I’m going to Aoife’s house to shower.”
“How do you know she locked you out? The house is old. The door handle could be jammed.”
I shot him a look. “It’s not jammed. I know it was Vee. She told me to stay away from you.”
I studied him for a reaction, but his face showed no discernible expression. Then, the very slightest flicker of anger. “She did, did she?”
“She said you’re unpredictable.” I shouldn’t have goaded him. I wasn’t sure why I did. Maybe a part of me just wanted him to prove he wasn’t what Vee feared he was. I wanted to him tell me he was a good person, so then I could allow myself to have these feelings multiplying inside of me instead of having to stifle them.
He looked away a moment, dragging a hand through his hair before bringing his stunning eyes back to me. “She might be right, but you can trust me.”
“Because I planned for everything, but I didn’t plan for you.” Noah scraped his open palm over his stubble. “You wanted to know why I’m here? Well, you can rest assured my reason doesn’t involve you.”
“So … I’m safe but other people aren’t?” I asked, concerned.
“Don’t worry, Estella. They’ve got it coming to them.”
“Get on the bike,” he repeated, his voice more forceful now.
I stared at him for a long moment, then, without a word, I turned and walked away from him. I was sick of his evasiveness and non-answers. I was a few yards from the school when I heard his engine start up. The noise grew louder, and I realised he was riding slowly along the edge of the path, following me. I gritted my teeth, refusing to acknowledge him and knowing other students were watching us. I hated drawing attention to myself, but Noah had a way of creating a scene.
I arrived at the supermarket and spotted Aoife and Jimmy waiting outside.
“Hey, I just need to run in and grab a few things,” I said. “I’ll only be a minute.”
“No problem, take your time,” Aoife replied. Jimmy gave me his usual silent nod and shy smile. He was one of the quietest, cutest boys ever. Aoife was lucky to have someone like him.
I couldn’t hear Noah’s bike anymore, so I guessed he’d given up following me. I went about my business, heading toward the toiletry aisle, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the plan he mentioned. I knew I was right when I got a funny vibe off him. He had ulterior motives, though I was glad they didn’t involve me. Or was that a lie?
Then again, how could they involve me?
He probably didn’t even know I existed until he arrived back here. Vee had mentioned they hadn’t been in touch in ten years.
I grabbed the cheapest shampoo, conditioner and bodywash I could find, then picked up a packet of discount sanitary towels.
“Maybe one day I won’t even have to look at the prices,” I murmured wistfully to myself.
“If you need money, I can give you some.” Noah’s voice startled me, and I jumped right out of my skin, breath quickening.
“Where the hell did you come from?”
“Here, give me those,” he said, holding his arms out for my items.
I eyed him suspiciously. “Why?”
“So I can pay for them for you.”
“No, thank you. I don’t need any favours from you.”
“Who said it’s a favour? Contrary to what my sister would have you believe, my heart isn’t completely black. I want to help you.”
“Okay, if that’s the truth, I’ll ask again. Why?”
Noah smiled at me like he respected my mistrust of him. “It’s actually a fair trade-off. I need your assistance with a few things.”
“What sort of things?”
“For a start, I need you to deliver some letters.”
“Ever heard of stamps?”
“These particular letters need to be hand delivered.”
Now he grinned, leaning closer as his voice dropped to a whisper. “Because a letter delivered by a stranger’s hand makes more of an impression than one dropped off by your friendly neighbourhood postman.”
I studied him a long moment, the hairs on the back of my neck rising. I was so preoccupied and confused by what he said that I didn’t immediately realise he was plucking the items from my arms. I blinked, embarrassed when I remembered the sanitary towels, but Noah didn’t bat an eyelid.
“Wait, give those back,” I protested, but he didn’t listen, instead taking long strides toward the counter to pay. I hurried to catch up and grimaced when I saw who the cashier was. Mary Crosby was one of the biggest gossips in town. She eyed us both, not saying a word, but I knew she was mentally coming to certain conclusions. Especially when Noah turned his head to me, his hands full, and asked, “Grab my wallet out of my back pocket for me, will you, babe?”
My stomach fluttered at the endearment, while Mary’s eyebrows rose. I reluctantly dug into his pocket, doing my best to retrieve his wallet as quickly as possible. Without thinking, I opened it and saw the top of an ID card in one of the compartments. It had Noah’s picture, but not his name. Instead it said Aleksy Mazur. What the hell? I swiftly closed the wallet and handed it to Noah. Thankfully, he hadn’t seen me look inside. My thoughts ran a mile a minute as I filed away the Eastern European sounding name for further investigation. Was it an alias? A fake identity?
My pulse thrummed as all the possibilities rushed through my head. When it came to Noah, I had far too many questions and not nearly enough answers.
Noah paid for my things, then packed them into a bag before handing it to me with a little flourish. “Here you go, Madame.”
“Um, thank you for getting all this, but I’m going to Aoife’s now so you can head home if you like.”
He turned and stared me down. My throat tightened at the flicker of wildness in his eyes. “You’re coming with me, and we’re going to set my sister straight.”
Any words died on my tongue as he led me outside. Aoife shot me a wide-eyed, questioning look as I passed her by. “I’ll, eh, I’ll see you at school tomorrow,” I managed to get out before Noah lifted me by the hips and placed me on his bike. I didn’t even have time to contemplate the feel of his hands on me because seconds later we were on the road. His touch still lingered though, like an invisible tattoo on my skin. I was always so aware whenever he touched me, aware in a way I’d never been of anyone else.
Five minutes later we pulled into the driveway at Ard na Mara. Thankfully, Vee wasn’t standing at the door this time. Noah cut the engine, climbed off the bike and walked straight into the house.
I got a bad feeling.
He pushed open the front door and loudly stomped his way into the house and up the stairs.
“What’s all this racket?” Vee asked incredulously as she emerged from the living room in her pyjamas.
She glanced at me, and my eyes went to Noah, who had just reached the top of the stairs. There was a loud thump, and she rushed up after him. I followed and gasped when I saw him kicking in the door to the bathroom. The one Vee had locked me out of.
Sylvia’s bedroom was downstairs and had its own adjoining bathroom like Vee’s, so Noah and I were the only ones using this one. I realised belatedly he must not have come home last night after all. If he had he would’ve noticed the bathroom was locked before I told him. Which made me wonder, where had he been?
“Noah! What on earth do you think you’re doing?” Vee demanded.
“What does it look like? I’m kicking the fucking door in,” he answered in a loud yet calm voice. I wasn’t fooled. Noah was angry. And on my behalf, too, it seemed. Vee was right about him being unpredictable, but I felt oddly vindicated, especially with the stunned look on Vee’s face. Thanks to Noah, all the anger I’d been stewing in since this morning had finally found an outlet.
“Well stop it! You’re destroying the place,” Vee shrieked at him.
“If you want to act like a headcase and go around locking doors on people, you shouldn’t be surprised when they act like a headcase right back,” Noah yelled at her.
My heart pounded. I was both terrified and elated by him. He was acting crazy, but it felt good to see Vee shaken. I shouldn’t have enjoyed her fear, but she’d spent the last two years making me feel worthless, and I had a lot of built up resentment.
“I didn’t lock it on you,” Vee said, and he swung around.
“Who did you mean to lock it on then?” he hissed.
“On … on Estella,” she answered in a small, frightened voice. Guilt trickled in, but I shoved it away. If anyone deserved to be put in their place it was Vee.
“So, you’ve turned your hand to torture,” Noah surmised.
“It’s not torture,” Vee protested.
“Denying someone the use of a bathroom is torture, Veronica. You’re behaving just like they did. Don’t do it again.” Noah enunciated each word, and Vee seemed to shrink in on herself. Who were they?
Noah gave another powerful kick, and the door finally sprung open. Shards of wood stuck out from where his boot had almost gone right through it.
“Ah, that’s better,” he announced happily. “Now we can all use the bathroom whenever the fuck we like.”
“You’re a lunatic!” Vee said, her voice full of tears as she turned and fled to her room.
Noah’s eyes came to me. “See? Problem solved. I told you I was going to help you.”
“Um …” I didn’t know what to say. What he just did was completely insane, and though it was good that Vee had some comeuppance, I was far from comfortable with the aggressive way he’d gone about things.
“I think a thank you will suffice,” Noah said, moving past me. “By the way, I’ll leave those letters out for you to deliver on your way to school in the morning.”
With that, he left. I stared at the mess he’d made kicking in the door and sighed.
I guess I was the one who was going to have to clean it all up.
Released: June 9 2020
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Published by Self Published
On a lonely cliff beside the vast blue sea there is a house.
In the house there lives a girl, and in the girl there lives a dream.
Soon she'll be as free as the fishes that swim beneath the water. But until then she bides her time and lives quietly, her every move ruled over by an uncaring, heartless stepmother.
The hope for freedom is all she has to hold onto. So close she can almost taste it. But when her stepmother’s estranged younger brother comes to stay, he presents a mystery that lures her in.
The girl doesn’t understand that beneath the allure of the unknown sometimes all we find are horrors. And in searching for the truth, her heart is in danger of falling like a rock to the bottom of the deep dark sea.
Beyond the Sea is a Gothic Romance set in modern times.
L.H. Cosway is graciously giving away
SIGNED PAPERBACK OF BEYOND THE SEA
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