With a long sigh of complete contentment, she felt the tension melt from her shoulders. Her first tentative steps onto the beach since last summer. It felt good to be home. It was late afternoon and she could feel the last of the spring sun’s warmth on her skin. She was also acutely aware of Mary’s eyes on her, as she watched from the sun deck. No going back now. After all, she had made it this far and it felt good to be outdoors. She adjusted the grip on her crutches, making sure the broad base plates didn’t sink into the soft sand and slowly headed across the beach towards the ocean. Once on the hard packed surface, she felt more stable and her confidence began to grow. The waves rolled in gently beside her, but she was careful to stay beyond their reach. Tasting the salt on her lips, she smiled and headed along the shoreline towards the boardwalk.
The beach was quiet, with only a few families packing up after an afternoon at the shore. It had been unseasonably warm all week and everyone was making the most of the bonus sunshine. Small seabirds were playing in the shallows, rushing backwards and forwards twittering merrily. After about a hundred yards, she stopped to watch the waves, listening to their rhythmic flow. Hopefully by summer, when the water would be warmer, she would be able to enjoy swimming in the ocean again. Hopefully…
Oh, it was good to be home; good to be back by the ocean.
Step by carefully placed step, she kept wandering along the sand towards town. She drank in all of her surroundings; the birds, the shells, and an occasional abandoned sand castle. Lost in her own thoughts, she immersed herself in her private beach world.
It was the throbbing pain from her leg that brought her back to the real world. She had been stupid. She had walked too far. With panic and fear rising in her chest, she headed up the beach towards the boardwalk that ran parallel to the shore. If she could get onto firm ground and rest for a while, maybe she could recover enough strength to get back to the house. Mary had warned her to be careful, had warned her not to try to go too far on her first day out. The boardwalk seemed to be a mile away, even though it was, in reality, only a few short yards away. As the sand got softer her crutches dug further in, despite their broad base plates. The left one sank into a particularly soft patch. Suddenly her leg gave way and she crashed onto the beach.
For a few moments she lay there, tears welling up in her eyes, terrified that she was hurt. Gingerly, she manoeuvred herself into a sitting position.
“Shit!” she yelled out to the world. “Shit!”
Her crutches lay just within arm’s reach and she dragged them over towards her. Getting back to her feet was going to be a challenge. One that looked impossible in the current situation. There was no one in sight and Lori felt a sharp stab of fear in her chest. As she sat figuring out how she was going to get up without falling again, she was unaware that she was being watched from the shadows of boardwalk.
Jake watched her from the distant vantage point of the boardwalk. He had headed for the beach after the end of his shift at the pizza parlour. It had been a rough day and he had decided to walk off his black mood before heading to meet the guys. The last thing they needed was him turning up in a foul mood, stinking of tomato sauce and cheese. He had walked to the south end of the promenade and had just turned back when he saw the girl walking down on the sand. It was the sun catching the golden highlights in her hair that had attracted his attention. He never noticed her crutches at first. Watching from a distance, he had kept pace with her, then stopped to watch as she turned towards the boardwalk. When he saw her stumble, he regretted not following his instincts and going down to walk on the sand with her.
“Shit,” he muttered. “Shit.”
There were no breaks in the fence nearby, so he jumped over the wooden palings into the dune grass and ran towards her, sand immediately filling his shoes. By the time he was close enough to call out to her, she was sitting up and looked to be unhurt. He almost turned away, but decided against it and continued to walk down the beach.
“Hi,” he called out. “Are you ok?”
She was sitting rubbing her thigh and there were tears on her cheeks. Her pale complexion suggested she hadn’t been outdoors much recently.
“Hi,” she replied with a weak smile. “I could do with some help.”
“Figured,” he said, sitting down on the sand beside her. “Are you hurt?”
“No, not really. It was my own stupid fault. I came too far and wasn’t paying attention. I lost my footing.”
“Can’t be easy walking the beach with crutches,” he observed. “How far have you walked?”
“Less than a quarter of a mile. I was fine when I was down on the wet sand, but I began to get tired. I was trying to get up to the boardwalk. I figured if I got onto solid ground, it would be easier to walk back.”
“Let me guess,” observed Jake. “You’ve not been out much with those sticks?”
“No,” she confessed. “I haven’t.”
A single tear ran down her pale cheek. She reached up to roughly brush it away, embarrassed by her show of emotion, but only succeeded in leaving a smear of sand in its place. That was the final straw. Burying her face in her hands, she sat and sobbed. Months of pent up frustration flowed down her cheeks in a river of tears. Hesitantly, Jake put a comforting arm around her shoulders and held her as she wept.
“Hey,” he whispered softly. “It’ll be ok. I’ll get you home safely.”
“I’m sorry,” she sniffed. “I don’t usually sob all over complete strangers.”
“Well, I don’t usually go around picking up fallen angels on the beach either.”
She smiled at his weak attempt at humour.
“I’m Jake by the way.”
“Lori,” she replied.
“Well, Lori, let’s get you up on your feet and up onto the boardwalk.”
Gauging that she didn’t weigh much, Jake handed her the crutches, told her to hold onto them then lifted her up into his arms. She was even lighter than he had guessed, so carrying her up the beach to the nearest pathway was no challenge. Once back up on the boardwalk, he sat her down on the first bench they came to.
“You sure you’re ok?” he asked, as he sat beside her.
“Yes, thank you. I honestly don’t know what I would’ve done if you hadn’t come along.”
“You’d have figured it out eventually.”
“I guess. Either that or Mary would’ve come looking for me,” admitted Lori, brushing sand off her jeans.
“Yeah, she’s my housekeeper. It was her idea that I take a walk. I’ve been sitting on the deck all afternoon gazing out at the ocean. She told me I needed to venture off the deck sometime and that today was as good a day as any. She’ll feel so bad when she hears I fell,” she explained.
“Who’s going to tell her?” Jake said with a wink. “I’ll walk you back. You don’t need to tell her that you fell.”
Stiffly and with more than a hint of nerves, Lori got to her feet and repositioned her crutches. Her leg was screaming at her and she knew it would be hard to keep news of her fall from the ever watchful Mary. As they began to walk along the sandy boards Jake observed how carefully Lori walked – watched the determination in each step and sensed the pain that was etched into her pale face. She had the bluest eyes, he had ever seen, but there was a deep sadness cast through them.
“Pardon my asking but what happened to you? I’m thinking the crutches are a very recent addition to your wardrobe.”
“And you’d be right,” she confessed, pausing to look up at him. “I had an accident just before Christmas. I broke my leg quite badly. I came down here about six weeks ago. This is the first time I’ve been out on my own since the accident.”
“And you thought a walk on the sand was the smartest place to start?”
Lori laughed. Jake thought it the most beautiful musical laugh and joined in.
“I guess not, “she giggled. “So what brought you out this far?”
“A shit shift at work. A foul mood.”
“And scraping a dumb blonde off the sand wasn’t in the plan?”
“No, but I‘m glad I was there to rescue you,” he admitted. That wonderful laugh and those sad blue eyes were having a strange effect on his heart. A weird but wonderful effect. It had been a long time since he had felt that way. “Where exactly am I taking you when we run out of boardwalk?”
“Fourth house past the end. If that’s ok?”
“Not a problem, li’l lady.”
They walked on in silence for a few minutes, the end of the boardwalk drawing closer and neither of them really wanting to reach it. Surreptitiously, Jake watched her steely concentration, drank in her fragile beauty and breathed in her light, floral perfume. It had been a very long time since someone had had such an impact on him. A long time since he had bothered to look, if he was honest with himself. Between each painful step, Lori subtly surveyed her rescuer. He would make a fantastic model for a life drawing. His long sun bleached blonde hair fell carelessly down over his shoulders, almost reaching the middle of his back. She guessed from the tiny lines around his twinkling hazel eyes that he was a little older than her and his height dwarfed her small frame. There was something genuine about him. A rough diamond found in the sand? A friend? Lord, she could use one!
Deciding to take a risk, Lori said, “When we reach the house, will you come in for a coffee or a beer? It’s the least I can offer.”
“I’m not sure,” began Jake glancing at his watch. “Oh, what the hell! The guys can wait. Beer sounds good.”
It may have only been a hundred yards, but by the time they reached the end of the boardwalk, Lori was drained and exhausted. Her arms were trembling; her palms sweaty. The thought of the final walk along the soft sand filled her with dread.
“Hey, Lori,” began Jake softly. “If you don’t mind me saying, you look wiped out. Would it be too presumptuous of me to offer to carry you the rest of the way?”
“A bit, but I’m not in a position to decline,” she admitted, her eyes filling with fresh tears of frustration at her own admission of weakness.
With ease, he scooped her up into his arms and headed across the soft sand.
The fourth house on the right stood out from its neighbours with its low white picket fence and generous sun deck. Its enclosed garden had been recently landscaped and a large cushioned sun lounger sat centre stage on the deck. Perched on the edge of it was a small, motherly dark haired woman. As they came to the open gate Jake set Lori down on her feet and guided her into the safety of the garden. She breathed a sigh of relief – home at last!
“Where in Lord’s name have you been?” cried the older woman, leaping to her feet. “You’ve been gone for over an hour!”
“Jake meet Mary,” introduced Lori. “My housekeeper and surrogate mother.”
“Pleased to meet you,” snapped Mary sharply. Her concern for Lori was written all over her face. “I’ve been worried sick, Lori.”
“I’m sorry, Mary,” apologised Lori, as she eased herself down onto the sun lounger. “I walked further than I meant to. Jake kindly offered to see me safely home.”
“You fell didn’t you?”
“I told you she would know,” said Lori, glancing up at Jake. “Yes, I stumbled, but Jake arrived to rescue me. I promised him a beer for his efforts. Would you be so kind as to fetch us both one?”
Muttering under her breath, Mary stomped back into the house through the patio doors. Lori laughed that wonderful laugh again and gestured to Jake to pull over a chair from the table. Gingerly she slid herself back and lifted her throbbing leg onto the lounger. The relief at being off her feet was written all over her face.
“I recognise this house now,” mused Jake looking round about. “I worked on it when it was remodelled about four years ago.”
“Three”, corrected Lori. “Are you a builder?”
“No,” declared Jake, shaking his head. “I was the manual labour for the summer. I loved that sun room when it was finished. If I ever hit the big time, this is the kind of house I want to own.”
“Thanks. My parents bought the original house when I was a little girl. When I inherited it, after my dad passed away, I had it extended. I’ve always felt this was home, but could never spend enough time here. Work always kept me away.”
She paused to reflect for a few moments, lost in a memory of a previous life. With a wistful smile she added, “Now it looks as though I’m home to stay.”
“So what line of work kept you away from the beach?” asked Jake, stretching his long denim clad legs out in front of him.
“I was an art buyer until last year. I travelled a lot. What do you do when you’re not rescuing people?”
“I’m a frustrated rock star,” he confessed with a smile. “I work here and there to pay the bills. Just now it’s a few shifts a week at the pizza place on the boardwalk. Really rock ‘n’ roll!”
Both of them were laughing when Mary returned with their beers. She slipped two painkillers to Lori then left them to chat. There was plenty of time left to chastise her charge once her new friend had left. Deep down, she was just relieved to see the girl home in one piece and even happier to hear her laughing. There had been precious little of that in Lori’s life recently and it was good medicine. The housekeeper retired to the kitchen to prepare dinner and to keep a watchful eye on them from the safety of the house.
As the sun set behind them, the sun deck lights came on and dusk settled over them. Draining his beer Jake glanced at his watch. “Damn, I’m late.”
“Sorry,” said Lori. “I didn’t mean to keep you late.”
“It’s alright,” he replied, getting to his feet. “I need to run. I’m late for rehearsal. Sorry to leave in such a hurry.”
“No, it’s me who should be apologising,” said Lori, starting to get to her feet.
“Stay where you are,” said Jake warmly. “I’m just glad you’re not hurt. Glad we met. Maybe, when you feel up to it, you can come and see the band? We have a regular slot on a Friday night twice a month at one of the bars in town.”
“I’d like that,” said Lori softly. “And thank you again for rescuing me.”
“My pleasure li’l lady,” he said with a smile. “And thanks for the beer.”
With a wave, he was gone in a few short strides down the path and onto the sand.
It took longer than he had anticipated to get back along the boardwalk and into town. By the time Jake reached the band’s rehearsal room, he was almost an hour late. Band rules about timekeeping meant a twenty dollar fine. Rules were rules and he would pay up without complaint. After all, it was the first time he had been late for about six weeks. A record for him.
“Nice of you to join us,” called Paul, the band’s drummer.
“Sorry, something came up,” apologised Jake, lifting his guitar. As he plugged it into his amp, he added, “Where are we at?”
“Full set run through for Friday night,” answered Grey firmly. “I spoke to Joe at the bar and he’s promised us two one hour sets. He’s got a beer promo night on so we get a half hour extra.”
“And beer?” asked Jake hopefully
“Only if we buy it ourselves,” said Grey. “I tried. If Jeannie is behind the bar, she might sneak us a couple. No promises.”
With the rehearsal schedule set, the band settled down to their full run through. They had been playing together for almost five years and had a small, but dedicated local fan base. All of them had hopes of hitting the big time; of getting a support slot on a big tour. None of them were full-time musicians. Rich, the other guitarist, came closest. He was a music teacher at the local high school.
It was after ten thirty before they called it a night. Once outside, they agreed to meet up again on Thursday for another run-through, then went their separate ways into the night. Jake wandered slowly back to his apartment, his head full of ideas for his own songs and more than a few thoughts of the beach. Once home, he settled down with his acoustic guitar and began work on his own compositions, playing into the small hours.
Back at the beach house, Mary had insisted on helping Lori to bed immediately after dinner. Throughout the meal, she had scolded her charge on her foolhardiness and elicited a promise that she would be more careful the next time she ventured out. Lori listened patiently to the motherly lecture, allowing her thoughts to wander back to Jake. All of a sudden she felt like a love-struck teenager. Yes, he was attractive in a haunted kind of way, but she was too old to confuse gratitude at his rescue with feelings of attraction. Or was she? Shortly before nine, Mary ran out of lectures and headed home, leaving Lori alone with her teenage thoughts. The day’s excitement had taken its toll on her. She was completely exhausted and every inch of her ached. Her leg had eased to a dull throb after a further dose of pain relief. Was this the way her life was going to be from now on? Ruled by pain relief schedules and controlling well-meaning housekeepers? Eventually, she drifted off to sleep. Her first nightmare-free sleep since her accident. She was still sound asleep when Mary returned at breakfast time the next day.
“Hey!” called a voice from the beach.
The interruption broke her concentration and she laid down her sketch pad and pencil. It was a voice that had filled her head for two days. “Still thinking like that love-struck teen,” she muttered to herself.
“Hey!” she called back. “Come on in.”
A few seconds later, Jake appeared up the path looking every inch the rock star. The wind off the ocean had tousled his long blonde hair and his tight black t-shirt and slim fitting jeans set off the look. He sat down on the empty chair beside her at the table and glanced at her discarded half-completed sketch.
“That’s good. Very good,” he commented.
“Thanks,” she blushed. “I’m just doodling.”
“Well, it looks like good doodling to me,” stated Jake matter-of-factly. “I just wanted to see if you were ok. I hope you don’t mind. I came along the beach just to be sure you weren’t face down in the sand.”
She laughed. There was that sound that had filled his head since their first meeting. He smiled.
“I’ve been a good girl,” she said coyly. “Mary has seen to that.”
“Ruling you with a rod of iron?”
“Something like that,” admitted Lori with a giggle. “She’s gone to the food store so I escaped out here.”
“So, are you ok after the other day?” asked Jake, concern written all over his face.
“I’m fine. I was sore yesterday, but I’m ok today. I might think twice about walking the beach for a while though,” she said. “I was just thinking about fetching a coffee. Would you like one?”
“If it’s not too much trouble,” he replied.
“You can help,” said Lori, picking up her crutches and getting to her feet. “Come on.”
He followed her into the house and through the sun room towards the kitchen. It felt strange being back in the house he’d left as a newly-finished undecorated shell. The coffee pot was ready and the aroma filled the kitchen.
“The mugs are in the cupboard over there,” said Lori, nodding towards the stove. “Do you take cream?”
“Yeah and two sugars,” said Jake, opening the cupboard.
A few minutes later, they were both back outside on the desk with their coffee and some cookies that Lori found in the pantry. They sat in silence for a few minutes, listening to the waves crashing in on the beach. It felt as though there was a storm approaching.
“I was wondering,” began Jake, sounding almost nervous. “If you would like to venture into town with me sometime. We could go for a beer or something.”
His words blurted out all wrong and he suddenly felt like an awkward sixteen-year-old asking a girl out on a date.
“I’d like that,” she answered with a smile. “I haven’t been into town since I got back. It would be good to get out of here for a while.”
“Great. When?” asking Jake, sounding more like his adult self-assured self. “I don’t want you getting in trouble over this.”
Lori laughed again, “I’m a big girl. I can decide if I’m going out or not. How about Saturday afternoon?”
“I’m working till three,” said Jake. “But I could pick you up after my shift?”
“Stupid question,” began Lori, seeing a potential flaw in the plan. “Do you have a car? I don’t think I could walk that far yet.”
“A truck,” replied Jake. “Will we need to clear this with Mary?”
Lori shook her head. “No. She’s not my mother. Beside she finishes at two on a Saturday. I can be trusted to behave for a few hours now. What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her.”
“You’re scared of her,” accused Jake jokingly.
“Just a bit,” confessed Lori. “But don’t tell her.”
“My lips are sealed,” he said, as he took another sip of coffee. “So what do you do stuck out here all day?”
“Not a lot. My physical therapist comes out once or twice a week. Mary helps me with the exercises the other days. I read. I listen to music. I sketch a bit. Daydream a lot.” She paused, then added, “It was easier in a way when I was really sick. Now I feel stronger, I’ll admit I’m finding that I get bored quite quickly. It’s so frustrating not being able to do the things I would usually do.”
“I don’t think I’d cope like this,” confessed Jake. Immediately the words were out, he regretted them. It had sounded insensitive. If his comments stung, Lori never let it show.
“Before,” she began. “I’d have agreed with you.” Then changing the subject asked, “How did rehearsal go the other night? Were you in trouble for being late?”
Jake shook his head. “The guys were fine. They are kind of used to me being a bit late. Time keeping isn’t one of my strong points. Another slot tonight, then the gig’s tomorrow. Should be a good night.”
“Where are you playing?”
“Bar in town. There’s a beer promo night so we get to play longer. Not quite Madison Square Garden but it’s a start.”
“Don’t tell me,” she mused. “Vocals and guitar?”
“Got it in one, li’l lady,” he laughed, with a mock bow. “There’s four of us. We’ve been together for a few years. You never know there might be a scout in the crowd.”
“Do you write your own stuff?”
“Sometimes. Not often enough,” he muttered.
“Oh, sore spot,” commented Lori. “Sorry.”
Jake shrugged, “Someday…. yeah… someday.”
From the front of the house they heard the sound of tyres scrunching on the gravel. Mary was back.
“I’m out of here,” said Jake, getting to his feet. “I don’t want her growling at me.”
Lori laughed, “Mary’s fine. Chill.”
“No way!” he stated, draining his coffee cup. “Three thirty on Saturday. Be ready.”
With a brief smile and a mischievous wink, he was gone and, by the time Mary came through the sun room to say she was home, there was no sign of him other than the empty mug on the table.
(opening chapter of Stronger Within, book 1 in the Silver Lake series)
Want to read more? Then check out the Silver Lake series today on Amazon
Amazon.com links –
Stronger Within – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00VXDSC1M
Impossible Depths – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01C0GS30K
Bonded Souls – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XSQHG71
Shattered Hearts – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07ZY8ZSDM
Amazon.co.uk links –
Stronger Within – https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00VXDSC1M
Impossible Depths – https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01C0GS30K
Bonded Souls – https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B06XSQHG71
Shattered Hearts – https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07ZY8ZSDM