The Big Break(10)

By: Cara Lockwood


And then something about the wave, the merciless engine of it, challenged him a bit too hard, bucked him ruthlessly, as if the water wanted him to fail. As if the ocean already knew what he was afraid to admit: he wasn’t a world-class surfer; he was just the empty shell of an imposter, nothing more than a has-been.

He adjusted, trying to find his balance, but out of the blue, a sharp pain shot up his knee.

No.

He struggled to keep upright, but his knee buckled like a rusty hinge collapsing under the strain, and he fell backward into the surf, and suddenly, the moment of bliss was replaced by a moment of panic. The wave held him down, punishing him, as his leg flailed, ankle still attached to his board. The shiny neon board slid onward, dragging him beneath it under a dangerous weight of water.

And once more, the fear suffocated him: he was back in the tsunami wave, powerless against the angry force of nature. He again felt the paralyzing terror: I’m going to die.

Panic, cold and hard, drove down his spine.

He struggled wildly to breach the surface, but tangled in the force of the wave, he felt helpless, as the expensive, shining new fiberglass board broke free of his ankle tether and shot across the wave.

The water is going to kill me. The thing I love most in the world is going to kill me.

He floundered, and then the wave released him, breaking across the reef, and he came up, gasping, sucking in big gulps of air.

Alive, I’m alive. And then he realized he wasn’t back in the tsunami. The huge wave that had killed so many people and destroyed so many homes was long gone. Yet the wave, being under, had brought him right back to the worst day of his life.

He coughed as salt water stung the inside of his nose and ran down his throat, the brine threatening to choke him.

He saw his board floating out to sea and let it go, too shaken to fish it out of the surf. He needed to get to land, and he swam, heart thudding as he made it to the sand. He rolled up on shore out of breath, feeling as if he’d just run a marathon with a gorilla on his back.

His knee had failed him—again.

The disappointment welled up in him. Months of rehab, and his knee wasn’t anywhere close to where it needed to be if he was ever going to surf seriously again. Hot tears of frustration burned the backs of his eyelids but he refused to let them fall. He was on all fours in the hot, wet sand and he felt like punching the ground but didn’t.

It wasn’t just his body that had disappointed him but his mind. He was afraid in a way he’d never been before. His whole life he’d been fearless, and now a simple dump off the board and he felt as though the ocean would kill him. He didn’t want to go back out there. Wouldn’t. Not today. Maybe not ever.

At the heart of it, he was a coward, plain and simple.

The wave knew it, too. That was why it had bucked him. It was the ocean schooling him for being a fool. He managed to drag himself back to his house, not proud of himself for leaving his broken board to the surf but too shaken to do much of anything else. He vowed to go look for it later, once he’d gotten his breathing under control. He felt as if he was going to have a heart attack, the panic pressing against his chest like a two-ton weight.

Was he really done with surfing at age thirty-three? Was it really all over?

When he got to his porch, he saw Gretchen waiting for him there, sitting on one of his patio chairs, clipboard in her lap, looking pissed.

Training! He’d forgotten entirely that it was a training day, that Gretchen would be working him on weights today. Everything about the tightness in her shoulders told him she was furious. He almost turned around and left, but she’d seen him, and he knew that would just make her angrier. Sooner or later, he’d have to take his medicine, and later would just be worse.

He trudged to the open patio, still dripping wet, his hands still shaking from nerves.

“You’re late,” she said, and he could feel her glare even through her mirrored sunglasses.

“Gretchen, I am so sorry. I was surfing and lost track of time...”

“What did I say about being late?” She cut him off, standing. Her short dark hair hung nicely around her face, but it was her muscled body that everyone noticed first. It was no wonder she was the most sought-after personal trainer on the island and had a library of exercise videos and apps under her belt. She got results. She knew how to push him in all the right ways.

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