Chapter Twenty

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Waiting for the tide to go out was torture. Oliver had sat on the black rock since dawn with his eyes on the island in the distance. The image of Cassidy fighting the raging water in her struggle to return to the mainland had plagued him since she'd recounted the tale of her accident. It would have been terrifying for an adult to endure, let alone a girl of sixteen. Oliver couldn't help but wonder if anyone would have told him if she'd been lost at sea, or if Meghan would have waited until he returned the following summer and left it to Finn and Bill to break the news. In a way, knowing that she'd died rather than simply walked away would have made it easier on him as a teenager. Not because he wanted Cassidy to pass – he wouldn't have known how to go on living if she had – but at least he wouldn't have blamed himself for years and could have grieved like any other person who lost someone they loved.

But he hadn't lost her.

Not really.

Not yet.

Given the choice between having her swallowed by bleak waters and having her put his feelings first, Oliver knew he'd prefer the latter without question. It hadn't been right for her to make that choice for him, but she'd tried to be kind to spare him the pain of sacrificing the achievements she believed waited in his future for her sake. If their roles had been reversed Oliver might have done the same. The last thing he'd want was to hold back a person he loved.

'Ollie!' Finn called out to his friend as he trudged through the damp, dark sand. A grin split his face and he broke into a jog as he approached.

Oliver hopped down onto the beach and shook the clumps of sand off his trainers, feeling a few grains slip past the laces where they'd irritate him for the rest of the day. The water had receded enough that it revealed a shimmering slip of land bridging the beach and the island. Tourists parked their cars up at the other end of the beach and walked in their direction, all of a mind to head out to the ruins as early as possible so they wouldn't risk being cut off by the tide later. It was a beautiful spot to spend the day. Oliver and his family had made a point of having at least one picnic there every summer, but they'd always taken a boat just in case they misjudged the water or wanted to stay until it was dark.

'Hey,' Oliver greeted his friend when he arrived at last. 'Thought you were going to help at the café today?'

'Gramps is dragging Abigail in.'

'And, Cass'?' Oliver asked, dreading the answer before he'd asked the question.

'She's working.'

Oliver couldn't say he was surprised; Cassidy never seemed to stop working. While Abigail was desperate to take days off to enjoy the weather with her friends, Cassidy refused to stay home even when her mother ordered her to recover from her accident in the sea. The woman ought to have taken advantage of the event and spent an entire week taking photographs and lounging in the garden rather than rushing to deliver plates of cheeseburgers to sunburnt families. Instead, she was determined to prove her worth to both Bill and Meghan, earning her keep and showing that she was a reliable person rather than the headstrong girl who'd thought she could run away to London. Cassidy might have dropped her university courses, but she'd never stopped trying to fulfil her mother's expectations.

'Did you talk to her?' he asked. 'How was she?'

'Quiet. No sign of a camera, or a smile, for that matter.'

Oliver had regretted telling Cassidy he needed to think about things the moment he dropped her at home after dinner. The journey had been awkward and silent. When they'd stopped, she'd leaned over to kiss his cheek, and Oliver had turned away so that she couldn't reach. From the corner of his eye he noticed the roll of a tear which tracked a line over her pale cheek. Then she was gone, and it was too late for him to take any of it back. By the time he was on the road and contemplating turning back to apologise it struck Oliver that it wouldn't do any good. He'd hurt her because she'd hurt him. It was childish of him and he should have known better.

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