Chapter Twenty-Eight

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'Would you stop pacing?' Finn asked in an exasperated voice, a block of board wax in his hand and his surfboard resting on the deck in front of him.

The Overhead Café was closed for the day; Bill was more interested in seeing his grandson compete than in serving milkshakes and burgers to sunburnt families. The notice had been in the window and at the bottom of the ramp for days, but people kept clambering over the rope and scaling the ramp to ask if they were, indeed, closed for business. The beach was already crowded; spectators had arrived early to find the best spot, staking their claim on the sand with towels and folding chairs, slathering themselves in lotion and hiding under the wide brims of hats. The podium was safely fenced off for the judges and winners, portable toilets were in heavy use with lines forming outside which snaked back along the path, and competitors were signing in with the security officials so that they could wait for their time in the tents. Some were out in the water, getting in a few late practices on the waves which couldn't have been more perfect for the contest.

Despite the missed practices thanks to the dramatic turn their summer had taken, Finn and Oliver weren't nervous. They were lifelong surfers and knew how to handle themselves out in the water. The only real risk to their scores was distraction. Both men had been concerned about Cassidy since she was hospitalised, to put it lightly, and hadn't wanted to leave her side. Meghan had insisted that they continue to surf rather than visit her daughter because it was what Cassidy would have told them to do. Although they knew she was safe and in good company, it felt wrong to be parted from her. Since her release, they hadn't seen or heard from her. The only information they had was from Mitch who'd taken charge of the bakery while Meghan took leave.

Oliver stopped and dropped into a chair. Unable to sit still, he was soon back on his feet, and started to pace once more. 'It's like the last time,' he fretted. 'No one will talk to me and, for all I know, she's disappeared again.'

'Or she's resting,' Finn said impatiently, 'like the doctors told her to do.'

Oliver stopped again and leaned against the rails, his eyes drawn to his own surf board. If he put any more wax on it he'd be able to stick a wick into it and use it as a candle. Sleep had become a distant memory since Cassidy's accident. Oliver had tortured himself for hours wondering what he could have done differently, and how he might have been there with her if they'd taken different roles during their search. It had been insensitive of him to send her along the beach when he knew she was afraid of the water. He should have sent her to the top of town with Mitch and made them search together so it would've taken her longer to find a boat, giving them enough time to regroup.

But he hadn't.

And she'd gone to find Jed alone.

And she'd almost died.

'It's not your fault,' Finn said.

'That's easy to say now we know she's recovering,' Oliver replied miserably. 'If she'd died, everyone would've blamed me. I'd have blamed myself. I shouldn't have let her go alone.'

'No one let her do anything. We're not her keepers. She chose to go there by herself. Besides, if anyone's to blame it's Jed. He's the one who pushed her over the wall and who lured her out there in the first place. And, if she hadn't gone, he'd have hurt Abi'.'

Oliver pushed his fingers back through his hair. 'I can't do it again. I can't lose her again.'

'Stop torturing yourself!' Finn snapped at his friend. 'She's fine. You're fine. Jed – well – we know he's not fine but thank God he put someone else first for once in his miserable life before he died, or this would be a different conversation. Focus on the contest. When it's over, we'll go up to the cliff and tell her what she missed.'

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