Chapter 34: Rip Tide

Dake was the only one tall enough to secure the surfboards to the roof rack of Brodie's small SUV. Once everything was strapped in, we headed back towards Brisbane. The air conditioner was broken; Brodie rolled down all the windows so that the wind ripped through our hair as we sped down the freeway.

Dake leaned forward from his solitary seat in the back, bringing his face close to mine. "You never told me what you're doing here in Australia on the day after Christmas. Don't tell me you came all the way here because of me."

I smiled, shifting in my seat to explain into his ear, "I wish I could say I did, but no, some friends and I applied for this internship..." I gave him an abridged explanation of my presence in Australia and my stay at the Loving Arms.

"Loving Arms? In Brisbane? I walk by that place almost every day. To think - we've been within meters of each other this whole time."

After a little more than an hour, Brodie turned down a quiet, verdant cul-de-sac and came to a stop in the driveway of a house with peachy-pink siding. It was one of very few houses with no net lights on the shrubs and no Christmas tree on display in the window.

"Is this your house, Brodie?" Until now, it hadn't even occurred to me to ask where we were going. I was just elated to be with Dake - it didn't matter where.

Dake chuckled at my naïveté. "No, it's mine," he answered, leaning in to kiss my cheek.

The paint, carpet, and wallpaper were coordinating blues, pinks, and seafoam greens that dated the house to the early nineties. While Dake showered and changed his clothes, I nosed around the photos and knickknacks on display in the formal dining room. I resisted the urge to look through the blue baby album that collected dust next to a ceramic dolphin wedding cake topper. My heart melted when I found a framed picture of a blond toddler being pulled along the beach on a boogie board, smiling a toothlessly.

The only thing that looked out-of-place was about six months of mail stacked on the table.

"Dake, where are your parents?" I asked when he reemerged, toweling his hair dry. Unbound by an elastic, it hung down to his shoulders.

"Florida - where my Mum's from. She has dual citizenship. She and my Dad are teaching at a university there. They wanted me to go with them, but the surfing's much better here. They let me stay by myself, so long as I check in with them a few times a week - and my uncle. They say he's a good influence on me, since he works with high school kids."

I was suddenly overwhelmed by how little I actually knew about Dakota Halloran. "You're half American?"

The question seemed to amuse him. "Yeah, I guess you could say that."

"Is that why you're named after an American state?" I pried.

"I never thought about it. You're cute when you say smart things." He nuzzled the tip of my nose, sneaking in for a kiss.

Even as Dake kissed me, my mind wandered. He's never thought about his own name? Maybe he hit his head on a rock or a coral reef...

He pulled out of the kiss, motioning for me to follow him into the kitchen. "Are you hungry, Candy?"

I hadn't eaten anything that day, and according to the clocks on the kitchen appliances, it was already 6PM. I was famished. "Kind of," I admitted shyly.

While Dake clanked around in the kitchen, opening and closing cabinets, I drifted into the living room, lured there by a brightly-lit wall-mounted saltwater aquarium. The multicolored tropical fish were unaffected when I gently tapped the glass.

"Mum's a marine biologist," Dake explained, offering me a slice of toast.

"That's amazing," I said admiringly. "I should have guessed." I took a slice and unquestioningly took a bite. I expected peanut butter or margarine, but whatever was spread on the toast tasted like something that had been caught in the fish tank's filter. "Ugh, what is this?"

"Vegemite. You don't like it?"

"Are you kidding?" I grimaced. "It's like...congealed stomach acid." I'd always considered myself easy to please when it came to food, but even I had standards.

Dake laughed as he swallowed. "I can make you something else," he offered sweetly.

We were interrupted by a knock at the front door. I recognized the newcomer as one of Dake's friends from the beach, but I had no idea which one. He'd brought with him a twenty-four pack of canned beer - and six or seven of his own friends. Dake didn't seem pleased when they rolled a keg into his parents' kitchen.

"You're not still on that no-more-alcohol soap box, are you, Dake?" asked Dezzie sarcastically. Or maybe that was one of the Joshuas. I wasn't sure.

"It's just not a good idea," said Dake in an uncharacteristically serious tone.

"Come on, Dake," Brodie goaded as he rummaged through Mr. and Mrs. Halloran's alcohol cabinet. "Let's toast your victory with a drink! If I can be a gracious loser, you can be a gracious winner."

Before too long, Dake's house was full of surfers - male and female. I caught Brodie ogling a lonely blue-eyed surfer girl with feathers and beads woven into her long brown hair. Someone plugged in an iHome and cued up a familiar techno song.

This was very quickly turning into a house party.

"Won't the neighbors complain about the noise?" I asked Brodie as he sloshed something in a cocktail shaker.

"Which neighbor, Ronnie? Nah, Ronnie's here," he said dismissively. He poured the concoction into a shot glass and presented it to me. It smelled like antifreeze and was the same phosphorescent blue color.

I found my way back to Dake, who was looking increasingly anxious as more people turned up. "Don't drink that," he begged when he saw the shot glass in my hand. "He calls it a Rip Tide. Just two of those used to be enough to make me half-rotten."

I felt guilty for accepting the shot in the first place - and even worse for almost drinking it. "You don't drink, Dake?"

"No. Not since..." He let the thought trail off unfinished.

I caught a glimpse of the feathers-and-beads surfer girl, still by herself in a corner. She'd probably been dragged here by a friend; it didn't look like she knew anybody else. "I have a better idea," I told Dake with a wink. I carefully wove through the crowded room and held out the antifreeze shot for her to take.

"What's this?" she asked suspiciously.

"It's from my friend over there." I indicated Brodie, who was throwing back something he'd mixed in and old-fashioned. "The surfer in orange. He's had his eye on you all night."

She took the tiny shot glass from me, scrutinizing Brodie with squinted eyes. "What's his name again?"

"Brodie. Maybe say hi to him before you leave," I suggested. "I bet it would make his night."

She shrugged, gave an indifferent "cheers," and swallowed the contents of the shot glass in one gulp.

I felt a hand on my shoulder. "If it's getting too noisy out here, I can show you my room," Dake whispered in my ear.

My heart rate skyrocketed.

I nodded yes.