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|Before Jamaica Lane(On Dublin Street #3)(58) by Samantha Young|
Sipping lemonade, I laughed as Nate and his father teased each other. I shared smiles with Sylvie and felt very at home there.
‘I saw a picture of you with a dog,’ I said to Nate, smiling quizzically. I’d passed the photo of him as a child with a Lab puppy as we walked through their entrance hall. ‘You didn’t tell me you had a dog.’
Nathan immediately snorted as Nate groaned.
I grinned. ‘What am I missing?’
‘The dog’ – Nathan laughed and then composed himself so he could continue – ‘was called Duke and we only had him for about fourteen months, until my son decided that Duke had more value in trade than as a family pet.’
‘Oh, God.’ Nate groaned again and shot me a dirty look. ‘You had to ask about the dog.’
Sylvie was almost crying with tears of laughter.
My intrigue grew. I giggled. ‘What did you do?’
‘Do?’ Nathan leaned back, shaking his head at his son. ‘Well, he’d been bugging his mum and me for a surfboard for months, and we kept saying no because we both weren’t comfortable with him being out in the water without someone experienced with him. So when he went with Cam and his parents to the beach, we let him take Duke. He was out of Lena and Andy’s sight for a few minutes and he decided to make things happen for himself.’
Nate’s expression was pained.
‘He came across some surfers and started chatting to them. Eventually he asked them if they’d consider trading one of their boards.’
My eyes widened in horror. ‘Nate, you didn’t.’
He grimaced. ‘I was eleven years old.’
‘Aye, meaning you knew exactly what you were doing.’ Sylvie wiped her eyes.
‘As you’ve surmised,’ Nathan continued, ‘the guy said he’d trade his surfboard for Duke.’
‘You gave them Duke? Did you get him back?’
‘Nope.’ Nathan shook his head. ‘Once Andy realized what had happened, he went back to find them but they were gone. I went looking every weekend for a while, but I never found the group of surfers again.’
I tutted. ‘That’s cold, Nate.’
‘Hey –’ He pointed his finger at me. ‘I’m not a complete shit. I realized later that night that it was a stupid bloody idea and I felt awful.’
‘Felt awful?’ Nathan harrumphed. ‘You cried your eyes out.’
I pinched my lips together to keep from laughing.
Nate scowled. ‘Manly tears. Manly tears of regret.’
‘I take it getting another dog was out of the question?’ I teased.
Sylvie chuckled. ‘We were afraid what he’d trade it in for.’
Slapping his hands on his knees, Nate ignored our laughing and stood up. ‘Right, if you’re done torturing me, I’m going to show Liv the prison you guys kept me in for eighteen years.’ He tugged on my hand, pulling me out of my seat and I grinned conspiratorially at his parents as I let him lead me back into the house.
The prison was in fact his bedroom. And it wasn’t a prison. It was just a typical teenager’s room. Posters of indie bands on the wall, books and comics still scattered here and there. My eyes looked past the dark blue walls and dark blue comforter on the queen bed and shot straight to the photographs. It was clear that from an early age Nate liked to take photos. There were some beautiful shots of Longniddry and the beach, but mostly shots of his parents and lots of his friends. I grinned, seeing younger versions of him, Cam, and Peetie fooling around … at the beach mostly.
As I moved from one picture to the next, a girl started to appear in most of them and my heart pounded as Nate leaned quietly against the doorway and let me look my fill. Finally my eyes dropped to the one photograph that he’d actually framed. It sat on his bedside table. I sat down on the bed and reached for it, a crack of pain lancing through my chest.
It was the same girl.
She was sitting on a low brick wall, and her long strawberry blond hair blew out behind her as she squinted against the sun, smiling into the camera. She was small, pale and slender with fine, delicate features and a beautiful smile. Wearing a white summer dress, she looked like the angel Nate had described.
Somehow I found my voice. ‘Alana?’
When Nate didn’t answer, I glanced up from the picture in my hands and he nodded, taking a step inside the room. ‘Alana.’
I put the photograph back where I’d found it and whispered sincerely, ‘She was beautiful, Nate.’
‘I took that picture just a few weeks before we found out about the lymphoma.’
Struggling to find something to say, I asked, my voice quiet, ‘Does her family still live here?’
‘Yes.’ He walked toward me. Sitting down beside me, he stared at the wall opposite us, where lots of pictures of her were pinned. My own gaze fell on one that someone else had taken. A gangly-limbed teen version of Nate, boyish but no less handsome, was standing behind the young Alana, his arms wrapped around her waist. She leaned back against him, her hands clutching at his arms, holding them to her. They both were smiling. Seeming so happy. So innocent.
They had no idea what was coming for them.
Choking back tears, I hurriedly glanced away from the picture, unable to rid myself of the burn in my chest.
‘Aye, her family still lives here. I don’t have anything to do with them.’
Nate shrugged moodily, his eyes narrowing in thought. ‘I spent most of Alana’s childhood providing her with a safe place away from her stepdad.’
‘Did he hit her?’
‘No. We could have done something about that. No, it was emotional and verbal abuse. All the time. He did the same to her mum, and her mum just let it happen. When Alana was diagnosed, it stopped. He distanced himself. But the damage was done. Alana was quiet and unsure, and she could never stand up for herself. I was always fighting her battles. He did that to her. And her mum let him. I’d say Alana was meek, but the courage she showed when she was dying … She was brave in the way that matters. When she died, I washed my hands of her parents.’
I rubbed his shoulder in comfort. ‘Alana was lucky to have you.’
He smiled softly, his expression far away. ‘We had this spot on the beach, near the golf club, where we’d meet when she was having a bad day because of him. We’d just sit.’ He shrugged. ‘Just sit in this perfect silence. She didn’t need me to say anything to her. She just needed me beside her. It made me feel like I had purpose.’