The sailboat slices through the glassy water, casting up spray from the lake. Around us, the sun is beginning to set, and the sky has turned a pale lilac that's hazy through the day's heat. I let the cool breeze tousle my hair and whip it around my face. It strikes me that this is the first time in Tennessee that I haven't felt uncomfortable outside. I smile as a cold spray of water splashes my arms.
Dipping below the boom, I side-step the jackline and make my way over to where my father is knotting the rigging. In an old Oxford crew top - a reminder of his glory days coxing the Boat Race - he looks more relaxed than I've seen him in years. His auburn hair, which is greying around the temples, is slicked back, and a day on the boat has brought out freckles on his cheeks and the bridge of his nose. I can't see myself, but I imagine mine are the mirror image.
'I'm glad you were able to make it down early this weekend,' I say, seating myself next to him and swigging from an ice-cold bottle of water. For the first time all Summer, he'd left the office early enough to make it out to the lake house on Friday evening. I'm grateful for the day it gives us together.
He smiles and reaches for the bottle. 'I do love coming here,' he says, looking out over the tranquil lake. 'I've missed being on the water. Two weeks a year never quite scratched the itch.'
'Is the new job everything you wanted?',
A knot tightens in my stomach as I ask. I've worked hard to not mention his new job - ignoring the reality that we're still here. But his happiness is so apparent that it radiates off him, and I feel selfish for wishing us, and him, away from here.
'It is,' he says, smiling broadly. 'And I'll never be bored, that's for sure. My God, the Americans love lawsuits.'
'Be careful who hears you say that,' I giggle. 'Someone might sue you for libel.'
He laughs and lets the wind move the mainsail so that we sail port tack.
'It's nice to see you laughing again, Mats.'
I bow my head and fiddle with a knot by my side. As if sensing my change in mood, my father slings his arm around me and pulls me in for a hug. He kisses my forehead before releasing me. 'I know that you haven't found the move easy, especially with the Whittingham boy giving you such grief, but I promise that it'll be good for you. For all of us.'
I nod dismissively, not wanting the gesture to seem too emphatic.
When the dock comes into view, my father pulls on his old cap. 'Land Ahoy, me old seadog,' he yells, and I smile at the stupidity of the familiar gesture.
Laughing, I salute. 'First mate to the ready, Cap'n.'
As we navigate our way smoothly into the dock, we work in companionable silence, the sky fading to indigo before our eyes. Skipping down the companionway and towards the truck parked behind the Cherokee Lake Sailing Club, my arms ache from a day's hard work, and my stomach rumbles for the gumbo supper that Lucille has promised.
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Under Tennessee SkiesTeen Fiction
When she moves from England to the small town of Hopton Hills, Tennessee, Martha Heysham finds both her dream of Oxford University and her heart at risk from her new neighbours, the Whittingham boys. **** Martha Heysham hates Tennessee. The sticky h...