Chapter Ten

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Alec was drinking his third iced coffee of the day.

He was sitting at a table outside a small coffee shop. That was one thing he'd definitely noticed about Europe: they liked their sidewalk cafes. He didn't mind them all that much either. He'd filled a sketchbook with images of the sun and water and the people sitting at tables near him, and he'd only been in Gibraltar for nine days. It felt like longer.

Was this what life was like for some people? Constant vacation from the real world? He didn't have to work, he didn't have to deal with real life. He could wake up when he wanted, choose a coffee shop to spend the day at (because when Cammie turned up, it would be at a coffee shop, and he was going to spend a day at each and every one of them and pray he didn't miss her. Even if he was starting to lose hope that she was here). Hell, he already had a tan. And people moved slower here, even if they were nearly all tourists. He had a view of the harbor from his hotel room window, and he certainly liked that.

Alec was calm, content, and seriously repressing the fear that was growing each day he didn't see the girl he'd run away to Europe to catch.

And he'd run out of the Todds' money three days ago, and had no idea why he wasn't hopping on the next flight home. Shit. He probably wouldn't even have a job when he got back. He had to go back soon.

Alec clenched and unclenched his jaw, then took another sip of his iced coffee. Adjusted his sunglasses. Told himself to calm down.

And then struggled not to spit the coffee back out because he saw a girl walk by. A thin girl with curly brown hair and a bright (tiny, don't notice just how tiny) dress and a tan she hadn't had two weeks ago.

"Cammie!" Alec gasped, but she didn't hear him. So he cleared his throat, and called out, again, "Cammie!"

She turned, saw him, and broke into a wide smile. "Alec! Oh, my God!" She jogged over to him (when had he stood up?) and threw her arms around his neck. Alec instinctively circled his own arms around her waist as tightly as he could, breathing in the fruity smell of her hair. Fuck. Oh, God, fuck.

"Hey," he said, keeping his voice low (she would never take the hint) and pasting on that smile that always made her blush.

She didn't even seem notice.

"Oh, my God," she said again, pushing her aviators into her hair to better scrutinize him with her gray-blue eyes. "What are you doing here?"

"Summer told me to come," Alec said, and was acutely aware of the hot sun on his neck and back as he looked down at her.

Cammie squinted up at him. "What?" she asked, wrinkling her nose. She wasn't just tan, Alec could tell from this close. She had a whole new set of freckles. New galaxy of constellations.

"Summer told me to– to get you back. You left," he said, and tried not to wince at the plaintive note that entered his voice.

"Yeah...?"

"You left!" he shouted, and glanced around hurriedly at the confused passerby looking at them. Cammie, actually, looked nearly as confused as they did, making a face like she was about to say something but she couldn't figure out what it was she wanted to say. But Alec just kept talking, because he had something to say. For once he would say what he had to say. "You left, and fuck, Cammie, don't you know how goddamn irresponsible that is!? You can't just pack up and leave when things get tough. You can't do that, you can't just run away from your life! Do you know how much you must've scared everyone? Made them feel like they were powerless, terrified you wouldn't come back, even more scared you might show up in a body bag or some shit like that! Do you know how sick it makes your friends feel? How fucking sick? I mean, think about Summer! She's your best friend. Doesn't that mean something? Think about–"

Alec took a deep breath to stop himself from saying Think about me.

"Um, Alec, I–"

"You can't do that. You can't just leave everyone. You can't just get too goddamn scared and run and not think. Maybe your life feels like shit now, but trust me, it sure as hell could be worse. Lots worse. You have to think about your future, you ditz!" He didn't mean that, not really, but he couldn't take it back, now. She looked taken aback, so he switched tacts. She seemed to understand the personal part.

She felt things.

"You can't be another girl who runs! Who leaves. Who leaves me." That was the last thing he'd meant to say. Alec felt panicky, but he couldn't seem to stop himself. Was this how Cammie felt all the time? No wonder she could be so spastic. Though, at this moment, staring at him in shock, she was still. Frozen. "I can't let another girl just leave me. I don't think I can fix anyone else. Not another girl. No one else. Not m— not anyone else."

Alec took a deep breath, then blinked around him. The number of people staring seemed to have doubled.

"Alec, I– I don't understand," Cammie said in a small voice, staring at him. He couldn't tell if her eyes were tearing up from the sun or something else. He couldn't let himself wonder what.

"Don't understand what?" he asked harshly, glaring around at everyone. He took ten euros from his pocket and dropped them on the table. That waitress would be getting a really nice tip today.

Cammie kept pace with his long strides. He couldn't say for sure where he was heading, but somewhere away. That's all.

"What are you– what do mean, Summer was freaked? She knew I was going."

Alec stopped short, and Cammie tripped but managed to right herself before she hit the pavement.

"What?" he asked, his voice carefully neutral.

Cammie took a step towards him, and for an instant it was hard to breathe. She tilted her head to the side, and said, "My parents thought it might be a good idea if I went away for a couple weeks to rest up and 'find myself,'" she rolled her eyes. "I invited Summer along with me. Okay, maybe I suggested the idea to them, but still– I don't think anyone is exactly freaking out."

"But–" Alec said, then stopped. And resumed walking.

Raising an eyebrow, Cammie continued. "As for all that about my future, I've been doing my schoolwork. I worked it out with my teachers– why did you think that Summer was losing it?"

"Uh–"

"Did you come here to find me?" Cammie asked, and she was looking at him with her eyes all full of hope and shining. Alec cleared his throat and took a step away.

"Yeah. I mean, you know, Summer came and found me, and, uh, told me to. And paid for it. I mean, I didn't pay to come here," Alec said hurriedly, feeling nervous. His hands were sweaty, and he shoved them in his pockets.

Cammie studied him for a long moment, biting gently on her lip, then nodded. "Okay," she said.

Alec breathed a sigh of relief, then looked around them. He'd unconsciously walked them over to a small pier near his hotel, just around the corner from the coffee place he'd spent the day at. It was isolated and almost lonely. Unlike New York, where it was nearly impossible to find that surreal, lonely sort of place in the summer, he'd been finding all sorts of them on this small bit of land. He liked it. It was quiet and sunny and nostalgic.

"Let's sit," he said, and did so. He took off his flip-flops and let his feet dangle in the water that he knew must be disgusting, but it looked clean enough.

"But," said Cammie, "you still came to get me. Summer told you I ran away and you came to get me." She sat down next to him, slid off her own bedazzled sandals, and let her feet drop into the water with enough splash to wet his legs. He ignored that.

"Yeah," said Alec, and kept staring at their feet. Even with their new tans, they were so pale in the blue-green water. He cleared his throat. "Have you been to see the monkeys?"

Cammie laughed happily. "Yeah! I mean, yesterday morning, one of them just climbed in through my window. It was amazing! The concierge was all worried I'd sue, but I calmed him down, like, no problem. It was the third time that's happened."

"That's great," Alec said, dully. Some of the excitement he'd felt at finding her was wearing away. Now it was just them, again. A girl beginning to enjoy her life and a boy entirely disenchanted with his. And they would go home, and she'd go off to college, and he gave her back her future.

Only, he reminded himself, she didn't even need him to come get her.

"Alec?" she asked, and he turned to look at her. She was studying him intently, looking faintly worried.

"Hm?"

She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "Are you alright?"

Alec shrugged. "Fine, yeah, why?"

Cammie shrugged in return. Rather than answering, she asked him another question. "Why'd you come get me, anyway?"

And, looking at her in the sun, with a faint sheen of sweat on her face and too many questions in her eyes, Alec realized he didn't have an answer.

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a/n: i'm sorry it's been so long since i last updated... i don't have an excuse. not a good one, at least. i'm sorry. as for the kajillion people who have this on alerts/favorites... please review! there's nothing i can do if you don't, i'm just asking you to, so please... and thank you :). they're returned.