The Rebel

By: Victoria Purman

‘Yes, ma’am,’ Cooper muttered.

‘Thanks again, Mom,’ Maggie said as she waved goodbye. ‘I’ll call you later.’

‘Bye, sweetheart.’ Serena stooped to give Evan a warm hug.

‘Bye, Grandma. I’m here to look after Cooper, too.’

‘That’s a good boy,’ Serena said with a smile at her daughter before getting into her car and driving off.

And then there was just the three of them, as there had been so often in the past few years. Cooper felt something like relief wash over him: he was happy to be out of hospital and he was glad of this familiarity. Maggie and Evan at his place. Evan talking a mile a minute and Maggie and her quiet and undemanding friendship. He needed a bolthole to recover and start his rehab and home was definitely the best place to do it.

Together, they hobbled slowly up the path to the front porch and went inside. Maggie dropped his overnight bag just inside the door and then turned to close it behind them.

Cooper looked down at Evan. The little man’s ocean blue eyes were concentrating hard. There were a hundred things Cooper was regretting about his injury, maybe even more than that, but at that moment he realised it would be a while before he could grab Evan under the armpits and flip him up high and around and sit his little mate on his shoulders. It was something they always did when he was back. Whether they were walking along the beach or getting an ice-cream down at the pier, Evan was up on his shoulders like a little monkey. Like a father–son thing. Evan’s real father, his mate Vance—his former mate now—had chosen not to be a part of any of that. Once, in their early days on the pro tour, Cooper and Vance had been as tight as brothers. They’d roomed together all over the world, been each other’s wingmen at bars, and had looked out for each other in and out of the water. But when Maggie had told Vance she was pregnant, he’d changed. Vance had told him the news over a beer in a surf bar in Johannesburg in South Africa, as matter-of-factly as if he was telling him about tomorrow’s weather.

‘So, what are you gonna do about it? The kid? Maggie?’

Vance had shrugged and sipped his beer. ‘I can’t be a father. I’ll send her some money or something.’

Cooper’s heartbeat had thrummed in his chest and in his ears. ‘You are fucking kidding me.’

‘That’s not me, man. Look at me. I’m about to break out on the tour. Things are just starting to get good. I can’t be weighed down by a kid and a woman.’

Cooper remembered his reaction as if it were yesterday. He’d slid off the barstool, planted his feet, clenched his fingers into a fist and punched his best friend in the jaw. Vance had gone sprawling on to the sticky bar floor and Cooper had walked over him and out of his life. He hadn’t spoken to the bastard since.

‘Cooper?’ He reached down and tousled Evan’s hair, swallowing the strange feeling in his throat. He tried not to, but he could see Vance in Evan’s face. Life’s cruel joke. He was so like the man who’d never wanted him.

He smiled down at the young boy. Evan couldn’t help who his father was, and Cooper tried not to see anyone but an eager kid with wide eyes. ‘What’s up, mate?’

Evan thought for a moment. ‘Mommy says you are stuck on.’

‘What do you mean, “stuck on”?’ Cooper asked.

He heard a sharp intake of breath beside him. ‘Evan—’

‘Yesterday, you said it, Mommy. You said Cooper was stuck on and wouldn’t listen. And I told Mommy that was wrong because you always listen to me. Oh, I forgot.’ Evan dug his fingers into one of the front pockets of his jeans. ‘I got some bandaids. Right here!’

‘Are they Batman bandaids, mate?’

‘Uh huh.’ Evan nodded and looked proudly into his hand.

Cooper held a palm out flat and Evan slapped it. ‘What do you reckon? Can you be my personal doctor while my knee gets better?’

‘No way! I don’t wanna be a doctor. I’m gonna be a surfer just like you!’ Evan pushed past Cooper and barrelled into the living room, his voice bouncing off the tiled floor.

‘Oh, no he’s not,’ Maggie muttered under her breath but still loud enough that Cooper heard every word. He stepped towards the door, gripping the frame around it, trying not to let the pain show in his face. ‘You got something against surfers, Maggie Mac?’

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