(photo by anataman)(Part of Project Unicorn: A Lesbian YA Extravaganza, updated twice weekly, on Mondays and Fridays, with a free, original, never-before-published YA short story featuring a lesbian heroine. Every story is a work of genre fiction [Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Dystopian, Post-apocalyptic, etc.].)
by Jennifer Diemer
Barefoot, I tiptoe over the wet sand. There are man-of-wars—bluebottles, my dad calls them—glowing cobalt all along the shoreline. Before I moved in with my mom, Carolina and I used to walk this beach every day, and we imagined the brilliant blue creatures were fallen stars, or gleaming beads carved from the moon.
I’m not ready for this. Why am I here?
Even the waves are bioluminescent, alight with bluebottles rising, cresting, and then washing ashore. I kneel down, peer at one of the beached man-of-wars and feel a pang: the sorrow, the loss. “I’m sorry,” I whisper, but my voice is stolen by the sea.
When I glance back up, trail my gaze over the water, my eyes shift out of focus for a moment, and I make out a pattern, a necklace of bright blue flickering beneath the sunlit surface.
I stand and stare into the ocean. It’s unmistakable: there’s a line of bluebottles winding through the waves—not moving toward the beach but away, spiraling deep and away.
Without a thought, I strip down to my swimsuit and dash into the water, running until I’m in up to my neck, shivering, floating. I lick my lips and taste the salt and think of Carolina again…
My feet tread water, and I blink, scanning the surface for the bluebottle trail. Its tail end hovers just below me—hovers, like it’s waiting—and then begins to slowly whirl and glide further out from shore.
I follow it.
There’s a pool at Mom’s apartment complex in Pittsburgh, but swimming in placid chlorine is nothing like swimming in a living sea. I’ve missed it. I was so preoccupied with missing her that I failed to notice the ocean-shaped fissure inside of me. My muscles move instinctively, slicing through the blue, and I’m only half-aware of the string of man-of-wars gliding below, guiding me. I swim farther than I ever have before, until my heart hurts and my arms ache.
Until I see the boat.
I freeze and sink, swallow salt.
“Ramie, is it really you?”
She’s wearing the rainbow headscarf I tie-dyed for her. Her blue hair is drawn into a side ponytail, brushing against her bikini strap, her bare shoulder.
“Oh, my God, Ramie, it’s you!” Her little boat tilts as she hangs over the side, motoring toward me.
I take a deep breath and inhale water, start to cough, sink lower, cough harder, but then she’s there, sitting in her boat beside me, and she hooks her hands under my shoulders and drags me out of the sea, onto the white-painted planks. Freshly painted.
“You fixed it,” I say, because I don’t know what else to say, and she stares at me for a long moment before answering.
“My uncle rebuilt the bottom, yeah, and I just refinished it. It’s still not totally seaworthy, but…” Her mouth twists into a lopsided smile. “You know me. I live for danger.”
I bow my head, sit up, pull my knees to my chest. I’m afraid to look at her again, afraid I’ll find she’s disappeared, because I thought I’d never see her again, and I had nurtured the pain of that knowledge like a sharp, wild reef inside of me, scraping away, hour by hour, minute by minute, at my soft parts. Until I was numb. Until I could look into a mirror, into darkened windows and glittering car doors, into the fake blue water of the pool at Mom’s complex without seeing the ghost of Carolina’s face there.
I thought I’d never see you again.
I hoped—prayed to every deity I could beg by name—that I would.
“What are you doing so far out?” Carolina asks, leaning down, trying to catch my eye. “Did you swim the whole way?”
It’s my turn to smirk, but my mouth feels stuck in a sort of disbelieving frown. “I followed the bluebottles. I guess…” I guess they led me here, to you. “I just felt like swimming.”
“Hey. Ramie. Will you look at me?”
I bite my lip, and there are tears in my eyes, but I look at her, anyway. She’s seen me cry before. “I like it,” I whisper, gesturing toward her hair. “The blue.”
“Thanks.” She shoves off the seat, kneels down beside me. “Ramie. I—I’ve missed you. A lot.”
I’ve missed you, too. More than a lot.
I swipe a fist over my face, catching tears.
She breathes out hard. “Why didn’t you reply to any of my emails?”
Because I printed them, smeared them with sobs, and hid them, folded into origami hearts, in my pillow. Because writing to you, knowing we were so far apart, would have hurt too much. I hurt too much.
“Ramie. Talk to me.”
I lift my gaze. Something inside of me dissolves when my eyes connect with hers—so blue, bluer than the ocean, than the sky, and shining. “I should have never left you,” I whisper, covering my face with my hands.
Carolina’s cool palms—her skin is always cool, even in the sticky heat of Florida summer—encircle my wrists. “Don’t,” she says, moving close, gathering me into her arms. The comfort of her nearness, the sea-claimed scent of her, the pulse of her heart beneath my ear… I can’t control myself; I cry against her shoulder, and the salt of my tears stings my face.
“Ramie, you had no choice,” she whispers, her voice gruff with emotion. “The judge gave your mom custody—”
“But I should’ve fought harder. I should’ve convinced her to stay here.” I nearly choke on my tears, so I tilt my head back and, through a watery haze, stare into Carolina’s sad, lovely eyes. “I shouldn’t have left without saying good-bye. I just couldn’t…”
She bows her head, and tendrils of blue glance my forehead. “You were devastated when your parents split. And your mom—” Her mouth smirks. “Well, I was never her favorite person. I think ‘that crazy girl’ was one of her…kinder nicknames for me.”
“I’m sorry about that. I’m so—”
“I know.” She smiles softly, but her eyes remain downcast. “I’ve been saving up, you know. Working double shifts at the restaurant, and helping my uncle out on his hauls. I almost had enough to hop on a plane to Pittsburgh. One way.” Her hand grazes my hot cheek, smoothing away the tears there. “But then you showed up. Splashing like a mermaid.” Her smile stills, then ebbs. “Why are you here, Ramie?”
“Why are you? I thought you were going to go to that theater internship in Atlanta over the summer and then—”
“No.” She shakes her head, tousling her azure hair, and she looks so right, perfectly placed, her outline synthesized with the backdrop of the ocean. She’s the mermaid. My siren. Her eyes glisten. “I was waiting for you.”
I touch her—her hand, poised on her knee. I trace the lines of her fingers one by one, and she inhales but keeps her eyes trained on me. “I lied,” I say. “I told Mom that I was desperate to go to Florida State—which I’m not; I don’t know if I even want to go to college—and that the tuition would be reduced if I moved back here.” I wince. “And I told my dad that Mom wants alone time with her boyfriend, without a teenage daughter moping around in the background.” I sigh and trace a heart on the back of Carolina’s hand. “Not entirely untrue.”
Her eyes roam my length; I flush. “So you’re here.” She swallows, watching me hopefully. “To stay?”
I bite my lip, because I don’t want to cry again, but she’s a vision: it’s like a dream to be here with her now, close enough to see, to touch, kiss. “They’d need a steamer to drag me away from you, Care.” My blush deepens. “I mean…if you still want me. I’d understand if you didn’t, after the way I treated you, after I left you—”
“Shut up and kiss me.”
“Okay.” I breathe in, trembling, and lean toward her.
Kissing Carolina is like kissing the ocean. All of my bottled-up emotions from the past few months fill my chest until I’m certain it will burst, I will burst, and the longing for her rises within me like a never-cresting wave, higher and higher, still higher, until there are no clouds, no sky. Only water. Only her.
Our connection is salted and sweet and long, and when we separate—with room for only a breath between us—Carolina gasps and startles me by leaning over the edge of the boat, rocking it treacherously to the side.
“Oh, Ramie. It’s so beautiful,” she whispers, grasping my hands, looking to me with wonder shining in her eyes.
All around us, the bluebottles spiral, glowing like submerged beacons beneath the broad, soft, rippling sea.
If you enjoyed “Bluebottles,” you can now enjoy the entire month of “The Monstrous Sea” Project Unicorn stories on your eReader, and support the project at the same time!
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