(photo by OLDSKOOLDAVE)(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
I wait for her at the dock.
There’s no one about. It’s a warm and still summer night, heavy with longing. Before me, the full moon hangs low, its reflection a half-circle of white on the sea. I stare unseeing at the ripples of light, and, despite the heat, an otherworldly shiver rakes my spine.
I dab a handkerchief at my forehead, but the lacy square slips from my trembling fingers; I watch with detached eyes as it flutters like a flag of surrender, lost to the opaque waves below. At night, the ocean is as black as the sky.
How does she see, I wonder, when her world goes dark? How can she tell up from down? How does she find her way to the shore, to me?
These are questions I’ve never thought to ask her.
Somewhere a ship’s horn blares, and I start, leaning hard against the wooden railing.
Lottie will have noticed my absence by now; I failed to appear for dinner. I can’t imagine what she’ll think, finding me gone from the house at such an hour, but I know what she’ll feel after the shock has worn away: relief. She will no longer be burdened by a disagreeable younger sister, will never again be forced to contrive excuses to explain away my “strangeness.”
Oh, the poor thing had such a fright when our father passed on. I’m afraid she’s not quite recovered from the upset, and allowances must be made for odd manners in circumstances such as these.
No, I’m certain it wasn’t Portia you saw wading in the sea—how absurd, the mere thought!—because she was here with me all day, embroidering daisies on a shawl for Lawrence’s mother.
As if I would ever engage in such frippery as embroidery. When Lottie caught me returning from the shore that day, she ordered me to strip out of my wet things and burn them in the hearth-fire, because they were mucky and ruined—was I determined to bring scandal to the family name?
I’ll not miss her a bit. Perhaps that makes me an ungrateful person. But I am not naïve, despite my years; I know when I’m unwanted, and I prefer not to linger. I’m certainly old enough to make up my own mind. Before Father died, I was the one managing his accounts, and I nursed him during his illness. Lottie claimed to be too busy with her duties as wife and Lady of the House to visit or offer any assistance to her ailing parent and fifteen-year-old sister.
Now—after residing for a full year under her smothering roof—I know precisely what those so-called duties of hers entail: bobbing her head along with every word to escape her idiot husband’s lips; making faces at her mirror and pinching her cheeks until they bruise rotten-fruit purple; spying on the servants and reprimanding them for trivial crimes; and, of course, napping. Lottie sleeps more often than a cat, and snores just like our father did: evenly, moistly, openmouthed.
Father told me on several occasions that I take after Mother, the mother I’ve never known, with my black eyes and unruly black hair. But I suspect our resemblance runs deeper than that. Mother ran away from her life, just as I’m running away from mine now. I wonder if she had an extraordinary secret, too? I wonder if she tired of this place, as I have, and sought out another world? I wonder if she slipped away, slipped through…
I gasp behind my hand and turn toward the sound, but nothing is distinct in the undulating expanse before me.
Still…I know she’s here. Near.
“Mea?” My whisper sounds rough and dry in the humid night.
“Below you,” she says softly, and I tilt my chin down over the edge of the dock to spy a pair of white hands on the wooden ladder sunk into the sea, and then a dark head heavy with coiled, dripping hair.
She’s climbing up, and as I watch her, I press against the railing, and the realization washes over me that soon—how soon? Minutes, perhaps?—there will be no more railings for me. There will be no space between myself and the sea.
Between myself and Mea.
I cough nervously, though my heart beats like rain within my chest as she crests the top of the ladder, as she places her bare feet—toes webbed, too long; they separate and shorten before my eyes—between the rails and stands nose to nose with me, with only wooden slats and the salted air separating us.
“You came.” She looks flushed, exuberant—her skin shining like scales, iridescent, beneath the moon. “You’re certain, then?”
“I’m certain of this.” I pull her against me and claim her mouth in a kiss; she’s cold and warm all at once, and she tastes of colors I’ve never seen. The wet length of her imprints my dress with a Mea silhouette.
“I’m certain of you,” I whisper, leaning my forehead against hers. A droplet of ocean glides from her cheek to mine, and its salt startles my tongue.
“And I, you.” She smiles against my lips, kisses me again. “But you know what I’m speaking of.”
Together, hands twined, we gaze outward, over the surface of the sea, but my eyes fall—sink, as if by an anchor’s weight—down into the black waters. For a moment, my breath catches as I imagine not breathing, never breathing for the rest of my days. I watch Mea’s still, airless chest, and she moves her eyes back to me, stares, then nods.
“You will be frightened, Portia. Your body—by instinct—will revolt. As mine did.” Her hand traces a cold line down my hot cheek. Tenderly, she lifts my chin, and I drown in the green of her gaze. “But then, after the change, you will feel more alive than you ever have before.”
“I only feel alive when I’m with you,” I tell her, the truth. “Everything that isn’t you is dull, gray as graves. My sister has no dreams in her, no hopes, and she seeks to mold me in her image, but I cannot—will not melt myself down. Mea…” I wrap my arms around her once more, and she settles her mouth against my neck, lips cool. “The day you came to me was the first day I felt my own soul.”
Her laugh is a rivulet, wending deep. “Well, you were drowning. Mortal thoughts are common when death is near.”
I bite her ear, and laugh, too. “Don’t tease—”
“Shh, someone approaches.”
I still, throat too dry to swallow, and slowly turn. A man in uniform stands outlined in moonlight at the far end of the dock, peering in our direction. When he notices my glance, he nods and begins marching toward us.
I gasp and cling to Mea. “Now! We must hurry! If he sees you—”
She stills my tongue with her steady, patient gaze. “Carefully, Portia, lift one leg over the rails. And then the other. I’ll hold onto you. You won’t fall until…”
I do swallow now, and cough. “Until we jump,” I finish her sentence. She nods her head, tapping the railing with a hand.
I’m wearing my thin muslin gown, the one Lottie hates—You look like a washerwoman, Portia. Have you no pride?—because it is unencumbered by decoration and has a wide skirt, so I’m able to swing my legs over the railing easily, expertly, as if I’ve made a living of making escapes. My heart rattles around in my chest like a tooth come loose.
The officer is only a few strides away now, and he’s shouting. I can’t hear his words over the rushing in my ears—of my blood, of the sea.
Mea embraces me and whispers, “Dive.”
I take my last breath: it’s warm and thick and briny, and as I exhale, little thoughts like waves ebb and flow… Will Lottie shed a tear for me? Will I miss her, after all? Did my mother miss me? Did she lose her dreams, too, like Lottie, or is she dreaming still, like me?
Will it hurt when the sea claims me, when my blood turns to salt?
I sling an arm around Mea’s waist, and we kiss, and we leap—
*I thrash. I wail and drown…
*There is only cold and black and—
*Portia, I’m here.
“Mea,” I say, and sink, choke, but I reach for her, and our curves come together, and our mouths are one, one…and everything within me lets go, reforms, and I can see again, white—no, blue. No… So many colors. Colors I can’t name, don’t know. And I’m warm, so warm, and Mea’s in my arms, and I laugh without breathing, sigh without air.
My nets—real and imagined—drift away along with my gown, the pearl necklace Lottie clasped on my neck like a collar…
Mea and I will have pearls enough here.
Together we swim, twin-tailed, through a thousand secret hues.
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