Ruth Long’s Picture Choice: 1
She spent the first week closeted in her apartment, windows closed, shades drawn, front door barricaded with boxes, trying to convince herself that this was a normal reaction to living alone for the first time, but the truth of it was that the smell of the salt air unsettled her, inviting and repulsing her by turns and giving her no peace.
The weekend arrived with the same nameless trepidation but the sharp edge of self-possession sliced through it, so she shrugged on jeans, t-shirt and sandals, and made a path through the boxes to the front door. When she stepped out into the courtyard, the sea beyond the rock wall seemed to rise up and greet her, its scent clinging to her skin and curling her long dark hair, and she wondered again why she had accepted the scholarship to Seaside, in spite of her aversion to the ocean.
Keeping the nausea and anxiety at bay, she clutched the little map and headed downtown. She found the shop without much trouble and pushing through the door, her soul found its solace. Every inch of wall space and most of the floor was occupied by music albums, the kind sandwiched between cardboard sleeves and meant to spin on a turntable so that the needle sinks into the vinyl’s waveform mirror and produces the truest, clearest, purest sound possible. Unbidden, a tune echoed in her throat.
Fingers dancing over the worn spines, she skimmed through the shelves and racks, lost in her own musical world, until a sound vibrated in her ears and she looked down the row, in search of its origin, and found it in the form of dark curls and a blue t-shirt. Tobias Coleman was in Seaside, probably settling in for the fall semester, same as she was. She could wait until they bumped into each other on campus, but she’d promised herself that she’d take the first opportunity to clear the air between them, and this was it.
She walked down the row to where he was bent over a lower rack, engaged in a discussion with a group of companions. “Tobias?”
He looked up, sea-green eyes peering through long lashes. “Hey.”
“You have a minute?”
He nodded. “Sure.”
Conscious of his companions, yet determined to be honest, she said, “I just want you to know that I’m sorry.”
He stood up, his companions rising with him. “Thank you, Sophie.”
Into the following silence, one of the girls in the group held out her hand and said, “Hi, I’m Callie.”
Tobias waved off Callie’s hand, preventing Sophie from clasping it, and said, “I’m glad you chose Seaside.”
“Their scholarship offered some perks that the rest didn’t. Little things, that maybe wouldn’t have mattered to anyone else, but that made me think that I could feel at home here.”
A murmur skittered through the group but Tobias shushed them with a look. “Have you been to the water yet?”
“No,” she said, color creeping into her cheeks. “I didn’t know you were here.”
He smiled, the warmth in it intensifying the color of his eyes. “Not the pool, Sophie. The sea.”
“Oh, I thought you meant … no, I haven’t been to the sea. Don’t know that I want to. It troubles me.”
“We can help with that, if you’ll let us,” he said, pulling Callie forward.
Sophie began humming, an involuntary response to anxiety.
“Put your palm in mine for ten seconds and you won’t be troubled anymore,” said Callie, moving closer and holding out her hand.
Sophie backed away, her humming becoming a flood of unearthly notes.
“I won’t hurt you, Sophia. On Poseidon’s honor.”
Sophie reached out, grabbed Callie’s hand, and her voice fell quiet. Her eyes were open but what she was seeing wasn’t the inside of a music store.
She was standing along a stretch of sand, in a puddle of sun with the sea rushing over her toes, and voices reverberating in her skull. Fish and birds and sea creatures, all of them talking and she understood every beautiful word.
She let go of Callie’s hand and reached past her, to Tobias, but he was just beyond her grasp. He held still, and for a moment, she thought that he was going to retaliate for the way she’d rebuffed his interest in her earlier in the year, but when he leaned out to connect his hand with hers, she realized just how wrong she’d been.
She saw through his eyes, back to that moment he’d spotted her in the stands at the swim meets, and how he looked for her at every meet from then on, how he swam harder, dove deeper, and pushed himself to win every meet with her smile in mind as his prize.
She felt his confusion when he’d touched her shoulder the day he’d asked her out, the surprise in finding that she was his kind and the shock that she had no idea what she was.
She watched him pour out his heart to his father, work to discover her orphaned heritage, and then work with their kind to design a university scholarship that would foster her musical gift as well as provide a safe place to acclimate herself to her true nature.
She shook out of the vision and looked at him. “What just happened?”
“It’s called collective memory. When we touch another of our kind, we can access memories they want to share with us.”
Lacing fingers with him, she said, “Will you take me to the sea and show me what we are, Tobias?”
“I’ve been waiting all summer to hear those words, beautiful,” he said, bringing her hand to his lips.
His companions erupted in joyous harmony. “The sirens are surfacing!”
A reader by birth, paper-pusher by trade and novelist by design, story-telling in my passion. If you enjoyed reading today's story, please consider checking out my blog bullishink.com, joining my creative community sweetbananaink.com or participating in the madcap twitter fun @bullishink.