Just Swimmingly

Four girls, four friends bound by fate discover an unimaginable secret in themselves. But with good, there is always evil, and something is preying upon them.

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1. dive in

The water is crystal, blues and greens, but it doesn't cut like glass; it crashes smoothly across my skin as I dive in. Gently, I find myself delving deeper and deeper into the bottomless ocean, fish in a variety of colors swimming all around me for a while. And then, nothing. I've gone so deep I'm alone... how long have I been diving now, with the sand still evading my fingertips? Like Alice tumbling down to Wonderland, I keep going further into the sea, no end in sight.

I should be dead by now. Suffocated. Drowned. Maybe this is what comes before, this peaceful descent into the depth, my eyes wide open at every wonder, even as the light greens and blues turn to black. 

But I'm not dead, and I can't figure out why. And then, that's when I realize, I'm breathing. When I open my mouth, I'm taking in oxygen out of the water, even though I shouldn't be... That's when I look behind me, to see where I truly am. That's when I notice my tail... My torso is intact, skin glowing a shade between milky white and golden, ribs slightly jutting out of my resiliently thin frame, but around my hips, what should be legs connects into a tail, covered in turquoise scales, with a fin attached...

I'm so close to figuring this all out, why this keeps happening to me, when I wake up with fire in my face. More specifically, I wake up to a lit candle on top of a pastel-pink frosted cupcake that perfectly matches my sister's hair, who happens to be the bearer. The little neon numbers on my alarm clock say it's six in the morning, and Evie's got a kimono draped on her, brandishing this cupcake. "Make a wish!" I follow her instructions and blow out the candle, but really, all I wish for, quite pathetically, is to figure out what's going on in this reoccurring dream. Truly, it's lame, but no one should be pressured into coherent thoughts at this hour in the morning. "Happy birthday, my little Elena! The cupcake's vegan!" Evie yelps, gives me the cupcake, and strolls out of our shared room, my side and her's separated by some thrift-shop Asian screen, into the kitchen. Like every birthday, biting into my cupcake, I don't feel a year older; today I don't feel seventeen. However, I finish off my treat, comb my plain brown hair, pack my schoolbag, eat a banana, brush my teeth, and  throw on jeans with tall brown boots and a sheer white, sleeveless collared shirt. A little bit of foundation and concealer, mascara, and pink lip tint fix my face. I decide to wear my turquoise stone necklace. It may be my birthday, but I still have to go to high school.

Evie is drinking some awful-looking grass-green juice when she kisses me goodbye on the cheek. With normal kids, I suppose this is a mom's duty, but Evie's all I got ever since my mom died. I'm sure Dad will call me later, after he gets off the night shift he works as a janitor, but he's all the way back in Brooklyn, where I was born. Evie's raised me since I can remember, really, because our mom died when she was seventeen and I was seven. The only time my dad was forced to watch me was after Evie went off to Hollywood, when I was ten; eventually she left for a small, cheap town near Oceanside, California called Sugar Beach when she was twenty-three, and that's when I followed. Evie does some modelling jobs, even though she's on five feet and four inches, which is half a foot shorter than I am; she models alternative clothing, manages a surf shop that I also work at, and runs a fashion blog that I keep telling her I'll read. Evie's also a vigilant vegan and avid swimmer, and she makes me ride a bike to school.

Half of the time I'm supposed to be riding my bike, though, like today, my friend Carina is giving me rides in her beat-up red Honda. She drives dangerously and with all of the windows down and a Latin or rap music station blasting, depending on her mood. "Yo Ellie," she grins when I run down across the small, grassy lawn. When I look back, Nixie, a tall, perma-tanned surfer blonde who occupies the second bedroom of our two bedroom home, is just coming back, resting her surfboard outside the front door. "Happy birthday!"

"Hey," I reply to Carina, "What's up?" And with that, I get an earful about work at her grandpa's pizza place (her grandpa is also, coincidentally, her guardian), how this Kyle guy at work sells her the "sweetest bud," and who at our tiny school has been hooking up with who. So, besides a few "happy birthday" wishes, the day is terribly mundane.

I go to school, with Carina, and then I've got precalculus, and I see my best friend, Ariella. I then go to advanced placement world history. After, it's physics. Then, French four, swiftly followed by a sisterly-packed, vegan lunch of quinoa salad with black beans, lettuce and mango along with an apple and rice crackers. Discreetly, I buy a chocolate milk to satisfy my personal needs, and slurp it down with my otherwise vegan meal... and Adelaide, my other friend, gives me her Cheez-itz. Lunch is followed by gym class, advanced placement literature and composition, study hall, and art class. 

I go from school to work with Adelaide, who has her own beat-up car and works at the juice cafe next to the surf shop. Everything there is absolutely normal, normal customers, normal sorting of stuff... the only thing slightly off is Evie, who keeps throwing me weird looks. When she's at the cashier, I whisper to Ryan, even though I usually avoid talking to him too much. Ryan has dark eyes, a chiseled jawline, brown hair tinted at the ends by the sun to golden blonde, bronzed skin, an Australian accent, and the perfect body. He only moved here two months ago, and he's about six feet and two inches of handsome that makes it hard to converse freely with, without feeling dumb. But today, I'm brazen, and luckily, he's always friendly. I spot him assembling a display of board wax.

"Do you know what's going on with Evalyn?" Workers usually call my sister by her full name. Ryan smiles at me, and I can barely stand it.

"Your sister?" His accent is dreamy, "You know, I always thought it was funny that you both have those two beauty marks in the same place, small near the center of your cheek, and then bigger near the corner of your mouth. But... I dunno, maybe she's just got you a special birthday surprise or whatever?"

I'm shocked that Ryan even know it's my birthday, and I'm a bit taken a back. "Yeah, yeah, I guess," I shrug, attempting to be nonchalant.

Ryan leans down to my ear, and I love that he's tall enough to do so; so many boys are my height or shorter. "Since it is your birthday, why don't you go for a swim? I'll cover for you." He winks, and it's irresistible. Since I'm feeling pretty confident, and it's now five-thirty and near the end of my shift anyway, I decide that I might as well. 

The shop's right near the beach, just a block away. It's October, so night has just fallen, the sky faded to a romantic, dark shade. The amazing thing about Sugar Beach is that, in the off-season, the long stretch of gorgeous sand, lit in the moonlight, is basically empty, at least here. I don't bother with a bathing suit; I'm courageous enough to just strip down to my bra and underwear, dumping my stuff on the sand. I don't have a towel, and I don't care. 

Once the water starts lapping at my feet, like I dog begging to play, I feel comfortable. I keep going until I'm waist-deep in waves, and that's when I take the plunge and go under. Because it's night, it's not like my dream. The water is sharp and cold, but eventually, I adapt to it. When I open my eyes and look up from underneath, I can see the full moon illuminating a part of water in soft white. I'm transfixed.

I'm not coming up for air. I mean, I haven't come up for air... How long have I been just looking at the moon? The water's so nice, and I've only just realized that I haven't gone up to the surface in at least five minutes... but I'm fine...

Now it's like the dream, almost, because somehow I know I'm breathing, even though I don't dare open my mouth to try to test whether or not I can really, truly breathe right now... And I certainly don't want to look down, behind me... I can't... I'm frozen... It takes every muscle in my neck to turn my head down, and I feel each one move before I'm staring...

I'm staring at my tail.

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