I once again have wi-fi access! I never realized how dependent I am on the home network and internet access. Everything from keeping track of friends near and far through Facebook to IMing with a friend to finding out how to hyphenate an expression I want to use in a story. I mean, I really thought I wasn’t terribly tech dependent, but I was wrong. Sure, I’ve got my pocket dictionary and good old Roget’s on my bookshelf, but I use the internet for all kinds of stuff. Anyway, it’s good to be back where I can access the internet if I so choose because, you know, getting away now and again isn’t such a bad thing.
As the time to reinstate my self-imposed Facebook/web surfing curfew draws near (school starts next week. My baby is going into 5th grade! Where has the time gone?), so does the release of Riptide (I know, I am so very behind.) I think I’ve prettied the file up as much as I possibly can, and after one last look at my eagle-eyed sister’s iPad to see if I found the same typos she did, it’ll be time to press publish.
In the meantime, I believe I owe y’all a chapter. Away we go… Enjoy!
I sit at my desk, absently doodling geometric shapes in the margin of my notebook, counting down the minutes until the bell rings, despite the fact that English is my favorite class. Katy, my best friend since fifth grade, sits at the desk next to mine, her studious expression trained on me. “What’s wrong with you?” she hastily whispers while the teacher reads another passage in a lame attempt to expose us to a variety of poetic masterpieces.
I shrug. This isn’t the time or place. Reese and I had yet another fight right before the tardy bell for first period because Max turned up in our homeroom and smiled at me. Like that’s my fault. I don’t even think he recognized me, I just happened to be looking up when he walked in. There’s no way he connected me and the nearly drowned, waterlogged girl at the cove the other night. Of course, Reese ignored my argument and went off on me.
The bell rings, saving us from Mrs. D.’s poetry lecture but sacrificing me to the Inquisition my friends will conduct next period while we eat. Both Katy and Mitch, my next door neighbor, have lunch with me. We were so excited about that a month ago, but that was before school started and a body snatcher replaced my boyfriend.
Katy and I sit at our usual table next to the glass wall looking out onto the enclosed courtyard. The roses are as big as both my fists together, but New Atlantis has the ideal climate, with just the right amount of summer showers.
New Atlantis rose from the floor of the Atlantic during the Earth Change Cataclysm. It simply appeared overnight, just like how the original island sank in a day. No one knows if this new continent is all—or even part—of the original, but there are stone ruins in the southern half of the island that defy identification.
A lot of people died when Earth’s axis shifted and the oceans roared up in 2012. The Mississippi River split the United States in two and California fell into the Pacific leaving Colorado the new beach-front property. Much of the East Coast remained above sea level, although most of the actual shoreline slid into the water. People recreated Manhattan by moving the city inland. The new Empire State Building will be open by Christmas, and they’re in the process of salvaging Lady Liberty from her watery grave.
Mitch drops his food-laden tray onto the table, jarring me out of my daydream. “What’s going on?” he asks, a concerned light creeping into his brown eyes.
I shrug, hoping to throw him off. A determined Mitch is a persistent Mitch, and I don’t feel like talking. “Nothing. Just mentally cramming for the World History test.”
“Uh-huh.” Yeah, he doesn’t believe me. “Where’s Matthews?” Mitch’s voice is tight. He must have heard about Reese’s latest antics. Sometimes you’d never know they were best friends growing up.
“Don’t know,” I quip, trying my best to appear unaffected by his absence.
“They had another fight,” Katy offers. Not that I actually told her. She just knows me.
Mitch rolls his eyes. “What was it this time?”
“Nothing,” I say too quickly, sliding my eyes toward Katy. “She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.” I’m bluffing. Katy totally knows and so does Mitch.
A shadow falls across our food, and our conversation abruptly dies. If it’s Reese, he’ll be pissed that we were talking about our argument. He thinks that’s our business, no one else’s, and I shouldn’t go airing our differences to everyone. If it’s not my boyfriend, whoever it is doesn’t need to hear.
“Hey.” I recognize the deep voice instantly. My stomach does a little somersault. “Mind if I join you guys?”
“Max! Hi!” There’s no reason for me to be so excited to see him. He doesn’t even know who I am.
He nods. “Dani. How are you feeling?”
Katy’s face lights up like she just found the last golden ticket. Her hazel eyes flick over Max’s broad shoulders and narrow waist before traveling back up to his face. For some inexplicable reason, my spine stiffens. She scoots over, offering him a spot next to me. He lowers himself into the empty chair across from me with a smile and I am suddenly gazing into the most vibrant, beautiful blue eyes I’ve ever seen. I can’t even describe their color in any way that would do them justice, but if I had to, I’d say Caribbean Blue.
Mitch jabs me in the thigh with the handle of his fork. I frown before returning my attention to the gorgeous specimen across from me. “I’m good.”
“No after-effects from the other night?”
Besides my boyfriend’s super-jealous streak? I silently ask. “Nope. I’m good. How are you?”
“First day at Poseida High.” His shoulders rise and fall quickly, but elegantly. “Can’t complain.”
“Well, let us know if you need anything.” Katy flashes her best flirty smile.
“How are your classes?” I disrupt their shared grin. No way am I going to sit here and watch her flirt. Nor am I going to finish my lunch in awkward silence, so small talk it is. As it turns out, Max and I have art, and the rest of our afternoon classes, together, so I offer to show him where it is. Mitch is in that class too, so we all walk together. Reese can’t say anything about that.
Reese is watching the door when we enter. Maybe, if he just makes an effort to befriend Max, he’ll see the new kid isn’t a threat.
Reese and I met when our families moved to New Atlantis from the fractured mainland when we were both five. We’ve been friends ever since, even during his “torture Dani” phase when we were ten and the kids teased him about liking me. Liking me didn’t happen until last summer. We’ve been together just over a year; it was a dream come true for me. Hauling a crush of that magnitude around for so long made me think it would never happen for us.
Reese clenches his jaw and scowls, making me feel like the biggest traitor on the planet. I hate disappointing him, and I’ve been doing that a lot in the past few weeks. Wordlessly, I slip into the seat next to him and rest my hands on the wood grain table. His fingers weave their way through mine, and he winks. I exhale, releasing the breath I’d unintentionally held. “We’ll talk later,” he tells me. I nod, relieved, and marvel at his self-control.
I’m putting the finishing touches on my mermaid sketch, adding a fin above her fluke, when the ground starts shaking. Reese dives under the table, pulling me with him. I hit my head on the lip of the top slab. Wetness trickles down the side of my face.
Reese whips off his shirt and wads it up, pressing it against the wound. “Shit, Dani. I’m sorry.” I nod. His eyes are inches from mine. “Stay with me,” he urges.
“I’m fine.” My head hurts like a mother.
The shaking continues, the intensity increasing. New Atlantis isn’t prone to earthquakes and there hasn’t been one in all the years since the Cataclysm. The longer the ground vibrates, the harder I clutch his arms. Things fall off the shelf near the teacher’s desk. Unused easels clatter to the floor. Smoke fills the room and my eyes begin to sting. Reese drags me from our hiding spot and bolts for the doorway.
Someone bumps into us, and my hand slips from his. The document projector and a cabinet topple in front of me, nearly crushing my toes and blocking the exit. Thankfully, the classroom is on the ground floor. Cautiously, hands up just in case, I unsteadily make my way toward the windows.
The shaking stops as abruptly as it started. Search and rescue should be coming for me, but, thanks to the thickening smoke, I’m not inclined to wait around. Coughing, I climb up on the built-in counter along the outside wall. The glass in the large window didn’t break and the wall looks intact, too. After sliding the emergency exit pane back and burning my hands on the metal frame, I push the screen out and clamber through the opening. Thankfully, Poseida High doesn’t have bars on the windows like mainland schools. New Atlantis, unlike the fractured mainland, is generally a safe place. Yet another reason my parents love it here. I half-fall out the window, landing in a heap at the base of the brick wall.
Straightening, I wince. My head, and now my knees, hurt. Blinking my eyes rapidly, I try to banish the stinging sensation. A warm hand grips my upper arm to steady me. “Hey. You okay?” Max’s concerned sapphire eyes check me over. Why isn’t Reese here helping me up? As if reading my thoughts, Max’s face darkens briefly. He leans in close. “Dani?” Warm breath tickles my earlobe, and my arms break out in goose flesh.
Opening my mouth to respond, I can’t think of anything to say. Snapping it shut, I hope I don’t look like a fish.
Why do I even care what this guy thinks?
School is cancelled for the rest of the day, but they won’t let us leave until everyone has been accounted for. Reese’s folks both work, so he and I are still there long after everyone else has left, including the staff. “Can I talk to you?” His voice is tight.
“Did you let go of my hand so you could go running to Max?”
Staring in disbelief, I am dumbfounded. He actually thinks I let go on purpose. Is he out of his mind? Crossing my arms, I don an expression that feels like no expression. He’s unbelievable.
“I saw him. How you let him grope you. In front of everyone,” he bites off.
My silence continues.
He slams a fist into the brick wall beside my head. I flinch. “Dammit, Dani! Answer me! What is going on with you two?” His chest rises and falls rapidly.
“Nothing.” I’m too pissed to yell.
“I saw you!”
“Reese!” My voice is a screech. “What the hell kind of drugs are you on?”
That gives him pause. “None. I wouldn’t. You know that.” Reese’s oldest brother died about five years ago. OD’d. Reese looks at me like I’m the crazy one.
“Then why are you acting like this?”
I should learn when to keep my mouth shut. The anger returns to coat his features. “How should I act when my girlfriend is cheating on me?” His voice is rife with sarcasm.
He grabs my shoulders and gives me a rough shake. The back of my skull smacks into the bricks. Squeezing my eyes shut, I hope for a reprieve. When nothing else happens, I open my eyes. Reese is staring at me with furious, flashing eyes. “I don’t believe you.” Drawing his hand back, there’s no indication that he’s even capable of being rational at the moment. “Tell me the truth.” His chest heaves.
His fingers curl inward, and it’s like I’m watching something in slow motion. Without comprehending what I’m witnessing. My heart slams against my ribs, seeking escape from my chest.
When his fist first makes contact with my eye the pain doesn’t register. My head rocks into the wall again. He releases my shoulder and I drop, curling into a protective ball. Even if I were inclined to fight back, there’s no way I could take Reese. He’s so much bigger than me, and, even if his muscles aren’t steel, he’s stronger.
I almost expect him to kick me, but he doesn’t. “We’re done,” he says, his voice sounding like he’s speaking through clenched teeth.
I don’t know how long I huddle against the wall. When I finally stand, I realize that I am completely alone. Mom never came and I never called. She’s probably stuck at the aquarium, I tell myself. Screw the school’s policies. If anyone is left on campus, they have no clue I’m here. Grabbing my phone, I tap the screen, trying to wake it up. When it finds the network, I text my mother to tell her I’m okay and that I’m heading over. If she doesn’t need my help cleaning things up or feeding the animals, there’s a nice little cove adjacent to the aquarium. It’s my favorite thinking spot. Really, anywhere near the coast is my favorite. There’s something soothing about the sounds of the surf mingling with the cries of gulls.
I never thought to check for a bruise before going to see Mom, but I should have. The minute she sees me, she hands her clipboard to her assistant and steps up to meet me, concerned eyes scanning my face. “What happened?” Her hand drifts up to the cut on my head, then down to my eye. Her touch barely registers, but I wince. The entire side of my face is tender.
“Got knocked around.” Not exactly a lie.
She smiles sadly. “How do you feel?”
“It hurts, but I’m all right. You?”
“We’re fine. The generator kicked in, so life support is working. I think Millie might enjoy a visit. The shaking rattled her. I’ve got to get down to Seagate. Got a call about a beached dolphin.”
Millie is a Bottlenose Dolphin someone had tried to keep as a pet in an ocean pen in their backyard or something silly like that. Dolphins can’t be pets, everyone knows that. But since Millie didn’t do so well when she was released into open waters, Mom brought her back here, to the aquarium’s ocean pen. She’s a therapy dolphin now.
Nodding, I accept the ice pack someone hands me and press it to my eye. An aftershock shakes the building. I duck reflexively before making my way to the locker room, clutching the wall for balance.
Normally I’d put on my swimsuit, but since the water has been so uncharacteristically cold, I opt for a wetsuit. Katy and Mitch both love to swim with Millie, but I’m not in the mood for human company. Leaving the icepack behind, I head out to see Millie, who greets me with a head toss before bumping me behind the knees. I plop down as she retreats to deeper water, chirping at me.
“Very funny, Millie,” I say as I stroke out to her. I can actually stand here at low tide, so there’s no need to grab her dorsal fin. She butts my outstretched hand with her head, like a dog soliciting a rubdown. When my fingers wrap around her fin, she dives, taking me with her. We surface a moment later, near the jetty, my face stinging. I swipe a hand down my skin in an attempt to wipe the offending salt water away.
Daltry, the other dolphin in the pen, swims up next to us and we bob in the gentle swells, looking out to sea. I sometimes wonder if they wish they could swim away, but since I don’t speak dolphin, that will remain a mystery. If I were them, I’d like the pen. The protected cove is separated from the ocean by a land bridge of sorts that extends out into deep water so they can hunt and play. Hopefully, this little slice of unspoiled paradise feels like home.
Millie scoops water at me, drenching my wavy brown hair, which is already starting to frizz. “What?” I ask indignantly. She tosses her head. I swear she’s laughing at me.
When she returns her gaze to the open water, I wonder what she’s trying to tell me.
Another head butt; this time it’s Daltry. I grasp his fin as he lurches forward. Great, he wants to go under. That wasn’t exactly what I’d intended. Nevertheless, I take a deep breath and away we go.
This time we surface on the other side of the rocks. I’d scraped my leg against the underside of some stone but thought nothing of it. Maybe I should have been concerned. Apparently, we went through some kind of passage in the natural sea wall. Are they trying to tell me they want to be free?
Working together, the two sandwich me between them, keeping my head above the surface. A flash of movement distracts me, and I shift my eyes to the right. I glimpse a blue fluke slapping the water, but it doesn’t resemble anything I’ve ever seen, curving outward instead of in like most marine mammals. I spy a second one, and then the dolphins spread out, dropping me into the water, which I almost swallow when I yelp.
The waters around New Atlantis have a lower salt concentration than most seawater. My eyes pop open and I find myself face-to-face with a creature unlike anything I’ve ever seen, never mind actually imagined.
Large blue eyes—alien large—gaze at me. The creature has almost no hair, and its skin doesn’t really look like skin. A sagittal crest runs along the midline of its head. A pair of webbed hands reaches for me. Propelling myself backward, I scream, releasing the rest of my air. It responds with a series of complicated squeals and clicks as it clutches my shoulders. The creature’s powerful tail kicks, flexing its spine, and we head toward the surface.
Millie breaks through the water with almost no spray and looks at the creature. A bunch of dolphin-esque noises convince me the creature is scolding her.
A blue hand grasps mine and directs it to Millie’s fin before gently touching my face. The contact is tentative, as if it knows I’m hurting. I should be scared—for all I know it’s sizing me up for dinner, wondering what dipping sauce would taste best—but I’m not.
It flings itself away from me and disappears with another powerful stroke that sends it down into the depths. Millie dives in the opposite direction and before I know it, we’re back in her protected cove.
It couldn’t have been real. No way. I probably fell asleep after swimming with Millie and dreamed the whole encounter.
Not likely, I tell myself, still unconvinced.
© 2013, Michelle Moklebust
Thanks for reading. I’m really excited to put this story out for everyone to see. Stay tuned for updates on Riptide’s release!