When I was exactly five weeks old, my mother threw me in the ocean.
I could have drowned, but I didn’t. Happily playing in the water, I dove down to run the gritty sand through my fingers and floated in the gentle ebb of the tide. The water cradled me, buoyed my chubby little legs, and lulled me to sleep.
Of course my mother knew this. It’s a trait the women in our family inherit.
Because we’re not exactly human.
Stretching one arm out in front of me, cupping my hand to slice through the water and pull me forward, I swam away from the cove. With my head under the water the amplified sounds of the ocean creatures – excited dolphins chirps and sea lion growls – drifted from all directions. I tried to take comfort in this normalcy. You’ll hear the same sounds in Bar Harbor.
But I wouldn’t. The terrain, the animals, the movement of the tide – everything would be different. After almost seventeen years in San Diego, it was time to go home.
I finally reached the sandbar and stood. The water swirled around my waist as I easily gained my footing. A small school of fish swam ay my ankles, reveling in the warmth radiating from my skin. I liked to think they were also telling me to cheer up, Maya.
I was rarely a procrastinator, yet in this final good-bye I felt rather unmotivated. My cousins had come down to the beach the day before, but I left it to the last minute. The same with packing my clothes, books, and instruments. As if by turning into a slacker, I could stop time and our impeding move. Yeah, right.
Swallowing against the pressure forming in the hollow of my throat, I decided to get it over with. I placed my hands flat on the water’s surface and shut my eyes before extending my senses in front of me, through the shallow water and into the abyss beyond. This is how I connect with and care for the ocean life, a gift since birth.
Although the senses detached from my body, they continued projecting back to my brain and formed a moving image beneath my eyelids. The picture traced the detail of the sloping coastline and the sea creatures swimming within. The scene moved fluidly as I took note of the reefs, a school of Garibaldi, and a lone leopard shark.
I pushed farther and faster, accelerating my pace until the underwater scene was a blur, as if clouded by tears. I wondered what would happen if I kept going, kept plowing forward. Would I eventually hit Hawaii? The coast of Asia? How long would it take?
But I’d never know. It was far too dangerous to leave my body separate from half of its senses. Instead, I slowed the forward movement and began to rein back in. On the return trip, I mentally extended my good-byes, memorizing the terrain one last time.
By the time I pulled myself together and opened my eyes, the water had risen higher up my torso as the tide moved in. Storm clouds lined the horizon, feeding off my sadness.
My fingers trailing behind, I circled around to find a little girl standing on the beach in front of me, staring.
We were supposed to be careful. Not only did it leave us vulnerable – having parts of our vision, hearing, and touch away from our body – it looked awkward to anyone watching.
“You’re beautiful,” the girl said, eyes enormous in her small face.
I forced myself not to bolt. “Thanks.” Great. She looked at me and saw the princesses on her favorite DVD - exactly what our culture tells us is beauty.
She looked the same age as my baby sister. Maybe four years old. I figured she couldn’t have seen much. But just in case, I ran through my mental checklist.
Insincere smile? Check.
Eye contact? Check.
Infuse melody into voice? Check.
“Sweetheart, why don’t you go back to your parents and forget that you ever saw me in the water.”
It was an order, not a question. I hated doing it, rarely used the power, but I didn’t want to get caught. Not now. That would be the ultimate ending to an already crappy week.
With a quick wave, I dismissed her.
I cast one last longing glance at the ocean over my shoulder and then left the water behind as I ran to my car. There was still packing to finish.
Arriving home, I shut the front door with a soft click behind me. I leaned back against the frame and closed my eyes tight. Everything was happening way too fast and I felt dizzy, like a tornado whipped through my life, taking me to a far off island instead of just Maine.
Voices drifted in from the kitchen. “Please, can you help me pack my shoes? And my jewelry? You’re already done with your room,” Jocelyn asked, her voice sultry even when begging.
Sophia responded. “Yes, and that’s precisely the reason I don’t own so many clothes. Less time shopping, less time going through them in the morning to pick out an outfit, and now it’s less time packing. You’re on your own.”
Are you kidding me? My cousins. Of course they couldn’t stop arguing for one second, not even as we moved across the country. Polar opposites with me always stuck in the middle. Just call me Team Switzerland.
I groaned and pushed myself forward, walking around the corner into the brightly lit room. “I’ll do it.” Anything to stop them from arguing. I glanced at Jocelyn. “But you have to help pack my last box of books.”
“Done.” Jocelyn unfurled her long legs and hopped down from the counter.
“I still can’t believe we’re leaving.” I sighed and reached past Sophia to grab the lone apple sitting on the counter. Mom had packed up most of the house and shipped our furniture off a couple days ago. We were stuck eating the hodgepodge of food on paper plates with plasticware. Not exactly well thought out, but whatever. It fit with the chaos.
Moving went against The Plan. We had intended to stay in San Diego until I graduated, and then I’d return to Maine with Mom. I always knew I would end up there; it being my territory after all. But not this soon and not this sudden.
Ten days ago we moved along our straight and steady path. Mom took her semi-annual trip to the east coast so she could check in on the ocean life, and late one night called to tell us we were moving. Now. A bacterial strain threatened lobster off the Maine coast. And we were the only ones who could fix it.
“I’m kind of looking forward to it.” Jocelyn smirked. “Summer’s the perfect time for a fling.”
“Right,” Sophia said. “I mean, you’re certainly done with the pool of males here.”
Jocelyn slapped her arm.
“What?” Sophia jumped back. “I’m just saying. You are done. Right?” She rubbed her skin and scowled at her sister before turning to me. “It’ll be fine. It’s your turn now. We’ve been in San Diego too long. The marine life will respond quickly once you’re back and everything will return to normal. And you know - wherever you go, we go,” she finished, linking her arm through mine.
Of course they would go with us. Pulled from the grasp of my insane Aunt Kay, the two had lived with me for as long as I could remember. We were practically sisters – with all the love, fun, taunting and bickering that came with it.
An hour later, with my books and Jocelyn’s shoes all stuffed into boxes, I grabbed the one remaining item to be packed. On top of my dresser sat a picture of my parents, looking out over the ocean, holding hands on the shore. I scooped it up and slid it in between a layer of clothes stuffed in the suitcase I planned to take on the flight. I hadn’t known my dad, but he deserved to travel with me - not thrown in a box.
My little sister Diana wandered in. “Maya, Mommy said make sure you’re ready ‘cause the moving truck’s coming early in the morning.”
“Ok,” I said without looking up. Pressure built behind my eyes again and I tucked my head down, my fingers yanking furiously on the zipper. What is wrong with me? Why was I so distraught over leaving San Diego? I didn’t have friends here, or a boyfriend, or anything besides the sea life - and there was certainly plenty of that in Bar Harbor.
Deep down I knew what it was, even if my brain refused to acknowledge it. Maine was my territory. Maine was where I would be living the rest of my life. I needed to make everything perfect when I returned.
But what if I couldn’t?
The five of us made our way through the airport corridors to the baggage claim area where we stretched and yawned, glad to have our cross-country flight behind us. Another airplane had arrived before ours and the passengers sorted through luggage somersaulting onto the carousel.
“What’s taking so long?” Jocelyn huffed as she stretched her gum around her index finger. She twirled it around and popped it back in her mouth.
“Chill out.” Sophia stood at her side, flicking a tennis ball up and catching it again.
Diana grabbed another ball from Sophia’s bag. “Can I play?” She threw it high and let it bounce a couple of times before clasping it between her two small hands.
I leaned against the wall and tugged on the hem of my shirt. My eyes flitted to the people strolling, chattering, and hugging around us. Did they live here or were they enjoying summer vacation at the little beach town? Would they be friendly? Would we fit in?
Diana dropped her ball and it rolled away, into the crowd. She ran after it, weaving between an older couple and past a stack of suitcases. I shifted off the wall to help her, but a boy caught the small yellow orb with his foot. He looked about my age. It was hard to tell with the dark blond swatch of hair falling into his face. He crouched down to eye level and handed Diana the ball with a smile. I couldn’t help but stare at his fingers. They were long, meant for playing the piano or gripping a basketball. Long enough that if he put those hands around my waist, his fingertips would nearly touch.
As Diana ran back to us, grinning widely, the boy turned to pull a duffle bag off the belt. He threw it over his shoulder and turned in our direction.
My eyes bugged. I could make out his features now that his hair fell back, and he was … stunning. Sharp angles defined his cheekbones and he had large, dark eyes. His lips were the most striking, a deep burgundy against his tan skin. Somehow he exuded a quiet calm that drifted over me, settling like a warm blanket. I desperately craved that serenity.
He walked toward the exit – which also happened to be toward us. I struggled to open my mouth, wanting to thank him for helping Diana. But before the words could escape, our eyes locked. A shiver twitched its way down my spine. I couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe, as if his glance froze my entire brain. For the first time ever, I felt relief to be looked at. His dark brown eyes widened as his gaze examined my face.
A tentative smile formed on my lips. I wanted to talk to him, wanted him to come talk to me.
But then he shook his head as if clearing water from his ears and jerked his gaze from mine, his eyes refocusing on the exit. He grimaced, those dark lips turning down at the corners as if in dismissal. He walked stiffly toward the automatic doors that flew open, welcoming him outside into the warm air.
The electricity settled in my feet, grounding me heavily to the floor. My eyelids blinked rapidly as I tried to clear my thoughts. This had never happened before, a boy turning away from us. Usually I was the one to avert my gaze, trying to ignore the stares and attempts at flirting.
Was everything going to be different in Maine? I sighed and turned back to my family.
So much for a warm reception from the locals.
“Why are we up this early? You know, it’s only 1:00 in the morning back home,” Jocelyn said, stumbling down the stairs with a yawn. These early sunrises in Maine would take some getting used to.
We’d only been in our sprawling new house for a couple days when Mom woke us before dawn to get ready for our first trip to the beach. Actually, I was already awake, having tossed and turned most of the night.
Thoughts of a certain brown-eyed boy lingered.
Ever since we left the airport a constant tide pool of who is he? and why did he avoid me? had swirled in my brain. Every once in a while why do you even care would get caught up in the spiral. And that would jolt my concentration out of whatever box I had started to unpack, whatever cupboard I was trying to organize. Because it was a question I couldn’t answer.
I didn’t do the whole dating scene. In fact, I’d never had a boyfriend. I never felt like I could relate to anyone enough to get close. And even though guys responded to my looks, their mindless stares only made me more uncomfortable.
“It’s part of being an ocean nymph, Mays” my mom said when I was younger. “You’re a descendant from Greek Gods. What do you expect?”
I don’t know, not to be stared at like I’m a freak of nature maybe?
So, why was the boy from the airport leaving my head spinning?
And why did I have bulging purple shadows under my eyes? I stood in the foyer waiting for Sophia to drag herself downstairs and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. So much for pretty. As silly as it sounds, I wanted to be impressive for this first visit to the ocean. I had even dressed in my best swimsuit and layered a thin white sundress over it.
Oh well. The fish wouldn’t care.
Mom drifted down with Diana curled up in a comforter in her arms. We couldn’t exactly leave her sleeping at the house alone. I climbed in the passenger’s seat of my mother’s SUV while Sophia and Jocelyn took off in their yellow convertible, driving separately in case they wanted to hang out or do some shopping after.
We made our way out of town and down Highway three to the Otter Cliff Resort. “It’s a pretty secluded area,” Mom said as she parked the car. We got out and walked around the building through the sprawling grounds to the water’s edge. “I used to work here when I was a teenager. The residents prefer to hang out at the pool, rather than come down to the water. It’s a lot colder than you’re used to, but your body will acclimate quickly.”
It always does.
Mom gently laid Diana on the ground, the comforter still wrapped around her. She leaned over and hummed a quick lullaby in Di’s ear, ensuring she wouldn’t wake while we were distracted.
The sky lightened further and the clouds turned a brilliant orange and pink. It was breathtaking to watch the sunrise turn the black water to a pale blue. I was glad that we came this early, even if it meant we all fought off yawns.
I walked into the ocean first; the others following close behind. The water felt icy, and goosebumps erupted across my skin before the temperature rose in a small radius around my legs. I took several more steps offshore. The dress floated on the water, rising to my calves and twirling around on the surface.
The sun peeked above the horizon and golden beams raced across the water in our direction, like fingers beckoning and welcoming us in further. I inhaled deeply, letting the tangy smell of salt and seaweed fill my lungs. As my eyes fluttered closed, I lifted my arms to either side for balance.
With eyes still shut, I moved further, until the waves lapped waist-high. The dress billowed out around me, sweeping back and forth with the ebb and flow of the tide. I found my balance, curling my toes around the pebbles at the bottom of the sea. My palms and fingertips touched the slippery surface and I kept my hands flat on the water. I pushed my senses away and into the surrounding depths.
It was time to acclimate with my territory.
Extending in a half circle around me, my senses registered everything within the underwater environment, slowly following along the bottom. I could detect my cousins and mother in the water, their legs steady as they began their own journey.
I took note of the rocky ground right in front of me, the cod swimming in a school further beyond, and a small ledge and ridge dropping off quickly several yards out.
Beyond the ridge was a trench. It formed a deep V and the temperature dropped by several degrees. A handful of lobster scuttled along the bottom, searching for food. I spent several minutes examining them, tracing around their body and looking for any signs of a bacterial infection. These appeared fine.
Retracting out of the crevice, I continued pushing outward, noticing plastic bottles lodged between some rocks to my left. Soon I’d have to come out and do a trash patrol. Yuck. One of my least favorite tasks, but someone had to get all the junk and toxins out of the water. Unfortunately for us, most people were completely ignorant about throwing garbage in the ocean.
My senses extended on and I took a minute to explore some jellyfish floating near the surface. They bobbed along lazily, twenty of them in close proximity to one another. Even knowing they wouldn’t sting me, I was still glad they weren’t in close range.
I had almost finished my outward exploration when I discovered a harmful algal bloom - a red tide – off in the distance. Not good. The algae could affect local marine life and had the potential to hurt people if they ate infected fish caught in the area. We’d have to deal with this pretty quickly.
The tour continued as I slowly began working my senses back toward my body, discovering the various types of fish and mammals living in these waters. My torso twisted, turning so I could explore the shoreline, trace the peninsula, rocks and sand.
It was then I stumbled on a much larger group of lobster, the majority of them decomposing from a bacterial infection. I cringed at the deterioration of their shells. Pits, black marks and scratches covered their back and pincers. Some were dead, the others hardly moving. I cringed away, wishing I could soothe them. Unfortunately most were beyond repair.
Suddenly a loud squawking sound erupted in my ears. I jumped and floundered, thrown off balance. My body stood in one place with the majority of my senses several yards away. I stumbled in the water as I pulled everything in and opened my eyes.
Several sandpipers ran on the shore, nipping at each other and squawking. I slapped the water loudly and they all turned to face in my direction, stunned to see us there. The birds scuttled off in search of a morning meal.
I sighed and looked to see my mother and cousins all still standing with their eyes closed. Jocelyn held her hands a foot above the water, which arched from the surface in a stream to her outstretched fingers.
Show off. I knew if Mom saw her, she’d get a lecture. We were only supposed to do our water arcs in situations where we couldn’t touch the ocean ... like in a boat speeding through the water. Not when the surface was easily accessible and where a passerby could see you doing it. But Jocelyn liked to practice all the time, perfecting her technique.
Not wanting to interrupt them, I closed my eyes and decided to try it. I visualized the saltwater streaming up like a fountain to my hands. Once I felt the cool water running over my fingertips, down to my palm, and back to the water, I attempted to extend my senses through the flow. The arc stopped and the drops all splashed down the surface.
Crap. I could not get the hang of this. It felt like my head split in two – one part trying to lift the water and one part sending my senses down into the ocean.
I turned and made my way out of the water. The dress clung to my legs, cool in the crisp morning air. Goosebumps crept up my arms again and I pulled a towel out of the neat stack at Diana’s feet. I quickly rubbed at the lower half of my body, pulled off the dress, and wrapped the towel around my torso.
Sitting on the shoreline, I waited as, one by one, they all came out of the water.
“Well. That’s not good.” Mom slumped down next to Diana, pulling her into her lap. She took a few deep breaths and then looked at each of us in turn. “What did you see?”
“Two things. Red tide and the lobsters,” I said. “I noticed a group over there.” I pointed offshore in the direction where I had seen the dying animals.
“There are more over there,” Sophia raised her finger in the opposite direction.
“The acid level is very high in these waters,” Mom said, stroking Diana’s hair as she shifted in her sleep. “A lot worse than before.”
Sophia’s head snapped around. “Seriously? This sudden?”
My mom nodded.
“I thought we had more time,” Jocelyn murmured. “Nothing like this happened with … before.”
“Before what? What’s going on?” I asked, unable to follow the conversation. What were they talking about? Was Jocelyn hiding something?
“Nothing.” My mom shook her head. “I think there was a bout of acid rain recently, which could have caused the bacterial strain. It’s a good thing we’re here though. I’ll need to do a bit of testing to get the exact numbers so we can manipulate the PH level higher. In the meantime, Maya, I want you to come out here every couple days. Spend time acclimating to the animals. Get them used to you. Do anything you can to keep them calm and at ease. At the very least, we need to keep them breeding.”
“What about the red tide?” Jocelyn asked.
“I’ll keep an eye on it. It wasn’t here before and algal blooms can go away on their own. I’d rather not have to mess with that if we’re going to be manipulating the water along the coastline. If it doesn’t decrease, I’ll have Maya help me with it.”
Diana sat abruptly, looking around. She rubbed her eyes with her fists and squinted in the sunlight.
“What’s a bloom?” she asked, her voice sleepy. “Is it flowers in the ocean?”
Diana always found it hard to understand what we talked about. She asked a lot of questions because she lacked the innate senses the rest of us shared. She wasn’t like us. She wasn’t an ocean nymph.
“Throw her out,” Jocelyn had said when she first found out. “Give her up for adoption. She’s not one of us.”
Easy for her to say. But Diana was my sister and I protected her fiercely. I was thirteen when Mom left at dawn to drive Diana down to La Jolla cove. Just like she had done when I was an infant, my mother laid Diana in the water. But Di completely failed. She floundered, splashing and kicking and crying hysterically when the water wasn’t flooding her mouth. Mom grabbed her from the shallow water, saving her from drowning, but broken-hearted all the same. We could see it in her face when she walked through the door an hour later. We were all shocked at the news.
Diana wouldn’t be like the rest of us. She would stay clear of the ocean and all its dangers. In some ways I envied her. She was normal. She had no unworldly expectations placed on her and she looked average. Pixie cute with her dark curls, but ultimately average.
“Not really like flowers,” I said, trying to explain the red tide. “These blooms don’t smell nearly as sweet, and they can hurt the animals.”
“The dolphins?” Diana loved dolphins.
“Yes, it can hurt the dolphins.”
“Well go pluck those flowers then,” she said matter-of-factly.
A smile crept over my mother’s features, easing some of the lines wrinkling her forehead. “We’ll do our best Di, we’ll do our best!” She turned to us. “I’m going to get her home. Why don’t you three have breakfast at the resort? Take a look around.”
“Sounds good,” Jocelyn said, pulling on a short tube dress over her dry swimsuit. Her long hair had already dried into perfect curls spiraling down to her waist. I stepped into a pair of Capri pants and a tank top before brushing my hair into a ponytail. Sophia ruffled her hair and it settled into its shaggy, angled bob around her head. After pulling on her white tennis skirt and a t-shirt, we were ready to go.
Walking up from the beach, we stepped through a white gate and onto the resort grounds. A square garden spread out in front of us, with several wrought iron benches lining the exterior. To the right a large building stood, covered in mud brown siding. It was the restaurant.
The heavy double doors swung open easily and we stepped into the entrance. Cooler air washed over us and it took a moment to acclimate to the much darker room. Smells of French toast and eggs filled my nose, making my stomach rumble loudly.
“Table for four? I mean three?” The host stumbled over his words as he stared at us.
“Yes. By the window, please.” Jocelyn smiled coyly before tucking her head down slightly. She peered at him from under her thick eyelashes. Another one of her games, playing with boys to get what she wanted.
He swallowed loudly and turned to grab three menus.
Sophia kicked the side of Jocelyn’s foot in annoyance, a non-verbal warning to knock it off. Jocelyn turned her head slightly to scowl in Sophia’s direction.
The host spun back toward us and noted Jocelyn’s frown. “Is somethin’ the matter?” he asked, obviously anxious to fix whatever was upsetting her. He reached up and smoothed his dark curly hair.
“No, nothing,” Jocelyn replied, immediately smiling again.
“My name’s Kevin.” He led us through a maze of tables, easily squeezing through the narrow spots. “I’ve been workin’ here for two summers now. I’m the head host during the day. It’s pretty wicked. I want to be a waiter but I only get to fill in right now if someone’s sick or on vacation. That’s where all the money is. You know, bigger percentage of the tips and all. I’m a senior this year. Not that you really care.”
Kevin talked the entire length of the restaurant until he finally stopped at a table against the far back wall.
He turned. “Does this work?” He seemed immediately concerned, as if the seating might not be good enough.
“Yes, this is fine,” I jumped in. “Thanks so much. It’s perfect.”
Kevin’s eyes flitted from my face to Jocelyn and then across the table to Sophia. Once he was assured we were okay with the table, he reached out and pulled back Jocelyn’s chair. She glided onto the seat, her short dress slipping further up her legs. Kevin’s eyes widened and he fumbled as he placed a menu in front of her.
“Um, the special this morning is Eggs Benedict. Your waiter is Nate. He should be here shortly. Lucky,” he mumbled under his breath as he turned and walked in the direction of the entrance.
“You are so cruel sometimes,” I said.
“I’m cruel?” Jocelyn asked. “I’m cruel?” She repeated it even louder. “At least I don’t ignore guys just because they think I’m attractive. At least I talk to them and make them think they have a chance!”
“But they don’t have a chance,” Sophia interrupted from behind the huge menu she held in front of her. “That’s just it. You’re completely leading them on.”
“Whatever,” Jocelyn rolled her eyes upwards. “I think it’s much more fair than just ignoring them or being rude.”
And on that note our waiter appeared.
I turned toward him, prepared to ask his opinion on the mushroom omelet, but my voice froze solid, an icicle in my throat. I couldn’t help but stare. It was the same boy I had seen at the airport. The intense, good-looking one with the dark lips. The one who had walked right past us without a second glance. The one I hadn’t stopped thinking about for the past eighty-seven hours … or so.
He looked even better up close, with dark brown eyes and chiseled cheekbones defining his tan face. His thick, dirty blonde hair looked perfectly messy. He could have been an underwear model in one of the fashion magazines Jocelyn always read.
Underwear, why in the world am I thinking about underwear? What is wrong with me? A flash of heat spread out from my torso and tiny beads of sweat welled on my forehead.
But the drops quickly cooled, as did my thoughts, when I saw the expression on his face. His eyes widened as if surprised, but then his gaze quickly shuttered. He resembled nothing like the stuttering, stumbling, infatuated host who seated us only minutes before.
I wasn’t even sure what to do. His behavior seemed consistent with how he acted at the airport. But was it possible? A boy who wasn’t attracted to us? This was a first.
“What can I get you?” His voice was low, monotone, and completely bored. His gaze shifted out the window at the shore and I turned to see what held his fascination. Nothing but blue sky, a few puffy white clouds, and water in the distance.
“How’s the granola?” Jocelyn purred up at him.
“It’s okay. I’m sure you’ll like it.” He spoke the words curtly without even looking at her.
“Yeah, I’ll have that.” She tipped her chin and looked up through long lashes.
He snorted. “Right. Typical.”
Her eyes narrowed into slits.
“You?” He asked in my direction. I glanced up and found myself staring at his shirt. Well, not exactly the shirt. More like the two top buttons that sat unopened, showing the flawless tan skin below his neck.
“I’ll have the omelet,” I mumbled. I couldn’t seem to stop my visual inventory. A red nametag sat neatly pinned on his pocket. His sleeves were rolled up a couple of times, showing off toned forearms.
“Which one?” He drummed his fingers on the back of my chair. I wasn’t expecting the question and looked up at his face again. His eyes had darkened to a deep coffee color and he seemed to stare at a spot barely above my head.
I diverted my gaze to the menu and picked the first item on the list. “Mushroom.”
Sophia ordered oatmeal and a latte. “Thanks.” She flashed a smile.
But Nate had already stopped his rhythmic finger tapping on my chair and disappeared from the edge of the table.
“What in the heck was that?” Jocelyn stage whispered through gritted teeth.
I fought the urge to turn and watch him walk away while Sophia shrugged at her sister.
The rest of the meal felt equally awkward. I tried my best to not be aware of Nate, but found it impossible. I could sense his arrival, a wave of warmth, before he approached the table. It was a strange contrast, the heat of his presence against his cold attitude. And then when he left the air turned frigid again. My eyes sought his, in some attempt to make contact and hopefully spark the same interest he seemed to feel at the airport. But he appeared to be interested in everything around us. Everything but us.
After bringing us our plates, he stopped at the next table to chat with the guests, his voice velvet in welcome. “Hello Mr. Sanders, Mrs. Sanders. Nice to see you again. I hope you’re enjoying your stay. What can I get for you this morning?”
I glanced over as the couple thanked him and placed their order. Did he have some sort of split personality disorder? Or was his indifferent behavior directed entirely our way? This situation got weirder by the second. As I pondered, I stabbed the eggs and chewed mechanically. They could have been covered in cheese or salsa or chocolate, I didn’t really know.
Nate arrived to clear off our plates, reaching over my arm to collect a wayward fork. The hairs on my arm stood upright as his forearm hovered several inches above mine. I glanced down in surprise, watching as they settled down again, flat against my skin.
Finally we paid our bill and stood to leave. Nate hadn’t said a word since he took our order, not even to ask how we liked our meal. Surprising, considering he hovered over the guests dining around us.
I fought the urge to glance around the restaurant for him, and failed miserably. My eyes darted to the swinging gate leading the way to the kitchen. He wasn’t there. Jocelyn grabbed my elbow before I could smack my hip on a table and I scooted sideways, following her to the lobby. With a quick wave at Kevin, she shoved open the heavy wooden doors and we rushed through into the sunlight.
I exhaled loudly, not realizing until then I held my breath.
“That was random,” Sophia said.
“Have you ever seen anything like him?” Jocelyn asked, gently slipping on her dark sunglasses.
I shook my head.
She cocked her head to the side. “Well, I know a challenge when I see one!” She rubbed her palms together and her mouth broke into a huge toothy grin.
I don’t know where it came from, as I never stood up to Jocelyn. But, I wasn’t about to let her sink her claws into this boy, playing a game of cat and mouse before she manipulated him into liking her and then dumped him. Not this time. Not in my territory.
“No, Jocelyn. He’s mine.”
Jocelyn didn’t talk to me the rest of the day, or the next, but two mornings later everything seemed normal. “Want to go back to the resort? I’m dying to check out the pool.”
Ulterior motive. Now I understood why she made me a plate of waffles this morning. She didn’t want to go alone.
Mom already enrolled Diana in preschool, so my cousins and I were under no obligation to babysit. It was too bad, because I could have used the excuse to get out of returning to the hotel. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go. I desperately wanted to return, but was terrified of what would happen when we did.
My stomach cramped at the thought of seeing Nate again. What if he acted the same way?
I couldn’t help my attraction to him. For some reason, his aloof attitude had me very intrigued. And the fact that he soared off the cute meter chart didn’t help. So, why, when other boy seemed to develop an instant crush on us, wasn’t he attracted to me? I had to find out.
I yanked on my shorts and took a deep breath before sending a quick prayer to the gods. Please let Nate just be having an off week. And please let today be better.
I brushed my hair back and wrapped a ribbon around it, a horrible attempt at accessorizing. Grabbing my lucky guitar pick off my vanity, I tucked it into my pocket.
And we were off.
We skirted the coastline, following the narrow stretch of road that led back to the house. I stared out the window at the pale blue water and finally suggested we stop.
“I should probably check in like mom suggested.”
Jocelyn pulled off on a little side road and eased the car to a halt. She slipped her cell phone out of her bag and began checking her email. “We’ll wait here.”
I stepped down to where the water lapped the rocks and sat down. Slipping my toes into the water first, I placed my palms onto the slipper stones sitting barely below the surface. I unfurled my senses in front of me, not going far. Holding everything still, I waited to see how the fish would react. In San Diego they adored me, always rushing to the warmth of my skin.
But not here. Of course not. The school swimming in front of me skittered away, darting off and out of my range. I could have pushed further but didn’t want to frighten them.
Stay calm. The sea life would get used to me. They have to. Right?
Barely breathing, I waited a few more minutes in hopes the fish would return, or any other sea life would venture into the vicinity. Outside of a couple scallops, nothing came close.
After toweling off my legs and arms, I sank back down in the convertible.
“That was fast,” Sophia said.
I didn’t respond as Jocelyn threw the car into drive and raced forward. Within minutes she pulled into valet parking, easing to a stop right in front of the plush carpeted walkway leading into the foyer. I stepped out of the passenger’s side and released the seat forward so Sophia could disentangle herself from the miniscule back seat. They stepped to my side and together we rhythmically walked toward the double doors, forming a unified front.
I glanced at the two valets to our left. They stood frozen, staring at us with their mouths slightly open. Jocelyn, amused as always, laughed a melodic tinkling sound that practically glazed their eyes over. Leave it to Jocelyn to use our musical gift to really get them gawking. Even humming a simple tune would have them begging to carry our beach bags for us.
I bumped her hip with mine, but she bumped right back. A constant battle between us - I wanted no attention and she wanted it always.
Our reflections stared back as we approached the glass doors. Jocelyn and Sophia shared striking turquoise eyes and a healthy olive skin tone. Outside of dark brown hair, I was the exact opposite, appearing ghostly next to them. My skin was extremely pale, at times translucent. My mother called it “delicate”. And my eyes were often a more watery gray than blue.
The doors slid open and our image disappeared. My heart began to beat obnoxiously fast and I couldn’t swallow. What if we saw Nate on the way to the pool? What would I do, what would I say? I physically couldn’t lift my foot. Jocelyn linked her arms through mine and yanked me forward.
“What is wrong with you?” she growled.
No words came out.
Sophia jumped to my defense. “She’s just nervous, give her a break.”
“Nervous about what? Do you actually like that guy?” She raised her eyebrows and waited for a response that never came. “But you never like anyone. Why would you go for the one guy who doesn’t want to get in your pants?”
I tripped forward with her second pull and forced myself to put one foot in front of the other. Jocelyn was right. Why was Nate having such an impact on me when he’d barely been civil the previous day? I couldn’t figure it out, but I also couldn’t stop thinking about him.
“I don’t like him,” I mumbled. “I don’t even know him.” But I sure wanted to.
We trudged through the richly decorated foyer and down a long, brightly lit hallway that opened up to the ocean on one side. Within seconds, we stood outside in the same garden as before, this time from the opposite side. To the left sat the restaurant. I instinctively ducked my head the other way. A battle waged inside my head, part of me wanting to see Nate while the other part feared the outcome.
To the right, Jocelyn directed us to a path leading to the pool. We walked along the little curved walkway until the blue sparkling water stretched in a wide trapezoid in front of us. Behind it, about twenty feet further, an edge of shrubs blocked a portion of the expansive ocean view.
White wooden lounge chairs with bright padded cushions were artfully arranged around the perimeter. Umbrellas scattered here and there to allow shade for those who preferred to protect their skin from sun damage. Along the right edge a row of striped cabanas sat vacant, their curtains drawn back to allow guests to enter.
“There,” Jocelyn pointed to the closest cabana and the chairs in front. She threw her oversized straw bag onto the ground and peeled off her strapless sundress to reveal the barely-there bikini underneath. After arranging her enormous sunglasses on her face, she reached for a magazine and stretched out.
Sophia and I rolled our eyes at each other and stepped into the cabana. The sun had turned the air into a dry sauna so I shed my t-shirt and shorts to reveal my boring solid one-piece bathing suit. I liberally applied sunscreen to protect my skin-that-refused-to-tan. It had a habit of going from white to bright red and back to pale again, with a few days of agony in-between.
I had downloaded the summer reading list off our new school’s website the night before. Luckily ,Mom had one of the books already in her monstrous library collection, so I tucked it in my bag. I pulled out To Kill A Mockingbird and started reading the first chapter. The Odyssey was also on the list, but I’d read it a few years ago when Mom insisted we learn classic Greek literature as part of our education on our heritage. A genealogy record of sorts.
After an hour of not-so-tedious, but still unfocused reading, I stretched my legs, pointed my toes, and stood. “I’m going to get a drink.” I attempted nonchalance but failed miserably. My voice trembled.
Jocelyn looked up from her magazine and arched one perfectly shaped eyebrow. “Good luck!”
I yanked on my clothes and walked toward the restaurant, meandering around people stretched out in the sun. “Sorry!” I broke out in a sweat as I stumbled over the leg of a chair and almost fell on top of an older man and his hairy chest.
What am I doing? I am going to make a complete fool out of myself. I arrived at the double doors and stopped. I pulled on the hem of my shirt, tugging it as far as it would go.
Taking a deep breath, I pushed open the heavy wooden door and stepped in. Kevin greeted me with a huge smile from his spot behind the podium.
“Hi!” He craned his neck, obviously hoping that Jocelyn was with me. His face fell when he realized I was alone. “You’re eatin’ by yourself today?”
I pushed my sunglasses on top of my head. “No, I wanted to get a lemonade. Jocelyn and Sophia will join me later,” I assured him, wondering which one he liked.
“Oh, sure. No problem. Plain or raspberry?”
“Um, plain I guess.” I didn’t really care, I wasn’t even thirsty. As Kevin took off for the kitchen, I leaned against the podium and scanned the restaurant. My pulse quickened and then returned to normal. There was no sign of Nate.
“Here.” Kevin returned and placed a large plastic cup in front of me. He had arranged a little umbrella and a cherry at the edge of the cup.
“So, what’s up with that waiter from yesterday?” I asked, trying to stall.
“Why, what happened?” Kevin turned to grab some menus.
“I don’t know. He was kind of annoyed, I guess.”
He pulled out a spray bottle from behind the podium and spritzed the front of a menu. “Annoyed? At you girls? That’s wicked uncool.” He sounded disbelieving. “Who was it, again?”
“Nate, I think his name was?” As if I wasn’t sure. As if I hadn’t been dreaming about him every night since we arrived in Bar Harbor. As if the thought of him turning around a corner in front of me didn’t make my heart rate accelerate dangerously.
“Oh, I doubt that. Nate’s a good guy. We’ve been friends forever.” Kevin wiped down the menu and reached for another. “I’ve known him since he moved up here in elementary school. It’s just him and his dad. He keeps to himself and doesn’t talk much. I don’t think he was bein’ rude, he’s kinda reserved is all.”
“Oh. So is he in school?” I asked. Maybe he was on college break or something.
“Ayuh, he’ll be a senior too,” Kevin said. “What about you girls?”
My chest burned as pressure built inside. I’m going to see him every day next year. What if we have a class together? “Same,” I managed to choke out. I glanced at the floor as my fingers instinctively picked at a snag at the bottom of my shirt. “We’re all seniors.”
“So, what’s the deal? Y’all triplets?”
“No.” I shook my head slightly. “They’re my cousins. Sophia’s older, she was held back in Kindergarten. She was really shy and they thought she was emotionally immature, even though she could already read.” I always felt the need to explain it. We were all smart. I didn’t want anyone thinking they held her back for educational reasons.
“Wow, that must be wicked goin’ to school together,” he said. “So, which one is Jocelyn?”
“The one with the long hair.”
Another smile crept over his face.
“Well, thanks for the drink.” I turned to go.
“No problem. If you ever need anything while you’re here, just ask. I know all the ins and outs of Bar Harbor. I’ve lived here my whole life. I’d be happy to show you and your cousins around.” A blush crept over his features.
Uh oh. He really had it bad for Jocelyn. That must be why we had such a normal conversation. It felt nice.
The door opened behind me, letting the warm air drift into the empty foyer. I turned, figuring I should get back to the pool and leave Kevin to his work. But I couldn’t move - for what felt like the millionth time that day.
Nate had walked in.
He led an older woman in through the door, her arm tucked through his. I felt an instant flash of jealousy for the woman, even though she was old enough to be my great-grandmother. It was his obvious comfort with her that set it off. He touched her with such ease when he had been so distant from me. Well, maybe today would be different.
The contrast between the bright sun outside and the darkly lit foyer made them pause for a second to get their bearings. It gave me exactly three seconds to study him. Again the mere sight of him left me speechless. I could judge his height now that I was standing so close to him; he was tall, at least 6’1”. His eyes were truly intoxicating - a swirling chocolate brown color that got darker toward the pupil and completely drew you in.
My gaze shifted lower and I almost bit through my lip.
Nate was smiling. It wasn’t a huge grin, but a closed-mouth smile that pulled his lip up on the right side and showed off a deep dimple in his cheek.
“Do you want me to get your decaf espresso ready Ms. Thomas?” Nate spoke in a gentle tone and looked down at the woman, who patted his hand and smiled right back.
“You’re such a dear, Nate. I would love one.”
He eased her hand from his arm and glanced up, his expression shifting when he saw me. His eyebrows furrowed together and I could actually hear his teeth grind against one another. His head whipped forward and he took several large strides past me. He jerked around a corner and disappeared down a hallway leading to the kitchen.
And that was that.
“Whoa,” Kevin said, his eyes frozen in the direction Nate exited.
“Yeah,” I replied. My chest felt ready to explode in a million tiny pieces. What is wrong with me? Since when did I care whether or not a boy smiled in my direction? Wasn’t that what I avoided my entire life? I should be reveling in the fact Nate wanted to avoid me. But I wasn’t. Not here. Not in Maine.
“I’ll see you at lunch,” I mumbled then bolted outside. I walked a couple of steps before leaning against the side of the building. I needed a moment to sort out my thoughts. Resting my head against the siding, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.
“Hey!” I heard Jocelyn’s sultry voice and reluctantly opened my eyes. “What took you so long? I thought maybe you got lost! And where’s your drink?”
“Oh!” I realized the plastic cup of lemonade still sat inside with Kevin. Oh well.
“Did you see him?” She asked, her voice lowering conspiratorially.
I looked away, fumbled for my sunglasses and shoved them on.
“Wow, that bad?” Jocelyn asked, her voice thoughtful.
“You should have seen the look on his face when he saw me. He looked … disgusted ...” My voice trailed off. That was it. That was what really bothered me. He acted like I disgusted him. I didn’t get it. Why now? Why when I was finally back in my territory?
Jocelyn took my arm and led me toward the lounge chairs. “Forget about him. He’s just one bad fish in our sea!” She laughed at her little joke.
“Yeah, you’re right,” I said, faking a chuckle that sounded completely ridiculous. But I didn’t. Not truly. Not when everything in me demanded I turn his disgust into something entirely different. He didn’t like me? Yeah right.
I was on a mission.
Back at the cabana, I arranged the book on my lap and stared blankly at the pages. What could I possibly do to get some positive attention from Nate? Bake him chocolate chip cookies? Offer to help out at the resort? Somehow I didn’t think those would work.