By Evelyn Chen
Illustrated by Teah Laupapa
"Good night, Cordelia and Georgia,” Mom said. She smiled at us and gently shut the bedroom door behind her. I listened as her footsteps receded down the hall.
It was our first night at the beach house in Oregon. Every summer, we came down here with my cousins and stayed for a month. It was heaven—the days were filled with swimming, wading, gathering shells, sailing, and exploring the nearby shops. My cousin, Georgia, who was also thirteen like me, and I were suddenly given free reign and we went as we pleased, suddenly free from the cage of school and homework and parents that we had been restrained with for so long.
I propped myself up on my elbow and grinned at Georgia in the semi-darkness. Moonlight streamed through the open window and a soft breeze caressed my curly black hair. The roo was small, with barely enough room with our cots side-by-side, a large dresser, and closet. It was painted a cheery yellow that looked gray in the dim light, and the lavender curtains fluttered like butterfly wings.
Georgia smiled at me as she sat up, curled up in a pile of blankets. We looked almost identical—with shoulder-length, curly black hair that could never be tamed, bright blue eyes, and grins that never slid off our faces. Mom always said we could have been twins, for all people knew.
“I can’t believe we’re finally here. Let’s go at low tide tomorrow and look for starfish and anemones,” I suggested. My fingers danced over the soft blankets that I had pushed to the side. It was much too warm for blankets.
“Sure!” Georgia said, her eyes lighting up. “I can’t wait for morning.” She shoved her blankets to the side and shifted on the cot, which creaked disagreeably. The plastic covering crinkled loudly.
I lay down again, my eyes sliding shut. I could feel weariness tugging at me. It had been a long drive here and I was exhausted. I lay there, straining to keep my eyes open as I listened to Georgia chatter about our plans for the month.
“Cordelia! Delia! Are you listening?” she called. She reached over and poked me. “I said, we should go boogie boarding if it’s not too cold.”
“Huh? Oh, OK,” I said numbly, my sleep-deprived brain slow to reply. “Listen, I’m kind of tired. Can we sleep?”
“Fine,” Georgia grumbled. She lay down again and turned over so we were facing each other. I smiled as my eyes slowly slid shut, giving way to darkness.
I twisted frantically, my lungs burning for air. The fishing net around me chafed my arms and cut into my throat. I struggled in the chilly water, my bones aching with cold. My head throbbed with pain and I fought to not black out. Air… air… air… my very toes screamed for it. I thrashed like a dead fish as darkness consumed my vision…
I sat bolt upright in the cot, drenched in cold sweat. My trembling fingers gripped the blankets hard. The dream flashed through my mind—I was caught, caught in a net, slowly drowning. I shook my head, trying to get the dream out of my mind. Just a dream, it was just a dream. I focused on the sound of the waves crashing against the shore in the distance.
I suddenly heard loud panting from next to me. I turned around and saw Georgia sitting up, shaking violently. She glanced at me, her eyes wide open and wild with fear.
“What’s wrong?” I forced my voice to stay steady. Georgia swallowed hard.
“A nightmare, that’s all.”
My stomach turned over and I felt a wave of nausea pass over me. Was it just a coincidence that we had both had a nightmare at the same time? “What was it about?” I asked. My limbs were shaking harder than ever. I couldn’t stop my legs from bouncing up and down. Georgia gazed out the window, the moonlight illuminating her face. She sighed almost inaudibly.
“Drowning. I was drowning in a net…” Her voice trailed off and she shivered.
“No way. I had the same dream,” I whispered. Georgia whipped around so fast that her hair fanned out around her face. She gasped.
I shook my head. We sat there, staring at each other. My mind was racing.
“I-I,” I said weakly. I couldn’t get the words out. We gazed at each other in a tense silence.
Cordelia… Delia … Georgia… Gia …
A soft, melodious voice burdened with sorrow floated up from the window. The voice sent shivers down my spine, like water rippling over me. Something was calling my name. I slowly turned towards the window, my heart pounding hard in my ears. I could feel blood rushing to my head.
Cordelia… Delia … Georgia… Gia …
Almost unconsciously I stood up, pushing away from the cot. The blankets fell to the floor, thudding softly against the wood panels. My toes curled on the cold floor. I hugged my arms to my chest, the soft fleece warming me. I turned my head to see Georgia standing up. Her eyes were slightly vacant and her mouth was open a little.
“Georgia,” I whispered hoarsely. I nodded towards the hallway. She inhaled deeply and nodded back, a silent communication going between us. I grabbed her arm and slowly cranked opened the door.
The house was silent, except for the eerie ticking of the kitchen clock. Every bedroom door was closed. I paused to listen. I could hear a faint snoring and loud breathing. Everyone was asleep. We padded down the hall, wincing at every creak of the floorboards, but no door opened. Milky light cast shadows across the floors.
We paused at the screen door leading to the beach. I let go of Georgia’s arm, and she let if fall limply to her side. I pressed my face to the screen, peering down the beach. The cool air refreshed me.
“Should we do this?” Georgia murmured. “We’ll get in trouble.” She twisted her hands together anxiously. I turned to her pleadingly. She sighed, her shoulders slumping.
“We can leave a note,” I insisted. Georgia rolled her eyes and relented. I grabbed a pad of paper off of the wooden kitchen table and a pen.
I scribbled, Georgia and I went for a walk on the beach. Will be back by breakfast.
“There, Ms. Worrywart. Happy?” I said, setting the note on the table. I pushed open the screen door and slipped outside, followed by Georgia. The door gently banged closed behind her.
The sand tickled my toes as I walked along the silent beach. The sky was inky black, silver stars strewn across it. I bent down and sifted the soft sand through my hands. My beating heart slowed. Georgia paused to wait by me and I stood again. We shuffled along, shivering slightly in the cold wind.
Cordelia… Delia … Georgia… Gia …
I couldn’t stand it. I started running, sand spewing out from behind my feet. Georgia took off, jogging along behind me. I ran like I had never run before, somehow knowing that the voice was in trouble. The voice slowly dimmed as we approached the waves, becoming more and more ragged with pain.
I skidded to a stop at the edge of the ebony water. The waves sloshed against the shore, waves crashing one over another. Georgia and I scanned the water, back and forth. The voice was here. I was sure of it, as sure as the fact that the voice was in trouble.
“Where is it?” Georgia moaned. She pounded her knee in frustration. I put my hand on her arm. I could feel goosebumps raising on it.
“Shh,” I said abruptly. Suddenly I spotted it.
A dark shape was thrashing around in the water. Water sprayed up around it. I yanked Georgia’s arm and took off, running down the beach, my feet pounding the sand. I ran as fast as I could, forcing one leg after another, gulping the cold air.
It was my dream. Something was in trouble.
I splashed through the water towards the shape, my feet grazing the rough rocks. The cold bit at my legs and my feet tingled. I frantically struggled on, water splashing on my clothes. Georgia was next to me, her hand gripping my arm.
I gasped and drew back. It was a seal. A seal, thrashing in a fisherman’s net, caught and drowning. I gazed at it in horror, my eyes wide. For a second I was paralyzed, unable to move. Georgia gently tapped me. I shook myself and turned to her.
“We have to free it,” she said, her voice calm and steady. She gazed at me fiercely, her blue eyes illuminated by the water. My feet were starting to be numb with cold. I nodded.
The seal gazed at us, its dark eyes melting with sadness. Its whiskers twitched. I reached out with a trembling hand. At my touch, it lay still, whimpering softly. Its skin was soft and leathery. I ran a hand over its back, murmuring soft, soothing words.
Slowly Georgia and I began to untangle the net. My hands were shaking. I pried the net off of the seal, trying to loosen the knots and free it. I pulled at the rough cord, yanking it with all my might. Georgia steadily worked, silent and focused.
Hot tears of pity clouded my eyes. How could somebody do this? I felt hot tears stream down my cheeks, dripping off my chin. As if it knew that I was crying, the seal looked up at me. I smiled down at it, through the curtain of tears.
It might have been hours that we worked. I shivered violently, my limbs unsteady. But neither I nor Georgia were willing to stop. We would never leave the seal.
The breeze died down as we kept working, our hands fumbling over the rough bound rope. I glanced at Georgia. Her eyes swam with tears as she cried softly, for the seal. She sniffed and looked at me. We gave each other watery smiles and kept working.
Suddenly the net drifted free. Georgia reached out and grabbed it, hoisting it over her shoulder. The seal wiggled and danced with joy, swimming around us in circles. It nuzzled us tenderly, swimming around us. I stroked it, my hands running over the soft and damp skin. I put out my hand and the seal gently put his nose in my hand, sniffing around.
It sniffed Georgia, who made a sound like a half-sob and gently stroked it. My legs were numb and painful, yet I clumsily petted it, unwilling to break our bond. The seal darted around us, swimming in and out, barking softly. I leaned down to hug it, ignoring the fact that my clothes were soaked with sea water.
Suddenly the sun burst over the horizon and the sky flooded with light, the darkness receding. The sky flushed a brilliant pink and golden, the fluffy light clouds illuminated. The water danced under the sunlight, reflecting brilliant hues of golden and pink and light blue. As if a spell had broken, the seal ducked into the water and was suddenly gone, like a silent bullet.
Goodbye, Georgia and Cordelia.
I stared after the seal. It raised its head once more.
Then it was gone.
* * *
For minutes, Georgia and I just stood in the water, staring after the seal as waves crashed over our legs. The sky was so bright I almost had to wince.
At last, I said, “We did it.”
“We did,” Georgia said, her voice full of disbelief. I grabbed the rope and together we hoisted it out of the water, wading back onto the sand.
We struggled down the beach, our clothing and skin coated in wet sand and saltwater. Water dripped down my back. The weight of the rope made me wince. We reached the front door and dropped the rope on the step. Georgia turned to me and gazed at me.
Slowly I smiled and suddenly she threw her arms around me. We embraced, holding each other, wet and cold, and yet not caring. I held her, half-crying, half-laughing. Mixed emotions rose as tears dripped down my cheeks. I was smiling, so hard it hurt.
Georgia released me, wiping her cheeks. She smiled and shook her head. “I’m so happy,” she cried.
“I know,” I said. “I know.”
The door suddenly burst open and Mom was standing there, glaring at us. Her expression softened when she saw how wet and cold we were. She turned togaze at the pile of rope.
“We rescued a seal from a net,” I blurted out. Mom’s green eyes went wide. She raised her eyebrows, shocked. For a moment she didn’t speak.
“How… how did you know that it was out there?” she finally said, her voice hushed. She didn’t break her gaze from the rope.
I exchanged a look with Georgia. For a moment, neither of us said anything. The night flashed back through my mind.
At last, I said quietly, “The seal told us.”
Mom didn’t disagree. She only smiled and hugged us, though we were drenched and coated in sand.
“You should be very proud, girls,” she whispered.
And we were.