Chapter 1: Underwater Fireworks

We scrambled over rocks slick with seaweed and bristling with barnacles. The ocean gurgled and rocked around us, but the shore was close enough that we weren't in immediate danger of being stranded. My mother had fallen asleep under the sun's caress, and so we had abandoned our architectural failings (our sand castle had no flood insurance and so repairs were next to impossible) and went exploring instead.

"Look, Amber," I said, pointing to a pink sea anemone blooming in the cradle of the rock.

She turned and crawled back to me, crablike.

I stirred the surface of the tide pool. The anemone wavered in the ripples. "Look. It's like an underwater firework in reverse." I brushed its bright petals with a finger and it imploded. Only a seaglass-studded bolus remained. "Is everything in the sea that ephemeral?"

"Beautiful things can't last, Emily." She smiled. "Like butterflies, and wildflowers. They only live through one summer." She turned and picked her way across the rocks, moving away from shore. "We're not far enough out yet," she said.

I stayed for a few moments longer and watched the little green knob the anemone had become. It didn't extend its tendrils or show any signs of life, no matter how still I held myself.

"C'mon, Emily," Amber beckoned.

I glanced around at the rocks strewn with broken shells and seaweed. There, by half a sand dollar, was a perfect abalone shell. I picked it up and ran my fingers over the tiny holes that punctuated its ridge, then I dropped it, pearly-side up, next to the sea anemone. It looked pretty there: a muted rainbow at the heart of the tide pool, waiting.

I turned and followed Amber. I didn't know what she had in mind, but she was determined about it, insistent and hopeful.

We crouched on the last rock as the ocean rolled around us. The shore was a maze of tide pools away.

I asked Amber what we were waiting for.

"Just watch."

"But what should I watch for?"

She was quiet so long I thought she hadn't heard me. A gull swooped above us, laughing. Then in a breathless whisper Amber said: "Whales."

I scanned the empty horizon. The sky was so bright that I had to squint; it was like a high-contrast dream, overwhelming in exaggerated Technicolor emotions.

I think, as I studied Amber—her candy-brown eyes focused on the ocean, the two little freckles beneath her left eye, the way her hair had escaped from its band and clung to her skin like caramel spider silk, her narrow shoulders sloping down towards long-fingered hands—that for the first time it occurred to me that she was beautiful.

We waited for most of forever, but no whales appeared, no matter how hard we wished them to. We told them stories. We sang songs to them, childish songs with made-up lines, and haunting songs in made-up languages. They must not have heard us over the roar and crash of the waves.

The tide was coming in. We scampered back over the rocks, heedless of the path we took. The shore seemed suddenly much farther away, and we raced the seawater to cover the rocks first.

I slipped, and my foot plunged into a deep pocket of water. Tiny fish fled behind barnacled rubble. Withdrawing my foot, I shook little pebbles from my sandal, and one plunked into a smaller tide pool by my hand. Following its trajectory, I watched the pebble drop into the pearly cupola of a familiar abalone shell. It nestled there, right at the center of the center.

Next to the abalone shell was the sea anemone. Its firework-bright tendrils blazed outwards. It had triumphed—it had been reborn. I was inexplicably proud of it, and I wasn't quite sure why.

Samsara, I thought.

Beautiful things can't last, but they have a million second chances.

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A/N: Edits #1-4 complete.

Reading through it the fourteenth time or so, I was suddenly hit with the realisation that I'd written in a ton of symbolism, and I hadn't even known most of it was there. Some of it was very purposeful (like the whales and the sea anemone) but pretty much everything else just happened without my concious permission. Don't you love overactive subconciouses when they team up with a pining muse?