I would be able to recognize that call from miles away. My brother’s voice seems to echo across the dock, over the sound of the restless waves and bustling people. The humans don’t seem to notice his aura of wrath as he stalks closer.
I debate making a dive for it. We’ve already had this conversation like a hundred times, and it’d be much more appealing to leave before my brother can catch me.
But then again, he could outswim me any day. And you’d never in a million years get me to admit this out loud, but he’s smarter than me, too. He wouldn’t fall for any of my tricks.
So instead I put on my ‘I’m-your-sweet-and-innocent-kid-brother’ face, hoping he’s not in quite as fowl of a mood as the last time. “Ayy, Bruce! You called?”
He stops in front of me, arms crossed. I swear, he looks more and more like Dad every day. He’s even mastered the dreaded glare of disappointment. “What did I tell you?”
“Hmm”, I gaze to the sky, as though I actually care enough to make an attempt to remember. “Chicks don’t dig it when you throw seaweed at them?”
I dodge a back-hand.
“It’s not funny! What would Dad say if he saw you up here?” Bruce demands. “You have to stop it. You’re just going to get yourself into trouble again.”
“Like you’ve never gotten into trouble before, Mr. Perfect.” I mumble. His gaze is sharper than a sword fish, but I continue anyways. “And I only get into trouble when you come and try to bail me out! I’m just trying to---”
“I know what you’re trying to do! And don’t blame me for your mess, kelp. You’re the one who makes the crowd angry. You’re the one who gets yourself in tight spaces.” He says. “They’re never going to listen to you. The Ocean is dying, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Get that through your thick skull!”
I resist the urge to growl. Every ounce of my being wants to throw a punch to see what happens. I’m only a couple inches shorter than my sibling now. Maybe I could finally take him down. I’d at least stand a chance this time.
I can't stand that he's given up.
Restraining myself, I say, “I can get them to listen. Just because you failed doesn’t mean I will. Doesn’t mean you should feel so high-and-mighty as to stop me from trying. I will save the Ocean. I’m not reckless.”
His gaze remains hard and unmoving. There’s a long moment of tension. However, when Bruce speaks, his voice is an old, tired floor board. “Humans never change. They don’t listen. If you’re going to insist on being this stupid, then, sure, knock yourself out. You’re as thick as one of them, kelp.” He shoves me away from the water. Hard. “Maybe you do belong up here.”
It’s a blow to the gut, stronger than any I’ve ever been dealt. I can’t breathe.
He realizes the weight of his words and his face softens. But all I want to do is get away. “Listen, Morgan, I’m---”
“Shut up!” I scream, forbidding the pressure behind my eyes or the redness of my face to seep through. My feet are thundering down the dock, taking me away. I ignore Bruce’s protests behind me as I shove my way through groups of people.
I don’t need my older brother’s approval. Who cares what he thinks. Nothing he says is right, he’s just jealous. Of course I belong in the sea, duh. I’ve always belonged in the sea.
But Bruce’s words won’t leave my brain. They just echo and bounce off of each other, agitating other, deeper thoughts. What if he’s right? What if the humans will never listen? What if I am just a stupid as they are? I can’t do anything right. I’ve been coming to the surface for the past three months trying to get someone to listen, but no one even notices me. It’s like I’m not even there.
And it’s no better back home. I’m worthless. The youngest. The slowest. The weakest. Dad doesn’t even notice that I’m gone when I sneak up to the surface. No one ever comes looking for me. Bruce only found me out by coincidence. I can’t think of strategies or battle tactics. I can't fight hard or swim fast. I’m basically a worthless pile of kelp.
What if I don’t belong with the Ocean?
I don’t know how long I’ve been running, but my legs give out. I slump to the beach, letting the sand cling to my knees and between my toes. The sun is dipping closer and closer to the horizon, staining the sea crimson and coral. Wind rips off the waves, pushing me away. Shoving me away from the water.
Humans never listen. They tune you out and divert their attention to something else. Something more exciting. They never admit they made a mistake, especially when it could ruin their reputation. They just keep living in ignorance, in luxury of not having to deal with their wastes.
This species holds the fate of my home in their hands. And they don’t give a damn about it.
I clutch the sand, trying to figure out where I went wrong. I told stories and danced and sang, to everyone who passed on the dock. Everyone back home loves performances, and I thought humans did too. But instead of their ears, all the people gave me was the occasional tiny disk of silver or copper. They’d keep walking. And walking. Shoving and shoving.
Is that a noise? Over the wind, is that a voice? It comes again. “Hey.”
I sit up, half-expecting Bruce to be standing there. But to my surprise, it’s a girl in a flowing dress and a thin jacket. Her auburn hair is like fire coral in the setting sun.
“Hey,” I return awkwardly. What is one supposed to say to a human girl?
I suppose I shouldn’t throw seaweed at human women either, some small part of my brain suggests. That’s helpful.
The girl sits down on the sand a couple feet to my right, gaze eating up the sunset. Her aura is full of breezes and light blue skies, but for some reason, there’s a cloud there as well. A storm.
“You had a rough day too?” She says, not taking her eyes off the sky. I see red and bloodshot, dark circles.
I nod. She knows without looking. She didn’t need an answer.
We sit for a time. The sun dips further, blanketing us in dark.
“I thought I could do it.” The girl sighs after a time. “I thought today would be my day. I guess I was wrong.”
I say nothing.
“Just when I thought life was going my way. You know?”
I nod. I know.
“I love coming here.” She comments. “After any day, the beach will still bring me comfort. It’s so blissful to feel the sand and the waves and the colours. Sunset is my favourite.”
“Mine too.” I whisper.
She nods, pulling her thin jacket tighter around her shoulders. “It’s just sad.”
“This.” She motions towards the blood dripping from the dying sun. “It doesn’t last. Eventually night comes. It always comes.”
I think about that for a moment. I’d never considered that view before. “Yeah. I guess you’re right.” I say. But then I remember something. One of my Dad’s calmest moments. We were both sitting on the top of the water, watching the sky. It was at dawn. I had just won my first musical award. I remember his proud smile. The light of this moment cuts through everything else.
“But there’s always tomorrow." I say, louder now. "The sun always comes back.”
The girl is silent in the wind. I can't tell what her thoughts are. The waves are licking the sand near my feet, calling me.
“Yeah. Yeah, you’re right.” She pulls at her wind-breaker and moves her toes away from the chilling water. “Hey, if you don’t mind me asking. What happened in your day? You seem like you had it worse than I did.”
I consider it. Obviously, I can't tell her everything. “I had a fight with my brother about something important to me. It’s more than I can explain to you in one sunset.”
For the first time since she sat down, she turns to look me in the eyes. Her gaze pulls me in and holds my attention. She smiles.
“Some days, I just need to talk. Take as many sunsets as you need. I'm listening."