"The girl whose heart was winter melted into the ocean,"
The water felt like glass. It shattered where it met the shore, like so many broken bottles. Fae liked how it cut sharp X’s into her skin and pecked cool O’s on her neck. She lay supine on the border where the sea diluted into the sand, drifting at the edge of parallel worlds. The stripe separating them was frothy and poorly drawn as if scribbled by a child with peeling crayons.
Maybe that was why the waves had no sense of boundary, spilling outside the lines. Leaving wet kisses and the taste of tears on the lips of a coast that pulled away. Fae touched her own lips, so full of love but not a soul to share it with.
The beach was strewn with tawny eggshells. Newborn turtles that glistened like emerald coins were crawling a sticky path to the tides. Meanwhile, clouds spun into balls of yarns, as ravenous seagulls circled overhead with hunger smeared between their beaks.
Poor things. What's the point of all that struggle?
Pitiful questions like these were just a ploy to block the memories she had buried into the seabed of her mind, because they were gold doubloons she never wanted. Judgements acted as the dam that prevented the flow of her tumultuous thoughts.
Because thinking just hurt too damn much.
Fae rose to a sitting position, hugging her calves and cradling her chin between her knees. Willing herself to surrender to the numbing embrace of the ocean. Letting the waves fold like envelope flaps around her as starfish clung to her like stamps. The quiet place between silence and sleep was loud, as if she was holding a conch to her ears, the sea roaring a battle cry as she unravelled faster than a loose thread.
But she couldn’t let herself go.
So she stood.
For a reason she couldn’t explain, life was addicting and she latched onto it desperately. Fae muttered pathetic curses to herself, her matted curls hanging in strands of seaweed and barely reaching her brown shoulders. She paced across the sand shivering, around to the head of the beach where the cove bloomed from the crags.
A cave was nestled into the cliffs, shaped into the beady eye of a shark, with jagged stalactites looming into teeth. But oddly, Fae found it comforting. She approached the far wall and waved her phone’s light over it, itched with scars and labelled with lost dreams.
She thought of the turtles, battling so hard simply to make it from one strife to another. Was life really that precious? She pulled a permanent marker from her soaking pocket and scrawled a note on the pale stone.
Why don’t you just live?
As she stepped out into dappled sunlight, her words became part of the dark cavern.
"The girl whose voice was autumn shrivelled against the wind,"
Reve was sick of being tired and tired of being sick. She wore a single earphone, dangling over her graphic tee in the shape of a shaky music note. Even as Ed Sheeran’s voice laid caution tape over her thoughts and drowned her worries in lyrics, she didn’t feel at ease.
She peered around the cubicle where her colleague was trapped in a yawn as he used the coffee machine. Her neighbour aimlessly marked folders with sticky notes the colour of store-bought love. She swivelled her head as her supervisor stepped in with his secretary, who had paperwork splayed in her hands, fluttering into an origami fan.
Reve scrutinized the boss man. She didn’t like the way he smelled like barbecues left in the rain or how he regarded the girl in front of him like honey winding down his thumb.
Why do I live like this? Why do we all?
She fingered the rips in her denims, which weren't there for fashion. She could buy jeans that didn’t fray into gaping mouths, but then her sister couldn’t afford meals at school. Without her income, her mother couldn’t swatch Revlon lipsticks on her arms or repay those she’d borrowed from with frowns tanned into apple slices. So Reve stayed in this place where she loved her work and hated her manager, at the edge of a cliff named life.
“Reve, dear.” She looked up at her boss. “We’re short on staff today, would you stay. . .”
The rest muddled into all the oily shades of artificial sincerity and she delayed her response. Her cellphone beamed with a text from her mother. I need money.
Reve heard birdsong beyond the bay window, tangling with the smell of daylight and promises murmured by the wind. In retrospect, she would look back at this moment and call it magic. The kind that drove kids into wardrobes emptying into wintry woods and sunk princes to the depths of lakes lurking with the skeletons of mermaids.
Right now, she thought it was madness.
“I’m flattered you rely on me, sir.” She shook her head politely. “But I’m good, thanks.”
Her hands shook, but she never looked back, leaving her manager with his jaw unhinged. She caught her breath in the parking lot and scanned her glazed reflection in her windshield. Ebony skin, midnight blue hair and dimples that could sink a ship. Beautiful.
She didn’t know where she was going, but she tossed her phone onto the passenger seat and twisted up the lips of the radio as it played Castle on the Hill. Reve imagined she was driving at 90 down country lanes spiralling into cinnamon rolls. When she stuck her head out the window and tasted salt on her lips, she knew she’d reached the ocean.
The sand was combing through the flowing locks of the water, when it started to rain. Lacing her fingers overtop, she sprinted across the beach until she found herself under an arched cave. The inside matched her mind, dark and quiet with sad songs playing somewhere deep inside.
Reve stumbled on something long, bending to grab a thick sharpie. Standing, she realized there were words on the wall, ones that penetrated through the folds of her heart.
Why don’t you just live?
“I don’t know,” she said, flipping off the cap of the marker to write under it. “I just exist.”
Keep your chin up.
She raised her head as she walked, making a mental note to request a vacation and book an appointment with her hairdresser. Her hair would be vivid azure, like the sea.
"And the girl whose eyes were spring withered away under the sun."
She wrote her name on her wrist for fear of forgetting it. Elise. Five letters she was afraid would float into the sky like red heart balloons unless she tethered them to herself with ink. They were rubbing off today, as she fingered the boardwalk. She watched the ocean pinch its waves, gathering them into loose skirts that stroked the ankles of the coast.
He’d told her to wait here as he went to get ice cream, and she knew hers would be flavoured cherry, dusted with cookie crumbs and swirled into spires. What she didn’t know was if he’d really come back. I’m being delusional, she thought, but the insecurities matured, curling around her lungs like brambles until she was gasping.
Why would he come back? What could he possibly see in me?
She didn’t remember his name, nor did she recall the names of any of the other boys. After all, she never wrote them down. The air was drenched in expectations and shallow standards, and Elise couldn’t breathe. She needed to be closer to the sea and inhale brine.
The tides were smoothened to diamond perfection and her eyes whispered back at her from the mirror-like surface. They were pressed with crushed seashells, but they never stayed the same. Sometimes her eyes were dark as a starless sky and they scared her when they shifted, as if they were mood rings she couldn’t read.
The sun bit into her cheeks until they were pomegranate ripe, the shade of her hair. Her curls cascaded well past her waist, but she couldn’t bear to cut it. Like her bruises, it remained with her when no one else did. The hem of her floor length dress was speckled with gravel and wet like souls. For a second, Elise was transfixed in the exotic patterns riddling the fabric — lilies and nightingales. She liked things to be complicated.
Her feet didn’t like to listen to her mind, instead working overtime following the map printed over her heart. Suddenly, she was standing in front of a somber cavern and as she looked back, the boardwalk appeared to be crossing the sea and leading somewhere over the horizon. Elise wished she could follow it, but that would mean popping the bubble she’d created around herself and she didn’t want soap in her ever-changing eyes.
As soon as she stepped inside the cave, a draft wrapped her in a soft shawl and she shivered. A voice that was ensnared in her ribs timidly spoke out. It’s like an adventure. Elise shook her head. She’d hidden this voice long ago, the voice of her inner child. But as she ventured deeper, her fear flaked away and she shed off her anxieties like snakeskin. She loved the darkness and the secrets it would share if she’d listen.
It was tranquil enough that she could hear the gentle chink of her heels. Elise ran her finger over the walls and squinting through the shadows, she gasped when she saw two messages on the rock, each written with unique penmanship.
Why don’t you just live?
Keep your chin up.
The second one struck her differently and she staggered outside. She lifted her chin and found herself gazing at stars. Stars. That changed every night and witnessed every inch of the world from different corners of the sky. Something she could never do. The stars, Elise thought. They’re so beautiful. Is their courage to change what makes them so? So she wrote:
Count your reasons to try.
Her essence joined the others on the cave wall as she lay down the marker and left to claim her ice cream. Her eyes darkened and her mismatched jewellery winked in contrast. She scrubbed the writing off her hand and spoke into the night. “My name is Elise.”
"Yet, they had three pieces of the same heart and one thousand stories between each other."
The cave was silent for many days following, its only guests the brushstrokes of the sun and the faint echo of stars. Troubles last just about as long as snow, melting away through sewer drains after we learn where to throw the road salt. But they always have a way of creeping through the back door when we’re busy blinking out morning fatigue.
It took a while, but eventually the three girls visited the cavern in dizzy rotations. Always feeling the ghost of each other's existence, but on equidistant paths so they never met.
Fae returned first. The cave should have reminded of her squeezing into tight places and hiding in the closet. It should have flashed clips of doors hanging on hinges and a graveyard of beer cans in the sitting room. The darkness should have made her recall the sound of her mother crying and the terror that dripped when she heard belt buckles and lashing leather.
But the cavern didn't feel like a cage of agony. It felt like refuge. Like a haven for wingless girls. Because she saw that others had donned tiaras set with bravery from a simple act she started, so she smiled feebly and counted her reasons to try harder.
It started with sharing their names. It ended with offering their numbers. In between, they wrote letters to each other on the cave wall, that were like tickets into their trains of thought. It was Reve who started the idea.
I like to sing but I live with the fear of singing something worthwhile.
I wonder if I can laugh and cry at the same time.
I wonder if I’ll love someone with as much hate as I do myself sometimes.
I wonder if I can take off my shirt in public and laugh at the weird looks.
I wonder if I’ll have children who will grow up to smoke cigarettes and steal dreams.
I wonder if I’ll die tonight or the day after tomorrow.
I wonder if people will love me with their eyes closed.
Oh well. It’s crazy how life sounds.
Elise giggled when she read the snippets into Reve’s life, stitching her fingers over the greeting. Dear friends of mine, it started. How strange it seemed to her, to have friends she hadn’t met yet. Even stranger was the fact that she found such a soothing release in simple voices and the trust that they existed somewhere, that they didn't feel like just friends. Elise signed her letter with, Sisters, I hope you are well.
I wonder why I never learned to ride a bike.
I paint sea monsters and female pirates on dollar store seashells.
I write poetry on my wrists and stories on my white wood desk.
I collect the faces of the protagonists from trope-filled novels.
I try them on like masks in front of the mirror and pretend I’m anything but myself.
I eat cookies. I run out of cookies. I buy more cookies. I eat cookies.
I’m a mechanical engineer that can fix everything but my heart.
Life is a beautiful lie.
Fae did not make a sound as she read Elise and Reve’s accounts. She had always been perceptive, able to read the tragedy between poetic lines. She could see pain, she could see smiles, she could see one thousand different stories and she respected it all.
At first, she thought about her paintings of men with clock faces and eyelashes that twitched into seconds. She thought of nights where her stepfather’s anger seeped over the windows and her mother cowered beside the counter. But she filtered that out and began hers with, We are strong, my family.
I look at portraits of strangers.
I look at elephant earrings in shop windows and wish I had hands for jewelry.
I wonder if my face twists when I lie.
I imagine a world where queens ruled over kings.
I circle words in newspapers and pretend they mean something to me.
I wonder why I never had the courage to get my ears pierced. I guess this is why I write about pretty girls with earrings.
It’s funny how life is cruel.
It was Fae who wrote down her number first. Afterwards, it was Elise who crossed them out when they’d all memorized each other's cell. She was becoming good at that. The first couple minutes of the group call would later be described as awkward, tipsy and leaking with compassion.
“Can you hear me?”
“No, I’m Reve, darling.”
“Oh. Are you here, Fae?”
Essentially, one call became two, and that became four which eventually tallied to thirteen. Whenever the girls felt empty, they remembered where the other two thirds of their hearts resided. As soon as they heard the voices of the others, the cavity in their chests felt full.
“You’re perfect,” Fae assured Elise once. “You don’t need a prince to prove that.”
“Is it wrong of me to wish for a happily ever after?”
“Of course not.”
Elise’s laugh stirred with static cracks. “Even though I’m messed up?”
“El, listen,” Fae crossed her legs and cleared her throat. “You might not've had a 'once upon a time', but you choose your own ending, okay? No one can take that away.”
The response sounded like a strong gale. Fae frowned. “What're you doing?”
“Blowing you a kiss, silly,” Elise’s voice streamed with moonlight. “Thank you.”
Sometimes, they talked about things that bothered them. Flaws they couldn’t help. They asked if they were crazy and the others launched them questions that helped them unveil their nightmares, the key to unlocking their mind and peeking inside.
“I paint things that I hate,” Fae said over the phone one evening.
“Why?” Reve asked.
“Because the world can’t give me what I love.”
Reve bit her lip. “Maybe because you don't know what you're fighting for.”
The girls were madness and they were magic. They were home and hope. They were the family they never asked for, but needed all the same. The advice they exchanged likely didn't emerge of reliable sources, but the sincerity and sheer insanity of their shared words made them feel all the more comfortable and relatable.
“I’ve always had a family,” Reve said on the fifth call. “But they never felt like it.”
“Is there a reason why?” Elise questioned.
“I don’t know,” Reve pinched the bridge of her nose. “You guys feel more like my family even though I've never seen you.”
“A family, I think,” Elise mused, “is not not necessarily familiarity. It’s solace.”
Reve was silent for a moment. “Where do you learn these things?”
“I eat cookies. And make bouquets of mushrooms. It helps.”
“I know! Isn’t it wonderful?”
"Together, they made the world summer."
The water looked like jewels. It gleamed where it met the shore, like treasures better left buried. Fae loved how it spun foamy bracelets around her hand and how droplets hung from her unpierced lobes like pearl earrings. She stood on the belt where the sea woke up next to its shore, hovering in the middle of an eternal love. The stripe separating them was glassy and unclear like the whisper of a future you couldn’t picture. But Fae knew sometimes what’s real is something you can’t see.
Maybe that was why the waves returned to the sand every dawn, with dreams that one day it would reach out its palm and meet it halfway. A saltwater breeze traced over her spine and on the current, she felt a distant kiss on her cheek. She smiled as she turned around. It had been four years since she’d first talked to those she could now call her family, but she felt their presence indefinitely.
“Kiss delivered!” Elise’s voice pierced across the beach. “Catch it, dork!”
Her strawberry hair billowed in the space around her, freshly cut and barely grazing her shoulders. She clasped a bundle of spotted mushrooms tied with satin ribbon in her palms. Reve stood beside her with new weave the colour of seafoam, sunglasses hooked over her face and an earbud clicked into her ear like a missing puzzle piece.
No one else would look at them and see it, but Fae knew they were all wearing crowns made of their insecurities. Because our weaknesses tell us what makes us strong. Fae waited for a minute as time slowed for her, and she grasped it graciously to look at her girls. The family she had never been born with, but the family she’d found.
“Received,” she whispered, pressing the kiss to her skin until it melted her winter heart.