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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2105864-Riptide
Rated: ASR · Short Story · Fantasy · #2105864
An island girl finds a seal skin a man claims belongs to him.
Title: RIPTIDE
Username: ConstantSound
Sub-Genre: Romance
Heat Level: Sweet


Toes dug into the sand, knees drawn to my chest, chin rested on them, I watched a man splashing around under the pier. His hands reached up, fingers clutching at tufts of hair so pale it seemed white from where I was. Normally a dingbatter playing in the ocean wouldn't have drawn my attention, but this one looked like he was searching for something. Two days prior there was a musty seal skin under that same pier, half buried under damp sand, tide washing up over it. I wondered if that was what he was searching for. A strange thought, but it was the only thing that made sense of his obvious frustration.
         Freezing, the man's eyes moved toward me, pegging me in place with an uncanny lavender stare. His head slowly turned to follow them, a face too far away to make out from where I was seated, yet somehow I felt his ire at being observed. It radiated toward me on invisible waves as he moved, taking heavy, awkward steps toward me. He walked with a slight drag to his step, a stumble that reminded me of a three-year-old's uncertain toddle. Though the man headed my way was much less focused on where he was putting his clumsy feet in relation to the sand and far more interested in whatever homicidal fantasies were playing through his mind.
         The thought to run came and went. It was tourist season. With dingbatters everywhere, there was no way he could hurt me without being noticed. And I was probably imagining things anyway. When she was alive, Mama always told me I had my head too far in the clouds to ever see the ground.
         A strange sound left him, something akin to a high pitched bark as he came to a teetering stop before me. "You took it," he hissed, pale purple eyes widening threateningly. I stared back at him blandly for a moment before glancing over his shoulder, back at the pier. The heat of his glare rivaled the afternoon sun and I desperately wished I'd applied some sunscreen to combat the dual sources of heat beating down on me. Not that I expected to feel the burn of this stranger's anger before I left home.
         "Took what?" I asked, unsurprised to see his pale brows disappear under the sweep of white bangs. The Down East accent was difficult to come to terms with for most people. A mixture of Scottish brogue and something distinctly our own made Hoi Toiders such as myself a bit of a enunciation mystery to the rest of the world, as it were.
         His confusion lasted only a moment before he sneered at me, eyes darting around to see if anyone cared what he had to say before he dropped, crouching in front of me. "My fur." His voice was low, so quiet the crash of surf and chatter of tourists nearly stole it away.
         It was my turn to arch my brows. "Your fur?" I repeated, startled. It wasn't the words so much as the desperation and the image it brought to mind. He said it as though the fur actually belonged on his person, a part of him rather than some bizarre article of clothing.
         Staring at me, he seemed to be lost in thought. His hand cupped my cheek as he leaned in, squinting. "Yes," he intoned slowly, head canting to the side in an animalistic display that would've thrown me off had I not been locked in my first mildly intimate moment with a man, "my fur. You see, I'm a selkie." A heavy sigh burst from his chest, ruffling sand-colored hair around my face. "I shed my skin and buried it under that pier so I could return to the ocean. I must have it back."
         This close, I could just make out his features if I went a little cross-eyed. His eyes were a bit wider than was strictly normal, thick brows drawn over them expectantly and lashes so pale I wouldn't know he had them if not for the sunlight reflecting off their tips. His lips were a bit on the thin side, but still nice, I figured. Strong bones, broad nose, tanned skin. Nothing that really screamed paranormal weirdo. Though he was clearly insane.
         Pity, that.
         "Are you listening to me?" The demand broke through my thoughts.
         "Oops?" I responded, shrugging my shoulders and offering up my best, most adorable expression. It usually saved me from the wrath of most of the male species.
         He was not swayed by the display. My freckles and dimples had never failed me before. I couldn't help but be a little put out. What was the point of being cursed with a child's face if it didn't save me from dirty looks?
         I was just about to simper at him, the way I saw my mama do to my daddy, when a thought struck me. He wanted his skin back and I wanted to know about the world outside this island. Lips curving into a mischievous grin, I leaned in close to him this time, our noses touching, breath mixing. "You want your skin back?" I drawled, already imagining all the stories he would have to tell me, the vicarious adventures I could have.
         "Are you part pixie?" he inquired, leaning back away from me, eyes narrowed in distrust. When I didn't deign to answer his ridiculous question, he pressed, "You know I want it back, girl."
         "Prudence O'Connor," I introduced myself, sticking out my hand for a shake. He flopped back onto the ground as my knuckles rapped against his chest, staring at my hand blandly. "You can call me Pru. You'll be staying with me for the summer." The man was absolutely horrified, but he didn't argue.
         "Serkan Donoghue." And that was how I came to be in possession of both a selkie and his skin.
         Over the next week, I managed to pull out small details about him. Apparently a selkie was some kind of seal-person who occasionally came on land to fool around with human girls. While he hadn't so much said the last part, I wasn't so oblivious as to miss the looks many of the other girls threw his way. Despite the slight stink of fish that clung to him like a second skin, he was an attractive man, the untamed kind women didn't look for anything serious with.
         "So your family, are they expecting you back?" he hadn't mentioned others of his kind. Despite having told me what he was the first day we met, I got the feeling he didn't trust me. I wouldn't trust me, either, in his place. The more I thought about it, the guiltier I felt. Especially when I caught him gazing out toward the ocean, eyes glazed with longing.
         His only answer was a noncommittal shrug followed by the staggered thud of his feet against the hardwood of floorboards as he made his way back to the guestroom I was keeping him in.
         The more I watched him on land, with his stumbling feet and clumsy hands, the more I believed he was used to somewhere else. The more I believed he was something else. The more understandable his hatred of me was.
         Despite the flirtatious winks and girly giggles he earned in the beginning, people came to be wary of his ungainly movements and dark looks. He was here for me, they thought.
         If only they knew the truth.
         Things remained the same between us, a quiet bitterness growing that I couldn't fathom how to quell, until one night something finally shifted. Serkan sat across from me in the dining room, sipping a bowl of fish stew. Utensils didn't interest him in the least. There was no Little Mermaid fascination with human objects. Thus I cooked him foods that he could eat without making a mess of the room. I learned my lesson after a particularly harrowing experience with macaroni and cheese.
         He rose to put his bowl in the sink while I watched him, the salty ocean breeze coming in through the small window over the sink ruffling his hair. His shoulders hunched, hand turning on the faucet, fingers dipping down to play in the spray. My heart clenched at the sight, something I figured he was aiming for.
         But when he turned around, his disappointed gaze was focused on the floor. He swallowed the emotion, lips parting to ask me something. Instead of speaking, he stared at me for a moment, fixated. With shaky steps, he moved toward me, lowering to one knee next to my chair. "Your eyes," he began, catching my face between his palms, captivated by whatever he saw in them, "are sea foam."
         For a long moment I wondered if maybe he would kiss me. He certainly looked like he was going to. Instead he dropped his forehead against mine, letting out a quiet breath. The moment dragged on, seashell wind chimes filling the silence with gentle clicks. Somehow, the sound only magnified the gentle intensity of the experience. The tips of our noses touched, my eyes fluttering shut as I breathed him in, sea salt and fish.
         Then he was gone. Eyes snapping open, I stared at him from where I sat in anticipation, waiting for the brush of lips against mine. "Why ask me about the sea when your very being encompasses it?" With that he was standing, his head turning back as he walked away, gaze filled with a kind of longing I couldn't begin to understand. Fingertips tracing the freckles sprinkled over the back of my hand, I let out a hushed sigh. Here I was, in my home, maybe not where I wanted to be for the rest of my life, but at least it was familiar to me.
         A family friend had given me some sea salt, saying it was better than table salt. The first night I really thought about Serkan's inherent strangeness, I found it sitting on the interior ledge in the bathtub, most of the contents missing. Peeking into his room, I held it up, asking about it. Rolling his head in my direction, prying it from the boating magazine in his hands, he said casually, "Freshwater disgusts me."
         Then, much to my surprise, he motioned me over to sit with him on his borrowed bed. Obliging him, I stretched my legs out over the mattress, back stiff against the headboard. "Do you...need something?" Was it just me or had the air become stifling? I longed to rush over and shove the window open for a bit of relief. Sucking it up, I waited for him to say something. Instead, he smiled at me silently, running his hand over my forearm while muttering something about sand before turning back to his book.
         The touches continued. A man of few words, Serkan took every opportunity to brush against me in ways both innocent and intimate. It took me by surprise for a long time, his affection. Until the realization that I was the human replacement for his beloved ocean struck me. Pale green eyes, sandy-blonde hair and tanned, freckled skin all came together in his mind to cover some part of the beach. Froth and murky green depths, waterlogged sand, beach pebbles. There was nothing safe from his comparisons.
         In a strange way, his obsession had shifted partially to me. I spoke to him frequently, still hoping to glean some information about far off places. While he told me some things, the moment his tongue tripped over a word he fell silent again, watching me. Always watching in some strange mixture of tenderness and something far fiercer.
         "Do you have family?" I tried again. We'd gotten so close I hoped he would enlighten me about the other people in his life. He scrutinized me for a long moment with that penetrating gaze of his. Ever since I lost mine, I'd been interested in hearing about other peoples' families. That was what people did when they couldn't have something they desperately wanted, Mama would've said.
         And I so desperately wanted my family back. But I wanted something else as well, something I was forcing on this man. A stranger I shouldn't have been drawn to enough to bring back to my house, let alone trick into filling some gaping chasm inside me. "Why do you want to know?"
         An invisible knife twisted in me. Ignoring it, I said, "Family means the world to me. More so than ever before now that I've lost mine." Focused on the black screen of the television, I watched his stark reflection from under light brown lashes.
         Mouth pulling open into a smile, he answered with a quiet, "I've no family of my own, either." The answer didn't surprise me, as no one had come to claim their resident nutter. His teeth, on the other hand, threw me off guard. They were sharp and pointed, all but those in the very front and, when I turned to get a better look, I couldn't overlook the fact that the back ones were serrated and drawn into points as well. How they fit into a human skull was beyond me. How I missed them even more so.
         That night, after he retired and I was left to thoughts of guilt and disbelief, I came to the understanding that what I was doing was terribly wrong. Before the thought only lurked in the back of my mind, teasing me without ever becoming substantial. Yet something about seeing those strange (admittedly rather terrifying) teeth of his brought me to a conclusion that was impossible to map out before this.
         Serkan wasn't human, it had taken me too long to see the truth in his words. Drawing in a quiet breath, I stood, gazing out the window at the ocean. Painted black in the night, it roared quietly, a rushing lure only understood by sailors and selkie.
         I still couldn't bring myself to let him go, even I didn't know what I was holding on to. All my stubbornness gained me was a coldness that left me feeling more alone in my empty house than ever before since my parents' passing now that I knew for sure. Attempting to steel my resolve, I turned in the direction of the hall.
         Marching down it, I wrapped the rope dangling from the ceiling through trembling fingers, glancing around the hallway. Half of me wanted Serkan to see me, to wonder what I was going after so late. The other half was relieved when I found the door to the guestroom shut tight. Even as the attic door squeaked open, he didn't come to investigate. Then again, what would he care what I was doing when I'd never given any indication of where his property was before?
         A trunk sat in the farthest, darkest corner, cobwebs decorating the ceiling above it. The moon rested in the small circular window, its pale light reaching in through the glass, illuminating the tiny room just enough to erase the need of the naked bulb overhead. Forgoing the harsh, unnatural glow, I moved for the trunk, clicking the latch open with a flick of fingers. It creaked like the tired hull of a fisherman's boat, groaning from years of neglect.
         Inside, nestled at the bottom was the fur from the beach. It glistened pearlescent white in the moonlight. Pads of my fingers stroking over the sleek fur, I blinked back tears. Rounded ears, a blank face lacking eyes. Anyone would think it was a rug of some sort. Some twisted in-home decoration. With his pale hair and liquid lavender eyes, I could easily see him in this alternative form.
[Insert Image #selkieskin.jpg]

         The lid was heavy in my hands as I lowered it closed over the musty pelt, letting it go with a solid thud that resonated through my entire being, jarring my bones. Rocking back on my heels, forehead thumping against course wood, I bit back a sob, hot tears trickling down my face. Such a selfish move, making him stay for even a moment longer, yet I couldn't bring myself to lift that lid again.
         Breath escaping in a shudder, I made my way back down from the attic, heading for the guestroom. Serkan looked up in surprise from where he sat on the edge of the bed, shoulders hunched, head heavy. I was tired of seeing him suffer, tired of making myself suffer just for a few more minutes of company. "How badly do you want to return to the sea?" I asked, voice soft, wooden.
         His eyes searched my face for any sign of malice, any hint that I was tricking him into giving me the truth. Whatever he found in my expression, it must've been enough for him. "Desperately." The word carried so much hope that my soul ached.
         Pushing my desire away, shoving back thoughts of the eternally empty house, I whispered so quietly I wasn't sure he'd hear, "Your skin is in the trunk in the attic," before slipping back out into the dim hallway, ducking into my room. Convinced that was the last time I would see him, I dropped to my bed heavily, tears streaming down my face. I couldn't decide if they were of relief to be rid of this constant guilt or the reminder of the emptiness that haunted me.
         Unsurprisingly, Serkan was nowhere to be seen the next day. The bed in the room he stayed in was made, the stale scent of ocean life hanging in the air. Backing out, I checked the attic only to find the trunk empty of its contents. A bitter smile tugged at my lips as I made my way into the kitchen for breakfast, pausing briefly at the mantle in the living room to stare down at a family photo. It was one of the only I had where Daddy wasn't wearing his fishing garb. Because I was only about seven, I didn't really remember it very well. But I remembered the destruction Delilah left in her wake, the way they found our family car half submerged with Mama inside and Daddy's fishing boat flipped over in the harbor. Mama always said she wished he'd found a safer career despite knowing there wasn't much else to do to survive here.
         The silence of the house was getting to me, the constant ticking of the clock driving me crazy. When the sound of the storm door opening and snapping shut met my ears, I chocked it up to my mind playing tricks on me. Standing in front of the window, staring out at the ocean, I wasn't prepared for the arms wrapping around my waist, tugging me around to face the last man I expected to see. His soft gaze cut through me in a way the sharpest of knives only wished it could.
         Emotion overwhelmed me, a mix of heady relief and giddy excitement that drove me forward, shoving my common sense out the window to play in the breeze. Our lips met in a desperate, salty kiss, heartbeats thumping a rhythm. It was a short kiss, a greeting and goodbye all at once. "I love you."          The words stunned me into blurting, "You barely even know me!" Even as I said it, I knew my heart was repeating the same words back to him.
         "No, I barely spoke to you. I only had to watch and listen to know you for the woman you are."
         Torn between laughing and crying, I responded, "That's the cheesiest thing I've ever heard." Despite that, I believed him enough to let him lead me off to my room to show me in the still darkness the intimacies of love I'd never experienced before.
         Out in the brightness of the beach days later, the world had become an entirely different place. Dingbatters were leaving to go back to their lives. And Serkan was leaving to go back to his ocean. I stood shrouded in the shadows of the pier, watching as he dug his pelt out from under a thick layer of sand. "You need a better hiding place for it," I teased as he straightened to his full height, towering over me. "Unless you want another human stealing your skin."
         An impish gleam filled his eyes, but he didn't respond. Silent as he almost always was. Rarely did he ever say anything that wasn't worth the breath it took to push the words past his lips, though I was unsure if it was because he was a man of few words or because human speech was difficult for him. I had my suspicions it was a bit of both.
         Swooping in low, his slanted his mouth over mine in a mind numbing kiss, one hand cupping my face while he did something I didn't care enough about to try and see. When he moved away from me it was only because his lower body was replaced by that of a seal and he was sitting, staring up at me with a torn expression. "Will you come back?" I asked, dreading his answer and the resumed desolation of my childhood home.
         "Always," he assured me, smiling tenderly, the expression so much different from the early days when he would glower at me in contempt for keeping him away from the temptation of the sea. "The ocean is my mistress, but you are my love. To you I will always return." A beautiful sentiment I desperately hoped proved true.
         Crouching in the rippling water, knees sinking into sand, I pressed, "When?"
         Thumb stroking along my jaw, he promised, "You'll know." I didn't understand, and he didn't give me much time to try. His mouth found mine again, firm and demanding.
         There was a time when I thought having a song with someone was silly. That was before I realized the smashing of waves against rocks and the timbre of our hearts beating, together but separately, was ours.
[Insert Image #standinginwater.gif]

         As the man I knew disappeared inside the skin he was so desperate to claim, I realized that, regardless of the underhanded means I used to get it, he'd given me everything I didn't realize I was missing in a handful of weeks. Company, love, but most of all the compassion to understand that I wasn't the only one longing for something. As much as it would pain me, even if he did move on I would always cherish the piece of him that filled a shattered part of my soul. And I truly believed he gained something as well. Why else, after all his brooding, would he have stayed when given the means to follow the part of his heart dedicated to the temptress that was the ocean?
         Smiling, I waved at him as he looked back one last time before disappearing under the water. Whether we liked it or not, we'd caught each other in our riptides.
         
***

"Mommy," Sanka says softly, drawing me away from my musings of the past. "Is Daddy coming home?"
         With a bittersweet smile, I lift her up onto my hip, pressing a gentle kiss to her forehead. It takes me a moment to form a reply, but when the words come to me I know they are the right ones. "The ocean is his mistress and right now he's with her, but we're his family. No matter what, he'll always come back to us."
         On the stiff wind kicking up from the ocean, I think I hear a voice echo, "Always."
[Insert Image #littlegirl.jpg]




ConstantSound (Rosetta M. Overman) is the author of the Game of Gods Series (previously known as the World of Magic series) as well as the Ensemble Trilogy, available through Amazon. She writes a bit of everything, always with a side of Romance as she's a hopeless romantic. An avid lover of the feline species, she serves a furry overlord and two furry queens. Born and raised in North Carolina, she is a believer in all things superstitious and paranormal (except for the nonsense about black cats and the number thirteen). She loves Horror movies and any genre combined with Romance. To learn more about her, her books and characters visit:
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