by Karen Buchanan
2011-12 NEBADOR Writing Contest, first place
This story takes place the morning after the group is trapped by high tide on the rocky coast in Book Two: Journey.
Neti couldn't sleep. She didn't toss and turn because she didn't want to wake Miko, so she just looked up at the sky and counted stars. It was kind of fun because she had just learned to count not long before.
But soon she got bored with it. Something that happened the day before really bothered her. For the first time in months, maybe years, she wasn't sure if Miko was the right boy for her.
After lying there for a long time, sometimes counting stars and sometimes just fuming, she saw a little morning light creep into the sky. She carefully slipped out from under her blankets.
"Neti?" Miko called in a groggy voice.
"Have to pee," she whispered.
"Ok, good ni ..."
Neti tiptoed through the camp, being careful not to wake anyone. Ilika and Kibi were snuggled close, and Buna and Toli were near each other but not touching. Boro and Sata weren't sleeping close together yet, but Neti knew they would be someday. When she got near the beach, she climbed a small sand dune partly covered with wiry grass. She sat down on top and looked out over the wide beach and the calm water of the bay.
With her chin in her hands, she sat with her feelings, but no clear thoughts about anything came to her. Suddenly a sea gull landed on a nearby driftwood log and looked up at her.
"What is it about boys?" she asked the sea gull.
The sea gull cocked it head but didn't say anything.
"I suppose you might be a boy. If you are, maybe you know the answer. Why do we love boys, but they're never as good as we think they should be?"
The sea gull squawked at Neti.
She felt in her cloak pocket and found a little piece of stale bread. "You're lucky. There was a time this would have been my breakfast, and I wouldn't have shared it with you! Here you go!" She tossed the bread toward the driftwood log.
The sea gull kept an eye on Neti as it hopped off the log and grabbed the bread. Before it got back to its log, a man came walking along the beach, so the bird spread its wing and took off.
"Hey! You didn't answer my question!"
But the sea gull didn't come back, so Neti gave up and looked at the man. She knew she should go back to the camp and wake someone, just in case the man gave her any trouble, but she was still in a bad mood because of Miko, so she stayed on top of the dune.
The man wasn't very old, maybe about Ilika's age, and was dressed like any fisherman. He carried a bucket brimming with clams. When he got close, he stopped and looked up at Neti.
"Hello, fair maiden."
Neti could feel her heart pounding. "Hello."
"Are you all alone?"
He came closer, and Neti could see that he was handsome. Her heart pounded louder.
"Would you like to help me clean these clams, then make a stew? My house is not far."
Neti couldn't speak for a minute, so she coughed and tried to breathe. The young man noticed her confusion and smiled.
"Um ... maybe ... if you'll answer a question for me first."
"If it will help me win your heart, I'll tell you anything!"
That's what Neti was afraid of. Maybe the sea gull hadn't been so bad. But she took a breath and decided to give it a try. "Why do girls always think boys are so wonderful and perfect, but they never are?"
The young fisherman squirmed and shrugged. "Um ... because ... no ... maybe because ... I don't know ..."
Now Neti was sure the sea gull had been more honest.
Suddenly the young man found his thoughts and said, "I guess girls are just made that way, and boys ... are made like they are!"
Neti thought about his answer, then asked, "So what would you do if you were in a waterfall bowl and the tide was rising?"
"Easy. Sing fishing songs until the tide went out, or carve a piece of driftwood if I had my knife."
"And if you came to a place where there's hot steam hissing out of the ground?"
He backed up, frowned, and made signs to protect himself from evil. "That's from the Underworld, and I wouldn't go near the place without a priest at my side!"
Neti smiled. She had just learned something, but knew she couldn't tell the young, handsome fisherman. She almost wished the sea gull would come back.
The fisherman, with his bucket of clams, was still frowning. "Did you go near such a place? Places like that can put curses on people, you know."
Neti laughed out loud.
"Mocking spirits and demons is dangerous!" He looked around with fear in his eyes. "Are you going to clean these clams with me, or not? If you won't, there's a girl up the beach about a mile who will."
Neti was torn, just for a moment. Then she smiled and said, "I'm glad you have someone to share your clams with. I think ... I'll stay here."
"Good day to you," he said with a slight bow and headed along the beach, swinging his bucket of clams and whistling.
Neti stayed on the sand dune for another half hour, thinking about what she had learned. The sea gull came back, and another, and they walked back and forth on the driftwood log, sometimes looking at each other, sometimes clicking their beaks together. Neti somehow knew that one of them was a boy, the other a girl, but she couldn't tell which was which. She decided not to interrupt them with her thoughts, so she just watched.
After a few minutes, both sea gulls looked at Neti and squawked, but she didn't have any more bread, so they flew away together.
When she finally tiptoed back to camp, Miko was still dead asleep, but Ilika was just coming out of the trees, so she went up to him, smiling.
"Guess what I just learned!" she said.