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The Deepest Blue, Page 2

Sarah Beth Durst

  Wait . . .

  “Next time”?

  Reaching the top of the skull, she flopped over the edge and rolled onto her back. She then started laughing. She wasn’t even sure why she was laughing. Just that the sky looked so beautiful and blue. And she had seaweed stuck in her hair. And it was her and Kelo’s wedding day, and she was alive. Alive!

  Kelo hoisted himself up on top of the skull beside her. He lay down next to her and waited for her to calm down. “Any interest in telling me what happened during your near-death experience?” he asked blandly.

  “You want so badly to yell at me, don’t you?” She knew he wouldn’t, though.

  “You are who you are,” Kelo said. “I’m not marrying you in hopes of changing you. I’m marrying you because I love you, all of you, even the parts of you that make bad decisions.”

  Mayara sobered, suddenly not feeling like laughing at all anymore. “I used my power,” she said softly, though there was no one nearby to hear. Even the gulls were too far above them. She knew he’d guessed already from her hint, but she didn’t want any secrets between them.

  “That wasn’t the bad decision.” Always calm, Kelo seemed unruffled by her confession. She loved that about him. “That kept you alive. No, the bad decision was your equipment. Next time, you should bring your spear.”

  She sat up. “Exactly what I was thinking!”

  He sat up too and grinned at her. Leaning over, he cupped her face in his hands and kissed her. She kissed him back with every bit of breath she had.

  When they came up for air, Mayara rested her forehead against his.

  “Do you think you can avoid any death-defying activities for the rest of the day?” Kelo asked, a plaintive note in his voice. “It is kind of a special day.”

  “You know I’d do anything for you,” Mayara said, then kissed him again before grinning and adding, “But no promises.”

  Chapter Two

  Mayara let Kelo blindfold her. She felt him knot the cloth, pressing her wet hair closer to her scalp, and then she felt a feather-light kiss on her neck.

  “All dark?” he asked, his breath warm on her ear.

  She grinned. “All dark.”

  He kissed her—and the surprise of it thrilled Mayara—then led her by the hand, and she followed, shuffling her feet forward to feel the rocks. She knew the path to his studio by heart—up along a rib bone of an ancient leviathan, high above their village, across and up from the ceremonial plaza and the storm-shelter caves. She felt through her sandals when the rocks shifted to broken shells. “Stop here,” he said.

  She waited, listening while he opened the door; then he guided her over the threshold. She breathed in the familiar smell: the salty tang of seaweed, the sweet scent of hibiscus, and the mellowness of a whale-fat candle. Chimes tinkled as a breeze blew in through the open doorway behind her. She felt herself smiling, even though she hadn’t seen anything yet.

  “Ready?” he asked.

  He sounded adorably anxious, as if he was unsure whether she’d love it or not. She already knew she’d love it, whatever it looked like. She always did, with everything he made.

  She felt his fingers in her wet hair again, and the knot loosened.

  He removed the blindfold. “Look.”

  Kelo’s studio was her favorite place on the island. All the tables and shelves were stuffed with piles of driftwood, baskets of abalone and conch shells, and jars of pebbles that gleamed like tiny moons—nearly all of it collected by Mayara. Kelo’s finished art hung on the walls and from the ceiling rafters. Her favorites were the wind chimes and the pendants that dangled in the windows, catching the twinkling sunlight.

  As wonderful as it looked, his art was also designed to repel spirits—his work was a mix of beauty and necessity. Rather like Kelo himself, she thought, and smiled. Because of the nature of his art, his work fetched a pretty price at markets in the nearby villages—he was one of the best charmworkers around. No spirit would enter a house that was decorated with Kelo’s charms.

  His life’s work, he often said, was to make people feel both protected and loved.

  Mayara knew that from experience.

  She saw he had a pile of new charms on a nearby worktable: driftwood carved into the shape of tiny animals and then inlaid with mother-of-pearl. He made those to dangle over cribs, to ward spirits away from newborns. “Is that for my cousin?” she asked. Her cousin Helia was expecting her third child, and she’d been pestering Kelo for a new mobile. She claimed she shouldn’t have to pay, since they were “all nearly family”—conveniently forgetting that if Kelo didn’t charge any of Mayara’s very large, very extended family, he’d be working for free for half the village. I’ll talk to her again, Mayara thought. She didn’t want anyone taking advantage of her almost-husband.

  With a fond sigh at her lack of focus, Kelo cupped Mayara’s cheeks and turned her head toward the eastern window. Glowing in the morning sun was her surprise.

  Her wedding dress.

  It was ready.

  And it was perfect.

  He’d taken her grandmother’s simple wrap dress and, without destroying its simplicity, sewn a mosaic of mother-of-pearl into the fabric so that the entire garment shimmered as if it had been dipped in the light of a moon rainbow. Mayara felt tears prick her eyes.

  She’d never cried over a dress before. Or even cared about what she wore, so long as she could swim and climb in it. But this . . . He must have spent hours and hours on it, sewing on each tiny shard.

  “Do you like it?” he asked.

  She gave him a look.

  He laughed. “You love it.”

  “And you.” Throwing her arms around his neck, she kissed him. He kissed her back, and she began to slide out of her diving gear. As she loosened the straps of her top, she heard a whistle then a shout from the path.

  “Mayara! Kelo!” It was her aunt Beila, her mother’s sister. Mayara’s mother had four sisters and two brothers, and Beila was both the eldest and the loudest. She wouldn’t object to Mayara and Kelo “playing” while they were supposed to be preparing for the wedding, but she would make plenty of embarrassing recommendations. Really rather avoid that, Mayara thought.

  Quickly, Mayara retied her straps. “Later,” she promised Kelo.

  He hurried to the door. “It’s your aunts.”

  “I know. I heard . . . Wait, did you say ‘aunts,’ as in . . . ?”

  He nodded soberly. “All of them.”

  “Can I hide?” She eyed the worktables. If she tucked herself into a far corner . . .

  Kelo’s lips twitched. He was laughing at her. “You wouldn’t leave me alone with them, would you? That would be cruel.”

  “Maybe I’m a cruel and terrible person, and you just never noticed.” She backed up to one of the tables, then had a better idea. I could leap out a window. Back into the sea. Take my chances with the spirits. . . .

  Unfortunately, Kelo had the idea first. He catapulted himself out the window, calling, “You’re a beautiful and brave person!” over his shoulder. And then she heard: “Freedom!”


  Cutting herself off, she plastered a smile on her face as her four aunts barreled through the door into Kelo’s studio. Shrieking like gulls, they swarmed her, wishing her a happy wedding day, fussing over her bruises and injuries, gushing over all the preparations for the celebration, chiding her for not being dressed yet, exclaiming over the beauty of said dress . . . until Mayara’s head began to ache.

  “Don’t look so pained, my dear,” Eyara, one of her aunts, said, patting her shoulder. She was Mother’s youngest sister, and she was clearly enjoying Mayara’s discomfort. Last year she’d had to suffer through the village’s excitement over her own much-anticipated wedding. “You know you love us.”

  “Of course I do,” Mayara said. Just maybe not all at once.

  But Mayara didn’t have much choice. Before she could object, her aunts stripped off her swim clothes, bathed her with the
traditional perfumed sponge, and dressed her in the mother-of-pearl dress. Two of them were brushing her hair at once, often bumping into each other and accidentally—or not—yanking her hair, while the others cleared space on one of Kelo’s worktables and laid out a tea set.

  The traditional wedding-day tea was supposed to be between mother and child, but Mother hadn’t come with her sisters. Mayara felt her heart lurch. Mother had barely left their house since Elorna’s death, only coming out when Papa coaxed her with the promise of a perfect sunset. Mother can’t resist a perfect sunset.

  But she could resist her own daughter.

  For the second time that day, tears almost came as Mayara realized she’d be sharing the tea with her aunts instead of with her mother. She’d hoped that today would be different. . . .

  It is different. It’s special. And Mother will join me . . . when she can.

  Until then, Mayara wasn’t going to let anything mar the new, wonderful memories she was making today. She was going to treasure every second of specialness.

  She walked across the studio in the mother-of-pearl dress. It clinked as she moved so that she sounded as if she herself were one of Kelo’s wind chimes. Sitting, she poured the tea for herself and her aunts and then sweetened it with spoonfuls of rare sugar.

  Aunt Beila said kindly, “You know your mother wanted . . .”

  “It’s all right,” Mayara said, willing herself to believe it. “As Aunt Eyara said, I love you all, and I am honored to share this moment with you.”

  Her aunts all sighed happily at that.

  Each of them raised a teacup. Aunt Beila began: “May the warmth of this tea keep you safe from the bitter wind.”

  Aunt Leera: “May the sweetness of this tea keep you full of joy.”

  Aunt Gelna: “May the bitterness comfort you in times of pain and sorrow.”

  Aunt Eyara: “May the . . . Oh drat, I’ve forgotten.” She improvised. “May your tea taste good, your life be long, and your marriage even longer.” She then chugged a great gulp of the sugared tea.

  Laughing, Mayara drank too, as did the rest of her aunts.

  And then they all bustled her out the door to her wedding.

  ONE SIDE EFFECT OF HAVING A LOT OF AUNTS AND UNCLES: MAYARA also had a lot of cousins. Eighteen of them, and that wasn’t counting her cousins’ children. And absolutely all of them seemed to be determined to make Mayara and Kelo’s wedding into the most celebrated event on the island, or even all of Belene.

  Maybe all of Renthia.

  It’s just one day, she thought as she watched everyone scurry around the wedding site. They looked like hermit crabs on a beach, scuttling back and forth across the sand. Three cousins were wrestling a table piled high with cooked shrimp and clams. Another cousin was plucking petals from a barrel of flowers so that guests could toss them into the wind—a good-luck tradition. Yet more cousins were tying firemoss lanterns to posts so that dancing could continue long after the sun went down. Everyone seemed obsessed with making sure every detail was perfect. Which made her stare at them in wonder.

  Because I don’t care whether today is perfect. I care about all the days that come after.

  And I care about getting some of those shrimp. . . .

  She caught one of her cousins by the arm. “Ilia—”

  “Oh, you look gorgeous!” Ilia squealed. “Kelo is brilliant!”

  “Yes, I know—can you snag me some of those shrimp before Uncle Imer spots them?” Mayara nodded at the shrimp table. Uncle Imer was well known for his ability to consume shellfish at an impressive rate.

  “Can’t, Mayara, sorry! Grandmama told me to wake the drummers. She wants them to start early so we can dance before the ceremony begins.”

  “But they’re supposed to play all night. If you wake them now—”

  “Do you want to argue with her?”

  Mayara winced. She would cheerfully dive into the narrow crevice from that morning all day, but even she knew better than to argue with Grandmama. Standing on tiptoes, she spotted the formidable matriarch, the self-appointed leader of the village grandmothers, in the center of the ceremony site. She was seated so regally on a kelp-green chair that she may as well have been sitting on a throne. Though too far away to hear, Mayara could still tell her grandmother was barking out orders to all her progeny—and anyone else who accidentally wandered within range.

  “Is it too late to go back to Kelo’s studio?” Mayara asked Aunt Eyara, who was still beside her. The other aunts had fanned out, immersing themselves in the fray, when all Mayara wanted to do was turn tail and flee. And Kelo thinks I’m brave. Clearly I’m not. Being the center of so much attention was more unnerving than facing down a spirit underwater. She didn’t think of herself as superstitious, but she felt like she was tempting luck. “Or I could just take a nice nap in one of the storm-shelter caves. . . .”

  Aunt Eyara chuckled. “You know what they say: Marriage is for the bride and groom; weddings are for the family. All the family, even those of us you don’t like. Come on, Mayara, you know you’d do anything to be with Kelo—I’ve seen the way you are with him. Being the star of the best party ever thrown is not such a terrible price to pay for a lifetime of joy and happiness.” She laughed even louder at that, then firmly ushered Mayara forward into the chaos.

  Mayara spotted Kelo through the crowd. Ha! He hadn’t escaped after all—he was with his parents and had been roped into stringing charms along the cliff wall. Their wedding site was a stone plaza built on a cliff that had once been part of a leviathan’s sternum, not far from Kelo’s studio. Over the centuries, the ancient rib cage had filled in with dirt and rock. On top of it, the islanders had built the plaza as a place to hold celebrations and ceremonies, and they’d surrounded it with a hip-high stone wall to keep anyone from falling off the edge. It jutted out above the village and boasted views to the south and the west.

  The plaza had always been a part of life. She had played here. Had seen other family married here. Had snuck out at night to meet Kelo here for a different kind of play. As much as she wanted to run away, she knew she was exactly where she wanted to be too.

  Mayara weaved her way through friends, neighbors, and cousins until she reached Kelo and his parents. Kelo was the only child of two only children, so he wasn’t related to nearly as many of the guests as she was. Lucky, she thought. But even in her thoughts, she didn’t mean it. She loved her huge, crazy family.

  Kelo’s mother embraced her, while his father nodded approval at her dress.

  “Kelo, it’s a masterpiece,” his father proclaimed.

  “She’s a masterpiece,” Kelo replied.

  Mayara rolled her eyes. “You two rehearsed that, didn’t you?”

  “Only once or twice,” Kelo admitted. “Did you like it?”

  She was about to answer when an odd jerking movement in the clouds on the horizon caught her eye. Stepping up to the wall, she stared out across the ocean toward a cluster of gray and blue clouds. Making a comforting sound, Kelo’s mother said, “Not to worry. The storm is a long way out. You’ll be good and married before it reaches the islands.”

  But Mayara continued to stare at the distant clouds. She thought she’d seen . . . But the clouds were behaving normally now, with no twitches or sudden un-cloud-like movements. I must have imagined it.

  She forced herself to turn back to Kelo and the preparations. Across the plaza, the drummers began to play, and a few of her younger cousins and neighbors started to dance, romping in a circle. She smiled at them, and they waved at her.

  Don’t worry about the storm, she told herself. You aren’t sugar in tea. You won’t melt in a little rain. She just hoped rain was all it was.


  All the clouds on the horizon had shifted, as if Mayara’s relatives had bargained with the storm to dissipate so that Mayara’s mother would come see her daughter’s wedding.

  Mayara, in her nacre dress, stood with Kelo on a raised platform by the s
tone wall. His parents were behind him, on the ground, each holding symbols of health and happiness: a knot of seaweed for health and a ripe coconut for happiness. Her parents, with Mother leaning heavily on Papa’s arm, were behind Mayara, with symbols of long life and protection from pain and sorrow: a piece of driftwood and a sliver of fossilized bone from an ancient water spirit.

  Rose and orange from the setting sun soaked into the stones of the plaza and were reflected in the water in the sea beyond. Mayara gazed into Kelo’s eyes and wished she could preserve this moment forever.

  “You live in my heart,” Kelo said.

  “You live in mine,” Mayara replied.

  “Our souls are one.”

  “Our souls are two, made one.” She’d heard these words at every village wedding, and she’d known that someday she and Kelo would be standing here, on the cliff above the village, with the sea and the sunset and everyone they loved as their witnesses. In fact, she’d known since she was six years old. Kelo claimed he’d known since he was three. Everyone always oohed and aahed when he said that, until she pointed out that at three, he’d also thought he was going to marry his father’s boat, his favorite chicken, and a bowl of clam soup. “Always, I will—”

  She saw it again, out of the corner of her eye, a twitch in the clouds on the horizon. She turned her head to see that the ocean looked darker. Clouds had blown in front of the setting sun, blocking some of its light. That was quick.

  Unsettled, Mayara continued. “Always, I will share my days and my nights, my hopes and my dreams . . .” Her attention drifted again as she felt whispers inside her head. Wordless, the whispers scratched at her. She strained to hear them.

  A worried frown crossing his face—he’d clearly noticed her distraction—Kelo picked up the traditional words. “Always, I will share my fears and my sorrows, never to walk alone.”

  The words passed through her mind, but something else dominated her thoughts now.