skipping stones

 

Joan look at the water suspiciously. It seemed very...

"Wet," she said. "And cold."

Delphine looked up from unpacking her bag. "Pardon?"

"Nothing," Joan called out, over her shoulder. It wasn't that she didn't like the water. She just... well, she could think of things she ought to be doing, instead of being here. She should be at home, keeping the house in check while her dad was at work. And she had a Fairies United meeting, and she needed to get her banner finished, and –

Behind her, Delphine threw a blanket on the grass. "Here, we shall sit. And then we shall swim."

Joan nodded her head, but didn't move away from the shore of the lake. Behind her, she heard Delphine huff in that singular way she had. It wasn't annoyance, not exactly. But it wasn't far off it.

Perhaps this had been a mistake, Joan thought. When she and Delphine had broken up all those years ago, Joan had sworn to herself she wouldn't get entangled again. It wasn't that she didn't agree with love or happy ever afters, nothing like that. But the whole thing had just been so... tiring.

She knelt down by the water's edge, picked up a stone, and threw it as far as she could. It landed with a heavy 'plop' and seemed to sit on the water's surface for just a second, before sinking down, lost to the darkness.

A hand landed on her shoulder. She turned her face upwards.

"Joany, what is bothering you?"

Joan shrugged, smiled. "Nothing. I'm happy."

Delphine's normally wide eyes narrowed. Probably against the sun, Joan told herself.

"Ah so. Well then, if nothing's wrong, let us swim now," Delphine said, already pulling her dress over her shoulders.

The next few moments were a blur. Joan was certain she protested, but somehow she found herself naked and up to her chest in the water. It was, as she had suspected, cold.

Delphine bobbed in a circle around her, her thick brown hair softly feathering on the water. She smiled, her eyes alight.

"I know what is upsetting you, Joany."

"Nothing's wrong. I told you, I'm happy enough. I just... I can't stay long."

Delphine bobbed another circle around her. Joan turned, trying to keep up with her.

"You know, water is a great friend to the adhene, my tribe. Before we were all called back to Land, before the Teller and his rules, we used to live here, in Thaiana. We fished, when we were not having our fun with the characters. The water, it is a wonderful thing. In the water, you have no weight. You have no boundaries. No responsibilities."

"I don't feel like a story now, Delphine," Joan began, but Delphine cut her off.

"This is not a story, Joany. It is a lesson. Look at you, you are cold. You are shivering. Why is that, do you think?"

Joan rolled her eyes. "Because it's cold?"

"But it is only cold because you are not moving. And you are not moving because you are thinking too much about what might happen. You are worrying about everyone else. Everything else. You are being the good little sidekick, always thinking of the hero, never of yourself."

Joan pulled back. Or at least, as much as the water would allow. "Please don't. I thought we agreed not to –"

"You agreed. I did not."

"Delphine, I –"

Suddenly Delphine was gone, and a moment later Joan was underwater.

Panic gripped her. It was dark as pitch, the cold darkness pulling her down, like the stone. Joan kicked and tried to flail her arms, but the water was too heavy, and she was too small.

And then she felt Delphine's hands on her arms, and a second later the adhene's body pressed up against her. Warm. Soft. Light.

In the darkness, Delphine kissed her.

And then they were on the surface again, and Delphine was laughing. She splashed water in Joan's face, and then, quick as anything, swam away. Before Joan knew what she was doing, she was laughing and swimming after her. Delphine was a strong swimmer, but somehow Joan caught up with her, grabbed her, kissed her, splashed her, and then swam away.

She had no idea how long they played together, nor at what moment their kisses and splashes become something else, something deeper and more meaningful.

Eventually they left the lake, exhausted and happy. They stood on the edge of the water, both catching their breath. Delphine dropped to her knees, picked up a stone, and stood. She toyed with it for a moment and then, winking at Joan, said, "Watch this."

Delphine threw the stone at the lake, twisting her wrist at the final moment. The stone skipped across the water's surface, three, four times, before sinking.

"Is that the lesson?" Joan asked. "Things sink?"

"Non. The stone behaves how you instruct to. If you tell it to sink, it will. If you tell it to skip, the same. But it will always sink in the end, because what else can it do? It has no control."

"That's a..." she struggled for a moment, trying to find something nice to say. "...a good lesson. Very practical."

Delphine sighed and took Joan's hand. "You are not cold anymore, Joany?"

"No," Joan smiled. "I'm not cold anymore."

"That is the lesson. Move, Joany. Move yourself, do what you want to do, and you need not be cold. You need not fear sinking, like the stone."

Joan glanced at the lake. The sun sparkled across the water, little ribbons of light dancing to the rhythm of the ripples.

"I love you," she said, turning back to Delphine. "Thank you for making me come here today, and for making me..." She paused, and then grinned. "Making me get wet."

Delphine laughed. "It is my pleasure."

Joan was late for her Fairy's United meeting that evening, but nobody minded.