The weeks that followed were among the happiest of Aveny’s life. Each moment was enhanced by the profound miracle of reliving what she never thought she’d experience again – something so fantastic she still wasn’t entirely certain she was actually experiencing it in the first place.
Every morning she dropped the kids off at school, then drove straight to the sound. It was a breath of fresh air after a long suffocation. Colors regained their hue. Sunlight danced just for her.
Beneath the water’s surface, she reveled in the cool rush of sparkling currents streaming along her skin. They wrapped themselves around her torso and wove beneath her flippers. The sea cooled her face and drained the heat from her ravaged body. It embraced her like a long-lost daughter.
She was careful to take breaks now, stay closer to the shore and move with caution. She diligently timed her visits, staying no more than an hour or two at each go. She was wary. She told herself that would be enough.
Aveny returned to the log float where she and Brand had kayaked together, what now seemed like eons ago. She stowed safely away between the logs, calmly watching the harbor seals sunning atop the floating timber island.
She studied the way they hauled themselves out of the sea and onto the floating logs. By mimicking their movements, she mastered the skill herself.
She returned often to lay there, the hot sun warming her body, luxuriating in its rays with no fear of sunburn. It was a sensuous experience.
She always gave the other seals their distance, in case they grew wary or territorial; though this seemed unlikely as they lolled about like inebriated beanbags.
Occasionally, a young pup would wiggle close and peer into her sleepy face curiously until its mother barked an order to return. She wondered what they saw when they looked at her. They knew she wasn’t one of them – she could see it reflected in those innocent black orbs. But what was she?
Sometimes seagulls would hop close on their popsicle-stick legs and peer at her, their heads cocked to one side in confusion. Occasionally, one would prod her enthusiastically with its orange beak. But she’d simply roll over and they’d skitter away, squawking for all the world as if she’d attempted to devour them.
Whenever kayakers approached, Aveny would slip gently back into the sea. Not really knowing what she looked like, she preferred to remain hidden from human eyes. Occasionally she would follow them though, their brightly hued boats cutting their way peacefully across the sound. She liked listening to their conversations and making up stories about who they were.
She’d trail them quietly, listening and disappearing with an almost inaudible pop if they turned in her direction. Or she’d cruise beneath them, watching their sun-framed forms cast long wavy shadows, surrounded by rhythmic explosions of magically glittering bubbles.
Aveny’s favorite place for eavesdropping was Tugboat Annie’s marina. She’d poke her head above water, hidden in the shadowy lines cast by the long wooden peer. Or she’d slide along the boats floating in their moorage.
She was intrigued by these massive, bobbing vessels. Some were sleek and new, smelling of privilege and affluence. They had fresh paint jobs and immaculate décor. Kayaks and bicycles hung easily from their rails, awaiting their next adventure. Others seemed bound together by nothing more than a few rapidly rusting hunks of metal, duct tape and a prayer. They couldn’t be more different, yet they all bobbed gently together side-by-side. It was a strange sort of egalitarian utopia.
Most vessels stood empty year-round, their owners engaged in other pursuits, but a few people lived on their boats full-time, Aveny soon gleaned. A home on the ocean intrigued her, although she’d always been much happier within the water than bobbing nauseatingly about on top. The thought of 24-hour motion made her ill but the idea of a life at sea felt exotic and invigorating.
She loved reading the boats’ names – poetic ones like “Ethereal” or witty ones like “The Toy-tanic” and “Ship Happens.” Others bore the names of real people, or so she assumed, and she wondered about the stories behind them.
There was something mesmerizing about the ships’ colors reflecting in the dancing sea. Shades of navy, aquamarine and cerulean – the occasional bold dash of red – all undulating like paint on water.
But the best part was listening to the sailors swap stories. Their conversations were filled with anecdotes from the open sea, of the exotic places they’d gone and the otherworldly sights they’d encountered. They traded tales like goods in a verbal market and Aveny loved every minute.
And when all was quiet, she explored below – studying the strange collection of marine life that conglomerated along the dock’s heavy wooden beams. Entire worlds unfolded down there.
She gazed intently into open-mouthed oysters and watched, enraptured at the graceful movements of starfish. She chased crabs – careful not to get too close to the trash-littered ocean floor – but delighted at their jaunty sideways movements.
When she was ready, Aveny revisited Hope Island. She watched the raccoons and gazed up at the soaring eagles – but she came for the tree.
Up close, its trunk was shockingly white. It reached across the sand and dipped itself into the sea like a fisherman’s pole. Its branches extended out beneath the surf like it might swim away at any moment, each limb encased in barnacles and gently waving scarves of seaweed.
And there was something else, something Aveny hadn’t seen the first time.
The tree wasn’t fallen. The trunk looked like it had been cast, broken, across the shore, but actually it arced from the water, over the sand, and down into the earth where its roots still sank deep into the soil. From this point, a second trunk erupted skyward, exploding into a firework of brilliant green leaves. It was both – two trunks; one tree, thriving on both land and sea.
Aveny’s heart swelled at the sight. She was like this tree, but not how she’d first envisioned. She could have both. She could be both.
She wasn’t sorry.