Stars in the skies with the ocean below it

The Stars Between Us

Has Alma’s best friend forgotten her?

By Kristin Lewis

A dynamic character changes over the course of the story.

When the tide is out, this whole dumb town smells like dead fish. When I say that to my mom, she agrees. Well, not about the dumb town part—about the dead fish. She inhales deeply and says, “Don’t you just love it, Alma?

No, I don’t love it.

I don’t love it at all.

We moved here to have more space. Back home, we lived in a one-bedroom apartment. When the pandemic started, my mom’s friend offered us her seaside cottage. It’s one of those houses that sits up on 10-foot stilts so ocean water can flow underneath. The original plan was to stay for a few months, maybe through the summer. But school is still online and Mom’s still working remotely, so now—almost winter—we’re still here. 

Meanwhile, I’ve been off Instagram since Daniel’s birthday. My friends back home put signs on their cars and had their parents drive them by his house in a caravan, honking and cheering. I mailed him chocolate chip cookies, his favorite; he didn’t even post a photo of them. After that, when I looked at everyone’s feeds, I felt as though I’d drifted out to sea and no one noticed. 

I’m sitting on the porch watching the feeble sun disappear and the tide come in. It’s cold and dark nearly all the time now. The ocean has turned gray, like overcooked steak. 

“I hate it here,” I text Daniel. 

He texts me back a sad Baby Yoda.

I don’t respond. 

A few minutes later, my phone lights up. Daniel is FaceTiming me.

“Alma, you didn’t say anything at school.”

I shrug. For days, I’ve been getting by on shrugs and nods and the occasional thumbs-up. 

“Let me see it,” he says.

Daniel loves it when I turn the camera and let him look at the waves. 

“It’s like you live in a painting,” he says. 

Daniel sees the world like that. To me, though, the ocean is a monster and the waves are its giant claws, raking the sand, dragging itself up the rocky beach.

“Did you finish your project?” Daniel asks.

“Not yet.” 

Our assignment is to create a work of art that expresses gratitude for something or someone.

“Do you mind if I send you what I did?” Daniel asks. “I think you might like it.”

That night, Daniel sends me his gratitude project, and when I open it, I lose my breath. 

He’s made a collage. A night sky splashes across the top. Beneath it, on one side of the page is Daniel in his room, positioned as though he’s about to fly out his window. He’s made himself a centaur, with electric blue wings and the body of a horse. When I look more closely, I see that his wings are made up of tiny photos of us—at a football game, making pizza, dressed as Minions for Halloween way back in kindergarten. On the other side of the page is me, floating on the surface of the sea. He’s made me a mermaid with fiery orange eyes and a mop of tangled seaweed for hair. The fish body he’s given me is made of photos too. There’s a picture of Daniel gleefully eating his birthday cookies and one of us playing Mario Kart the summer his parents got divorced. 

And between us? 

A spatter of stars, connecting us like a rainbow.

Something gurgles up inside me, spills out of my eyes, and plops down on the screen. I flick away the teardrops and look up. 

The tide is in now, and the house rocks gently from side to side. The stars are coming out too, like tiny houses in the sky flicking on their lights. I sit there for a long time, watching the glittering waves.

And smiling.

This article was originally published in the December 2020 / January 2021 issue.

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