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Joel stood on the sandy beach watching as the waves came toward him, as if they were pulling up the sun which began to peak over the water. This was the first time his parents had brought him on a vacation with them. They were still in bed and he was not going to let a beautiful day like this start without him.

Last night he had met a cute girl named Rosa who was also on vacation with her parents and he hoped to spend the day with her. It was hard being fourteen, almost fifteen, without ever having gone out with a girl. Most girls made him feel uncomfortable, but not Rosa. She was different, she was …

Joel looked over and saw something surface on the water and go under again. No that was not it. It was not a something, it was a someone. Joel looked intensely at the same place where whoever it was had appeared the first time. There it was again, a hand. That had to be a child. Surely the child was close enough to grab onto the dock, it was only a foot away from where the hand came up.

Joel ran as fast as he could in that direction. The hand surfaced again, but this time it grabbed the dock and pulled a head from bellow the water. The child, Joel could not tell whether it was a boy or a girl, only had enough time to take a grasp of air before the hand slipped and the child went under again.

As Joel ran down the dock, he took a split second to scream, “Please God!” A moment later his head hit the water as he dove toward the child.

The cold water surrounded him and he wanted to jump back onto the dock, but as he opened his eyes he could see the child flailing his or her arms about. He had to try.

He swam closer and saw why the child could not get onto the dock. The child’s shoelace was caught in the chain of a bicycle. The child must have been riding down the dock, when the shoelace became tangled. While trying to kick the lace out of the chain, the child had somehow wound up in the water.

Joel swam up to the bike and tried to remove the child’s shoe but the child was thrashing about and the shoe was tightly fastened. He then attempted to turn the peddle but it was tightly jammed. He reached under to the other peddle with his left hand and pulled the shoelace with his right. With his last effort, the peddle turned slightly and the shoelace came free. Joel felt a moment of excitement at his success before the other peddle came down and hit him in the head. Crueller yet was the fact that the bike fell on top of his unconscious body.

Joel opened his eyes to see his teeth lying on a flat rock just under the front tire of the bike. He reached down to pick them up, but the sight of his hand made him stop. It had no skin, no muscles, no meat, he was looking at the hand of a dead person.

He yelled as loud as he could, but that only filled his lungs with the cold water. He tried to yell again and this time found himself laying in his bed on the Cap’n’s boat.

He walked over to the handbowl and splashed the cold water onto his face. Looking out the porthole, Joel could see that it was still early in the morning yet. He put on his robe, straightened his feathers and went topside. There was no one on deck although the navigator could not be far off. He walked over to the side rail and looked in the direction he figured the sun would come up.

Unbeknownst to Joel, someone had followed him up to the deck and was watching him. The figure hid behind some crates, and sat facing his direction.

Joel tilted his head back and laughed. This was a bad habit he had picked up, he was not exactly sure when. Whenever he thought back to times in his life, or lives, that were embarrassing to him he would laugh at himself. He was not sure whether this helped him to cope with his mistakes or just make it worse.

With sudden resolve, he jumped almost gracefully over the railing. The hidden figure drew a fast breath, but before it could let it out again, Joel reappeared flying away from the ship and towards the sun. After the sun had completely risen Joel flew back to the boat, and stood once more looking in the same direction.

After a while Joel, slammed his open hands on the railing. As he pulled his hands away from the railing, the wings on his back began to shrink. They did not stop shrinking until they were totally gone. The only evidence that they had ever been were the two holes in his robe that his wings once filled.

The shadowed figure came from behind the crates and walked towards Joel. “I hate bad dreams,” said the voice. Joel turned around and found himself staring at Meribah.

Meribah wore brown slacks that fit like blue jeans and a white wool sweater. Brown hair cut short, brown eyes darker than her hair, and full lips combined to make Joel’s heart speed up.

Joel realized that he must have made enough noise to wake her. He turned his attention back toward the sea. “I’m sorry if I woke you. It’s the sea, it reminds me of a bad day I almost had.”

Meribah took her hand and poked it through one wing hole of Joel’s robe and out the other. “You know, someday you might want those back. They were kind of cute.”

Joel turned toward her, pulling her hand out of his robe. He was going to tell her that it was not her business. That they made sleeping awkward. But all he could do was stare into those eyes. They were so haunting, knowing, lost, trusting, testing, and honest. These were the eyes of a lady who could hurt a soul mortally or bring that soul to the purest of heavens.

She brought her hand up behind his head. “Oh earth-angel, you really are lost aren’t you? What are you looking for, is it a mate? A friend? Or is it a home?” Meribah brought the corner of her lip up into a half smile.

Joel brought his lips down so that they touched hers. “All three,” he said, his lips touching hers as he talked, taking in her warm breath in the cold morning as he held her close. “But I’ll settle for two right now.” He placed his hand behind her head and pulled her slightly forward so that they kissed.

Joel could hear everyone at the table chewing their food; it was too quiet. He cleared his throat. Everyone glanced up at him only to return to their food. Everyone except Cap’n, who continued to stare at him while picking fish bones from his mouth. After a few moments, Joel uncomfortably looked away to his plate.

“Joel,” said Cap’n grimly, “if you would accompany me after dinner, I have some things I would like to talk to you about.”

Joel swallowed the bread he had in his mouth earlier than he should have. He waited as the bread made its slow and painful descent, then he managed a small smile and said, “Aye, Cap’n.”

This, beside the usual dinner etiquette, was the only talk that had crossed the table which seemed to be a battlefield. Perhaps it was Cap’n’s lack of talk, compared to the previous evening that quieted everyone. Or perhaps it was that everyone was still shocked that Joel no longer had wings.

Looks like stormy skies for Joel, sent Marc to Lily.

The sun may shine tomorrow, sent Lily, and Joel may learn to fly without wings.

“You know Joel, I’ve spent many a life on different planets. I’ve fought many a creature, many a man, and many a man who were no men at all. I’ve sailed on hundreds of oceans and thousands of seas, never staying still long enough to get stabbed in the back or become attached to anyone.” Cap’n stopped turned to face him, then he scratched his face beneath his beard in what could only be read as a mixture of thinking and frustration. He reached into his breast pocket and took out a corn cob pipe, filled and packed it with the smooth sureness of a much practised act. Lighting the pipe, he began to smoke, but he nervously stroked the cobbled sides of the bowl. He snorted, obviously remembering something in his past.

“You see this here pipe? Mark Twain gave it to me, now there’s a character. He had haunting eyes that let you know that he was always observing and criticizing. I haven’t seen him in a while, but wherever he is, he’s stirring some coals. When he gave me the pipe, he said something about innocence and ignorance. But I wasn’t really listening, I had my new pipe to keep most of my attention.”

Cap’n walked toward the rail at the stern of his ship and motioned for Joel to follow. When they got to the rail Cap’n said, “Joel, I’m not a deep or intelligent man. And even if I had been listening to him, I wouldn’t have fully understood. It seemed to me, that I was wasting Mr. Clemens’ time, but even so he liked my company. You see, in all my lives, I lived his stories. I never grew up, always looking for adventure. I never settled down. That was true until I met Meribah’s mother.”

“Cap’n, if you want me to stop seeing your daughter, then I will.”

“I want nothing. And you would be so lucky if only you had that choice. When I got caught up with Tyla, it seemed harmless enough, but she, like her daughter, has spirit. And she could break and tame the strongest of men, and any man is theirs for the choosing. We both can count ourselves lucky to have been chosen, but like her mother did to me she shall do to you. You, my friend, will be broken. Seldom do my voyages last longer than a week, and never do I want them to.” Cap’n knocked the bowl of his pipe against the rail, and thumbed it clean. “No. What is true for Nathanial is true for Meribah, she is no child. I could not stop her even had I the desire, she is strong. Bringing me finally to my point, like a Trelupe racing ship, she will punish you and knock you to the water at the slightest miscalculation. But when you learn how, the ship will do anything you like, and it is only then that you can truly appreciate it.” Cap’n turned toward Joel, and waited for Joel to look him in the eye. “Joel, you had better batten down the hatches.” With that said, Cap’n turned and slowly walked away from a very confused Joel.