2. ISLA

I’m fucking cold.

My brother Murray used to say that when we’d come on land to visit our mum. We’d shake our pelts off our shoulders like we were stretching in the sun, and Mum would be waiting with blankets and a hug. Murray would wrap the blanket around his shoulders like a cape, jump up and down, and throw his head back to the sky.

I’m fucking cold!” he’d shout. 

I always thought he was being dramatic or just doing it to get a laugh out of Mum. Sure, land feels differently than the water — the wind bites differently, the temperature sinks deeper — but I’d never felt the need to shout about it.

I’m real close to shouting now.

Land is fucking cold. My fingers are stiff and achy when I move them, and my nose is raw. I keep sniffling, and the scratchy wool of the jumper I nicked from Kit feels like it’s tearing apart my face every time I try to blot at my nose. 

I’ve never loved land, but I’ve never hated it like I hate it now. It’s loud and cold and smells of rubbish and petrol, and every moment between coming up on the rocks to see Kit and standing at the ferry harbour watching Thomas Madigan have a meltdown has been frustrating and uncomfortable and generally the worst experience of my life.

Maybe it would be fine if Thomas weren’t such a twat, but he is. He’s a twat.

He actually yelled at me when I tried to steal a bag of crisps earlier, even though he refused to buy us lunch. And then he ignored me the entire time we were on the bus from Glasgow to the ferry harbour in Aberdeen, so I had nothing to do but sit there and think about how hungry I am and how loud human children are.

And how extremely disappointing Thomas is. Kit made me think he’d be… more.

Even now he’s teetering on the edge of either a quiet homicidal rage or a nervous breakdown, his bushy eyebrows raised and his jaw clenched as he stares down the man behind the ticket desk at the ferry station. His brown hair is whipping in the wind, and when he closes his eyes, he looks like he’s counting to ten. I can see his fingers tapping out the beat against his leg and everything.

Humans are so weird.

“What do you mean it’s seventy pounds to the island?” he asks when he opens his eyes. 

His voice is hoarse, and his weird accent is stronger than it was last night. I keep thinking of asking him where it’s from — it’s Scottish, but not. It’s loads lighter than Kit and I sound, anyway, with punches on odd words. I’ve never heard it before.

I also don’t know if that’s a rude question. Humans get offended about odd things, and I’m shite at figuring out what those are. Mum used to just tell me to lead with kindness, like that was going to be the solve-all for interacting with humans. But humans aren’t that nice. Why should I be nice back?

And anyway, even if it’s not offensive, I’m pretty sure that if I asked, he wouldn’t tell me. We’re not talking. 

That’s fine by me though; I haven’t wanted to talk to him. I’ve got nothing to say. We don’t exactly have anything in common.

“It’s seventy pounds, mate,” the ferry worker says, nonplussed. He scratches idly at the collar of his orange hi-vis ferry vest. “No sure how much more clear I can be.”

Thomas throws me an exasperated expression and I hold back a shrug. I told him I’d deal with it, but he insisted on taking charge.

“Isn’t there some kind of local discount? I’m — we’re from Mab.”

“You’re from Mab but ye dinnae ken the price of the ferry?” The ferry worker pops the tab on a can of Irn Bru and takes a long sip. I’m thirsty as hell. Is it weird to ask if he has an extra? Is that a normal human thing, asking strangers for juice? I don’t think so. I wish Murray were here. He’s so good at reading human cues.

“Well it’s been a few years,” Thomas snaps, looking like he’s close to reaching across the window divider and slamming the ferry worker’s head into the desk. It would probably spill the Irn Bru. Maybe I could grab it before he dies. I bet he’s got some snacks in there as well. Maybe a bagged lunch.

“Just pay the man, yeah? The boat is leaving,” I urge. I’m starving and restless and we’ve a seven hour crossing ahead of us. I’m already shaking slightly, all the wee bumps on my arms raised up, and the cold jitters are just making my anger flare even faster. 

“If you’ve a hundred and forty quid, by all means, chip in,” Thomas says to me, reaching for his wallet. “How did you get here anyway? Stow away?”

“No, I used this,” I say, slinging my rucksack to the ground and bending over to dig inside it. Most of the space is taken up by my seal pelt, but tucked into the side pocket is the card I took from Kit’s table when I left. 

“Will this get us across?” I ask, sliding the blue plastic card over to the ferry worker. 

NORTH SEA CROSSINGS, LTD.

Employee Fare Card

Macrae, Kit. Freight Assistant.

No one blinked when I flashed it on my trip over — just let me on with no questions asked. All the workers on that side knew I’m not Kit, but they didn’t care, so I’d planned to do the same thing this time. But Thomas had to be a gobshite about it.

The ferry worker picks it up and inspects it, then lets out a surprised grunt.

“Macrae gave you this?”

I look at Thomas, and he nods, not showing any trace of surprise. At least he’s capable of lying. I don’t think I’m very good at it. Mum said it wasn’t a good skill to learn.

“Yes, he did.”

“Alright, alright, fine,” the other man says. “I’ll give you folk the workers’ discount, forty pounds total. Tell Macrae we’re even now for him taking that last shift of mine, alright? And tell him to show up to work, everyone’s going spare without him. We’re expecting another of those cakes his bird makes.”

Thomas slides two notes across the barrier and takes our bright yellow tickets with a look of intense confusion.

“What bird? Since when? Who?”

“I dunno about the bird. I don’t think he has bird that bakes,” I admit. “I didn’t know they do that.”

“No, not a literal bird,” Thomas says, frowning, “it means — nevermind. What was that card you gave them?”

 “Kit works on the ferries,” I whisper, grabbing his arm and propelling him toward the walkway that’s set up to let us on the ferry. It rattles unsteadily under our feet. “He splits his time between these and the Mab tour boats. Didn’t you know?”

Thomas shakes his head, looking twitchy. 

I shouldn’t have asked. He clearly doesn’t know anything.

Thomas goes to find a seat inside the ferry cabin, but I stay out on the deck. I’m still getting used to the sensation of being inside, of fitting myself into enclosed spaces. Being shoved onto the bus felt like being slowly compressed into a steel box full of too many smells and other people’s breath.

Right now, I’d rather the cold than screaming children. I saw two of them board after us. My ears don’t need that. Why would you bring children out in public if they’re just going to be that loud?

I’ve been coming on land for years, so I thought I understood humans well enough. I observed my mum and her human husband and his human children for years. I mostly know the human customs and their oddities and the way that they live, but I guess that didn’t exactly prepare me. At the end of the day I always put my warm pelt back on and slipped into the water and went home, where everything is quiet and heavy and vast. 

Adjusting to staying on land is harder than I thought it would be.

It’s off dusk and getting cold, so not many people stay on deck with me, and by the time the heavy engine roars even louder and we set off from the harbour, I’m alone. That’s another thing that’s odd about being human. They don’t live in herds. They’re so often alone.

The wind whips at my curls and I close my eyes against its biting touch and breathe deep, taking in the taste of salt coming off the ocean below me and the smell of seaweed rotting on the rocks nearby. It’s better, being close to the water. One day in Glasgow made me feel like I was going to itch out of my skin.

Kit always talks about Glasgow like it was some kind of mecca, like it’s the most exciting place that he dreams of visiting some day, but I just found it… disappointing. I don’t think I’m made for cities. My mum and her land family lived on the coast in a quiet village, and so does Kit. If I have to be on land, I think that’s where I’d rather be. Not dodging buses and stepping in puddles of other people’s piss.

Rolling my shoulders, I readjust my pack and feel for the familiar, reassuring weight of my pelt, and then I sigh and turn my face fully to the cold air. We’re still hours out from the island, but I can already hear the singing: the soft, echoing cries of my herd calling out through the night. I can’t see anything; it’s too dark for that. But I can hear them.

I think about singing back to them, but I don’t think this human voice could carry the tune.

Kit’s can, a bit. He sounds stupid, but he still tries. I like to sing to him sometimes, when I’m around the coast near his house. I’ll send out a hello when he’s on a boat or walking down the coast, and he’ll stop and mimic it back to me. The words are garbled, but the message is clear enough:

Hello, friend. I miss you.

It helps the time between land days go by; helps me know he’s safe. I don’t know if he knows what he’s saying; I know he can hear the songs, but I don’t know if he can understand them. I’ve never asked.

There are a lot of things I wish I’d asked him. But the best thing about land days — Kit days — is the way they bring a smile to his face. Over the years I’ve learnt the things that erase that smile. Thomas. Selkies. The future.

I try to avoid those things on Kit days.

There’s a tradition to my visits, one we developed quickly and that I stick to rigidly. He’s always waiting for me on the rocks with clothes and a hug. He brings the blue wool jumper — the one that he took from Cormac, the one that smells like cigar smoke and brine and the sweet woody smell of his house. He makes me something rich and dark to drink that isn’t tea but tastes like smoke and sugar, and then we sit.

We sit on the rocks or on the sea wall or on the stoop of his house and we tell each other about our years. I make him laugh while I try to memorise the sounds of his words, and we stay outside, side by side, until the sun gets high and he goes in and makes me food.

Sometimes we talk more. Sometimes he puts on scratchy music and tries to show me how to dance, tripping over his uneven feet. Sometimes he’s quiet, and I just sit next to him, knowing it’s enough.

It’s one day a year, but it’s enough.

And then at dusk I hand him back his jumper and trousers and socks and I walk back down the beach and I disappear under the water and just hope he’ll be there next year, waiting for me on the rocks, his hands in his pockets, his sad eyes brightening when he sees my face.

One of my big fears has always been the tradition of Kit day getting fucked up.

As the minutes tick by and the engine roars into the night, the cold settles deeper into my bones until I don’t feel much of anything. This is definitely preferable; this is more like being in the water, where cold is a refreshing comfort and I have my pelt for insulation. 

But then I move, and my body feels like it’s being stabbed with a thousand tiny knives.

Nothing like the water, then.

There’s a cough from behind me, and I turn to see Thomas wandering out from inside the deck. In the washed out ferry lights, the bags under his eyes look like bruises. There’s a large bundle of cloth thrown over his shoulder, and the shadows from it throw freaky angles on his pointy face.

He’s a bit scary, at the right angles. Tall, lean. A bit unpredictable. Kit once said Thomas could be dangerous when he wanted to be, and for the first time since meeting him, I think I might believe it.

“You’re not even remotely dressed appropriately for this weather,” he says, coming to a stop next to me and pulling a pack of cigarettes from his pocket. “Actually, not dressed appropriately doesn’t even begin to cover it. You’re wildly underprepared,” he adds, eying my oversized jeans and jumper with distaste. 

Despite his messy hair and the purple bags under his eyes, he is dressed neatly; his brown canvas jacket looks vaguely trendy, his crewneck sweatshirt fits him well, and his jeans are snug. (I know I’m new to human fashions, but I don’t really understand the point of tight fitting clothes. Can he even bend down?)

“Well, I missed my land-staying ceremony,” I say, turning away from him. “When you stay on land, you’re supposed to tell your herd, and they present you with what you’ll need for life as a human. Coat. Boots. Pelt coat. Flowing ball gown made of kelp. The usual.”

“Really?” Thomas asks, surprised. He cocks his head to the side in a movement reminiscent of my mum’s old Cocker Spaniel. “I didn’t know that.”

“Aye,” I nod, biting my lip to keep from breaking my blank expression. “It’s a whole thing. You get a tiara. A seagull chorus sings you goodbye and a tidal wave carries you to land.” I mimic a wave with my hand. “All the seals on the rocks slap their flippers in congratulations.”

Thomas furrows his brow.

“You’re fucking with me.”

I grin at him.

“Maybe.”

Thomas huffs and shakes his head, then grabs the lump that he’s had thrown over his shoulder and hands it to me. It’s a large green parka. 

“Here, put this on so you don’t freeze. Nighttime on Mab is frigid, and Cormac’s old jumper isn’t going to keep you warm.”

“Where did that come from?” I ask, eyeing the coat.

“I stole it from the lost and found. Just put it on,” he says, thrusting the jacket at me again.

“Why?”

Thomas closes his eyes and sighs.

“Because it bothers me when people dress like idiots. Just put it on and be warm.”

I accept it and pull it on over my shoulders eagerly, thankful for the extra layer. The soft, downy parka settles around my body and it’s almost like having my pelt back. Like a layer between me and the human world. When I shove my hands into the pockets, I could cry from the warmth. I’m never taking it off.

“Thanks. I’m still figuring this human stuff out.”

“Mhm,” Thomas says, looking out over the water. “I wouldn’t bother, if I were you. Not really worth it.”

I don’t really know how to answer him, so I don’t. I just huddle down further in my new jacket. It’s a bit long in the sleeves and smells vaguely of cigar smoke, but I like it.

I think it’s the first thing that’s ever been mine.

We stay silent for a time, watching the waves and listening to the nighttime water. My herd’s song is getting clearer and easier to hear, even over the constant mechanical roar of the ferry engine. It’s not a sound you have to be in range to hear; it’s a song you have to feel.

“The singing is beautiful,” Thomas says, tapping the box of cigarettes against his palm before pulling one out. “I always miss it when I’m not on the coast.”

“You can hear it?” I didn’t think magicians could hear selkie songs. I didn’t think anyone could hear selkie songs except for people born with selkie blood, like Kit. And me.

Thomas nods, sticks a cigarette in his mouth, and then scratches at his neck.

The cigarette flares to life.

“I have since I was a kid, actually. Kit used to…” he trails off and his expression hardens. It’s one I’ve been seeing a lot — every time Kit gets mentioned, Thomas’s face gets all pinched and nervous. He looks like he’s about to be sick. The long drag he takes from the cigarette probably isn’t helping.

“I think it’s because of this blood brothers pact Kit and I used to do with one of our friends,” Thomas says, blowing out smoke into the wind and away from us. His voice is low, and he scoffs then shakes his head. “We were idiots, we didn’t piece it together for ages. But he had always talked about the songs and how beautiful they were, and then one day after we first did the pact, I could hear it too. Have ever since.”

“I can’t believe that worked.” 

“Blood oaths are weird, old things,” he says, dragging on the cigarette again. His voice sounds distant, detached. I wonder if he’s doing it on purpose. I wonder if he knows it makes him sound like a twat. “You never really know what you’re getting into with them.” 

He turns and faces away from the ocean and leans back against the railing. The wind picks at his hair and the sliver of the moon reflects in his glasses. The washed out colours of the night make him look deathly pale. Like the colour of seagull shit.

His face distorts into a grim expression and he lets out a dark laugh that billows with smoke. “I don’t fuck with those things now.”

I don’t know if he expects me to respond. I knew they’d done some kind of a blood oath — Kit had told me — but I only knew about the one they did when they were eighteen, the one that makes Kit quiet and sad when he thinks about it. The one that I would never, ever feel comfortable taking with another person. 

I didn’t know they had a history of it. I don’t know why I keep being surprised; there are a lot of things I don’t know about Thomas and Kit and their life together before Thomas left. But somehow over the past few years, as Kit has become my best friend, he’s started to feel like mine. Finding someone who knows a different Kit — a pre-me Kit — feels odd.

“It’s my herd that’s singing,” I say, pushing past Thomas’s bad mood and shaking off the tiny curls of jealousy. Who cares if Thomas knew Kit first? Kit likes me more now. “They’re asking if I’m coming back.”

“So you’re from Kit’s… er… herd? Or rather, the same herd his mum was from?”

I stare at him.

“Do we look like we’re related?”

I kind of thought Kit would have gone for someone smarter than this. Kit and I look nothing alike — our human appearances are completely different races, for starters. His dad met his mum while travelling in the Philippines, so we figure his mum had to be from Pacific waters.

“Oh. No, I suppose not. He’s more — well.” Thomas pauses and clears his throat. “I don’t know how the selkie to human thing works, sorry.”

That seems like an understatement.

Kit never really talks about his parents, since he didn’t know either of them. His grandpa Cormac raised him and never told him much; just that his mum had been a selkie and had returned to the ocean after having him, and that his father left shortly after. His dad was a magician, but Kit doesn’t have a drop of the magic in him. Selkie blood and magic don’t always mix well.

It’s still weird that Thomas is this clueless about selkies and selkie magic, though. Maybe Kit didn’t talk about it with him. Maybe Kit only talks about being a selkie with me.

“No,” I answer him, saving Thomas from his awkward fidgeting. “No, we’re not from the same herd.”

He makes a small noise of interest and looks sideways at me. Suddenly his eye twitches and he stares at something over my shoulder. His face twists into a quick mask of fear, and then just as quickly it settles firmly back to impassive. I turn to follow his gaze, but there’s nothing there. When I look back, he’s staring stonily out to sea. 

He crushes his cigarette against the railing of the deck and flicks the butt out into the water.

A grunt of surprise bursts out of me before I can stop it. What kind of person throws cigarettes in the ocean? Oh my God. What did Kit see in him?

“So tell me how you know him, then,” he commands, crossing his arms across his chest and ignoring the look of absolute horror that I know has to be on my face right now. “When did you meet and fall madly in love?”

“It’s not like that,” I say, shaking my head. “No, I don’t have a mate. Don’t plan to either.”

I don’t want him to think about us like that. Kit is like another brother to me; I’d do anything for him. Sometimes leaving him was painful, because I’d be so caught up with the desire to bundle him up in my pelt and smuggle him back to the ocean. Set him free in a world where he wouldn’t have to look so sad.

But it wouldn’t have worked. He’s only half selkie. He couldn’t wear my pelt, even if I would give it to him. Which I won’t. I’m never giving up my pelt, no matter what. I’m never sentencing myself to a permanent life on land. Not even for him.

I push away from the railing and wander to the other side of the deck. There’s a pile of luggage stacked up under a low overhanging, and one of the bookbags has a white plastic bag peeking out of the top that I’ve been eyeing.

Looking around, I bend down and pull the plastic bag out of the bookbag and open it up, praying for food. A packet of crisps. Something to drink. A bagged lunch.

It’s just socks. 

Thomas follows me and peers over my shoulder at the bag of socks, and lets out a dry snort. I throw the bag to the side and crouch down to look through the rest of the bookbag. I won’t take anything valuable. Just food, if I can find it.

Thomas watches me rummage, his head to the side again, his face scrunched up in an expression of absolute confusion.

“You shed your pelt for him,” he says, continuing the conversation I just tried to run away from. “I don’t know selkies that well, but I know that’s a big deal.”

“It’s just temporary. Until I find him,” I snap, pushing aside a few books and patting at the bottom of the bookbag. I’d even take a stray mint. Anything. I’m so bloody hungry. “And I owed him. You were there, you should remember.”

Thomas blinks. “What?”

I sigh and stand up, abandoning my hunt. Clearly no one on this ferry packed any food. Humans are the worst.

“Five years ago, I got caught in a net and was stuck on some rocks. Kit swam out to cut me loose and patched me up. He used your knife.” I’d been in seal form that day; wrapped up too tightly in ropes I had no business being near. I was bleeding because I’d scraped my skin raw against the rock I was stuck on, trying to get back in the water. 

Memories come differently when I’m in different forms, but it’s difficult to forget the blinding pain, the flashes of blood and fear, then the calming weight of a hand on my back; the hummed tune of a song I knew.

Thomas shakes his head.

“I don’t remember,” he whispers, then looks at me apologetically. “Sorry, it’s just… Kit did things like that all the time, and my memory from that time period is… spotty at best.”

“It’s fine,” I say. And it is. I’m not one to dwell. “After that, I’ve spent my one day a year on land visiting Kit. I come up at dawn and he has clothes and food ready and he takes the day off work and we just… talk, I suppose. I think he likes having a selkie friend. Someone who gets what it’s like.”

“He’s only half selkie,” Thomas interjects. “It’s not like he’s ever had a pelt. He’s human.”

“He’s selkie enough to hear our songs. And his blood is selkie enough to have shared them with you,” I bite back, and Thomas gives me a look of surrender. “Anyway, I went up this year for our visit, but he was gone. Clothes were there. Tea was made. But he was missing. I waited for him, but he never showed up.”

“Not to point out the obvious, but Kit has never been the most dependable person. He’s sort of notoriously flaky. Cormac always said if he wasn’t careful, one day he’d misplace himself,” Thomas says. “He’s been out of work for several days and his coworkers don’t even find it strange. Doesn’t that tell you something?”

I ignore him. I don’t have energy for his bitterness right now. Just because Kit sometimes loses his wallet doesn’t mean we can dismiss his whole disappearance.

“I looked around the house and there was no sign of him, but when I went in the bathroom I found blood. Tons of it.” I shut my eyes against the image; I know I’ll have to see it again soon enough. “That’s when I knew something was wrong. So I went out and looked, but it’s a big island, isn’t it? Couldn’t find anything.”

Thomas stays silent, staring off at the other side of the ferry, the wind lapping at his hair.

“At that point it was almost dusk, so I figured I might as well stay, use up my chance on land and keep on looking. I couldn’t handle the idea of having to wait an entire year.” I sigh. “So I put my pelt in a rucksack and hitchhiked to Glasgow.”

“Did you ask Owen if he’d seen him? He would probably be more useful than me,” Thomas asks. I search my memory for any mention of an Owen.

“I don’t know who he is,” I say with a shrug. “Kit never mentioned him.”

“That’s weird,” Thomas says slowly, frowning. “Owen still lives on Mab; he called me a few months ago. They’re friends. He grew up with us.”

I sigh and throw my hands up. 

“I don’t know! I only see him once a year, I don’t know everyone he knows!” 

Truth be told I don’t really know anyone he knows, which feels really weird if I focus on it too long. I don’t like not knowing things. Since coming on land, it’s clear how little I actually know, and Thomas is doing his best to make me feel like I don’t know anything.

“So why get me? Any magician would have worked,” Thomas asks. His tone is almost too casual.

I turn my back to Thomas and scoop up the plastic bag of socks, and then march across the deck to sit at one of the hard metal benches lined up next to the railings.

“Kit said you’re the most trustworthy person he knows,” I say, leaning down to unlace my boots.

“Kit is seriously deranged,” Thomas bites out, another bitter laugh escaping him.

“He seems fine to me,” I retort, pulling on the socks. God, they’re so warm. “He’s more pleasant than you are.”

“So how did you have my address, if Owen didn’t give it to you?”

I shrug and pull a bit too forcefully at the laces of the boot as I try to retie my shoes.

“Kit had it and your number on his fridge.”

Thomas lets out a high, hysterical-sounding laugh and his hands fly up to clench at his curls. His eyes are wide and manic. “Oh, Jesus fucking Christ,” he mutters. “I’m going to fucking slaughter Owen.”

I’m getting sick of Thomas’s angry bullshit. Honestly? I’m kind of getting sick of Thomas. I really don’t know what Kit saw in him. He’s not even good looking. He’s just knobbly. And with his big glasses, he looks like a stupid bug. One of those skinny, towering ones. A brown stick bug. Kit is way too good looking for someone like this.

I finish putting my boots on and look back out toward the water. If I close my eyes and listen to my herd’s song, I can pretend he isn’t here.

“What are you going to tell your herd?” he asks, bursting the illusion. “Do you plan to go back to them?”

“Yes,” I answer immediately. “I never planned to stay. I like having my one day on land a year, but I’ve never felt the need to stay past dusk. It’s not worth it, you know?”

Thomas raises a questioning eyebrow. He’s still standing in front of me, and from my seated position I have to look up to answer him, even more than I already do. I don’t like it.

“Once you stay past dusk, that’s it,” I explain. “You’re on land for as long as you decide to be, but if you put your pelt back on, you can’t come back. Your land days are forfeit. You’re in the ocean forever.”

“And you’d do that for Kit?”

“I already did, didn’t I?” I snap. “Anyway, I’m just here as long as it takes to find Kit and make sure he’s safe. Then it won’t matter if I can’t come back. I won’t need to, if he’s okay.”

“That’s incredibly selfless of you,” Thomas says quietly. But not unkindly. “If you go back to the ocean, you’ll never be able to come to land again to find a partner, will you? You’re giving up an entire future. The possibility of a future. Not many would make that kind of sacrifice.”

It’s not a sacrifice, though. Not really. Being on land means nothing to me. I’ve never really cared about whether I find a mate or not. I can’t lose something I never expected to have in the first place.

Most selkies come on land eventually. I watched my mum do it when I was young: find her person, go on land, give up her life in the ocean. I assume that’s what my brother Murray disappeared to do. It’s the basic nature of being a selkie still at sea: the ones you love will one day leave you.

You’re not supposed to get all sentimental about it. You’re not supposed to feel abandoned. When selkies leave, it’s because they met their person, and that’s just… how it goes. I guess.

I don’t really get it, to be honest.

Once, I did think Kit might be my person. I came to visit him on land that first year to thank him for saving me. I returned to the place where he’d helped me and when the sun came up I pushed myself on land and I let my pelt drop away. It was impulsive of me. But Mum wasn’t around to visit anymore and it seemed like a waste to let my land day come and go. 

In retrospect, I was lucky. I had no idea where he lived, and I could have ended up aimlessly wandering the shore naked all day, but he found me. Walking down the beach alone, his head down, his rubber boots sliding against the wet rocks. He found me.

It wasn’t until I visited him the following year that I realised I’d found him too. That I’d come at the right time, when he needed someone most. I thought about staying on land with him that year, of wrapping up my pelt and putting it in a trunk. But Kit isn’t my person. 

Then the next year, when he told me more about Thomas and the blood pact they’d done on that beach when they were eighteen, I realised Kit never could be my person, because he’d already given himself to someone else.

I was glad to realise it. I’d almost decided to stay. I wasn’t in love with Kit, but I loved him, and according to selkie norms I was supposed to find a human anyway, so why not just go with the best one I’d met? And Kit needed me. I made him happy, and he needed someone in his life to make him smile, more than just one day a year.

Murray says I’m afraid of commitment, but I don’t think that’s it. It’s just that I don’t like the idea of giving up my freedom. It terrified me when I realised I’d almost just resigned myself to it, even though I knew I didn’t want it. Handing over your life and crossing out all the infinite possibilities of your future for someone else is something huge. Something heavy. 

I watched Kit deal with Thomas leaving. I watched my mum give up after Conor died. Letting someone have all of you? It just gets you hurt in the end. And I’m not big on pain.

Part of me wonders if it’s too late. Kit may not be my human, but I’ve definitely claimed him. I’ve started to get consumed. Even if I’m not in love with him, I’m giving up everything for him. 

But at least, unlike Thomas, I never promised him I would stay. And he wouldn’t ask me to, either.

“Are you sure Kit is worth it?” Thomas asks me quietly. “Are you sure he’s worth your future?” His voice is the softest I’ve heard it yet.

I squint up at him through the dim moonlight and consider his words. He’s not what I thought he would be. After all these years of listening to Kit talk about him — telling me stories of a boy who would laugh and cause mayhem and burn down the world for the people he loved — nothing could have prepared me for the angry, bitter man in front of me.

“He’s my best friend,” I say, my voice pleading. I had hoped he would understand this. “I don’t abandon the people I love.”

Thomas reels back like I’ve slapped him, and I can see his temper rising. For a moment I think it’s going to come rocketing at me, but it doesn’t. He just nods, his jaw tight.

“Sometimes the people we love don’t deserve our dedication. Sometimes you have to pick yourself. Being selfless isn’t always a good thing, Isla.” He shoves his hands into his pockets, takes a step back, and clears his throat. “I’ll be inside. Find me when we dock.”

LISTEN TO ISLA’S PLAYLIST.

THOMAS >

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