The sun began to sink under the waves of the ocean, sending out an array of colors across the sky. Paul tucked his dark curls behind his ear as he admired the ambient sound of white noise the waves around him created. The wood of the balcony creaked as he stood up and walked back into the rustic beach house, the aroma of the salty breeze following him into his home. Canvases layered in paint were hung above a wooden desk, depicting softly glowing jellyfish, periwinkle fish, and the rolling tides of the ocean. In the corner, an empty easel and blank canvases awaited his return. Paul however, was awaiting the return of his love, Alana.
Paul’s eyes gleamed at the naked canvas as he placed it onto the easel. He picked up a paintbrush, dipped it in paint, and listened to the gentle sound of the brush strokes on the canvas as he watched the lines and colors slowly begin to take shape. When he thought he was close to being finished, he stood back to marvel at the beauty of the woman on the canvas. The waves of her hair were reminiscent of the waves of the ocean, and her eyes were the same shade as the Caribbean sea. A necklace with sapphire gemstones rested on her neck, and a silver ring similar to the two rings on Paul’s desk wrapped around her finger. Paul’s eyes remained glued to the painting, filling in any details he could add.
After countless hours of tweaking the painting, Paul started to add the last finishing touches. Number forty-seven, he inscribed at the bottom of the canvas. He carefully lifted the canvas and carried it into a murky room. The room had a silence thick enough to be spread across the entire ocean. Paul took a lighter resting on a table and began lighting candles that were placed in the center of the room. As the candles began to glow, they slowly illuminated forty-six paintings of a sea nymph-esque woman hanging on the walls.
“I’ll see you soon,” Paul whispered to the painting as he hung it on an empty place on the wall. He left the room to look out the window, and his lips curved into a smile when he saw the moon was in the sky. Swiftly, he walked to the back door and pulled it open, the sandy dunes awaited him.
Paul kicked the sand as he ran to the familiar pier. The moon’s gleam reflected into the water, causing the ocean to appear as if it was sparkling. When he arrived at the pier, he sat down at the edge and waited patiently. He listened as the waves collided against the wooden post of the pier. Soon, the ocean began to shift and caused the sand to swirl around the water. Golden hair and a face glimmered in drops of water emerged from the sea; a lustrous aquamarine tail formed beneath her torso and highlighted the water around her. The woman glanced at Paul with her crystal blue eyes and smiled.
“Have you decided, Paul?” asked the woman.
“Alana, it’s not as easy as-”
“It’s a yes or no question,” she stated firmly.
“Well,” Paul began as he clumsily searched his pockets. “I have these two rings, and I was just thinking we could wear them first. It’s like a tradition here.”
Alana stared at the two shining rings before beginning her sentence, “Paul, I only want you to swim in the water with me for a while. I’m not asking you to stay here forever.”
“But I do want to stay with you forever, it’s just such a big commitment. I’ll never be able to swim as well as you, I don’t have a tail. And you know I love you, but I love painting too, and I can’t paint underwater. So, I thought we could make a smaller commitment such as wearing a pair of rings together first,” said Paul, stumbling on every other word.
“I’ll be here tomorrow. If you love me, you’ll have decided by then,” said Alana before fading back into the ocean and leaving Paul unaccompanied on the pier. He had nothing left to do but trudge back to his home and struggle to sleep comfortably.
The pale colors of the morning were plastered onto the sky like one of Paul’s paintings. Gloomy clouds hung themselves above the sun, masking the colors behind them. Paul looked fixedly at the sky before taking his paintbrush and attempting to create the same clouds. Before long, he became distracted by his thoughts and sat in the wooden chair on the balcony holding the two sterling rings in his hand. As the sun dropped lower, the worry in his eyes grew. His fist had remained tightly gripped onto the rings until he settled back inside his home and set them back on his desk. He decided to spend time dusting the frames of paintings to clear his mind.
Paul released a heavy sigh as the smoke from his cigarette danced in the wind. He put the cigarette out and flicked it over his balcony, watching it fall into the oblivion of the dark night. When he saw that the moon was in the center of the sky, he headed for the door. The cold sand and sea breeze was refreshing yet sent chills down his spine. The pier creaked and swayed as he walked across the splintery wood. Paul sat anxiously at the edge of the pier, fixing his hair and trying to sit with good posture. His heart jumped every time the water crashed into the pier. Finally, Alana’s cerulean eyes appeared out of the midnight blue sea.
“I’m glad you’re here. Have you decided?” she asked, looking at his hands to see if he was holding the two pearly rings.
“Maybe the rings aren’t as important as I thought. I want to try to swim with you,” he said as he forced a smile on his face.
“I’m glad you didn’t overthink this. After all, it’s supposed to be fun.”
Alana held her hand out and watched the expression on Paul’s face. He slipped his shirt off, smiled, and gently held onto her hand as he tried to jump into the ocean with finesse. Instead, he helplessly plummeted into the frigid water and felt like he’d sunk all the way to the bottom. Panicked, he began to flail his arms around in an attempt to swim. When he felt Alana’s hand reach for his hand, he realized he wasn’t buried in the ocean like he had assumed. He quickly grabbed onto her hand and used it to pull himself to the top of the water. The feeling of breathlessly gasping for fresh air was a more beautiful picture than Paul could ever paint. When Alana looked at him with concern in her eyes, he realized none of his forty-seven paintings captured the true color of her eyes.
“If you aren’t scared, we should swim out further,” suggested Alana.
“I’m not scared, let’s go,” said Paul with wide eyes and a stark white face, still trying to catch his breath.
As the two continued to swim, the waves became even more overwhelming to Paul. The crashing of each wave felt like the ocean was rising higher as he sank lower. He couldn’t tell if the tides were shifting him or if he was shivering from the icy waves. He turned around to see the view of him home, but the shore was completely out of sight, and he could only see the foggy outline of the pier. As he was about to ask Alana if they could swim back, a wave with the force of a tsunami crashed into the back of his head and immediately threw him under the water. He tried not to panic for a second time and searched for Alana, but her scales and eyes blended into the deep blue abyss of the sea. The undertow of the boundless sea had separated him from anything but the sapphire waters.
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