The Sea from the Other Side

By Amber Lane-Bortell

Edited by Misha Boone & Joyce Creed

The boy came from the sea.

 

It was one of those moonless nights when the island felt like it was holding its breath, and the only sound was the waves lapping against the shore. In the middle of summer, the waves didn’t pound at the beach like they did when winter turned them dangerous. They were gentle, calm, though never warm. Aidan was sitting with his feet burrowed in the sand. He was thinking about a lot of things, but mostly he was thinking about how he would have to start school on the mainland when the summer was over.

 

His thoughts were interrupted by a shape bobbing in the waves just off the shore. It was almost too dark to see. Aidan thought it was a seal at first. You could often spot them in the water just beyond the beach. But as the shape got closer, it grew bigger-- its limbs elongating, its snout receding-- until it resolved into a boy walking calmly out of the waves, a dark object, like a blanket, draped over his arm. 

 

The old farmers on the island often gathered in the pub until late into the night, telling stories of kelpies and faeries, of blue-skinned men who lurked off the coast and sank passing ships, of beautiful women who lured sailors to their watery deaths. Aidan had never given much thought to the stories. They were the kind of tales best told in the firelight, with rain pattering on the roof and distant thunder making you jump every now and then. The stories were a laugh at times, at other times a slight chill down your spine as you walked home at night. But they weren’t real, of course. Even now, Aidan couldn’t quite reconcile those stories with the boy in front of him, sea water cascading down his pale skin as he walked up the beach toward Aidan.

 

The boy wore nothing besides the blanket over his arm. Aidan knew he should avert his eyes; but curiosity burned in his chest and he found that he could not look away. He could only imagine what his parents would say if they could see him then, their worst fears about him proven true. The boy sat beside Aidan, gently laying the blanket between them. Tiny droplets of water glistened against the material, reflecting the starlight Aidan wanted to touch it, to see if it was as soft as it looked. But instead he stared at the strange boy who had emerged from the sea. Aidan thought that maybe he should have been afraid, but the boy just calmly stared out at the water, and he didn’t look dangerous at all. If Aidan had to guess, he would have said the boy was about his age—not young enough to be a child, but not old enough to be a man. 

 

Aidan wondered if they would sit there in silence for the rest of the night as the boy looked at the sea and Aidan looked at the boy. And then maybe he would wake up the next morning to find that he had spent the night in his bed, that he would not be in trouble for sneaking out, that the ache in his chest was just the lingering remnant of a strange and fantastical dream.

 

“Usually the beach is empty when I come.” 

 

The boy’s words pulled Aidan from his reverie. All at once, the bite of the sea air, the texture of the sand, and the stillness of the night felt far too real for this to be a dream.

 

“Do you come here often?” Aidan asked, half surprised to hear his own voice. 

 

“Once in a while I like to look at the sea from the other side.” The boy shrugged.

 

“I’ve only seen the sea from this side.” It seemed like quite the wrong thing to say, as were most of the things that came from Aidan’s mouth, but the boy smiled.

 

“That’s a shame.”

 

They didn’t talk much, that first night. They mostly just sat. It wasn’t until dawn began to creep its way over the horizon that Aidan knew he had to get home before someone realized he wasn’t there. As he turned to leave, the boy put a hand on his shoulder. His touch was so light, it might not have been there at all, but it froze Aidan in place, a jolt passing through his body.

 

“Maybe I will see you again.”

 

Aidan nodded. The boy walked back to the waves. When the water reached his calves, he wrapped the blanket around himself, and it was only then that Aidan realized it was not a blanket, but a skin. The boy slipped into it and then slipped into the waves, his body now sleek and round, there for a moment, and then gone,vanished beneath the water. 

 

Almost as if he had never been there at all. 

 

Aidan tried to convince himself of just that—the boy was a figment of his imagination, the fantasy of a lonely teenager tired of trying to be normal. He put the boy from his mind as he stumbled home, snuck through the back door of his family’s farmhouse, and collapsed into bed. 

 

What little sleep he did get was broken abruptly by his mum a couple hours later, chastising him that he would be late to work. Aidan almost forgot about the boy as he dressed hurriedly and dashed out the door with a piece of toast in his hand, trudging down the road to the village. As he came around a bend in the road, the sight of the sea brought him up short for a moment, the memory of the previous night reasserting itself all at once. He half-expected to see a dark head bobbing out there, beckoning him to follow, but the coast was clear. He felt an odd mixture of relief and disappointment. 

 

He was only five minutes late to the hotel, but the manager gave him a familiar look of frustration as Aidan dashed inside to punch his timecard. His parents had gotten him the job because they thought it would be good for him to get away from the farm and interact with people in the village. 

 

“He’s such a quiet boy,” he overheard mum telling his dad one time. “I worry about him sometimes.” 

 

His dad’s only response was  “He’ll man up eventually.” 

 

The manager had stuck him at the desk of the hotel at first, answering phone calls and greeting visitors, but had quickly decided a less public job suited Aidan better. Now, he dealt with luggage and not people, and he didn’t mind the job, though sometimes he missed spending the day out in the hills with the sheep and coming home covered in mud. 

 

Today, Aidan constantly checked the water just beyond the jetty as he piled suitcases into the van. Every few hours, a ferry would arrive, and a boatload of tourists would stumble onto the dock laden with backpacks and camera cases, dragging along suitcases and small children. The allure of the island was not hard to understand; it was full of rolling, rising green hills, dotted with herds of sheep and shaggy highland cows. Craggy rock outcroppings jutted out in odd places, and the wizened old farmers looked like they’d been carved from the rocks themselves. The tourists came mostly to see the old abbey ruins, to hear the history of priests and Vikings, to collect rocks on the beaches, or to climb the hills and take pictures of their windswept hair at the top. 

 

Sometimes, Aidan tried to see his home with their eyes, but the island was too familiar to him to hold that kind of mystery. He knew every path, every pasture, every rocky beach, every cliff rising from the shoreline. He knew the island better than he knew himself, and it called to him in a way that was difficult to express. It wasn’t the village or the tourists; it was the crisp sea breeze in the fall, the rocks jutting from the earth, rough sand under his bare feet, faint whispers on the wind that nothing was as it seemed, a boy who appeared out of the water. It was all the parts of the island that belonged to him and no one else. 

 

He couldn’t imagine leaving it behind five days of the week to take the ferry to the mainland, loaded down with books and papers. In the little schoolhouse on the island there had been five other kids his age, and Aidan had gotten along with them well enough. They’d grown up together and Aidan felt comfortable around them. Most of the island kids switched to a school on the mainland when they started secondary school, but Aidan had begged his parents to let him be homeschooled on the island for just a little longer. The thought of all those new students terrified him. All he could picture were scenes from movies where kids got thrown against lockers, called names and humiliated for being different. He didn’t know what that meant for him, and he wanted to stay on the island as long as he could. But now he was nearing his third year and he had run out of excuses to stay behind. His parents expected the best from him, and to do that he needed the teachers and programs and resources on the mainland.

 

Aidan pushed the thoughts from his mind as his heart began to race with anxiety. He turned to resume his work, but he was distracted by a group of teenage girls who had just arrived off the ferry eyeing him as he worked, whispering with their hands over their mouths as they glanced at him. He was unused to this kind of attention. For most of his life, girls had paid him no notice, except maybe to laugh at his awkward, gangly limbs that he didn’t know what to do with. But now he had grown into his body. It had a newness about it that he wasn’t quite comfortable with yet, and something about him had become alluring to these girls. He was a mystery to them, the silent boy who looked as much a part of the island as the rocks and the sand on the beach. Aidan avoided their eyes, wishing he could tell them that he could not give them what they wanted. After he was done loading the van, he spared another glance out at the coast, which was as clear as it had been all day. 

 

“All loaded up?” asked Owen, the driver. He was another island kid, though a few years older. Aidan nodded and climbed into the passenger seat, sighing quietly as Owen started up the engine. 

 

“So, you ready to start school on the mainland?” Owen asked as they drove down the narrow cobblestone road back to the hotel.  

 

“I guess so,”  Aidan mumbled. 

 

Silence stretched between them. Aidan lacked the talent of carrying on a conversation, of finding the words that would make someone respond easily. He knew Owen was just trying to connect with him, but already Aidan was drawing inward on himself. All he wanted to do was go back to the beach and see if the boy was there again.

 

“Well, I know it might seem a bit scary at first,” Owen said. “But you get used to it. There’s a lot more to the world out there than just this island.” 

 

Aidan nodded, eager to move on to a different subject, silence filling the van again. He stared out the window as they passed the church, a knot of tension forming in the pit of his stomach at the sight of it. His parents were close with the priest and dragged Aidan along to church every Sunday. He thought about what would happen if he told them he had spent the night with a naked boy on the beach. It might have been laughable if he couldn’t imagine how they would frown and shake their heads, their disappointment palpable, how they might send him away from the island forever.

 

Aidan whiled away the rest of the hours at work, lost in his own thoughts and avoiding conversation with Owen, until finally his shift was over. He ate a hurried dinner at home, retreated to his room, then carefully and quietly slipped out the window and crept back over the darkening island to the beach.

 

This time, the boy was waiting for him.

 

He was dressed in simple trousers and a shirt, slightly too large for him. It looked like something any of the farmers would wear, and Aidan wondered if the boy had taken it off a clothesline somewhere. Wearing the clothes, he almost looked normal, except the skin was draped over his shoulders like a cape. He was staring at the sea, but when Aidan trudged down the path to the sand, he looked up and smiled.

 

“I was hoping you would come back.”

 

Aidan had secretly been hoping the same thing, but he didn’t say it. He glanced around the beach to check for other people, but they were alone. This beach was far enough away from the village and the ferry dock that not many tourists ventured that way. The boy stood. 

 

“Fancy a walk?” he asked. “My legs could use a good stretch.”

 

So they walked down the beach and Aidan told him about life on the island: about the tourists, about the birds that nested in the cliffs, about the winter storms, about the grass that turned bright green in the spring. He carefully avoided mention of his parents, or the church in the village, or school on the mainland. He didn’t want to feel the familiar tension in his shoulders, or the knot wringing itself in his stomach, or the weight on his chest. He wanted to enjoy walking along the beach at sunset with a boy who listened like he cared what Aidan had to say, who laughed and brushed Aidan’s hair back when the wind blew it into his eyes, who didn’t know that boys weren’t supposed to hold hands with other boys. He didn’t say anything about where he went when he disappeared under the waves, and Aidan didn’t ask. He had a feeling that if he did it might ruin things, that it might make the boy realize he had to go back, and Aidan wasn’t ready for him to leave yet.

 

Every so often, the boy’s head would turn toward the sea, as if he had heard it call his name. The look of longing on the boy’s face was so strong that Aidan was sure in those moments that he would dive back into the sea forever. But then he would turn back to Aidan and smile, take his hand, and pull him farther down the beach.

 

When Aidan got home late that night, he collapsed into bed, and instead of tossing and turning as usual, he was asleep instantly and soundly. The next day his parents did not notice the extra spring in his step, the way his normally guarded expression turned into a smile.

 

That night, Aidan went back, but the beach was empty when he got there. He looked around, wandering back and forth. The boy was nowhere to be seen. Aidan had never expected it to last, but he wasn’t ready for it to be over so soon. His eyes stung as the loneliness rushed in all at once, the crushing weight back on his chest. 

 

“Hey.” 

 

The boy spoke from directly behind Aidan. He had snuck up so quietly that Aidan’s heart had leapt into his throat and he jumped a few feet into the air at the boy’s greeting, He turned around to find the boy doubled over in laughter.

 

“How dare you?” protested Aidan, but he was laughing too, laughing harder than he had laughed in a long time. Warmth spread through his chest. He lightly slapped the boy’s arm, and the boy slapped him back, but then quickly grabbed Aidan’s hand and held onto it.

 

“Come on,” said the boy, still laughing. 

 

He pulled Aidan toward the trail that led away from the beach to the rest of the island, but the thought of leaving the beach with the boy made Aidan pause for a moment. He didn’t want to think about what would happen if someone saw them. Someone who might report back to his parents. He could sense that they were already close to suspecting. They kept inviting the priest over for dinner and making pointed comments about how different from the other boys he was. He didn’t need to give them a concrete reason to realize their worst fears were true. But the boy just looked at him questioningly, his smile playful and beckoning. There was something in that smile that made Aidan want to tempt fate, that made him want to stop hiding. So he pushed his fear aside and followed the boy up the trail. They followed the path up the highest hill on the island, panting in the cool night air as they made their way up the steep slope. At the top they looked out at the view spread out below them, the moon a small sliver in the sky. 

 

“The island looks so small from up here,” said Aidan.

 

“It doesn’t look small at all,” the boy replied. “It’s as wide as the world.”

 

“You can’t have seen much of the world, then.”

 

“I’ve seen enough.” The boy was looking at Aidan, his mouth quirked into a half smile. 

 

They stayed there for a while without speaking, sitting in the grass and looking out at the island. Usually, silence made Aidan feel like he needed to fill it somehow, to find the words that people wanted to hear. But the boy didn’t seem to need words the way that other people did. The quietness between them was its own kind of language. It connected them rather than distance them. When Aidan had to break the silence to tell the boy it was time for him to go home, he felt like he was breaking the only tether that was holding him afloat. But the boy put a hand to Aidan’s face, his lips brushing against Aidan’s cheek.

 

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said, and Aidan felt the tether connect again, an invisible line that stretched between them even when they were apart. 

 

That night became one of many nights they spent together wandering on the island over the next few weeks. Gradually, they ventured farther and farther from the beach. At first, Aidan was paranoid about being seen, even though he couldn’t quite picture other people being able to see the boy. But the night was quiet on the island; the tourists retreated to the pub or to the hotel for drinks. Aidan’s fear ebbed a little with each day, and the small knot of fear that remained was never enough to keep him from going back to the beach. 

 

Sometimes, Aidan would tell the boy about his work at the hotel and the tourists he had seen that day, or sometimes they would walk in a companionable silence, talking unnecessary when the presence of another person was enough to not feel alone. The boy loved climbing and he would scramble up the rocks, looking more and more human the farther from the beach they went. But the skin was always draped over his shoulders, a reminder that at the end of the night he would always have to go back, would always have to transform into something that was not human at all. At the end of each night, after the boy dove back beneath the waves and Aidan had finally collapsed into bed, he lay awake for a while trying to convince himself that he had not just imagined it all.

 

As the days wore on, the looming threat of school on the mainland drew closer. His fears about the mainland were compounded by the fact that his parents had been talking with the priest about sending him to a church school instead of the secondary school the other students always went to. His attempts to argue with them were futile. 

 

“It will be good for you to be around like-minded people,” his dad kept telling him. 

One night, he came home from the beach, creeping in the back door as usual, expecting the house to be dark and quiet. But the lights in the living room were on, and at the sound of the door creaking open his dad called to him. 

 

“Aidan, come in here please.” 

 

His dad’s voice sounded polite, as if he were inviting Aidan in for a cup of tea. But Aidan could tell it was a forced calm, and that when he walked into the living room, his parents’ faces would be livid. He thought about turning around and going back to the beach and putting this conversation off for as long as he could, but he kept walking.

 

When he entered the living room, he saw that his parents were not alone. The priest from the church in the village was there, and Aidan realized with a sinking feeling that this conversation was not just about sneaking out. He stood in the doorway, looking at them all as they stared back like they didn’t know him. His dad spoke first.

 

“The father here says that he saw you walking in the hills behind the village late last night with some boy. Can you explain this?”

 

For a moment, Aidan didn’t think his voice would work. The fact that the priest had been able to see the boy surprised Aidan almost as much as the fact that he’d allowed himself to be seen. He had never quite believed that the boy was anything more than a figment of his imagination. And he had tried to be so careful about where they went. But he’d gotten bolder as the nights went on, sure that the island went to sleep long before he and the boy roamed at night. Obviously, he’d been wrong. They had wandered too close to the village.

 

“Have you been sneaking out to see this boy? Who is he?”

 

“His family are tourists,” Aidan lied. “They’re staying here for a few days. I was just showing him the island.”

 

“In the middle of the night? Without telling us?” His dad’s voice got louder as he spoke. His mum had yet to say anything; she just kept staring at him with the same blank expression.

 

“Did you think we wouldn’t notice how you’re different? How you aren’t interested in girls like normal boys your age? Your mum told me to let it go, that it was just a phase, that if we sent you to a church school on the mainland it would toughen you up. I see now we should have done something long ago. You know that we won’t tolerate that kind of lifestyle in this house. On the mainland they can have their parades and protests, but on this island we stick to our values.”

 

There were many things Aidan wanted to say, but he just stood there, letting the world come crashing down around him.

 

“We’d like you to speak with the priest,” his mum said quietly. “You can have weekly meetings for a while. He can help you figure things out, and he can tell you about this new school we’d like you to go to.” 

 

The priest gave Aidan what was probably supposed to be a kind look. 

 

“If you want to stay in this house,” said his dad, “you will do as we say.”

 

Aidan felt like he might be sick. He couldn’t take it anymore, so he turned and ran to the door, flinging it open. There were shouts behind him, the sound of heavy footsteps in the hallway, but Aidan was fast. He sprinted through the night, going back the way he had just come, running as if his life depended on it. He did not hear the engine of his dad’s truck starting up, so he knew he was not being followed. He almost wished his dad would come after him, would drag him back to the house to be punished. His parents’ absence only confirmed his worst fear: that they didn’t care about him leaving, that they would rather he be gone than live in the house as he was. 

 

He went back to the beach, knowing it would be empty, that the boy had gone back to the sea. When he got there, he collapsed into the sand, his face in his arms. He looked up quickly though at a hand on his shoulder. The boy was there, staring at him with concern. Aidan didn’t want to let the tears fall, but they fell anyway, tiny rivulets trickling down his face. Silently, the boy reached out a hand and brushed them away.

 

“Tell me,” said the boy. “Tell me everything.” 

 

And so Aidan did. He told him about all the things he had kept from him for the past few weeks, about the feelings he was not supposed to have, about the suffocating weight on his chest that would not go away, about the possibility that his parents would kick him out of the house. The boy did not say much, but Aidan did not need him to. He just needed someone to hold him as he cried, hold him hard enough to know that he was not alone.

 

But as safe as Aidan felt on the beach with the boy, he knew he could not stay there forever. He would have to face them eventually. There was only so far you could run on an island this small.

 

“Come with me,” Aidan pleaded with him, knowing that it was useless, that it was time for the boy to go back to the sea. But to Aidan’s surprise, the boy nodded and he held Aidan’s hand as they walked back down the road to Aidan’s house. It was not until they could see the top of the farmhouse poking over a hill that Aidan realized the boy had left the skin behind.

 

The dark landscape was beginning to lighten, so Aidan led the boy to an old barn behind the house that they never used anymore. The boy’s eyes drooped with tiredness, as if the effort of leaving the sea behind was exhausting him. Aidan helped him lie down in the straw, the boy’s eyes closing and sleep taking him.

 

“I’ll be back,” Aidan whispered, kissing the boy’s forehead lightly. 

 

Inside the house, his parents were still sitting where he’d left them in the living room.

“I’ll meet with the priest,” he said without looking at them. “If that’s what you want.” ‘If that’s what it takes to stay,’ he didn’t say. He didn’t wait to hear their reply, just stomped up the stairs to his room and collapsed into bed, letting sleep take him.

 

He woke to a silent house. His parents did not speak a word to him as they ate breakfast. Aidan ate quickly, then went back to the beach. He found the skin where the boy had left it. When he picked it up, it was soft to the touch, the tiny bristles of fur still slightly damp. He hid it in the rocks on the edge of the sand where the tide would not take it but no one would find it. He ignored the pangs of guilt as he headed back home. If the boy didn’t have to go back to the sea, he could live on the island. They could invent an identity for him. He could go to school with Aidan, and maybe, just maybe, Aidan would be able to bear his parents and school and meetings with the priest.

 

In the abandoned barn, the boy was still there,  asleep. Aidan shook him gently awake. 

“You can stay here,” Aidan said. “As long as you want.”

 

The boy stared at him, his forehead slightly creased.

 

“I want to stay,” he said. But his eyes were looking over Aidan’s shoulder, out the open door, and Aidan knew he was feeling the distant sea breeze on his face and thinking about home. 

 

Aidan felt another pang of guilt, but the boy looked back at him and smiled, and then he put a hand on the side of Aidan’s face and pulled Aidan’s mouth to his. The kiss caught Aidan off guard. He had never been kissed before and the sensation was strange and new. The boy’s lips tasted like salt, like the sea. It made Aidan draw the boy closer, as if by holding on to him tighter he could keep him there as long as he needed him.

 

The days fell into an uneasy rhythm. His parents barely speaking to him, their disappointment overpowering, the priest telling him his desires were something Aidan could control, the boy waiting for him in the barn. 

 

They didn’t explore the island anymore. Aidan was too afraid of being caught again. So they stayed in the barn, occasionally sneaking out to walk in the pastures near his family’s house when he was sure his parents were asleep. Aidan tried not to notice how every time they left the barn and the boy caught a glimpse of the sea, he would stand, frozen, for a moment, staring out at the water with an expression so vulnerable Aidan had to look away.

 

One night in the barn, Aidan voiced the thought that had been on his mind for a while. 

 

“You could stay here forever,” he said. “You could go to school with me. We could give you a name, a story, you could be…” Aidan couldn’t voice the word in his thoughts, though the boy seemed to understand his meaning well enough. His eyes glazed over, his expression torn.

 

“Human,” the boy said, like it was a question. And then in a flash, he was out the door, running along the road with Aidan following behind, barely keeping up. The boy didn’t go far, he stopped abruptly when the road turned and they could see the sea out in the distance. Aidan stopped beside him, studying the way the boy’s expression was scrunched up in pain, an expression he knew all too well.

 

And in that moment, Aidan realized it would always be like this: the boy looking at the sea and Aidan looking at the boy. And though every teenager is a bit selfish, Aidan knew he had crossed a line. The boy was not his to take, to hold onto. It didn’t matter how much the boy loved Aidan; the sea would always be calling his name, would always be calling him home. 

 

So Aidan took the boy’s hand, led him back across the island to their beach, retrieved the skin from where he had hidden it in the rocks, and wordlessly held it out to him.

 

The boy opened his mouth to speak, but Aidan cut him off.

 

“It’s okay,” he said. “Go home.” 

 

The boy looked like he wanted to say something more. Perhaps, he wanted to explain that when you ignored a longing you only made it grow. But Aidan didn’t need anyone to explain that to him, and the words died in the boy’s throat as the sea called his name again. For a moment, Aidan could almost hear it in the gentle lapping of the waves against the sand, in the cry of the gulls overhead, in the soft murmur of the wind. Aidan tried to memorize it, to remember it, but it was not the kind of name that Aidan could know. 

 

The boy ran down the beach, wrapping the skin around himself. His arms and legs turned into flippers, his face into a long, whiskered snout, and then he was just a seal, swimming against the current out to sea. Aidan knew deep down as the seal disappeared beneath the waves that he would not be back in the form of a boy, not for a long time.

 

Aidan stayed there, frozen, for a while, until all of a sudden it hurt too much to be alone. He knew the boy was long gone by now, that there was no point going after him, but he couldn’t stop himself. His legs carried him toward the water as if by their own accord. The waves were cold against his skin, water seeping through the legs of his trousers. He kept walking until the water was at his knees, and then his thighs, and then his waist. He wanted to keep going until he found the boy and could hold onto him just one more time. The ache in his chest was almost too much to bear; tears dripped down his face and mingled with the frigid water. He looked around, waiting for the boy to appear like he always did when Aidan needed him. But the coast was clear, and Aidan was alone. So reluctantly he stopped swimming and turned around to look at the island. 

 

From the other side, it looked distant and small, partly concealed in fog. It was unremarkable, really. Just a tiny little island in the middle of nowhere. But it was familiar, it was comfortable, it was the only place he knew. Aidan couldn’t imagine leaving or calling any other place home. But he thought about how the boy had tried and failed to choose Aidan over the sea. Maybe he too was fighting a losing battle trying to choose the island over himself. Maybe home was wherever he felt loved in the way that he had loved the boy. And maybe home was not here.

 

Aidan stood there for what seemed like an eternity. But when his legs started to go numb from the cold, he took one slow step back toward the beach, and then another. With each step, the weight on his chest lessened slightly, as if the shame and the fear were being washed away with the tide, dragged out and then replaced with something new. Something that was just learning to shake out its wobbly sea legs and walk on land.

 

He stood on the beach for a moment, looking out as the sun began to set over the water. For a brief moment, he thought he saw a dark head bobbing in the waves, but then it was gone and he wondered if he had only imagined it. He sighed once, and then he turned around and walked toward the path that led away from the beach.

 

He wandered slowly back across the darkening island, his clothes still dripping with seawater. He didn’t have to think about what he would say to his parents because he already knew. He had formed the words a long time ago, but had not had the courage to say them until now. 

 

When he got home, he walked into the kitchen where they were getting ready for supper. He could feel the space in his chest where the fear used to be, but it was not there anymore. There was only resolve.

 

“I’m not going to meet with the priest anymore,” he announced. “And I’m not going to church school either. I’m going to the same secondary school as the other island kids.” 

 

These were statements, not questions. He looked them directly in the eyes, silently daring them to object. He tried to remember what it felt like to be afraid in their presence, but all he could think was that they looked so small, standing there and staring at him like they could only see the child they wanted him to be and not the man he was growing into. They may have had the power to decide whether he stayed in that house, but they only had the power to make him feel ashamed if he gave it to them.

 

Aidan went to his room to change into dry clothes, and when he got back they were still standing there. He picked up a stack of plates and began to set the table, the clatter of china against wood ringing through the silent kitchen. 

 

Maybe they could learn to love him as he was. Or maybe he would have to leave this house behind and find love somewhere else. It hurt still, to think about leaving. But wherever he was, the island would be with him. Wherever he was, he could look at the sea and know that somewhere among the waves the boy that was not a boy was out there, looking back at him from the other side.