Sunsets & Starry Eyes | Teen Ink

Sunsets & Starry Eyes

October 23, 2021
By nicthewriter, Graniteville, South Carolina
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nicthewriter, Graniteville, South Carolina
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Author's note:

This story explores the hints of queerness that are often hidden or ignored in queer youth, both by the youth themselves and the people around them. I hope other queer people can relate to this message. You are not alone <3

The sun was setting, and the pink of the sky reflected off the ocean in a way that would make artists from all over the world envious of the sight. This was of no concern or interest to the two children who sat on the beach, however.  
One of the children was too busy to notice the glorious sight above her, as she was focused entirely on the ground, gathering the sand that surrounded her into her palms and shaping it sloppily before cupping water from the incoming tide a few feet away into her hands and mixing the two together. Only when the sand was nothing but mush stuck to her fingers did the girl deem it fit to be used, and so she would plop the dripping glop onto the sagging structure she was attempting to build.  
Her companion, a girl with blonde hair and eyes the color of coffee beans, sat beside her and her creation. The blonde was too busy to notice the sky too, as she was watching her friend attempt to shape wet sand as if it were clay and pout when it refused to be molded. It was much more amusing and worthwhile to her than the painted sky, and so she sat, resting her weight on her palms spread out against the dry sand behind her, still warm from the earlier heat of the sun but cool enough that it didn’t burn her hands where they rested.  
“What are you making again?” asked the blonde girl, leaning back to soak up the last rays of sunlight before they disappeared behind the edge of the ocean for the evening. The tips of her long hair brushed the sand behind her, the swirling ends dipping into the sand that was becoming tangled in her hair.  
The other girl, a brunette of short and stout nature, smiled as she looked up to talk to the other girl, her blue eyes shimmering excitedly. “A sandcastle, silly!”  
Her light-haired companion squirmed. She crossed her legs in front of her and brought her hands up to her lap, dusting them together to remove the grains of sand from her palms before resting them back on the ground. The glow of the sun surrounded her blonde hair like a halo. “Are you sure?”  
The brunette pursed her lips as she looked down at the sloppily made mound of sand in front of her. Her round face creased in thought. “It doesn’t look like a castle,” she admitted slowly. Her blonde friend let out a breath of relief, thinking her friend had finally given up on perfecting her hopeless creation, but the brunette wasn’t done. “It needs a moat!” she declared, brightening at her proposed solution. The blonde knew it would take a lot more than a moat to salvage the shapeless pile of sand her friend had created, so she hedged to stall her.  
“If we add a moat,” the blonde said exasperatedly, “then we’ll have to dig around the castle. Too much work.”  
“Then I’ll do it,” the brunette proclaimed, already beginning to dig around the castle with clumsy strokes of her bare hands.  
“You’ll get your hands dirty,” the blonde remarked, eyeing her friend’s fingers.  
“They already are,” the brunette said, lifting one of her hands and wiggling her digits to show her friend the sand that was already caked onto her palms and under her nails. The blonde wrinkled her nose at the sight, but the brunette was too busy digging with her other hand to see the expression and simply resumed her work, bringing her limb back down to help the other one.  
Sighing, the blonde examined her painted nails with a forlorn look. She had enjoyed having the Hello Kitty patterns on them, but she supposed she could always ask her parents to buy her more later. Letting out another breath that was much too desolate for her age, she got to work slowly scooping the sand out in an uneven circle surrounding the lump of a castle her friend had spent the evening building with sand.  
She worked much more slowly than her friend, trying her best not to get sand under her pretty nails and forcing herself not to cringe when she did. She was more than happy to supply the water for the moat when her friend asked her to do so, cupping her hands with the liquid from the tide and running back to the castle to dump the water into the shallow trench before going back to get more and rinse her hands of the gritty sand while she had the chance.  
In the end, the result of their painstaking work was nothing more than a mound of wet sand surrounded by even wetter sand, but they were proud nonetheless. Their castle was misshapen and their moat was crooked, but that hardly mattered. It was theirs all the same.  
“Beautiful,” the brown-haired girl said with a wide smile on her face. But when the blonde looked back to her friend to share her own less poetic thoughts on the shapeless mound of sand in front of them, the words died on her tongue as she noticed that her friend hadn’t been looking at the sandcastle at all. Instead, those bright blue eyes were focused on her face. Feeling warm, she simply nodded in agreement before returning her gaze back to the mess at their feet. 

After abandoning their sandcastle and ridding themselves of sand as best they could, the girls walked back across the beach, swinging their laced hands as they approached a stack of boulders no higher than the tops of their heads. This was no great height, but it seemed one to the young girls, both of whom yearned for adventure. The mass of rock sat at the edge of the shore, caught between the sand and the water, but to the overactive minds of the girls it seemed as if it were resting at the edge of the world.  
“What if we climbed it?” suggested the taller of the two mischievously. Her blonde hair whipped across her face in the presence of the wind that stirred their clothes and grabbed at the sand under their feet. Her amber eyes sparkled in the light of the setting sun, bright with a shimmer that only truly appears during the early years of youth. The girl’s words were less a question and more a dare; an offering of fun that she knew her younger companion couldn’t refuse. Her brown-haired friend offered her a gap-toothed grin in response before beginning the short journey to the top of the rocks, lending a helping hand to the blonde once or twice when she slipped due to the unstable contact of her sandy feet against the slick surface of the rocks.  
After they reached the top, the two girls looked out at the ocean together, hands still interlocked for balance atop their slippery mountain. Though both were too young to fully appreciate the blending of colors in their surroundings, they could see that the evening sky was beautiful. The girls sat on the edge of the rock, gently swinging their feet in a mismatched rhythm and watching as the pink of the sky faded into dark oranges and deep reds. Two bright yellow flip-flops dangled from the brunette’s toes while two bare feet swayed beside them over the side of the rock.  
Occasionally the girls’ legs would bump together, eliciting a small laugh, a shy smile, a sideways glance, a playful nudge, though neither of them really minded. Eyes would meet and then quickly part, timid blue meeting shining gold before once again turning to watch the glow of the sun disappear behind the gleaming sea. For a few moments, the world seemed to stop spinning, as if it were waiting for the two to enjoy the moment before it returned to its normal planetary duties. A light breeze blew the girls’ hair together, mixing the light and the dark strands and twisting them together before blowing them away from each other again.

When the darkness of the night overtook the other colors, and stars began to poke through the sky more prominently, the two decided to return to their campsite. While turning to help her friend to her feet, the blonde girl gasped and pointed toward a dark blob that stood out against the light sand at the edge of the rock pile. The blob was no bigger than a toddler’s fisted hand, and it moved lethargically along the shore, but it still garnered a frightened response from the taller of the girls.  
“What’s that?” she exclaimed, watching the creature with rapt interest and growing fear. Her grip on her friend tightened as the creature moved toward them at a sluggish pace, its many legs carrying its small body closer to the girls inch by inch.  
The brunette only spared a glance at the thing. “It’s just a crab,” she said with a huff, beginning to stand from her perch at the edge of the rock. “Come on, let’s get down. My feet are all dirty now.”  
“What if it bites us?” the blonde whispered, still tense in the presence of the crustacean beneath them. The crab seemed in no hurry to attack. But perhaps that was its brand of trickery.  
Her friend huffed again in response. To ease the other girl’s growing fear, the brunette proclaimed confidently, “Crabs can't bite people, so it won’t hurt us.”  
 “Are you sure?” the blonde whispered, as if the crab would hear her and come to shut her up.  
“Yes, Emily, I’m sure,” the brunette stressed, not entirely sure about the validity of her statement but sure that she was ready to get back to the campsite where their families would surely be waiting, ready to chastise them for taking so long on their most recent adventure. She wanted to get the scolding over with already and could already envision her bed getting closer with every step she took.  
“Okay,” Emily said softly. Again, the brunette offered her a hand to assist her as they travelled down the rock, and again she accepted. “Sarah,” she said hesitantly, her dark eyes pleading silently with her friend to understand as she gripped her hand tightly. The brown of her eyes could no longer be seen in the fading of the day, and the darkness allowed for the tiny dots of light in the sky to reflect in her irises. Those eyes shone in the darkness, Sarah thought absently, like they were full of the glittering stars that beamed from above their heads. Were the stars still there? she wondered. In that blissful moment, Sarah didn’t care enough to check.  
After a tense moment spent with blue eyes carefully watching her, Emily heard Sarah sigh before removing her flip-flops. Emily watched her friend with confusion as she held the yellow things out in front of her.  
“Here,” Sarah said, handing the flimsy footwear to her friend without looking her in the eye, focusing instead on the stretch of sky and beach ahead of them. After a glance back at her friend showed that she still didn’t understand, Sarah rolled her eyes before explaining further. “You can wear these. Now it won’t bite you,” she reasoned. Though the logic was greatly flawed, it seemed to ease Emily’s mind to have some protection from the dreadful creature crawling below them.   
“But your feet will get dirty,” mumbled Emily. But even as she was speaking she was slipping her feet into the straps of the flip-flops anyway. Sarah shrugged before brushing her hair behind her ear, looking out at the waves crashing lazily against the shore a few feet away from them in an effort to keep her face from Emily’s wondering eyes.  
“They’re already dirty. Let’s go back now,” Sarah spoke again, her words rushed as she led the way back down the incline.

Emily followed her friend slowly, still wary of the lurking terror but feeling much better about it now that she was sure it wouldn’t nibble on her toes. Looking around, she realized that she could no longer find the thing in the fading light. The rocks cast long shadows across the sand, and she began to panic when she could no longer see the thing where she had last spotted it several feet away from them. “Sarah!” she shrieked, gathering herself closer to her friend, shielding herself with the smaller body of the other girl.  
Sarah’s face was turning a fiery red, but she still forced out, “What?”  
“Where is it?” Emily squeaked, her eyes wide as they searched the area around them.  
“Where is what?” Sarah muttered, checking the ground for an item one of them may have lost.  
“The crab,” Emily said hoarsely, her voice crackling from hysteria.  
“Not this again,” groaned Sarah, flustered. “It probably wandered off, Em, it’s a crab.”  
“No, I would have seen it! It’s still here and it’s waiting for me,” she cried.  
“You’re crazy,” Sarah muttered before beginning the journey back to their families’ campsite where a warm shower and a soft bed awaited her. Her progress was delayed by the added weight of her friend clinging to her with each step.  
“It’s going to follow us back and attack us in our sleep! Just you wait! You’re going to be eaten first, and then everyone else, and then it’ll be just me, and I’ll say ‘I told you so,’” Emily said. But with every step they took away from the rocks, she felt a bit better about the thing. Maybe it wasn’t all bad. Maybe it was really just a thing that happened to be in the same time and place that she was, and it meant no harm, and it was just a silly little crab.  
“Mm-hm, sure, Em,” came Sarah’s response, her tone bored. “You’re gonna tell the crab’s stomach ‘I told you so’? Because that’s where I’ll be,” she quipped. And as an afterthought: “And then after I’m eaten by the big scary crab who’s gonna be your best friend then huh? It’d be worse for you than it would be for me, I’d think. At least the crab’s stomach would probably be warm and everyone else would be there too. ‘Sides you,” she added.   
“True,” Emily sighed. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.” She clung to her friend tighter, and Sarah fought a smile at the action.  
“Well then it’s a good thing that that crab isn’t here anym—”  
Sarah’s voice caught before it squeaked out of her throat in a mess of strangled noise that left her mouth without her permission. There was a sickening crunch, then a shrill shriek, then the sand was painted red. The crab was dead, but the damage was already done. The creature had gotten its revenge on Sarah’s foot before her heel had come down on it hard in reflex. With shaking hands, Emily scooped Sarah’s smaller body up into her arms and sprinted back across the sand, all the way back to their families’ campsite.

Emily’s crying was loud, but luckily it only woke Sarah's grandmother, who had stayed up to wait for them but fallen asleep in a stiff camping chair next to the dying campfire outside. She was a beautiful woman, and the lines of old age that often appeared on her face only made her more so. But her usual laugh lines vanished under the lines of stress that appeared when she was startled awake by the shrieking sobs of her granddaughter’s friend and the lines only deepened when she took in the sight of her granddaughter’s bare bloody foot. She hurriedly struggled out of the sunken seat of the chair and disappeared into the camper behind her.  
Emily sat Sarah down in the chair that her grandmother had vacated and reassured her that everything would be fine. Sarah didn’t cry, though her jaw was tense with the effort she was making to hold in her agony. Her teeth were beginning to ache, but with another glance at her friend’s tear-stained face, she clenched them harder. She didn’t want to seem weak, especially in front of Emily, who was already broken down enough for them both. If she hadn’t been in so much pain, she would have teased Emily about being dramatic. But as it was, she was barely holding back her own tears.  
And so Sarah sat quietly in the seat as her grandmother returned with a first aid kit and as her grandmother gently scolded her to be more careful and as her friend cried over her some more. She was still quiet as she was sent to bed, her foot wrapped in gauze and her hand wrapped in Emily’s.  
She remained quiet until she was finally curled up under her blankets with Emily sniffling beside her, the blonde having refused to separate from her side and now clutching onto her as if the claws of the crab would reach through the walls of the camper at any moment and rip Sarah away. Sarah calmed her friend’s guilt and worry through hushed assurances that she was okay and it didn’t really hurt even though she wasn’t okay and it did really hurt. Soon, the assurances quieted to nothing, and Emily’s grip relaxed, and both girls listened to the calm of the night and the distant waves of the ocean beating steadily against the shore, the rhythm occasionally interrupted by Emily’s hiccups or sniffles.  
Once Emily was sufficiently soothed, Sarah found it easy to fall asleep in the company of her friend’s warm body, listening as her hiccups slowly settled down into deep breaths and watching as her eyes finally closed. Her own eyes followed soon after as she was lulled to rest with the steady rhythm of Emily’s heartbeat, her mind drifting into soft, wispy dreams of a pretty girl sitting on the edge of their rock, bright yellow flip-flops swaying as she smiled, her hair surrounded by the golden light of the setting sun and her eyes sparkling as if the stars themselves had blessed them with their shine. 

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