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They ended up paddle boarding on Mission Bay. The guy at the rental shop talked them out of renting surfboards when he realized they didn’t know what they were doing. Apparently there was a hurricane off the coast of Baja, and that made for some pretty big waves in San Diego. The bay was sheltered enough that the surf couldn’t really come through, and he promised them that paddle boarding would be a fun alternative. Christian was a little disappointed, but Annie secretly felt relieved (though she’d never admit it.)
Figuring out how to balance on the lofty foam boards wasn’t as difficult as one might imagine, and soon they were paddling with determination across the glassy surface. With no destination in mind, they wove in and out of buoys, racing along until Annie thought her arms might fall off. “Christian, hold up!” she hollered, slowly lowering herself to straddle the hefty board. The water on her feet was perfect. Cool and inviting, but not too chilly. She studied her toes beneath the surface, and then gasped as something else drifted into her field of vision. A giant, rubbery blob floated perilously close to her toes, its alien tentacles blooming all around its body. She sucked in her breath and jerked her feet out of the water, and the swift motion almost sent her tumbling. She regained her composure and looked back into the water to search for the culprit. She drew in a ragged breath and felt her heart skip a beat at what she saw: there was not just one, but hundreds of them surrounding her board. Their translucent bodies were ghosts drifting through the jade colored sea, bodies ebbing and flowing to the oceanic beat.
She looked up and locked eyes with Christian. Something twisted in her stomach, and at that moment two realizations dawned on her. One, perhaps the most disturbing of the two, was that she had unwittingly yet meticulously spent many years erecting layers and layers of walls around her delicate heart. The second was simply this: that she was in over her head with this boy.
“Moon jellies,” he whispered as he slowly pulled up along side her and lowered himself onto his belly. Their entire junior class attended a seminar at the Birch Aquarium last year and he had been fascinated by their unearthly oceanic existence. “We’re in the middle of a bloom.” He grabbed his oar and laid it across both of their boards so that they could relax without drifting further apart.
A slow panic started to spread through Annie. She shut her eyes tightly and turned her focus to her breathing. She had never had an anxiety attack, but she didn’t think the middle of the bay would be the right place to lose it. The jellyfish were gorgeous, and if she could just focus on that and her breath she could sort through the rest of her mess later. Slowly, she opened her eyes and found the jellyfish still floating mystically all around them. The bloom was magical. It’s very presence was a stark reminder of the bigness of the world around her. The universe. She was such a drop in the bucket, comparatively. As she pondered these thoughts, she became conscious of her heart rate slowing down, her breathing returning to normal. Yes, this: talking herself down and bottling the emotions tightly back up. She was good at this; she had plenty of opportunities to work on it her entire life. A smile found her lips and she mentally patted herself on the back. Tonight was going to be just fine, and soon she was going to be leaving everything here far, far behind.