Note: This promises to be a short but satisfying long-fic, and quite possibly my favorite one I've written to date. Don't be fooled by the simplicity of this first chapter! It'll get better, I promise. This fic won't be silly like Fish, so it might not be nearly as popular, but I think it'll be emotional. And that's what I love to write about: emotion. Please enjoy and review at your leisure.

Another Note: Flashbacks will be in italics. Just a little FYI.

Disclaimer: I own nothing but the plot, which I am quite proud of, actually.

Drowning in the Tide

Chapter One: Resurfaced

Like most stories, this starts with a boy.

I suppose it would be redundant after that to say this boy was absolutely, flawlessly perfect in every regard. Not to mention dark, tall, and handsome. But of course, as all boys like this are, he remains elusive.

And I am the foolish girl who let him escape.

"Claire? Claire, are you listening to me?"

I nodded at the pink-haired girl beside me, pretending to understand what she was babbling about so early in the morning. With a yawn, I ran my fingers through my straight blonde hair, my fingers catching tangles I was too sleepy to brush out.

Popuri, of course, had chided me for not taking enough pride in my appearance, but not being a morning person I had shrugged it off. My best friend stood in stark contrast to me: perky, optimistic, and definitely at home with waking up at six in the morning. I could argue that it was because she'd been dealing with this farming thing since she could walk, and I had only just begun to regret buying the tumbled-down farm that was my new home.

"You'll absolutely love him, though, I promise!" she continued, not noticing my disinterest. "He's funny, and sweet, and charming…and cute!"

"Sounds fascinating," I replied distantly. "But why couldn't I meet him at a decent time? You know, when human beings are actually awake?"

"Stop being such a party-pooper!" Popuri retorted, hitting me playfully. "I wanted to see him as soon as possible, and I thought my fiancé should get to meet my maid of honor. Is that too much to ask?"

I groaned and faltered at the sight of her "pretty-please-I'm-begging-you" pout. Who could say no to that?

"Fine," I sighed, caving in. "Do you think he'll care that I'm wearing yesterday's overalls?"

"That's disgusting, Claire!" Popuri gasped. "You're going to meet the love of my life while wearing dirty laundry?!"

"Oh come on!" I groaned. "I was too tired to look for anything clean to wear. And I'm just going to get it dirty again when I feed the chickens. I'll change later, when I'm done with my work."

"Don't tell me you haven't showered either?"

"Of course I showered!" I retorted. "These clothes were just the first things I grabbed this morning after showering, alright? Popuri, how lazy do you think I am?"

"Lazy enough not to find a decent change of clothes," she muttered. "Goodness, Claire, I would have let you borrow a dress…"

"Can we please change the subject?" I begged, rolling my eyes. "So, you sure you love this guy?"

"Positive," she sighed dreamily. "I mean, you just know when he's the one. Suddenly, you're not afraid to take a risk, to chance everything on one person. Haven't you ever been in love, Claire?"

I paused briefly, closing my blue eyes and letting a short cynical laugh escape my lips.

"Yeah," I nodded. "I have been in love…once. But it was a long time ago."

"So you understand, then," Popuri smiled. "Oh, hey, it's the pier! And that's—oh my gosh, he's here, Claire!"

Hitching up the skirt of her dress, the girl raced across the sand and flung herself on a dark figure that had just disembarked. His bag of possessions fell to the ground as he swept her in his arms and twirled her around on the shore, exclaiming, "Poppy! I didn't think it was possible, but you've gotten even prettier since I've been gone. Three seasons is too long to be seperated from you, you know that?"

"I've been wanting to sail after you all year!" Popuri giggled as her lover gently let her down. "Oh, there's someone I want you to meet."

She took his dark hand in her own pale one and pulled him over to me, where I stood as if nailed to the ground. Sweat was dripping down my brow, and squeaks of protest sounded from my throat. "Claire," she beamed, "this is my fiancé, Kai--"

"--Kai Rivers. His father is going to be my new business partner, and I'm sure you'll both be great friends. Say hello, Claire."

The tanned boy before me held out his hand and flashed a smile.

"Hey, Claire," he grinned. "I've never been friends with a girl before, but I could give it a try."

I stuck out my tongue. "Boys have cooties! No way am I being friends with you."

"Oh yeah?" A mischevious grin appeared on his face as he hit me on the arm, screaming, "Tag!" while he ran in the opposite direction.

"Cheater!" I protested as I ran after him. "You cheated!"

He merely laughed and sprinted faster. And in that moment, somehow, the two of us became friends.

I blinked, staring at the man before me in a sort of denial.

This wasn't happening. It just didn't seem...real. Seeing him like this after so long, I couldn't even bring myself to speak. My confidence was extinguished like a snuffed candle, and suddenly I became very conscious of the sweaty clothes I was wearing. I wanted to say something, to explain, to do anything besides stand there with my mouth open like a goldfish. But I couldn't.

"Have we…met?" the traveler asked, a frown creasing his lips as he scrutinized me.

It was as if he had knocked all the breath out of me with those simple words.

"...You don't remember?" I whispered, feeling incredibly stupid. He hadn't changed a bit; his voice still had that deep undertone that caused shivers to crawl up and down my spine. Popuri glanced from her beloved to me in confusion, wondering how on earth we could have met beforehand. And then, a glimmer of recognition sparked in Kai's eyes.

"Wait a minute…Claire? Claire Banks? How long's it been?" he asked, grinning.

"Too long," I murmured, transfixed. "Far, far too long."

"I'm sorry, do you two know each other?" Popuri questioned, despite knowing the obvious answer she would receive.

I bit my lip and looked at Kai, hoping he'd take the bait and explain. Right then, I wasn't sure I could think clearly. The way he had spoken my name resounded in my head over and over again, and I savored the musical quality of his voice. And the way he smiled--

"We've known each other since we were kids," Kai explained with a laugh. "We were best friends back then. Haven't seen you since graduation, though."

"Yeah, graduation," I repeated dumbly.

"Oh, how cute! You guys were playmates?" Popuri exclaimed. "This is so great! I mean, you've already met and amazing is this?"

"Pretty amazing," Kai agreed, putting his arm around her. "It's a small world, huh?"

"No kidding," I breathed. A little too small.

"Anyway, I'm glad that the maid of honor is you, Claire," Kai said, turning to me. "I was afraid it might be Karen...she might've shown up drunk. But I didn't have to worry, I guess. Popuri has great taste in friends."

"Oh, no, I'm honored," I blushed, somehow uncomfortable with the way he held his arm around Popuri. She simply glowed at his touch, and her eyes sparkled as if to say, "Isn't he just perfect?!"

"We're honored that you'll agree to it!" Popuri giggled. "You almost never wear--"

"--Dresses," Kai and Popuri finished together.

"Well, people change, you know," I muttered, inwardly pleased and embarrassed that Kai remembered that little detail. "And I mean, if it's for a friend, I can put on a few frills..."

"Oh, Claire!" Popuri exclaimed suddenly. "Speaking of dresses, I'm not entirely sure my mom got your measurements right. Could you go check with her?"

"Right now?" I replied dubiously. "It's almost seven in the morning."

"Popuri's right," Kai added, giving his betrothed an understanding glance. "It'd be a good idea for you to go check with her while there's still time to fix the dress."

"...Oh." I crossed my arms and turned to go. "Well, I'm sure you two have a lot to catch up on, so--"

"See ya later, Claire!" Popuri smiled, glad that I had caught the hint that she wanted the two of them to be alone. I wasn't stupid. I could tell when I wasn't wanted.

My feet dragged me listlessly across the sand, and I stopped at the bridge. Against my better judgement, I turned back to see my best friend and her fiancé. My blue eyes widened as they drank in the sight of the two of them locked in a passionate kiss. The wind roared in my ears, but even it couldn't fill the silence that was eating me up inside.

The silence of loneliness. Of loss. Of regret.

And slowly, I started off towards Popuri's house once again, thanking God that no one could see my tears.

End Chapter Note: I know, how can Kai be engaged to Popuri the first summer Claire comes? And why didn't she recognise the name Kai when Popuri told her she was married? Well, on the first thing, let's just let it slide. (this IS fanfiction, after all) The second thing...well, Popuri couldn't really talk about Kai too often in Rick's presence, Claire was only mildly interested, and Claire hadn't really paid attention to Popuri when she talked about him before. So...I think that covers most of the plotholes. Thank you for reading!