"It's treated me well, I'll say that. But it's time to move on."
Kelly felt sorry for the old guy as her mother clucked in sympathy at the news his business was closing, but sighed as she stole a look at her watch, knowing her Mama's sympathetic nature would keep them even longer when all she wanted to do was get back to the beach. It wasn't that she minded one day traipsing around town for school supplies; it was just so damn hot here in the Sun Rose bookstore, even in cut-offs and sandals. There were still three weeks left before school resumed after the summer break and it had been a pretty good one: there wasn't much to do in Ocean City but surf and luckily for Kelly, it had turned out to be something of a natural talent she'd discovered and developed over her sixteen years living on the island. She grew wistful, daydreaming of a soft breeze fluttering through her auburn hair, then pulled herself together and flashed an apologetic glance at the adults.
"It's too hot in here for me, the AC's broken. I'm gonna get some air."
Her mother glared. "Manners, Kelly!"
"Naw, she's right." Old Mr Simeon waved her out. "Ain't been worth running the fans with so little customers and bills being like they are."
Cheryl Tanner was conscious of her own sweat accumulating underneath the pale green linen suit she'd selected for its lightness that day. She couldn't baulk away from the bookstore until Mr Simeon had filled their order, and wondered uneasily if there might be a roll-on in her purse. "Mind you stay out front Kelly, we're not done yet!"
Doorchimes tinkled and moving glass wavered before Kelly's vision as the handle left her grip and she was outside on the boardwalk. It was Ocean City's pride and joy, a bright trail of neat little stores running the length of the island. Straight across the street was the ocean. Preparing to inhale a huge gust of salty air, Kelly's breath stopped with a lurch and her stomach did a barrel roll: her view was blocked by a tousle-haired blond boy on a bench across the street. He was gazing at her with deep-set eyes and wore a black t-shirt and jeans rolled up below the knee. She was rooted to the spot for one second, pinned to what felt like an endless shaft of time, before her lungs kicked back into action. He was still looking. She blinked and felt blood pour towards her face, then blew out her cheeks because she hated blushing.
Like most sixteen year olds, Kelly had never been in love but unlike others, she'd never given it more than a moment's thought. Her interests were simple; school, surfing and spending time with her best friend Rhiannon, watching movies, drawing or imagining their future business here in Ocean City selling curios crafted from their mutual love of marine life and jewellery making. But his boy, tow-headed and with a gaze strong enough to bore into her from across the street, had captured her attention in a way the surf and seashells never had. She chanced a look up and was dismayed to see the bench was empty.
Just as Kelly began to ask herself what had happened, a noise caught her ear and she spun around, coming face-to-face with the stranger standing directly before her. He reached out to steady her and she felt a hand brush her elbow, the skin warm but rougher than she expected. They were hands that hinted at hay bales and horses and maybe more. There was a fast, loud 'snick!' of static electricity and she yelped in alarm, wondering for one crazy second if he had shot her.
"Hey," he said softly, looking down at his open hands before he stuck one out towards her, "Jake. I felt it too."
"I guess I'm wearing too much wool." She joked, pulling at an imaginary sweater. Much as she wanted to, she didn't dare stare to find out the colour of his eyes.
"Oh!" Jake laughed. "That's good. But nah, I didn't mean the shock. I meant...the moment. Just now."
Kelly floundered as the thundering beat of her lovestruck heart drowned out the world. A happy child in a quiet house on the outskirts of town with liberal parents and no siblings, she'd never felt anything like selfconscious uneasiness, for she grew up recognising her neighbours, made friends easily and was always picked for class and sport teams. Until now she'd been a perfectly balanced person, and now all sense of identity seemed to have deserted her. A bank of blond hair swept down and he smoothed it back over his brow. Her confusion cleared as she looked directly at him with eyes the rich peaty brown of a true redhead and saw his were open and wide in expectation, an honest, prairie-sky blue.
'Think!' she urged herself mentally. Unless she could manage something to say he was sure to turn and leave, probably sending an odd look her way as he wondered why he'd bothered approaching this crazy girl.
"I wouldn't, you know." He smiled. "Look at you funny, I mean. I've got a friend who'd say you're a real cutie, but I'm a modern guy, what's inside counts. Your thoughts are like a lagoon, you should see the colour of their blue. And I felt it too. Ka. " His brow furrowed and he looked over her shoulder. The chimes tinkled. "Sure enough, she's right on time: your Mom. Listen Kelly, there's something pretty powerful in your house that's been protecting you. That's why I had to find you here in town."
Kelly could hear her mother's voice but it seemed distant and she didn't turn.
"We believe it's one of what we call 'scrims' - they look like whalebone carvings. The fact it still has power to protect you so strongly means a great deal." Jake's fervent look wavered but he snapped back in a split second. "Kelly," he said, "would you help us put the world right?"
She realised she was still clasping his hand and lifted it towards her. "I never told you my name," she breathed. "What's going on? Is this real?"
"Ka." He said, and kissed the back of her hand. She closed her eyes as he let go. When they opened, he was gone.