Moana told herself what she told herself every day: get through one more lecture on 'realism' vs 'liberalism.' Get through three more semesters. Suck it up, Comparative Politics was useful, economics was important, her degree was built on top of a long tradition of senators, lawyers, and leadership.
If only the statistical analysis of voter habits didn’t make her want to go into a coma.
It was only a year and a half she told herself, she had survived her dad’s lessons on how to blow a safety whistle (all three hours of it), she survived Maui’s jellyfish crisis of ‘08, she could survive Applied Quantitative Reasoning for Elections. She hopes.
It was early in the spring semester with her GPA still smiling at her when she decided to give herself a reward. She had been waiting long enough for it anyway.
She goes to the front desk of the North Walt Library and taps her hand on the counter, “Hello,” she waves her hand at the student worker. “Hey, there.” She tries her ‘nice smile.’
The groggy young man in a crumpled Bob Dylan shirt makes his way to toward her and takes his time sitting down again in front of the computer.
“How can I help?” He asked dimly, it sounded more like a resigned cry for help than a question.
Moana does that ‘smiling nicely’ thing again. “I had a book on call, it should be in by now.” She had just gotten through a tidy four-hour study session, she deserved this, the email said it should be in.
The dreary student, ‘Robert’ his name tag read, put his hand out, “Student ID?” She gave it to him quickly and watches his mouth twitch up at her picture. She pouts, it had been a bad hair day.
She waits with her fingers still tip-tapping on the counter, he moves as fast as a three-toed sloth trying to fall asleep.
Moana bites her lip and suppresses the ‘ugh’ sound building in her throat.
He finally turns the monitor around, “Looks like it’s still out.”
Her face falls, “I put it on call weeks ago.” She says with rising color in her cheeks.
Robert sighs and points at the date, “It is overdue. Our friend here just has had it out for months now. I’d talk to her.”
Moana raises her eyebrows, “Who is it?”
Robert blinks, “We don’t give students names out.”
She balls up her fists and her shoulder tops rise, “Well then-”
“Please let us know if there’s anything else we can do to help.” He turns his back to her, looking as if to crawl back into the stacked reserved books behind him.
Moana lets out an angry breath and deflates, “Alright. Okay. Contact me if it comes back in.” She shoves her student ID back in her pocket and takes the twenty-minute walk back to her dorm.
Just another semester she tells herself. And then another and one more.
She skypes Maui that night and complains again about the missing library book, and he shows her his new watch that glows in the dark and recounts a very long story about saving a rabbit from traffic.
She sighs and listens to ocean noises on repeat that night.
The ‘Missing Library Book She Already Had on Call’ mystery was solved within a fortnight. It was a Tuesday, the one with three classes in a row and one period where she had to eat lunch in class.
She was walking past the Center for Student Involvement when she saw a crowd gathering, there had been a lot of crowds gathering on campus lately, some angry, well most angry.
She was ignoring the usual hubbub when her eye couldn’t help but be drawn to a brilliant red splash of hair against the drab gray sidewalk. It was a young woman rolling toward the gathering crowd with a sign slipped into the back of her wheelchair.
Moana’s eyes go wide, she’d like to say she saw the book first, but mostly she saw the bright red color and two blue eyes. They looked like the salt water and ocean foam.
She blinks and was about to stiffly turn away and maybe drink a cold glass of water when she noticed the back pocket of the girl’s wheelchair, a very pertinent book stuck out of it.
The Deep: The Extraordinary Creatures of the Abyss (by Claire Nouvian). It’s the only one she hadn’t read yet.
Moana looks around and then, after a moment of staring at it, walked over. It had been a month now, she had to do something now. She tries to remember her diplomacy classes.
“You know that’s late, right?” Okay, she had slept through most those classes.
The seafoam blue eyes blink up, looking around curiously before landing on Moana, “Hello?” Her voice was far too full and silver, like pretty little fairy lights that carried across the water.
Moana furrows her brow, “That book. In the back.” She gestures toward the back of her chair, “Um, yeah,” She scratches her neck and then remembers how late it was and clears her throat. “I’ve put it on call for weeks now.”
The girl blinks her long eyelashes, “Who…are you?”
Moana tilts her head and sticks her hand out anyway, “I’m Moana Waialiki,” She shrugs, “You may have heard the uh, last name before.”
“Ariel.” She shakes Moana's hand tentatively, “And you want what now?” Ariel’s eyes were wandering to the protest in front of the student center. “I was sort of…busy.”
Moana gestures to the pocket again, “The book, the Nouvian one. I just really want to check it out.” She says quickly.
“Oh,” Ariel reaches behind her and slips it out and onto her lap, she laughs and Moana is almost taken back by the bright sound. It wasn’t a bad sound. “This old thing. I forgot it was in there.”
Moana exhales, “Great! I can even take it back now for you.”
Ariel raised her eyebrows, “Hmm, I think I need it for class.” She taps her chin, “Maybe? Oceanography, no, Deep Sea Life Ecology.” She was thinking.
Moana pouted, realizing this girl probably got to be a Marine Biology major. “I’ll read it real quick, it’ll just be a bit.”
Ariel hums and looks her over, considering her, “Moana. That’s a nice name.”
Moana shuffles her feet and shrugs, “Uh, Ariel’s not bad either. Pretty.”
Moana says, suddenly not knowing what to do with her hands or feet or life, Ariel beams, “I’ll see what I can do. As soon as possible, back to the library.”
That lifts Moana’s spirit. “Great!”
Ariel waves and heads over to where the crowd is cheering ‘Hey hey, ho ho, Too Much CO2 has got to go.’
Ariel held up her sign reading ‘Science is Real, My Patience Is Not’ and Moana watches her for a moment too long.
She skypes Maui about it that night and he just gives her the most ‘uh-huh, okay, she was how pretty now?’ look of her life. She hangs up on him halfway through when he points out she spent two minutes describing her fluffy long her hair.
She turns her music up extra loud before going to sleep.
A week later. She goes to see Robert again, her book was still out.
Another week. Still no book, the frustration builds.
Moana was most of the way done with the semester, she was pretty sure her hair had a knot in the back of it the size of Greenland- that she did not want to deal with, and a rip in her leggings.
She was yawning and considering how to email her Elections and Campaigns teacher her essay just a smidge late when she spots the deep red again. All too red.
She puts her hands on her hips and marches over, Ariel was laughing with a younger man with blonde hair with blue stripes in it.
She was shaking her head, “Flown’. You have to finish high school, nobody likes it, but the Beep Test is just a part of life.”
“I have seen hell." The boy announced dully, "And it’s automated woman’s voice.” He seemed to be complaining and Ariel was waving a hand airily above her head.
Moana stands off to the right of her and clears her throat, “Ahem.”
Ariel turns around slowly and her face lights, “Oh! Moana, from before the protest.”
Moana narrows her eyes ever so slightly, “Soooooo,” She taps her foot, “Did you use that book for your class?” She got to the point, though Ariel’s open, sunny face complicates it a little.
Ariel gives a half smile, “Which book? God, there’s a lot of them. Are you in Oceanography with me? My father says buying that one alone almost put him out of house and home.”
She was smiling. It was still a dilemma. Moana shakes her head, “The Deep: The Extraordinary Creatures of the Abyss.” The one she hadn’t read yet.
Ariel’s mouth makes a little ‘o’. “The abyss? That's pretty cool.”
Moana practically groans, “It’s out under your name!” She pouts, “I just want to read it. Please?”
Ariel’s smile falls like a sunset, her eyes become large blue ponds. “Oh.” She says softly, “Oh no.” She looked genuinely concerned, Moana rubs the back of her neck and fidgets.
Ariel turns around, “Flounder, go to Sebastian’s house, he’ll help tutor tonight.”
Flounder groans, “Do I have to?”
Ariel makes a little determined face, “Yes.” She suddenly reaches out and grabs Moana’s hand, Moana’s mind goes blank, “I have a friend to help,” She turns back to her, “oh my God, I am so sorry. I hadn’t been thinking about it.”
Moana grins with a jittery laugh, “No problem! I can just get it from your pack.”
Ariel makes a face, her mouth turning into the teeth emoji, “Um, okay, listen. I was sort of busy for awhile,” She looks around, “It should be at my home, though?”
Moana sighs, pulls on her fingers, and nods. She could handle going to her home.
Flounder, the boy, argues with Ariel a little more before she dismisses him and waves Moana to follow her.
Ariel got off-campus housing in a little picket fence with high ceilings and a pastel pink mailbox.
Ariel apologizes again and asks more about Moana on their way over. No, she lived in the dorms and it was a little cramped. She was a Junior, it was almost over, Ariel was a senior, yes, Mod Market was the only decent food on campus.
Ariel laughs exactly three times on the little walk over and Moana really should stop counting.
They arrive and Ariel ushers her in, “My roommates should be out right now, but my room is down this hall.”
It was a surprisingly narrow house, wood floors, and generally tastefully decorated to the point Moana felt strangely nostalgic for tea parties she'd never been to.
Ariel’s room was on the first floor and she wheels herself into the room at the end, “Sorry, it’s a little messy.”
Moana snorts and assures her she wasn’t picky on tidiness. And then she walks in.
Her eyes go wide, “Woah.” Her hands fall to her sides, “Woah.”
Ariel shrugs meekly, “Told you. A little messy.”
The place was stacked wall to wall with items. Strange knick knacks, unwanted shoeboxes, and every other tourist shop item a person could want. The stuff didn’t seem to have much connection with each other, but boy was there was a lot of it.
There was probably some organizing system to it, but all Moana could see was wall to wall of random little odds and ends. She gulps.
“Uh, so it’s somewhere in here?”
Ariel gives an apologetic smile, “I swear, I’ll help.”
Moana eyes here and then nods, “Well. It’s something.”
Moana picks her way around the room and laughs a little when she sees the Nintendo game she wanted in the 90s and a stuffed dog that just said ‘Life is Ruff’ in a deep wheeze when she stepped on it.
“Where do you get all this?” She asks in awe as she picks up yet another beanie baby.
Ariel glances up from where she was going through a large box, “Oh, I just pick them up.” She grins, “The sidewalk, beach front, friends house, maybe, maybe sometimes a dumpster or two.”
Moana laughs and then covers her mouth her hand, “Why?”
Ariel turns a hair brush around in her hand, “I just think they’re neat.”
Moana picks up an old neon green pencil that had been chewed on, “Really? All of them?”
Ariel leaned forward to her and lifted her chin, “Hey, stuff is the best way to know people. You know, really know them.”
“Huh,” Moana watches her little face and tilts her head, “Huh.” Moana was starting to smile to herself.
Ariel starts to hum as they work, a little wordless tune that Moana joined in on and they tried to work out a melody for.
They sing and make up a beat together before they take a break and focus on harmonizing.
Moana was sitting on top a pile of old binders and cutlery as they teased each other about the music, “Okay, but two lows and one high. That’s how it has to be.”
Ariel shakes her head, “A madman!”
Moana snorts and kicks a stray recycling bin toward her, “We are sitting in your Junk Kingdom. And I’m the madman.”
Ariel rolls her eyes with her little cheeks dimpling, “You’re going to regret when you don’t have,” She looks around and counts, “Three calculators and some Elvis Presley socks.”
They laugh and Ariel rolls up closer to her, “Sorry, about the book.” She finally says gently.
Moana’s face goes soft, she bends forward and gives a little sideways grin, “You’re the one that has to pay the library fine.”
Ariel sighs and then shrugs, “Don’t tell my dad."
Moana’s eyebrows rise, “Just for a lost book?”
“Another lost book,” Ariel says with a bit of gruff, “And he’s just like that. You know dads.”
“Oh, I do,” Moana tells her about the times she learned to drive. At nineteen. On a mini-golf court where she could only go five miles per hour. Ariel laughs and takes her hand.
“Mine told me if I ever dated I’d have to be 50.”
Moana snickers, “Did it work?”
Ariel shakes her head, “I took my first date out to my dad’s garden party and yelled about how in love we were the whole time, how we were romancing each other at that very moment.”
Moana throws her head back with a giggle, “Oh my gosh.”
Ariel sighs, “Thirteen was a wild year.”
Moana shook her head, “I was learning about how a senate works at thirteen.” She lies back down on one of Ariel’s junk piles, staring at the ceiling wistfully, “I’m going to be the next senator of Hawaii I guess. The next President. The next everything.”
Ariel gets close to her, large blue eyes focused on her like searchlights, serious and glowing, she whispers, “You seem like you'd be great,” She breathes, “Really good. Only if you want to be of course,” She looks at Moana’s hunched shoulders, “Do you want to be?”
Moana looks away, “Well,” She looks guiltily at the floor and then back up, “if I can just get this book back.”
Ariel thwapped her on the shoulder, “And I was going to give you brownies.”
Moana sat upright, “I like brownies.”
Ariel takes her hand and Moana’s heart races a little too hard, “Come on then.”
She feeds her brownies and they sing to West Side Story until Ariel’s roommates yell at them, play a game of ‘who’s dad is more overbearing’ and Moana forgets to go home until morning. It’s not a bad night.
It’s only a couple days later when Moana sees Ariel again, they had exchanged numbers so it wasn’t so strange, but after spending perhaps 17 hours with each other last Saturday, Moana had thought maybe she'd be sick of her.
Ariel wheels up to her with a huge smile on her face as Moana lounged on the quad. “I found it.” Ariel says excitedly.
Moana rolled over on the grass, “The bottom of your floor?”
Ariel sticks her tongue out at her, “You don’t sound like you want your book very badly.”
Moana crawls over, “No, no, I’m kidding.” She smiles, “That’s great! And Maui said it was probably cursed. And now it’s back.”
Ariel nodded excitedly, “I found it at the foot of my bed under my collection of fortune cookie papers.”
“I’m going to ask about that later,” Moana says slowly, “But first,” she puts out her hand and then looks around, peaking at the back of Ariel’s chair, “I’m ready.”
Ariel gave a mischievous look, “Not so fast.”
Moana sticks her bottom lip out, “What?”
“You’ll get it back on one condition.”
She raises an eyebrow and sits back down, folding her arms across her chest, “What is it?”
Ariel holds up a picture on her phone and shakes it back and forth, “Come to the beach with me on Sunday.”
Moana feels a little butterfly of excitement, the beach, then she slumps back down, “It’s almost finals.” She looks around, “I really have to ace stats class.”
Ariel shakes the picture of the beach out in front of her again, “Come with me.” She says with light in her eyes, “You love the beach. We’ll love it. All my other friends barely know how to swim.”
Moana hummed and sat back on her arms, “And then, after this whole entire semester,” She says with exaggeration, “I get the book?”
Ariel gives a half-smile, “Only if you have fun.”
Moana beams, “I think I could do that.” Moana throws grass in the air and Ariel promises to drive with her convertible if she asks nicely.
The ride there is one of the most beautiful ones Moana had seen, she missed the islands more than anything, but there was something about California that was electric.
Ariel lets the hood of her car down and they drive with the wind blowing through their hair, she may have yelled the words to ‘Closer’ when they got on the highway. She pumps her hands in the air as they go and makes a beat with her hand on the dashboard.
Ariel tells her about originally being from Norway, but she did really love the sunny weather now. Moana tells her that this was nothing Northern girl.
They laugh and rev the engine and go faster than they probably should.
Moana is absolutely taken when they finally reach the ocean, it was slightly rocky and uneven since they wanted to go someplace remote, but the yellow sand and the slow lapping of the water made her heart squeeze.
“It’s beautiful.” She whispers and holds her hands close to her chest. “Honestly.”
She felt Ariel watching her, looking, the other girl just makes a small noise of agreement.
Moana helps Ariel out of the car and into the chair, wheeling her far as they can go on the sand, and yell when they realize they really do have the beach to themselves, Moana swings Ariel around.
Eventually, they collapse on the beach towels and Ariel gets her book out, only to refuse to give it back and instead reads passages out loud in a Kermit the frog voice as Moana groaned and laughed. It was too much.
By the time the sun was in the west and Moana was heaving a great big sigh as she spread out, “Thank you for this.”
Ariel flashes her big blue eyes at her, “We should go into the water.” It sounded somehow poignant in the way the words carried.
Moana nods ever so slightly and picks her up, Ariel kisses her on the cheek for not jostling her too much like some people did and Moana feels so hot around the collar she’s surprised steam doesn’t come out of her ears.
She wades deeper into the ocean with Ariel’s arms around her neck and they float in front of each other weightlessly, their gaze's meet and hold like moths to flame.
“You know,” Ariel finally gives a wry grin, breaking the silence, “I’ve never actually liked the ocean that much.”
Moana’s mouth falls open, “What?!”
Ariel leans forward and closes Moana’s jaw for her, “It’s too sandy! And cold.” She pouts, “I’d much rather do anthropology as a study.”
Moana shakes her head and puts her hands in the air, “I can’t believe this. This whole time.”
Ariel reaches out and takes her hand, “You like it though.”
Ariel looks at where she grabbed her hand and bites the inside of her cheek a little, “I do like it. But,”
She looked up to see Ariel a little bit too close, Moana’s heart pounds and they circle each other in the soft lapping waves.
“Don’t tell me you don’t like singing or collecting weird stuff next.” Moana says in a hush just say something, their bodies floating around each other like carp chasing each other around slowly, “I won’t know what to think.”
Ariel rolls her eyes and leans forward, she nearly touches their foreheads together, “I know what I like.”
Moana felt time going very, very slow, like syrup. She pulls her closer, a cheeky grin forming on her lips, “So what do you like?"
Ariel gave the smallest smile, she darts in as quick as a dream and kisses Ariel on the side of the mouth and then shyly ducks her head back down.
Moana sprang a goofy smile and blinked like the world was turning backward. She turns down, "Your dad still not let you date?”
Ariel gives a tinkling laugh and wrapped her arms around Moana’s neck, “That never stopped me before.” Moana pulls her into a kiss, it started small and then she tilted her head and it built like a little fire flickering to life, all she felt was fireworks.
The water pushes them together like it knows and she kisses her for what feels like a millennium.
Moana is breathing a little heavy when they part, “Wow.” She grins and looks around, “Wow.” Ariel winks at her and Moana can’t stop smiling, “You sure?” She asks in a little voice.
Ariel taps her nose lightly with her pointer finger, “You know, I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be the first lady.”
Moana rolls her eyes, but picks her up bridal style in the water and spins her around, “Not so fast.”
“I already have the dress picked out! It’s like Jackie O’s.”
They giggle like it’s the first day of the new world and Moana swims until her limbs ache and her fingers go pruney.
It's a good ache.
She buys the book from the library and they write notes in it dotted in hearts.