The tension between them was broken with the sighting of land. It was the past that had brought them here, their youth that had spurred them on. The boat drifted gradually closer to the shore, propelling them to the future and the cusp of maturity.
"I don't think it's going to go any further on its own," Feena observed. Gadwin's fish-shaped boat bobbed back and forth on the tide, slipping along the coast, but moving negligibly closer to or further from the sands and jungle before them.
"I'll get the oars!" Justin yelled, rushing into the cabin.
Feena knelt down on the log where they had talked that night. The clear water looked yellow and orange on the surface as the light of the rising sun shone off each ripple and wave. She could see that the ocean floor was not far below them now. Her feet should almost be able to the touch bottom. Perhaps she could help tow the boat in from the water while Justin steered. The two of them rowing haphazardly, one on each side, promise to be a bit difficult. This was a vessel intended for sailing, not rowing.
Tiny fish flitted about the bottom of the boat, nibbling on trailing strands of seaweed and barnacles attached to the keel. Feena smiled at the brilliant colors of the fish: goldenrod, amber, orange, and rose. They were more like underwater flowers than the fish she had been accustomed to seeing or eating back in New Parm.
Justin burst out of the cabin, one oar dragging uselessly on the ground and the other leaned over his shoulder as he struggled with the large wooden implements. It was obvious that they were Gadwin-sized and a bit unwieldy for either Justin or Feena to handle.
"Umm," Feena stood up, "I was starting to think it might be easier to put out a tow-rope and pull the boat into shore."
"Okay," Justin dropped the oars to the floor in a clatter. "I had some doubts about using these myself, to tell you the truth. I could probably buff myself up like Gadwin just by lifting one." Justin pulled off his shoes and dipped his feet in the water. It was warmer than he had expected. This new continent was already proving full of surprises and he hadn't even set foot on the land. "Are you ready for a swim, Feena?" he grinned, pulling off his hat and scarf, letting his messy red-brown hair go free. It stood up on all sides, poking and pointing awkwardly here and there.
Feena stripped off her shoes and stocking and dove gracefully in, disappearing in a flurry of bubbles, then popping up to bob cheerily beside the boat. "Aaah, this feels great!"
"Oh, wait for me!" Justin complained, unbuckling his sword. He gathered up all the things he had stripped off and tossed them into the security of the cabin.
"You're going in wearing all that?" Feena laughed, splashing him teasingly.
"I, uh, I don't know," Justin plucked at his two-toned outfit.
"Trust me, it'll be annoying in the water. Just like my sleeves." She lifted her arms to demonstrate how the loose sleeves were heavy with water and clung to her arms.
"Okay, okay," he gave in, unbuckling his belt and clambering out of his overalls. "Admit it," he teased her in return, "You just wanted to see my rippling muscles!" Feena laughed. The tight black underclothes did reveal much more of Justin's shape than his loose, boyish overgarments and because of all the adventuring he had done lately he was in better, stronger shape than most boys his age, but still- rippling muscle? Feena couldn't help but be amused.
"Come on in, Justin!" she encouraged him, swimming a few strokes away from the boat to give him more room to make a splash.
And make a splash he did, rushing to slam into the water with a cannonball. "Yahoo!" he yelled raucously. From what they had seen so far, it didn't appear as though anyone was living near the shore of this new land, but if they were, Feena was sure that a yell like that would attract them.
"Heh heh, this is fun!" Justin exclaimed, swimming back and forth around the front of the boat. The tiny fish had been scared off by all the movement.
Feena dove down to grab the thick, trailing rope she had hoped they could pull the boat with. It was slimy with green algae and slick between her fingers. "I thought we could tug on this," she explained to- thin air, it appeared. Justin was already closer to the shore, standing on his hands underwater. Feena was only a little annoyed by this- after, what did she expect? Justin was growing up one little bit at a time. It wasn't always a consistently forward motion. She only hoped that what she had said to him before they were distracted by the mermaids had gotten through to him to some degree.
"Did you see that?" he asked with his first breath as he resurfaced.
Feena tossed the rope as far in his direction as she could manage. "Not bad. Now grab hold of this, and let's start pulling with the next incoming wave."
"Yuck," Justin grimaced as he felt the rope's surface, but he followed Feena's directions.
The task was not easily accomplished. No one had been summoned by Justin's call and part of Feena wished that they had. An extra pair or two of hands would've helped. But eventually the ship was cajoled, pushed, and pulled partially onto the wet sand where it seemed unlikely to budge further without a crew or a storm to move it one way or the other.
Wet and tired, Justin and Feena rested aboard the ship for a while to regain their energy. Justin threw himself into a hammock hanging inside the cabin, taking advantage of the cool shade, while Feena stretched out across one of the wooden outriggers, letting the sun dry her wet skin. Caressed by the sweetly scented breeze blowing out of the jungle, Feena drifted away into slumber.
Justin, on the other hand, could not help but stay awake from a combination of burning curiosity about this new land and an empty stomach. He wandered out of the boat, past Feena, to trudge along the rolling dunes. Small, speckled crabs fled at his approach. The virgin forest that stretched out to reach the sands was lush and thick. Who knew what lay along the meandering path under those trees. The pathway was ill-tended, probably from a lack of use. Justin gaped at all the beautiful things he saw. If the rest of the new world was anything like this...
It was so quiet without the sound of any other human voice. Justin cleared his throat nervously, just to make a sound. He turned back toward the boat, splashing his feet through the shallows. There were still rations left in the boat. It would've been nice to try something fresh, but he certainly wasn't going to do anything so stupid as just test something out here and hope it didn't kill him. After he ate, he'd find out if Feena wanted something if she hadn't already woken by that time on her own.
The bread had grown a little dry, but Justin did not hesitate to sink his teeth into a loaf, spraying tiny flakes of dry crust across the galley. He climbed back out and looked at Feena. She stretched her arms over her head. She was mostly dry now, but the last remaining drops of water glistened on her skin. They looked like crystals. He gulped down the last lump of the bread and brushed the back of his hand over his mouth. He really owed a lot to Feena...
He reached out carefully, his hand trembling, and he brushed a loose strand of hair from her face. Maybe...maybe he knew what she had been talking about that night on the sea. Her eyelids fluttered and her lips parted slightly.
Justin smiled down at her. Feena opened one green eye and scrutinized him severely, "What? No wake up kiss?"
Justin stepped back in surprise. Feena stretched and leapt lightly onto the sand. She poked him accusingly in the chest, "You've got to do better than that, Justin! You're not the last man on earth!" Folding her arms, Feena began to laugh airily, showing that she only meant these words in jest.
Feeling slightly relieved by her good humor, Justin laughed too.
Of course, after taking another look around the beach, Feena slightly amended her earlier pronouncement. "...You might not be the only man...but maybe you might as well be."
When they were caught up in the midst of adventures, running and fighting and exploring, she felt so mature and independent, but with just the two of them alone with the swishing of the waves, she suddenly felt so young and so small. Justin couldn't help but feel a similar twinge of emotion. He reached out and grasped Feena's slender hand.
She almost didn't notice at first, but then, as she turned to face him again, she squeezed his hand in return. "F-Feena, I..." Justin mumbled, feeling his face warm not with the sun but with the internal heat of a blush.
"Oh, Justin!" Feena threw her arms around his neck and together they toppled onto the sand. At her soft touch, her smooth skin... "I, uh, I can't help it," Justin reddened at his reaction.
"That's okay," she smiled with her sweet green eyes as well as with her lips. "I feel the same way."
The out-going tide swept around their ankles as Justin and Feena went on to explore yet another new world.