“Aina . . .” Iori’s voice sailed into Aina’s ears, carried by the gentle sea breeze. The tender way he said her name grabbed her attention, forcing her eyes to his.
The moment was surreal as they both were standing in Grand Blue’s dock, face to face only a few feet apart. On the horizon the sunset bled an orange glow, casting their twin shadows towards the sea.
His gaze upon her was unusually warm, heating her cheeks with a crimson hue. Hearing him call her ‘Aina’ made her blush worse.
Iori continued, holding out an instant lotto ticket. “Would you like to go to Okinawa with me?”
The question left her confused, and she was unable to reply. Of course she wants to go with him. But Aina knew already who Iori had chosen to bring on the trip. “Just the two of us,” she recalled Iori saying to Chisa with a beaming smile. And she had heard just as surely, just as clearly, Chisa’s reply: “I’m okay with that.”
So why is Iori asking me this now?
All sorts of questions were swimming around in her head. Did Chisa change her mind about the trip? That being one. Did Iori break up with her, or did she break up with him? Wait, were they even dating? Was she just a substitute for Chisa, a stand-in? There is nothing wrong with that, is there? A familiar panic-stricken voice detached her from her thoughts.
“Aina, look out!”
Speaking of the devil, Aina twirled to see Chisa running towards them, frantically waiving her arm for them to get out of the way. Ahead of Chisa, a dozen diving cylinders was dangerously barreling down the dock at breakneck speed, threatening to run her and Iori over.
Horrified, Aina quickly turned to Iori, ready to shove him out of harm’s way. But he was gone, as though he had never been there at all.
Surprise at his sudden disappearance froze Aina in place. Before she knew it, a wayward cylinder had flung her small frame to the side like a bowling ball hitting a pin. The force threw her from the narrow dock and into the lukewarm orange-tinted sea.
Almost like Alice down the rabbit hole, Aina was plunged into a strange but familiar world. Right before her eyes laid an underwater spectacle of marine plants, corals and colorful fishes. A sea turtle of a species she did not recognize swam past, mere inches from her nose. Tiny bubbles escaped her lips as she gasped in awe.
Then Aina began to sink. She watched as the hue around her shifted from late afternoon light to total, complete darkness. By now fear should have overwhelmed her, but she made no attempt to resist the invisible force dragging her. In truth, she had allowed herself to be whisked away, hoping Iori would come for her just as quickly as he vanished.
But no one came. Aina’s palms had already wrinkled and still she remained alone. Finally, she had enough. It dawned on her: brooding in the suspended reality of the ocean will get her nowhere. With a resolute shake of her head, she made a silent promise to herself.
Just then, an illuminated circle mysteriously opened above Aina. Faint light filtered in, taking a long, straight, tunnel-like shape. Like moth to a flame, her curiosity was peaked. She cannot help but wonder what surprise awaits her at the end.
I will not lose Iori to anyone. No one can come between us.
Satisfied with her new-found resolve, Aina swam up towards the light and out of her dream.
TO BE CONTINUED.