Chapter 28:

Beautiful Things


Umi entered the lobby of the nearest of many aquariums- the Basilisk, specialising in large, beastly fish, the two visitors following closely behind her in complete silence.

As she waved back to the on-duty janitor, she took in the familiar smell of the saltwater tanks ahead and smiled, what little stress bubbling up inside her washed away in an instant.

Stepping up to the main entrance, she looked at the girls with the sort of kind smile she’d thought they might be needing right about now. She wasn’t expecting a response, but was relieved when she got one anyway. As Frankie simply loured at the blackly-carpeted ground, pricks of shame touching her shivering skin, Katie spoke to the lifeguard in as normal as a tone as she could muster.

“So… you said you wanted to take us somewhere… I’m guessing this is it?”

“You’d be right.” The blue-suited girl replied. “We’re going to sit and watch the monsters for awhile.”

“M-monsters?” Katie uttered.

They stepped into a not-so-crowded circular room where they could view a single tank of mostly sharks. Umi motioned for the two to sit down on a carpeted stump protruding from the floor near the center of the room, and joined them as they both obliged.

“I’m sorry for being so pushy before.” Umi offered, looking at the fish in hopes they would do the same, breaking eye contact for the first time while speaking to the two. “So your names are Frankie and Katie, correct?”

“Y-yes.” Katie confirmed, watching the reflection of the waves on the soft floor. “I should apologize again, I-“

“No, no. I already told you, this is my job.”

Frankie had not spoken since Umi’s question to her. The Makoasis lifeguard had seemingly paralyzed the girl, watching as she kept her frozen gaze affixed to her cupped hands.

“Frankie? There’s not so many people here as there were out there. Would you… like to talk about it now?”

Frankie made herself believe she was mute.

“…that’s fine.” Umi continued, lifting her weightless arms in a seated stretch before resting then back on the stump. “Just sit and stare at them, won’t you? The monsters in this tank.”

Frankie didn't really know why she listened. It might’ve been the woman’s funny choice of words, or how stupidly embarrassed she was becoming. Either way, she was begrudgingly impressed to see it- a tiny little ecosystem populated by these strange beasts. It transfixed her for some reason.

“See how fast you can forget things when something unexpected comes into view.” Umi postured. “Where are you two from?”

“M-Merrytown.” Katie voiced. “In Northern Missouri.”

“Ah, I see.” The girl replied. “Something about that sounds familiar.”

“You might be thinking of…” Katie began, hesitating at the last second. “Berrytown, it was in the news this week…”

“Oh. Yeah, I think that’s what it must’ve been. Were you two… close to there, when it happened?”

“Y-yes… I… don’t recall, but… Frankie says we were in the attack.”

“I see.” Katie examined a shark’s beady black eye from a distance. “And you both made it out alive. …Of course, life isn’t everything. I’m sure you’ve both lost a lot, in one way or another.”

“I… guess so, yes. But to be honest, I’m not sure what it was that we lost. Only that… well… Frankie is clearly not happy.” She slowly followed the blue reflection of the water to view the tank it stemmed from. “I don’t understand. I’m a little scared, really. I don’t know how to help her.”

Feeling far too engaged in the discussion, Frankie diverted her gaze back to the simple ground.

“I can’t help you there. It’s not in me to put words in other people’s mouths- and if I tried explaining her to you, that’s all I’d be doing. That’s why… I want to know your sister. So I don't have to.”

Umi tried to spot every fish in the tank.

“…But, if you are afraid, and you’re really lost in your sister’s feelings right now, I’ll tell you one thing-“

She leaned back to see the entirety of the glass window into the watery world.

“Millions of people come to theme parks to separate their existences every day. I had a boy in here once who was just like your sister. I never knew why he did what he tried to do. But what I did discover was quite simple. Afterwards, when he looked at this tank of fish, he was sad- not because he’d almost thrown away his chance at having this experience- but because when he looked up at those fish in the same way that all the other happy children did, he couldn’t explain what he felt.” She breathed in the atmosphere of the aquarium once again, closing her eyes as she imagined the boy. “The boy only knew that he was sad, unable to understand the emptiness he took away looking at these fish. In this moment, your sister is more pain than she was at the bottom of that pool. It’s just that, in this wonderful, magical world… that pain hurts much more when the world around you doesn’t stop to reflect it.”

A drop of water hit the ground below Frankie’s eyes.

“You can’t escape them, and you can’t understand them- like a hug from an enemy, they break you up inside. That’s what beautiful things do to a person.”

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