PRW Runner-up Tour: Not Just Any Girl by Jennifer McCoy
Violent waves swirled and crashed upon the jagged rocks. I flailed my arms and legs, desperate to grab hold of something and pull my head above the surface of the water. A wave crashed over my head and pushed me into another rock. I let out a garbled scream at the painful sting that scratched along my bare back. The powerful force of the swirling sea sucked me under. I choked, unable to breathe. My human body was exhausted.
If only I had my skin I could shift back to my native form and easily swim out to open water. But I didn’t. I’d lost it after leaving it on a rock before jumping into the water and wading around, squishing my toes into the soft sand, as I’d so often done before.
Now, as I struggled to survive the cold, brutal pounding of the northern sea, my strength all but left me. The turbulent ocean jerked my battered body chaotically. I finally managed to grasp the sharp edge of one of the rocks, wincing as it sliced into my hand. Coughing, I tried to pull a much needed breath of air into my lungs. But in my severely weakened state, my fingers slipped.
The roar of the ocean echoed in my ears as I was pulled down again and thrust backward into another jagged boulder. I vaguely registered the stabbing pain in the back of my head before everything went dark.
“Don’t worry. I’ve got you. You’re gonna be all right.”
My breath caught as I awoke to the sound of a deep, unfamiliar voice. But, before I could panic, an agonizing pain overtook me. My head throbbed. My chest ached. My arms and legs felt torn and twisted. Gashes and scrapes across my skin burned with such intensity, all I could do was cry. I didn’t even have the strength to open my eyes and look up at the man carrying me.
“Nana!” he yelled. “Get the door!”
“Oh dear,” cried a woman’s voice. “Logan. What happened?”
“I don’t know. I pulled her from the water up at Devil’s Cove. She was unconscious but somehow breathing when I found her.”
“It’s a miracle she survived at all. Put her in your sister’s room. I’ll get some warm water and ointment.”
“I’m going to set you on the bed now, okay?”
A moment later, my back touched down on a cloud and I winced. Then my aching legs and feet. And then, with the gentlest of movement, he laid my head back and slid his arm out from beneath my neck. I’d never felt anything so soft in all my life.
“Hey,” he whispered, wiping the tears from my cheeks. “You’re gonna be okay now.”
I blinked my eyes open slowly, tearing up more as they stung from the salt and sand to which my human eyes simply were not accustomed. As my vision came into focus, I saw the face of my savior for the first time.
He looked a little older than me, with lightly tanned skin, dark brown hair that fell just over his forehead, and brilliant, amber eyes.
“Wh—” I swallowed to wet my throat. “Where—”
“Shh. Don’t talk. I can see how much it hurts when you try. I promise, you’re safe here. You’re at my grandmother’s house. We’ll get you fixed up and feeling better in no time.”
“All right, Logan, I’ll take care of her. Why don’t you go call the doctor? See if he can drive out to look over her injuries.”
“No!” I squeaked out. “Please… don’t leave.” Logan’s concerned gaze shift to his grandmother. I turned my attention to her and whispered, “I want him to stay.”
Her brow furrowed. “What’s your name, dear?”
“And how old are you?”
She pursed her lips. “Are you sure you want him to stay, Arianna?”
“Yes.” I didn’t understand why she was so concerned. This man had saved me. I trusted him.
From the corner of my eye, I watched him carry a wooden chair across the room and sit down beside me. “Are you sure you want me here?”
“Yes. I just… feel safer with you here.”
“All right, dear, brace yourself. This is going to sting a little.”
I whimpered at the first stinging sensation and cried when I felt Logan’s warm hand clasp mine. I don’t remember how long I lasted before I passed out.
My eyes flickered open to a darkened room lit by a dim white light beside the bed. I rolled to my back, holding my breath in anticipation of the pain. There was none.
I settled into the soft layers of bedding and let out a breath. My chest still ached a little and my muscles were still sore, but the searing pain on my skin was gone. I cried, thankful to be alive. Then it hit me. I was alive and sleeping in a human’s house! And I suddenly recalled the stories my grandmother had told me.
Stories that held the promise of love but always ended in heartbreak. Because, in every tale I’d ever heard, a Selkie shed her skin and fell in love with a human. Each thought the man truly loved her, but discovered otherwise when she either found her pelt hidden among his possessions or discovered it destroyed.
For those who found it, the sea called her home, forcing her to abandon the man she thought had loved her, as well as any children she may have had, never able to return to land in human form ever again. For those whose skin had been burned— the only way to destroy a Selkie’s skin— they fell into a deep depression and drowned themselves.
And while the stories I’d heard always ended in tragedy, they always began with hope. Because it’s also said that should a Selkie fall in love with a man who truly loves her, she’ll be released from her bond with the sea and can choose to remain human for the rest of her life.
The door cracked open, spilling a narrow column of light across the floor.
“I’m going to check on her again,” Logan said quietly.
“She’s healing fine, Logan. The doctor said she just needed to rest. You need to stop worrying over her so much.”
“I can’t help it, Nana. I just feel like she needs me.”
“You haven’t slept hardly at all for several days. I’m starting to worry about you.”
He let out a deep, heavy sigh. “I know. I promise I’ll try and sleep tonight.”
“Okay, well, goodnight. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“G’night.” Logan stepped in and closed the door behind him. He leaned back against the door and rubbed both eyes as he let out another deep breath. “What is this girl doing to me?” he muttered. His head thumped against the door and stood, unmoving for a few seconds as he stared upward.
I couldn’t wait any longer. I was stiff and sore and needed out of this bed. Rolling to my side, I started to push myself up, but found my arm trembling under my own weight.
“Arianna?” Logan said, rushing toward me. “Here, let me help you.” He slid one hand behind my shoulder and grabbed my hand. The warmth from his touch sent a shiver through me as my heartbeat quickened. After carefully helping me to sit up, he let go and sat down in the chair next to me, and I immediately felt the loss of his touch.
“Thank you,” I whispered.
“Anytime. Are you feeling better?”
“Much, yes, but I am a little hungry.”
“Well, I think that can be arranged,” he smiled and stood.
“Wait, where are you going?”
“To the kitchen? Where else would I get you some food?”
“No, I want to get up. I can’t lie here any longer.” I pushed the covers away from my body and looked down at my bruised and scratched bare legs.
“I see you’re still wearing my t-shirt from the other day,” he chuckled, seemingly a little nervous. Logan crossed the room to a chest against the far wall and rummaged through the drawers. He returned and tossed a couple pieces of clothing on the bed. “These are my sister’s. You’re close to her size so I think they’ll fit. I’ll wait outside while you get dressed.”
Logan left and closed the door behind him. I climbed out of the bed and stood. My legs wobbled beneath me but somehow I managed keep from falling. After exchanging Logan’s shirt for the smaller, pink one he’d left me, I grabbed the light gray pants and slipped them on, noting how they pooled on the floor around my feet. His sister was obviously taller than me.
When I opened the door, Logan was right there waiting, as promised. A tired smile lit his face.
“The pants are too long,” I said, tugging them up to free my feet from the excess fabric.
“Well, you aren’t going anywhere tonight, so they’ll do for now. C’mon, kitchen’s this way.”
I followed him into the next room where he pulled a chair out from a round table and motioned me to sit.
“I’m not sure what you like and I’m not one for cooking,” he stammered as he pulled a few items from various cupboards and drawers. “I’ve got cheese, crackers, bread… some leftover pasta from dinner. Any of those sound good?”
When I didn’t answer, he cast a glance my way. “Um… whatever’s easiest is fine. I don’t want to trouble you.”
“It’s no trouble. Besides, you gotta eat somethin’ to get your strength back.”
“What would you recommend?”
“Definitely the pasta.”
A few minutes later, a bowl of warm chicken and noodles sat in front of me. The smell of the food made my mouth water. I grabbed hold of the metal stick that Logan had used to mix the food and started eating. My eyes popped open as the delicious flavor hit my tongue. I’d never tasted anything like it and gulped it down in a matter of minutes.
“Wow. You really are hungry. I can heat up some more if you like.”
“Please.” A few minutes later and another bowl of pasta eaten, I was feeling much better. Sitting across from me, Logan had waited patiently for me to finish. “That was good. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” he replied. “So, if you don’t mind my asking, what happened the other day?”
“Um…I’d really rather not talk about it.”
“Okay. Is there anything you do want to talk about?”
“Yes, actually. I’m curious… why don’t you speak like the others?”
“Oh, you mean my accent? I’m not from around here. I’m from the States, but I spend the summers here with my grandmother.” He looked at me with a curious expression. “Where are you from?”
I stared at him. “Um, here.”
“No you’re not.”
My heart raced. Clearly he knew I was lying, but I couldn’t possibly tell him the truth.
“Look, Arianna,” Logan said softly. He repositioned his chair beside me. “I only want to help. I don’t know what happened out there, but I promise I won’t ever hurt you. You said you felt safe with me, so why won’t you tell me the truth?”
“It’s complicated. You wouldn’t understand…” I lowered my eyes, trying to keep my breathing under control. But his close proximity had my mind reeling and my heart pounding. I wanted to feel the warmth of his touch again. And then, I did. His hand gently grasped my chin and he tilted my head up. I lifted my eyes and met his gaze.
“God, you are so beautiful,” he muttered. My breath hitched and I tensed as he pressed his lips to mine, lingering for only a few seconds before pulling away. I must have looked upset or scared, because his expression saddened.
Logan scooted his chair backward and raked his hand through his hair. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to… I don’t know what came over me…” Leaning forward onto his elbows, he rested his head in his hands.
I stared at the top of his head. I didn’t know what to say or do. All I knew was I wanted him to kiss me again. It may have been short, but it was loving and gentle. In those few seconds, a tingling warmth had cascaded through me. In that brief moment, he made me feel precious and… loved.
Now I was beginning to understand why female Selkies risked bonding with humans. In our native, seal form, love didn’t exist. Yes, we had life-long bonds with our mates, but it was one of necessity and natural instinct. Logan’s kiss stirred up unfamiliar sensations and emotions deep inside me. If this was how love started, then I definitely wanted more of it.
I thought back again to the stories and how they all ended in sorrow. But how did they begin? All of them started with fear. Fear of being discovered as a shape-shifter, and so the truth was kept hidden until the man discovered it on his own. If I did the same, I wondered if my story would have a similar ending. An ending I knew I didn’t want, no matter how blissful the path leading up to the end might be.
“Logan.” I took a deep breath as he lifted his head and looked at me. I mustered my inner strength, praying I was not about to make the biggest mistake of my life. “There is something I need to tell you.”
His eyes lit up with cautious optimism as he straightened in his chair.
“But before I do, I want you to know that what I’m about to tell you, I’ve never told to another person ever before. I want to tell you because, as you reminded me earlier, I do feel safe with you, and I’m trusting you’ll believe me.”
“You can tell me anything, Arianna. I promise, I will believe you.”
I pressed my lips together and took another deep breath. All right, here goes… “Have you ever heard stories before about seal-people?”
Logan knit his brow. “You mean Selkies?”
Holding my breath, I nodded.
“I remember Nana telling me stories about them when I was little. But they’re just a myth. Why? What does that have to do with you?”
“What if I told you they weren’t a myth, but that they were real?”
“Yeah right, and so are mermaids, sea monsters, and dragons,” he laughed.
My heart sank. Tears welled up in my eyes, but I refused to let them fall. “Never mind,” I frowned. His expression sobered and he reached for my hand, grabbing it before I could pull away.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “Please, continue. I won’t laugh again. I promise.”
As genuine as he sounded, I shook my head. “No, I can’t. I… I think I should go.” I stood and tried to pull my hand from his, but he tightened his grip and stood with me.
“Please, Arianna. Don’t go.”
It was a heartfelt plea that left my heart torn. Did I stay and try again to trust him? Or do I leave now and protect myself from future pain and sorrow?
If I was going to be honest with myself, I wanted this to work. I wanted him to know because it might be my only chance. So, before I could talk myself out of it, I blurted out, “I’m a Selkie.”
I held my breath, my stomach knotting as I waited in awkward silence for some sort of response. His stunned expression left me regretting my decision. I didn’t know if he believed me or not, but I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to leave. Yanking my hand from his, I turned and ran out the door and found myself outside with the ocean only a short walk across the sand.
My home was so close and yet so far away. Without my skin, I would drown. I had to find it. Under the light of the nearly full moon, I ignored the pain and ran north toward the tall, jagged rocks where Logan had found me days earlier.
As my feet hit the sand, the door squeaked behind me and I forced myself to run faster. Tears stung my eyes. If it hurt this much now, I couldn’t imagine the heartache I would have felt if I’d stayed.
I ignored Logan’s plea and kept running, though I didn’t know how much longer I could. The rocks seemed so far away and with my strength not quite restored, running on the loose sand was exhausting. I felt myself slowing, my body fighting my heart’s desire to get away.
“Arianna! Please! Stop!”
Logan’s voice grew closer as he caught up to me. His footfalls sunk into the sand just behind me. A moment later, his strong arms went around me from behind. My feet tangled with his and together we stumbled to the ground. Desperate to get away, I scrambled to my feet, panting. But Logan was faster. He grabbed me again before I could run and hugged me tight with my back to his front. I squirmed for a moment, but gave in when I realized I didn’t have the strength to fight him.
Pressed against him, I felt his chest rise and fall with fast, deep breaths. He didn’t say anything for a few minutes. Only stood there behind me, holding me close, and for some reason I didn’t understand, I felt safe again. I was so confused.
“Arianna,” he finally said when his breathing had slowed. “I’m sorry.”
“Just… let me go,” I begged through the tears. “Please.”
“Okay, but promise me you won’t run.”
I nodded and he released me. Free from his hold and his mesmerizing warmth, I stared at the rocks, wanting to run, but I didn’t.
“I believe you,” he whispered and my heart stopped at the sincerity in his tone. “You just… caught me off guard, is all. It’s not every day I find myself face-to-face with something I’d always known to be a myth.”
I turned slowly and looked up at him. “Then you know how the stories begin and end…”
“You mean with the promise of love and life-long happiness only to be tainted by deception and ending in heartache?”
I nodded, unable to speak.
Logan stepped closer to me. “That’s why you wanted to tell me. You thought if I knew, our story might begin differently…”
I closed my eyes. No sense in holding back now. “Yes,” I whispered in defeat.
“You weren’t upset earlier when I kissed you?”
I shook my head and whispered, “No.”
“You lost your seal skin the other day, didn’t you? You need it to go home.”
I nodded again.
“Then I’ll help you find it.”
My eyes popped open. “You will?”
“Arianna, the last thing I would want to do is prevent you from going home. I know what it’s like to be apart from your family and unable to go home.” His tone sobered. “I lost most of my family in a car accident years ago. Only my sister and I survived. I would give anything to see my parents and two brothers again, but I can’t. There is nothing I can do to bring them back.
“But that isn’t the case for you. You can go back and be with your family again. We just need to find your skin. And I promise to help you if you’ll let me.”
I gaped at him, not believing what I’d just heard. “All right,” I agreed.
“And no more running,” he added with a cautious smile.
Taking a deep breath, I hesitated. “Okay.”
Logan grabbed my hand and linked his fingers with mine, closing the space between us. He looked down at me, his eyes drifting from mine to my lips, and my heart jumped at the promise that he might kiss me again.
“One more thing,” he whispered, meeting my gaze again. He wrapped his arms around me, squeezing me to him.
“What’s that?” I squeaked out, already melting in his warm embrace.
The words had barely fallen from my mouth when he captured me in another kiss. Other than the brief peck earlier, I’d never been kissed before, so I really didn’t know what I was doing, but knew enough to know I wanted more. So I let him guide me and parted my lips at his gentle urging. I gasped when he dipped his tongue in and explored my mouth. My knees buckled as the intimate connection between us weakened me.
He tightened his hold, pressing his hand into the small of my back and arching me into his body, preventing my collapse. After a few passionate seconds, his kiss softened and he released my lips, his mouth still lingering against mine. It both relieved and excited me to know he was just as breathless as I was.
“You have no idea how much I’ve been wanting to do that,” he breathed. “C’mon. Let’s head back to the house. We’ll start our search first thing in the morning.”
“Okay. Oh, and Logan?”
“I’m glad you ran after me.”
He smiled and squeezed my hand. “Me too.”
We strolled hand-in-hand back to the house. Once inside, I told him I’d slept enough over the last few days but that he should get some sleep himself. He gave me a short, sweet kiss goodnight and went to his room.
I spent the rest of the night sitting on the edge of the worn, wooden deck, staring across the rolling waves shimmering in the moonlight. I thought of going to search on my own, but wanted to give Logan the chance to prove himself. So I waited and let myself get lost in thought. Surprisingly, the hours passed rather quickly.
The sun had just crested the horizon when the door squeaked open behind me. I glanced over my shoulder and frowned when I saw his grandmother. She sat down beside me.
“He’s still sleeping,” she said.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to seem upset when I saw you.”
“Don’t worry about it, dear,” she said with a genuine smile. “You told him, didn’t you?”
I turned and looked at her.
“What you are, that is?”
“Yes,” I mumbled.
“Good. Then you might just have a chance after all.”
“How did you know?”
“The birthmark on your hip. My mother had one just like it. I remember seeing it one day when I was about nine years old. Shortly before she abandoned us.”
Her words stung. “I’m sorry,” I said, my voice trembling.
“I don’t blame you, Arianna. As a matter of fact, I wish my mother would have had the courage to do what you did last night. My parents love for each other fell apart when she discovered that he’d hidden her pelt from her all along. No amount of apologizing could make up for ten years of deceit.” She paused for a moment. “One lie. That’s all it takes to destroy a family.”
“I don’t want that,” I whispered.
“I know.” She cast a sad smile at me. “Logan’s a good man with more painful memories than someone his age should have. I know you barely know each other, but I can see already how much he loves you. You should know he spent almost every moment at your side while you slept the last few days.”
My eyes watered at the sincerity in her words. He loved me?
“Yes, you heard me correctly,” she smiled knowingly. “I know love when I see it, and I’ve never seen him this way over a girl before.”
The door creaked behind us and I quickly wiped the tears from my eyes.
“You’re up early, Logan,” she grinned with a subtle wink in my direction.
“I couldn’t sleep any longer,” he said, his warm gaze resting on me as he answered her.
“Well, then,” she said, standing. “I think it’s time I get breakfast going.”
“Thanks, Nana,” Logan said, kissing her cheek as she walked by. He looked down at me. “C’mon, we’ve got at least thirty minutes before its ready.”
“Where’re we going?” I asked as he pulled me up.
“Where do you think? To try and find that pelt of yours.”
“Why are you in such a hurry to find it?”
“Because the sooner we find it, the sooner you’ll be able to see your home and family again. Isn’t that what you want?”
“Well, yes, but… don’t you want me to stay?”
“Of course I want you to stay, but it’s more important that you’re happy, even if that means I never see you again.”
Logan cupped my jaw and rubbed his thumb across my cheek, holding my tearful gaze. I didn’t even care in that moment if I never returned home again. I’d give it up for a lifetime with him.
The sound of seals barking in the distance yanked me from my trance. I glanced down the beach and smiled.
“Is that your family?”
I didn’t answer but grabbed his hand, a wide grin plastered across my face. “C’mon!” We ran toward the rocks on which a few Selkies basked in their seal forms and stopped at the water’s edge. One of the seals had a pelt pinched in its mouth.
“Is that your skin?”
“Yes! My sister must have found it!” I rushed into the water, but Logan caught me by the waist and yanked me backward into him. “Wait! What are you doing?”
“I’m not letting you go in there after what happened the other day. Not while you’re still recovering.”
“I’ll be fine, Logan. Besides, my family is here. I’ll be safe.”
“You nearly died, Arianna!”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Have her bring it to me.”
My eyes widened as I imagined my worst fear. That he might take it and keep it from me as men in the tales had always done.
“I won’t keep it from you, I promise,” he said, as if he’d read my mind.
“Okay,” I breathed in acquiescence and waved my sister over.
In her seal form, my sister swam with caution toward Logan as he waded knee deep into the fast swirling water. Leaping onto a rock in front of him, she glanced at me and I nodded. Logan reached out and my sister dropped the pelt in his hand.
As he returned to the shore, I held my breath, waiting for him to offer it back to me, trusting him to keep his word.
“Is it true that any man that possesses this has control over you?”
I gulped, desperately holding back the tears as a frisson of fear coursed through me. “Yes,” I whispered.
Logan stared at my pelt in his hands for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, he spoke again. “Then you’d better hang on to it a little better next time,” he said as he lifted his eyes to meet mine and extended his arms toward me.
I took the skin from his hands. Logan cupped my upper arms and pressed a tender kiss to my lips. When he released me, he looked as though he wanted to say something, but then he just turned and strode away, not once looking back.
My heart caught in my throat. He’d let me go and walked away, letting me choose my own happiness, and I knew beyond a doubt what that choice would be. I watched him walk all the way back to the house before I turned around. My sister stood before me, having shed her skin.
She smiled and pulled me into a hug. “He’s the one,” she whispered. I nodded against her neck. “We’ll miss you, Arianna. I’ll tell mom.”
I pulled away and passed my pelt back to her. “Thank you.” I hugged the others and then ran back to the house. I paused at the screen door to catch my breath and heard Logan and his grandmother talking.
“I’ve never known any man to let a Selkie go before.”
“What could I do, Nana? I would never take that choice away from her. I had to…”
“I know, dear. You’re a good man, Logan. Any girl would be lucky to have you.”
“I don’t want just any girl… I want her.”
The pain in his voice tugged at my heart. I took a deep breath and knocked on the door. His grandmother smiled when she saw me and waved me in. I pulled the door open and stepped inside. “Kitchen,” she mouthed the words to me.
“Thank you,” I reciprocated without making a sound. I padded my way to the kitchen and saw Logan sitting with his back to me, his head in his hands.
“Who was at the door?” he asked.
I took a breath. “Me.”
Logan spun around in his chair, staring up at me in shock. “You came back?”
“Yes,” I answered as he stood.
“What about your family?”
“They’ll always be my family, but I want to be with you.”
I’d barely whispered the words when he leaned down and gave me a kiss. One filled with love and a deep, heartfelt promise. I’d never felt more loved or wanted than those few times Logan had kissed me and my heart swelled as I fell apart under his touch.
Yes, I barely knew him, but I was already falling in love with him. I’d taken a chance with him and shared the one secret no Selkie before me had ever dared. And Logan did the one thing no man had ever done by willingly giving me the freedom to choose my own path.
Our story was only just beginning, but this one held the promise of a perfect ending.
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