Cast of Wonders 295: Artemis Rising 4 – An American Refugee

Show Notes

Cast of Wonders is proud to present the fourth annual Artemis Rising event through March 2018! We have four original stories for you this year, guest-edited by assistant editor Katherine Inskip and associate editor Alexis Goble. This year’s artwork by Geneva Barton.

Artemis Rising is an annual month-long event across all four Escape Artists podcasts, celebrating the voices of women, non-binary, trans, and marginalized gendered authors in genre fiction. The resulting lineup is an incredible collection that celebrates the strength, ingenuity, and brilliance of the artists, the characters they create, and the performers that bring these stories to life. It also features the hosting, editing and production talents of a rotating cast. Part of the project’s mission is to give opportunities and experience in these publication roles traditionally held by men.

Don’t miss the full month of Artemis Rising stories across the Escape Artists podcasts!


An American Refugee

by Tiah Marie Beautement

I first spot the surfer as I run down the path that cuts below the lighthouse. I can’t believe it. The Point is full of holiday campers, so motors are banned on the water until eight a.m. and it is only six-thirty. I run down the steps; reaching the bottom of the peninsula, I find that the few souls that are awake are calm and content. Strange. But when I reach the part of the path that curves at the base of Inner Pool I realize why.

No sound.

It’s an old-school surfer out there. How retro. In the entire week I’ve been in Mossel Bay, the only surfboards I’ve seen have been electric, and even those look dated beside the hover boards that clog every available inch of the water.
I stop at the base of inner pool, where the path creates a sea wall, to watch the surfer catch a wave. The quiet grace, the way it skims across the water, is all kinds of beautiful. So much so, I’m ready to hurl my sweaty self into the sea and ask for a go.

Which would probably horrify my parents. This area is a breeding ground for Great Whites. I can hear them now: “We didn’t escape the US just so our daughter could get herself killed in South Africa.”

The surfer bails, foam crashing over board and human, then a head pops up closer to shore. I think it’s a guy. Probably around my age. He looks at me for a moment, just bobbing in the water, and waves.

A spark flares up my spine, but I try to act natural, waving back.

He smiles before climbing onto his board, paddling back out, stroke after stroke.

It looks like great exercise, much better suited to this heat than jogging. Not that I don’t love the freedom to run outdoors. Nobody needs to tell me how lucky I am. But even so, these temperatures have me puffing like an old lady, which is embarrassing for an ex-Texan. In fairness to me, I was never allowed to run outside there. Too dangerous. It was just me and my ex-sonar treadmill, in the temperature-controlled climate of my home.

My phone buzzes inside my bra. I unfold it to see a message from my mother. I bite my cheek, inwardly cursing the tracker chip immigration authorities placed in my shoulder. Not that I didn’t have one in the United States. Of course I did. But only the authorities had access to it and, thankfully, South Africa deactivated that one. But in this country, they have this “family friendly” policy that allows parents of under-eighteens to use the chip to keep tabs on their children’s movements. My parents love it. Far too much.

Then again, if they couldn’t track me, they probably would have banned outdoor running.

Keeping my eyes on the bay, I send a voice message to my mother assuring her I’m fine. That I’m only taking a breather.

The surfer catches another wave. This time the board is turned back against the rushing water, catching a bit of air as it spins. I resist the urge to clap. But I’m impressed.

Then I realize he isn’t bailing. He keeps coming, closer and closer, hopping off right near the rocks. As he climbs out, I consider bolting. But this is South Africa, not Texas.

“Hi,” he says. “You like old-school surfing?”

I shrug. “You’re the first I’ve ever seen.”

He grins, showing off dimples. “Is that an American accent I hear?”

I nod, now nervous. I hadn’t considered this, how my voice alone will out me as a refugee. Next he’ll ask what letter was on my patch, and if it was me or my parents that got us into this mess.

He scratches the back of his neck. “I thought you were Indian, I mean from Indian descent not Native American, but I’m now guessing probably not.”

I shake my head, trying not to show my relief. “Latina.”

“That’s cool. My name is Kuzwana. You?”

“Fabiana.” The name comes out clearly, as if I’ve been using it all my life.

“Your parents Mexican?”

“No, my mother’s roots are in Nicaragua, but she’s — was, I guess — third generation American, and my father’s side is Hispanic — Spanish heritage.”

He shifts his board, resting it on the sand. “So do you speak Spanish?”

“Outlawed,” I say.

“Oh, right, forgot it’s English only.” He let out a chuckle, “And now you’re here, where we have eleven official languages and you’re supposed to start learning a second by at least seven. What you going to do at school?”

“I’m accepted at the Old Shipyard. They’re private and on the British system. They have a waiver for people like me. We only have to take two years of French.”

“Hey, that’s great, I go there, too. My last year and I’m taking isiXhosa, my home language, even though it’s considered my ‘second language’ at school.”

I nod, but before I can say anything, my phone is buzzing again. I didn’t even have to take it out of my bra to know what it was going to say: Come home, now.


My mother is madder than an army of fire ants whose nest has been drowned. “What are you doing? You father’s first day, not going to see him for a week, and you don’t come to say good-bye?”

I take a breath to steady my nerves. “Mom, you said you were leaving at seven-thirty, it’s only just after seven.”

“Sweet Holy Mary have mercy on my nerves. Do you know what it does to me when I see you’ve stopped moving?”

Maybe you should quit watching me so much, I don’t say. Because I enjoy breathing. “I met another Old Shipyard student.”

“Oh.”

My father steps into the room, small suitcase by his side. “We ready to go?”

“She hasn’t showered,” Mom says.

Dad raises an eyebrow. “Oh, no, not a sweaty child. How will I cope on the platform amongst burly roughnecks if I can’t share a hover pod with my own kid?”

“Daniel,” Mom whispers.

“She’s fine,” he says.

Mom’s head snaps in my direction. “Did you take your meds?”

“Yes, of course. First thing, every morning.”

She nods, but looks nervous. “Feeling okay?”

“Mom, I was only off them for two weeks, I’m fine.”

Dad smiles, and puts a hand on her back. “Come, you drive.”

I take the rear seat in the hover pod. That’s the one bummer about South Africa, I’m not going to be allowed to drive until eighteen. In the United States it was sixteen. Well, for the so-called normals, anyway. Normals can even go to the doctor and get a prescription, no problem. Me? Well, thankfully two members of our church were compassionate. The doctor wrote the prescription out to a normal-woman who was at the age of menopause and she passed the drugs I needed on to me. Thankfully, the authorities didn’t look too closely or we would have been busted.

My dad looks back at me. “So what was your fellow classmate like? Nice?”

“Yeah, seems so.”

Mom glances in the mirror. “What was her name?”

“Um.” I start to bite my lip and, at the sight of Dad’s expression, stop. “It was a guy, actually. Kuzwana.”

Dad smiles.

Mom’s shoulders stiffen. “Fabiana –”

“Mara,” Dad says. “Let’s hear what our daughter has to say.” He gives me a look.

“He was at the Point. We talked for a few minutes, that was all. He’s in grade twelve, takes isiXhosa as a second language, even though it’s actually his first, enjoys water sports.”

“And?” Mom says.

“And what? That was it.”

Dad reaches back and places a hand on my knee. “You know what your mother is asking. Please.”

I blow out an air of frustration. “He recognized my accent, but didn’t ask if I wore a patch or what letter was on it. He didn’t ask what skills either of you had that gained us entry to South Africa. He didn’t even ask if I have one parent or two or if you are MF, MM, or FF. Okay?”

Mom sighs.

Dad pats my knee. “Thank you.”

“It’s different here.”

Mom parks the hover pod and turns around. “It might be different, but we don’t know how different. People might think we’re taking their jobs, using up their resources. Not everybody is happy about the program. Look at the riots in the United Kingdom. They’ve had to put a temporary halt until things calm down. Even some Canadians have questioned taking American refugees, pointed out our country’s long history of booting our immigrants, even children.”

“It’s not our country anymore,” I say.

Mom shuts her eyes tight, like I’ve slapped her.

Dad simply opens the door. “Come, I want a hug before I board the heli-tilt.”

As soon as I’m out, he’s got me in a bear hug. “Fabiana, be kind to your mother while I’m gone. This has been hard for her.”

“Sure.”

He gives me a kiss on the top of my head, before turning to Mom.

Mom and I watch the heli-tilt take off. Soon he’ll be on the Russian owned gas-platform, one of the last of its kind, located in South African waters. “Who’d have guessed we’d have the Russians to thank for our freedom?” Mom murmurs.

It’s more complicated than that, I don’t say. Because I can see she’s near tears.


Next morning, I’m headed out of the house when my mother meets me at the door. “You got your phone with you?”
I reach into my jog-top and pull it out of the bra section.

“You have the map of the town bookmarked? The emergency numbers? My number?”

I unfold the phone and show her the town map is my screen saver. Then I show her the contacts, that I’ve made her number the first to call. It’s even voice activated so if I shout, “Help,” it simultaneously alerts my mother and the local police.

She gives me a tight smile, looking as jumpy as a catfish on a hook.

“You okay?”

She runs her fingers through her hair. “Got a meeting with Home Affairs to discuss my skills and see about a work permit. So you’re going to be alone part of the day.”

I nod. Even though we were allowed refuge in South Africa based on Dad’s skills, I know Mom wants to work too. But they only process one member of the family pre-immigration. The rest are dependents until their status can be determined. “I’m sure it will go great.”

“It will be what it will be. But that’s fine. We can easily live on your dad’s generous salary, no matter how long it takes.”

“Sure,” I say, knowing that isn’t the point.

“Anyway, once you are done with your run, I want you back here. No wandering. Got it?”

“No problem,” I say.

I run down the path and spot a surfer in the water but I’m still too far away to tell if it’s Kuzwana. As I make my way around the Point, I admire the campers’ Christmas decorations. Tiny wind turbines and solar panels power the strings of lights. It’s pretty sweet. You’d never guess that this part of town was flooded last June during a winter storm. Local lore says this never happened until five years ago. Now it’s becoming an annual occurrence.

I think about my father out there on the platform and wonder how well it weathers storms. Not that any bad weather is predicted this week. But it won’t be summer forever.

When I reach the base of Inner Pool I sit on a low wall and watch as the water licks the seawall. Kuzwana is out there, but with a couple others that I hadn’t spotted earlier. They bob up and down, looking across the bay towards the mountains, waiting, as swells pass under their boards.

Bump, bump, bump, the water rolls, until the surge, mother nature gathering up a bundle of sea. It’s released in sets. The first in the line catches the front wave, the next person waits until the second barrels forward, Kuzwana grabs the third. They look like they’re performing a routine, as they slide on their own waves, each making sure not to have their board pointed directly at the surfer in front.

Then plop, plop, plop, they bail. When Kuzwana’s head pops back up, his eyes meet mine, and he waves.
The other two turn, paddling back out. But Kuzwana swims closer to the rocks and hauls himself out.

“Hey Fabiana,” he calls out, coming closer. “How you doing, today?”

“Good.”

He sets his board down on the path and joins me on the wall that divides the path from the water. “I was hoping to see you this morning. Those of us that stay in town during the tourist invasion have to stick together.”

“Don’t think I’ve been here long enough to be called a local, yet.”

He smiles, showing off those sweet-sweet dimples. “Nah, isn’t like that. You’re going to be going to school here, that makes you part of Mossel Bay. It’s as easy as that.”

I let out a short, sharp laugh. Life is never as easy as that.

“You got plans for the summer?”

I shrug. “I run every morning. Aside from that, not much. Parents busy sorting out our lives, need to get my school supplies, you know, working through the details.”

He nods. “Yeah, I get it. It’s my parents’ turn to be on duty at the refinery this year, so we’re not going anywhere. Got some family coming this way, but none of them surf. In fact, my sister and I can’t get any of our cousins in the water.”

“Heard about the sharks, huh?”

He tips his head back and laughs. Water trickles down his throat, and he looks all-kinds-of-gorgeous. I shiver, trying to shake off the hormones. I mean, I take the hormones to be who I am, but even so, these feelings — this is where danger lies. But he doesn’t notice, too busy laughing at me and the sharks.

“You know, this is one of the few areas left where they’ve got enough to eat, right?” he finally says.

“Yeah, surfers.”

He snorts. “Haven’t had an attack in over six years, and that was only somebody surfing at the mouth. Don’t do that, by the way.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

He grins. “You ever surf?”

Only “normals” allowed at the beaches, I don’t say. Instead, I give him a face of mock horror. “Not on your life. Only things hanging around the swamps of Texas are gators and catfish.”

He strokes his chin. “I hear alligators have got some big teeth.”

“That they do, but those aren’t the problem. The jaws hold you tight while they tumble you until you drown. And unlike your well-fed sharks, those gators do not have much to eat other than catfish, and they’re bored of ’em. Not that I blame them.”

“Catfish not your favorite?”

“Well,” I say diplomatically, “it’s better than being hungry.”

“True, that.”

The two surfers emerge from the water.

“Come over here,” Kuzwana beckons.

The two oblige, and as they come closer I realize one of them is a young woman, like me.

“This is my man, Zibulo,” Kuzwana says. “And this is my sister, Noxolo, but don’t let the name fool you, she’s anything but peaceful.”

“You’ll get your peace soon enough,” she says with a laugh. “Then you’ll be lonely, still stuck in high school, stressing about your life.”

“Like it’s going to be easy at university.”

She snorts. “First year is a breeze compared to matric. Everybody knows that, hey?”

Zibulo turns to me, “I hear you’re from America. What’re the schools like?”

Of all the questions I thought he’d ask, that isn’t one of them. “Oh, I’m sure school’s pretty much the same wherever you go.” Unless you’re branded a non-normal and shunted off to warehouses where you learn via your tablet and earbuds while a police officer watches for signs of rebellion or attempts at “lifestyle choices” propaganda.

But none of them seem to call me on my answer, and they start talking about the waves, and who did what, and how amazing they were, or not, or “what were you thinking?” and –

“You going to surf?”

I blink up at Noxolo. “Oh, I hadn’t really thought –”

“Don’t tell me you’re like those flat landers who come to the sea with their fancy electronic surfboards and hover boards and all that crap. This is Mossel Bay. If you’re going to be a real local, going to school at the Old Shipyard, you need to be old-school and do it right.”

“I don’t do any of those things, really. I’m a runner.”

Zibulo cracks up. “Running? Now that’s something you do if you’ve got a lion or your mother chasing after you. Otherwise, what’s the matter with walking?”

I shrug. “Keep you fit?”

Zibulo’s face sobers up. “Yeah, okay, but tell me, where’s the fun? Where’s the joy?”

“Being outdoors.” Too late, I realize what I’ve just revealed. I feel my face going hot and hope it isn’t too obvious. I mean, I’m not as dark as they are, but it’s not like I’m a bleached sheet, either.

Kuzwana pokes me in the ribs. “Exercising outdoors is great, I agree. Gyms stink of BO and bad taste. But what my man is asking is, how is running fun?”

I blink at them, unsure how to answer, because I’ve never thought about it that way. Running is what I’ve done to stay fit, to clear my head, to give me time to daydream, imagine living in a place where it is okay to be who I am.

“Fun never came into it. Just what I do.”

“Okay, okay,” Noxolo says. “So you run. Great. But don’t you want to learn to surf?”

I look at the waves beating against those rocks and bite my lip. She follows my gaze.

“Oh, no, we don’t start a beginner there. That would be mean. No, we take beginners to Diaz, start them nice and slow in water no deeper than your waist.”

“That’s a long run,” I say, looking across the bay to where she’s pointing.

Zibulo chuckles. “That’s why I hang out with these two, they’ve both got a license.”

I stare at Kuzwana. “You’re eighteen?”

He smiles with pride. “Two weeks ago.”

Noxolo shook her head. “He’s only nine months younger than me, but mama held him back because he is so sensitive.”
He looks down at his toes, acting like he doesn’t care, but I get it. “My schooling is all messed up, too. The curriculum I was on in the States doesn’t quite match the one here, so they thought it best to start in grade ten.”

His eyes meet mine. “Meet me here tomorrow, six-thirty. I’ll drive you to Diaz.”

“But I don’t own a board, a wetsuit, or anything.”

“You borrow mine,” Noxolo says. “I’m going out tonight and there is no way I’m gonna make dawn-patrol after that.”

“There you go,” Kuzwana says. “You’ve got no more excuses.”

My mother might have something to say about that, I don’t say.


At home I find our family’s legal documents spread across the dining table. Mom must have been looking for the right papers to bring to her Home Affairs appointment. Our old patches are in a pile. The rainbow triangle with a T for me. The grey triangle with a T for my mom and dad, indicating my parents had raised a non-normal. I wanted to burn them, but my parents refused. “I will not erase history,” my mother said.

“Some day,” my father said, “there will be people who will ask, ‘Did it really happen?’ and you can show them these and say, ‘I was there.'”

What if I’d rather forget, I didn’t say.

Because while my parents never blamed me, they are only here because of me. Had they forced me to live life as Fabian Daniel Ramirez, my mother would have never had her attorney’s license revoked, my father’s pay would have never been slashed to half of what it had been.

Except I know that isn’t exactly how it would have been, either. I was saying I was a girl by the time I could talk. But the first rules only came into effect when I was eleven. By the time I was thirteen, nobody was talking about “rehabilitation”. We were a disease, people who spread “lifestyle propaganda.” Beyond redemption. One “transgression” was all it took, no matter how long ago it had been.

One woman, married to her husband for twenty years, had the authorities pitch up with a photo of her kissing another woman. The snap had been taken twenty-seven years before, when she was a sophomore at university. They gave her two choices, wear the patch with B and your husband and family will wear one too for being complicit, or wear the L and the family will be spared because they were lied to.

She picked the L.

Her husband and family put on grey L patches anyway.

Canada took them.

Which was lucky.

A family that lived in the building next to mine were burnt. Two mothers, three kids.

Even the baby, they tossed into the blaze.


I can see the “no” hovering on my mother’s lips.

“Please,” I say. “It looks like fun. It isn’t going to cost anything.”

“Money isn’t the point. Your father is making good money here and soon, I’ll be working too.”

“Mom, it’s going to be outside. It’s not like he invited me to his house.”

“But you want to ride in his hover pod. Are you out of your mind? I don’t even know his parents.”

“Okay, fine, I understand you don’t want me riding in a pod with somebody you don’t know. Would you drive me, then? I’m meeting him at the Point and then you could follow him to Diaz. You can see where I am at all times via the tracker. I’ll have my phone. Waterproof technology, isn’t it great? I could call you from the middle of the sea.”

“Don’t you dare try to call me while in the water. One strong wave and some shark is flossing its teeth with it. You know how much that phone cost? Keep it tucked in that wetsuit.”

My lips twitch, trying to smile. But no way, got to keep a straight face or all is lost. And I certainly don’t point out that she just told me not to worry about money. “Please. You don’t want me going to a new school and not knowing anybody, right?”

She snorts. “How on earth did I manage to raise a con artist?”

“Lawyer genes.”

She shakes her head, but her eyes light up. “Did I tell you they’re considering letting me take correspondence courses to update my degree? I mean, the laws are different here, even being an attorney is split between barristers and solicitors. But there is some cross over, so whatever I choose, I wouldn’t have to start completely over.”

“That’s great.” I give her a big hug.

She squeezes me tight for just a moment before letting me go. “You tell this boy you’re trans?”

I shook my head. “But he must know, right? I mean, it’s either that, or I’m queer.”

“Maybe he thinks you have two dads or moms.”

Or not. “Look, Mom, he only offered to teach me to surf. I’m not trying to kiss him.”

“But you wouldn’t mind if he did, would you?”

“Mom!”

“I need you to hear me on this: you need to be careful. Even after you have the surgery, there will be people who will still not accept you.”

“Okay. I know that. But it’s just a morning on the beach.”

She gives me the mother-stare. “I was young once, too, you know.”

“I know.”

“I’m not stupid.”

“I know.”

“So,” she says, “I know damn well there is no such thing as ‘just a morning on the beach.’”

I don’t reply, because I honestly am not sure if I want her to be right or not.


“Sweet Mary and Joseph, this is crazy,” I splutter, as water streams from my body. “I think even my ears snorted water.”

“You’re being too hard on yourself,” Kuzwana says.

I look at him, standing easy beside me, looking hardly wet in this waist deep water with the surfboard securely tucked at his side.

“I bum bounced. Twice. I didn’t even know that was possible.”

“Your pop up was good, almost stayed on your feet.”

“Then landed on my bum and bounced. Twice. Did you hear that part?”

He grins, patting the board. “Come on, you don’t want me telling everybody at the Old Shipyard that you’re a quitter?”

“Saving my dignity is not the same as quitting,” I mutter. But I heave myself onto the board anyway, and start trying to paddle out.

He walks alongside me, chuckling.

I turn my head and glare. “You know, maybe it would be faster if I just walked with you and carried the board.”

“Probably. But then you wouldn’t be building up your muscles and would never be strong enough to surf at Inner Pool.”

“Excellent point.”

I dig my arms in, pulling myself through the water.

“Duck,” Kuzwana orders.

A crumbly wave comes by and smacks me in the face.

He pops up and blinks at me. “Why didn’t you duck under the wave?”

“I don’t know. I was pushing but nothing was happening and then I was eating wave.”

“Girl muscles,” he groans. “But no worries, they’ll come. Noxolo’s did.” He looks ahead. “Okay, turn it around.
Baby set coming in. When I say, ‘Go,’ you start paddling and I’ll give you a push. Got it?”

“Here goes nothing,” I mutter. Turning the board around makes me feel like an old-fashioned steam ship.

“Go!”

I plunge my arms in, pulling through that water for all I’m worth. I dig deep, gaining speed, when I feel the lift of the board.

“Pop up!”

I grab the board and push up, swinging my legs underneath. Feet make contact and — “Holy Moses! I’m doing it! I’m doing it!”

And I’m eating water, total face plant.

Strong hands insert under my armpits, hauling me up. “You did it!” Kuzwana exclaims. “You did it!”

I grin, only to have a wave grab my board and run away with it. The leash on my ankle tugs like crazy, and I’m down under the water again. Who knew you could drown in knee-deep water?

But those strong hands are pulling me back up, and in the next moment, he’s got my board under control. “Good to hang on to this.”

“Thanks for the tip,” I mutter, grabbing it back.

I’m about to suggest another go, when I spot my mother waving on the end of the beach.

In the pod, my mother asks me, “Did you tell him?”

I turn my head and look out the window. “No. I thought you wanted me to be cautious.”

“I did, but there you go, hanging out with a boy, despite my advice. What if he kisses you?”

“I’ll stop him, before that.”

“You seeing him again?”

“Tomorrow.”

“You going to tell him, then?”

“Maybe.” Or then again, maybe I won’t.


Next morning my mother drops me off at Diaz. As I open the pod door she stops me with a gentle touch to the arm. “Honey, I love you. So much.”

“Love you, too.”

She sighs. “What I’m trying to say is, I’m thrilled — you have no idea how much I mean that — thrilled to see you enjoying being outdoors, running, trying to surf. It’s how kids should be allowed to be, playing in the wide open. This Christmas is going to be a good one, you’re going to start a new school in January.”

“I know, Mom, and I’m thankful. And Daddy. I know what I’ve put you both through.”

She shakes her head. “That’s not my point. This isn’t about wanting you to be grateful. You are who you are and you shouldn’t have to apologize to anyone about that. But the world is unkind. Your friend, he seems like a nice young man. Really does. But he might not be all that open minded.” She bites her lip. “What I’m trying to say is, be careful.”

“I know, Mom.”

I give her a quick kiss on the cheek and get out of the pod. But before I’ve shut the door, she says, “Remember, that voice command works, even in the water, so long as you’ve got that phone tucked safe.”

How ominous, I don’t say.

I find Kuzwana sitting on the sand, board at his side, looking at the sea. I sit down beside him.

“Not a great day for surfing,” he says.

I look out at that flat, flat water. “Looks like a swimming pool.”

“We could swim.”

“We could.”

He turns his head and looks at me. I can feel him staring. “So,” I say, all bright and cheery. “No Zibulo or Noxolo today?”

He lets out a sharp laugh. “Nah, they’re lazy. I’ll probably meet up with them later.”

“Where do teens hang out around here? Just the beach and homes?”

“Pretty much. Although there is this old-school arcade. I’m talking stuff from way back in the 1980s: pinball, old arcade games, air hockey, pool, table tennis. Sounds dumb, but it can actually be kind of fun.”

I nod. “I could see that.”

He reaches out a finger and begins tracing shapes on the back of my hand. All kinds of good feelings tingle up my arm, but I know my mother is right, I need to be honest here or this could blow up in my face.

“Listen,” I say.

He shakes his head. “You don’t have to tell me.”

“What?”

“You were going to tell me why your family had to leave the States, right?”

I let out a long breath. “Yes.”

“Well, I’ve met your mom. You’ve mentioned your dad. So that probably means whatever their problem was, it was something to do with you.”

I still.

But that finger, it keeps tracing my hand, round and round, up and down, making dream shapes I can only feel and imagine.

“So, I like you,” he says. “And if you like me, that’s great. But if you’re not attracted to men?”

“That’s not the problem,” I say. The words rush out like a bullet and already I’m wanting to claw them back.

His finger stops tracing.

I force myself not to wince.

He brings his hand up, and cups my face. In a whisper he says, “So here’s my thinking, whatever it is, it isn’t a problem. I like you, you like me, that’s all I’m caring about. Okay?”

“Okay.”

And then his lips are touching mine. Softly, softly.

It’s all kinds of perfect that my first kiss tastes like the sea.

About the Author

Tiah Marie Beautement

Tiah Marie Beautement is an American-Brit living on the South African Garden Route with her family, two dogs, and a flock of chickens. She is author of the award nominated This Day (2014, Modjaji), Moons Don’t Go To Venus (2006, Bateleur), and numerous short stories. She is also the managing editor of the TSSF journal, teaches writing to all ages, a writer for FunDza, and conducts book reviews & interviews for publications, including the Sunday Times. In her spare time she has been spotted riding pillion on a motorbike and belly dancing.

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About the Narrator

Julia Rios

Julia Rios is a Hugo award winning editor, writer, podcaster, and narrator. Julia is currently the Fiction Editor for Fireside Magazine, and her own fiction, nonfiction, and poetry have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Lightspeed, and Goblin Fruit among other places. She is a co-host of The Skiffy and Fanty Show, a general SF discussion podcast, and she has narrated stories for Podcastle, Pseudopod, and Cast of Wonders. Find her on Twitter as @omgjulia.

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About the Artist

Geneva Benton

Geneva is a self-taught illustrator from North Carolina, who loves working with colors, big hair, and drawing whimsy with a touch of realism and happiness. Her work has appeared in magazines, novels, editorial and advertising campaigns.

You can find her most often on Instagram, and support her work on Patreon.

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