You make me feel like I'm flying.
The words bobbed to the top of Anqien’s thoughts as they watched Jinai stretch her arms atop a sandy bollard. Her face was silhouetted against the wildflower blue sky—afternoon light gleamed off her skin and her curls hung dense with water.
Flying and falling. Always with you.
But their coach was marching up the pier towards them, and Anqien hastily swept their ponytail over their shoulder and busied themself with rolling up their own damp wetsuit.
Here in Muli Bay, only a few trawler masts and smokestacks interrupted the expanse of blue. Nothing separated them from the infinite horizon in the white noise of waves rolling against stone. On a day like this, that emptiness seemed the grandest thing in the world—making them feel like a glint of light in the pool of the universe.
“You feeling like Konoma’s later?” Jinai called over.
Anqien glanced back. “Oh, you know I am.”
As they watched, she popped the lid off her fluorescent lime green bottle and drank, shadows of gulls scudding over her while their shrieks rode the tumult of the ocean waves. Her movements were hesitant, as if she were afraid to fully relax.
Can’t blame you. Things had gone south two hours into today’s run of the bay. When a rogue gust had yanked the boom and mainsheet from Anqien’s control, it had only taken seconds for their yacht to swerve wildly off course and fling them into the blustery waves below.
Rookie mistake. And they should be embarrassed.
But feeling their water shoes skid on plastic and their shoulders smash against the waves, a strange, breathless thought had pierced through their shame like the glare of the sun. In that split second of zero-gravity, terminal velocity before they collided with reality and the sea, Anqien’s heart had raced at the thought that they were doing this with her. Dazzling, impossible, shooting star Jinai—
Jinai was looking this way. Anqien's gaze darted away, and they slung the bag onto their shoulder too hard, letting out a little “ow” as it thumped against their back. She chuckled.
Seconds after their fall, their air-riding boat had swung from the sky and flopped over after them, white-and-maroon sail dipping the water. Yelling and kicking, they had lunged out of the waves to bump it back upright—a manoeuvre that had been drilled into them a thousand times.
Close enough. It had been the right move. But possibly not enough, if they had been racing.
“Out of ten, today, that was, I want to say, a solid seven,” said Telaki, inserting herself between them with one hand on a bollard. “It's all about the recovery! Remember, no race goes flawlessly. If we wanted flawless we’d be running tour boats. Champs take the trophy after huge mistakes all the time." She slapped them both on the backs. “It’s what you do in the moments after you realise things are going to shit that define you as a sailor.”
“Yeah, and we’re not even qualifying if that happens tomorrow,” muttered Jinai.
Telaki chuckled. “Oh, there’s no way you’re making that mistake tomorrow. Besides, quals are a dime a dozen. You could qualify with your eyes closed.”
Jinai snorted. “Thanks for the confidence.”
“Oh, and thank you for today,” Anqien put in, while they fished around in their bag pocket for a pair of socks. “I'll be taking notes on my way home, that’s for sure.”
“Well, don’t miss the view for your filograph,” the coach answered with arms akimbo, pink braids tossed by a gale.
A hand clapped down on Anqien’s shoulder. They turned to find Jinai right beside them, looking expectantly. "I could use that dinner right about now," she said, pointing a thumb in the general direction of the shops. “Ready to go?”
Konoma’s was set up in the niche of an old warehouse, a faux-fancy waterside joint that did a cafe menu in the day, and swapped it out for a dinner menu at sunset.
They specialised in a particular kind of outing—candlelit dates and boozy nights out with friends, the kind with indie bands no one knew playing in the background. Konoma’s shared the space with two other similarly quasi-fancy eateries, with fairy-lights floating amongst the rafters, strung up on invisible Thread, and beach furniture draped in white-and-blue tablecloth.
The walk from Muli Bay was just shy of twenty minutes, which always brought them to the doorstep during the half-hour from 5:30 to 6 o’clock when the shop closed its doors to prepare for the evening crowd.
Jinai quickly took up residence in the lee of the warehouse stairs, back against the white plank wall. “How’d you feel about today?” she asked, eyes fixed on her companion.
“Could’ve gone better, could’ve gone worse,” Anqien replied, turning to face the boardwalk promenade, where the roads and waters were slowing being bathed in pink. “I’m sorry. About losing the ropes back there. I don’t know how it happened.”
She shook her head. “What she said was true, you know, about recovery,” she said. “When you’re sailing for that many hours, it’s basically impossible not to mess up, so it’s all in how you come back and make up lost ground.”
Anqien would never make up the lost ground to Jinai, either, no matter how they studied the sport. She always knew what she was doing, always knew what she had to do to turn things around.
She drew a breath, held it, and released it in a drawn-out sigh. “There’s days when it feels so far out of reach, you know?” she said without warning. She folded her arms, trying to look nonchalant. “Today’s one of them.”
“I wouldn’t count us out,” they replied. “Surely it’ll happen this time.”
She shrugged. “I don’t know, having the win snatched away so many times…feels worse than losing. Doesn’t it?”
They knew she was referring to something else, the reason this race would be her last. She hadn’t ever mentioned defeat till then. For Anqien, every single podium finish was a win, but they knew she wanted more than that—she always had.
Anqien opened their mouth, hoping a reply would emerge, but only closed it again.
Jinai sighed hollowly. “Maybe it’s better to…”
The door creaked open and Masiu, their favourite waiter, stuck his head out. “Konoma’s is open for business!” The four would-be customers looked up.
Jinai nodded once. “I’ll continue that thought later.”
Jinai did not, in fact, continue that thought. Their conversation meandered on to less consequential things while Masiu flew to their table, greeting them with a chirpy, “How’s my favourite team? All ready for tomorrow?”
“Wish I felt readier,” Jinai replied while he flipped his notepad open. “We hit a rough patch today. Though I try to think of it as us spending all our bad luck before the race.”
“Oh, come on, you two? Bad luck? No way.”
“You’d be surprised.” Jinai smirked.
They both got their usuals, though Masiu went through the formalities of having them spell the orders out: spicy beef loaded corn chips, chicken curry noodles. Jinai, detailing her preferred condiments, did not seem to notice as Anqien stole more glances at her, trying to commit her profile to memory—golden-brown skin dusted with freckles, blue-grey eyes, stubborn brow.
Once the waiter had swooped away to the kitchen, her eyes met theirs again. At once they started to pay more attention to arranging and rearranging the salt and spice shakers, while music wafted over from the band on the makeshift stage, and cheers erupted over the martial arts match on the filographic screen.
It was plain as a shining signboard that Jinai was thinking about tomorrow. It was in the tap of her heel on the floorboards, the dart of her eye at every sound—each time the indie band’s pipa player strummed, each time the bartender started shaking a tumbler.
Fifteen minutes of shallow conversation, punctuated by too much silence, saw their steaming dinners arriving from the kitchen. Both dove into their meals—Anqien’s chicken curry noodles were always a bit of a battle against the sauce, so they devoted their full attention to slurping it up until it was no longer brimming to the edge of their bowl.
“How’s the garden at home going?” Jinai asked.
“Doing its best,” Anqien said. “I’ve got all their water schedules written down. And some of them have been putting out buds. Like the red ivy?”
“Yeah, true, the weather’s been warming up,” she replied, propping her chin up on her elbows. “So. Will I ever get to see it?”
They glanced sheepishly aside. “That means meeting my family,” they said. “Which…they’re still a little…”
“Yeah. It won’t be a relaxing visit, that’s for sure.”
“Yeah, can only imagine.”
That dreaded silence very soon overflowed their faltering attempts at conversation. Both sat there staring at their food, then at each other, in turns.
Anqien breathed a sigh. “We’ll be fine tomorrow,” they said. “It’s just the quals. It’ll be a breeze. You’ll be amazing as always.”
Jinai blinked slowly back, then attempted to smile. “Oh, Anqien.” She stopped there, not seeming to know where to take the words next. Her right hand crept to where their left lay beside their bowl. She pried it off the table, fingers curling around theirs. “You’re right, I’m a fool. We’re both gonna be doing our best, what do I have to worry about?”
Anqien, suddenly self-conscious at her touch, did their best not to overstay their welcome—eventually they extracted their hand from her grip, not one second longer than felt reasonable, and looked up to find that Jinai’s shoulders had loosened.
“How’s the spicy beef?” they asked, gingerly scooping their next spoonful of curry.
Jinai shook her head, shovelling some of said beef into her mouth with a corn chip. “Even milder than last time. I swear they keep dialling it down.”
“Yeah? Maybe too many tourists wrote in about it.”
Though it was still a touch too quiet for the rest of the evening, the coldness seemed dispelled for the moment. After the meal—Jinai picked up the bill—the pair parted under the floating lanterns at the slouching door, patting each other's shoulders. The music was still going, and becoming less acoustic over time. The bass vibrated in the boardwalk as Anqien nodded to their teammate and said, “Guess I’ll see you at the bay at dawn.”
Gods above, here came the nerves, roaring in their ears again.
Jinai laughed back, flicking a lock of hair out of their face. “Let’s show ‘em what we’ve got.”