The first letter came in a bottle, bobbing in with the tide. My older sister and I had gone out before sunrise to stand with our toes in the ocean. It was so big, so loud, so strong. I was already overwhelmed when the bottle tapped against my calf.
The glass was turquoise–my favorite color–and it was shaped like an old-fashioned coke bottle, long-necked and elegant. I picked it up without thinking and hugged it to my chest.
Denise laughed and danced across the wet sand. Her hair billowed in the wind and shone in the early morning light. I stood and hugged the bottle and shuddered at the feeling of the ocean pulling at my feet.
I didn’t notice the letter until after breakfast. Everyone else was excited to go swimming, but I stayed in the cottage, searching for pliers to pull out the cork.
The letter was folded in half, then curled tight. A pale purple flower was pressed flat inside it.
It took another moment to realize that the letter was actually addressed to me.
“Dearest Lindy,” it read, “You don’t know me yet, but I wanted to send you a token of my regard. I know that the upcoming months will be difficult for you, but know that I care deeply for you already. If you ever have need of me, simply stand in the water and call. I will come. Yours forever, Elzin.”
“Elzin,” I whispered. It wasn’t a name I’d ever heard before. I left the flower in the letter, put it back into the bottle, and tucked it into my suitcase. I was young enough to not question, to just believe in this tiny magical moment, but old enough to know that it wasn’t something to mention to anyone else.
I sat on the porch and read my book till Denise came and dragged me down to the ocean for our picnic lunch.
Denise’s cough started soon after we got home from vacation, and she faded quickly. The doctors did what they could, but it wasn’t enough.
When there was nothing more to do, they sent her home. I sat next to her in her dark room, holding her hand as it grew thinner, day by day. I read to her, using a single strip of sunlight that fell through the curtains to see the letters. Books about the ocean always made her smile. I tried not to remember the fear I’d felt looking out at its vastness, and smile at the bits of trivia that my sister loved.
After the funeral, I found a wooden box on my bed with a seashell nestled inside. When I held it to my ear, I could hear my sister’s laughter.