When I was little, Charlie and I used to sit for hours on the beach, listening to our friends call from the sea. Sometimes we'd swim out to see them, dive down deep with them, even join a party. Dolphin parties are something special—actually not all that different from William's gatherings.
For a party, you need two things: a place and lots of people.
For dolphins, the place is no problem—the sea is nothing but endless place. You just need a spot that's deep enough, because a dolphin party is shaped pretty much like a big ball, made up of hundreds of dolphins—the party-goers—swimming in and around each other, socializing, interacting, sometimes touching each other—just like William's parties.
And just like a human party, sometimes a couple will pair off, and go off together. But that isn't all a dolphin bash is about, any more than it is for humans.
I never got to pair off. I was too young before Charlie. When I went with Charlie, later, he never changed into a dolphin, so neither did I. But we used to have great times.
* * * * *
Later, Charlie was different.
* * * * *
I stood in the kitchen door—looking across the beach and listening to the dolphins. I was probably twelve or fourteen, still skinny and pimply and uncertain.
The sky was overcast, an even gray, and the sea echoed the color, only deeper. The air was still. There must have been a hundred or more out there. I couldn't see them; they were so far out I had to strain to hear them.
"Close the door, Pup."
It was Charlie, standing behind me. I started to protest.
"But Charlie, I want to hear."
He snapped at me.
"I said CLOSE it."
Charlie had never snapped at me, all the time we had been together.
It was as though the basic nature of my world had changed in a split second. I couldn't make his words or manner fit anything in my experience, so I just stood there, dumb and motionless.
Charlie gave a little huff of impatience, then limped over and grabbed my arm. He pulled me inside, just roughly enough that it kept me confused, and slammed the door shut himself.
I must have looked terrified, because when he turned back he froze, but only for a second, and then something melted inside him. He shook his head, let out a low whistle, and took hold of my arm again, but gently, like he did when I was first learning to be a human.
"It's the virus, pup. That's all. I just can't stand to hear them. Go on out, if you want."
I wanted to go out, wanted it very badly, but there he was, already shorter than me, wearing that stupid apron, and ready to give me anything—anything.
"It's okay, Charlie," I said. "I'd rather be here, with you."