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Addison and Julia Tell the Truth to Pemaquid Beach

Marissa Lingen is a science fiction and fantasy writer living in the Minneapolis suburbs. Her work has appeared in Tor.com, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Strange Horizons, Uncanny, and more.

Addison was wearing a tiger-striped turquoise rashguard and surf shorts. She wrote in the sand with a stick: "Addison + Julia = Truth Tellers. Reasonable Rates."
Julia was wearing a hot pink bandeau top and black bikini bottoms. Her mom had picked them out. "When you're my age, you'll be glad you wore this stuff when you were young and you still could."
Even though Julia's mom had not paid the reasonable rates, Julia gave her the family discount and told her this was not about her, Julia, this was about her, Julia's mom.
The family discount was underappreciated by all members of both families except Addison's older sibling Klee, who stopped by their beach office with Otter Pops (green for Addison, an assortment for Julia) and took advantage of their free access to the truth whenever possible. Klee wished Addison and Julia's powers could be more focused, but they took what they could get.
"I'm thinking of majoring in hydrology," said Klee, hoping to direct the truth just a little.
Addison crunched off a big slushy neon green bite of Otter Pop and said nothing.
Julia said, "Your bees are doing better this year."
Klee brightened. College majors were all very well, but their bees mattered. "You know, I thought they were! They seemed perky!"
"They're going to give you a new queen. Better get ready for two hives," said Julia.
Two truths in a row on the same topic were very rare, so Klee received it reverently. At the same time, they knew the bees were some of the most important things in the world, so secretly they were not the least bit surprised.
Julia went back to her Otter Pop, which was red. Addison touched up the writing in the sand, which somebody's stupid parent had walked on, and readjusted her own beach chair and then, getting permission with a glance, Julia's towel.
Well satisfied with their truths, Klee collected the Otter Pop wrappers back from them and meandered up the beach into the golden afternoon sunlight.
It was another twenty minutes of seagulls, pounding waves, glaring sun off the water, until a stranger read their sign. He snorted. He was wearing a fancy watch and cheap swim trunks.
"What's a reasonable rate for truth, anyway?" he sneered at them.
Addison glared and underlined it with her stick: reasonable. Rates.
"Oh, sure, fine" said the guy, and flipped her a dollar.
Addison's voice was always higher than strangers expected for her thick eyebrows and broad shoulders. The watch guy took an involuntary step back when she opened her mouth and sweetly chirped, "Your sister Trish says, 'Oh Christ, I have to deal with Bob the Buzzkill,' every time you text her."
"How did you--" The watch guy looked around, recovered his swagger. "Pretty funny, my name isn't Bob, and I don't--I don't even--"
He walked away quickly, back to his all-gas car, his beach day done as soon as it had started.
"They can never make themselves say they don't have their own sisters," Julia observed.
Addison shook her head. "People like that, what's one more lie? Why do they bother?"
"He already thought of the truth as something that hurt," said Julia softly. "Even for a buck, even that asshole, I wish we'd been able to give him--I don't know, 'try the mushroom and Swiss burger at Leroy's, you'll really like it.'"
Addison shrugged. "Truth, man."
"I know."
They skipped stones, poked at a washed-up bladderwort, scruffed the ears of a passing black lab puppy, whose owner paid them the reasonable rate of a smile and received in return the universal truth, "What a good dog."
"Maybe gonna be one of those days," said Addison when the sun had edged toward the horizon, the kids on the next set of towels got cranky, and Julia cracked open Travel Light.
Julia shrugged. "Maybe."
But then she was there, an old lady in flip-flops and a skirted suit, her skin gone to leather with a lifetime on beaches like theirs. She read the line in the sand and snorted, but not like the watch guy. The green seaglass she handed Julia was warm from her palm. The white driftwood she gave to Addison looked like a gull in flight.
The girls locked eyes.
"In Burkina Faso, the people planting the Green Wall are having a really good day today," said Julia, deep and slow. "The trees they've already planted are just... helping them feel the difference in the air. So they can work steadily and patiently. And keep trying."
Addison's voice came in high and soft. "Your best friend Juanita from the fourth grade thought of you today. About your birthday party sleepover and your marble cake. She didn't have any story she could tell about it, she just smiled thinking of you."
The old leathery lady looked from one young face to the other. "That's about the most reasonable rate I've paid for truth in a while."
"We like to think so," said Julia pleadingly.
"Truth isn't always ugly, girls. Not even mostly. It's a hard world, but you remember that."
She walked on. They looked out into an ocean where people used to be able to fish. Packed up their towels under the Maine sun. "You coming for Thanksgiving tomorrow, you and Klee?" asked Julia.
"Suppose so," Addison agreed. "Your mom's already been through the worst truths we had about it last year, she should be braced for it. There are some nice ones, too."
Julia nodded. "Like everything."
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, July 8th, 2020

Author Comments

I like small-scale superpowers. Even the large-scale powers wouldn't always get used in grandiose ways. Truth is a big big concept, but there are lots of tiny little truths, and frankly if you deal with teenagers a lot you will probably get handed some at a pretty reasonable price. It's worth a try.

- Marissa Lingen
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