Volleyball likes it when Pearl referees. Sometimes she sits curled beneath the tall blue chair, guarded from the ball but close enough to hear Pearl’s sharp calls over the din of the Quartzes. Sometimes she watches from the cliffside high above the beach, the sound all part of the static voice of the ocean, Pearl luminous in the bright sun, gesturing firm and fast as she blows her whistle.
Today, feeling bold, Volleyball climbs the back of the tall chair, stands behind Pearl with her heels on the crossbar and her elbows along the top. “I see it in you, here,” she says quietly, just for them. “The terrifying renegade.”
Pearl doesn’t take her eyes from the game, but a blue flush colors the back of her neck. “Who’s been telling you war stories?” She sounds disapproving, but her posture is loose, calm.
“Bismuth. I asked.”
Suddenly Pearl leans forward, blows her whistle, holds up two fingers. “Double contact!” On the court, Biggs groans and play resumes. “Why on Earth did you ask about all that?”
Volleyball smiles at the back of Pearl’s head. “I wanted to know more about what I missed. About the Crystal Gems. Bismuth said you ran a tight ship. She said Rose was the carrot, and you were the stick.”
“Did she now,” Pearl says, just the slightest curl of a smile in her voice. “She’s picked up so many human idioms.”
“I had to ask her to explain it. But now I can see it.”
“Soldiers need a firm hand,” Pearl says, eyes still on the game. “As do rambunctious Quartzes.”
“It’s quite something to watch,” Volleyball says, letting the full breadth of her awe into her voice. Then she leans closer. “But I hope you’ll be the carrot with me.”
Pearl shivers, just minutely; then at last she swivels, turns Volley’s face toward hers with a single finger under her chin. Kisses her, sweet and unhurried. Easy as anything, even though this is so new, fragile as an eggshell.
The beach erupts in a chorus of whoops and whistles; unflinching, Pearl pulls back slow and turns to blow her whistle at them. “Next set!”