“Marina, you should not be doing this!”
She didn’t have to turn around to know her best friend Lorelei was following her. Without responding, Marina flapped her orange tail even more vigorously than before. Water streamed around her as she glided through the ocean, her long blonde hair flowing behind her to halfway down her back. She knew that it would only be a matter of time before Lorelei caught up with her because while Lorelei wore only her typical seashell top, the human covering that Marina wore created too much water resistance.
As Lorelei gained on her friend, she noticed Marina’s tail sticking out from under a pink sundress, presumably taken from the sunken yacht they had borrowed human clothes from before. “I know what you are thinking, and this is not the proper way to go about it.”
“I have made up my mind.” Marina caught a glimpse of Lorelei’s red hair in her periphery and realized she was now swimming alongside her friend. “Though I appreciate your offer, this is something I must do on my own.”
“You have only been on land twice before. I go almost every cycle.”
“You forget that I spent half a moon cycle amongst the humans. In that regard, I could say that I have more experience than you.”
“You may be correct, but you did not plan it back then.” Lorelei took hold of Marina’s hand and then slowed the motion of her own green tail, thus decelerating both of them. “You must carefully consider the choice you are about to make. If the consequences are the same as others who have made that choice, then—”
“Sink or swim, Lore.” As they drifted into a vertical position, Marina used her free hand to keep the dress from floating upwards while she looked into Lorelei’s eyes. “I understand what you are trying to do, and I truly appreciate your concern, but I must not follow anyone other than myself.”
Lorelei quickly surveyed the surrounding area to ensure no one had followed them. Since they had returned to the north, Calliope, the purple-tailed daughter of their school’s leader, had been keeping careful watch on them. She had grown suspicious when the disappearance of the odd mer Meredith had coincided with Marina’s return to the school, especially because they were the only two mers with orange tails. Her father’s decision to migrate early was due to Calliope revealing that Meredith had interacted with a human-maid.
Fortunately, the early departure was the only consequence of those events, but Lorelei remained cautious when she and Marina ventured away from the school. Seeing no other mers around, Lorelei said, “I am willing to follow you, Marina. Please let me share the experience.”
Marina glanced upward and caught glimmers of faint red light dancing on the ripples of the undersides of the waves. She was not only closer to the water’s surface, but also closer to the desired time of day. “You will share it, just not the way you think you will.” She turned to Lorelei and smirked. “Remember, there are two of us, but only one on the other side.”
Dropping her arms limply by her side, Lorelei stared quizzically at Marina. During the awkward pause that followed, Marina seized the opportunity to kick her tail forcefully and thrust herself forward to her destination.
~ ~ ~
Sitting cross-legged on the private beach behind her island home, Hailey stared out at the eastern horizon and watched for the sun to rise. Awash with fiery colors, the cloudless sky was waiting to change to a beautiful light blue on that Wednesday morning. Waves rustled calmly as they rolled onto the shore, and the seagulls flying by called to each other. For the early time of day, the air was unusually humid, even for late June. Her straight dark hair frizzed a little bit, almost as if there were some static electricity around her. But she hoped that the sensation was a precursor to something much more fantastical.
There was going to be a full moon that night.
She had spent her entire senior year paying close attention to the calendar and circling the date of each and every full moon with orange magic marker. On each of those days, she had written the precise time the sun would rise—information she had easily obtained from an online almanac. She would go to bed as early as possible on the nights before so she was wide awake and outside before the sun came up. As she sat on the footbridge connecting the beach to her yard, Hailey would hope it was that day—the day that a mermaid would come back to visit.
Marina had appeared one other time during the previous summer—on the morning of the first full moon after Hailey had helped her return to the ocean—just as promised. And just as promised, Hailey had spent the two weeks researching the painting they had received, but information about it was practically non-existent. Even the strange old shopkeeper at The Mermaid’s Lagoon who had given them the print wasn’t entirely sure how or when it had ended up in her possession.
The painting depicted a baby mermaid with an orange tail being handed to outstretched arms in the ocean. The woman giving the child away, with her blue eyes and long blonde hair, bore a striking resemblance to Marina, and the painting’s title, Coral, matched Marina’s long-lost mother’s name. It wasn’t a far stretch of the imagination to assume that the baby was Marina, and the arms belonged to Lorelei’s father, who had become Marina’s adoptive guardian so long ago. The painting was enough evidence that Marina’s mother—and maybe even her father—had once been somewhere on land, but no one knew where.
Though she and Hailey spent from sunrise to sunset together, it was a bittersweet reunion. After almost eighteen years of being orphaned, Marina’s first glimmers of finding at least one of her parents had been washed away.
When the waterlogged translucent skirt transformed her legs into a single iridescent orange tail, Marina warned Hailey that she wouldn’t be returning again that summer. After rumors surfaced that the mer named Meredith had exposed herself to humans, the leader of the school decided to migrate away earlier than usual. Regardless, Hailey vowed to be sitting on her beach at sunrise on the same day of every moon cycle in case Marina ever wanted to visit.
On the marked days, Hailey awoke to witness the sunrise but sulked away when it was time to head off to school. As the months passed, and summer turned into fall, the sun rose later, and she spent less and less time waiting on those full-moon mornings.
Even through the cold winter, she’d sit outside bundled up. There were some rainy days in the spring, where she sat under an umbrella on the steps of the footbridge connecting her yard to the beach. On one occasion, the morning of the full moon coincided with a birthday slumber party at a friend’s house, and she faked being sick to drive home in time to be on her beach at sunrise.
But Marina never came back.
A full year passed. Hailey had graduated high school and received an athletic scholarship to a smaller state university on the mainland to join their swim team. Although she wasn’t sure what her major was going to be, she had accepted. Anything that kept her swimming regularly would get her one step closer to her ultimate career goal of becoming a mermaid performer at an aquarium or a water theme park. There were other wonderful developments—and a little bit of information about the painting—that Hailey wanted to share with Marina. Hopefully, that early summer morning would be the day they’d see each other again.
A warm breeze blew as Hailey watched the sun in its entirety hanging low in the sky, and some of her long hair blew into her face. She wove her fingers between the fine dark strands and stared at their colorless tips. For a long time, she had kept the last six inches or so dyed, but due to the additional time spent underwater in chlorinated pools, the color had faded away into bleached streaks.
Sighing dejectedly, Hailey stood and walked towards the wooden footbridge. When she stepped on the first stair, a voice in the distance called, “Hailey! Is that you?”
She turned, and in the distance was a girl with blonde hair wearing a pink sundress that clung to her body. She was skipping towards Hailey, one hand in the air waving and the other hand by her side with a rainbow emanating from it. Only one object could produce such vibrant colors, and Hailey immediately smiled when she realized what it was and who was carrying it.
“Marina?” Hailey took off towards her mermaid friend. “O-M-G, it’s really you!”
They met and hugged on the stretch of sand behind Hailey’s neighbor’s house. Fortunately, Mr. Dobbins wasn’t awake yet, and even if he were, Marina had legs, so all he’d do was complain about them being on his part of the private beach.
“I am sorry that I have not visited before now,” said Marina. “The school has only recently returned here.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Hailey jumped up and down and clapped her hands. “I’m just so happy to see you again.”
“So much has happened, and I—”
Before Marina could say anything further, Hailey took her hand and started leading her to the footbridge. “So much has happened here too. Let’s go inside, and we can give each other the four-one-one. I can’t wait to show you what I’ve got! And you’re gonna totally freak out when you see what I use it for!” Remembering that Marina didn’t always understand human expressions, Hailey abruptly stopped and turned to her. “And I don’t mean freak out in a be-angry kinda way. I mean freak out in an O-M-G-that’s-really-awesome kinda way, K?”
“Hailey, there is something important I must ask you first.”
“Marina!” called a voice from down the beach. “You cannot do it this way!”
Approaching them was Lorelei, her wavy red hair blowing behind her as she sprinted across the beach. Unlike Marina, who had removed the tail-skirt, Lorelei was still wearing hers around her waist and was wearing her purple seashell bikini top.
“It is the most sensible solution, Lore,” said Marina firmly. “And I have done it before.”
“That time was an accident. This is—”
“This is my choice, and it is the only way I may fulfill my dream.”
While the two mermaids continued debating in her presence, Hailey’s eyes bounced back and forth towards whichever one of them was speaking. In the brief pauses between their statements and responses, Hailey tried to interject but couldn’t time herself well enough. All that she uttered were scattered ums and ers and buts until finally she flailed her arms and exclaimed, “I-D-K what you two are even talking about! Can one of you please clue me in?”
Marina took Hailey by the hands and answered, “I have learned more about the disappearance of my parents, so I am going to the mainland to do whatever it takes to find my mother.”
Hailey’s face beamed. “That’s awesome news! I’ve got a folder with printouts of everything I found out about the painting. It’s not a lot, but it’s better than nothing.”
“I truly appreciate your help.”
“I’m sure Jill and Meredith—and maybe even Jeff—will help too. Whatever you need me to do, Marina, I’ll do it. You can count on me.”
“That is reassuring to hear. My search may take some time, and I do not know how long I will need legs. I do not wish my tail to disappear like it almost did last time.” Marina withdrew her hands, leaving the translucent object in Hailey’s grasp. “So will you keep it safe until the next full moon?”