Eleanor sprawled on the warm sand and popped open her parasol in order to keep her face from burning in the bright sun. “A creamy complexion is a sign of good breeding,” her mother would have reminded her. “As well, good grooming habits are a sign of a strong character.”
Well, her mother was right about one thing: she was a strong character. While the other girls were perfecting their skills with ink or learning the best way to serve crabs, she was typically off exploring.
She had the treasure-trove to prove it, too. A veritable hoard of pretty shells, wave-worn sea glass, and the occasional found object – her current favorite was a mirror set into a wooden frame so water-logged it had darkened to near-ebony in color.
And of course, there was her parasol. She’d found it in the remains of a ship-wreck, and it was perfectly intact, if slightly green on the fringe. No matter; she liked green.
She also liked solitude.
Here on the sand, she didn’t have to listen to the other girls gossiping about the boys they liked – oooh, Brian’s tentacles are so much thicker than Michael’s. And Benjamin does amazing things with ink.
Well, they had a point. Benjamin had skills with ink that were mind-blowing, but even so, squealing and swooning was not Eleanor’s style.
The sun continued its ascension and the temperature grew warmer. Recognizing the need to hydrate, Eleanor closed her parasol and staked it into the sand. Then she rolled down into the waiting ocean, where her strong arms and graceful tentacles propelled her into swimmable depths. For over an hour – maybe two or three – she frolicked in the waves, giggling when the foamy crest tickled her nose, and diving deep to play chase with a pod of dolphins.
When she reached the point of being pleasantly tired, she emerged from the water and moved to collect her things.
“Come here often?” a voice asked.
Benjamin. Here. Did that mean the others were coming, too? Eleanor sincerely hoped not.
“When I can sneak away,” she answered. “Are you alone?” He nodded an affirmative, and she smiled. “Then you may stay.”
“Why thank you, gracious Lady.” He was teasing her, but it held no malice only… was that affection?
“I have some prawns here, if you’re hungry,” she offered, settling onto the warm sand once more.
They ate without talking until Eleanor had to know. “I thought Priscilla had her tentacles wrapped around you, these days.”
“She decided Ronald had more powerful propulsion.”
“She would,” Eleanor’s tone was hardly complimentary.
“Besides, I heard you knew about a shipwreck… is that where you found the parasol and jacket?”
Eleanor glanced down at herself. The school uniform she’d also found in the wreck had become sun-bleached during her time out of the water. “I could show you where it is, if you want.”
“I’d like that,” he said. “My family isn’t generations old, like yours. I’m only first-generation hybrid. My mother – she was fully human. Dad said she used to believe that mermaids had fish tails instead of being part squid. Can you believe that?”
“Fish are food,” Eleanor said. It was one of the first things they’d been taught in school.
The breeze changed directions and Eleanor shivered slightly. “It’s getting cold.”
“May I sit closer? Dad says I run warm because I’m closer to human. Did you know that if they stay in the water too long, their body temperatures can drop dangerously low? It’s amazing they’ve taken over the surface of the planet!”
“As long as they stay on the surface, it’s fine,” Eleanor said, shifting her position so Benjamin could sit right against her. He was right; he was noticeably warmer than she was – than anyone was. It was… nice. Comforting.
“But they don’t,” Benjamin said. “You’ve seen it. Out in the Middle. That swamp of used things. They call it ‘plastic.’ And you’ve seen the turtles and the sea-birds that get choked on those weird Circles of Six.
“Yeah,” Eleanor said. “Mother says we used to Take humans to keep our species alive. We can only interbreed for so long… But I keep thinking, maybe we should Take a few and show them what their wastefulness is doing to us. They won’t listen to the whales or the sharks or the turtles – ”
He cut her off. “Some of them try, but they don’t speak the same language. Literally.”
“… but we can speak like they do. So maybe if….”
“Maybe,” but Benjamin’s tone was dark. “Or maybe they’ll Take us and put us in their glass cages for people to point to and gawk at. Maybe it’s better if they think we’re part fish, or just mythical creatures.”
“Maybe they’ll change,” Eleanor said.
“We’ll figure something out. We both need a senior project. Want to be partners?”
“Meet here day after tomorrow to exchange ideas?” She suggested.
“Seal it with a kiss?” He wasn’t teasing… not exactly.
A conch shell rolled up to them just as their lips met. As they twined their longest tentacles together, it began to speak. “Eleanor and Benjamin, you are truant. Please return to school immediately, or your parents will be notified.”
Reluctantly, the pair broke apart. “We should go,” Benjamin said. “They’re going to give us a ton of demerits.”
Eleanor folded her parasol and collected the rest of her belongings. “Race you back!”
Both youngsters leapt for the water, but Benjamin changed the rules by grabbing her hand. “Together,” he said.
He was right: they did get a ton of demerits. But, Eleanor reflected, it was worth it for a day by the shore.