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Authors: Ellen Schreiber

Teenage Mermaid

BOOK: Teenage Mermaid
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Ellen Schreiber
Teenage Mermaid

To my mom,
with all my love,
for teaching me to swim

And to my brother, Mark,
for his generosity, support,
and expert advice in guiding me
through new waters

I
panicked. I totally freaked out! The wave crashed down over me and my surfboard. I went down, down, down. Life-giving oxygen floated out of reach, above the waters that had swallowed me.

I'm going to drown! I'm only fifteen. I haven't gotten my driver's license yet. I haven't surfed the famous Pipeline in Hawaii. I haven't fallen in love—unless my
Sports Illustrated
swimsuit poster counts.

I barely had any breath left as I desperately tried to reach the surface. Then it hit me—not the meaning of life, but my surfboard.

Time stood still. My underwater world was peaceful. I drifted helplessly like an astronaut who suddenly becomes detached from the mother ship.
People rescued from the brink of death talk about seeing a white light. Others claim to hover above their body and peacefully watch the crisis as it unfolds. But, instead, I saw her.

Maybe it's 'cause I'm a raging hormonal teenager that I had this particular vision.

Out of nowhere she appeared—golden yellow and sun-fire orange hair sparkled like tiny stars and flowed in the glistening water. The most wonderful pink-lipped smile flashed before me. Her angelic skin glowed; her piercing ocean-blue eyes stared through me and touched my soul. She floated majestically before me, a silver locket in the shape of a heart dangling from her lovely neck. This had to be a dream, or a sure sign that I had already died and gone to heaven!

I had never seen this dream girl before. She definitely didn't go to Seaside High. Nothing plastic on this girl. No silicone or liposuction marks. Just that sparkling silver heart.

Where did this angel girl come from? Why was she swimming at six o'clock in the freezing morning? Why wasn't she drowning like I was? There was no sign of a snorkel or a tank anywhere. Why did she swim like a fish? And what was that strange bikini bottom? Aquamarine metallic spandex all the way to her funky nouveau riche flipper gear.

I must have gone into shock. My underwater world started to fade dead away when she did something that was definite dream material—she kissed me. This gorgeous glistening girl! Kissed me! Not with air. Not with water. But with life. With love!

It was the best kiss of my life—and, if it was to be my last, it wasn't such a bad way to go. She took me by her soft healing hand as I struggled for life and gracefully pulled me to the surface, where I gasped a grateful gulp of California's fabulous smog. I coughed and choked, but I felt the warmth of the shimmering sun and smiled back appreciatively as she treaded water, grinning and glowing like a swimming angel.

And then everything went black.

 

I awoke blinded by the sun, my surfboard lying next to me, my wet suit still damp, sand clinging to my hair, the tide gently rolling over my feet.

I slowly sat up, wondering what had happened. According to my waterproof Fossil, it was nine-thirty—I was totally late for school. I had a throbbing headache. Now it all made sense. I must have been dehydrated this morning and passed out on the beach. The rest had to be a dream.

I attempted to stand, not wanting to annoy Mr. Johnson by being any later to chemistry than usual. But my palm stung. I prayed I hadn't been pricked by
a jellyfish. Not only was I dehydrated, but I had been poisoned as well. I opened my clenched fist. It wasn't a wound from a man-of-war—it was a sparkling silver heart!

I apprehensively caressed the mysterious silver heart and gazed out toward the rolling sea. Maybe I had wiped out and hit my head on my surfboard. Maybe I
did
almost drown. Maybe I had been saved. And maybe in the struggle I had pulled the necklace off a—mermaid?

Maybe I was safer surfing the Internet.

W
hat I did was forbidden. To see one is objectionable, to be seen is prohibited, but to touch an Earthee is punishable by exile. And I, fifteen-year-old Waterlilly, touched one on the lips!

“Waterlilly, it's your turn to give your report,” Mrs. Current, our social cultures teacher, said, peering through her crystal spectacles.

My eyes were focused out the cave-room window on a school of rainbow fish as my classmates delivered boring presentations on seagulls, sea lions, sea turtles, and sea horses. I couldn't help but daydream about my terrestrial encounter with the Earthee on my way to school this morning.

Pacific Reefs, population 7,000, was a beautiful
community to every inhabitant—but me. The finball stadium was the town's main attraction, obnoxiously sitting in the center of town surrounded by the police station, town council, expensive shops, and restaurants. Modest cave dwellings in neat little rows filled the outlying valley, all painted a conservative opalescent color.

Pacific Reefs High School was a massive cave with winding tunnels leading to stuffy classrooms with rock doors that shut us from the outside world and crystal clear windows that teased me to wonder what lay in the world beyond.

“Waterlilly,” Mrs. Current reprimanded. “How many times do I have to call your name? It's your turn!”

I floated hesitantly before my classmates, who were attentively sitting in a semicircle, their tails draped around their rock chairs. I was wearing a radical Tidal Wavewear metallic green top with matching tail-skin. Silver sprinkles glittered in my blonde hair, which fell loosely over my shoulders. Although it was standard for a mermaid to display her hair pulled up in a twist or back in a tail, I always let mine flow with the rhythms of nature.

As I glanced up from my slate notebook, I looked at a sea of perfectly pristine mergirls who stared back with contempt. I had always been an outcast at Pacific
Reefs High, a flighty jellyfish in a school of tuna. I floated to my own wave, read banned books, arrived late to class, and wondered what lay beyond the tide.

School was a prison sentence and I had to serve three more years! I felt confined by structured time, constrained by dictated thought, restricted by an out-of-date school board, which insisted on teaching the absurd theory that Earthees were a lower life form. How could I accept this? My great-grandfather was rumored to have been an Earthee who fell in love with my mermaid great-grandma. With the help of magic, love, and a full moon, he had converted to a merman. My parents denied it ever happened.

“Complete nonsense!” my mom always said when I brought up the subject. The only reason I thought the story was true was that my mom kept an elegant silver heart in a Butterfly Venus shell in the bottom of her dresser. Great-grandpa found it in a sunken ship, or so my mother said.

“It's just an heirloom! You can have it when you are eighteen and not a day before,” my mother always chided when I tried to open the shell.

Even though I didn't know great-grandpa, he was my hero. Living in the Pacific was confining enough to this teenage mermaid. Fashions were claustrophobic, laws were so three decades ago. And true love seemed as far away as the moon!

I always wondered what lay beyond the sea. Were Earthteens bored? Did they stare out into a sea of look-alikes when they gave reports at school? Did they feel like outcasts ostracized by other Earthteens? Did human prejudices against other humans exist?

Mrs. Current called on me.

“Earthees,” I began, reading from my notebook.

“Earthees?” Mrs. Current barked. “They aren't an acceptable subject. The assignment was sea creatures!”

I heard some giggling and snickering. We merpeople keep to ourselves, afraid of swimming out of our watery limits. Although we studied Earth history and knew Earth languages, which our scholars had deciphered from books and letters in sunken vessels, it was not done out of interest, but for our survival. Earthees catch fish for sport! Imagine if they hooked us? We needed to be a stroke ahead of their game. No explorers with the National Earth Administration who'd adventured to Earth had ever returned. All that remained from their failed missions was fear. We got our information from litter thrown into our sea and explorers who peered through periscopes hidden behind rocks. A small and closed community were we, wanting nothing to threaten our social order.

“Earthees,” I began again, “are indigenous to land. Like merpeople, they are mammals, but breathe air
instead of water. Their movements are propelled by legs instead of a tail and fin,” I said to a sea of glazed eyes.

It was as if I were talking about slimy squid. Merpeople are no more interested in humans than whales are interested in the fish that eat the fungus that grows on their backs. Earthees are considered just a step above squid. And just like the squid, no one is going to invite them over for dinner!

“Your attendance is already poor and your grades are sinking. And now you offer this as your project?” Mrs. Current sneered.

“But I put a lot of time into this,” I pleaded. The room was silent as the students and I waited for her verdict.

“Go ahead,” she said, sighing, bubbles spewing out of her mouth, “but your grade will reflect the lack of adherence to the assignment.”

“Earthees have learned to swim,” I offered, knowing that I was treading in chilly arctic waters. “They've built ships that can carry schools of them from one place to another for travel or battle. They are very intelligent.”

“They don't believe in our existence, do they?” Mrs. Current interrupted.

“Well, in my research…no.”

“Then how intelligent can they really be?” Mrs.
Current said snidely, tapping her stick on her polished coral desk.

“They fight gravity by balancing on boards on rising waves. They also use covered boats with wheels to drive on land.”

Mrs. Current let out a yawn so audible merpeople in the Caspian Sea could have heard.

“They've figured out how to fly,” I argued.

“So have seagulls,” Mrs. Current said. “But I wouldn't marry one.”

The whole class laughed. I took a deep breath.

“We know all this. Tell us something we've never heard,” Mrs. Current challenged.

She was right. I wasn't reporting anything we didn't already know, anything we hadn't studied in Earth history class.

“I will,” I said brightly, suddenly remembering my necklace. The story of my Earthee great-grandfather would surely mesmerize them. I proudly reached for the silver heart around my neck. But I only felt flesh!

Gone? How could it be gone? My mother will kill me! I had placed it around my neck just this morning before school. I had it on when I left home and as I…Oh, no! Earthdude must have pulled it off when I saved him.

“Well?” Mrs. Current asked impatiently.

I was powerless now. My audience was hypnotized
by boredom. The necklace, like my classmates' attention, was miles away.

“So, you've never actually observed an Earthee up close,” Mrs. Current said. “One in the flesh. One with real legs. One that was breathing.”

The class sat up. I could feel the undercurrent pushing against me, as I resisted its force.

Forget the necklace! I would tell her exactly how Earthees kiss, and knock the shriveled condescending merhag out of the ocean and up to the moon! But I knew what I had done was scandalous. I hadn't observed an Earthee with a periscope, I had kissed one.

The class studied me, suddenly interested, curious, repulsed, waiting for my response.

“Well, if you must know…” I smiled defiantly. “Just this morning—”

Suddenly flashlight fish signaled the end of class. Like a lucky trout, I was off the hook.

 

“Chain me with seaweed if you must, but I'd do it again in a minute!” I proudly confessed to my supercelestial best friend, Waverly, as we sat on our assigned seats in Pacific history class later that day.

We were inseparable, Wave and I, despite our differences. She was dark as the deepest part of the ocean, while I was as pasty pale as white coral. She
arrived for predators and prey class early; I was lucky to arrive at all. She was right of the shoreline, while I was radically left. But years ago she'd politely taken me under her wing like a seagull helping a misguided chick. She tried to point me in the right direction, persuade me to swim within the lines. She didn't care if my great-grandfather was a converted Earthee. She followed the rules and tried to keep me from rewriting them.

I immediately burst with all the details of my Earthly adventure.

“Waterlilly, would you like to share your secret with me after school today?” Mr. Dorsal suddenly scolded, floating above Wave and me like a circling shark, as we scrawled out “Pacific Settlers” essays on flattened petrified driftwood.

“I'm sorry,” I said to appease him. The thinly mustached teacher glared down at me, then quickly floated to the front of the class to carve onto the lesson stone, which rested on a blue coral easel.

Waverly and I were silent for about a minute. Then it was gossip as usual.

“You're swimming with danger!” Wave whispered nervously, fingering her shell-beaded braids.

“I overslept and was heading for school when I saw him drop down,” I exclaimed under my breath. “The
poor guy, he just couldn't handle the sea.”

“Earthees can't really, can they?” Waverly chided. “They pretend to, with their motorboats and jet skis, always upsetting the natural rhythms of the water.”

“But this guy didn't have a motor,” I defended. “He had a flashy yellow seaboard. And it hit him right in the head!”

“Serves him right.” Wave laughed.

“His eyes bulged when he saw me—like he was seeing a shipwrecked ghost!” I continued.

“You know what Earthees do to dolphins and whales, Lilly. They trap them in nets, spear them, and pluck them from the sea. Earthees spill sticky oil into our environment. Think what he could have done to you. You could have been harpooned like a whale.”

“But I had to help him!”

“Only you would rescue an Earthee! No other mermaid would have gone near him. You'll get into major trouble if anyone finds out. Your parents would send you to the Atlantic.”

Wave was right. The Atlantic was oceans away! Cold, lonely, the boarding-school capital of the sea. My overbearing parents were already frustrated enough with my rebelliousness. Saving an Earthee was equivalent to a one-way ticket on Eastern Whale Express Lines.

But then Wave suddenly changed her tone. “What was it like?” she asked, like a gossip reporter for the
Intercoastal Starfish
.

“He actually tasted sweet. Much sweeter than I would have imagined. Like a caramelized sea nettle,” I recalled, licking my lips. “He has the kind of soul you can feel with your own! Not like a typical merdude whose goal is to drink Shark Attacks and watch professional finball.”

“Was he hot?”

“Scorching! He had deep-red clay-colored hair, a chiseled jaw, and soft melt-worthy lips. He really needed me, Wave. I've never felt that before. When I helped him breathe, he came alive like magic. His smile even made the water sparkle!”

“Are you positive no one saw you?” Waverly warned.

“Not a soul on land or sea,” I assured Waverly. “Not even when I pushed his yellow seaboard onto the sand. It's a good thing we've been taking aqua-aerobics. That thing was heavy!”

“Do you think he knows where we live?” she worried.

“He was out of it anyway. Besides, Earthees are supposed to be stupid mammals. The encyclopedia said they believe Loch Ness is full of monsters.”

“And that Bermuda has a mysterious triangle!” she added, giggling.

“But Wave, this is our secret,” I demanded, suddenly serious, holding out my pinky finger. “Promise?”

“I promise,” she said reluctantly, clasping my finger in her own.

“Now that you've sworn, I have a final confession!”

“Don't tell me you're in love!” she said, rolling her eyes.

“I—”

“No more talking!” Mr. Dorsal reprimanded.

I couldn't pay attention to the lesson Mr. Dorsal was carving on the black stone. I daydreamed about my encounter with Earthdude. The closest I'd ever been to seeing an Earthee before was secretly watching them swim, surf, and sail, from my hangout by the rocks by the pier.

 

As Wave and I swam to our next class I crashed into a teen titan in the crowded tunnel. It was Beach.

“Imagine you two bumping into each other,” Wave said dramatically, stopping beside us. Classmates continued to swim all around us—above and below. Wave gave a flirty wave to her boyfriend, Tide, who was kicking a finball through the crowd below us.

Both merdudes were scorchers—the best finball players in school. Tide had black hair and midnight skin like Wave's. His biceps rippled and his stomach was strong, lean, and showed off every muscle. Beach was the white coral version of Tide with pale skin and spiky white hair. Tide wore a red tank top and black tail-skin, while Beach had a deep-blue tank and black tail-skin.

Beach had just dumped Misty, the varsity pep-squad captain, when he found her at Club Atlantis without him. Wave was ready to fill the vacancy with me, whether I liked it or not!

Beach looked down with his glistening blue eyes. His sun-white hair poked out all over his head like a sea cactus. He was a typical sleek shark—smooth, leering, checking out his prey until he was ready to pounce.

“We'll be at Shipwreck after school,” Beach said, gently stroking my hair. “You'll be there?”

“I have homework,” I said, pushing his hand away.

“You never do your homework,” Wave whispered, glaring at me.

“Tonight I have a big assignment,” I declared.

Beach might be perfect for a girl who wanted to cheer her boyfriend on from the sidelines. But I didn't want a boyfriend that wanted to wear me like a new finball jersey. I wanted someone truly special, some
one whose soul was reflected in my own. I wanted to be in love.

BOOK: Teenage Mermaid
13.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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