The sand scratched at her toes as Bailey tramped down the beach, attempting to keep herself upright on the uneven surface as she clutched the hem of her maxi-dress in one hand and allowed her heels to dangle from the opposite hand’s fingers. She was drunk already, after only her third flute of champagne. She’d always been somewhat of a lightweight; her mother even teased her about it, endlessly.
Another flaw to add to the list, she thought bitterly. Unmarried, childless, starving artist….gay. Her mother could never truly accept that last part. She’d thrown a fit the night Bailey had finally shoved her way out of the closet after the tenth—and final—attempt at a blind date. She just couldn’t take it anymore.
Mom had acted exactly as she’d predicted, thrown Bailey out of the house, screaming while her daughter sobbed. The scared teen girl had taken a cab, and what little she could carry on her back, to her father’s place in the hopes that he wouldn’t react as badly. Surprisingly, he didn’t and welcomed her in with open arms to his studio, surrounding her with drying paintings of the sea and mythical creatures.
“There’s not much room,” he’d said, as if apologizing for his kindness, “but we’ll make some, huh?” He’d used the self-made corner kitchenette to prepare them both a couple of grilled cheese sandwiches and hot cocoa. Then he spent all of that night telling her stories of the mythical sea creatures he loved to paint. About the lonely Loch Ness Monster and the spiteful sirens; the stories reminded Bailey of her childhood and she soon found herself drifting to his voice. Like a lullaby.
When she’d woken up the next morning, she had twenty six messages from her mother; half of them were of her frantically asking where her darling daughter had gone, as if the previous night hadn’t happened. The rest were half-hearted apologies that she never acknowledged thereafter.
Bailey wouldn’t have gone back if it weren’t for her father’s insistence.
“You’ll never forgive yourself if you don’t try to work things out, Bay,” he’d said, using the childhood nickname that her mother had always hated. “I know I do.” Bailey didn’t know how that was possible, but his words were sincere and so she went.
Upon her arrival home, her mother wrapped her in her arms and pressed kisses all over her face. She rubbed her back and rocked back and forth on her feet and whispered her love in Bailey’s ear, but all Bailey could hear was the lack of apologies on her tongue now. Even the simplest ‘sorry, honey’ would have made everything better. But it never came.Mothers never had to say sorry, she guessed.
That was over five years ago, though, and now, as Bailey walks down the beach, away from her youngest sister’s wedding—which came far too early, in Bailey’s opinion, considering Lydia was only 19 and still foolish—she wondered if the look of distaste her mother gave her when she talked to anybody of the female gender was intentional or not. Whether the lack of interest in Bailey’s first showcase—a series of paintings inspired by her father—was because she was too distracted showing off pictures of her first grandson and doctor son-in-law or because she really did not care for Bailey’s chosen career, so similar to her ex-husband’s.
Her father had not made it to his youngest daughter’s wedding. His poor heart hadn’t been able to make it this far and he’d passed on some thirteen months before. He’d left the majority of his paintings to her and a few select ones to his three other children; a fairy in a jungle of overgrown daffodils for Kate; a dragon flying over the sea for Sean; a beautiful sorceress for Lydia. They all had theirs framed and hung in their family homes, but Bailey’s remained in the studio. For now. Until the lease ran out two months from now.Then she had no idea where to put them.
It was the one thing she’d been stressing over all night, as she watched Lydia say her vows to Vincent, her boyfriend of a year, and denied three young men dances, as her mother glared at her while she talked to one of Vincent’s sisters, who was married anyway. She’d barely given any thought to marriage or children of her own until the Best Man made his speech and it hit her just how far she was from either of those things. Then she’d drank three glasses of champagne and snuck away from the festivities. She doubted anybody noticed, anyway.She must have walked a mile down the beach before she reached a dock that stretched a few hundred feet outward. The wood was warm as it met the sanded skin of her soles and she reveled in it as the ocean breeze blew through the straggly strands of her sandy blonde hair. She’d always been complimented on her hair, and her cornflower blue eyes, by everybody but her mother who detested the length Bailey preferred.She clenched her jaw and shut her eyes against the thought of her mother; no good came from that. When she opened them again, she was at the end of the dock, her toes skirting the edge of the rough, splintered wood. There was no guardrail and for a hopeless moment, Bailey thought of jumping into the dark blue depths to see where they would take her. Anywhere was better than here.
But she didn’t. She stayed on the dock. She sat down, allowing her shorter than usual legs to dangle below, feet barely submerged in the comforting coolness. She took a deep breath and allowed her muscles to relax for the first time in hours.But when she felt something brush against her toes, she tensed once again, her feet immediately retracting from the water until her knees were pressed to her chest. She watched the water with wide eyes, and her heart pounded when she noticed a shadow in its depths. It didn’t move for a long while, but then it did.A crown of white hair rose above the surface, a pair of dark green eyes appearing beneath the wet bangs. Then there was a nose and then a pair of think green lips. The creature’s skin was a pale—but not sickly—green and its cheeks were rounded, the chin pointed slightly. Not of it was unattractive. It, in fact, looked like a she.This was confirmed when the shoulders and torso also emerged. Bailey looked away, embarrassed as she discovered this beautiful…woman (?) was topless. The naked woman tilted her head at that.
“I’m so sorry,” Bailey said, shielding her eyes. “I didn’t know you were here; I should…I should go. I’ll give you a little privacy.” She began to stand.
“Privacy?” the woman asked, her voice lyrical and carrying a strange echo-quality. “What does this word mean?”
That’s odd, Bailey thought to herself. But she’s probably a foreigner. “Privacy,” she explained, settling back down, “is when you want to be alone.”
“I do not,” the woman said. “Nobody wants to be alone. That is absurd.”
“Why?” Bailey asked. After all, she wanted to be alone. She usually was alone.
“Because when you are alone, you are likely to be lonely,” the strange woman told her. “Nobody likes lonely.” Bailey had no argument for that.
So she changed the subject: “Why are you swimming out here naked?” she asked.“Naked?” the woman asked. “What is this word?’
Bailey sighed. This woman, though her voice was strange, was obviously not unfamiliar with English; she should know this word at least. “When you don’t wear clothes,” she sighed, exasperated. “Where are your clothes, by the way?”
“I know not what ‘clothes’ are, nor do I believe I have them,” the woman said, squinting her eyes a little. “Your tail is strange.”
Bailey’s eyes widened at that and turned her head to stare at her bottom. She didn’t have a tail. “What are you--?” She practically fell into the water at the sight of a large, scaly, navy blue tail that appeared just next to the woman, her heart pounding as she realized what, exactly, she was dealing with here. “Are you a…?” She couldn’t even finish her sentence as the tail swished, almost appearing to be involuntary and she shook her head, squeezing her eyes shut tightly.
This cannot be happening, she thought to herself. Sirens don’t—
But then she opened her eyes at there she was, a siren looking right up at her, tail still swishing behind her, head tilted and hair beginning to dry in the hot summer air.
“I am Serena,” the siren informed her. “My name is ironic, I know, but I was named by my human mother before I received my tail.”
“R-received?” Bailey asked. “You mean…you weren’t born with a tail?”
Serena shook her head. “Sirens are rarely born; there aren’t enough males to fertilize us.”“Then how…?”
“My mother passed when I was a toddler—I do not even remember her name or her warmth—and my stepfather, who they tell me was a heartless man, brought me out to the ocean to drown. My adoptive mothers saved my life and gave me a tail so that I could survive with them in the ocean. It’s the way most of us are made.”
“Mothers?” It was a stupid thing to get stuck on, truthfully, but it was the thing that rang most loudly for Bailey. “You had more than one?”
The siren nodded. “Of course. With very few males to populate us, sirens often mate in pairs of females, if at all. Female mates bond for life and raise their adopted offspring together. Only sometimes do you see a male and a female siren with natural-born siren children. But that is not how I was raised.”
Bailey’s entire body began to tingle at that. She had never once considered the possibility that she...that sirens…that…
Her mind with swimming with the information she’d just received.
“How do….is it possible…can an adult human become a siren?” she asked. She had not expected those words to come tumbling from her mouth, but they did. It was also at that moment when she discovered that that was a question she was very interested in knowing the answer to. She leaned forward, her dress falling down her thighs as she waited for Serena’s answer.
The siren frowned. “I don’t know,” she said, deep in thought. “I don’t recall ever meeting a human before this day. Usually, we are not allowed to come above the surface.”
“Usually? What changed that?” Bailey asked.
“You kicked my head,” Serena informed her with a slight glare.
“Sorry,” Bailey said.
“I am unharmed,” Serena assured her, “but I do not know the answer to your question. I would have to ask my mothers. Will you be here again tomorrow?”
The beach was far out of her way—the studio and her apartment were both on the other side of town and it would take at least a half hour to get here at any time of day—but she nodded, anyway. “Yes,” said Bailey. “I will be here.”
The siren nodded. “Then I will meet you when the sun is highest in the sky,” she said.
Noon, Bailey’s mind supplied for her. I can do noon.
“Deal,” she said. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Serena.”
“I will see you tomorrow as well, Human,” Serena replied and disappeared beneath the surface.
“Bailey!” the woman shouted after her. “My name is Bailey!”
Serena surfaced a dozen feet away. “I’ll see you soon, Human Bailey!” she called, then waved and dove under once again.
Bailey watched for a few moments, as her shadow moved farther and farther until it was gone, the setting sun glittering over the horizon. Her entire body continued to tingle in excitement as a smile spread across her lips.