A mermaid being a lifeguard may seem odd, but I started doing this when I was twelve because it gave me an excuse to be in and around water. And no, I don’t go all fish-out-of-the-water if I touch the stuff. Unless I want to, I don’t even change if I go into the water, and I find those shows where a drop of water transforms us into our fishier selves hilarious.
The movies had our basic anatomy right, but the physiology of their actors limited their movements under the water in ways humans couldn’t imagine. Our powerful and supple tails move us forward with an ease that’s impossible to imitate, and we are physically much stronger. If any of them had seen a mermaid swim, they would understand how unrealistic those fake mermaids were.
Like any other supernatural creature—if there are others, for I have never encountered any—it’s a matter of control, and, strangely, I always had a handle on my gift.
I never told my mother while she lived, and my father still didn’t know. Actually, no one did. Why have I never told them? I never want to see anyone look at me as if I was suddenly someone else, a freak and inhuman, although I am. Eve and Ronald adopted me when I was around nine months old, and I would always be grateful for the love they showered on me.
My dad disapproved of my current occupation and expected me to use my time better. He wasn’t too impressed when he realized I chose Marine Biology, not business, medicine, or something more ambitious.
As proud as he was of me when I finished my master’s degree in record time, he wasn’t happy when I took the year off and toured Europe. I made a wider loop than that, but Father would never learn that minor detail; he’d have a fit.
I’ve been back from my hiatus for three weeks, and the truth was, I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do. I could take a job at the aquarium, yet it wasn’t my style. I could start my professorate, but I wasn’t ready for it. So, until I knew what I wanted from life, I would do the whole surf, sand, and sea thing. Ronald would hate it, but it always clears my mind. Usually.
I’m still oddly restless and uneasy, not myself, but I’m not sick. At least, I don’t think I am. I don’t recall ever being ill, except when we went hiking in the desert for a school trip. I drank my water too fast, and while my friends were still fine, I suffered heatstroke. It reminded me that I did better near water and should always ensure I was well hydrated.
However, the beach was sweltering this year and packed. Most days being out here was fun, but days like today reminded me that the elements were treacherous.
Something drew me to this beach from the first day I saw it. It was peaceful and gave me a sensation of belonging.
I ducked into the guardhouse’s shade, welcoming the cool wind on my face. It tried to tug my dark auburn hair from my braid and buffeted against my slim, well-toned body. The sound of the surf and the feeling of the sand under my bare feet overwhelmed my senses and made me part of it all, almost as if I could just become one with the elements. Usually, it relaxes me, but something didn’t feel right today.
I usually hide my gray eyes behind dark glasses. The lines and planes of my face and body make me a prime target for the male species, but the color of my eyes fascinated them for some reason.
Long past the boy phase, I needed to do something that would give me a sense of belonging and being needed.
A hand went up in the surf, and I tensed, but it was a false alarm. My shift ended in ten minutes, and I wanted to go home. Today being here was not the panacea it usually was. I kept hearing something in the wind, like a voice, and I worried that someone in the surf was calling for help. I saw nothing, but I kept hearing it, and it unsettled me.
“Hey Brit, think you can take another shift? We’re short-staffed.”
I pivoted on my heel and saw Willy coming toward me, dressed in a blue striped Hawaiian shirt he always wore with shorts and sandals. He had that ‘aging surfer’ thing going for him. His too-long, wind-styled, sand-colored hair was fading to gray, and his skin started to get that leathery look.
He must have been a hunk when he was younger, and his eyes were still the color of the sky, while mine was gray with the oddest violet tinge.
Despite his wiry build, Willy cultivated a beer gut and looked more like a beach bum than a medical doctor and the lifeguard station’s director.
“No, Willy, not today.” I spotted the instant worry in his eyes. He knew me well enough to pick up that something wasn’t right, but he didn’t ask. He knew I’d talk if I wanted to, and this wasn’t something I had the words to explain even to myself. This would also be the one time he couldn’t advise me.
“Drive carefully,” he warned as I packed my stuff to leave. I’ve had a motorcycle since I first got a license for it, and Willy says those exact words to me every day.
I smiled at him. He was a genuinely nice guy, and his fatherly advice answered many of my growing pains.
At some point, he had been a shoulder to cry on and an ear to listen for us all. I have been around longer than most, and he saw me as one of “his kids.” He had no children and adopted his lifeguards for however long they stayed in his life. I’d miss him.
I froze as I picked up my helmet from the shelf. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized I wasn’t coming back, and I was ready to move on. I slowly turned to Willy, but it was like he read my mind, and the sadness in his expression tore at me.
“Don’t forget me.” He collected his clipboard and walked out the door without saying goodbye to me, and I almost ran after him.
There were tears in his eyes, and I fought my own. My throat tightened, and I knew I would cry if I didn’t get out of there. I jammed on my helmet and forced my mind away from the heartache of letting go of this place and the friends I had made over the years. I will be back someday, but not as a lifeguard, just a tourist revisiting old haunts. A sob nearly escaped me.
Although I hadn’t realized it earlier, these last few weeks of summer had been my way of saying goodbye. I slipped into my leathers and boots before walking out the door and leaving my keys on the counter. It seemed so final—the end of an era.
Outside, I got on my Ducati, and as I roared away, I spotted Willy in my rearview mirror, staring after me. He looked a little lost among the entire holiday crowd, clutching his clipboard in one arm and waving forlornly at my back.
I almost turned around, but I couldn’t. It was past time that I grew up. I needed to find my place in this world, and that beach was not it. Willy had found his home, and now it was my turn.
I shifted gears and sped up as if riding headlong into the next phase of my life.