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Storm Gray Eyes
He came to me in a storm. One of the worst ones I’ve ever seen; thunder booming, lighting striking, crashing waves tipped with a frothy white. He could have died; should have died, really, but Mother Ocean was feeling merciful and swept him right to me.
I had taken shelter from the worst of the wind against a small rock island, and heard the scream and the splintering crash even above the wind. A piece of his boat swept right past me, a human clinging to it desperately. I didn’t even have a second thought about diving after him. My tail was strong, it could navigate the waves. He screamed even more when I tried to pry him from the wood, even attempting to hit me, but I managed to yank him free and bring him back to the island.
He dragged himself up until he was flopped over a small ledge. Blood trickled down a cut near his scalp, turning his whitish hair pink. I had never seen blonde hair before; all the mermaids of the Puget Sound had coal-black hair. His eyes were familiar, though; the gray of an overcast sky, of clouds heavy with rain not yet released. I reached up to touch his cheek and he scrambled backward, those storm gray eyes widening. I placed a palm on his cheek, feeling the softness of his skin. Slowly, my fingers moved upward until they traced the cut on his forehead.
“You’re a mermaid.” His voice was hushed with reverence, his gaze trailing down my body to my green-blue tail, still in the water. Somehow, those words made me blush and I looked away, splashing my tail gently. A loud crash of thunder made him jump and almost fall into the water, and I steadied him quickly. Our eyes met. Our hands touched.
They say a mermaid can fall in love with a man in the space of a second, and the man can fall in love with the mermaid in even less time. Little sparks jolted from my fingers where they brushed his, and he gasped. I turned and dived, my heart pounding as hard as the thunder. I watched the boy from underwater, as the storm waned and he was rescued by more humans. As the boat drove away, plowing through the waves, he stared, his gray eyes sweeping the water, and I knew he was looking for me. The thought made me feel warm and I smiled, wrapping my arms around myself.
I came to the island the next day, when the waters were calm once again. But my human boy with the blonde hair and blue eyes wasn’t there, nor was he there the next day or the next. But on the sixth day after the storm, I saw a boat approaching. In it was the boy. He rowed up to the island and dragged out the boat up onto a ledge, before looking out at the waves. “Mermaid?” He called, “Are you there?”
I surfaced, and our eyes met. He beamed; wading into the water, not caring how wet he got. “I knew I didn’t imagine you! I knew you were real. The doctors said you were a figment of my terrified imagination, but you seemed too real.”
He reached out a hand for me and I drew back. Grandmother had told me stories of fishermen capturing my kind and selling them for food or keeping them locked up in fish tanks. But the boy’s eyes were kind as he whispered, “I won’t hurt you.” He knelt down, still holding out his hand.
I took it, and we stayed there, holding hands. My stomach was fluttering, my heart pounding and I smiled and smiled and smiled, and he smiled too.
“My name is Cole,” he told me, “What’s yours?”
So I told him, in my language, something he couldn’t possibly understand, but he told me how beautiful it was, just like how beautiful I was. We stayed there until the sun began to set and he said he had to go, and he’d see me tomorrow at the same time.
We met every day after that, and slowly, I pulled myself up on land, until one day I sat completely up on the rock, my tail spread out next to me, Cole and mine fingers entwined as we watched the stars. We turned toward each other, and we were close enough together that I could smell him. Our lips touched, and a fire raged in my belly as we drew each other closer, closer, closer.
He smelled like dirt and sand and sea water, a unique mix of land and sea. It hurt to watch him sail away, and I followed him as close to shore as I dared.
When I told Grandmother about him, she smiled and drew me into her arms before going backward and saying, “You can’t go on land to be with him, my dear. You do know that, right?” At my crestfallen face, she smiled again, a secret sort of smile, and leaned forward to whisper in my ear. “But he can join you here.” She returned to her business, but not before telling me, “It has to happen quickly. Drag him in. He’ll be fighting, but that will soon stop.”
As soon as Cole came into view I drew myself up and kissed him. His hand slid into my hair, and my hand closed around his wrist. Before he even had a chance to do more than gasp I pulled him out of the boat and into the water. He fought, just like Grandmother promised, yanking at my hand and kicking, bubbles exploding from his mouth as I pulled him deeper. But soon he stopped fighting, and I turned, beaming, waiting for a tail to replace his legs.
But nothing happened. His head was hanging, and no tail appeared. His eyes were closed. I shook him, my hands fisted in his shirt. “Wake up!”
His eyes didn’t open, and with desperate fingers I groped at his neck, trying to feel the fluttering of gills that Grandmother promised he would grow. There was nothing…nothing, nothing, nothing, just smooth, human skin, cold to the touch. I swam toward the surface as fast as I could, yanking his head above water. I pushed him onto the beach before dragging myself up after him. I stroked his cheek and squeezed his fingers, but nothing happened. Desperately, I peeled his eyes open. His clear, storm gray eyes were cloudy and unfocused. I pressed my palm to his chest, and there was no steadying thudding of his heart.
I clung to his body and cried, begging, pleading, praying to Mother Ocean that I was wrong, that he would wake up and be able to join me in the sea. He was too still, too silent, and I knew that. And so I cried.
I heard Grandmother surface behind me, and I turned. “It went wrong! Why did it go wrong?”
Grandmother’s smile was smug, and she reached for my hand. “You didn’t honestly believe that he would become a mermaid, did you?” Her skin was smooth and cold, too smooth and cold, and I pulled my own hand away. She studied me, her eyes narrowing. “You’re stupider than I thought you were if you never noticed. Girl, have you ever seen a male mermaid?”
I shook my head, and Grandmother’s smirk was triumphant. “Exactly. Our ancestors are woman, human woman, drowned by men who didn’t trust them. But Mother Ocean took pity on them, giving them tails and gills, so they could be free. There is no such thing as a male mermaid. But we must survive, and so Mother Ocean made it that every man that drowned just as their ancestors tried to drown ours, a new life would be given.” She gestured at my stomach. “You can’t feel it yet, but it’s growing there now.”
She looked like she expected me to be pleased, but I only started crying harder. She snorted. “You stupid girl. You actually went and fell in love.” Shaking her head, she backed away. “Imagine what the others would say…a daughter of Mother Ocean falling in love with a man from the land…the scandal…” Her gaze hardened. “You never speak of him again, and this will be forgotten. I will deposit his body somewhere.”
I cradled Cole to my chest, shaking my head and biting my lip.
Grandmother didn’t look back.
I can feel it now, the gentle flutters of the new life that Mother Ocean has given in exchange for Cole. My stomach swells more with each passing day, and I already love the tiny mermaid growing inside me. I think she will have black hair, like me, and an emerald green tail, like Grandmother, but those are only guesses. But I know what color her eyes will be. I know with a solid kind of certainty.
My daughter, Cole’s daughter, will have storm gray eyes.