Just Swimmingly

Four girls, four friends bound by fate discover an unimaginable secret in themselves. But with good, there is always evil, and something is preying upon them.

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2. crystal clear

"How was your swim?" Ryan winks at me the next day at work.

I answer him with my gaze directed at the swimsuit trunks I'm folding, never looking up. "Great, thanks for the cover." I don't tell him about my tail, or my newfound ability to breathe underwater. I don't mention the relief I felt when I swam to shore, crawling up until I could clutch dry sand in my hands, watching my tail disappear to my regular, stick-thin, long legs. Sopping wet, I walked all the way home, and Evie thought I'd just gotten a ride from Adelaide after my shift, and that the two of us went for a quick dip. I'd tried to shower off my memories of that nightmare, the water so hot that it scorched my body red. Thankfully, I stayed human in the freshwater, though I thought I saw tiny scales began to line my skin just as I was getting out.

Ryan doesn't take my hint and walk away. I even try singing under my breath to the Rihanna song playing in the store, but that encourages him to sing in his low, smooth honey voice that is eerily breathtaking. To make matters worse, he smiles at me. "You're quite the singer," he says, in his thick Australian brogue. I try to play it cool. I am not playing it cool. My heartrate is at an all-time-high, and my saving grace is when I spot a customer walking around aimlessly, and I dart off to attempt to sell this ginger man a new surfboard.

I spend the next week in a mixture of sheer terror and awe at my sudden transformation. During the day, I'm completely normal: eat breakfast, ride to school with Carina in her beat-up red car that reeks of weed, go to class, eat lunch with my friends, ride to work with Adelaide, do everything in the shop that needs to get done, ride home with Evie, eat dinner quickly, tackle a mountain of homework. I'm probably at the highest level of productivity that I've ever seen, because I'll accept any distractions. All my tests and quizzes receive As, my notebook is neat and organized, I'm ahead on my projects, the customers at work love me, and I even volunteer to help watch my neighbor's newborn post-work while I do homework. 

But every night, in the darkness, I walk all the way to the beach and dive in, hoping that the prior events were mere hallucinations. They're not. Underwater, I can breathe, and I can venture out deep into the ocean easily with my tail propelling me forward. When I open my mouth and suck in water, I simply take in oxygen. It's all just like my dream, but much, much worse, because it's real.

I find that Evie hasn't stopped acting weirdly towards me. Whenever I'm near her, she gives me shifty looks and asks me questions about how I'm feeling, her voice high-pitched. I know it doesn't have to do with any birthday surprises, because Dad's already sent me a pair of Doc Martens and a thing of homemade cookies, and Evie gave me a pretty white lace dress and blood orange teabags. Obviously, I'm a bit worried about the whole half-fish thing, and that she's discovered me, but I feel like too much of a freak to divulge this to anyone, even her.

I'm looking forward to the weekend because I've been promised a party for my birthday, as well as Ariella's. She's just three days younger than me, and Nixie has agreed that we can use the house as long as no one underaged starts fornicating her in bedroom. Evie, however resistant to the idea, has given in; she's going to Hollywood for most of the night to avoid the matter, but limits me to fifteen guests, though allows a sleepover afterwards with Ariella, Adelaide, and Carina. Those three are the first people I invite, followed by Ariella's boyfriend, Nick; Carina's drug dealer/special friend, Kyle; and Adelaide's half-sister, Kiera, who happens to be an amazing dj. I invite Ryan too, and to my shock, he agrees to show up. My friends JB and Josh, two avid skateboarder boys, are of course invited. After, I invite four other boys that I'm friends with, then my friend, Ashley. Unfortunately, Ashley is standing right by the beautiful, popular, half-Filipino cheer-captain and Queen-of-all-evil, Shay, who I invite despite the fact that she usually likes to throw insults my way. 

Friday is the party, and Nixie brings us Smirnoff Ice, Pabst, and Jack Daniels; we're all set. Kiera, who looks a lot like Adelaide, short and with skin the color of a Hershey's kiss but green ends to her jet-black hair, starts the party right by playing Snoop Dog, and these California boys rip off their shirts and begin pounding beers. Ryan is coming late, which I know, but still makes me nervous; I try to shake these nerves with four Smirnoff Ices and a smattering of shots, and both push me out onto the dancefloor. Carina is smoking with Kyle, who must be about twenty, on the couch out of a bowl, and they're doing blowbacks where he inhales the smoke and exhales it into her mouth. He's got curly brown hair that's cut short, which Carina keeps running her fingers through. She's too beautiful for him, with her tan half-Latina, half-Italian golden skin, curvy figure, and big brown eyes, but he's good natured and charming. Ariella, with her milky skin, blonde hair with thick bangs, and tall frame, is drunk after just three Smirnoff Ices, and tan, shaggy-haired Nick is sitting next to her, his arm around her, and making jokes with whoever comes near. Adelaide is dancing near me, a few guys watching her from afar, trying to muster up the courage to talk to her first.

Ryan comes at ten, hugging me and handing me a tiny, newspaper-wrapped gift. I look up at him with wonder as he puts it in my hands, and he smiles with encouragement, so I rip it open. Inside is a DVD of The Endless Summer. "It's this movie from the sixties, about these California surfers who follow summer around the world, like they go to all these different spots where it's still summer and surf. I'd figured you like it."

Boldly, I give him a hug. "It's perfect," I murmur, "Wow. Thank you." Evie got me to watch this movie once before, and I'd loved it... all the surfing, the travelling. I'm that Ryan could buy me something so fitting, but I try not to read too deep into it; we did work at a surf shop together, so maybe it wasn't so incredible. I pull away from him. "Do you need a drink?" My head is cloudy from shots that I'd just taken with Josh, who was a big-muscled but sweet-faced senior. 

"Just water, do you mind?" I shake my head and run to the kitchen, where JB, with his snapback on backwards, is sitting on the floor playing with my cat. He's giggling to himself, and it's laughable sight to see; JB's a lacrosse player, with strong, Native American features, a muscled frame, and a tough attitude. He loves skateboarding, and his board's at his side even though his shirt's missing... and he's playing with my kitten. I grab a dishwasher-worn cup and pour Ryan a cool glass of water, making sure to hold it steady, despite all the alcohol coursing through my veins, tempting me to tumble over and spill the water everywhere. 

Ryan grins when I hand the water over, and he smiles with his whole face. His chocolate eyes crinkle up at the corners, and his white teeth shine from between his lips. Before I can focus on trying to act sober, Adelaide grabs me to dance, mostly so she can ask me questions about this guy. We join a circle where Ashley and Shay are dancing, and suddenly, we all start to writhe around like crazy because Beyonce is being played. The rest of the night is spent with me dancing and occasionally talking to random people, but Ryan says goodbye at midnight with a hug. 

Evie comes home at one in the morning, and she kicks everyone out except for Adelaide, Carina, Ariella, Nixie, and I. Nixie and Evie go back to their rooms to sleep, and us four girls create a mass of sleeping bags, pillows, and blankets on the floor between the couch and the television, which we eagerly dive onto, along with a bag of barbecue potato chips, a pint of Rocky Road ice cream, and a container of sourdough pretzels. In the glow coming off the cartoons we turn on the television, we start to talk. Quickly, talk turns mundane, and we play typical sleepover question games, mingled with truth or dares; it's especially fun because we know we might just be too old for this. 

Carina is flat on her back, staring at the glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling. "Wow, we're all seventeen." She's stoned, and for some reason, this revelation makes her giggle, even though it's not that special. The four of us are juniors, but we're all old for our grade; Carina was born in July, Adelaide in August, and Ariella and I in October.

Adelaide rolls her eyes. "So?" She licks barbecue powder off of her orange-tinted fingers.

"Focus, focus!" Ariella quietly shrieks, "I've got a question... what's the weirdest thing that's happened to you since you turned seventeen?"

I'm praying that the dark is enough to hid the sheen of sweat that just appeared on my forehead. Carina rolls onto her stomach and furrows her eyebrows, while Adelaide quits munching. Ariella is clearly very drunk, her words exaggerated and her movements slow and unsteady. "I'll tell you mine..." she whispers, pushing herself closer to all of us.

"If this has anything to do with Nick's penis, I won't hear it." Carina plugs her fingers in her ears, but Ariella pulls them out. She is deathly serious, her big blue eyes wide, and her lips, smeared with red lipstick, unsmiling. 

"I think I'm a mermaid," she mumbles. For a minute, everyone is silent, completely. "But I can't tell my mom or dad, or even Bella or Brigitte. I thought about telling Victoria, but she's too young." Ariella is the adopted daughter of dentists Peter Ross and Laura Mathijssen, and she is one of four female girls. Bella is a fiery redhead, only thirteen; Brigitte is a fifteen year old half-black, eerily pretty troublemaker; and Victoria is barely five, with blonde hair like Ariella, but big, green eyes and chubby cheeks. She doesn't know her biological family.

In fact, none of us know our biological mothers. Carina lives with her father's father, after her parents died in a car crash right after she was born, in Florida. Adelaide lives with her dad because her mother, from Haiti, committed suicide after her birth. And my mom died when I was young, though I'm the closest one to having an actual, biological mother because I've got Evie.

But something weird happens, in the moments after Ariella speaks. "Me too," Carina murmurs.

"...Really?" Adelaide is louder, "You too? I thought it was... I thought it was just me..."

And I speak up too, and suddenly, we're all aware that we're all alike. Ever since the day we turned seventeen, whenever we get in the ocean, except Carina claims she's learned to go in only at night, so when she surfs or swims during the day, she can control it. Adelaide says the same thing. Carina's tail is gold, Ariella's is royal blue, and Adelaide's is burgundy. Adelaide also says she's tried to hint to Kiera about it, but to no avail; Carina says the same thing about her grandpa. 

That's when we agree to go, together. To the ocean.

In our pajamas, walking down the street, we probably look strange. There is Ariella, with her blonde wavy hair, in yoga pants and an oversized shirt with a golden lab on the front. Next to her is Adelaide, in baggy, navy blue sweats and a tank top, her dark skin and hair blending in with the night. Then it's Carina, in a D.A.R.E shirt and shorts, her brown, wavy hair near her waist. And finally me, too-tall and too-thin, with my arched eyebrows and almond-shaped blue eyes, in star-emblazoned pajama pants and a big, army green shirt. Together, we sing quietly, smiling; our voices all sound lovely, harmonizing.

I feel the cement cool underneath my feet, but before long it changes to the rough wood that leads to the shore, and then, to the sand that still holds some of the daylight's warmth, just barely. Awkwardly, we strip to just underwear, and then we look around and silently, we agree.

We dive in.

Instantly, I feel the now-familiar sensation of my legs joining as the water glides over them, of scales popping up to cover my skin. My torso remains unchanged, but when I open my eyes and mouth underwater, I can see and breathe with no problems. After a good minute, I pop my head above the surface, and I look. What I see amazes me.

Carina's tail truly is gold, and she's mastered swimming with it. Like a dolphin, with her arms together above her head, she darts from below the water and jumps above, smoothly, her arms diving in and her tail following, leaving tiny splashes. Adelaide floats on her back, gracefully, her burgundy tail highlighted in the subtle moonlight. Ariella is more uncomfortable and newer at this, and I realize that I must look just like her. She pokes her head up, but then darts back under, her bright blue tail peeking out slightly, so it's clear she's vertical in the water.

Eventually, we all meet, venturing deeper into the ocean, underwater. "Can you hear me?" Bubbles escape Adelaide's lips, but I understand her perfectly and nod.

Something beautiful is happening, but it feels dangerous.

It's not long before I realize that it's nearly morning, and this beach will be filled with surfers. Carina shows us how to escape the water easily, through a tricky maneuver of coming to the shore and concentrating deeply on turning back. After a few seconds, she's walking on sand, casually, like nothing ever happened; it's much better than my method of rolling on the sand like a beached whale. Adelaide is quickest at it, and Ariella and I both take five minutes each of concentrating before we can get our scaly tails back to legs. I offer her a high-five once we finish, and we giggle as we through back on our clothes, finally sobered from the cool ocean. I look around the beach and smile; maybe this isn't a nightmare. For the first time, I'm happy that my dream has became a reality, and I can just see sunlight beginning to tint the dark sky pink, reflected over the calm waves. When I turn to look the other way, I see a figure, standing alone on the beach.

Somehow I know that whoever it is... they've been here the whole time, watching us.

And once again, my dream becomes a nightmare.

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