you almost drowned once, when you were little. you don't remember much besides the rush of water in your ears and how beautiful it looked beneath the surface, light shining through the waves.
then you're on the shore, coughing up water and feeling the salt burn your throat. there had been voices, muffled and distant, speaking to you, but you don't remember what they said. you looked out to the ocean, to the sky above it, to the sun beginning to set, and wonder if you dreamed of the hands that gently grasped your waist and lifted you to the surface.
it's a story they bring up a lot to the children who go out to the beach.
"she almost drowned once, pulled under by the current when she swam out too far. don't stray from us okay? the ocean is greedy and rarely ever gives back the people it takes."
the children listen with wide, frightened eyes, asking you later if it was true. you say yes, because it was true. but you also tell them of mermaids, of the creatures beneath the waves that guide the lost back to shore.
you don't know if it was real, but you do know nearly drowning doesn't scare you when you know you will be saved.
the ocean is different at night. calmer, almost. the water is dark and covered in a thousand stars. you can't see below to surface like you can in the day, but it just adds to the charm.
the waves are quiet when they wash upon the shore. you walk along the edge, letting the water wash over your bare feet and try to pull you in. the footprints you leave in the sand wash away behind you. it's nights like these that you feel like a ghost, like you drowned that day and never came back.
you reach that old dock, the one no one uses anyone, not when there are bigger ones around. the wood is dark and weather-worn, rough under your feet. you're careful not to step on any nails, and sit at the edge.
it's here, alone and so far away from the rest of your life, that you let yourself think back to that day.
how blue the water was, cool against your skin, the sun hot above you. how familiar the taste of salt on your lips became. how the world went still and quiet when you went under, fish swimming by without a care over vibrant coral. how you sank. how you didn't want to go back up. you're vision went dim, and your lungs burned with need for air, but you stayed. you sank down into the white sands and looked up at the water, where the light fractured and danced along the waves.
you know how dangerous the ocean can be. you know how painful drowning is. and yet--
you long for that peace, that quiet, that stillness again. to be surrounded by beauty that doesn't exist on the land.
but what you want most is to feel that touch again; the gentle hands running along your shoulders, finger trailing along your jaw, arms wrapping along your waist and pulling you back up. you don't remember a face, but you remember the touch, and you spend every day at the beach searching for it, chasing a ghost of that feeling.
you look out to the starry sea, and fall into the water.
for a moment, the salt stings your eyes. then you blink it away and look up.
you wake up on the shore next to the old dock. a hand helps you roll onto you side to cough out water. once your done, you collapse back onto the sand, rolling onto you back and staring out at the sky, a light purple before the dawn.
the hand cups your cheek and gently turns your head to the side. you just woke up, but you wonder if you're still dreaming.
"why did you do that?" she asks, wet hair dripping water drops into the sand. your throat burns, and you use that as an excuse to stare at her, both surprised and not.
she's older now. her hands are bigger, but just as gentle as you remember them. you may not have known her face, but you can't ever forget her touch.
you smile and rasp out, "hello again."
you still go to the beach during the day, but you spend more time swimming with the kids than diving in search of something you half remember.
but you spend all your nights at that old dock, now, too. you spend time with the mermaid who saved your life twice now, let her marvel at all the different ways you tie up her hair, teach her how to braid as well. you listen to her sing and tell her stories about your life. some nights, you leave after a few hours. others, you stay with her to watch the dawn, then watch her disappear back into the sea.
part of you wants to go back down, sink to the bottom of the ocean, but you know she'll come back to the surface again. so you wait, and try to forget the feeling of peace that came with being pulled under.
you wonder if you love her, or love the ocean.
something draws the two of you back together again, night after night, but you can't help but wonder how long it'll last.
you've dated before, fell in love and back out again. been heart broken and the heart breaker. but being with her doesn't feel like love or friendship. it just feels right. as though this is what you've been chasing your whole life, this feeling of belonging without any effort. as though you spent your whole life waiting for her.
"i wish we could be together more," she whispers to you one night, colorful sea glass in her hands.
"if there was a way for me to stay with you in the ocean forever, i would," you say, desperately wanting to reach out but afraid it won't be enough.
"i'm so lonely," she says, "i have no one in the ocean. my birth pod left me for dead when i got tangled in a net."
you often wondered about the scars in her tail, wide and crossing over her scales. you knew better than to ask though. when she looks up to the moon, there are tears in her eyes; she's opened on old wound that never healed right and is letting herself bleed out in front of you.
there's a look on her face, one of longing and pain and heart-breaking loneliness; you've seen that expression on your own face so many times in reflections and pictures people took when you weren't expecting it. you think back to your empty house, the distance between you and the people in your life, how they add you to plans like an afterthought and never reach out when you aren't around. you think of how the only thing they know about you is how you almost drowned when you were little, and how they turned you into a lesson rather than a friend.
"we may be lonely," you say, "but it's not so bad when we're lonely together."
you spend days learning how to cook and bake to bring her foods she's never had before. she spends days hunting down shells and treasures in old shipwrecks.
and when she smiles at your gifts, your heart says, i love you i love you i love you.
her lips carry the familiar taste of the sea. but she also tastes of the brownies you've made her.
when she smiles, you know it means i love you too.
it's already over 90F where i live which means its summer which is the prime time to write about mermaid lesbians