I’ve never been to this part of the ocean before. The northernmost reaches of the Atlantic have always seemed so far away to me, even though I was born and raised in the Caribbean Sea. Well, I did swim a mile or so into the ocean a few times when I was a fingerling, slipping out of my native waters near Puerto Rico and clinging to the edge of the Dominican Republic before coming home again once I reached Cuba. But, try as they might, none of the other mers in my pod have ever been able to talk me into venturing further north. I’ve just never been all that adventurous.
Yet here I am, swimming with my belly to the floor, shrouded by the billowing substrate that Deniz’s tail whipped up when he came this way just a few minutes ago with a few of his friends. My heart does a little flutter when I think Deniz’s name. An explorer I’m not, but he is one mer I will follow anywhere.
Everything about him captivates me. The way he pulls his arms back and pushes out his chest while his powerful tail propels him through the water. The glittering arc his long black hair makes when he breaks the surface and throws his head back. And…oh! The glint of the sun on his smoky silver scales, dazzling to merfolk and fatal to humans. Yes, Deniz fascinates me. Not that I’ll ever tell him any of this, though. Older mers have no interest in small fry like me.
He almost caught me tailing him just off the shore of Haiti, and then again as we passed by Bermuda but, luckily, the curious reef sharks that were following me threw him off my scent. I should probably hang back a little, just in case he gets suspicious enough of the sharks to check up on why they seem so keen to know what he’s up to. But I have no idea where he’s heading so I have to stay close. Getting lost out here would be bad enough but getting caught in fishing nets would be catastrophic.
I’m not a weakling by anyone’s standards, but all this swimming is tiring me out. As I slow my pace, snatches of broken conversation reach my ears in the bubbles left behind by the passage of the mini-pod.
“…then it broke completely in half.”
“More than a thousand passengers drowned…”
“…trinket we’re looking for.”
“…a small trifle.”
“…need to find it.”
“Why is it so…”
That pulls me up short. Not the fact that they’re on the hunt for sunken treasure. I mean, they’re merfolk, that’s what we do. What makes me bluster out enough bubbles to announce ‘there’s someone behind you’ is the word Laguna. My name.
I’m so busy obsessing over reasons why Deniz could be talking about me I don’t realise I’m about to swim head first into a barnacle colonised hunk of metal until one of the reef sharks whacks me with her tail. I blush when I notice her looking at me like I’ve lost my mind, then stick my tongue out at her when I hear her thinking that I’m behaving like a human.
One of the other sharks – a daughter of the judgy one – tells me she’ll keep a watch on Deniz so that I know when he leaves, just to ensure that I don’t end up stranded. Oh, how well they know me. I may have followed Deniz all the way here just to be near him, but now that I’ve made it my attention is no longer focused on his broad shoulders and hard chest. Curiosity has taken over and I want to explore.
Deniz and his gang went left, so I go right. Even though it’s pitch black at the bottom of the ocean I have no problems with my sight, so it doesn’t take me long to find something shiny. Rectangular metal with a hole in the centre…ah, a picture frame! I like it, but I already have dozens of them back in my cave, so I don’t really need this one. Even so, I wrap a lock of my hair around it, securing it with a knot, and let it lie amongst the shells and seaweed already tied there.
Next, I find a mirror, then a handful of coins. Just as curiosity about what Deniz is searching for inside of the wreck starts to nip at my thoughts, I come across something no mer ever wants to find. A giant squid. They don’t usually swim this deep so what it’s doing here I don’t know, but I’m not stupid enough to ask it.
With a few flicks of my tail I’m gone, racing away from the wreck and the squid and… oh! I stop so abruptly the nose of a disgruntled shark bounces off the back of my neck. She wants me to move on and starts thrashing like a mad thing when I swim over her head and backtrack a few metres.
There it is! The thing that had caught my eye during my retreat wasn’t there when I came this way earlier. It must have been dredged up from the ocean bed by all the mer tail activity. As my fingers close around it the most shocking thing happens. I see bright orange lights. Sparkling glass. The handsome face of a young man with strands of blonde hair draped over his forehead. One massive bubble explodes from my mouth and I know it’ll carry my awed gasp right to the surface of the ocean. This man has the most heart-stopping smile I’ve ever seen.
Surprise makes me drop the necklace and I stare at it with mistrust, rubbing my stinging fingers against the scales on my hip to soothe them. I’m no stranger to getting flashes of the lives of humans when I touch objects from shipwrecks, but this is new. I didn’t just get a vague impression of the pale-haired young man, I saw him as though he was standing right in front of me. I even know his name.
A voice in the back of my mind says, leave the thing where you found it, Laguna, nothing good can come of it. And it’s right. If I pick the necklace up again I’ll have to find a place to hide because a reading this consuming will leave me vulnerable not just to the giant squid, but also to the great white that the reef sharks claim is in the vicinity. Oh, and then there are the mers who will no doubt live in and around such an enormous wreck. They won’t be happy to find a Caribbean mermaid encroaching on their chilly territory and filching their shinies.
I make the decision to abandon the trinket, and then two seconds later I’ve got it and a lump of sand squashed in the palm of my hand, and I’m heading for the shelter of a rock with an overhang. When I get there, I have a few stern words with an octopus who doesn’t want me to oust him from his home, but he goes when I mention the great white.
When he’s gone, I settle down, open my hand and let the sand that shielded my skin from the pendant trickle through my fingers. Just before the white gold touches my palm I see a beautiful blue diamond, cut in the shape of a heart, surrounded by many small white diamonds…
And then I see him. Head down, using a knife to make something sharp. Looking up, his expression the same as the one I see my brother doing whenever he looks upon a mermaid he likes. The woman whose eyes I’m watching through is talking to him, tossing him a coin, making him smile. When his expression turns nervous, unsure, I know what she’s done. I can feel it. Can feel the robe slide from my shoulders, feel bumps rise on my skin as it’s kissed by cool air.
I wonder what he sees as he tells her in his sweet voice where to place her arms and to keep her eyes on him. What kind of person needs to be told that? How could she bring herself to look away? I wonder what his fingers are putting down on the paper as he draws her. What does this woman look like?
I don’t wonder for long. I can’t. Not now that they’re in an impossibly small space and he’s so close to her… to us. Oh, the way he looks at her! I could die under that gaze, suffocated by the love that fills his eyes as he looks at us. His fingers are so long compared to mine. Every touch makes me shiver, every breath makes me want to get closer, to be wrapped in his warmth.
And suddenly I’m in his arms, running his fingers over my lips, melting into the kiss that follows. The taste of salty air on his skin shouldn’t be intense to me, but it is. He smells like nothing I’ve ever known before. I like it. I want it, in my mouth, on my skin, marking me, staying with me even when this vision is over.
Then we’re in a larger space. I watch as he lifts my foot to his lips, as he licks the tip of a toe before drawing it into his mouth. The sudden knowledge of what it feels like to have feet would have been wrenching enough, but the way he sucks my toes…I can’t stop myself from crying out.
He kisses my ankle. Then my calf. His tongue laps at the crease behind my knee, his teeth nip at the soft flesh of my thigh. I think I lose consciousness for a moment when he reaches a part of me that I have no knowledge of. But the way he kisses it suggests that he’s well acquainted with what it is and what to do with it.
He knows what it needs.
It needs his tongue, right at the top. Back and forth, lapping slowly, teasing in slow circles. It needs his lips, closing around it, making a seal so that he can suck and lick and make me lift everything but my shoulders off the tacky surface I’m lying on. Oh my…yes! It needs his fingers, finding an entrance and slipping inside, one finger, two, curling, stroking, even as his mouth keeps on kissing and sucking.
I want to say his name, but I can’t. Speech is impossible, all that comes out when I open my mouth are gasps and moans and strange noises. My body is shaking. My toes curl under, my back arches.
Then he’s between my thighs. Pressing something hard against the place that’s still pulsing, staring into my eyes with an open-mouthed expression of disbelief as he drives himself forward and into me. The sting makes me scream and I see her hand slap against glass. It leaves a dragging print in the steam that’s a testament to the heat generated by our joined bodies…
The reef shark’s slap knocks the pendant from my hand. I try to catch it, to go back, but I can’t see it. Too many bubbles are pouring from my mouth and I’m panicking, almost like I’m drowning. That can’t be, though, so I listen to the disapproving thoughts of the octopus loitering nearby and try to calm myself.
What was it that the woman felt? What did he do to her? Is that how humans feel when they drown? Did he kill her? Surely living after experiencing something so extreme it tears you apart from the inside can’t be possible.
The sharks suddenly fall silent. Even the displaced octopus stops grumbling at me to give him his home back. A tail flashes in front of my face and I look up, blushing furiously, hating that Deniz has caught me in the middle of something so…so…intimate.
“And just who, exactly, are you and what are you doing all the way out here?”
The voice in my mind doesn’t belong to Deniz. I feel unsteady. Skittish. My need to swim away is warring with my desire to stay right where I am. What should I do? I reach out to the reef shark but all I get is an ‘I told you so’ humph. So I do all I can do. I ball my hands into fists and look up.
Flicking my eyes from that peachy-white tail to the mer’s blonde haired head, I stutter an incoherent sentence, hardly able to believe what I’m seeing. I knew that not all merfolk were born beneath the waves but I’d never met one who wasn’t…until now. As soon as I see his world-ending smile all of my fears disappear.
“What’s your name?” he asks me, leaning forward to retrieve the necklace. It dangles from his fingers by its chain, and he contemplates it as if it were a long-lost friend.
I struggle to remember how to respond with words but eventually manage to blurt out. “Laugna.”
“Who’s this Deniz you were thinking about?”
If anyone else had asked me that just five minutes ago I’d have said Deniz is my everything. But what comes out of my mouth now is, “Oh, he’s nobody.”
This bitten mer palms the beautiful blue diamond and offers me his other hand, coaxing me from beneath the rock as soon as his fingers wrap around mine. Laughing at the way I stare, he draws me back toward the wreck, and I don’t even try to stop him. “It’s nice to meet you, Laguna,” he says warmly. “I’m Jack.”