There was only one nonstop flight: a Southwest Airlines flight that left Albuquerque just before two in the afternoon and arrived at Portland, Oregon not long after three-thirty local time. They picked up the rental car right outside terminal and spent the next two hours driving to their hotel in Tillamook, where Leigh, Penny, and Kemena planned on spending the night. They cleaned up, changed her clothes, had a quiet dinner, and then turned in for the evening.
With the departure point only a thirty minute drive away, there was no need to hurry the next morning. During breakfast, however, Leigh could tell that Penny was eager to begin what was going to be the biggest adventure she’d ever undertaken. She couldn’t blame her daughter: she remembered the day she left for land she wanted to start swimming the moment she woke up, and it was only the insistence of her mothers that she stay and have breakfast they got her to stay.
Now it was her turn to keep her daughter from darting away from her old life too quickly.
Eventually Leigh and Kemena ran out of reasons for Penny to stay and everyone piled into the car so they could drive to Cape Lookout. There was quiet in the car the entire way, with Penny spending much of the time once they reached the coast looking out the passenger side windows at the ocean beyond. They eventually reached the parking area for the Cape Lookout Trail and parked.
The hardest part of the trip was making their way down from Cape Lookout to the south beach below. When she’d first arrived Lee found an old trail that allowed her to climb to the parking area above, and though it was steep and not well-kept, it was still negotiable forty years later.
After a twenty minute walk Leigh and the girls found themselves standing on the beach looking out over the Pacific Ocean. Nearly a minute of silence passed before Penny sighed. “Well, I guess this is it.”
“Yes it is, Honey.” Leigh turned to her daughter. “You know what to do?”
Penny pointed in an West-Southwest direction. “Swim in that direction at a normal speed for about an hour and a half. Pod’s about ten miles out.”
Leigh raised her right eyebrow. “Are you forgetting something?”
“Follow the curve of the ocean floor downward.” She smiled. “How deep did you say the pod is?”
“Eighty fathoms—or four hundred and eighty feet. Take your pick.”
Kemena whistled softly. “You’re going to be down so deep.”
Leigh glanced over at her daughter’s friend. “She’ll be able to handle it: in her natural environment we can go down a lot deeper than that.”
Penny could feel the awkward sadness coming over the group. The longer she stayed, the harder it was going to be for everyone to say goodbye—even her. As much as she wanted to go, she knew this meant leaving her mother and from behind for what would be most of her teenage years. She knew Kemena was sad, and though her mother did her best to hide her feelings, Penny was certain it would be a while before she put this departure behind her.
“I gotta go, Mom.” She turned to her mother and wrapped her arms around her. “I love you; I’m gonna miss you.”
Leigh closed her eyes as she hugged her daughter tight. “I love you, too, Honey. And I am so going to miss you.” She bent down and kissed her daughter on the cheek. “You remember how I told you to pronounce our names?”
Penny smiled. “Yes, Mama.”
“And there’s nothing else for me to tell you except make sure you do our family proud.”
“I will.” She turned to Kemena, who wasn’t bothering to hide the tears streaming from her eyes. “Sorry to do this to you. I am so going to miss you through high school.” She embraced her friend and held her tight. “I’m never going to forget you.”
“I won’t forget you, either.” Sniffing back tears Kemena handed Penny the nylon cinch sack that contained a few waterproofed items, including a laminated picture of them together. “You are coming back on your eighteenth birthday, yeah?”
“I promise.” Penny looked down as she smiled. “One hour before the sun begins to set, I’ll be here.”
“How are you going to know the time for sure?”
“She’ll be here: we mermaids feel the time well when we’re underwater.” Leigh took the cinch sack. “You need to get ready.”
“Okay.” Penny kicked off her tennis shoes and socks, then slipped out of her jeans and tee shirt. She took a deep breath and removed her panties and bra, handing them to her mother as she had her other clothes. They decided days ago that wearing a swimsuit top into the ocean would be ridiculous, as it would begin to deteriorate in a few months. As Leigh explained, there were no clam shell bras below: all mermaid swim topless.
Penny slipped the cinch sack over her shoulders and shook her arms to set it in place while staring out over the water. She looked back over her right shoulder so no one would see her full nakedness and, with a smile she, waved once before running as hard as she could into the oncoming waves. After three steps she broke through the last wave and dove into the ocean.
Neither Leigh or Kemena saw Penny for the next thirty seconds. She suddenly popped up out of the water about a hundred feet from shore, waving and smiling. As they smiled while waving back, Penny spun around and slipped under the surface only to break out about five seconds later, leaping five feet into the air to crash back down into the water.
There was a single flip of her tail, then nothing else. Penny was on her way to the pod.
Kemena couldn’t stop crying. As much as she wanted her from to be happy, not being able to see her for seven years was going to be hard. She felt Leigh’s arm wrapped around her shoulders and comfort her, and when she looked up she found Leigh crying just as hard. “Are you going to be okay, Mrs. Coffey?”
Leigh nodded slowly. “I’ll be all right, Kemena. In time.” She turned them so they were both looking off in the direction that Penny had departed. “My little mermaid: she’s all grown up.”