“Are you sure she’ll come back to this point?”
Leigh continued looking straight ahead, scanning the ocean horizon. “I’m sure.”
Kemena scratched at her cheek and bounced her knees up and down a couple of times. “How is she going to know to get here an hour before the sun reaches the horizon?”
“Because she will.” Leigh turned to the teenager at her right. “Mermaids have an excellent ability of knowing their spatial and temporal locations. They have to: when you’re under five hundred feet of water all the time, it’s necessary that we know where we are and when we are.” She patted her daughter’s friend on the shoulder. “I expect her along at any moment.”
Kemena wanted to believe Penny’s mother so much. She’d been waiting for this day ever since they returned to Albuquerque the day after watching Penny swim away, and in the seven years since that moment, Kemena never missed marking off a day on the calendars she kept in her room, reminding her of when she would see her childhood friend once more.
Leigh could understand Kemena’s worry. She hated to use the expression, but Kemena was only just a human and couldn’t understand every intricacy of the lives of she and her daughter. Theirs was a world that her daughter’s best friend could never enter or fully comprehend.
But she did hate to think of her as just a human, for in the year after Penny’s departure Kemena brought Leigh a great deal of comfort. Kemena would visit her at least twice a week and ask questions about what she thought Penny might be doing with the other mermaids in the pod. She wanted to know what Penny ate; she wanted to know how Penny slept; she even the once asked, with a furious blush in her cheeks, how Penny went to the bathroom. That last was a question that Leigh said Kemena should save for when Penny returned.
Not only did they act as a sort of mutual support group over the last seven years, but Leigh had the opportunity to watch Kemena blossom from a somewhat awkward eleven-year-old girl into a graceful, beautiful eighteen-year-old. And in watching her grow, Leigh imagined Penny going through the same changes—only with a tail instead of legs. Lee couldn’t wait to get Penny back to Albuquerque and see her magnificent tail in their swimming pool—
“What’s that?” Kemena leapt to her feet and shielded her eyes from the setting sun. A second later she thrust her left arm out and pointed. “There.”
Leigh stood and looked in the direction from which Penny should arrive. There were a few seconds where she didn’t see a thing, then suddenly a shiny tail fin broke the surface and slapped the water before vanishing. Three seconds later it happened again—and five seconds after that a human-like shape with a cobalt blue tail left out of the water and arched back in.
She couldn’t help smiling. “That’s her.”
Kemena nodded as she waved it Penny, who was about a hundred feet offshore treading water and waving back. “She’s not gonna have any trouble getting to the riptides?”
Leigh had explained long before that this stretch of beach was almost never used for swimming as the curtains here produced strong riptides. “A mermaid won’t have any problems negotiating these tides.” As Penny grew closer Lee grabbed her backpack. “Get the robe ready.”
Penny grew closer, breaking surface every twenty feet to gaze upon the shore. When she was within fifteen feet of the shoreline she went under and was under for about fifteen seconds before she rose slowly out of the water. She allowed a wave to break over her before walking slowly out of the surf and onto the surface.
Kemena ran forward and through a large white robe around Penny’s naked form. Up close she saw her friend was maybe two inches taller than her and that her hair had lightened considerably. What hadn’t changed, though, where her piercing gray eyes. If anything, they better relayed the emotions that Penny was feeling that moment—
She was deliriously happy.
Penny threw an arm around Kemena and gave her a quick hug before hopping the three steps to her mother. She threw her arms around Leigh and held onto her as if she was about to fall. “Mama.”
Leigh tried to lift her daughter off the ground and soon realized that a combination of weight and height prevented that from happening. Instead she buried her face into Penny’s shoulder and began crying. “Oh, my baby. I missed you so much.” She gave her daughter a long kiss on the cheek.
“I missed you too, Mama.” Penny wiped tears from her eyes. “Ha, I can finally cry again.” She returned her mother’s kiss and then turned to the friend she had not seen since leaving this beach seven years earlier. “Come here, you.”
Kemena fell into her friend’s arms and hugged her tight as the tears began to flow. “Your mother kept saying you were coming, and I kept thinking, ‘What if—’”
“Hey, I said I was coming back and I’m here.” Penny sniffed back her tears and spoke softly into Kemena’s ear. “I’m sorry I couldn’t be there to help you through high school.”
“Yeah, well, the couldn’t be there to help you through—mermaid school.” Kemena laughed as did Penny. “I have to say, you look really good.”
Penny wrapped the rope tied around her. “You don’t look too bad yourself, babe.”
“You too can admire each other later.” Leigh zipped open her backpack. We need to get you dressed and get up that cliffside, and we need to do it in the next hour.”
Not knowing the sort of person who was going to walk out of the ocean after seven years, Leigh brought a collection of everything: a half-dozen sports bras and tank tops, four pair of spandex bicycle shorts, and a half-dozen pairs of sports sandals. Within ten minutes they found the right combination and had Penny dressed and ready to move.
As they headed toward the path leading up to the parking lot Kemena noticed Penny walking gingerly. “What’s wrong? Are you okay?”
Penny looked to her mom before smiling at her friend. “You know the old tales about how to mermaids it feels like you’re walking on glass?”
Kemena nodded. “Uh, huh.”
“There’s some truth to that. I mean, my legs are fine because I develop the muscles swimming from my tail, but—” Penny shrugged. “I haven’t had feet for seven years. So, I’m going to need a little time getting them toughened up.”
“And you have all summer to do that.” Leigh reached out and took her daughter’s hand. “For now, we’ll head back to the hotel so you can clean up and then we’ll go eat.”
“That sounds good.” Penny stop so she could take a moment to see the sun for the first time in two-thirds of a decade. “I’m really dying for a hamburger.”