They were only a mile out of the trailside parking lot when Penny decided she wanted to eat before cleaning up. Leigh stopped at a local grill in Netarts so her daughter could get her hamburger, and when she had her fill they drove on to the small, local motel about a mile further down the road. Leigh was staying in one cabin by herself, while the girls shared one next door. They all said a quick good night and retired for the evening.
Kemena showered before going to the beach, so the bathroom belonged to Penny. She took a nice, long shower, cleaning up for nearly thirty minutes. Kemena could hear her singing to herself, though the song she had chosen were anywhere from seven to ten years out of date. Once they were back home it was going to take some time to get her friend caught up on the newest artists.
Penny came out of the bathroom wearing a robe and running a comb through her thick hair, which now reached nearly to her waist. She started to slip out of her robe halfway to where her sleep shorts and cami lay on her bed, but caught herself at the last moment. She grabbed her night clothes and stood in the corner facing away from Kemena. She stepped into her shorts before dropping the robe to put on her cami: it was then that Kemena saw a six inch scar running from the middle of Penny’s right shoulder blade down to her back.
Now dressed, Penny took a deep breath and came over to join her friend. “Oh, I feel so much better now.”
Kemena scooted over on her bed so Penny could sit next to her, which she did. “Refreshed?”
“I know it’s gonna seem a little strange, but even though I been living in water for seven years, I really miss taking a shower.” Penny ran the comb through her hair a few more times. “It makes you feel so much better once you’re done. And…” Her smile was wide and bright. I haven’t felt real hot water since I moved to the pod.”
There were dozens of questions about mermaid life in the pod that Kemena had asked Leigh during the years that Penny was away, and the answer was always the same: wait until Penny gets back and ask her. Now that her friend was finally sitting in front of her, the first question that came to mind was probably the dumbest. “So how do you keep clean?”
Penny chuckled. “Once a week we go scrub down with mud and sand, then find a swift current to swim through.” Finished combing her hair, she turned and toss the comb over on the dresser. “I guess you could say it’s a little like getting a mud bath. But, not really.” She folded her hands in her lap and shrugged. “My home under the sea definitely doesn’t have the same comforts as my home in Albuquerque.”
Kemena decided she couldn’t wait any longer: she had to know. “So, what was it like? I mean, who greeted you when you got there? Who was there from your family? Did you have a place to stay? Did you make any friends?”
“Whoa, slow down.” Penny looked down as she shook her head slightly. “I kind of figured I could talk with you guys tomorrow about this, when we had back to Portland.”
“Come on, Penn.” Kemena gave her a “I Can’t Believe You’re Doing This to Me” look. “In case she didn’t notice, your mother was really reluctant to question you about anything between the time we picked you up in the time we get back here.” She leaned forward slightly with her head cocked to one side. “There’s no way I can go to bed now and not know what you’ve been up to for the last seven years. I’m never going to get to sleep, and you know it.” Her tone softened considerably. “Please? Can you tell me just a few things?”
Penny sensed the anxiety in Kemena’s voice and knew if she kept her friend waiting to hear the full story of her life in the ocean, Kemena would go to go to bed frustrated and unhappy. As it was, Penny was still on Pod Time and wouldn’t be ready for bed for several hours, so there was no worry that she would fall asleep anytime soon.
Penny reached out and took Kemena’s hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze. “You want to hear my grand story?”
Kemena return the squeeze and nodded. “I want to hear it all.”
Penny drew in a breath and squeezed her shoulders together before getting comfortable. “Okay, then—” She released Kemena’s hand and rested hers up on her thighs. “This is what happened…”