It was around Christmas time and Penny was feeling slightly depressed. Aware that it was her decision to come to the pod and live with her mother’s people, it didn’t lessen the slight pain she felt knowing this would be the first Christmas she spent away from her mother, and her mother away from her. It wasn’t as if they did much for Christmas, but they always seem to find time to dress in their warmest pajamas and get under a fleece comforter and drink hot chocolate while watching a movie together—
Whereas today, she did more of the same thing she’d now been doing for six months.
There was time after school before she had to go to the communal area and eat second meal, so she swam off a few hundred feet so that she could be with her thoughts for a while, by now Singing Nymph was getting used to her being able to make her way around the pod dwellings without supervision, so there was no possibility that Saying Nymph would come looking for her in the next few minutes.
Penny found a nice secluded place to rest. She floated down on to the rock and curled her tail around her, adopting what she called the Ariel Pose. Although she couldn’t recall if Ariel had ever sat like this; it wasn’t hard to remember, however, that she had a green tail, red hair, and a clam shell bra…
Penny wasn’t seated for more than two minutes when her mermaid senses told her that someone was approaching, she’d gotten quite adapt to being able to pick up on the small magnetic field that each mermaid generated, but that allowed a patrolling mermaid to detect another one at distances up to five hundred feet. She knew some of the mermaids had to realize that she was here, and as had been drilled into her from day one, mermaids were rarely alone—
The mermaid glided into view from her left and Penny instantly recognized her as one of the girls from school, and the Crimson tail with the regular dots a bright orange further identified her as Curious Squid of the Magical Cove, who was almost exactly a year younger than Penny she sat quietly and waited for Curious Squid to approach her, because she knew it would be bad form to get up and swim off now.
The young mermaid with bright aqua hair and hazel eyes floated to a stop about six feet in front of Penny. “Are you okay?”
Penny nodded. “I’m okay. Just a little down.”
“A bit depressed.” Even after six months Penny often forgot that mermaids were slow to pick up on idiom.
Curious Squid nodded then looked at the wide rock upon which Penny was sitting. “May I join you?”
Penny tapped the space to her left. “Sure.”
The two mermaid sat in silence for nearly three minutes as Penny waited to see if her new companion was going to start the conversation. When it seemed almost as if Curious Squid was waiting for Penny to say something, the mermaid spoke. “Are you missing your binding mother?”
“Yeah.” Penny stared off into the luminescent depths. “Today should be December 23; tomorrow will be Christmas Eve.”
Curious Squid glanced over at her classmate. “I take it that’s a day of celebration.”
“It is. Mama and I would exchange presence at night after dinner.” She chuckled. “She always gave me enough of and allowance that I had money at the end of the year to buy her present. Since we didn’t have any other family, we were the family.”
“Sounds interesting. Wasn’t there any one else in your celebrations? Ever?”
A wistful look came over Penny’s face. “Last year Kemena came over at night on Christmas Eve. Set around in our pajamas and watched Ghostbusters.”
“What’s Ghostbusters?” Curious Squid’s brow wrinkled. “I’ve never heard of that.”
“It’s an old movie my Mama likes. It’s kinda funny.”
“I see. And who is Kemena?”
Penny immediately imagine Kemena’s face, digging it out of her memory. “She’s my friend back in Albuquerque. If I had to, I’d say she’s my best friend.”
Curious Squid leaned forward so she could see Penny’s face. “You miss her as much as you do your binding mother, don’t you?”
Penny slowly rubbed her hands together. “I guess I do. She knows what I am: she is the only other person knows him down here.” Penny glanced down her tail fin, watching as it curled and unfurled. “I hope she’s missing me, too.”
“I’m sure she is.” Curious Squid reached over and took Penny’s hand, much to the surprise of the young mermaid. “Can I tell you something?”
“Sure.” Even after six months Penny still found the touchy-feeley attitude of many the mermaids to be a little disconcerting. She was pleased, however, that she hadn’t jerked her hand away immediately.
“While you’ve become sociable since arriving, you don’t have any friends other than your cousin. And a mermaid without friends will die young from an empty heart.” Curious Squid shifted around and gave Penny’s hand a squeeze. “I would like to be your friend. I love listening to your stories of when you lived on land, but I also think you’re an interesting person. I’d like to get to know you better.”
Penny didn’t think any of what Curious Squid said was unusual–if anything, there was a great deal of truth in her words. Because since arriving, while she did feel as if she was now an accepted member of the pod, she felt that there was very little of a connection between her and the majority of the other mermaids with whom she came in contact every day. It was true that she was close to Singing Nymph, and considered her a friend, but she was also family.
It came to Penny that if she’d had a friend in the days leading up to this moment, it would’ve made hurt of missing Christmas Eve and Christmas a bit more dull. She needed to be more than another communal member: she needed to be open.
She needed to show her heart.
Penny returned the hand squeeze as she flashed a grin in Curious Squide’s direction. “You know, making a new friend is a great Christmas present.” Her grin turned into a full smile. “Thank you for doing this.”
Curious Squid blushed. “It’s not a problem. After all, what are friends for?”