Kemena hadn’t been too worried about Penny silence on the trip back to the hotel–nor was she that surprised when Penny suggested they pack and leave for Portland. She wasn’t suggesting they fly back to Albuquerque that night, but rather they get a hotel room and spend the evening in the city, then take a 6 AM flight out of Portland International which would take them home with a one hour layover in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Kemena didn’t see this is a problem, and she thought that having an evening together in the city, with good restaurants in a nice, large hotel room, would be a good way of lifting Penny’s spirits. Since they hadn’t unpacked much since arriving at Tillamook, they were loaded up and back on the road to Portland less than half an hour after returning from Cape Lookout.
They settled on staying at the Portland Marriott Downtown Waterfront, which gave them access to the riverfront and a number of restaurants. From the hotel they were only twenty minutes from the airport, so Penny left a 4 AM wake up so they could clean up, gather the things, and leave to catch the flight.
As Kemena hoped, by the end of the day Penny seemed almost back to her normal self. She knew her friend would be upset about her mother going away, but she reminded her that her mother and went to the same sort of sadness when she left twelve years ago.
When they returned to the hotel about 8 PM Kemena was told to use the bathtub first, and she knew why. After she cleaned up and dressed in her robe, she was drying her hair when Penny walked in, ran the tub full of hot water, and slipped out of her robe and into the tub without saying a word. Moments later she gave a satisfactory sigh and Kemena turned around to see Penny’s tail rise up out of the water, unfurl, and lay down on the end of the tub. Kemena went back to wrapping her hair in a towel. “I figured that’s why you wanted me to bathed first.”
“Yeah, I needed a Daryl Hannah moment.” Penny chuckled as she referred to the scene in the movie Splash where Daryl Hannah reverted back to her mermaid form and relaxed while taking a bath. “I’ve gotten to where I don’t even like taking showers anymore; I’d much rather just lay here, soak, and then clean off.”
“I can’t blame you.” Since the bathroom is large enough to have a chair were one could sit while changing, Kemena pulled up next to the tub so she could sit while speaking to her friend. “So, how long do you think your mom’s going to be gone?”
Kemena splashed a few bubbles on her tail before looking up at Kemena. “We’re not going to see her for a while.”
“You think she’ll be down for five or six years before she comes back, like you did?”
“Kemena—” Penny let out a soft sigh. “Mama’s not coming back. Maybe she’ll come back for a few weeks every so often, but she’s never coming back to stay.”
Though she wanted to ask if Penny was serious, Kemena could tell by the girls expression she was. “She’s gone back for good?”
“She’s wanted to go back for some time.” Penny lay back stared up at the ceiling. “She’s been hearing The Calling for years.”
This was an expression Kemena had never heard. “The Calling? What’s that?”
“It’s an urge one feels to return to the ocean.” Penny kept a slight smile on her face as she looked at Kemena, but there was little humor in her voice. “Mermaids are creatures of the sea and though we can come on land for extended periods of time, eventually there’s a feeling telling the mermaid she should head back to the ocean and returned to her pod.
“There are things mermaids can do to anchor themselves to land, and Mama’s been doing it most of her life. First she started the business and worked hard to build it up, and then—” Penny shrugged. “She had me. These things kept her anchored to land—and she did that because she liked living here.
But she told me that a few years after I went to the pod she started feeling The Calling again and she said if it hadn’t been for you, she’d have been tempted to join me.” The right corner of Penny’s mouth curled upwards. “You remember last few years I was away, mama seem to want to spend more time with you so she could talk about me?”
Kemena nodded slowly. “I figured she was doing it because she was lonely.”
She did it because she needed an anchor. Otherwise she’d been tempted to sell the business and take off. And another reason she didn’t do that was she wanted me to be able to come home—and if she was in the pod, I’d never be able to do that.
“Mama and I knew a couple years ago that when she went back to the pod that was pretty much it; she might return home once in a while for a few weeks here and there, but she was going to spend the rest of her life under the waves.” Penny closed her eyes as a few tears trickled out. “I told her this morning at come back next summer and visit the pod for about a month. I figured you could let me get away for that much time.”
“I don’t see that being a problem.” A fear clutched at Kemena’s heart, one that made her hesitant to ask the next question. “What about mermaids born on land? Do they hear this Calling, too?”
Penny spent nearly five seconds looking everywhere except at Kemena, but she finally locked her gaze with her. “I don’t hear it now, but I figure and about twenty years—yeah, I’ll probably hear it. And it likely won’t be long after that go back to the pod.”
“What—” Penny’s voice caught in her throat. “What about the business? What about what were trying to do for us?”
Penny snorted and shook her head. “I didn’t make you my partner to do this for us: I did all this for you. I figured when it was time to go back I’d sign over the business so you’d have something after I’m gone.”
Kemena was almost shaking on her chair. “No.”
“I’m not worried about myself. I can get money: there is an underground on land of mermaids dealing in precious gems. If I wanted to—”
“—I could get access to a couple of million in no time. I—”
“NO.” Kemena jumped to her feet, knocking the chair back. “No, you can’t.”
“I can’t what?” Penny was somewhat puzzled by Kemena’s actions, she figured she’d be somewhat upset, but not like this.
“You can’t just leave like that.” Kemena stomped around the bathroom for close to thirty seconds, looking down as she paced the same figure-eight over and over. She finally stopped and turned toward the tub, thrusting and accusing finger at Penny. “I didn’t join you because I wanted something I wanted something from this business. I joined because I wanted something for us, together.”
Penny set up slightly. “Kemena, what do you mean?”
Kemena shook her head as she stared up at the ceiling, mumbling in her voice just loud enough to be heard. “I thought when you said your pod was a matriartical society that—” When she turned to Penny there wasn’t anger in her eyes: there was sadness. “Don’t you understand? Do I have to spell it out for you, you stupid mermaid?”
And in that second Penny did get what her friend was trying to tell her—while at the same time she realized that it’d been ridiculous for her to conceal some of the things that she should have said during the last five years.
She patted the side of the tub. “Kemena, please sit by me.” Reluctantly her friend did his asked, sitting crosslegged on the floor. “There is an anchor that mermaid speak of, almost with reverence. It’s called the Grand Adventure.”
Kemena’s words stammered out between her tears. “And what’s that?”
“That’s when one mermaid falls in love with another and the love between them is so powerful that neither of them want to be with anyone else. No other binding partners, no other binding partners with whom they want to make a child: they stay together for life.
“It’s considered mythical because mermaids aren’t exactly monogamous creatures: I think I’ve made that pretty clear.” She chuckled at her own lame joke. “It not only happens with one mermaid to another, but it also happens with one mermaid to human, and that kind of pairing is even more mythical, because the mermaid is essentially renouncing the sea’s hold over her.”
Penny drew a deep breath before reaching over the tub edge and taking Kemena’s hand. “There’s a lot of things I should have told you in the last five years. I should have told you about The Calling, but there’s something else I should have told you as well—something I was afraid to tell because I didn’t know how you’d react.”
Kemena’s face brightened as a soft smile formed through the tears. “What are you trying to tell me?”
“Do I have to spell it out for you, you stupid human?” Penny chuckled as she brought Kemena’s hand to her lips and kissed it. “Do you want to go on a Grand Adventure with me?”