Up With Pride

It’s that day again, and believe it or not, I’m feeling a bit of–pride?

 

Before and after of my time in derby.

The night I was recruited:

At least I looked fetching in my gear.

 

And a year later:

 

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Into the Month of Pride

Well, Happy Pride Month!  Yeah, it’s 1 June and LGBTQ+ Pride month is upon us.  I can’t say if I’ll have a good time of this month or now, but I’ll do my best.

Last night was good for me.  Getting out of derby jail means I can once again attend league functions and that’s what I did.  I was out at River Bend Brewery in Newport, PA, about 45 minutes northwest of The Burg, and it was a great time.

That’s me in the middle, in case you forgot what I look like.

 

Coming home was a different story, as I spent part of the night driving home in a downpour so great that at times I couldn’t see the road.  Add to that driving down dark, hilly, winding country roads, and it was an event in of itself.  But I made it home safe and sound, which is why I’m writing this now.

And speaking of writing, I finished my mermaid story last night as well.  So with the exception of one day, I managed a part of the story every day in May, though last night was a close one: I posted the last part of the story about four minutes before midnight. But that was still May, so there.

And speaking of that story, I’ve been busy with something today:

Is that an ebook reader with your story?

 

Yeah, I’m working on the possibility of taking my little mermaid novella–about 26,300 words little–and putting it up on Amazon for sale.  Nothing big, just $.99, which I believe is the minimum you can charge for a Kindle book, but that’s not bad.  I may even have someone lined up to do a cover, for which I’ll cut them in for a whole 10% of whatever money I make.  It may not make a lot of money–which means the story won’t make much of a splash, get it?–but it’ll be something I published.  And, why not?  I spent the month writing the story and I’m proud of it.

And if I have some success with this, who knows what’s next?

I’m supposed to do my shot right now, but the truth is I’m craving some ice cream bad and after that I’ll likely do my shot.  And after that I may settle in for the evening and start binge watching Babylon 5, which is on Amazon Prime this month.  If you haven’t seen this and you have Amazon Prime, watch it.  It’s probably the best science fiction series ever, at least where space opera is involved, and while it doesn’t have the wide base that Star Trek or Star Wars has, it’s so much better in so many ways…

As for any other writing that needs getting done–yeah, I’m working on it.  I do what to write, but I’m thinking about what I want to write next.  I’m strange that way, you know?  But the writing is coming.

I just have to coax it out.

These muses are stubborn things…

“Beyond the Wave and Foam”, Part 31

Part 31

 

Calista was exhausted. Not so much from the work she just completed for the UK Royal Navy about three hundred kilometers east of Diego Garcia—the Navy had issues with a “package” that required retrieval—but more from the fifteen hour flight from their to Johnson Atoll, which pretty much tested the range of AFI’s specially outfitted 777-300ER.

Though she’d slept through most of the flight, remaining in a half-tank for the entirety of the flight wore her out through sheer boredom. She knew if she were still human she could have gotten up and walked about the cabin—but there wasn’t any need to think that, for she hadn’t been human for a little more than nine months.

But a few good thing came out of the trip. One, this was Calista’s first dive with her in charge of a team of four other mermaids and they managed to recover the Senior Service’s package in half the time they estimated it would take. Two, because they left Diego Garcia at 18:30 Local Time, they not only got back a day crossing the International Date Line, but still landed at Johnson Atoll at 17:50, an hour before they left the Indian Ocean on the same day.

Most importantly, Calista was home. After being taken off the plane she was place in a speed boat and taken to the drop off point about a hundred meters from Down Below Town. She gave the pilot a good natured wave and dived right in, heading quickly towards the mermaid enclave with a few flicks of her powerful tail.

She expected Harmony to spot her right away and she wasn’t disappointed. Her former mentor, now close friend, swam towards her, stopped when she was but a few meters away. “How was Diego?”

“Pain in the butt.” Calista slowed her pace as Harmony moved along side. “You could tell they didn’t want us there, but they knew they had no choice. And it made them pissy because they couldn’t micromanage us by being directly on site while we worked.”

“Screw ‘em.” Harmony chuckled. “You get their toy for them?”

Calista nodded. “Oh, yeah.”

“Was it important?”

“Important enough that we had to sign NDAs before leaving the airport.”

“Point taken.” Harmony’s tone softened. “A few of us are heading over to Hikina Island after dinner. Just gonna hang out and relax and chat.” She turned towards her friend. “I know you must be beat, but I thought you guys might want to join us.”

Though she was tired, Calista also thought spending some time with friends was a good way to start out a week of down-time so she could adjust to local time and rest. “I’ll see how Princess is doing, but I’m guessing she wants to get out for a little as well.”

“Watch out.” Harmony’s voice took on a warning tone. “She nearly snapped my head off the day before when I checked up on her.”

“Thanks for the heads-up. What time is everyone meeting?”

“About 18:30.”

Calista gave Harmony a quick wave. “See you then.” A quick flip of her tail and she was off toward her bungalow.

She swam in and slid the door closed behind her. “And how’s my two baby?”

Izzy looked up from the bed upon which she lay and gave Calista a kiss before answering her question. “I’m fine, but this little shit—” She pointed to her swollen belly. “She won’t settle down. Swish, swish, swish with the tail all day and night. I’m ready for this pregnancy to be over.”

Calista folded her tail under her and settled next to Izzy’s bed. “I’m sorry The Newt is being a pest.” She slowly ran her hand over Izzy’s belly, feeling the movement of the baby inside. “She’s a swimmer, that’s for sure.”

“Well, I wish she’d swim the hell out of my belly ‘cause I’m tried of her crap.” She sighed as she looked at her best friend and lover. “If I’d know the gestation period of a mermaid was ten and a half months, I’d have never had sex with you.”

“Liar.” Calista touched Izzy’s lips. “You never seemed to complain once we were able to have sex again after that first time.” She moved her hand down past Izzy’s belly and felt the smooth muscles of her tail beneath her almost lime green scales. And now that you’re one of us, that sex was so much better.

Though she’d never admitted any wrongdoing, Harmony was correct in her assumption that day so many months ago: Calista knew Izzy’s cycle down to the day. And she’d read many of the Internet tales that spoke of what happened when mermaids and human women not only had intercourse, but of the consequences of getting pregnant…

Within a week of arriving at Johnson Island Calista was certain that not only would Aquatic Future Inc. have refused her request to transfer Isabelle to the Special Assets, but she was just as certain Izzy would have said no to the idea, even if it had meant the two of them being together. Back then Calista still thought of herself as straight—but then, she didn’t know everything there was to know about mermaid reproductive, despite all the lurid tales she’d read online. And once she knew—

It was as she’d told Harmony that day: as a human woman she could never become intimate with Izzy no matter how much she cared for and, yes, loved her, but once she wasn’t human it didn’t matter. And she also suspected that once Izzy was confirmed pregnant, AFI wouldn’t want to terminate the existence of another mermaid, this one created the old fashion way—

So since it was impossible for a human to bring a mermaid baby to term, the only solution that remained was to made sure a mermaid could.

Calista was also correct in her summation that once Izzy knew what was going to happen to her, she’d accepted it, if for no other reason than they’d still remain together. While the transition didn’t go as smoothly as hoped for, once Izzy reached the point where she found it necessary to sleep underwater—with Calista beside her—the process went, well, swimmingly.

It was a devious and somewhat underhanded way to keep them together, but Calista knew from watching Izzy’s body language these last nine months that she held no ill will towards her. If anything, Calista felt her friend’s growing love and suspected that once their daughter was old enough to have others watch her, Izzy was going to enjoy being mentored by her friend—with Harmony supervising, of course.

Calista planted a light kiss on Izzy’s lips and watched her eyes light up. She lay her head upon Izzy’s shoulder and felt her companion run her fingers through her floating ginger hair. In that moment she understood what this moment really meant. Because for anyone in love, it wasn’t just enough to come home to one’s lover and companion—

They wanted to come home to their best friend.

And for the first time in her life, Calista was home.

 

The End

“Beyond the Wave and Foam”, Part 30

Part 30

 

“I can’t believe you did this.” Harmony was doing the mermaid version of pacing, slowly drifting from one side of her underwater bungalow to the other, all the while focusing her fuming upon her live-in mentee. “You got Izzy pregnant.” She stopped and faced Calista, who stared back with a somewhat blank expression on her face. “Why?”

Calista’s expression didn’t change. “It just happened.”

“Bullshit. Bull-shit.” Harmony closed to within about a quarter of a meter from the passive mermaid. “I’ve seen you at work: things just don’t happen with you.” She backed away and spent about twenty seconds with her back to Calista. “Tell me—” She turned back towards her mentee. “You spend a lot of time at Izzy’s? Say, after going out?”

“After a night of dancing and cosmos?”

“Mimosas, actually.” For the first time Calista smiled. “You got the dancing part right, thought.”

“Spend the night there?”

“Yes, I did.”

“So you had a chance to use her bathroom—”

“What are you getting at?” Calista didn’t seem perturbed as much as she seemed tired of the questions.

“Well, from what I remember from my human days, when you stay over at someone’s place, you have a chance to brush your teeth and freshen up so it doesn’t seem like you’re taking a Walk of Shame from someone’s place.” Harmony eyes Calista carefully. “You probably knew Izzy didn’t use birth control.”

After five seconds of inaction Calista nodded. “I asked her about it once; she said she didn’t need it. I thought it was because she wasn’t seeing anyone at the time, but…” She shrugged. “I was wrong.”

Harmony hovered in place while slowly running her right index finger back and forth over her lower lip. “You knew Izzy’s cycle, didn’t you?” Calista sat without saying a word, but Harmony saw something in her eyes. “Of course you did. You guys spent a lot of time together back in Florida, and then there was all the time here.” She looked down and sighed. “Of course.”

Calista’s tone betrayed her sudden unease. “Of course what?”

“Of course you knew when she had her period—which means you knew when she was ovulating.” A short, sharp laugh came from Harmony as she moved slowly towards her roommate. “Son of a bitch. All the while you were putting shit off, delaying when you wanted to say your final goodbyes to Izzy—you were waiting for her to ovulate.”

Harmony continued on before Calista had the chance to respond. “And I’m gonna guess, knowing how much of a mermaid geek you were before becoming one, you probably read everything you could on us. And that would include—” A smile flashed into existence. “All the urban legends about mermaids getting human women pregnant.”

Nearly ten seconds of silence passed before Calista gave one, slow nod. “I’d read about it a couple of years back. Something about an employee who got pregnant from sleeping with one of the mermaids she did lab work for. There was never any real conformation as to what happened other than the woman vanished, but—” She shrugged. “It didn’t take an expert to figure out what might have happened.”

“What might have happened?” Harmony snorted. “She damn near died because you got her pregnant.”

“But she didn’t.”

“No, she didn’t.” Harmony moved in a slow circle. “Can I ask you a question?”

“Why stop now?”

“Why the hell didn’t you sleep with Izzy before all—” Harmony motioned to the undersea habitat. “This.”

Calista laughed. “Because I wasn’t a lesbian.”

Harmony’s eyes grew wide with surprise. “And that’s different now?”

Of course it is.” Calista came off her seat, bringing her eyes about a half meter from her mentor’s. “As you like to constantly remind me, I’m not a human heterosexual woman any longer: I’m an intersex mermaid that just happens to look like the top half of a human woman.” She grunted as she shook her head. “Having intercourse with Izzy then didn’t make me a lesbian: it meant that it was possible for me to perform the act with a human. Besides—” She moved back but kept her eyes locked with Harmony. “It’s no secret you were planing on being my first.”

Harmony’s face finally broke into a smile as she chuckled. “Well, someone has to show you how to make love, mermaid style.”

Calista finally closed the distance and threw her arms around Harmony’s shoulders. “You still can. After all, can’t I have my cake and eat it, too?”

Harmony slowly rolled her eyes towards the ceiling of her bungalow. “The way you think things out—” She gazed into Calista’s eyes as she placed her arms over her shoulders. “You are gonna make one hell of a salvage coordinator.”

“Beyond the Wave and Foam”, Part 29

Part 29

 

The test was a simple one. A fake submersible craft was placed in waters nearly eleven hundred meters deep a few kilometers beyond the west surf line of Johnson Atoll. The job for Calista and Harmony was similar to the one they conducted at Kwajalein: set up the salvage site and rig the submersible so they could raise it off the surface. The biggest difference here was they were first examining the site so they could make recommendation to the salvage team, and rather than have a boat give constant support from the surface in the form of supplying air and guide lines, all equipment was to be placed on-site, giving the mermaids complete control with little interference from above.

Harmony called this The Alvin Test, named after the famous submersible that sank in fifteen hundred meters of water in 1968 and was eventually recovered through the use of a DSV. The biggest difference here was replacing the deep submergence with OSJs: Mermaids On the Job. And in the event the operation took more than a day, the OSJs could always set up camp and stay for a while—

There was also another difference that made this test far different than the one back at the Kwaj: Calista was the site chief. That meant that she supervised Harmony and every important decision was hers. Harmony felt it was time to let her mentee spread her wings, so to speak, and learn all the ins-and-outs of having so supervise a crew. Albeit her crew consisted of one mermaid, but it was a start.

After spending a bit more than an hour going over the test vehicle Calista hovered a few meters to the right of the coning tower, looking at the submersible with a frown.

Harmony floated over and noticed the look. “What’s on your mind?”

“The initial request was to put an inflatable bladder inside the hull and inflate to create buoyancy.” Calista tapped her chin. “We do that, we’re gonna need a sleeve in the hatchway to let out the water. And there’s the possibility the inflated bladder could catch on something and rip, or damage equipment, or both.”

Harmony float up along side. “So you wanna put sealant over hatch like we did at Kwaj?”

“No. With that hull we had multiple entry/exit points on the hull, so you could pump in air at one point and eject water at other.” She flipped her tail out and under her, something she did when she was thinking. “It looks to me—”

A voice from their support craft, Sedna, interrupted the conversation. “Calista? Harmony? You got a minute?”

The two mermaids exchanged looks as Calista rolled her eyes. “We do now.”

“You’re to drop what you’re doing and surface. After that you’re to report to the atoll.”

Now it was Harmony’s turn to look perplexed. “Please remind JA we’re four klicks out on the West Shelf. And they were the ones who authorized this test.”

There was just a touch of annoyance in the dive supervisor’s voice. “They know that, Harmony. Surface at once.”

Calista made the call. “Rodger, Sedna. On our way.” She pointed towards the surface. “Let’s find out what’s going on.”

They were back at the surface a little over five minutes later. After vomiting out their water, the two mermaids swam over to the stern of the Sedna and the access shelf that was used for helping them in and out of the water. Harmony was the first up. “What the hell’s going on, Poppo?”

The dive supervisor, Gregor Popovich, only shrugged. “I’m just like you: I get orders from Central and follow them.”

Calista twisted the water out of her hair. “And what do your orders say?”

“They say you’re to wait here, that a boat is coming for you. And they’re to take you both back to your—” Gregor pointed at the ginger mermaid. “—old bungalow?”

“What for?” She looked up at the dive supervisor with a puzzled appearance. “I closed that out weeks ago.”

Gregor held up a hand. “Like I said—”

“I know: you get orders, you follow them.” She glanced at Harmony. “I guess we wait for the boat.”

They didn’t wait long. A few minutes after they surfaced a speed boat approached and came to a stop about ten meters from the stern of the Sedna. The mermaids swam over and hopped inside: once aboard, the speedboat turned and headed back to the atoll at top speed.

The boat rounded the south end of Johnson Island and approached Calista’s old bungalow. While the deck chairs and table were still out, there didn’t appear to be anyone waiting for us. The boat closed to about thirty meters and slowed enough to allow the mermaids to jump back into the water before heading off to dock.

Calista boosted herself up on to her old patio deck only seconds ahead of Harmony. She scrutinized the property. “There’s no one here.”

“Au contraire.” Izzy stepped out of the bungalow and on to the patio. “I was in the loft when I heard you guys approaching.” She looked back at the structure. “I guess it’s hard to see inside when your eyes are used to water.”

Harmony eyed the woman. “Izzy, what are you doing here?”

“Nice to see you, too, Harmony.” She laughed at her own comeback. “I’m back because I’ve been reassigned. AFI thought it best you both hear it from me.”

While Harmony seemed less than thrilled, Calista couldn’t hide her excitement. “Really? That’s great!”

Izzy nodded as she looked away. “Yeah, great.”

Since she was the one with her wits about her, Harmony sensed that Izzy’s return might not merit celebration just yet. “So, what are you doing? I remember Calista saying you were in marketing, but I can’t imagine we need that way the hell out here.”

“No, you’re right, you don’t.” She crossed her arms, he hands over her tummy. “May as well just spit it out…” Izzy turned to Harmony. “I’m pregnant.” She affixed her gaze upon a now-startled Calista. “And that makes you sort of the father…”

“Beyond the Wave and Foam”, Part 28

Part 28

 

For perhaps ten seconds Izzy had trouble keeping her eyes open, even though the light was low. Once she was able to keep them ope for more than a few seconds it became apparent she was in a room that wasn’t in her apartment, and given that she found herself positioned on her back, she assumed she was in a hospital.
Now that she had something of a grip on the where, the how and why were nagging her—

The door to her room opened and a woman wearing nurses scrubs entered the room. “Good. You are awake.” She came in and checked her vitals on the monitor before speaking to her directly. “How are you feeling? Still a little dizzy?”

For some reason the question resonated with her. “Just a little. I had trouble keeping my eyes open at first.”

“That’s to be expected.” The nurse checked the IV before elevating the head of Izzy’s bed slightly. “I understand you took a nasty blow to your head when you fell; gave yourself a pretty good concussion.”

Izzy closed her eyes and breathed deeply. “That’s nice to know.”

The nurse said nothing else, only turned and headed out of the room, softly closing the door behind her. It didn’t stay closed, however: about a minute later the door opened and a woman who Izzy had difficulty placing entered, shutting the door so gently it almost didn’t make a sound when it latched. She approached the bed. “I see you’re finally awake, Ms. Mundy.”

It was only after the woman spoke that Izzy was able to place a name with the voice. “Ms. Gillford. What are you doing here?”

“Checking up on you, my dear.” She pulled a chair closer to the bed before sitting and getting right to the point. “You passed out at work. A few of your co-workers said you walked out of your office, made it about half-way to a printer, and collapsed. You were rushed to the hospital and were there for three hours before we received some interesting phone calls…”

Since Izzy hadn’t an idea about what happened, the only thing she could do was ask questions. “Because?”

“Your blood work came back with some rather interesting results. They were particularly puzzled by a protein marker they found. At first they thought you might have cancer, but after our people looked at the results we identified it easily.”

Uh uh. “Umm, yeah…” Izzy tried to appear as sheepish as possible, which wasn’t difficult given her current condition. “I didn’t think—”

“You had intercourse with a mermaid.” Ms. Gillford’s expression didn’t change save for a slight rise in her left eyebrow. “I’m assuming your partner was Calista.”

“That… would be a yes.”

Ms. Gillford crossed her legs, her voice remaining soft and conversational. “How exactly did this occur?”

Izzy was able to focus somewhat on events two weeks ago, though details were extremely foggy. “It was Calista’s last night before moving out to Down Below Town. She got permission to drink some champagne. After a couple of glasses we got to talking, we got to cuddling, we expressed certain feelings, and…” Izzy winched as she tried to shrug. “It just happened.”

“It just happened?”

“Yeah. I mean, her, um, well—” Izzy was having difficulty with the word. “Her junk sorta just popped out—”

“Oh, God.” For the first time Ms. Gillford’s expression changed as she rolled her eyes.

“Yeah, I know. Anyway, she was curious about how it worked and so was I, so we just sorta, you know—” Izzy brought the tipped of her index fingers together and bounced them off each other a couple of times. “Did it.”

Ms. Gillford looked away for a second as she composed herself. “I suppose that was a good thing. After all, with Calista being aroused, there was the possibility of self-insemination—”

“Wait: what?” Izzy winced against as she tried to sit up. “They can do that?”

“Yes, but only if it’s something they absolutely intend on doing.” Ms. Gillford sat back and gave out a small sign. “But for a new mermaid like Calista—one who doesn’t know exactly how everything yet works—there’s always the possibility of that happening.” She eyed Izzy hard. “That was something she was supposed to learn over the next few weeks.”

Izzy turned her head a bit to the right as she mumbled softly. “Guess I beat Harmony to that.” She slowly turned back to Ms. Gillford. “Am I in trouble?”

Ms. Gillford shook her head. “No, you’re not. However, we are going to monitor you for a bit longer before releasing you.”

It took nearly ten seconds before the implications of the last statement hit Izzy. “Wait—I’m in the hospital, so why—?” Then it dawned on her. “I’m in St. Augustine, ain’t I? This the Matenzas River Facility.”

“Correct on both counts.” Ms.Gillford crossed her arm as she ran a finger over her lower lip. “Given what happened, we thought it best our own people monitor you.”

There was something about Ms. Gillford’s statement that bothered Izzy. “Wait a minute: I don’t have any leftover nanoids inside me, do I? I thought they flushed out of Calista a month or so ago.”

“That’s correct, they did. And, no: you don’t have any nanoids inside you.” Ms. Gillford’s express turned severe. “I’ve waited to speak with you for a few days: you were in a coma for almost a week.”

What?” Izzy didn’t notice her head hurting from raising her voice.

“Yes. Five days ago our doctors thought they may lose you. Fortunately, they were able to save you.”

“Good for them.” Izzy breathed out a long sigh. “So how long am I gonna be here?”

Ms. Gillford cleared her throat. “Doctors say you should be able to travel in three days.”

Izzy’s brow furrowed. “Travel? Why?”

“Isabelle—” Ms. Gillford leaned her elbow upon the bed. “It’s safe to say a career change is in order…”

“Beyond the Wave and Foam”, Part 27

Part 27

 

Harmony watched quietly as Calista set down her bedding and began laying it out in the area set aside for her. Outwardly the mermaid showed no emotion, but her insides told a far different story.

When Calista informed her yesterday afternoon that she was going to spend the night at the bungalow, Harmony feared the worst. She hadn’t anticipated getting Calista to make a clean break of her old life was going to be this difficult, and the hidden emotions Izzy held for her best friend didn’t help the situation, either.

That meant Harmony expected a lot of moping about as Calista suffered from whatever guilt Izzy would lay on her before they said their goodbyes. Instead, Calista showed up with the bedding from her bungalow in tow, all smiles and happiness.

While this left Harmony relieved, it also made her wonder what the hell happened last night…

The moment Calista finished setting up her bed Harmony floated over to her. “How you feeling this morning?”

Calista gave her mentor a blank look for a few seconds before responding. “Pretty good. Why do you ask? Do we have a lot ahead of us today?”

“Actually, no.” Harmony found the question a little puzzling as she’d told Calista late yesterday afternoon that they pretty much had today free. “We can do just about anything we like. I thought I’d take you around and introduce you to the others here.”

Calista smiled. “That would be good.” She looked about underwater bungalow she’d share with Harmony for the next three months. “Do you think we should rearrange things in here? After all, I’ll probably end up getting a few things of my own over the next few months.”

“Um, sure.” Harmony motioned with her head towards two short pedestals that were used as chairs. “Sit for a minute: I want to ask you a few things.”

“Sure.” Calista flipped her tail a couple of times and took a seat, folding her tail under her butt. “What’s up?”

Harmony waited until she was good and comfortable before speaking. “So Izzy… you guys said goodbye?”

“Yes, we did.” Calista rested her hands in her lap. “It was kinda sad, but at least we left on good terms.”

“And those terms were?”

“Well, we’re going to try and stay in touch. Izzy knows I can receive something like a phone call down here, but for the next three months I’m only allowed contact with the outside world twice a month.” Calist shrugged. “She said she was good with that.”

Harmony was surprised to hear this news: she’d expected Izzy would have been pissed that contact was so limited. “I’m glad to hear that. And what about you? Are you good with that?

“Not being able to speak with her that often?”

“Yes.”

Calista glanced off to the right for a few months before giving the mermaid version of as long sigh. “It not something with which I’m totally happy, but I understand why AFI has it that way.” She turned back to her mentor. “It’s like you said: I’m supposed to be putting my old life behind me and I can’t really do that if I’m chatting all the time with people on dry land. Right?”

Harmony was surprised to hear her mentee put the situation in such terms, as she’d thought of her own three months of “Mermaid Living” the same way. “You’re right: if you’re gonna put your human life behind you, it’s best not to have all that many contact with the people you used to know.” She allowed a moment of silence to pass before adding a last comment. “Even if they’re your best friend.”

Watching her mentee’s body language and listening to the tone of her voice, Harmony was convinced that Calista wasn’t being facetious, or trying to cover up a hurt by acting brave. She really does seem to have put Izzy behind her—at least for today. I’ll watch her just in case, though. “You’re completely right.” She pushed straight up off her chair. “You wanna go meet people now?”

A smile lit up Calista’s face as she rose off the pedestal with a flick of her tail. “Why not?”