Every night for a week, two young men had swum to shore, perched on the rocks, and listened to someone singing inside the house on the bluff. She had a voice like an angel, inviting them closer.
“I want to see what she looks like,” Jored said, gazing longingly at the open window through which the golden notes came. He’d caught a glimpse of her once, when she’d turned on a light for a moment, but she mostly sang by candlelight or in darkness.
Marco, his companion, cautioned him. “We should stay right here. Don’t want to scare her, do you?”
Jored slid off the rock to the hard-packed beach. “I’m going. Life it too short, and she should know.”
Marco didn’t follow him, and Jored faltered, but then she sang a particularly beautiful part, so he steeled himself and continued. The pebbles in the sand hurt his bare feet, but he forced himself onward until he was within ten feet of the window.
He listened through another stanza before finally speaking. “Hello?” He immediately regretted it. Couldn’t he have come up with something more interesting?
The silence inside the room was almost palpable. At last the shadows shifted, and he thought she moved toward the window, though he still couldn’t see her.
“Is that you, Mark?”
Who was that, a neighbor? Panic flooded through him, and he wondered if he should run away, but if he did, he’d never approach her again. “My name is Jored. I heard you singing and wanted to tell you much I enjoyed it.”
“Thank you.” He heard the smile in her voice. “Can you come closer?”
He approached the window and looked in. She was as beautiful as he’d imagined, with long hair that glinted gold in the candlelight. She sat in a wheelchair, and he felt sad for her. “I heard your song from the beach.”
She pointed to a piece of metal on a stand. “I sing into that microphone.” Even in the dim lighting, he saw her blush. “I’m recording myself. Making a demo to send to music executives.”
“I’d hire you in a minute.”
“Do you own a record company?”
He laughed. “No, but if I had money, I’d buy one just for you.” If Marco had heard him say that, he’d tell Jored he was full of shit. Maybe it was a good thing Marco had stayed on the rock.
They chatted a bit more, then Jored said he had to go. “Is it okay if I visit you again tomorrow night?” She hesitated. “I won’t come inside,” he assured her hastily. “I just want to listen.”
“My dad wouldn’t approve, but you can come again.”
“What’s your name?”
“I’m Jored. See you tomorrow.”
When he returned to the rocks, Marco grinned at him. “She didn’t shoot you, eh?”
“She was very nice.” She was beautiful.
“Did you tell her?”
The next night, and during many that followed, he visited her. He always stayed outside, and she sang for him. Marco no longer accompanied him, having lost patience with him.
Elise’s father came into the room once or twice, but Jored always ducked out of sight until he’d gone again.
He and Elise found plenty of time to talk, and he learned she’d lost the use of her legs, and her mother, in a car accident a few years before.
“I miss the beach,” she said one night when he was about to leave. She had parked her chair at right angles to the window so she could lean out and talk to him. “I swam like a fish when I was a kid, but I haven’t been in the water in a long time. It was too big a deal for Dad to get me ready, then carry me across the sand and into the water—” She shook her head. “I couldn’t put him through it anymore. It was sad for us both.”
“I’ll take you to the water,” he said eagerly. She gave him a doubtful look, and he laughed. “I’m stronger than I look. The moon is full tonight.” He stepped to one side. “Look at the swath of sparkling silver it lays across the ocean.” He could tell she really wanted to go, so he motioned her back. “Let me in.”
She didn’t hesitate, and he climbed through the window and landed lightly on the hardwood floor, hiding a wince. Always, walking hurt.
Lifting her out of the chair was easy; she weighed almost nothing. He carried her out the window and across the beach, pausing beside the rocks he and Marco had so often sat on. “Would you like to go in? It’s not cold tonight.”
“Dad would kill me if he found out, but yes.”
He walked her into the water, sighing in relief when it was up to his waist. When it reached their necks, he stopped. “I love you, Elise.”
“I love you, too.” Her arms tightened around his shoulders. “But I’ll never walk again.”
What she saw as a serious lack was always first in her mind. “I can take you somewhere that won’t matter.”
She gazed at him with eyes full of silver light from the moon. “Don’t tease me.”
“I’m not.” When he’d entered the water, his legs had transformed into a sleek, graceful tail. He balanced on it, holding her upright so she could breathe. “You never asked me where I lived.”
“Yes I did, and you gave me a joke answer, so I didn’t press. You said, ‘Deep in the quiet ocean, where all life began.’”
“That wasn’t a joke. My people are shapeshifters who chose many years ago to leave the land and live in the sea.”
“That isn’t funny, Jored.”
“It’s time you knew the truth. Your mother was one of us. She left to marry your father. They never told you?” She shook her head, still unsure of his sincerity. “You can stay here or come with me and never sit in that wheelchair again. You won’t walk on land like I can, because of your accident, but in the water, you’ll be free.”
“But I can’t breathe underwater.”
“You have to change first.”
She needed a shock to jumpstart the transformation. He submerged with her still in his arms and swam toward the moon. For a moment he thought he’d made a mistake. Panicking, she struggled to reach the surface. He was about to ascend when she suddenly went limp. Gills appeared in her neck, and glittering scales covered her from her waist to the end of her tail. Her clothing, like his had, fell away.
Their race was telepathic, and he spoke to her without words. You’re warm now, aren’t you? And you can breathe.
She smiled, delighted. She was, he knew, seeing the world in an entirely different way. Where do you live? she asked, and a stream of bubbles left her mouth when she laughed.
I told you. Deep in the quiet ocean, where all life began.
She wrapped her arms around him. There are others?
Many, and they are anxious to meet you.
Take me there. She frowned. But what about Dad?
He’ll know you went home and understand. He took her hand, and they swam away as gracefully as only his people could. Sing, Elise.
She did, and it sounded even more beautiful underwater. Her father would hear, as he had, and know where she had gone. They would visit him soon, and he would see Elise happier than she’d ever been. Jored would make sure of that.
Word count: 1269