By: Rachael Teelander
“Have you considered it any more?” asked Zahra, dark shoulders peeking out of the crystal blue ocean.
As soon as she saw Zahra, Grace got that tight, tingly feeling in her chest. Just like every time she had first seen her.
Grace had considered it more than she’d like to admit. How could she have known that coming on vacation with her parents during spring break would have brought about such a life changing decision. And such a crazy one, nonetheless. This was the kind of thing that she had only read about in the books she had read when she was younger.
Zahra was not only strikingly different from anyone Grace had seen before, but she was also heartbreakingly beautiful, with large, round, endless brown eyes framed with dark lashes, and hair that flowed like delicate seaweed in the water. Her figure was slim, but womanly, and her dark skin was perfectly smooth and free of any blemish. Not only was she beautiful, but she was magical with her torso ending in a graceful fish’s tail.
Grace felt like a dingy pigeon standing in front of a beautiful peacock whenever she was in Zahra’s presence. To say she had a crush on her was an understatement.
They had only known each other for a few days, and had met when Grace accidentally stumbled upon a private beach when going for a walk the first day she had arrived in southern California. Grace had been not only stunned, but eventually thrilled to find a specimen such as Zahra to draw. As an art student, actually finding a muse was becoming increasingly difficult as she had to draw things on command rather than when she actually wanted to.
Meeting a mermaid was probably the best thing to ever happen to Grace’s art, and probably her life as well.
“Grace, I asked you a question.” Zahra asked again, breaking Grace out of her thoughts.
“Sorry. Yeah, actually I have.”
“A lot.” She added.
“I dunno, Zahra. I can’t just give up art school.”
“But you said you hate art school! Why would you want to keep doing something that makes you hate what you used to be passionate about?”
“Okay, well what about my parents, or my friends? I can’t just disappear on them!”
“What, so everything you told me about them not really caring about you and what you want was a lie?”
Grace sighed and sat down, burying her feet into the soft, white sand.
“You realize this is crazy, right? I feel like I’ve been on drugs for the last four days.”
Meeting what had previously been something one only sees in myth had shattered Graces’ entire world. She still had a hard time believing that Zahra was real, and in fact actually a mermaid. And not only was Grace dealing with the fact that mythical creatures were real, but also with the fact that she had an immense attraction to one.
Zhara wasn’t only beautiful. She was also one of the most interesting people Grace had ever met. She had been all over the world, since her group, or “pod” as Zhara called it, migrated around the ocean waters year-round. She had what seemed like endless stories of the places she had been, and the different people she had seen. Zhara’s passions were so otherworldly, and yet completely relatable. Grace loved that she had a passion for music, and that they could relate Grace’s art with Zhara’s music. Or the fact that Zhara came from a long line of merpeople that had the ability to control weather. At the time she could only make small clouds and create weak static electricity, but Grace thought even that was amazing.
Zahra swam closer to Grace, using the outcoming tide to get as close to the dry sand as possible. Now exposed to the sun, the iridescent shimmer of her jade green scales shone with an ethereal glimmer. Though she was half fish, Zahra looked nothing like any fish Grace had ever seen before. She had a bright, magical presence that just drew Grace’s eye to her, and kept her from looking at anything else. Grace found it both alluring and infuriating.
“I know. I’m sorry I keep pressuring you. I just really don’t want to lose you after only knowing you for five days.” Zahra said with her silky, lyrical voice.
“I’m the one that should be saying that. You could find a million girls like me.” Grace replied emptily. She hated admitting that she wasn’t different, but deep down she knew it. She was the “art kid” in high school, which had made her feel unique at the time. But after going to art school, and seeing all of the “art kids” from the other schools, who were just as or even more talented than Grace, she just felt like another face in the crowd.
“Stop it. You’re Grace and I only want Grace.”
“You say that now. Everyone gets tired of me.”
“No, I’m sure of it. I wouldn’t ask you to come with me if I wasn’t sure.” Zahra reached forward to grab Grace’s hand, but she was only able to lightly graze her with her fingertips.
Grace smiled wryly and took Zahra’s hand. It felt soft and delicate compared to hers, though she had been told the same by the boys she had dated in high school. Looking at the contrast between her pale fingers and Zahra’s sepia-brown gave Grace the urge to paint a simple piece of art that was just her and Zahra’s linked hands. How could someone she only met five days ago relight a passion that had died in her years ago?
“Can I braid your hair again?” Zahra asked, changing the subject if only for a moment.
Grace nodded and scooted herself into the beginning of the crystal water where Zahra was sitting.
“I like how dry hair feels. I wonder if mine would feel like this.” Zhara said as she grabbed a few strands of Grace’s straight, lavender and silver dyed hair.
“Probably not, most people with your skin tone have different hair then I do.”
“Oh yeah, that’s right. It looks fluffy like clouds, right?”
Grace nodded. She didn’t want to talk about hair.
“Would it hurt?” Grace asked, bringing the topic back to where it had started.
“Yeah.” Zahra answered regrettably, finishing the plait in Graces’ hair.
“A lot?” Grace asked, turning so that she could face Zahra again.
“Does it matter? You won’t sacrifice a few moments of pain to be with me forever?”
It wasn’t that simple. Grace knew it would hurt, how couldn’t it? But that wasn’t what she really cared about. What mattered was all that she would have to give up in order to do this. As much as she said she hated her life, when she thought about it more, there wasn’t too much to complain about. There were people that didn’t even have a roof over their head, and Grace was complaining about not having the passion for art like she used to? The more she thought about it, the more she realized that she wasn’t as bad off as she originally thought. Her degree was almost finished, and she had plans on moving to New York, of living in a big city like she had always dreamed and painted about.
But then again, Zahra was everything Grace had ever wanted. She was beautiful, had been all over the world, kind, and always wanted to hear about her. They just seemed to click. But most of all, she relit Grace’s passion for art. She had drawn and painted more in the last five days than she had in the last two years. Grace WANTED to create, unlike before when she had only done it out of necessity for school. That was something she was afraid she’d never find again. The more she drew and painted Zhara, the more things she found that she never wanted to give up. Like the way her singing voice seemed to reach through Grace’s entire body, and into her soul. Or the way that her face relaxed while she observed the clouds above to learn how to create them herself.
“You know I want to.” Grace said, though not as confident as her words implied.
“Then why are you hesitating?”
“Because giving up my entire life for someone I just met five days ago is fucking crazy!”
Zahra jerked back in surprise. Grace could see tears begin to form in the corners of Zahra’s eyes.
As soon as it came out of her mouth, Grace felt as if she shouldn’t have said it, but she also knew it wasn’t a bad thing for her to say what had been in the back of her mind ever since Zahra proposed the idea. How could she not see that Grace giving up her life to turn into a freaking mermaid and live in the ocean isn’t something anyone would actually consider? Though Grace had actually considered it a great bit, it wasn’t wholeheartedly. She didn’t want to become a mythical creature. She didn’t want to have to live in the ocean forever. Grace loved the feel of grass on her feet, and rain on her cheeks, or snow on her eyelashes. She couldn’t give up her dreams of a bustling city in the morning, or of walking to a coffee shop every day to sketch out the ideas floating in her head.
Grace knew that what they had right now could easily develop into the love that only existed in romance novels and fairy tales. But was that really worth throwing away what she had been working for for the last three years?
“Zahra, I’m sorry.” Grace started, softening her voice.
“You know I can’t.” She added.
The tears that had started to well in Zahra’s eyes spilled over, streaking across her smooth cheek.
“I know.” Zahra said, voice shaky with sadness.
“It was stupid of me to even ask. I don’t want you to have to give up your life.” She added.
“I wish it didn’t have to be this way. I know I could have loved you more than anything.” Grace hated how cliché she sounded, but she had no other way to express what she was feeling.
“You’re leaving tomorrow, aren’t you?” Zahra asked.
Grace laid down, with her waist down in the warm, shallow water, and everything else in the soft sand.
Zahra laid down next to her, putting her head in the crook of Grace’s shoulder.
“You won’t forget me, right?”
That one, Grace knew. She couldn’t possibly forget Zahra. Even if she wasn’t a mermaid. Grace would be drawing those huge, dark eyes, and soft, round face for the rest of her life.
Edited by Emily Chance