This is a prequel to this short story.
“Jenny!” Ashely stumbles towards me with the goofiest smile.” It drops. “Aw, Jen, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing, nothing girl, I’m so good!” I laugh, not entirely sure why. Sometimes I do that when I want to cry.
To be honest I’m not sure why I’m choking back tears, or why there’s giant block of ice sitting on my chest. Get your shit together, Jen, you’ve dealt with so much worse.
I look over at Tom for reassurance, he smiles and winks as he bounces the ping pong ball into the solo cup. You are the most wonderfully reassuring person in my life.
It all looks so normal, so very familiar, yet there’s something that sticks out tonight; something different.
Girls dancing, boys drinking, Tom and John playing, Ashley and David flirting, music blasting… but why does it feel so wrong?
I’m not drunk enough, THAT’S the problem.
“Jack, let’s do a shot!”
Jack comes stomping towards me, clearly struggling to keep his balance. He is a gentle giant, standing at 6’4 with a most infectious smile.
“Jen, ma girl! Want some tequila?”
I nod. Is that even a question?
The amber liquid burns it’s way down my throat. Jack, you sneaky fucker that was more than just a shot.
“One more?” He shoots me a look.
“One more!” I respond eagerly. I spend a good amount of time trying to keep up with the boys. That’s what usually fucks me over. Actually, I fuck me over. I’m not trying to prove jack shit to these kids, it’s a thing of pride.
He pours me another, this time all the way up to the brim.
“Shit, man that’s kinda b-big”, did I just stutter?
“It’s a double shot glass, ma dude,” he throws his back. I do the same, some of it spills on my hair and shirt. Whatever. I wipe my face and grab my wine glass.
“The tequila is melting the ice on my chest.”
“What?” Shit, did I just say that out loud?
I let out a nervous giggle “I said I uhh… that I love this song.”
I prance away towards Kate and Andy and start to jump around. My teal tulip high low skirt trails behind me gracefully, flowing in a most mystical way.
I look like a fuckin’ mermaid. No, fuck that, I am a fuckin’ mermaid.
“You guys, I’m a mermaid!” I twirl for them.
“You’re a beautiful mermaid, Jen!” Kate hollered back. Love that girl, she’s always willing to back up all the dumb shit that flies out of my mouth.
The window lets in a light breeze and it feels great on my feverish skin. Shit it must be nice to live right on the beach. And the moon, look at that moon! Jesus, you’re really showin’ off that full figure tonight.
“You look ravishing, absolutely RA-vishing!”
“Thanks, girl,” Kate responds. But I wasn’t talking to her, of course. I almost corrected her but then I remembered… Most people don’t feel about the moon the way I do. We have a very special connection, swear to God, she watches over me. But shit, I have to stop saying stuff like that out loud; before I know it they’ll have me fucking committed.
I walk outside and carefully take my shoes off. Don’t need those where I’m going.
Where AM I going? Eh, I don’t really care.
My knees are burning from the cold ocean water, but I kind of like it.
The sea invites me in further, pulling me in with her frozen embrace but I resist.
Why am I afraid? The worst part is over. I can do this. I won’t pussy out. I’m better than that. I am strong. I am not a disgrace, I promised myself but their words sat heavy on my chest. The standards were set so high, and every time I reached them the expectations grew higher and more unreachable.
My whole life, I’ve spent my whole life swimming towards these unrealistic goals, tousled and weakened by the overpowering waves of insults and rejection, forced to drag an anchor of disappointment around my neck.
I shook off these thoughts.
Baby steps, here we go.
My hair’s wet now. I wasn’t cold until the water touched my neck.
Swimming in the ocean is always so strange, working against the tides is exhausting.
I’m tired of working against the waves, of dragging this anchor. I think it’s time to just go with it, let the waves do what they were made to do.
I am a mermaid. A midnight mermaid. That’s what I am. Legs are for dry land.
I stop kicking.
The arms of the ocean will carry me. Mother Moon watches over. Together, they take me home.
The waves pull me in deeper.
I wonder what they would say if they could see me right now.
Their lips pursed, hands on hips, eyes full of embarrassment. God, that’s an awful image. Get out, get OUT!
I start swimming, as if to get away from those god awful thoughts.
Maybe the sea will wash away my sinful faults. Maybe when I return I’ll come back a good person, worthy of being loved.
Pfffft. Whatever love even is. Closest thing I’ve ever felt to love is, well, Tom.
Oh, Tom, honey, I think I’ll miss you the most.
My lungs are burning now, the ice on my chest has melted and become part of the sea. A big wave pulls me under.
I can feel a tail forming, I’m not even cold anymore.
Take me wherever I must go.
Is someone yelling my name? I see stars pressed up against a multicolored sky.
Something pulls me up. I cough as my eyes open slowly. The stars move aside and there is Tom dragging me out. I’m crying, but it’s not out of sadness.
“Oh, honey, I was just thinking about you.”