Chapter 2:

The Heart is a Sea

Muirgen & Other Tales

That mermaid princess was burned into Skye’s mind forever. Her long blonde hair that floated in the ocean current, the shimmer of her green tail, the intense look of painful longing on her upturned face – all of it had somehow spoken to her very soul.Bookmark here

She had hung on Miss Thornbank’s every word, just like a spell had been cast over her. When the little mermaid turned sixteen, she was finally allowed to visit the world above water…Bookmark here

It was the classic edition of the story. The teacher read each line calmly and clearly, punctuated by the leisurely turning of the pages, as they sliced through Skye’s heart. When it was over, she looked up with satisfaction at the sight of her pupils’ tear-stained faces.Bookmark here

“Does anyone have any thoughts on this story?”Bookmark here

Her hand shot up.Bookmark here

“Yes, Skye?” Miss Thornbank asked eagerly.Bookmark here

“I hate the prince! He’s stupid! If I could meet the little mermaid, I’d marry her immediately!”Bookmark here

Every face in the room turned towards her. The teacher balked. “You can’t. You’re a girl.”Bookmark here

“I would!” At that age, she hadn’t understood what Miss Thornbank meant.Bookmark here

She was aware of her classmates snickering. The teacher squirmed, drawing back from her before she settled on huffing.Bookmark here

“You don’t know what you’re saying. You think that the mermaid is pretty, and that’s all.”Bookmark here

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Skye watched the waves rolling into the cove in front of her. Who knew why such a distant memory came back to her today, but she had cause to re-examine it. Anyone would say that the mermaid princess was beautiful. Everyone agreed that the prince should have married her instead. But was that all that she had meant on that day?Bookmark here

The sea was her only companion and it wouldn’t answer her. She could faintly hear the far-away laughter of other school kids hanging out on the streets. Their boundless joy only underlined her own cold loneliness.Bookmark here

She picked up a twig to rake through the dry sand at her side. Her friends were probably down at the café, forgetting all about her.Bookmark here

“What’s wrong?”Bookmark here

She looked up automatically. There, in the shallows, was a painfully beautiful girl of her own age. She had long blue hair strewn with strands of pearl and a coral tiara, and a wicked look in her blue eyes that almost stopped Skye’s heart. A long fish tail slapped the waves behind her as she lounged on her side.Bookmark here

The spark of instinctual fear was hard to explain. If her legs would have carried her, Skye would have surely run screaming all the way home.Bookmark here

She had to settle for staring and waiting for it to go away.Bookmark here

“Say something. I know you can hear me.”Bookmark here

She swallowed. “M… Me…? Mer…?”Bookmark here

“Mermaid! Yes!” She flinched back at the girl’s shriek. Grinning, she rolled onto her back and stared back at Skye. “Is this exciting for you? It’s exciting for me!”Bookmark here

“Are you…?”Bookmark here

“Real? Totally. Do you want to touch me to make sure?” She sprung into a sitting position faster than a grasshopper, stretching out her arm like an exhibit. Skye shuffled across to her on all fours. The water soaked through her school trousers disgustingly, but she had to know.Bookmark here

Real. Better than real. Her skin was so soft that she had to give it an extra squeeze to make sure that it wasn’t made of silk.Bookmark here

“A real mermaid princess…” She felt guilty for some reason.Bookmark here

“Exactly.” The mermaid tossed her hair smugly. “Actually, I’m Princess Coraline Neptune, the only mermaid princess.”Bookmark here

“I’m… Honoured.” She thought those were the right words. She bowed her head numbly, submerging it in the salty water.Bookmark here

“Of course you are. Now, tell me what’s wrong.”Bookmark here

She dragged it back out. She must look a miserable sight now, she realised, with her uniform soaking up the sea and her hair stuck to her face. Coraline managed to make being beached look elegant. Her heart felt even heavier.Bookmark here

“It’s nothing…”Bookmark here

“Don’t say that.” Her tail slapped the water with surprising power. “Why would I let you see me if I wasn’t interested in you? I’ve been watching you here for weeks now. I want us to be friends.”Bookmark here

It’s true that she came to the beach nearly every day, but she’d never noticed that she was being watched. She wondered if Coraline had heard her singing yesterday. The thought was devastating.Bookmark here

“Why?”Bookmark here

“So we can help each other. I’ll bet there’s no one on land who can help me as well as you can.”Bookmark here

She gripped her wrist with an honest passion. That wicked light danced in her eyes with a sincerity that touched Skye.Bookmark here

“What can I do?”Bookmark here

“Help me talk to human boys. Teach me about human culture. Be my first human friend!”Bookmark here

Skye’s swelling joy dropped like a stone into her stomach.Bookmark here

“Did you come all this way for that? Boys are boring.”Bookmark here

“To you, maybe! But they’re my whole reason for coming out here. You see…” Coraline drew herself up proudly again. “I think I’m human-sexual.”Bookmark here

“You’re what?”Bookmark here

“Human-sexual. A merperson who’s only attracted to humans. They’re – we’re – very rare, but some of the most famous mermaids in history have been human-sexual.”Bookmark here

Ridiculous. Skye had never heard such a stupid idea in her life. She watched, waiting for Coraline to say “syke” or burst into laughter, but she continued swanning about. Maybe, just maybe, she wouldn’t laugh at her. Her problem was much less bizarre.Bookmark here

“My friends said they don’t want to be friends anymore because they think I’m a lesbian.”Bookmark here

“What’s a lesbian?”Bookmark here

“A girl who’s attracted to girls instead of boys.”Bookmark here

Coraline seemed fascinated by the concept. “And are you?”Bookmark here

“I don’t know…” The water was starting to steal the heat from her now. She shivered, curling up a bit to avoid having to move back to shore. “Everyone seems to think so. I tried taking some online tests to find out, but the questions were too hard.”Bookmark here

As she hoped, the mermaid didn’t recoil at all. She played with the frilled fins of her tail for a few moments, humming beautifully. “That’s perfect, then. You help me figure out if I’m human-sexual and I’ll help you figure out if you’re a lesbian.” She clasped their hands together tightly. “It’s a promise, right?”Bookmark here

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That’s why, that Saturday, Skye found herself climbing over rocks to reach the most deserted part of the beach. She didn’t believe she would learn anything from her, really. But Coraline’s smile had been so unfairly dazzling that she’d found herself agreeing anyway, giddy to spend an extra day with her. She was always soft with her female friends.Bookmark here

The princess was waiting by the rock shelf she’d described to Skye. Just like a storybook illustration, the sunlight caught the pearls that she wore and set her tail shimmering. Skye’s heart beat fast with excitement.Bookmark here

When the mermaid finally saw her, she lifted her hand in a charming wave. “I’m so happy you came!”Bookmark here

Dropping her bag on the rock, she knelt so they could be on the same level. Meeting her eyes was like staring into the depths of the sea. “Are you sure that no one will come here?”Bookmark here

“No one ever does. Besides, it’s no biggie – they’ll only see you.” Coraline leant her arms on the rock. “I’m invisible unless I choose to let someone see me.”Bookmark here

So no way to know if I’m crazy or not, she thought. She pushed it to the back of her mind to focus on the princess. An impish smile had crept onto her face. “So, did you bring the stuff?”Bookmark here

To answer her, she unzipped the bag she’d brought and fished out the pictures she’d printed out. It was a bit old-fashioned, but giving a mermaid her iPhone would just be asking for it to sink to the bottom of the ocean. She tidied up the pile and turned them so that Coraline could see the first sheet.Bookmark here

“I asked my internet friends what celebrities were hot.”Bookmark here

The princess leant eagerly forward to appraise them. As expected, water from her hair splashed onto the paper. She had copied over a small selection of the countless pictures her friends had bombarded her with, beginning with several of the puff-haired, skinny-jean wearing members of One Summer, the current biggest boyband. She watched carefully while Coraline sized them up for several minutes.Bookmark here

“They have, umm… A refreshing quality, I guess?” She retreated to the water. “What else do you have?”Bookmark here

She tried showing her some of the shirtless, muscly men, but Coraline plucked them out of her hand and threw them off into the sea. “Oh, wait – that one’s gorgeous!”Bookmark here

Skye turned it over to see who she was pointing at. “No, that’s Ruby Rose. I don’t think she’s a man. But the guy beside her is –”Bookmark here

It was tossed away again. Skye watched the disintegrating sheets with a wince. That can’t be good for the environment.Bookmark here

They went through the pictures for another ten minutes but nobody seemed to be good enough. Coraline was getting angry. The sea churned around her threateningly. There was only one sheet left when suddenly the water settled. “That’s it! What a hottie!”Bookmark here

And it was. “That’s Legolas. He’s from Lord of the Rings.”Bookmark here

“Legolas… Yes, that’s the one for me!” She rose out of the water, clasping her hands dramatically. “Legolas, my love! Oh, take me to him, Skye – I’m ready.”Bookmark here

She wet her lips, not sure what to say. A heavy fear was building in her stomach that this wouldn’t end well. “No, he’s not actually real.”Bookmark here

“What? But that can’t be a painting.”Bookmark here

“No, but he’s a character in a movie. He’s an actor in a costume.” She thought she saw the sea swelling out of the corner of her eye, so she quickly dug her phone out of the bag. “Look – here’s his actor, though!”Bookmark here

Coraline’s face fell.Bookmark here

“Emm… Anyway, he’s too old for us! You need to find a boy our age.”Bookmark here

The mermaid cleared her throat and threw her hair over her shoulder. “Yes, how silly of me. My true love is out there, waiting for me – and a thousand times more handsome than Legolas.”Bookmark here

Skye tactfully avoided mentioning that she had never seen a single boy half so pretty in real life.Bookmark here

Coraline rearranged the pearls in her hair for several minutes, lounging back on the rock as if she had always been so self-sure. At last, she said, “Forget about me for now. How are we to know if you’re a lesbian or not?”Bookmark here

Skye had had no friends to ask for advice on this matter, so she’d turned to the internet at large. There were a lot of lesbians who put up how they’d figured it out on various websites, but there wasn’t much of a pattern.Bookmark here

“Someone said I’d know instantly if I kissed a girl.”Bookmark here

Coraline held up her hand. “No way. I’m saving my first kiss for my true love.”Bookmark here

She ignored her disappointment. “Well, then I can only know if I think about dating girls and holding hands and stuff, and I like it… But I don’t know.”Bookmark here

“Hm…” The mermaid considered her for a long time. “Let’s do even better, then. From today forward, you can think of me as your girlfriend!”Bookmark here

Skye knew her face was burning red. It was so embarrassing, though. She didn’t know how Coraline could bring herself to say it so loudly – and with such a look of pride on her face! The mermaid didn’t wait for her to recollect herself.Bookmark here

“We’ll have our first “date” tomorrow, so be here first thing super sharp, or I’ll be angry.”Bookmark here

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It wasn’t until Skye was safely tucked up in bed back home that she realised that “first thing tomorrow” wasn’t a real time. To save the town from a flash flood, she rose at six and slipped out quietly to the beach just before seven.Bookmark here

It was different going in the morning. The cold, wet air seeped into her body and brought her skin out in goosebumps. Any excitement about wearing her first tankini out for the first time soon died as she scrabbled back down the rocks and settled down on the chilly ground to wait.Bookmark here

Coraline didn’t pop her head out of the water for another half hour. “You’re early! And blue.”Bookmark here

“Hello…” She felt a heat bloom in her chest. It didn’t spread to her limbs.Bookmark here

“Are you freezing? Wow. Let me fix that.” With an incantation and a flick of her finger, Skye’s body relaxed into a pleasant warmth. “Is that better? Can’t have you dying before our date.”Bookmark here

She managed a bumbling nod.Bookmark here

“Great. Let’s head off, then – I have a lot planned for us!” She gave another few flicks of her finger, then grabbed Skye by the wrist and plunged down.Bookmark here

Her grip was like an iron chain. Kick and push as she might, Coraline didn’t even flinch, and the surface drifted further and further from her frantically reaching fingers. She reflexively took a deep breath at the end of her scream. Only pure, salty air entered her lungs.Bookmark here

She heard Coraline laugh next to her ear. “Are you done? I put a spell on you, silly.” She pulled her into a hug. “How could I let my friend – I mean, my girlfriend – drown?”Bookmark here

If the princess had been beautiful sunning herself on land, she was radiant underwater. Her long, smooth hair became a living halo, twisting and wriggling just as the mermaid herself. The ropes of pearl and clam shells that had always lain flat on her hips circled her like the rings of Jupiter. Here, the light danced in her eyes mysteriously.Bookmark here

Coraline slipped her hand into Skye’s. “Come on – I have so much to show you.”Bookmark here

And she did. First, she brought her deeper into the ocean, where human hands controlled the sea less and the sea creatures thrived. She showed her shoals of fish, shimmering enchantingly in the light, and sea turtles crawling through the water. She guided her to find the secret hidey-holes of crabs that she would never have thought to check. With Coraline there, the animals didn’t flurry away, but obeyed her command to come right up to them. She coaxed the small fish to eat from Skye’s hand like little birds.Bookmark here

Then she took her by both hands and led her further still. There was an old sunken boat, now reclaimed by coral and fish. Its gaping windows were haunting to Skye but Coraline fearlessly wrenched open the doors and pulled her in. The rooms that had once housed humans now carried sea life in strange, almost frightening ways. The paintings had been long washed out. Forks were scattered over the floor. The ventilation shafts were dens for eels. Coraline scooped up a priceless diamond necklace and tried to get Skye to accept it as a present, but she shook her head until the mermaid scowled and let it drop back to the floor. Thankfully, there were no skeletons.Bookmark here

From there they drifted back out into the open ocean. Coraline sang her a song so sweet that it pierced her heart.Bookmark here

“I wish that I was a mermaid…”Bookmark here

Coraline shot a bright smile at her. “Dad knows a spell for that. If he cast it, you would be able to become a mermaid whenever you want and swim out to meet me.”Bookmark here

It sounded too good to be true. “Really?”Bookmark here

“Really.” She pulled her in so that they were hugging. “Let’s go and see him.”Bookmark here

Her stomach lurched as the water around them churned suddenly, propelling them along so fast that she had to bury her face in Coraline’s shoulder to stop herself from being sick. When it cleared a few minutes later, they were in unfamiliar waters.Bookmark here

“My castle’s just below us. We’ll have to swim down properly, or I’ll get in trouble for knocking people over.”Bookmark here

Taking her hand, she turned with an elegant swish of her tail and swam into the endless depths. She must have been holding back before, because she swam with such ease and speed that the water swiftly darkened around them.Bookmark here

Soon she could only see Coraline. The ocean around them flashed and twinkled constantly, but it lit nothing. Then even those lights disappeared.Bookmark here

The further they swam, the more her stomach was gripped by a primal dread. Eyes were watching her. Something told her, instinctively, that whatever lay below was not for her. She gripped her hand to try and pull her to a halt.Bookmark here

“Don’t, Coraline. I’m scared.”Bookmark here

She looked back. “What are you talking about? We’re not even at the trench yet.”Bookmark here

She pulled her down another few metres. Skye’s legs fought to kick her back to the surface, but it was like trying to push a wall. “Please stop!”Bookmark here

“Don’t be a big baby. This is the way to my home.”Bookmark here

Something dragged itself along her leg. She shrieked.Bookmark here

“It’s just a Black Swallower. Don’t worry, you’re with me – nothing can hurt you.”Bookmark here

“No more.” She wasn’t proud, but she cried. “Please take me back, Coraline… Please, please, take me home…”Bookmark here

Coraline scowled and the water rumbled. When she saw that Skye was really crying, though, she softened and came back up. “What’s wrong? Is my magic not strong enough yet?” Skye could only sob. “There, there… I’m sorry.”Bookmark here

The princess tenderly but firmly took her hand and led her back up. She swam slowly this time, with many guilty and concerned glances down at her. “I’ll take you down for real one day. Then you’ll never have to be afraid again.”Bookmark here

She sang another song to soothe her until they reached the sunny waters again. There, she called a pod of dolphins and several sea turtles to play with her until she cheered up.Bookmark here

It was evening when Coraline finally brought her back. She took them to a flat of rock across from the beach where they could safely watch the people playing on the sand. Humans, safe on shore. Skye noted with relief that she would be able to swim back alone if she was desperate.Bookmark here

Coraline gave her time to catch her breath before she spoke again. “So, how was it?”Bookmark here

“A lot of fun!”Bookmark here

“Does that mean you’re a lesbian, then?”Bookmark here

She faltered. “No, I think it’s normal to have fun with friends? It didn’t really feel like a date…”Bookmark here

“What? I spent ages planning that, though!” The mermaid beat her hand off the rock in frustration, pouting cutely. “I’ll have to try something super romantic.”Bookmark here

Skye felt her cheeks burn brightly. She dragged herself onto the rock so she could lie on her back, watching the passing clouds instead. The sunset tinted them an awe-inspiring gold. Somehow it only made her more aware of Coraline’s presence.Bookmark here

“Who do you think is the best looking?”Bookmark here

She had to sit up to see what she was looking at. A group of boys from Skye’s year were laughing and shoving each other about near the edge of the waves.Bookmark here

“I don’t know. They’re not very nice people, so it doesn’t matter.”Bookmark here

“You know them?” Coraline looked to her with a hopeful smile.Bookmark here

“We go to school together. They’re always stealing my stuff and calling me names.”Bookmark here

The princess sighed, dropping her chin into her hand sulkily. They watched the boys push each other into the water until one became angry. The pushing became more aggressive.Bookmark here

“I’ve got it!” Skye’s least favourite boy landed in the sea with a huge splash, but she tore her gaze away to give Coraline her full attention. She was sitting straight up. “I won’t know my true love until I save him from drowning. That’s how fated lovers meet. It’s how every other human-sexual mermaid met their lover.”Bookmark here

She was dubious. “There aren’t that many accidents around here. Do you want to pick your favourite and I’ll push him in?”Bookmark here

The thought of Coraline mooning over any boy made her stomach burn with disgust, but she pushed the feeling down. The mermaid turned to her with soft surprise.Bookmark here

“You’d really do that for me?”Bookmark here

She nodded. It would be fun to throw one of her classmates off a cliff, to be honest. As long as he didn’t die.Bookmark here

Coraline clasped her hands tightly in hers. To her confusion, she looked ready to cry despite smiling. “You’re a true friend, Skye. The best friend I’ve ever had.”Bookmark here

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It wasn’t long before school broke up for the summer. Putting her lost friends behind her, Skye went to visit Coraline almost every day. They played from morning to evening, exchanging information on the world above and below water and exploring the wonders of the internet together. Through it, Skye was able to perform her duty to educate the mermaid on the ins and outs of human society – and was even able to show her all three of the Lord of the Rings movies.Bookmark here

The princess was serious about helping her test her sexuality too. Each day she tried something new to make her heart beat fast, from suddenly taking her hand to hitting her with some line she’d read in a romance novel. She had started to look forward to it as her daily surprise.Bookmark here

One day she had to screech to a stop on her morning sprint to their meeting place. Coraline’s hypnotic voice was drifting across the sand, not from the sheltered rock that they knew as their own, but from the cove where they’d first met.Bookmark here

She knew that no one else would hear or see her, yet a strange dread hardened Skye’s stomach. She followed her voice.Bookmark here

Coraline was beached in the shallows, bent over the unconscious body of Robert, an apparently hot but not very interesting boy from the class next door. His curly blonde hair was swept back in the way that had always made her friends shriek and giggle. His breaths were deep and peaceful. He was woefully unaware of the beauty whose head was only a metre from his own.Bookmark here

The sight was a punch in Skye’s gut. She was an intruder, she knew – an irrelevant spare wheel who ought to shuffle off before she ruined it all.Bookmark here

But her trainer crushed a shell and Coraline’s head snapped up. Her face was deathly pale. Rather than looking annoyed, she teared up with relief.Bookmark here

“Help me, Skye. Help me put him back in the water.”Bookmark here

Her plea was so desperate that Skye’s feet carried her forward before she’d even processed the words. “Back in the water?”Bookmark here

“I put him to sleep. He won’t wake up no matter what now.” She pushed him away from herself. “But I need you to drag him in.”Bookmark here

She knelt down on the other side of Robert. On further inspection, he didn’t look quite as charming as usual. There was a gash on his head that might have gone down to the bone.Bookmark here

“He’ll drown if we do that?”Bookmark here

“Exactly!” She crawled roughly over him to clasp Skye’s wrist. “I shouldn’t have saved him. I think it’s not too late to put him back – he hasn’t seen me yet.”Bookmark here

She was serious, Skye realised. She shook her off.Bookmark here

“We can’t kill him, Coraline!”Bookmark here

“Please… Please, Skye…” She tried to take hold of her again, her eyes filling pitifully with tears. Even Skye couldn’t be moved this time. “He was meant to die. I saved him without thinking about it. I don’t want this.”Bookmark here

“We’ll take him to hospital! To his parents!” She was glad to see Coraline flinch with guilt. “You’ll never have to see him again, but we’re not committing murder.”Bookmark here

“Will you… Will you keep him away from me? Forever?”Bookmark here

“Yes!” It was an empty promise. No one could keep tabs on Robert forever. But Coraline didn’t seem to remember that she would always be invisible to him. “I’ll protect you forever and ever and ever. But you have to help me save his life.”Bookmark here

The princess scooted rapidly back to his side. “I’ll heal his wounds and make sure that he wakes up in a few hours.” Her hands flew around like she was defusing a bomb.Bookmark here

Skye tried to carry him back to the town. She could just about drag him out of the ocean but, after that, her attempt to hoist him over her shoulder almost trapped her underneath him. Coraline watched intently.Bookmark here

“I’ll have to get an adult…” She struggled free, wincing as he dropped face-first in the sand. “You should go.”Bookmark here

“They won’t see me?”Bookmark here

“But I will. Go.”Bookmark here

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They never spoke of that day again. As far as Robert and his parents were concerned, he’d sustained no significant damage from his tumble off their friend’s boat and Skye had been his only hero. No one called her a lesbian anymore and her friends were talking to her again. Still, day after day, Skye left them all behind to climb over the rocks to her true friend.Bookmark here

Nothing was the same, of course. There was a bleak tension that never left the air when they were together. Coraline never laughed now and didn’t want to talk about human boys.Bookmark here

In fact, they only ever spoke about girls and whether or not Skye knew if she liked them yet. Coraline was obsessed with getting answers. Her daily tests were now performed every five minutes, almost aggressively.Bookmark here

“Come and rest your head in my lap.”Bookmark here

She was as demanding that day as ever. Skye had learned weeks ago not to try to reason with her. When she didn’t move fast enough for her, she spread her tail further and patted it.Bookmark here

She reluctantly crawled into position. Between the wet, somewhat rubbery tail under her head and the cold rock under the rest of her body, it was miserable.Bookmark here

“I saw a mermaid doing this with her husband a few days ago.”Bookmark here

She produced a fine coral comb from the pouch she’d brought with her and did her best to run it gently through Skye’s short hair. When it slipped through the first lock in a matter of seconds, she nervously brushed it six more times.Bookmark here

She picked through the delicate notes of a love song just as carefully. In spite of her discomfort, Skye was soon floating on the edge of sleep. Only the spine-tingling touch of the mermaid’s fingers held her back.Bookmark here

It lasted for a long time, yet ended too soon. “How was it?”Bookmark here

“Very nice…”Bookmark here

Coraline leant forward with a grin. “So you’re a lesbian, right?”Bookmark here

She hesitated. “I don’t think it works like that. Anyone would find that nice.”Bookmark here

Coraline’s fin slapped a mile-long wave across the ocean. “Come on! You have an excuse for everything.” She shoved the comb roughly back into the pouch. “Wouldn’t you hate it if you were lying in the lap of someone you don’t like?”Bookmark here

“But I do like you… We’re friends.”Bookmark here

The mermaid’s face darkened with an anger that made Skye flinch back. The previously clear sky crackled with thunder and lightning. She scrambled to get out of her lap.Bookmark here

“You’re not taking this seriously at all!” screamed Coraline. The waves were whipping up in a frenzy already. “You’re never going to know at this rate!”Bookmark here

“I’m trying, I promise…”Bookmark here

“You’re not! You’re wasting my time! Skye Hutchinson, don’t you dare come looking for me again until you’ve sorted yourself out.”Bookmark here

She dove back into the water before Skye could say another word, and was swallowed up in an instant.Bookmark here

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That storm lasted for three days. The local news reports boggled that there had been no warning signs before such a vicious attack from the elements. Trees splintered under the force of the gale.Bookmark here

When it cleared, Skye tried to go back and find Coraline, but she never came back to their meeting place.Bookmark here

Weeks passed. School restarted. Both her time and her motivation to walk the beach searching for the mermaid slowly disappeared. Eventually she had to give up.Bookmark here

One day, her stepmother insisted on taking her for a walk – to cheer her up, she said. She followed her half-heartedly as she led her through the town, trying to tempt her with ice cream and toys. The cheerfully sunny day only served to remind her of the day she met Coraline.Bookmark here

They ended up walking along the cliffs “to enjoy the beautiful scenery”. By the time they reached the top, however, a fog had rolled in.Bookmark here

“Typical,” her stepmother tutted. “You can’t see a thing!”Bookmark here

But she was secretly grateful. The sea was the last thing that she wanted to see now. Its dazzling blue brought the princess’ bright smile to her mind, its salt smell was like hers, and she had often heard the soft whispers of its waves crashing on the shore and mistaken it for the mermaid’s voice. Even now she thought that she could hear her speaking far below, just masked by the sound of the sea.Bookmark here

She turned her back to it and fished for her phone and earphones to drown it out. Her stepmother shot her a disappointed look, but she had to ignore her. Before she could press play, a mournful song travelled to her ears.Bookmark here

It was definitely Coraline. She had never heard her sing anything so sad before, but no human voice could compare – and it was too loud to be her imagination.Bookmark here

Her feet carried her to the edge before she could hesitate. “Coraline!?”Bookmark here

The fog wouldn’t let her see what was below, but the voice cut off. She had to be down there. “Coraline, I’m sorry! Please don’t be angry!” Feeling that she must be swimming away, she shuffled forward to call after her. “Please come back! I miss you so much!”Bookmark here

Her foot slipped on the rock. She heard her stepmother scream, felt her grab for the back of her jacket, felt it tug free. She could see the sea.Bookmark here

There was pain when she plunged in. Like hitting cement, the air was forced from her lungs on impact and she gasped before she realised where she was. She tried to fight to the surface, but her arms and legs weren’t moving the right way.Bookmark here

Small and firm hands caught her by the legs and pulled her under. Familiar incantations zapped away the pain and let her breathe. She was cradled gently.Bookmark here

“Are you okay, Skye?”Bookmark here

She was even more beautiful than she remembered. Skye didn’t know if she’d added more pearls to her hair or if it was something she’d done to her skin, but she looked like an angel rather than a mermaid.Bookmark here

The princess smiled with tearful relief when she opened her eyes. “Thank goodness… You shouldn’t have jumped all that way for me, silly.”Bookmark here

She was about to say that she hadn’t, but she swallowed it down. Not important. Not right now.Bookmark here

“Please come back, Coraline. I’ve been miserable without you.”Bookmark here

“Have you?” There was a soft smile on the mermaid’s face that sent her heart dancing. Coraline brought her head closer, closing her mesmerising blue eyes and pressing their lips gently together.Bookmark here

It was like Skye had been waiting a lifetime for that one lingering touch. Her heart took off like a dog chasing a ball and she was glad that there was no need to speak, because she would never have the words. All she could do was close her eyes and lean in.Bookmark here

It was a lingering kiss, but it didn’t linger long enough for her. Coraline’s smile was a beam of light when she withdrew.Bookmark here

“I’m sorry for getting angry. It was selfish of me. And I’m sorry for not coming back; I was scared.”Bookmark here

“Scared?” Her head was still swimming from the kiss.Bookmark here

Coraline hesitated. It was the first time she’d ever seen her so self-conscious. “I don’t think I like human boys, Skye. I don’t think I like boy at all. I think I’m a lesbian.”Bookmark here

Predictable joy bubbled up in her heart. She tried not to grin too widely. “Really? Why did you hide, though?”Bookmark here

There may have been a trace of irritation on the mermaid’s face. It was quickly reeled back. “Well… I love you.” She was beet red. “But you didn’t know if you were a lesbian, so I didn’t know if you’d like me back, and I thought you might run away and hate me if you weren’t.”Bookmark here

“Ah…”Bookmark here

“Then, after I got angry, I didn’t want to come back and keep helping you, because it hurt.”Bookmark here

“Sorry.”Bookmark here

Coraline cradled her tighter. “I love you. Do you love me? Will you be my girlfriend forever?”Bookmark here

“I like you, but I don’t know if I’m really a lesbian.” Hurt crossed the mermaid’s face. “No, but! You’re a mermaid, so you’re obviously gorgeous and stuff. What if I only like you because you’re a mermaid?”Bookmark here

“Then you’re mermaid-sexual,” she said confidently.Bookmark here

“No, that’s impossible.”Bookmark here

And it was, she realised. The stupidest, most ridiculous suggestion on earth. She couldn’t help but laugh.Bookmark here

“I’m a lesbian. I think I’m definitely a lesbian.”Bookmark here

“Good! Then…?”Bookmark here

“Yeah.” She summoned the courage to press another quick kiss to Coraline’s lips. “Please be my girlfriend for real.”Bookmark here

Such a smile. Sunlight suddenly streamed down from above, lighting the water around them. She was surprised to look up and see that the fog had lifted. Coraline took her hands tightly in her own.Bookmark here

“Let’s hurry up and go, then.”Bookmark here

“Go? Where are we going?”Bookmark here

“You jumped off a cliff, silly. I can’t leave my future mother-in-law fearing for her daughter’s life.”Bookmark here

With a gentle tug, she carried Skye with her as she easily covered the distance back to shore. Their rock was already in sight by the time that she registered her words.Bookmark here

“Wait, what?”Bookmark here

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