Kiss the Girl
I don’t know my beloved’s name. I prefer not to. He might have told me once, but I made myself forget. It’s easier that way. Names seem important to him, though. He calls mine every time he sees me, raising an oar in greeting. I just smile and wave, like I do now as his boat comes into view, not too far from land. Not too far, but not too close.
High waves crash into the rock I sit on, fanning up behind me in an explosion of foam. It is part of the barrier reef protecting the small fishing village adjoining the royal city. Inside the barrier—them. Outside—us. The only ones who cross it are sailors…or fishermen, like my beloved.
The rising sun reflects harshly off the waves, and I squint to shield my sensitive eyes before waving again. The sunlight is so much more beautiful from under the waves, where the water filters it into rich jewel tones. Everything is more beautiful beneath. I do not know how humans manage to live above, sticking up into the air like they do. Everything poking upward, ready to fall over at the slightest movement from the earth, rather than being a part of it. Enveloped by it. Part of the silken tapestry of the sea.
He rows with powerful strokes, as anxious to see me as I am him. Today is the day. After one year of waiting. One year of courtship. One year of stolen hours, of storytelling, of kisses, of desire for more.
“I want to be with you,” he had begged.
“You must prove your dedication to me,” I had told him. “You must visit every day. For a year.”
“I can’t wait that long,” he begged, frustration moving him to tears. For there is only so much that a human and my kind can do. I had to remind myself how short their lives are. A year to them seems like a few days to us. Things above the surface move so quickly that I have to remind myself to savor every hour. And yet, he pleaded with me. “How can we wait an entire year?”
“Stories,” I replied. “We will tell each other stories. One story per day. One from your world and then one from mine.” And with each story I rewarded him.
In the beginning, I let him hold my hand. Soon, I sat with my tail in the water and elbows propped on the edge of his boat, tail swishing in the water beneath me as I let him brush my shoulders with his sun-warmed fingers. His touch made me shudder. Soon I let him sit next to me on the rock, holding his soft face in my hands and kissed him. I allowed his hands to wander, exploring the body that was as mysterious to him as his was to me.
Something surprising began to happen inside me. I felt like an oyster, being pried open, not by the pureness of his love…because we all know a man’s love is never pure…but by his vulnerability. Unlike the others, he didn’t try to manipulate me. He didn’t try false charm. He opened himself up to me, this beautiful boy, with a childlike trust. And, no matter how much I fought it, my heart responded.
Finally, he told me what I needed to hear. He swore he would give up his family. His land. His humanity, in exchange for a life with me under the sea.
Every morning at sunrise, my beloved rowed out to me. I waited, knowing the story would come. It always did.
Sure enough one day, when the cold was such that he shivered despite several layers of thick clothes, he told me a local story…one that was said to have happened in the neighboring royal city, long ago.
It was the story of the mermaid and the prince. My beloved spoke of how the sea maiden fell in love with the royal and decided to sacrifice everything to be with him. She gave up her ocean for dry land. She left her people to live with his. She chose legs instead of a tail. All for love. All for her prince.
I listened as he told me. Pretended I hadn’t heard it before. Opened my eyes wide when he got to the part where the prince marries another girl. Gasped when the sea witch gave her sisters a knife for her to kill the newly-married prince, promising that if his blood spilled on her feet she would became a mermaid once more. Cried when she refused, throwing the knife into the waves and casting herself after it, her body drowning, but her spirit granted eternal life as reward for her sacrifice.
I listened carefully, each word like a drop of poison to my ears. I didn’t stop him to correct him. I didn’t tell him how the story really went. How the prince had ordered his boatmen to capture my sister when he spotted her watching the festivities of one of his shipboard parties. He had them bring her to the castle in secrecy, where he kept her in a saltwater pool until finally…mercifully…she died, then cast her defiled body back into the sea.
But the prince did not stop there. He hired a famous writer—Andersen—to memorialize the tale of the mermaid, warping the truth until it became the tale my beloved heard. The story was meant to give the prince fame and immortality, and it did. One hundred and seventy-nine years later, humans like my beloved were still telling it.
We have our ways of finding out what happens on land. That is…when we even care. And that time we did. When Father discovered what had happened, he sent out a decree. The next time the prince left land, we got him. My sisters and I wanted him for ourselves. But Father gave him to the sea witch so she could avenge the smearing of her name in his story. I had never seen her hurt as much as krill, but this time she made an exception. You could have heard the prince’s screams from the deepest trenches if his lungs hadn’t been slowly filling with brine.
My father charged me and my sisters with carrying out the revenge. Five hundred human lives for the life of my sister. Five hundred boys the same age she had been: sixteen. In our grief and wrath, we made a pact. We would take the humans’ lie and turn it on its head. We would make the boys fall in love. We would make them want us so badly that they would be willing to trade their legs for fins. We would make them lose their reason and beg for a folly that would prove to be their watery death.
Our revenge has been sweet. Until now. Because this time, I fear I too am falling in love.
My beloved arrives. His face is bright with expectation. The rising sun catches the blond in his hair and ignites it into a golden halo.
“Are you ready?” I ask, a sense of acute distress twisting my guts. I don’t understand this feeling. I wasn’t nervous with the others. I smooth the worry from my face and smile, reaching my hand toward him.
He nods, his lake-blue eyes fervent with passion, as he scrambles out of the boat to join me on the rock. “I’ll do anything to be with you.”
“Kiss me first,” I say, and though we have kissed a hundred times, I make it surpass all of the others. Prove with fervor that my love is real. Show him a part of my heart. Not everything, of course. But already much too much.
We part, and I take his hand in mine. “Don’t let go,” I say, and together we dive beneath the surface. A strong flick of my tail takes us deep. Almost past the point of no return.
But at the crucial second…at the time when they usually begin to struggle…I hesitate. My fingers loosen. His eyes are full of expectation and compassion, and for a second I wonder what it would be like to save him. To swim back up to the surface while he still has breath in his lungs.
What I’ve promised him is impossible. He can never become one of us, just as we could never become human. The sea witch reassured us that the concept was as impossible as it was ridiculous.
But if I took him back now, we could continue as we have for the last year, in each other’s arms for a few precious hours every day. Maybe if I tell him the truth, he will understand and he will still love me.
“Maybe” flickers through my mind before my gaze strays beyond my beloved and I see my sisters. Through the murky swells of ocean currents, they watch me. They wait. For tonight my father has planned a banquet to celebrate one more life taken. One more pearl in our crown of revenge. He would have us feed on the most delicious of sea creatures, while the inhabitants of the deep feed on my beloved and the remains of the others whose long-dead corpses are manacled side-by-side on the ocean floor.
My eyes sting with tears that melt into the water as I turn my gaze back to the boy. He is as handsome as the day I met him. Blond hair darkened by seawater drifts like a bronze aura around his head. As confusion clouds his eyes, I lean forward, pressing my lips to his. Regret stabs a searing hole through my heart as I think of my sister, tighten my grip on his hand, and, with a thrash of my tail, drag him down.
Amy Plum is the internationally bestselling author of the DIE FOR ME series, the AFTER THE END duology, and the upcoming DREAMFALL duology—all with HarperTeen. She grew up in Birmingham, Alabama before venturing further afield to Chicago, Paris, London and New York. An art historian by training, she can be found on most days either daydreaming or writing (or both) in a Parisian café.