She lay against rocks that were smooth against her back, hair falling in a wild tangle, matted and washed through as it was with salt water. Cocooned in place, she gazed over the calm water, watching for new boats on the horizon, looking for someone new.
It’d been so long since someone new came her way, and she was bored.
Water lapped around her, swirling foam around her ankles and drying there in lines of salt under the sun. Sometimes, if she remained there long enough, the salt formed a crust to be washed away next time she ventured into the water.
Her sister was away, had disappeared into another part of the water they rarely touched, and probably wouldn’t return until the next phase of the moon. It was unusual for them to venture away from their cliff and the caves they had hewed from the wall, but sometimes one of them did. Going away meant breathing space, away from all the ghosts of people who had come to them in the past and never managed to stay. For a while, she considered slipping back into the water, feeling it surround her as she tried her newest song.
Instead, she lay flat, aligning her body perfectly straight and letting her hair be the only deviation from even neat lines. Birds cried to each other in the distance, though the sun above her blotted out where they were, and dolphins chirped far below the surface. She was practiced in shutting out the noises though, and silently drifted her fingers over the rock as she composed.
Her reverie was broken by the quiet hum of a motor, and she raised her head with half-curiosity, half-boredom. It wouldn’t do any good if this one was like the last one, strange ear-plugs in place and unable to hear. As the boat approached, she could make out the lack of threads from the ears, and she drew in her breath, felt her lungs and diaphragm expand.
The motor stopped only feet from the rock, and still she felt frozen in place. This sailor was young, with kind eyes, and she could feel the concern radiating from where she sat. This was an uncommon sight, she knew. She’d learned as much from observing humans over the centuries before she began to sing: they found it unusual for a young woman to live off the ocean.
The sailor held out one hand – steady, calm, she noticed – and unbuckled the bright vest.
Rescue, she understood suddenly. The sailor wants to rescue me.
This was new. In all her time, none had ever tried to save her. She had always been a curiosity first, and a danger second. None had ever managed to live with her, no matter how hard she tried to keep them safe and healthy. She stood on stiff legs, not bothered about her appearance, and stepped over to him, appraising.
He has a good soul, she thought, distracted – she could almost smell it.
She didn’t want to leave, though. Her sister would come back to her, and find the cave empty, the rocks cold. She could never live in the human world.
Trust, concern, hesitation all mixed in his eyes. She could read it as easily as if he’d said what he was feeling, and could almost feel it herself. Of course, she could work around it, let him stay. This time, she could look after him. He could be family.
It almost made her regret what she was about to do.
She opened her mouth, and began to sing.