Ari is a merman who lives near Muir Beach, California. When he saves his only human friend from drowning, his existence becomes public knowledge, and he’s taken away from his home to be used as an attraction in an Orlando aquatic park.
Theo Delaney is human, and as soon as he finds out about the merman, he’s fascinated by him. He visits the park and decides Ari isn’t a fish like the park’s owner is trying to convince everyone. When one of the park workers tells him he’s going to try to free the merman, Theo wants in, and he’s the one who drives Ari back to California.
He hadn’t expected to fall in love in the process, though. How can he, a human man, and Ari, a merman, be together?
“Ari, did you bring any fish home?”
Ari reached into his pouch and took out the three fish he’d managed to catch earlier that morning. His mom nodded and took them from his hands. She raised the fish close to her eyes and examined them, and Ari waited with bated breath.
Not that his mom would do anything if the fish wasn’t up to her standards, but the expression of disappointment on her face was enough for him to want to please her. He already felt like he was disappointing her so much, the least he could do was to catch some good fish for dinner.
Ari’s mom made a throaty sound and put the fish on the stone table. “Good. I could’ve done with one or two more, though. You know how your brother is.”
Ari nodded and kept his mouth firmly shut. His mom poked at the fish one more time before taking her sharpest cutting stone and going to work on the fish. Ari stayed there, watching her fast movements until she looked up again. “What are you still doing here? Don’t you have anything better to do than watch me?” she asked with a smile.
Ari shook his head and kissed her on the cheek. He could’ve sworn she blushed slightly, but she batted him away from her, and he didn’t get a second glance. “Go away, Ari. I’m busy.”
“Fine, fine. I’m leaving. See if I try to hug you again.” He stuck his tongue out at her, and she threw a piece of seaweed she’d already cleaned and cut for dinner. Ari moved to the side and avoided it. He laughed and swam away, ignoring his mom’s yell to clean up the seaweed she’d thrown.
Ari exited the house and, since his mom didn’t need him home anymore, swam toward his secret place. It wasn’t far, but not many people knew about it—or rather, not many people liked going there. Ari was considered weird by most of his village, though, and he liked the ship.
Some people thought the spirits of the drowned humans still haunted the ship, some just thought it was dangerous because the ship was slowly rotting and breaking down. Ari knew the first hypothesis wasn’t true—he’d spent a big part of his childhood in there, alone and dreaming of what had happened on the ship, of what the people who’d been on it had looked like, and why it had sunk.
There were no ghosts, but it was true the ship wasn’t in great shape anymore. Ari ran his fingers on the wood as he swam on the side of the ship. There were holes in the wood, some big enough Ari could have used them to enter the ship if he wanted to. But he didn’t, not from there anyway.
He swam upward and took the familiar path to the deck. Once there, he entered the captain’s cabin and sat in the captain’s chair, his tail on the desk, flicking at the fish that swam close. The desk faced the door, and Ari could see the entire length of the deck from where he was, almost as if he were the captain. Of course, to be one he’d need legs rather than the tail he had. It was weird to think about not having a tail. He knew humans had two legs, and that they didn’t use them to swim most of the time. His friend Joe didn’t seem to enjoy swimming, but he’d explained to Ari how his legs worked.
Ari sighed and ran his hand on the desk that had once held books, a diary, and who knew what else. Nothing remained of them, and he wished he could have seen them, back when the ship had sunk. Joe always told him about stories he read, and Ari loved listening to him. They were always of the dry world, a world Ari wanted to visit but would never see. He often wondered what happened there, how different it was from his underwater world, but he knew the closest he’d get to it was through Joe’s stories.
* * * *
Lilja, Ari’s younger sister, was on Ari as soon as he entered their home again. “Where’ve you been?”
Ari rolled his eyes. “Out.”
“None of your business.”
Lilja hung herself onto Ari’s arm. “Why don’t you just tell me?” she asked with a pout.
“Because he’s a stuck up dead fish,” Hakon said as he swam past Ari.
Ari swatted his older brother on the back of the head. “Very funny.”
“Sometimes I feel like you’re all still children,” Ari’s mom said as they all entered the kitchen.
“Lilja is,” Ari answered.
“Hey! I’m ten!” Lilja protested.
Ari pinched her cheek. “A child.”
Lilja stuck her tongue out and swam away. Ari’s mom handed him a bowl, and he set it on their stone table. “Where’s Dad?”
“He’s coming. Go and gather your brother and your sister again.”
Ari turned around, and sure enough, Hakon was gone too. He rolled his eyes and obeyed his mom’s order. Lilja was in her room and was easy to convince, but Hakon had to be difficult, of course. He was behind the house, swimming after a stray fish that probably had lost its way. They didn’t usually come close to the village—they knew there were predators there—predators who would eat them. It was instinct.
Hakon caught the fish’s tail. It was an impressive feat, but then Hakon had always been fast. “You should come hunt with us next time,” he told Ari without looking at him.
“I don’t want to.” Ari would rather hunt on his own. He didn’t want to have to decide if he wanted to be a hunter yet, but that was what it would look like if he went with Hakon and his team.