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The next day, as soon as they got out of Hailey's mother's car in the parking lot, Hailey was the one who took charge. After all, she'd been the one to see the mermaid at the bottom of the pool, huddled in a murky corner, her long hair streaming. Claire wouldn't have ventured into the water for any reason, not even to see such a wondrous being
As they went through the entranceway to the Capri Beach Club, Hailey handed her friend a jar she'd stored in her backpack. Claire held the jar up to the light and tried her best to figure out what the slippery-looking things were inside.
"Herring," Hailey told her when Claire couldn't venture a guess. "It's a kind of marinated fish. I found it in the back of the pantry. Mermaids must get hungry. All we need to do is hide behind the diving board, and when she comes to the surface to eat, we can study her."
"Good plan," Claire said. At any other time, Claire would have been the one to come up with the plans, but lately she'd been up half the night, thinking about how her sweaters and boots would be pointless in Florida, and how the leaves wouldn't change in the fall, and how it would be summer all year long.
Hailey, herself, was somewhat surprised to find that she'd actually been the one with the ideas. "You really think it's a good plan?" she asked uncertainly.
"Excellent," Claire said, although she, too, was surprised at how quickly everything was changing already, even though it was still the same.
After they'd sprinkled the herring in the pool, the girls waited behind the diving board. Jellyfish floated on the surface of the water, and a few bubbles arose up from the deep, but there was no sign of the mermaid. Hours passed and the girls didn't move. Time was so slow, and the air was so hot, they almost fell asleep.
When they didn't show up at the snack bar for lunch, Raymond came looking for them.
"What happened to my only customers?" he asked. "I was worried. I thought the seagulls had carried you away."
Raymond sat on the edge of a lounge chair and gazed into the pool. He was so handsome that for a few minutes the girls forgot there was a mermaid nearby.
"What a disaster," Raymond said, looking around the beach club. "I should have taken a different job this summer, but I guess I got used to this place."
When he'd first come to the Capri, he'd been the assistant to the assistant cook at the snack bar, and at lunch time they'd all had to work like crazy just to fill the orders of hamburgers and sandwiches and fries. There were crowds of people and the air smelled like coconut-scented sunscreen. Not a single one of the chaise lounges would have been empty on a beautiful day such as this. But that was all in the past.
"I don't want it to end," Raymond admitted.
"We know," the girls said at the very same time. "Neither do we."
"Don't forget to come by and have a lemonade. My treat," Raymond said as he started back to the snack bar. "After all, there are only a few days left to the summer."
Hailey had always noticed that Raymond often read two books at a time, and Claire had always noticed that he was so kindhearted, he fed day-old bread to the seagulls that followed him as though he were their favorite person on earth. Now they both could tell he was almost as sad as they were about the Capri closing.
The girls had been watching Raymond so intently, it was a while before they realized that a mermaid had surfaced at the shallow end of the pool. Her hair was pale and silvery and her nails were a shimmering blue. Between each finger there was a thin webbing, of the sort you might find on a newborn seal or a duck.
"What are you two staring at?" the mermaid said, when she turned and saw the girls gaping.
Her voice was as cool and fresh as bubbles rising from the ocean. She was as beautiful as a pearl, with a faint turquoise tinge to her skin and eyes so blue they were the exact same color as the deepest sea. But her watery beauty didn't mean the mermaid knew her manners.
"Stop looking at me," she demanded, as she splashed at the girls. "Go away!"
The mermaid's name was Aquamarine and she was much ruder than most creatures you might find at sea. At sixteen, she was the youngest of seven sisters, and had always been spoiled. She'd been indulged and cared for and allowed to act up in ways no self-respecting mermaid ever would.
Her disagreeable temperament certainly hadn't improved after spending two nights in the pool, tossed there like a stone or a sea urchin at the height of the terrible storm. Chlorine had seeped into her sensitive skin and silver scales dropped from her long, graceful tail. She hadn't eaten anything more than a mouthful of that horrible herring the girls had strewn into the pool.
"You heard me," Aquamarine said to Hailey and Claire, who were mesmerized by her gleaming tail and by the way the mermaid could dive so quickly, she disappeared in a luminous flash. When she surfaced through the seaweed she was not pleased to see they were still there. "Scram," she said. "Stop bothering me."
The mermaid glided into the deep end of the pool, the better to see Raymond at the snack bar. She had been watching him ever since she found herself stranded in the pool. His was the first human face she saw. She gazed at him with a bewildered expression, the sure sign of a mermaid in love.
"They're closing the Capri at the end of the week. The pool is going to be drained," Hailey called to Aquamarine. "You're going to have to go back to where you came from by Saturday."
The mermaid started to pay attention. "Where will the people go?"
"What people?" Hailey said. "Everyone's already gone except for us."
"Not exactly." Claire nodded toward Raymond. "Not everyone."
"He's going on Saturday, too," Hailey said. "He's leaving for college."
As soon as Aquamarine heard this, she began to cry blue, freshwater tears. No mermaid wants to fall in love with a human, but it was already too late for poor Aquamarine to be sensible. A sensible mermaid never would have wandered away from her sisters during a storm the way Aquamarine had.
As for Hailey and Claire, they couldn't know that a mermaid in love is far more irrational than a jellyfish and more stubborn than a barnacle. "You'll just have to go back to the ocean," they advised her.
"I'm not going anywhere." Aquamarine's pale complexion flushed blue as she pouted. "I won't leave before I meet him."
Up at the snack bar, Raymond was whistling a tune as he cleaned up the counter. Aquamarine tilted her head to listen, hearkening to what she clearly believed was the most beautiful melody anyone had ever been privileged to hear, either on land or at sea.
"Oh," she sighed as she watched Raymond. Her elbows rested on the edge of the pool. Her sea-blue eyes were dreamy. "If he only knew how I felt about him."
"I really don't think he's your type," Claire said as politely as she could.
Aquamarine looked stricken. She had never been denied anything she wanted. "Of course he is," she said.
"Well, for one thing, he lives on land," Hailey reminded the mermaid.
"You are both so mean," Aquamarine cried. "You're meaner than my sisters, and probably just as jealous."
Since she'd been swept up by the storm and set down at the Capri, Aquamarine had felt a taste of freedom. More important than the terrible food and the chlorinated pool was the idea that she could do whatever she pleased. She tossed her head and fixed the girls with her sea-blue eyes. "No one can tell me what to do anymore. Not my sisters and certainly not you. Anyway, it's too late. I've already made up my mind. I'm staying right here for as long as I want to. And no one can tell me otherwise!"
At the end of the day, the girls ran to Claire's grandfather's car and when he said "What's new, Susie Q's?" they let out a gale of giggles, convinced that no one would believe that they'd stumbled upon a mermaid who refused to behave. When they got to Claire's grandparents' house, they raced past the half-packed boxes in the living room and looked through the crates of books in Claire's room, hoping to find a solution for Aquamarine's predicament. Although they discovered references to many unusual creatures of the deep, from dolphins that were said to rescue lost sailors to sea-serpents twice the size of a whale, they couldn't unearth a single bit of advice on what to do with a mermaid who'd fallen in love.