He knew she loved him, but loved the sea more. He watched as she touched the wide bracelet on her left forearm, what she called her ‘heart-arm.’ The wide cuff—its oval of blue-shaded ivory mounted atop—depicted a mermaid resting on surf-pounded rocks admiring the jewel held in her hand. The shape of metal shells, moonstones aglow and other faceted stones formed the frame for the lovely sea-maiden. She had told him it was a ‘father-gift’ received at her coming of age.
Holding her elbow, he felt the tremor, a racing of goosebumps that prickled her flesh at the touch of saltwater as they waded past knee deep. His arm now around her waist he felt her breathe, rib cage expanding and arms extending as if to hug the horizon. Water as far as he could see. As a sailor, he’d crossed that same ocean six times. He knew its allure and wondered at the beauty in the deeps he’d never see. Each night he’d seen the shadow of it in her eyes as she watched the moonbeam lit movement of water during their walks on the beach. The shimmering orbs on her bracelet held their own pale lunar light, a luster that grew when she touched them with a saltwater dampened finger. She had never asked, but it was that look of never-ending longing that told him he must let her go.
She looked over her shoulder at him; a trembling smile and questioning look. He smiled back and nodded, his chin thrust out to sea though it broke his heart. His arm was heavy as he withdrew it from her. He already missed the warm satin texture of her firm, tanned, torso and the press of her chest on his. She turned to kiss him with a soft touch of salt-rimed lips. A bittersweet taste.
As she transformed, the lovely legs she had never gotten used to scaled and fused to end in the broad fan that would now push her through the waves. She sank into the water and was gone.
He backed his way to the beach eyes kept seaward scanning and hoping. She broached one last time, her back to the incoming waves, as he stood with sea foam washing over his feet. The arc of her muscular back, arms crossed over still human breasts… the thrust of her neck pitching back, long, black, hair cascading behind her. The feathered crest of breaking waves framed her as she surfaced in a spray of moonlight caught drops. He swallowed and wiped wetness of his own from black-stubbled cheeks.
She was free and what was love but being able to give her that. She pushed off into the trough and was soon out of sight. He waited at the breakers’ edge until the moon set and night became the darkness before dawn. While she was with him, they had loved with the certainty and power of the tide. His heart had followed the rhythm of hers. He knew it would never beat the same way again.
As the sun rose behind him, he trudged through the sand to the wooden steps leading to the boardwalk. He passed two men carrying rods and tackle for surf fishing. They didn’t have the look of locals. With a qualm, he prayed she was far from the shore by now. But he knew she was. She danced among coral reefs and rode the currents that caressed the shoals of this length of land as they swirled and became one with the Gulf Stream.
One man slowed and stopped. “Hey, buddy it’s catch and release here. Right?”
He nodded and kept moving. Though close to home it would be the longest drive he’d ever taken.
* * *
He’d not slept in two days and walked the beach at night. Near the jetties he saw something roil the surface just off the channel mouth. Dolphin, he thought. Then he heard laughter coming over the water. He climbed over a slippery jumble of stone following the sound to the edge. And there she was. Her eyes trapped the moon and seemed almost as large. Drops of water glinted on her breasts as they fell and rose. She raised herself, and he watched as legs re-formed. He felt his breathing synchronize with hers as she took him in her arms. “I’ve looked and looked for you.” He lifted and carried her over the rocks to a stretch of sand not far away.
She brushed the hair from his eyes her fingers following the line of his cheek to the jaw to rest a finger on his chin. “I brought you something,” she took it from the pouch at her side.
A wide cuff bracelet, similar to the one she wore but simpler, its burnished dark red metal caught the moonlight. She slipped it over his wrist, hand stroking his arm leaving a tingling sensation behind. He looked down and saw the engraving etched in the thick metal and filed with mother-of-pearl, a rhythmic tidal pulsing iridescence. She saw the question in his eyes. “It’s the Heart of the Sea,” she took his other hand and placed it over her heart. “It is a life-partner gift.”
On their arms the bracelets gleamed with a ripple of red umber luminescence from deep within the metal that steadied and found its pattern following the murmur of surf and their heartbeat.
Her eyes glistened but not from the runnels of seawater trickling from the foamy thickness of her hair down her face as she turned it up to look at him. Those lips that tasted of ocean deeps told him that though she loved the sea, she’d come to him every night on the tide. He would no longer be alone.