"The Secret that Could Not Be Kept"

“I’m tired, Angie.” I’d first seen her standing barefoot, her toes curling into the wet sand, letting the waves wash over her ankles. She’d loved the beach ever since she first laid eyes on it, just as I’d loved her the moment I first laid eyes on her.

“Tired of what?” she asked. She looked at me and her eyes were as luminous as they’d been the first time I saw them, when they glimmered in the spring sunlight like tiny, green pools. She smiled. Her teeth still looked like the pearls I used to collect.

I took a deep breath of air and tried to smile back. “There’s something I’ve never told you. About me.”

Angie frowned and sat next to me. She placed her hand on my leg. Her hand pushed my pants’ denim cloth against my thigh. Cloth still felt uncomfortable, like sandpaper. “You can tell me anything.”

I nodded and stood up. “It’d be better if I showed you.” I took my shoes off, then my socks and carefully tucked them into my shoes. When the sand touched my toes, I felt a thrill that I immediately tried to stifle. I knew what people said about my kind, that we were drawn to the sea and would never stay if we were revealed for what we were. But it wasn’t true. I would never leave Angie. I loved her more than anything. I knew that as long as I stayed with her I would grow old. Eventually, I would die. As long as it was with her, I welcomed that inevitability.

“I’ve seen you naked,” said Angie, a smirk forming at the corners of her mouth.

I shook my head and forced a smile. “That’s not it.” I let my pants drop, let the ocean air brush against my legs. Then I stepped into the water. Bluish scales formed over my feet where the water touched them. I started walking with my legs closer together, and the skin between my calves began to splice together. I sat in the water and closed my eyes, letting the water wash over my legs, letting the scales replace my human skin. My feet grew into long, luminescent fins.

I looked at Angie and smiled. In the stories, humans are enchanted by mermen. Drawn to them. I hoped that was true.

Angie gasped. Her face depicted a panoply of emotions, among them awe and terror. It didn’t pass as we walked back to the car, as we drove back home, and for the next few days. The stories were wrong. The note she left me was terse and difficult to read through the tears streaming down my face. I was surprised by how much water my body could hold even out of water.

I felt trapped inside the empty beach house. She never answered the desperate pleas I left on her voicemail. It became harder to breathe, and the stress caused scales to grow over my arms and face. In the end, I let myself return to the sea.

I never saw Angie again.