People, regulars at this lighthouse and foghorn guarded point where the rocks met the smooth sands of a beach allowing one to watch the waves break and crash at the same time, had noticed that he came here often. Some had ventured to ask him what he was doing, most left him to his privacy. When those who asked did ask his answer was always the same: "Waiting for someone."
It was impossible to go into more detail than that without arousing the sorts of suspicions that might be dangerous. How does one explain that, ten years ago, as a child, one came across two mermaids? That might be passed off as a child's imagination, but that he believed it to this day, that he believed they'd keep their promise to return in ten years time and, if they still wanted, turn himself and his older sister into one of them, that he'd spent years waiting for this moment, that he'd researched every conceivable calendar just in case the the mermaids used a different one than the one that he was used to, and showed up every time any calendar, no matter how foreign, said ten years had passed, that he, a high school student on the verge of graduation who was supposed to be thinking about college, still believed in mermaids... well all of that would be reason to suspect some form of psychosis. And that wouldn't do at all.
The mermaids had been very clear, the meeting was to be here in ten years time. There had been no great promise that they'd go and track him down in some a psychiatric ward if he got himself thrown in one by raving about mermaids.
He remembered it as clearly as yesterday, more clearly actually since he wasn't sure what he'd been doing yesterday.
He'd been seven, his sister twelve. They and their parents were on a trip to the beach but he had wandered off, as he often did, and come across two impossibilities. They were without clothes. Human women from the waist up, which even for a seven year old had been somewhat exciting, but below the waist they changed, iridescent scales, but tails turned the wrong way. Flat instead of vertical as if some remnant of their mammalian upper bodies held influence in their tails enough to give them an orientation of a dolphin's fins rather than a shark's.
If he had been looking at a picture he would have immediately called it out as wrong, things with scaly tails are fish, and fish have vertical tails and he was the kind of child who got upset about such details being gotten wrong.
But, since he was looking at the two impossibilities with his own eyes, he accepted it. Besides, the only possible explanation for a human-fish hybrid anyway was magic, so clearly magic must account for the strange orientation of their tails.
One of the impossibilities stirred and he realized she was waking up.
He had to share the experience with someone, had to let anyone else see it, so he ran his sister, his closest relative, and shouted to her, "Sally look! Mermaids."
"You're not supposed to lie," she said, doing her best impression of their mother.
He had been hurt. Here he was trying to share the greatest revelation in the world with her, and she accused him of lying. He nearly cried. But he didn't. He just said, "I'm not lying." Then added, "I promise, promise, promise!" Because if he said it three times maybe she'd believe him.
She agreed to follow him, making it clear she didn't actually believe him, he led her to them.
"Hello again," one of the impossibilities said, "You ran off before we would be properly introduced the first time." The other one was still asleep.
He'd offered a meek, "Hi," but proper introductions never were made. They never learned his name was Tommy, after a song his parents really liked, and he never learned either of the impossibilities' names.
Sally told the impossibilities that mommy said nudity was dirty, in the movies the mermaids wore shells.
The impossibility took it in good stride, saying that nudity wasn't evil and adding, suppressing a giggle, that shells weren't ideally suited for clothing purposes.
Their back and forth went on for a while, but Tommy tuned it out, just gazing on the impossibilities in awe. At one point Sally accused them of being women in costumes and the awake one curled on her back, lifting her tail above her head in a way that would have been impossible for anything with knees.
At that point Sally finally dropped all of her hostility and said, "I want to be a mermaid!"
"Me too!" Tommy had said.
"Only girls can be mermaids," Sally said with a nasty voice and a sneer.
Tommy again wanted to cry, he was so close he could reach out and touch them and being told he couldn't have what he wanted. He turned to the impossibility who told him soothing tones, "Boys can become mermaids too. And if you really want to I'll make you into one. But you have to be absolutely sure," and that was when they set up the meeting time and place.
It was only after that that it occurred to Tommy that mermaids might use a different calendar and ten years to them might not mean the same thing as ten years to him. So for the last ten years he'd researched every calendar there was. And on every possible date he had come back.
But this was the day. This was ten years, to the day, in the world's dominant calendar, since he met the two impossibilities on the beach.
His sister had stopped believing long ago, he hadn't.
And one thing lingered in his mind the entire time. She hadn't said boys could become mermen or merpeople, she had said "mermaids." Probably nothing to it. Probably an oversight of language. But still... A life spent swimming the seas was worth waiting for, but a life as a mermaid...
It was probably too much to hope for, but still he waited