The Summer of Chasing Mermaids - Sarah Ockler

Chapter 1

After spending the day in Aunt Lemon’s gift shop with a sticky note in the shape of a crab stuck to my boomsie (and no one even told me until after I’d escorted a pair of surfers to our collection of mermaid dashboard ornaments, and then my cousin Kirby sent me the picture, all, u got crabs!), I decided a little alone time was in order.

If not for the crab incident, I probably would’ve just gone to Lemon’s Summer Solstice party tonight like I’d promised. Instead, I was slithering around the Chelsea Marina docks, hoping to reach my boat before Kirby ensnared me in her net.

“Elyse!” Kirby shouted. “The party’s starting!” In a gauzy white dress and fitted denim jacket, she stood like a beacon in the sand, hands cupped around her mouth. Her voice skipped across the waves. “Where are you? Elyse!”

She wasn’t my blood cousin—Her mother, Lemon, was Dad’s best friend, all the way back from their graduate-school days in Miami—and before this summer I’d only seen Kirby twice: the first time five years ago when they’d visited the islands, and then again a year later when our two families met up at Disneyland, my first visit to America.

But I’d been in Oregon a month already now, living in her house, our toothbrushes cohabitating in the zebra cup in the bathroom, and still she couldn’t get my name right. Uh-leese, it was like.

Close enough, maybe. It just didn’t sound-feel-comfort like home.

Sing for us, Ay-leese. . . .

Ay-leese, stop drowning yourself in hot sauce. Give it to me!

Granna, you hear? Our Ay-leese, she got a boyfriend.

Ay-leese, breathe! Fucking breathe, Ay-leese. . . .

“But it’s the Solstice! And there’s . . . cake?” Kirby’s voice lacked conviction. She’d been searching the edges of the marina for twenty ­minutes, and I felt a little thrill that she hadn’t found me.

Unseen in the shadows, I crept to the slip that held the old Albin Vega—last place on earth she’d check, since from a strictly “ownership” perspective the boat wasn’t mine. I waited until Kirby finally retreated, white dress vanishing like a sail in the mist, and then I climbed onto the deck and ducked through the companionway into the saloon.

Freedom.

For a holiday that was supposed to, according to Aunt Lemon, “honor the full strength of the Sun God,” the Oregon night was a bruise. I took in the blackness that seeped into the boat, the salty air, the mustiness that clung to torn seat cushions.

But for the damp suck of the sea, all was soundless.

The Vega rocked gently in the tumult, steadying herself, and my view of the sky—pink-purple-black through the starboard window—straightened.

Tipped.

Straightened again.

The ship was a castaway among the polished vessels surrounding us, a forgotten relic here in Atargatis Cove. I didn’t even know her proper name. Queen of was all it said on the hull, once-gold letters peeling from the aqua-blue fiberglass. Could’ve been the Queen of Hearts or the Queen of the Damned for all I knew. But there was something special about that emptiness,

the unknown,

the unsaid.

Potential undefined.

She was abandoned, a fate we shared, which made her the perfect hideaway.

The boat jostled as a wave hit, and I took a deep breath, fought a shiver. The sea can’t hurt me here. . . . I repeated the mantra in my head until fear left my limbs. Until I could breathe again.

I lit the big candle I’d brought from Mermaid Tears—Lemon’s shop—to chase away the mustiness. OCEAN BREEZE, it said. It smelled like chemically enhanced coconut.

Soft yellow light flickered into the saloon.

Everything was as I’d left it. Straightened up, wiped