Mom would slather us in coconut scented sunscreen and open the giant green and blue umbrella that we used to keep track of her while we were in the water. My little brother would get his sand bucket, and we'd build castles for awhile, until we were hot enough to jump in the waves.
As I got older, I did less sandcastle building and more swimming. Farther and farther out, until the lifeguards would get annoyed and whistle me in. Mom would watch, her face pulled into a frown.
I tried to explain that I couldn't help it. That I was fine. No tide would pull me under. Until it did one day. Last summer.
Mom swears it was a rip current. A freak accident.
I know better. There had been something in the water. A thin, bony hand had wrapped around my ankle and yanked. And at that cool touch, my whole world was turned upside down. I wasn't just me anymore. Not just human. That creature with its iridescent, beautiful tale hadn't meant to drown me. It had meant to find me. And without speaking, she had told me many things.
Only one did I repeat to my mother. The lifeguard drug me onshore, checking my airways for water that wasn't there, coaxing me into pretending to cough up water. I'd rolled over, sand sticking in my hair and all over my body like brown sugar, and blurted, "I'm adopted?"
Mom hadn't answered. Just turned white as a sheet and stared back out at the waves. Like she knew.
I'm forbidden from the water now. And I love my mother, if that's really who she is, so I'll obey for the moment. But I'm not in the water. Just standing under the pier, listening to the mesmerizing sound of waves on sand and watching.