Dressed in a billowing Hawaiian shirt, with a red handkerchief around his neck and dangling earrings, he zoomed across the blank brown beach. His arms were stretched out wide, his brown hair—held back by a truly ridiculous black headband—fluttering in the wind. He had a handlebar moustache. He was wearing thigh high roller skates.
Mermista ran after him. She couldn’t let him get away this time. But her feet sank into the sand, she was so slow, she wasn’t fast enough—
“Who are you?” she bellowed. “What the fuck are you doing?”
“No,” Mermista moaned, “no, not yet—“
She was awake. She stared at the ceiling.
“Stupid nightmare,” she said, and then, “fuck.”
“Let me see,” said Perfuma, “what else?” She stirred more sugar into her tea. “Catra and Adora are fighting…”
“Didn’t they have some big fight, like, last week?”
“You know they struggle with showing affection,” Perfuma told her solemnly. “I offered them a discount on couples counseling with Shadow Weaver at Bright Moon, but they didn’t seem interested.”
Bright Moon was the hippie gym—sorry, “mind, body and spirit care center”—where Perfuma worked as a yoga instructor.
“I don’t blame them. Shadow Weaver gives me the creeps.” Mermista took a sip of her tea. It was nice and bitter, and hot. Like her.
“How are you?” said Perfuma.
“Ugh,” said Mermista. She put her head in her hands. “I had the stupid dream again.”
Perfuma peered at her. “Why do you think it keeps happening?”
“I don’t know. I think maybe it’s my cosmic punishment for, like, fashion hubris?”
“You know, being too good at fashion. And, like, smug about it.”
“I don’t think nightmares are a punishment for hubris,” said Perfuma. “They usually come from the subconscious. You’re sure you’ve never seen him before?”
“I would have remembered him,” said Mermista. “Trust me.”
“It’s always the same?”
“Always. He rolls past me, in roller skates, on the beach, who does that—and he’s in this—god awful getup, like he just crawled out of the sales section of a Florida tourist shop, or—that’s not it, it’s like—Hot Topic. But neon. And for pirates. And do you want to know the worst part?”
Perfuma looked a little concerned.
“What’s,” she said hesitantly, “what’s the worst part?”
Mermista leaned in. “The worst part…is that he sort of pulls it off.”
Perfuma stared at her for several moments.
“Mermista,” she said finally, “are you sure you’re doing okay?”
“I’m fine,” said Mermista.
It was mostly true. She saw a therapist once in a blue moon. She had too many friends to know what to do with, good friends, even though Bow and Glimmer were disgustingly well-adjusted and Entrapta was still dating that creepy guy from Horde Fitness. She had a job that she liked and was good at. She had no logical reason to be lonely.
“Well,” said Perfuma, her eyes still narrow with worry that should have been endearing, but was irritating—what was wrong with Mermista?—“hopefully tonight will get your mind off it.”
“Ugh,” said Mermista out of habit. “When are we meeting Scorpia and her, you know, her friend?”
“Six.” Perfuma checked the slender pink FitBit on her wrist. “Not long.”
“And what was Scorpia’s friend’s name again?”
“S—“ Perfuma caught herself. “Nice try. I’m not telling you anything. It’s supposed to be a surprise.”
“I’m going to hate her.”
“Darn it,” said Perfuma.
Mermista hated blind dates. But Perfuma had a system for new relationships, which involved friends babysitting her on her dates so that they could assure her that she had done nothing wrong when she was sitting heartbroken by the phone.
Perfuma got rejected a lot.
Anyway, if Mermista hated blind dates, she absolutely loathed being a third wheel. And Scorpia had sworn up and down that Mermista would like her friend. Apparently, they had a lot in common.
“Sorry, guys,” said Scorpia when she showed up—ten minutes late!—at the entrance of the theme park, Salineas. “So sorry! I got held up. I had to swaddle Catra in blankets and spoon-feed her ice cream. So sorry. I came as fast as I could. Again, so, so sorry. Here are the tickets. I’m sorry. You—“ She stopped dead in her tracks and turned bright red. “You look great, Perfuma.”
“Thanks,” said Perfuma, breathless. She had to shield her face from the sun to look Scorpia in the eyes. “So do you.”
As a member of their friend group, even a fringe one, Scorpia was a risk. So Mermista surveyed her with practiced skepticism, looking for signs. Lateness was not a good sign. Talking about another girl—her ex, no less—was not a good sign. Closeness to an ex, in general, was a pretty fucking terrible sign. Scorpia’s numerous apologies were…almost enough to make up for it. Her outfit—a cute, well-fitting black top, a skirt like a toga revealing a slice of her leg all the way up, and an old fashioned black hat with a wide brim that made her look like Audrey Hepburn—was…acceptable. Barely.
“Where’s your friend?” said Perfuma.
“Oh,” said Scorpia, “see, I was supposed to pick him up, but I was late, and by the time I got to his place, he’d already left.”
“Ugh,” said Mermista.
“I’m sure he’ll show up soon, if we just wait…”
“You guys go,” said Mermista. “I’ll wait for him.”
“Are you sure? I’m sorry—“
“Ugh! Stop apologizing. What does he look like?”
Scorpia looked uncomfortable.
“He’s got, uh, kind of brown hair,” she said. “And a moustache.”
Scorpia’s hand went awkwardly to the back of her neck. “I mean, he’s hard to miss.”
That wasn’t ominous.
“What’s his name?” Mermista tried.
“Oh! Sea Hawk.”
“Like the football team?”
“Yeah. But two words.”
Mermista and Perfuma locked eyes. Perfuma wilted apologetically in her pretty dress, with her pretty flower earrings and her makeup that Mermista had helped her do.
Mermista reached deep inside of herself for strength she didn’t know she had.
“Okay, then,” she said. “I’ll stay here…and wait for…Sea Hawk.”
“Here’s his ticket,” said Scorpia, pressing it into her hand. “And again, I am so—“
“Ugh,” said Mermista.
After fifteen more minutes had passed, Mermista started to get really mad.
Because she’d dressed up for this. She looked nice. And just because Mermista hated blind dates didn’t mean her date was allowed to. It was rude, okay?
And, if she was being honest, there was—like—a little part of her, a really tiny fraction, that had hoped that she’d maybe sort of like the guy. Maybe even sort of like him enough to go on a few dates and have someone to talk to for a little while before the whole thing ended in fire.
Oh, well. At least she had something to bitch about now besides the stupid dream.
“SCORPIA!” came a yell from the crowd.
Mermista looked, and she saw him.
It was him.
He was wearing a blue crop jacket with a gold trim and a white top that was jagged at the bottom, like someone had taken scissors to it—and it had a square neckline and a triangular chest window. There was the red handkerchief, and that wasn’t a thing, okay, and the little bangle earrings, and the handlebar moustache that made him look like an off brand Hercule Poirot. His boots weren’t roller skates this time, thank God, but they were obnoxious. In the absence of his usual black headband, he’d tried to gel his hair back, but, like. It hadn’t worked. His hair kept flopping down onto his face.
“Oh, my God,” said Mermista.
She grabbed him by his collar as he passed. He flailed.
“It’s you,” she said.
“I’m sorry,” he said, hanging from her grip, “do I know you?”
“Yeah, you do, you’re—“
“You’re Sea Hawk,” she said.
“I am,” he said, twisting to face her, “I am. And you are—“
Whatever words he was about to say didn’t make it out. His eyes widened and got all round and bright. A blush rose to his cheeks.
“I’m Mermista,” said Mermista.
“M—Mermista,” Sea Hawk stammered.
Mermista let him go. He straightened his jacket, his eyes still fixed on her like she was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen, or something else stupid. Mermista was hot, but, like, not that hot. He had to stop looking at her like that.
“Oh, my God,” said Mermista. “You. You’re Sea Hawk. Sea Hawk is—you.”
“I—yes.” He looked distinctly less confident the second time. “I’m Sea Hawk.”
“Do you recognize me?”
Mermista folded her arms. “You’ve never seen me before?”
He gulped. “Never.”
“I would—I would remember,” said Sea Hawk. “Why? Have you—seen me?”
Mermista blinked at him.
“Whatever,” she said. “I’m, like, going crazy.”
She slapped his ticket into his hand. “Here’s your ticket. Let’s—get in line, or whatever.”
Sea Hawk held his ticket aloft. “ONWARD,” he said, doing a little jig in place. “To ADVENTURE!”
“Ugh, just come on,” said Mermista.
He had to break into a jog to keep up with her, and somehow they had started holding hands. Which was, ugh, but Mermista’s hands were always cold, and Sea Hawk’s were warm, but in the nice way, not the sweaty way.
“Deepest apologies for my lateness,” said Sea Hawk. “I was mixed up by the bus. It spat me out somewhere I didn’t intend to be.”
Mermista had to let go of his hand so the lady at the entrance could stamp it. Sea Hawk stared at the stamp—a little cartoony octopus—with nothing short of awe. It explained the staring from earlier. Sea Hawk just looked at everything like that. It wasn’t disappointing. Whatever.
She got the stamp, too. It tickled her skin. The octopus was kind of cute. Sea Hawk grabbed her hand right after, anyway, so she couldn’t look at it for long.
“What’s with the outfit?” said Mermista.
“Thank you. Yours is lovely,” said Sea Hawk. “Not as lovely as you, of course.” He hesitated. “Is this your first time at Salineas?”
“Um,” said Mermista. “I work at Sea Gate, so, no.”
“Oh, really! I once was employed at the Dragon’s Daughter, myself.”
Mermista’s nose wrinkled. “The pub?”
“A fine establishment. But I was forced to leave after the fire.”
“Oh, yeah. What happened with that?”
“I set it on fire.”
“CHURROS!” He pointed.
“Uh,” said Mermista, and Sea Hawk was already gone. “Ugh.”
She called Perfuma.
“Mermista!” Perfuma shrieked gleefully.
“I lost him,” said Mermista. “Perfuma. It’s him.”
“Sea Hawk is him.”
“Ugh. I’ll explain later. Where are you?”
“We’re outside the Watery Grave.”
“Fuck. I love that ride. Wait for me, okay? I need one of those backpack leashes.”
“MERMISTA,” sang someone directly into her ear.
“FUCK,” Mermista yelled, and jumped half a foot in the air, dropped the phone and also slapped Sea Hawk across the face. He looked a little stunned, and more than a little awed.
“Churros,” he said, brandishing them.
Mermista bent and picked up her cell.
“You have got to give me warning next time,” she said. “Also, stop sneaking off.”
He nodded and offered her one of the churros. She took it. It was warm and greasy, oozing an intoxicating cinnamon scent.
“Bet I can finish mine first,” she said.
Sea Hawk’s eyes narrowed. A curl of gelled brown hair clung to his forehead.
“I am undefeated in eating contests of any kind,” Sea Hawk informed her gravely.
“Five bucks?” said Mermista.
Six hours later, Mermista remembered to check her phone and found twenty-four missed calls from Perfuma.
“Shit,” she said.
“This one?” Sea Hawk asked, lifting a floppy orange hat shaped like a starfish from the rack.
“No, the fish.” She hit redial. Perfuma picked up after only one ring.
“Mermista, it’s been hours. Where are you? Have you been kidnapped? Please say you haven’t been kidnapped.”
“I’m fine. I’m with Sea Hawk.” Sea Hawk gestured to the fish hat, which he had on backwards so that the tail jutted out like a prow. Mermista stifled a laugh and gave him a thumbs up. “I’m sorry I didn’t pick up. I didn’t hear it.”
“Oh.” Perfuma paused. “Are you and Sea Hawk having fun?”
“Ugh, no. He’s, like, so annoying.”
In the mirror, Sea Hawk’s face fell. Mermista quashed a wave of guilt.
“We were going to find you,” she continued, “but we kept getting sidetracked.”
Mermista refused to take the blame for that. It wasn’t her fault that Sea Hawk had, like, no dignity, and would do pretty much anything if he thought it would impress her, including but not limited to buying increasingly ridiculous items of clothing from vendors. He had also bought her a shell necklace that was not ridiculous at all, and they had competed for who could eat the most sushi, and then Mermista had won, like, fifty bucks off of him going on Horrors of the Deep over and over. He always bet that he wouldn’t scream, and he always did, and Mermista always died laughing until he got all red in the face and looked at her in that way that ruined the whole thing.
“Scorpia and I are leaving,” said Perfuma. “Do you want to meet us? Or if you’re having fun, you don’t have to.”
Mermista hesitated. Sea Hawk shot her a questioning glance from under the hat.
“We’ll meet you at the entrance in five minutes,” she said, and hung up.
The whole glow of the day was gone, all of a sudden, and Sea Hawk’s hand in hers as they walked back was, well, it was, like, complicated, because all of a sudden it occurred to her that maybe this had all been another dream.
She stopped before they reached the entrance. “Give me your number,” she said.
Sea Hawk nodded. He whisked out a feather pen, which was a ridiculous thing for him to have on hand, but this was Sea Hawk. “Do you have parchment on hand?”
She shoved her hand at him, the one with the octopus. He wrote on it very slowly, the tip gentle on her skin. When he was finished, he lifted her hand and pressed it to his lips.
Mermista swallowed. Her heart clenched.
“That’s,” she said. “That’s really stupid. Don’t do that.”
She snatched her hand back and ignored the look on his face.
“Thanks for the number, though,” she said. “Maybe I’ll call you.”