Authors: Helene Boudreau
Copyright © 2010 by Hélène Boudreau
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Source of Production: Webcom, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Date of Production: October 2010
Run Number: 13662
Printed and bound in Canada.
WC 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
For Lauren, who always laughs in all the right places
“Just keep swimming.”
BOLTED UPRIGHT IN THE
bathtub and hacked a mouthful of water. A wave sloshed onto the tile floor.
“Jade?” Dad’s knock sounded from the other side of the bathroom door. “You okay, honey?”
“Yea…yeah,” I managed to say between coughs, embarrassed that I’d fallen asleep in the tub, freaked out that I must have slipped underwater. I took a long, shaky breath. “I’m fine, Dad. Thanks.”
A shiver ran along my damp arm as I pulled a strand of hair from my mouth. What would have happened if I hadn’t woken up? My thoughts turned instantly to Mom.
No. I couldn’t go there…
“Can I get you anything?” Dad asked.
I rubbed my eyes and instantly regretted it. Epsom salt. Tear ducts. Ye-owch. Real smooth, Jade. But at least the cramps were gone.
“No, I’m good.” I blinked through the haze to the counter where Dad’s drugstore bag spilled over with Super Maxi
32-packs and extra-long panty liners. Hadn’t I tortured the poor guy enough for one day?
“Call if you need me.” Dad’s footsteps moved away from the door and continued down the hall.
But I wouldn’t. I shouldn’t.
Yes, getting my first period was a big deal, but I was almost fourteen, for crying out loud. I didn’t need to run to daddy every time I had a puberty crisis. It had been a year since Mom drowned; it was time for me to start figuring things out on my own. Dad had enough to deal with.
Dim light from the streetlamp shone through the pebbled glass of the bathroom window. My eyes burned, plus my legs had gone numb and felt like they’d been set in a block of cement. It was late. I should get dried off, head to bed, and finally put an end to this cruddy day.
I braced my hands on the side of the tub and shook my legs to get the blood flowing, but the sight that broke through the foamy surface of the water made me forget the pep talk I’d just given myself about not bothering…
The world tipped on its axis as I worked to make sense of what I was seeing. I blinked, trying to focus. What the heck had happened while I’d been asleep? Was I having some kind of allergic reaction to Epsom salt? Had someone slipped hallucinogenic drugs into that Slurpee at the mall?
Those and other crazy thoughts shuffled through my brain as I struggled to understand why, instead of legs, the
lower half of my body was now encased in a shimmering tail of iridescent scales.
“Ohmigod! Dad!!” I shrank back against the tub, disgusted by what I saw, but the tail moved with me. A sharp breath threw me into another fit of coughing. I shook my head.
Dad’s footsteps clattered along the wooden floor in the hall.
“What is it?” His voice rang through the door.
“Call 911!” The words escaped between coughs.
The knob rattled. “Unlock the door, Jade! Let me in!”
I tried to haul myself over the side of the tub to stretch my hand toward the door, but my lower half flickered uselessly in the water.
Dad jiggled something in the lock, no doubt one of his trillion Swiss Army knife attachments, but it proved useless judging by the curse words he muttered. Finally, he rammed his weight against the door. A rush of air filled the room as the door flew open and slammed against the wall.
I pulled a towel to my chest from the towel bar above the tub as Dad stumbled into the bathroom.
“Look!” I lifted the tail from the water and struggled to catch my breath.
Dad’s whole body jerked as he took in the blue-green scales shining from the tail. He collapsed onto the toilet seat and leaned heavily against the vanity.
“Do something!” I wailed.
Dad sat, frozen in place. He stared, mouth open, at my half-girl, half-fish body. After what seemed like forever, he spoke.
“Oh, Jade…I’m so sorry…” He ran a hand through his hair. “Your mom and I were always afraid something like this might happen to you.”
…4 hours Pre-Tail
so clueless, I might have seen it coming.
My first period that is. Not the tail. Never in a million years did I ever see
included in my life plan.
My period, though, should have been as plain as the zit on my face, which, no joke, took up half the real estate in that three-way mirror at Hyde’s Department Store. Four hours earlier, that’s where I’d stood, trying on bathing suits with the dressing room mirrors reflecting my gleaming white thighs into infinity.
My muffin top of baby fat, peeking out from the two-piece tankini I was trying on, wasn’t helping.
“Jade! Come out and show me.” My best friend, Cori, called out from the other side of the dressing room door.
I pulled the tankini top down, trying to cover up my belly bulge. It sprang back with a snap.
“You’re kidding, right?” There was no way I was letting
anyone see me in that thing. Who ever dreamed big girls could pull off midriff-baring, green sequins, anyway?
Why was I even doing this? I hated swimming.
“Come on, Jade. It can’t be that bad.” I could see Cori’s tapping foot under the dressing room door. The drinking straw from her Slurpee squawked as she jammed it up and down through the cup’s plastic cover.
“It’s bad.” I blew a curl from my forehead. This was bathing suit number eleven. Things were
going well. “You know, my dad has a conference in Dallas the day of your pool party. We could save ourselves a lot of trouble if I just went with him.”
“Forget it. The perfect suit is out there.” I was beginning to feel like a Cori Blake Fashion Project. “I won’t give up until we find it.”
Cori’s straw went silent. Her open-toe slingbacks spun around and pointed out into the store.
“Jade…” she whispered through the door.
“Who?” I tugged at the tankini some more. It was no use.
“Luke. You know, he’s a year ahead of us? I thought he went on some sailboat cruise or something.” Port Toulouse was known for its great sailing, but taking six months off school to sail the high seas was still big news.
” I muttered. “Can you hear my eyes rolling?”
The guy was so full of himself he could barely remember my name. Or, maybe he’d just blocked it from his memory after that unfortunate spin-the-bottle incident at Jenn McFadden’s eleventh birthday party. How was I supposed to know I’d trip over the bottle? Or that a face-on collision with my braces would send him to the emergency room for stitches?
“Yeah, you should see his tan.”
I tried to follow along as Cori went on about Luke’s sun-bleached hair and cute surfer shorts, but the only thing occupying my mind at that moment was the fact that—even through all the miracles of modern science— they
hadn’t invented a bathing suit that didn’t creep up your butt. Maybe my brilliant engineer dad could get to work on
instead of trying to unify the theories of the universe.
“Here. Hold this.” Cori handed me her Slurpee over the dressing room door. A few napkins fluttered to the floor.
“You’re not leaving me here, are you?” I rubbed my temples to ease the pounding headache building up behind my right eyeball.
“Be right back.”
I took a swig of the Slurpee but the sickeningly sweet sludge made me gag.
Ew. Ew. Ew.
Definitely not the effect I was going for. I plunked the cup on the bench along with the fallen napkins and yanked off the tankini, cursing the fact that I’d agreed to
do this in the first place. But it was Cori’s first pool party
in a few weeks, which meant wearing a bathing suit, which meant a trip to Hyde’s since I’d thrown out all my suits from the year before. Not like they would have fit anymore, anyway.
I heard a sound.
Nope. Probably just the dressing room attendant picking up the merchandise from the stall next to mine. Guilt set in, so I started to hang bathing suits from the pile on the floor, but the straps kept slipping off the hangers. Between that and Cori holding me hostage until we found the perfect bathing suit (she hid my shoes), I was working on a full-on crank session.
So yeah, mood swings, zit, headache…oh, and cramps— did I mention cramps? The “first period” evidence was mounting; I just didn’t know it yet.
know was if I didn’t get out of that dressing room
, I was sure to slip into a spandex-induced coma.
Finally, Cori’s slingbacks reappeared.
“I can’t believe you ditched me for that guy,” I complained.
“Sorry, just had to get a closer look. Did you know he has a brother?”
“Older or younger?”
“Older. His name is Trey.”
“Hopefully, a less obnoxious version of Luke. Can I have my shoes back?”
“Come on, Cori.” I closed my eyes and rested my head against the door. “I’ve already demolished the whole swimwear section. There can’t be much left out there.”
“I didn’t forget about you,” Cori said. Clinking hangers sounded from the other side of the door. “Here, try this one. It’s got three-way stretch and a shelf bra.” Cori slapped a suit over the top of the dressing room door. The girl was incessant.
“It’s got jiggy written across the butt.”
“That’s the brand name,” Cori said.
“You’re kidding, right?”
“What? It’s cute!” Cori insisted.
“On you, maybe. There’s no way I’m stretching jiggy across my behind.” Another one for the pile.
“Okay, okay. Try this one.” She whacked another suit over the door. “It’s got a minimizer waist and shirring across the top to enhance your bust line.” Cori was obviously keeping up with the current season of
on the Zest Channel.
“It’s another one of those tankinis.” I dropped the suit to my side when I noticed the two pieces. Muffin top alert.
“Yeah, but I got it in a tall so the top should be long enough to cover your stomach. Try it on.”
I couldn’t even get mad at her for pointing out my “problem area.” Cori might have been a total knockout but she didn’t ever make me feel bad about how I looked. I knew she was just trying to help.
“Okay. But after this, I am done. I’ll walk out of here barefoot if I have to.” I pulled on the tankini bottoms over my granny panties (100% cotton and maximum butt coverage) then turned to check out my profile.
Okay. Not bad.
I reached for the top and pulled it off its hanger. Pretty good, so far. Deep coral blue with a filmy over-layer across the top. I was about to pull it on over my head when the tag stitched to the inside of the lining stopped me. The brand name was scrawled across the tag in white cursive writing.
My mother’s name.
I stared at the letters, unable to tear my eyes away. It brought me instantly to that day at Gran’s cottage in Dundee. The rowboat ride. Mom’s smiling face, framed with long, ebony hair. The late afternoon swim. The sudden yell. The splashing. I blinked the sting of the memory away. A little cough-like, choking sound got caught in the back of my throat.
Don’t cry. Don’t cry.
“Have you been sucked into a portal in there or do you have that thing on yet?” Cori asked.
“Look.” I stuck my hand over the door and showed her the tag.
“Oh!” Cori and I had known each other ever since our
moms met at a Stroller Striders walking club back when we were in diapers. I practically lived at her house for months after Mom drowned. She understood right away. “You
to try it on now.”
“I’m not sure…” I held the suit to my face, expecting the familiar scent of Mom’s Peachtree Pro-vitamin shampoo or something. But of course, the suit gave no hints that it was anything but just that. A bathing suit.
“Just try it! I promise I’ll give you back your shoes if it doesn’t fit.”
“Okay,” I whispered. My hands trembled as I shrugged into the bathing suit top. The fabric slipped down along my upper body, the straps nestled perfectly into the curve of my shoulders. And best of all, the hem met the top of the tankini bottoms with an inch to spare.
“Let’s see!” Cori yelled.
This time, I opened the door and stepped out. Cori’s eyes grew wide as she looked me over.
“It’s perfect.” Her face broke into a huge smile.
“Yeah?” I turned to look at myself in the mirror again. The color, the style, the material: it was like someone had made it especially for me. And with my mom’s name stitched on the tag, there was no way this wasn’t The One. “Mom would have loved this,” I murmured.
“Does this mean you’ll come to my pool party?” Cori asked.
“The odds are improving.” I turned from side to side, checking my reflection from each angle.
“Oh, yay! This is going to be so much fun!” Cori hugged me hard and we did that little jumpy, huggy thing we always did when we were excited. Who knew a bathing suit could bring on so much joy?
Only, that jumpy, huggy thing must have brought on something else because all of a sudden, I felt a gush of something warm and damp between my legs.
“What?” Cori asked.
Ding, ding, ding!
My period. My first period. Right there, in the middle of Hyde’s Department Store. I ducked back into the dressing room and slammed the door.
“I’m just so…”
Oh, no. Oh, no. Oh, no.
I pulled off the bathing suit bottoms. A darkened stain ran off the side of the hygienic strip. Then I checked my granny panties and yup—a bright, red spot.
Great. Just great.
“What are you doing in there?” Cori asked.
I should say something. But I couldn’t. Not since the Lie.
We were twelve. Sleepover. Confession time. Cori had
just gotten her first period, and all the older girls had theirs already, so I kind of (just a teensy bit) let on that I’d had my period too. Yes, it was wrong. Yes, I felt like a big, fat loser. But I figured it was only a matter of time. How was I supposed to know I’d have to perpetuate the myth for almost
two more years?
I poked my head out the dressing room door and tried to look normal.
“Just taking off the
so we can finally get out of here.” I forced a smile and shut the door. I yanked the stack of Super Sonic Slurpee napkins from under the cup and stuffed them in my underwear.
Cori’s cell phone rang. I hurried to get dressed and hung up the tankini, fastening it with the hanger’s large metal clips. Cori chatted for a couple of minutes, then snapped her phone shut.
“That was Lainey,” Cori called through the door. “She’s gonna meet us at the food court.”
“Lainey?” I wasn’t sure I was ready to fess up to Cori right then, but I
didn’t want to spill my guts in front of Lainey Chamberlain.
What to do…what to do…
“I’m sorry,” Cori said. “I forgot to tell you I called her to get my dress sketches back. Do you mind?” Lainey’s mom was a fashion designer with her own studio and boutique. She had been reviewing Cori’s portfolio.
“Oh, no, no. It’s not that.” I gathered up the Michaela bathing suit and stepped out of the dressing room,
avoiding Cori’s gaze. I needed to buy some time to figure out what to do. Time to decide how to tell Cori I’d been lying to her all this, um, time. “Why don’t you go meet up with Lainey while I pay? I’ll catch up with you guys once I’m done.”
“No, it’s okay. I’ll wait,” Cori said.
Not the right answer! I couldn’t just walk around the mall with a Super Sonic Slurpee napkin wedgie. I needed to get myself to a washroom first to get order restored in my nether regions. Maybe I could get something from that big, white maxi pad–vending machine box thingie. Hopefully I had a quarter.
“Nah, I’m going to be a bit. I still have to find my dad to tell him where we’ll be. Plus,” I lowered my voice, “I don’t know if it was that breakfast burrito I had this morning, but I
need to use the facilities.”
Cori laughed and handed me my shoes. “Meet us at Paco’s Tacos.”
I arranged the tankini on the conveyor belt at the checkout, making sure the stain on the bottoms was well hidden by the top. Whatever the price, I couldn’t leave that bathing suit behind. Especially since:
Those three things, combined, pretty much sealed the deal.
“Did you find everything you were looking for?” the cashier (or
Hello, my name is: Gladys
I nodded and stared at the conveyor belt as it whirred forward. Gladys picked up the tankini and started pulling it off the hanger.
“I need that hanger!” I blurted.
“That’s fine, honey.” She continued to pull at the suit. “But all items must be removed from their hangers to scan them. Company policy.”
The tankini bottoms fell in a heap on the conveyor belt. I grabbed for them.
“Is this a two-piece?” Gladys reached for the bottoms and looked at me funny when I wouldn’t let go. I dropped my hand and smiled weakly. She donned her glasses, hanging from a gold chain around her neck, and turned the two pieces over and over, trying to find a tag.
She’s going to see. She’s going to see.
Gladys yelled over to the next checkout.
“Sylvia? Are we selling this as a two-piece?” She waved the top and bottom in each hand, high up in the air. I blinked away the sparkly dancing squiggles from my vision and tried not to puke.
Sylvia looked up from her register. “Call Swimwear.”
Swimwear to checkout 3. Swimwear, checkout 3. Customer waiting.
Gladys’ voice rang over the intercom.