"You look half-starved," Marina's mother says. I blush, and nervously follow Marina into her house as she gives me a reassuring smile.
"So, Aya, what type of food do you like to eat?" Marina's mother says from the kitchen. I can hear the muted sound of metal clanging against each other.
"What's that sound?" I whisper nervously to Marina. She smiles at my obvious confusion.
"That's the sound of pots and pans banging against each other," she says.
"Pots and pans? Wouldn't they break if they were banged against each other?" I say, still confused. What do the strange land animals think pots and pans are made out of -- metal?
"They wouldn't because they're made of metal up here on the land. Don't worry, you'll get used to it."
I certainly hope so, I think.
"Aya darling, what do you say to chicken? Is that alright with you?" Marina's mother calls.
"Chicken?" I say, stricken with confusion. "What are they?"
"Oh, sorry dear, I forgot that you were a mermaid too. They are land animals that land people farm and then eat," Marina's mother explains.
"You eat animals?" I say, astounded.
"It sounds worse than it is," Marina reassures me. "At least you don't have to eat shrimps and fish."
I put on what I assume is an appalled expression. "Eat shrimps and fish? I'd never think about eating any sea-life. It would be like eating myself since I'm half fish."
"That's totally cool with me. " Marina says, smiling slightly.
"A term us land teenagers sometimes use," Marina explains. "Great minds think alike, I suppose. I don't eat fish either. I was just seeing whether you functioned like Owen, who I caught about to eat fish yesterday."
"That's horrible. Absolutely horrible," I say.
"You're right," Marina says, agreeing with me. "I can't believe merfolk could even think like that."
"So, Aya, that means you're vegetarian?" Marina's mother's voice comes from the kitchen.
"Vegetarian," I confirm. "Totally."
Marina and I lie on her bed, full and content. The chicken didn't look so bad, but I still didn't want to try it because I knew that it was an animal slaughtered to eat.
"So, what do you want to talk about?" Marina says, after a long pause. We'd run out of topics to talk about and were just lying there, staring up at her red ceiling.
"Nothing much." There is a long pause. Then I wonder why her ceiling is red, not white like the ceiling of the 'school' place that I was just at. "Why is your ceiling red, Marina?"
"My ceiling?" she says, as if noticing it for the first time. "Well, that's red because it matches my element."
"Fire," she says.
"Ouch, that must hurt when you use it," I say, thinking of the burning plasma called fire that I'd only seen once before. "There are hardly any mermaids in the sea with that element, because it would just be extinguished before they used it."
"I know," Marina says, somewhat bitterly. "That's why I don't like being a mermaid. I feel a weird pull towards the water, but once I'm in it, I know I'm powerless. It isn't just a knowing, either. I can feel that I'm powerless. I've got nothing to protect me. I'm vulnerable."
"You could get someone else to protect you," I suggest, trying to be helpful, but the expression that comes across Marina's face suggests that I might have said the wrong thing.
"I don't want someone to protect me, because then I'd be dependent on them. If anyone is going to survive in this world, they have to be independent. What happens if my allocated guardian leaves me?"
I shift uncomfortably. It isn't that the bed is uncomfortable -- gosh, no, the bed is the most comfortable bed I've ever felt in my life. It's way better than sleeping on the tufts of coral that we collect every month back at home. No, not home, I tell myself. The sea was a lonely place where no-one loved you. It wasn't a home. You don't want to go back there.
"Do you think we should go and meet up with the others?" I say unexpectedly. Sometimes when my mind lets me down on things to say, my unstoppable mouth can be a good thing to have handy.
Marina blinks as if aroused from a deep sleep. "Sorry? The others?" She quickly looks at something on the wall which features a moving stick and weird symbols. "I suppose they'd be back by now... Yeah, why not. It's better than staying here all day."
"Okay," I agree, not wanting to go back to the uncomfortable topic of Marina's powerlessness in the water.
She gets off the bed and trudges over to the desk and picks up a little rectangular object. "You like it? It's new." Marina shows me the rectangular thing, and it flashes in the sunlight.
"I suppose so..." I say, eying it uncertainly.
"Thanks," she says, then presses a little button and slides her finger deftly along its glass screen. She puts it to her ear and hums a little impatient tune as her eyes wander around the room. Suddenly they focus. "Hello? Is that Cindy? Hi Cindy. Can you come over to the cove? I want to chat. Okay, see you there. Spread the word to ... you know, the others. And, Cindy? Sorry about being so mean to Aya. It wasn't like that, I swear. Yeah, okay, I'll see you soon. Bye." She chews her lip nervously as she says the last part, her composure changing.
She puts the rectangle of glass down on her table and smiles brightly at me. "Let's get ready for a trip to the beach!"