I awoke feeling warm and safe, in my cabin. Darren was watching me with his concerned blue eyes, searching my face. I struggled to sit up, feeling groggy.
"Thank God you're alright," Darren groaned, squeezing my hand in his own. "I thought I'd lost you." I smiled. He was really cute when he played the concerned lover.
"I'm fine," I said, squeezing his hand in return. he reached behind him and handed me the black pearl.
"I found this in your hand. Is it yours?"
My brow furrowed. "I guess, in a way, it is."
"What do you mean?" he asked, searching my gaze.
I hesitated, the story hovering at the front of my mind, waiting to be told... but at the same time i felt an unease. Mermaids were legends. What if he thought I had inhaled too much water.
"What?" he asked again.
I drew a breathe. "It's a strange story. Promise me you won't think any less of me?" He nodded. So I began. The tale rolled off my tongue, the details of the mermaids, and finally, Amii's last words to me before pushing me back on board. After I finished, Darren stared into space.
"I shouldn't have told you," I whispered, taking my hand out of his. "You don't believe me." Darren looked me straight in the eye and took a deep breathe.
"I believe you," he said. "I've been in this sea long enough to know at least some of its secrets. I'm just not sure how well the crew will take it. They already think you're some sort of witch because you came up clutching a pearl that is only found at the bottom of the ocean. Not ot mention you were thrown on board by a near-tidal wave."
I clutched the pearl tighter, a slice of anger hitting my heart. "I'm not a witch!" I cried.
"Shhh," he whispered. "I don't think you are. I love you. the crew is a superstitious lot. They were unhappy enough to let you on. It's considered bad luck to have a lady on board." He stood, gently squeezing my hand. "Wear something more masculin today. The men will be less attracted." He leaned over and kissed my lips, gently, but firmly, then strode out of the room, closing the door behind him.
I lay back down, my hair spreading like red octopus tentacles across the pillows, and closed my eyes. I was beginning to regret even coming on this ship.
Several minutes later I stood, and as Darren has asked, donned sealskin pants and a loose fitting white shirt, along with leather boots instead of a dress. I braided my hair into a long braid that fell to my waist and gazed at my brown calloused hands. If I was going to be on this ship, why not be a part of the crew?
I stepped out onto the deck, and a few of the men looked at me curiously, eyebrows raised. Others stopped talking as I drew near and gave me lingering suspicious looks. I ignored both types and strode right up to the helm as I had the day before. The captain was gazing at the horizon through a small collapsable telescope.
"Aye, Marina," he said, setting the telescope beside him and looking at me. "What is a lady like you doing dressed like that?" I smiled.
"If a lady is, as the crew says, bad luck to the ship, why should I dress like a lady?" I gazed up at him with haughty green eyes. He looked surprised.
"Why, I supposed you would not want to dirty yourself," Captain said, gazing down at me. I suddenly wished I were taller, but laughed.
"Ask Darren and he'll tell you that I've been climbing trees and doing most unladylike things since I was quite young," I said.
The Captian raised an eyebrow. "Have ye?"
"Aye," I said, grinning. "So, I'll not be a lady on this ship. I'll be part of the crew if you'd like." The Captian turned back to the sea, looking thoughtful.
I noticed much of the crew was listening into the conversation and trying not to seem like they were eavesdropping. I was pretty sure the Captian had noticed too. He turned to his sailors.
"What do you think, lads?" he asked.
For a moment everyone stopped what they were doing and looked shiftily at one another. Then Darren stepped forward.
"I think that's an excellent idea," he said, grinning at me, and I knew I'd made a good decision. The crew, especially the surperstitious lot, looked uneasy, so he continued. "If she doesn't act the lady, then luck is with us." At that, the crew had to agree.
"Then it's settled," Captain said. As he turned back to the helm, I was sure I heard him say:
"You're a smart one, lass. A very smart one."
I was grinning as I strode down the campanionway. The men cast me a look that said plainly:
"Welcome to the crew!"