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Sleeping With the Fishes, Page 2

MaryJanice Davidson

  “And you’ve got your own life now,” Sam still droned. “We hardly ever see you.”

  “Work. Keeps me busy,” she mumbled.

  “Honey, it wasn’t a reprimand!”

  “Sounded like one.”

  “You’re a grown woman, you have your own life.”


  “And we have ours and we’re just not—we’re not ready for it just to be the two of us yet.” Her mother reached out and Sam, as he always did, took her hand. “It just feels wrong.”

  Ah, her life. Her wonderful life. She’d last been on a real date six years ago, her boss kept trying to fix her up, the fish at work were deep in rebellion mode, and whatever way you looked at it she was a freak.

  Freak. Abnormality. Anomaly. Glitch, Genetic hiccup.

  And this was why her folks wanted another kid? Because they thought they did such a hot job on the first one?

  Well, maybe it’d be fun to raise one that didn’t grow a tail and pick fights with tuna.

  “Okay, well, good luck and all.” Fred paused, waiting for a response. When none was forthcoming, she continued. “If you need a reference from, uh, someone you raised, I can write a letter. Or whatever.”

  “That’d be lovely, Fred.” Her mother hugged her. Fred stood stiffly for it, then sneezed when the blanket fuzz tickled her nose.

  “Mom. Kleenex.”

  “Never mind. Oh, I feel so much better now that the whole story is out! Don’t you feel better, baby?”


  Chapter Four

  Before leaving, Fred took a dip in the indoor saltwater pool. She could have jumped in the ocean just outside the back door, but didn’t feel like worrying about tourists. And it comforted her parents when she used it. Finally, it felt better than the ocean—no seaweed ready to entwine in her hair, no nosy codfish following her around, and she knew damn well the mercury levels in her own pool were just fine.

  Point of fact, she preferred pools to the open sea.

  The ocean was filled with horrors and fish shit. The pool was a controlled environment.

  Now if she could just get a handle on those rotten angelfish at work—

  That thought eventually propelled her back to her legs, and out of the pool, and into her clothes, and out the door. Her parents were nowhere to be found, meaning they had decamped to their bedroom and were finishing what Fred had interrupted.

  Excellent. Well, not excellent, but she disliked good-byes, and her mom always acted like she was hitchhiking across Europe instead of driving to Boston.

  With traffic, it was a ninety minute drive to the Quincy T-stop, a twenty minute ride to the Green Line, five minutes to the Blue, and then she popped out of the T at the New England Aquarium stop. It was late enough that she could hopefully slip in the employee entrance and get back to work without anybody—

  “Dr. Bimm!”


  She turned and beheld her boss, Dr. Barbara Robinson, a short woman with a blonde Valkyrie braid and almond-shaped brown eyes. Dr. Barb had her lab coat buttoned all the way to the top, as usual. Fred didn’t even know where hers was.

  Also as usual, Dr. Barb was trotting. Not walking fast, but almost running. She trotted everywhere: meetings, charity functions, feedings, seal shows. Fred couldn’t imagine what the “kind of hurry” was. The fish weren’t going anywhere. Neither were the tourists.

  “Hi, Dr. Barb.”

  “Dr. Bimm, I’d like you to meet our new water fellow, Dr. Thomas Pearson. Dr. Pearson, this is Dr. Fredrika Bimm.” She looked up at Pearson, blinking rapidly. “Dr. Bimm takes care of Main One for us.”

  “Fred,” Fred said, sticking out her hand. “I keep the big fish from chomping on the little fish.” She ignored Dr. Barb’s wince. Dr. Barb liked full titles (yawn) and to make people’s jobs sound more interesting than they were (double yawn). Fred’s job was to jump into the four-story tank, toss dead smelt at the fish, make sure the levels were good, and the sea turtles didn’t bully the sharks (sounded out of type, but it really happened on occasion). That was it. “Main One” indeed. The big freaking tank, that’s what it was.

  Dr. Pearson clasped her outstretched hand, winced at the chill (she didn’t take it personally; everyone did), and shook it like a pepper shaker. “Hi there. Please call me Thomas.”

  “Muh,” she replied. But then, he was gorgeous. Tall, really quite tall (she was lanky but he had a good three inches on her), with brown hair—except it wasn’t just brown; even in the yucky fluorescent lighting she could see the gold and red highlights—cut short and neat. A lab coat, she noted disapprovingly; but then, he was new, and Dr. Barb probably wrestled him into it. Brown eyes—but again, not just brown. Brown with gold flecks. The flecks twinkled at her and sized her up at the same time. Strong nose. Swimmer’s shoulders, long legs and narrow hips. And… dimples?

  “—new to the area so I hope you’ll help the NEA family show him what a wonderful part of the country this is, particularly this time of year,” Dr. Barb was yakking.

  “Yeah,” Fred said. What was she talking about? What time of year is it?

  Dr. Barb must have interpreted the usual blank expression on Fred’s face. “You know. New England in the fall, and all that.”

  “Um,” she replied.

  “Leaves changing? Autumn nip in the air? Kids going back to school, fresh beginnings?”


  “Dr. Bimm. You had no idea it was September already, did you?”

  “Not part of my job.”

  “Chatty, aren’t you?” Thomas twinkled. There was no other word for it: he was grinning and his dimples were showing and his big dark eyes were shining and he was twinkling at her.

  She shrugged.

  “I love your hair,” he said. “That’s the most amazing green I’ve ever seen.”

  Dr. Barb frowned, “Dr. Bimm has blue hair.”

  Thomas shook his head. “No, it’s the color of the grass on the first day of summer.” He lowered his voice. “I write romance novels under the name Priscilla D’Jacqueline.”

  “You what?”

  “But it’s blue,” Dr. Barb insisted.

  “Um, shut up about my hair now?” Fred suggested.

  “Right, right. Well, on with the tour.” Dr. Barb started her hallway trot, dragging Thomas by the elbow. “Thank you for your time, Dr. Bimm. We’ll leave you to your work.”


  “And don’t forget to say hello to the new intern.”

  “I won’t,” she lied.

  “It was nice to meet you, Fredrika!” he managed as he was dragged away.

  “Not Fredrika. Fred. Not Dr. Bimm,” she continued to the now-empty hallway. “Fred.”

  New water fellow. Yum.

  After a moment’s thought, she shoved Thomas out of her brain (he went fairly easily) and went back to work.

  Tried to, anyway. On the way to her lab, she nearly collided with a creature of unspeakable evil and annoyance: an undergrad.

  “Oh, hiiiiii!” the creature burbled, straightening her perfectly straight bangs and sticking out a small warm paw for Fred to shake. “Gosh, Dr. Bimm, right? Gosh! I’m super happy I have a chance to meet you! Yeah! Because I’m hoping to learn so much from you!” She laughed, as if the very idea was so exciting it could not be contained. “Yeah!”

  Fred stared at the creature. She pegged the woman at about nineteen. Short—she came up to the middle of Fred’s chest. Maybe—it was hard to tell from all the bouncing around she was doing. Elbow-length platinum blonde hair. No roots. A natural wave—almost a ripple—running through it, giving her hair bounce… unless it was the woman’s actual bouncing giving her bounce.

  A flawless complexion, of course. Big, wide blue eyes, of course, the color of the sky. A small, perfect nose. A small pointed chin. Not a freckle or a pimple to be seen. A perfect little figure beneath the lab coat that (groan) Dr. Barb had no doubt made her wear.

  Tiny (because of course her feet: we
re small and comely), perfect high heels. Black, of course, because interning was a Serious Business.

  “—and ohmigod I’ve wanted to work here since I—”

  “Was a little girl.”

  “Ohmigod, yeah! Because I—”

  “Loved dolphins.”

  “Yeah! Wow, they said you were, like, super smart or something but you’re rilly rilly smart, like a genius! Yeah!”

  “You’re not,” Fred asked with deep suspicion, “going to do a cheer or something, are you?”

  “How did you know?” Perfect Girl gasped, “that I was on the cheer team back home in Yarmouth?”

  “I’m rilly rilly smart.” Fred started backing away but Perfect Girl had taken that as an invitation to follow, and was stuck to Fred’s side like a barnacle. “Why don’t you, uh…”

  “Dr. Barb said I should watch you and Dr. Pearson and Jamie and all the others on my first day to figure out where you need me.”

  “What if we don’t need you?”

  “Oh Dr. Bimm, you’re rilly a riot! Ohmigod! Dr. Barb didn’t tell me you were so funny!”

  “Dr. Barb,” Fred warned, “is in a world of trouble when I see her again.”

  “So ohmigod you’re in charge of the big tank? You feed all the fish n’ stuff?”


  “But there’s, like, gotta be more to it than that, right?” Perfect Girl tossed her hair. “Because just anybody could feed fish, right?”

  “No, you pegged it. That’s all there is to it. That’s completely, totally all.”

  “Oh Dr. Bimm, you crack me up.”

  “I’d like to crack you up,” she muttered.

  “Ohmigod! I totally forgot.” Again, she stuck out her hand. “I’m Madison Fehr.”


  “No, F-E-H-R, but yeah, it’s pronounced like that. And Madison. You know. Madison.”

  Fred sighed. “As in the mermaid from Splash?”

  “Exactly!” Madison squealed. “I mean is that, like, all serendipitous or what? It totally totally is.”

  Fred was fairly certain she was rocketing toward an insulin reaction of some sort. She had to get away from this gibbering teenager before something terrible happened. To both of them.

  “Well, it was nice to meet you, Madison, but I have to get back to work.”

  “Oh, can I come with you? It’d be rilly rilly neat to see you work!”

  “No,” Fred said, recoiling. “You can’t.”

  “Well, poop.” Madison pouted, then instantly recovered. “I guess I’ll go see if I can learn the register in the gift shop, then.”


  “But if you change your mind and I can, like, help you, just let me know. I’ve like, got my Scoobie certification and everything!”



  “Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. S.C.U.B.A. Not Scoobie.”

  “Right! Anyway, I can do that. I totally totally can. So if you want some help, just page me and I’ll come right over.”

  “The inverse of that would be if I don’t page you, you’ll stay far far away?”

  “Ohmigod, you are so funny! Okay, nice to meet you, Dr. Bimm!” She was already trip-trapping away on her little heels, and waving over one shoulder. “Bye!”

  For a long, awful moment, Fred thought she might gag. She got control over herself and actually managed a half-hearted wave back.

  Chapter Five

  While she was struggling into her scuba suit, and trying to mentally scour Madison from her brain, it occurred to Fred that Thomas had actually noticed her real hair color.

  Which wouldn’t be so unusual, except nobody had ever, ever noticed her hair was green except her mother. In fact, when she complained about it, about the teasing and the crude jokes from strangers (“Do your cuffs and collar match?”) her mother had told her something silly and hippieish, to wit: “Your true love will be the man who truly sees you as you are.”

  Uh-huh, yank the other one, Mom.

  But Thomas had not only seen, he had commented. Repeatedly. Even after being corrected by his new boss. And no crass jokes, either.

  Her ridiculous hair was like the ocean: although it looked blue to most people it was, in reality, green. And dry as straw and fraught with split ends due to all the time she spent being wet, but that was another issue. And really, more her friend Jonas’s problem than hers. (Note to Fred, she thought: L’Oreal just isn’t doing the job; time to try the Philosophy line.)

  She was finally in her suit, a swollen sausage in its casing, everything where it belonged, all the dumb tubes in place (one or two tourists might notice that she wasn’t using a mask or oxygen tank), her fins on, the whole outfit useless and silly beyond belief and a lie, and she sat on the edge of the top level of the tank, at the very top floor of the NEA, and fell backward into Main One.

  And flailed around uselessly and fought the urge to grow a tail, to be real


  and staggered through a small school of angelfish and thrashed past a nurse shark and almost knocked a sea turtle sprawling and accidentally swam upside-down for a few seconds until she got her bearings. Because she could not swim without her tail.

  Just… couldn’t. She had tried. She’d taken lessons for years. Moon had tried to teach her (what a disaster that had been).

  It was no good. It was like her body knew she could grow a tail and fins and scales so what was the point of learning to swim with legs?

  And so she couldn’t.

  She was a mermaid, employed as a marine biologist, who couldn’t swim.

  She was also a gainfully employed member of the New England Aquarium, charged with the care and feeding of Main One inhabitants, who had forgotten the dead smelt.


  Well, the hell with it. She’d wait until everyone had gone home and then get the smelt. Nobody in the tank would starve to death if they had to wait another two or three hours. Instead she eyed the occupants of Main One and judged their health and overall appearance.

  Everybody looked good. Unlike animals in zoos, fish tended to thrive in controlled environments. It was as though fish did well if they weren’t constantly worrying about being chomped, and if the freedom of the ocean sea was what they gave up, it was a small price to pay.

  Fred could relate.

  A nurse shark swam lazily past her and she touched it with her mind. It wasn’t any more difficult than adding double digit numbers in her head.

  You okay?

  Hungry. Fish girl bring fish.

  Yeah, well, so what else was new? Fish girl bring fish. Why not make it her new title, for the love of—

  Something made her glance up and she looked through the windows of the tank, and saw Thomas peering in at her, waving frantically.

  Bemused, she waved a gloved hand back.

  Chapter Six

  “I know what you’re thinking,” Fred’s best friend, Jonas Carrey, declared, sitting down opposite her. They were at their favorite window-side table at the Legal Sea Foods restaurant across from the NEA.

  “I doubt that very much,” she replied gloomily, stirring her strawberry margarita.

  “You’re thinking you’re a freak, nobody understands you, you’re a lone wolf in a pack of nutjobs, blah-blah.” The waitress materialized and Jonas said, “An appletini, please.”

  “Oh, Jonas!” Fred practically yelled. “Those are so over.”

  “Hey. I’m secure enough in my sexuality to order any girlie drink in the world. Now tell me I’m right. Tell me I knew what you were thinking.”

  “I walked in on my folks doing it doggy style less than four hours ago.”

  “Waitress!” Jonas screamed, clicking his fingers madly. “Bring two!” Then, more quietly, “You want a neck massage? A bedtime story? A bullet in the ear?”

  “The latter,” she sighed. “And on top of everything else, Mom would be super-pissed that I was seeing you and not trying to leap i
nto your pants.”

  They both shuddered in unison. They had been friends since the second grade. To Fred, Screwing Jonas would have been like screwing a brother. And Jonas liked blonde humans, not blue-haired mermaids.

  “And I thought I had a bad day.”

  “You probably did.” Jonas was a chemical engineer for the Aveda corporation. He was constantly struggling to invent a shampoo that didn’t damage hair. Which was problematic, as by definition, all shampoos did.

  “Speaking of work…” He set an Aveda bag positively bulging with, she knew, hair care products, on the table. “Honey, those split ends. I love you, but I can hardly bear to look at you. Seriously. Tend to them. Now.”

  “It’s not my fault I’m wet more than I’m dry.”

  “Anything else go wrong today? Not that anything had to.” The waitress set down two appletinis and he gulped at one thirstily. After a moment’s thought, he slammed it down and began on the second one. “Actually, it’s not picturing your mom, because she is an awesome-looking woman and I’ve had a crush on her since you brought me home after the fight…”

  “Stop it,” she said, but she was smiling. Jonas had proudly shown off his no-polish manicure on the first day of second grade, and two fourth graders had discovered rather large problems with their own sexual insecurity. Their solution was to take it out on Jonas. Fred, annoyed at being interrupted from her reading, had broken up the fight by tossing one kid into the monkey bars and dumping the other one, head first, into the sandbox.

  Nobody had ever laid a finger on Jonas again through elementary, middle, and high school.

  “—and there she was, a blonde angel of mercy, tending to my many wounds, and yelling at you because—”

  “ ‘Violence Isn’t The Answer,’ ” they said in unison.

  “Right-o. So I don’t mind picturing your mom in the buff, but Sam… yech.”

  “Then they do this whole song and dance about how I’m not Sam’s biological child.”

  Jonas slurped again. “Duh.”