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How to Impress a Merman

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Chapter 1: Trevor

It was a strange day, unseasonably cool for August, the island encompassed by fog. Link had been cleaning out a beach house for renovation; it was his new vacation home on the island and had belonged to his dad, who lived on the mainland right next to the island. It would be nice to have his own place to stay when he visited over the holidays.

Needless to say, he was surprised to see a strange, very tall man, water dripping from his golden beard, near the tool shed when he stepped out of his car late on this damp evening.

The man shivered, hunched over in nothing but a damp, sandy towel. Link thought he must be nuts to approach a strange man hiding behind a beach shack, but something about the guy compelled him. He seemed lost and vulnerable, not dangerous.

“Hey, are you… lost? Can I help you find someplace?” Link asked, wondering if he should ask if the man needed some clothes. He wondered if there was a nude beach around… or if there was some other reason this man might have lost his swim shorts and everything else but a towel.

“I do seem to have lost my way,” the man's voice wavered, but somehow there was an air of nobility in it. He turned away from Link and coughed. “Where is Florida from here?”

“Uhhhhh, that way?” Link pointed south down the beach, “but it’s really far from here. Like over 500 miles far. Are you sure that’s where you’re supposed to be? Did you just wash up here or something?” He chuckled, trying to put the man at ease with what was hopefully just a joke.

“You could say that… I don’t know what happened. The storm must have thrown me way off course.”

“You mean the hurricane last week? Have you been lost since then?” Was that even possible? What had this man been doing all that while?

“I’ve been lost for a long time… Is this your place? What is the name of it?”

“This is my vacation home, yes. We’re in Myrtle Beach, if that’s what you mean. Listen, do you need to warm up? I can help you out a bit, let you borrow some clothes, get you something to eat, heck I’ll even call you a Lyft if you’ve got somewhere to go nearby…” He really wanted to do everything he could to help this man. He just felt it was the right thing to do.

“It is very cold here in Myrtle Beach. It is not like where I am from at all.” He started following Link, who had gently taken his elbow to guide him into the house.

“Oh, really? Where are you from?” Link asked eagerly. For some reason, he couldn’t wait to find out. This guy intrigued him.

“I was born in Atlant--” The guy suddenly stopped in his tracks, causing Link to bump into him.

“Atlanta? Yeah, it is a bit warmer there, I guess.” Not by much, though, Link thought. It might be a few degrees warmer on an average day, perhaps. But then, today was not an average day… Cool air had pushed the tropical storm out to sea, saving the Atlantic coast the damage of a full-blown hurricane, and leaving it a balmy and breezy 70 degrees instead of the usual 90-100 degree temperatures it tended to reach in summer in his home of the Carolinas.

“Oh, yes, Atlanta,” Rhett quickly lied to cover his tracks, “but I’ve been living much farther south than that. In the Caribbean. It is warm every day there. The water is a lot warmer, too.”

“Ha, I don’t doubt that,” Link laughed. He’d love to hear more about what it was like living in the Caribbean. Maybe he could have the guy stick around a little while… He seemed like he had an interesting story. Plus, he loved hearing his strange, accented voice.

They headed up the steps to the stilted beach house, Link noting the peeling white paint on the railings. Yet another project. Once inside, he turned to assess the man he’d brought in. He was tracking sand in, and as Link drew his gaze up from the floor, he saw more sand on the man’s knees, his towel, his broad chest, even in his beard. Then he realized he hadn’t asked the man’s name yet.

“Oh, let me introduce myself. I’m Link. What’s your name?” He held his hand out to shake.

The man grasped his hand tightly, but looked unsure for a moment. “Ahem. You can call me…” He looked around for a moment, wide-eyed, like he was wracking his brain. “Trevor.”

“Oookay, Trevor…” Link replied with a hint of suspicion. Had the guy forgotten his own name? “Nice to meet you. Why don’t you head down the hall to the right. You can shower if you like, and I’ll bring you some clothes.”

“I’d really like a bath, if that’s alright.”

“Of course. Feel free to use anything in there. There are clean towels in the cabinet next to the tub. I’ll make some sandwiches while you’re in there, so you can come out and eat whenever you’re ready.”

Link set about getting a shirt, shorts, and a pair of flip flops for the man. The man might need underwear, too, but that was a little bit awkward, sharing underwear, even if it was a nearly-new pair of boxers. Oh well, Link thought, and added them to the pile anyway. The guy could always put them aside if the thought bothered him. Link was always doing awkward stuff, anyway, so he might as well start early. “Early? It’s not like he’s staying…” Link thought. He was starting to think he really wouldn’t mind, though. There was something about this guy…

When Link knocked at the door to bring the clothes in, he heard some intense splashing and it sounded like several things were knocked off the shelves in the bath.

“Oh, sh-- just a second, I locked it!”

More sloshing. Must be those long legs, Link thought.

It took a lot longer than Link anticipated, but finally Trevor’s head peeked from behind the door, and he held his arm out for the clothes.

“Thanks a lot, man. I don’t know how much longer I could get away without wearing any clothes. I, uhh… lost mine. It’s a long story.” He closed the door and Link heard the lock click again.

“I’d love to hear your story over lunch!” Link half-shouted through the door, but was met with silence, which made him feel awkward again, so he headed to the kitchen to make those sandwiches he mentioned. Two roast beef and two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches… and he pulled out a bag of chips and a few other snacks, since the guy was probably really hungry.

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“Trevor” was wracking his brain for a story, since this Link seemed so keen on hearing it. He really liked Link. Link was unusually nice, for a human. Everyone else he had seen on the beach had avoided him, giving him weird looks. He knew it was weird that he was wandering around in a stolen beach towel and nothing else, at least in a place like this where nude beaches weren’t a thing.

Was it smarter to pretend he had just been on the beach and had his own clothes stolen, and lost his trunks while swimming? Or would Link believe he had been in a shipwreck and washed up on the beach? There weren’t any reported shipwrecks that he knew of in the area. But then, the dolphins hadn’t been very reliable reporters this far north. They always seemed a little lost, like him.

He had been trying to get to Florida, that much was true… but he knew his story fell apart when he would try to explain how he swam so far past it. Link certainly wouldn’t believe the “swam” part. He guessed he would just have to leave some parts of his story up to Link’s imagination, and get out of there as quick as he could figure out how to. The water was far too cold to get back in… nothing like the tropical waters he was used to.

He pulled on the clothes Link had given him, noticing how they were carefully folded, and how both the t-shirt and shorts were nicer than the ones Link himself had been wearing. How kind, to give away his nice things to a stranger.

He made his way back to the kitchen and sat down to eat the sandwiches, also tidily prepared. Trevor lifted up a corner to peek at the insides of the roast beef sandwich, seeing some lettuce and sauces atop what he knew to be meat of some kind of land animal.

“Sorry, I don’t have any tomatoes for the sandwiches. I don’t like them.” Link told Trevor.

“I don’t mind. They look nice,” he said as he picked one up and took a big bite. “Tastes nice, too. Thank you.”

Link smiled at the polite stranger, and Trevor almost melted at the sight of his wide grin. What a beautiful human he had encountered. He had met many of them, and it was rare to find one that looked this good and had a heart that matched.

“So please, tell me what you remember about how you got here,” Link gently prodded.

Trevor considered the tale he had prepared in the bath. “Well, I took my boat sailing off the coast of Georgia, and was headed to Florida…”

“You sail solo? That’s really brave. I’d love to learn to sail, but I think I’d rather do it with a friend,” Link was already entranced by Trevor’s story, giddy to learn more about someone with such an interesting life as a solo sailor.

“Yeah, but I capsized in the storm. I should have paid more attention to the weather signs… er, reports. I don’t remember what happened after that until I woke up naked a few miles from here. Then I had to wait out in the cold water until I saw someone leave their towel on an empty stretch of beach long enough for me to grab it. Embarrassing,” Trevor munched at his sandwich hungrily. He did this head-shake thing to stuff more into his mouth that made Link giggle, “and cold. I feel like I was out there for days.” No exaggeration. He had actually been swimming north to Florida, and it had taken him more like a few weeks than a few days. He had totally missed the tip of the continent, though. Damn dolphins.

“That’s a really long way for you to have been carried by the current, but I guess stranger things have happened.” There was a long, awkward pause. “Ahem… speaking of Stranger Things, have you seen the new season?”

“Ah, no, I do not watch much television. I spend most of my time outdoors,” Trevor was fairly used to answering this kind of question. He spent a lot of time around humans, and was proud of his conversational evasion techniques. However, he was really happy whenever he could say something honest to Link. He really DID spend most of his time outdoors. And he loved seeing that smile. He’d have to do that head-shake thing again.

 

“So, uhh… it’s been really nice getting to know you. I guess we should figure out arrangements for you to get back to where you need to be, now?” Link hesitated, knowing the man’s situation was precarious, without money or a phone, and he didn’t want to just dump him off somewhere to be homeless. Nor could he afford to put the guy up in a hotel for an extended period of time. Or at least, he didn’t want to do that, whether he could afford it or not. But he wasn’t sure if he didn’t want to out of his usual frugality or if it was because he really wanted the guy to stay…

“Ah, yeah, about that,” Trevor leaned forward and ran his fingers through the back of his hair. “I’ve really got nothing, and I don’t know of anyone to call. I used to have family in Georgia but… my grandma just passed and I had only been there to collect the items I inherited. They’re all gone, now, of course. Bottom of the Atlantic. Everyone else I know these days is back in the Caribbean.”

“Okay, well, we’ll figure something out! I feel really bad now, you’ve been through a whole lot. Is it weird for me to ask you to stay here tonight? I don’t know how I feel about putting you up in a hotel, and I definitely don’t want to leave you hanging. You seem like a nice guy. I don’t think you’ll murder me in my sleep, will you?”

“Haha, no, of course not! But a murderer would say that, too…” Trevor winked his murky green eye at Link. They were making each other laugh a lot, and it felt good. Natural, even.

“Okay, I’ll definitely put you up at least for the night. Then we can figure out where to go from there. You surely need your rest, so I’ll make sure both bedrooms are made up. I hadn’t actually been in, yet, so the place has been sitting here for a month, at least. Like I said, it was my dad’s, and this is the first time I’m visiting it as my own place.”

Link spent the next few hours washing and drying linens and making up the beds, and in between cycles, chatting and joking with Trevor. Link wanted him to relax, so he offered him beer and showed him around the little house. It had two bedrooms, each with their own bathroom. One of the bathrooms was open to the hall, and there was a spiral staircase to an open loft above with two more beds, so a sizeable family could stay on holiday. Down another spiral staircase there was a tiny room on the ground floor, which was completely filled by a massive hot tub, and a tiny third bathroom.

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Trevor had only ever heard of hot tubs before and never seen one, so he was afraid his excitement at seeing it would be too obvious, but he managed to keep it in. When Link asked him if he wanted to try it out, he said he’d just fall asleep if he went in, so he’d better just go to bed. Link agreed that was a good idea, and spent a little time watching Netflix on his laptop in his own bed before he, too, nodded off to sleep.

Early the next morning, Trevor tiptoed down to the hot tub and turned it on, hoping the noise wouldn’t wake Link. There was no lock on the door, so he’d have to be quick to get out once Link woke up. He turned the jets off so it wouldn’t be noisy, but relaxed and let his tail out until he heard Link’s footsteps above. He just managed to slip out and into a towel as he heard Link coming down the stairs.

“Oh, you don’t have to get out! It’s fine, I’m glad you’re making use of it. I just don’t know, it might need maintenance or cleaning, I haven’t really thoroughly checked it out yet. Anyway, I’m going to make us some breakfast. I hope you like scrambled eggs and cereal, because that’s about all I can make.”

Trevor was relieved Link wasn’t mad at him for using the hot tub without permission. “Thanks. I like all food, so I’m sure whatever you make will be delicious.”

During breakfast, they discussed ways to get Trevor back on his feet, but they couldn’t come up with anything that didn’t involve Link spending money to get Trevor a cell phone so he could contact someone back home to help. “I would owe you big time.”

Link suddenly looked like he had an idea. “Maybe, to begin with, you could help me paint.”

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Link cleaned up breakfast, then went out to the deck only to find Trevor facing the ocean with his head in his hands, looking distressed. He gently placed a hand on Trevor’s shoulder to get his attention, and the look on his face sent a pang through Link's heart.

“Is something wrong? You can tell me.... I like hearing what you’re thinking.”

“Well, it’s just… I feel like I have nowhere to go. To be honest, I didn’t plan on going home, and I didn’t really have any plans once I reached Florida. Just to rent a place near a beach, try to find some odd jobs… I’m not getting along with my family or anyone else back home, really. I broke up with my… significant other whom my parents did not approve of, so all my relationships are in shambles at the moment.” He sighed, looking forlorn.

“Oh, I feel ya. I went through that too, when I came out, but things are a lot better now,” Link patted Trevor on the shoulder.

“Wow, If I came out, that would be a whole new kettle of fish. I actually like all kinds of humans. That’s still kind of the problem, though. They didn’t approve of her for other reasons...” He seemed hesitant to elaborate.

“Thanks for trusting me with all that you have told me so far. Would you like to hear my story, too?”

Trevor’s expression turned to something more eager. “Absolutely!”

Link launched into the story of his first boyfriend in college, and how Link, too, identified as bi. Coming out to his mom, he was met with acceptance, but his dad had been another matter, with his ingrained homophobia. They were estranged for a while and Link had moved out to California with his now ex-boyfriend. They had gotten pretty serious and were thinking about marriage. He had visited home and told his parents this, and it turned out his dad had been doing some serious soul-searching and had a change of heart in the meantime.

Link was riding this wave of relief for a couple months when his boyfriend decided to call it quits, fearing he wasn’t ready for commitment since it had been his first real relationship. He had also said some hurtful things about Link being boring and lacking adventure in their relationship. Of course, this broke Link’s heart, but also lit a fire under him to put more energy into his hobbies, like surfing and mountain biking. He’d admit that he had always been one to put comfort before adventure, and maybe it was time to change that. He also decided to spend more time with his family and reconnect, but he had put down roots in California with his job as an engineer and could only take a week at a time to visit back in the Carolinas.

Trevor sat enraptured through the story, glad to hear how things had gotten better for Link, family-wise, but empathizing with the recent break-up.

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Link had thanked him for trusting him, but Trevor was keeping so much hidden from him that he was starting to feel guilty. It was what broke his him and his girlfriend apart… the secrets and lies he had told to keep her from finding out what he really was. But this was just Link, a guy he had known for less than 24 hours. He shouldn’t feel guilty for not revealing everything about himself. Yet, somehow, he did…

“Link… there’s something I need to tell you. I-- well-- my real name’s not really Trevor!” He blurted, thinking how overdramatic he sounded when he was not really telling Link anything important.

“Haha, okay, what’s your real name then? Mine’s not really Link, that’s just my nickname. It’s actually Charles Lincoln Neal. The third. Ridiculous, right?”

“My name’s really Rhett. I don’t know why I lied and said Trevor, I actually hate that name. I guess I just wanted to start over with a new identity… but I feel like I can’t hide my past from you, ya know? I know this sounds strange coming from someone you just met, but there’s something about you that makes me want to tell you everything. You’re easy to open up to.” He smiled shyly as he said it.

“Yeah, I think I know exactly what you mean. You seem like a good buddy already. Like we’ve known each other for a long time, even though we’re just getting to know one another.”

Rhett was relieved Link didn’t think his outburst was too strange. “My last name’s McLaughlin, by the way. I’m from a long line of seafarers on my dad’s side. My mother… she’s from… the Caribbean. I guess I should be more specific. It’s an island chain south of Cuba.”

“Does it have a name?” Link seemed to realize Rhett was still dancing around the truth, and this was the most he had pried into his story so far.

“Well, it’s… complicated, there are lots of names for it, you know, lots of conquering nations renaming it all the time. But the locals call it…” Rhett wracked his brain for anything close to the truth that wouldn’t sound nuts. “Aquícola.”

“Doesn’t that mean underwater in Spanish?” Link answered casually, not seeming to find that suspicious at all.

“Yeah. Cool, huh? I guess it’s all those rising sea levels… half the place is underwater these days.” Nice one, Rhett, he thought. That seemed to go over smoothly for something he just threw out of his brain at the last second. Figuring he should quickly change the subject, he asked, “So you know Spanish?”

“Only a little. I took Spanish in high school. I was going to take French, but none of my friends were taking it,” Link smiled fondly. “The French teacher was pretty cute.”

They reminisced about school a little bit, and then decided to hop on over to a home improvement store for some paint and tools. The short ride in Link’s rental car was filled with more conversation and laughter. When they returned, they got to work, sanding down the railings and repainting them a nice, bright white. Just like Link’s smile, Rhett thought.

They soon were making each other giggle by flinging little bits of paint at one another and bantering about who was the better painter as they worked until the sun set.

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That evening, they figured out how to order Rhett a new credit card, and Rhett insisted on using Link’s phone to Paypal him back for spending the night…. And the subsequent nights they decided he would stay there until the card was sent. It would probably be no more than two. At first Link resisted, saying Rhett had paid him back by helping him paint.

“That was fun, though! It didn’t feel like work.” Rhett contended.

Link was already brainstorming ideas for Rhett to find work, either here in Myrtle or down in Florida, but more and more Rhett seemed hesitant to make Florida his home.

“What about California? Do you like living there? There are great beaches, right? Is the water warm?”

Link was enjoying this line of questioning as he saw Rhett perk up eagerly for his descriptions of the soft sandy beaches and big waves that he loved to surf. Well, paddleboard, really. But Rhett didn’t have to know that. He’d rather the guy thought of him as some accomplished surfer. Link had never really been a braggy guy but for some reason, he wanted to Rhett to have an impressive image of him.

“Do you have any work experience that you could make use of out there? It’s tough competition, between the tech industry and the showbiz industry.”

“Well, I… was something of a public figure back where I come from. My parents are big in politics, so I have some experience with that, and I was a musician of sorts. I can play a variety of string instruments.”

“Oh, can you play the guitar? My dad bought me one, as a sort of reconciliation gift, I suppose. Want to see it?” Link asked.

“Absolutely. I love the guitar.” Rhett followed him out to the car, where the guitar still sat in the trunk. Link pulled the case out and brought it inside.

“It’s beautiful! May I touch it?” Rhett asked, and when given the go-ahead, he ran his fingers gently down the black body of the guitar and fingered the strings, lifting carefully like it was a baby.

“Please play me something?” Link requested.

Rhett’s fingers slid gently along the strings and strummed with confidence, feeling out a melody that Link had never heard before.

“Did you write that yourself? I’ve never heard anything like it,” Link said when Rhett was done.

“Was writing it right then, brother,” Rhett replied.

Link was impressed. He didn’t know how to play yet, so the guitar had been a bit of an awkward gift, but he had been very moved by the gesture from his father and had accepted it gratefully. He planned on learning, to make the gift worthwhile, but also because he had a deep love for music. His father did know that much about him. He was always singing to his dad’s country albums as a teen.

“If it’s not too forward, would you mind teaching me a little bit, how to play?” Link asked Rhett, thinking he would be blessed to have such a talented teacher, even if it was just a single lesson. “I only know some basic chords and I’ve played about one song in entirety. I was lead singer in a little band years and years ago, and that’s my only experience.”

“You sing? I bet you have a beautiful voice. I would love to hear it,” Rhett surprised Link with his enthusiasm.

Link fiddled with the guitar for a while with Rhett’s instruction, guiding his fingers and surrounding him with his long arms. He was a very hands-on teacher, which Link was enjoying. By the end of the session, Link could play a new song. It was a folk-ish tune that Rhett thought would be easy, and when Rhett sang it for Link the second time as they played the guitar together, Link immediately began harmonizing.

“I was right. Beautiful. You have a good range and a good ear for harmony.” Rhett smiled.

Link beamed at the compliment. Rhett had found his love language, for Link always appreciated words of encouragement and affirmation. He was giddy that he had found a way to impress Rhett. Why did that make him feel so good?

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Rhett, on the other hand, was torn. Here was this guy who was so kind and such a beautiful human to lend him so much help, and all he could do was lie to him, building more and more of a tangled web. His parents weren’t politicians, and he actually had no experience in such a thing, but how was he to explain that he was the prince of an underwater kingdom? Would this go on long enough for him to dig an even deeper hole of lies? He certainly hoped it would go on longer.

Were these feelings he had merely a rebound from his recent relationship? And could he ever be fully honest with anyone here on land? At this point, his only two options were utter loneliness as an excommunicated mer-fellow, or to find companionship in the humans he had so long loved and admired. He had taken every opportunity throughout his life to commune with the beautiful legged creatures, of which he was half.

Their two sets of legs were splattered with paint, so they went to their respective bathrooms to wash up. Rhett ran another bath, his dry skin drinking in the water and merging to form a glistening scale-covered tail once again. It was green and beautiful, but he had come to resent it and what it represented. However, he couldn’t go more than a day without seeing it again, or risk his legs burning painfully. Good thing humans liked bathing frequently, so it wouldn’t seem too strange, although he knew they generally preferred standing on their beautiful legs to shower. That wasn’t enough for him, though. He had to be immersed in warm water up to his waist, at least.

The first day, he had been excited to lounge secretly in the deep warm hot tub downstairs, but now he grew apprehensive that Link would ask him to join him in it if he stayed too long. How could he refuse such a delight? But it would completely out him as the fish he was. He had experienced the shame of being exposed inadvertently to a human once and was loath to feel it again.