Elise swam up to the large rock and pulled herself up on top. She enjoyed lying across it and sunning herself in the afternoons. As she twisted her long dark hair to wring out the water, her scales sparkled in the sunlight, creating a kaleidoscope of colors.
After wringing her hair dry, she swung it behind her, relaxing on her tummy and watching a boy on the far bank reading under a tree. Elise sighed. “I wonder what you’re reading. If only I could read their language, I’d…"
“You’d what?” Delpha lit on a branch hanging over the rock.
Elise almost slipped back into the water. “You frightened me.”
“You don’t want anything to do with those, those humans! They bring their nets and hooks and catch sea creatures, dining on them, or mounting them on their walls.”
Elise rolled over to her side, propping herself up with her elbow. “Well, a good thing for you that you’re a seagull and not an ocean dweller.” She teased, smirking.
“Go ahead, make a joke, but you don’t leave these waters. You don’t see what I see. The humans eat crabs and fish, catching them by the hundreds—no thousands in their nets.” Delpha shook her wing at Elise. “You steer clear of them, you hear?”
Elise smiled and nodded. “Yes, your Highness Seagull.” She rolled over to her tummy and propped herself up on her elbows, watching the human again. What it must be like to walk around and not swim. Not all humans can be bad, can they?
Thomas sat with his back against a tree reading about mermaids and their mystical powers. His cousin Dane walked up and sat down beside him. “You still reading that unicorn book, Squirt?”
Thomas slammed his book shut. “Not unicorns! Mermaids.”
“Whatever, ones just as real as the other, I suppose.” He stretched out his legs and leaned against the tree.
“If I could find a mermaid and talk her into kissing Grandpa, he’d be cured.” He flipped through the pages of his book and ran his finger halfway down a page. “It also says here that a mermaid’s tears are like the fountain of youth.”
“Grandpa’s old, he’s going to die. It happens to everyone, eventually.”
Thomas jumped up and stomped away. He strolled alone along the water’s edge looking for the best area to place his net. “The book says to place the net near patches of seaweed,” he mumbled to himself.
Thomas rolled up his pant legs and waded out into the water a few feet. He couldn't see far enough out, so he decided to come back the next day and bring his raft. Then he could find the perfect place for his net.
Elise watched the boy walk along the bank. “I wonder what he’s looking for.” She sighed.
“A big fish to catch and eat up, I’d suppose," said Delpha.
Elise sat up flipping her tail in the water. "No, I don't think so, Del. He looks as though he's searching for something. He's lost or sad." She slid off the rock, sank down under the water, and swam over to the bank. Looking up, she saw Thomas walking away with his book tucked under his arm.
Delpha flew overhead, squawking and skimming the water looking for Elise.
Elise swam out toward the middle of the water and jumped up, flipping her tail and laughing. "I hear you, Del. Don’t worry. I'm not going to let him see me."
"Do you know what humans do to merpeople? They'll catch you, stuff you, and mount you on a wall for show, but not before they cut you open and study you inside and out."
"Don't worry, Del. I'm heading home now, and I'll be careful. I promise."
Thomas returned to the water's edge early the next morning, carrying his makeshift raft. The rays of sun penetrated the fog, creating beams of light reaching down and glistening on the water. Sitting on the bank, he rolled up his pant legs and waded out a few feet before putting his raft into the water. He sat on his knees, bent forward, and used his hands to paddle out further to search for seaweed.
He continued paddling out toward the middle and swished the water around looking for the flow of seaweed. Several areas were thick with it, so he chose the area where it grew thickest. He pulled the netting from his back pocket and untangled it before spreading it out and lowering it near the thick green patch.
The makeshift raft teetered as he reached over to tie the netting to a low, crooked branch hanging out over the water. Thomas secured the net by tying each corner to other low-hanging branches, and then stretched out on his raft to wait for his mermaid.
Staring up at the sky, Thomas smiled remembering how he and Grandpa used to go fishing and play Frisbee in the back yard. But, that was before he got sick, and now he can't even walk to the backyard without struggling to breathe. Thomas yawned and watched the clouds separate into smaller cloudlets drifting across the sky. He fell asleep and began snoring.
"Elise, would you pick some fresh seaweed to eat for breakfast?" Her mother asked.
"Sure, be back in a few minutes." She swam off fluttering her tail softly while gliding through the water. She loved to look for starfish as she swam. As she came upon a lush growth of seaweed, she noticed something shiny dangling in the water. A bait! She thought.
Elise jumped back. Her heart raced. But, the shiny thing hung from a white string, not fishing line. She swam a bit closer to get a better look. "It's a weight for a net." She mumbled. Elise swam up to the surface and looked around. She noticed the human laying on a raft, sleeping, and making a horrible noise.
Elise dunked under the water and hit the edge of the raft with her tail fin. It flipped, rolling Thomas off into the net.
"Help!" Thomas screamed. Panicking, he pulled at the net, but his legs and arms were tangled. Elise grabbed it and swam across the water to her sunning rock. She helped Thomas untangle his arms.
Coughing and gasping, he pulled himself onto the rock and began untangling his feet. "What are you trying to do, kill me?" He looked up and into Elise's emerald-green eyes. "You're real—a real mermaid."
Elise pulled herself up onto the rock beside Thomas. "I'm warning you. Stay away and don't try to catch us for trophies. We merpeople are too clever for you humans."
"I am not going to hurt you. I just need a favor."
"Sure you do. There is nothing I can do for you, so go back to your raft and forget you saw me." Elise slid off the rock and plunged into the water.
"Wait!" Thomas's eyes glistened with tears. "It's my grandpa. He’s real sick, and I need you to kiss him. That's all."
Elise stopped. She realized he was the troubled boy she saw strolling along the bank. "I'm sorry. I can't trust you."
She started to swim away, but Thomas yelled out, sobbing. "He's going to die. Please! I don't want to hurt you. Please come back." Thomas pressed his face into his hands and sat alone on the rock, crying.
Elise stopped and swished her tail to turn around. She popped up beside the rock. "Wait here, I'll be back. I have to take some seaweed to my mother."
Thomas continued to sob.
Elise rubbed his back. "Just wait here."
Elise swam home and gave the seaweed to her mother. "I'll be back, Mother."
"Wait, you haven't had breakfast."
Elise grabbed a kelp cake. "I'll eat it on the way." She kissed her mother's cheek.
As she swam back to the rock, she hesitated. What if that boy does want to hurt me? Am I walking into a trap? But, he was so sad, and she was curious about humans, so she swam on.
As she swam closer, she heard Thomas yelling and Delpha squawking.
Thomas swatted at the seagull. "Ouch, go away."
Delpha continued squawking and pecking at Thomas.
Elise popped up out of the water, chuckling. "Delpha, it's okay. He's not going to hurt me."
"And just how do you that?" Delpha stopped pecking and flew up to her usual perching branch.
Thomas sat rubbing the red welts on his cheeks and arms. "You can understand what that bird is saying?"
"Yes, can't you?" Elise asked.
"No, it just flew over here and attacked me, making that awful squawking sound."
"Delpha is just a bit overprotective, I suppose." Elise pulled herself up onto the rock beside Thomas and wrung out her hair. "I feel bad for you, human..."
"Thomas, my name is Thomas."
"Thomas, I don't know how I can help you. I mean, I can't leave the water, and I don't have any special powers."
"Maybe you do, and you just don’t know it. I read in my book that mermaids have special powers, and all it takes is one kiss to cure someone. One little kiss on the cheek."
"What are your plans? Bring your Grandpa here?"
"No, he can't get out of bed. My book says you can leave the water for a while without getting hurt. I got it all planned out. I'll use a wheelbarrow to get you to my house. We can cover your legs with a wet cloth. You kiss grandpa, and I'll bring you right back. I promise."
"I wouldn't trust him, Elise. He looks sneaky, and the whole thing sounds suspicious." Delpha squawked.
Elise looked at Thomas sitting there with tears glistening in his eyes and red welts on his face and arms, and she couldn't say no. "I'll trust him."
"Delpha can come with us, right?" Elise turned to Delpha. "Okay?"
"Of course," Delpha squawked, "I will not leave you alone in human hands just because you're stubborn."
"I can go get my wheelbarrow and..."
"No, Thomas. I can't go right now. My mom is expecting me back soon. We have to do this early, at sunrise, so my parents don't know I'm gone."
"Tomorrow then? Early?"
"Yes, right before sunrise. Meet me at the bank by the old crooked tree, but I must be back here right away."
"Oh, I promise...uh."
Thomas blushed. "I promise, I can get you to my house and back here right away, Elise." He rubbed Elise's hand. "Thank you."
"You're welcome. I'll go get your raft." Elise dove into the water and swam over to the raft. Delpha followed along through the air.
Once they reached the raft, Delpha landed. "Elise, I don't think this is a good idea. Even if this human is nice, anything could happen to you while you're on dry land. What if you don't get back?"
"I feel like I can trust him, Del, and I know I can stay out of water for a day at least. I just feel so sorry for him. I have to help."
"But, Elise, what if your kiss doesn't cure the old human? Why, that boy may come back with more humans to kill you."
"I'll make sure he knows I can't promise anything." Elise got behind the raft. "Hang on, Del. Off we go." She pushed the raft through the water with Delpha riding on top.
"Here you go, Thomas."
"Thanks." He slid off the rock and sat on his knees on the raft.
"Thomas, you know that we can't be sure a kiss will cure your grandpa? I mean, I've heard folklore of the kiss, but I've never seen any proof."
"I just know it will work. Don't you see? We just have to believe, Elise."
"Just don't get your hopes up, okay. Just in case."
"Okay." Thomas waved goodbye and used his hands to paddle to the bank.
That evening, Thomas' grandpa was again too weak to come to the supper table, so Thomas took him a bowl of soup. "Here, Grandpa." He set the bowl down on the nightstand. "Let me adjust your pillows, so you can sit up."
Grandpa's arms shook as he struggled to sit up and lean his back against the pillows. "My old arms are losing strength each day, I believe."
Thomas handed him the bowl of soup, and Grandpa worked to steady his hands enough to eat without spilling. "This is good." He said slurping some broth and noodles off the spoon.
Thomas sat at the end of the bed. "Grandpa?"
"What's on your mind?" He slurped another spoonful.
"Do you believe in mermaids?"
Grandpa stopped eating and smiled. "Well, I had a buddy in the navy that said he caught a mermaid, but he threw her back. He said he didn't keep her because she was mean and whipped him with her tail fin. "
"I can believe that," Thomas mumbled under his breath.
"So, you think he really caught one, Grandpa?"
"Not really. He told the tallest tales of any man I ever knew.”
Grandpa slurped down his soup, and Thomas took his empty bowl. “Get some rest, Grandpa.” He smiled. “I bet you’ll be feeling a lot better tomorrow.”
Grandpa shook his head. “At my age, you never know, Thomas.”
Thomas smiled and whispered, “I know.” He bent over the bed to help Grandpa ease himself back onto his pillows to get some rest.
“Where’d you get all those scratches on your face, my boy?” Grandpa held Thomas’ chin, moving his face from side to side.
“It’s nothing. I just got caught in some briars.”
“Okay.” He let go of Thomas’ chin. “Better put some ointment on them.”
Thomas tossed and turned all night, anxiously awaiting the first glimpse of the sun. Once Grandpa was better, he could get out of bed. He and Grandpa could go on picnics, sit out by the docks, and watch the sun go down.
But, no more fishing. Thomas thought. I just can’t after meeting Elise.
He rolled over on his belly and watched for the sun to peak over the horizon, and at the first sight of its warm orange glow, he jumped out of bed and was on his way.
He tip-toed down the stairs and went out to the shed. He dug the old wheelbarrow out of the corner and grabbed some old rags. He wet them under the outside spigot.
This should keep Elise’s tail moist.
Elise’s fin swished back and forth, slowly through the house and out the door. As she swam to their meeting place, her heart raced. All of Delpha’s warnings about humans went through her mind.
They can’t all be as mean and horrible as Delpha describes them, can they? It’s just not possible.
She made it to the water’s edge. Delpha sat on a nearby limb. “Are you sure you want to do this, El?”
“Yes, I want to help that poor boy, and his grandpa.”
“I’ll stay close by, just in case you need me. I don’t trust…”
“I know, you don’t trust humans, but I think this one is different. “ Elise smiled.
“I’m not so sure,” Delpha mumbled.
“I see him, and he is alone. “
“What’s that contraption he’s pushing?” Delpha squawked.
Thomas pushed the wheelbarrow up to the edge of the water and lowered the front to the ground. “Climb in, Elise.”
Elise pulled herself up into the wheelbarrow. She laughed as Thomas pulled it back up. “That was sort of fun. “
Delpha shook her head.
“I’m going wrap these wet towels around your tail. Okay?”
Elise raised her tail and allowed Thomas to cover it with the damp towels. “It’s a little tight.”
“I’m sorry. I’ll loosen them up.”
Delpha flew around watching Thomas’ every move.
“Is that good, Elise?” Thomas asked.
“Just fine. We need to go before my parents find out I’m missing.”
Thomas used all his strength to push the wheelbarrow through the rough terrain. “I’m sorry it’s so bumpy.”
“That’s okay.” Elise smiled, gripping the edges of the wheelbarrow. “So, you and your grandpa, what do you guys do together?”
“Oh, all sorts of stuff. We take a picnic lunch and go fish—I mean we go…”
Elise giggled. “It’s alright, Thomas. I know humans eat fish and other sea creatures.”
“Well, now that I’ve met you, Elise, I’ve already decided I’ll never go fishing again. “
Elise smiled and her cheeks felt unusually warm.
Delpha landed on the wheelbarrow and squawked something to Elise.
Elise shifted around to look at Thomas. “Delpha says someone is following us, hiding behind trees.”
Thomas stopped, looked around and shrugged. “I don’t see anybody. Besides, we’re almost there. We turn at the big tree, and my house is on the corner.”
“Okay, keep going.”
“I don’t think you’re safe,” Delpha squawked in protest.
“Delpha, we’re almost there, just stay close. Okay?”
The trio reached the house safely, and Thomas pushed the wheelbarrow up to the back door.
He breathed heavy. “Okay, I have to carry you the rest of the way.” He scooped Elise up in his thin arms and held her close, struggling to get her through the door.
Delpha perched in a tree nearby.
Thomas carried Elise into a small laundry room and set her down in a tub of water. He stopped to catch his breath. “My grandpa’s room is right there.” He pointed to a doorway a few feet away. “I’m going to go wake him. I don’t want to frighten him.”
Elise nodded and sunk down into the tub.
Thomas tip-toed into Grandpa’s room and gently shook him. “Grandpa. Gramps.”
Grandpa let out a snore and rolled over. “Thomas, is something wrong?”
“No, I got a surprise for you.” Thomas grinned. “I found a mermaid, and she’s in the laundry room.”
Grandpa raised his eyebrows. “Are you sleepwalking, boy?”
“No grandpa, I really found one. Her name’s Elise, and she is going to kiss you to heal your sickness.”
“What crazy nonsense is this?”
“I’ll go get her.”
Just as Thomas started to walk away, he heard Delpha screeching and squawking, like she had done when they first met. “It’s Delpha! Something’s wrong.”
He ran to the laundry room, and Elise was missing. Frantic, he ran outside and saw Dane carrying Elise over his shoulder, running toward the docks. Delpha flew close by, pecking and flogging the boy as he swatted at her with his free hand.
“Grandpa, I’ll be right back,” He yelled, and took off after his cousin. Just as he reached the docks, Dane started to flip Elise off his shoulder and lay her out for the fisherman to have a look. Delpha pecked his hand and scratched his face. Elise slapped him with her tail fin.
Dane dropped Elise, and she rolled herself to the edge of the dock and tumbled down into the water. Her tail flipped wildly as she swam away from danger. Delpha glided across the sky above Elise guiding her home.
Elise swam up to her home. Her eyes were wide. Her heart thumped. It sounded like a drum in her ears. She struggled to catch her breath.
Elise’s mom swam out to meet her. “Elise, we were so worried. Where were you?”
“I went out to look for starfish, and I swam too far from home. I was lost.” Tears filled her eyes. “I’m sorry. I won’t ever go that far out again.”
“We’re just happy you’re okay. “ Mom spun Elise around. “Looks like you lost a scale. Come on in the house, and I'll put some salve on it.”
Thomas stood at the edge of the docks, while the fishermen stared out at the water, wondering if that girl really was a mermaid.
“Why do you always have to ruin everything, Dane? She was going to cure Grandpa, so he could get out that bed and be happy again.” Tears slid down Thomas’ cheeks.
“You don’t know that. She’s worth a lot of money-- money we could use to take Grandpa to the best doctors. You’re so gullible, Tom. Those fairy tales you read aren’t real. “
Thomas stood on his toes to make himself tall enough to almost look Dane in the eyes. “That’s the same thing you said about mermaids. You said they don’t exist. Well, they do, and I believe she can help Grandpa. Of course, she won’t now! She’ll never trust me again, and her bird friend will peck out my eyes if I try to get close to her.”
“Even though she got away, I got this.” Dane opened his hand and revealed a sparkling scale.”
Thomas tried to snatch it away, but Dane quickly clamped his hand around it. “Once I find someone to verify what this is, then we’ll get some money to help Grandpa. I’m sure there are plenty of fishermen who’d agree to go on a mermaid hunt once they see the proof she exists. Heck, we may find a whole family.”
Thomas clenched his teeth and curled his fists at his side. He stood there a moment wishing he was as tall and strong as his cousin, but he knew Dane would win in a fight. He turned and walked away, heading toward home.
Grandpa heard the back door slam and called out. “Who’s there? Thomas? Dane?”
Thomas stopped in his Grandpa’s doorway, crying.
“Come on in, sit.” He patted the mattress.
Thomas walked in and sat down, wiping his face with his sleeves. “He ruined everything Grandpa. He was supposed to be out picking apples, not here.”
Grandpa rubbed Thomas’ back. “There boy, just calm down, and you can tell me all about it.”
“Elise," he sniffled, "that’s the mermaid’s name. I found her, and she agreed to kiss you to cure your sickness. That’s why I brought her here." He pulled a curled-up book from his pocket and handed it to Grandpa."Look at page 42."
Grandpa unrolled the book, flipped through the pages and read it. "Thomas, this is just a myth. How do we know?"
"But, you thought mermaids didn't exist, until today. It's worth a try."
Grandpa nodded. "I guess you're right, my boy. I'll talk to Dane."
"Elise, I can't believe you lost a scale." Delpha squawked from an overhanging branch. "Those humans have proof. They'll come fishing around for you."
"Maybe it fell off in the water, Del. You don't know that anyone has it." Elise peaked under her bandage. "It's just one small scale."
"Those humans are nosey and tricky. You should tell your parents, and not go venturing out, not even to your sunning rock. "
Elise sighed. "Maybe you're right, about venturing out into the waters, I mean. But, my sunning rock is so far out, I don't think humans can find it."
"That boy can! He's been there. Remember?"
"Okay, Del. I'll go home, and stay close to those waters for a while until this whole thing blows over." Elise slid off her rock and swished her tail, gliding toward home.
The back door banged shut. Grandpa called out, "Dane, is that you?"
"Yeah, Grandpa!" He hollered.
"Come on in here and talk to your old Grandpa."
Dane stood in the doorway of Grandpa's room. "What is it, Grandpa? I'm already late to go pick apples for Aunt May."
"Your Aunt May can wait. Come on in and have a seat." He patted the edge of his bed.
Dane sat down and helped Grandpa sit up.
"Dane, did you steal that mermaid?"
"Yes, Grandpa, and I got this." He held out his hand to show Grandpa the shiny, finger-nail-sized scale." He closed his hand tightly around his treasure. "If I can prove this is a mermaid's scale, we'll be rich."
"Money isn't everything, Dane, and it's not worth causing trouble within the family." Grandpa held out his hand. "Give me the scale, and let that poor little mermaid girl remain a mystery. Patch things up with your cousin."
"But, Grandpa, we could be rich, and maybe even famous. We could move out of this small place, find you a good doctor, and probably never have to work again. "
Grandpa sighed and closed his hand. "Dane, you take some time to think about it. Do you know what scientists would do to a mermaid? Do you want that on your conscience?"
"I guess they'd probably run tests on her."
"And, most likely dissect her," Grandpa added. "You run along, Dane, and think about it. I have faith in you. You’ll make the right decision. "
Elise swam in the waters close to home and chose a new rock for sunning herself. But, she couldn't stop thinking about Thomas and his sick grandfather. The young human seemed so sincere, but maybe Delpha was right. Maybe all humans are untrustworthy. Tears welled up in her eyes. "I'll never trust one again," she whispered.
Dane climbed into bed that night, clutching the treasure in his hand. He didn't want to lose it. But instead of getting a restful night's sleep, he tossed and turned. Visions of scientists dissecting mermaids with large knives and drilling holes in their heads kept him awake.
What if there are baby ones? And fishermen start catching mermaids by the thousands, leaving babies without mothers? Or worse yet, experimenting on baby mermaids!
It wasn't until Dane decided he'd give Thomas the scale that he was able to get some rest. But just as he drifted off, he saw a light shine on the wall, as his bedroom door opened. He heard the creak of slow footsteps across the floor. He opened one eye, just enough to see Thomas holding a flashlight in his mouth while rummaging through the nightstand.
Dane pretended to be asleep and rolled over on his back, allowing his arm to hang over the bed, so he could drop the scale onto the floor.
Thomas jumped and turned toward his cousin. He saw the scale drop, so he snatched it and tiptoed out of the room.
Dane smirked. "Little twerp," he mumbled to himself. "Can't let him think I've went soft."
At first light, Thomas took his raft and hurried back to the water. He put his raft in and paddled his way over to Elise's sunning rock. Goosebumps rose on his skin in the cool morning chill, and the fog rising off the water looked eerie, like dancing specters.
Thomas took the scale from his pocket and wrapped it in a leaf. He laid it on the large rock and placed it under a stone, so it wouldn't fall into the water. Maybe Elise can forgive me since I got her scale back.
Thomas took his time walking home, sure he'd get knocked around by Dane when he found out the scale was missing. He might think he lost it for a while, but once he checks under the bed and around his room, he's going to know it's missing.
Thomas walked up to the house and sat on the porch steps.
Dane opened the back door. "I fixed Grandpa's oatmeal since you took off this morning. Where'd you go, anyway?"
"I…I went to…"
Dane sat down beside him. "I know where you went. You went to give that scale back."
Thomas' face turned pale. "How'd you—I mean…"
"You think I don't know you stole it?" Dane put his cousin in a headlock.
Thomas' eyes widened.
"I promised Grandpa I wouldn't pound you, so you got lucky this time." He let go and walked back into the house.
Delpha flew through the air, skimming the water when she noticed a small stone with a leaf peeking out from under it on Elise's favorite sunning spot. She flew over and knocked the stone away with her claw. The leaf unfolded, revealing Elise's lost scale. Delpha screeched with relief. "I must get it to Elise."
She took the scale in her beak and flew around looking for Elise. She found her sitting on the bank near her home, resting after a morning of starfish watching.
Delpha landed beside her and dropped the scale in her lap. "The human…he brought it back."
Elise held the scale in her palm and smiled. "See, Del, I told you not all of them are bad." She jumped into the water. "I must go back to the rock. Thomas might come back, and maybe I can still help him and his poor grandfather. "
"No!" Delpha squawked. "This doesn't mean you're safe. It just means at least one human has a heart."
"But, I promised him I'd help."
"And you tried, Elise, and you were almost turned into an experiment."
"I'm going to the rock. You can stay here, or you can come along and be a friend."
Elise dove into the water and swam away.
Thomas sat on the bank, looking out toward the rock. He hoped Elise would show up, so he could apologize. He decided to get on his raft and paddle out to see if she found the scale. As he sat on his knees and paddle through the water, something bumped his raft, causing it to sway. He pulled his hands up and looked down into the water. Elise's scales sparkled in the sun as she swam close to the water's surface.
His raft sped through the water, as he gripped the edges. It stopped at the rock, and Elise pulled herself up, flinging her wet hair behind her.
"Thomas, thank you for bringing my scale back. I was so worried." She kissed Thomas on the cheek.
His face turned red. "I'm sorry. My cousin was not supposed to be home. I didn't know…"
"I know," Elise said. "I still want to help. I was thinking…can you bring your grandpa to the crooked tree where we met? If you could get him…"
Thomas shook his head. "He'd never make it that far. He can only walk a little way before he gets out of breath."
"How far can he walk?"
"He can probably make it to the docks okay if he uses his walker."
"Okay, then we'll plan to meet there."
Delpha glided down and sat beside Elise, squawking.
Thomas covered his head. "What's she saying?"
Elise laughed. "You can uncover your head." She pulled his arms down. "She said the docks are too dangerous, too many fishermen."
"They're all at the pub in the evening," Thomas said. "But, Delpha's right, it's too dangerous."
"Not if I go in the evening," Elise said. "I can sneak out for a little while if you can get your grandpa to the edge where I rolled into the water. That area is clear, so I can swim away quickly if I need to."
"Really, you'll do it, Elise?"
"Thomas, just get your grandpa there when the sun goes down, and I'll be waiting."
Thomas hopped onto his raft. "It's a deal. I'll go now to tell Grandpa." He started to paddle away, but stopped and turned to Elise. Tears filled his eyes. "Thanks, Elise. I just know this is going to work."
"I sure hope so," Elise whispered to herself.
Thomas paddled furiously to reach dry land and ran all the way home. He burst through the back door and into Grandpa's room.
Grandpa jumped. "What's the matter?"
Thomas held up his index finger as he stopped to catch his breath. "I gave her the scale. She forgives me, and she's going to help us."
"We have to get you to the docks just at dark, and she'll be there to kiss you."
Grandpa still had his doubts, but Thomas had worked so hard to make this happen. "You know I can't walk too far."
"I know, Grandpa, but you'll have your walker, and you can stop and catch your breath along the way if you need to. It's not that far, really."
"We'll try it, Thomas."
Thomas hugged Grandpa tight. "I just know this will work. It has to."
That evening, as the sun began to set, Thomas helped Grandpa get up and put on his jacket and hat. He then helped the old, unsteady man stand, so he could grasp his walker. Together the two begin slowly walking out the door and toward the docks.
Grandpa stopped every few feet to catch his breath. The pair made it halfway there when grandpa started gasping and coughing. "I don’t think I can make it."
Thomas' heart sank. "Just rest a minute. We have time."
"I don’t think I can." Grandpa wheezed and coughed.
Just then, Dane came up from behind and picked Grandpa up, draping him in his arms. "Where are we going, Tom?"
Thomas smiled. "Right, over there," he pointed. "Where Elise rolled off into the water the other day."
Dane carried Grandpa to the edge of the dock and sat him down gently.
Elise swam up and started to dart away when she saw Dane's face, but then she saw Thomas kneeling down beside his Grandpa. She stopped and turned back. Popping up out of the water, she grabbed the edge of the dock and kissed Grandpa on the cheek, before plunging back into the water and swimming away.
"How do you feel, Grandpa?" Thomas asked.
Grandpa coughed and his chest heaved. "Tired."
Dane picked Grandpa up and carried him home.
Grandpa rested in his bed.
Thomas sat on the back steps in tears.
Dane sat down beside him.
"It didn't work, did it?" Thomas asked.
Dane shook his head. "Thomas, you knew it was a long shot."
"But, I just had a feeling this was how to get Grandpa back."
"Well, I'm off to bed. You should get some rest, too."
"I'll be in soon. And Dane, thanks for helping."
"Well, I had to at least help Grandpa, you know?"
Thomas woke the next morning to the sound of someone moving around the kitchen, making breakfast. He sat straight up. Maybe it's Grandpa," he whispered. He jumped out of bed and pulled on his pants as he hopped to the kitchen.
"Dane, I thought you were…"
"Grandpa? Nope. He's still sleeping. Last night took a lot out of him."
"Is his oatmeal ready?"
"Yeah, it's right here."
Thomas poured a little milk into the bowl and grabbed a spoon. "I'll take it to him."
He pushed the bedroom door open. "Grandpa, I have your breakfast."
Grandpa woke and rose up on his arms and sat up.
Thomas almost dropped the bowl of oatmeal. "You just sat up! By yourself." Thomas sat the oatmeal down on the nightstand. "Grandpa, try to get up."
Grandpa stretched and dangled his legs over the edge of the bed. He stood steady on his feet and took a deep breath. "I don’t feel weak, and I can take deep breaths."
"Dane!" Thomas yelled.
Dane came runnin and saw Grandpa walking through the doorway of his room without his walker.
"It worked. I told you it would. "
For the first time in over a year, Grandpa ate breakfast at the table with the boys.
Elise swam to her sunning spot early the next morning. She sat on her rock, watching for any signs of Thomas. In the distance, she saw two people walking along the bank toward the crooked tree. "Thomas!"
Her tail swished wildly through the water as she made her way to him. She popped up out of the water.
Thomas and his grandpa greeted her. "Elise, this is Jim, my grandpa."
"Nice to meet you, sir." She smiled.
"What can we ever do to repay you?" Grandpa asked.
"Just keep our secret." Elise thought for a moment, looking at the book Thomas held under his arm. "And, can you teach me how to read?"
Thomas smiled. "Sure, we'll start tomorrow. I'll meet you at your rock after lunch.
Thomas and Elise met three times a week, and Elise learned to read and enjoyed learning new things.
Thomas even brought her books on mythical creatures. "Do you know your tears are a fountain of youth?" He asked Elise, smiling.