Day 31: Spring break, the chance to do nothing

While many see spring break as a chance to travel and go on adventures, I took it as an opportunity to have downtime with my family. I’ve not so secretly loved knowing there were riptides at the beach and that Adelyn isn’t the best swimmer. It’s allowed me to stay home and enjoy doing nothing without the guilt.

This break from our busy schedules has allowed me the ability to catch up on neglected housework. Though I’m not where I want to be, I have cleaned the bathrooms and gone through the mail. The stockpile of mail has been taunting me since November. I hate opening mail. It tends to be bills and nothing fun.

Aside from housework, I have spent a lot of time sitting on the floor with my tiny raptor. Bennett has become very vocal and produces new and interesting sounds. Most of them come from being disgruntled that he can’t move where he wants to yet. Although today has been a major milestone, he has rolled over six times in a row. All while yelling at me.

This time at home has also let me focus on my writing. I didn’t know how well I’d be able to keep up with my lent writing challenge, but every day I wrote something new. Now I may not complete it on the day I created the post, but I do at least start it. There was a day this week when I pushed out three new posts. I’m still grinding away at posts 11 and 12. They are the most complicated for me to write. I have to capture emotions and feelings from the past while not making the post extra flowery and taking away from the truth of the story.

Adelyn has been enjoying the one and one time too. She told me the other day that she is sad I have to spend all my time with the baby. I had worried about this when I was pregnant, and now she was vocalizing it. However, by being home and actively being able to put the baby down for a nap, I can focus my time on her. We’ve read books, made cupcakes, and snuggled on the couch watching her favorite shows. During the week, I spend a lot of individual time with her. But she doesn’t see it that way. She’s five, and it doesn’t process the same as an adult. But when she sees me putting her brother down for a nap and me coming to spend time with her, it makes her happy.

One of my favorite thing about being home this week is tormenting my husband. I know he thoroughly enjoys me being here with no true task to do. This leaves me with all the freedom in the world to demand his attention while he works. Being a stage five clinger is just one perk he gained when he married me.

All joking aside, I have loved the time he and I have been able to have. Usually, we see each other for a few hours a day, most of them on a ball field. But there were only two practices this week; the rest of the week has been free of baseball responsibilities.

Last night was probably my favorite night of the entire week. While Mr. Bennett refused to go to sleep, Tyler and I started playing “name that song.” It wasn’t something we planned on doing; it just happened. He had his Spotify app open and random tunes played. Sometimes I knew the song on the first note, and there were other times when I had to wait until the lyrics started. We did this for probably two hours. Switching from song to song, talking about memories they evoked, or making us look up different things about the bands. The night was perfect.

As we went back and forth, naming the bands and songs, I couldn’t help but think about how happy I was. This was all I’ve ever wanted out of life, to feel complete with my partner. To be comfortable in our own space and enjoy each other company. We didn’t have to do anything extravagant. Peace and simplicity tend to be undervalued. I love how comfortable Tyler and I are with each other. How easy our conversations are. Even after driving him insane from the moment I wake until he goes to bed, we always have something to talk about or share. Would it have been nice to go on vacation this spring break? Of course, it would have. I am always up for a new adventure. But if we weren’t home, there would have been so many natural moments that would have been missed.


Day 26: Overcast: The perfect weather for a baseball game

Florida is one of those unique magical places that can be overcast, 67°, and you’ll still want to spend it outside. Just be careful; you might still get a sunburn.

Spring in Florida can be weird. One minute it’s ninety degrees outside, and you should bring an extra shirt because you’ve sweat through your first one walking from your car to the office, to a day where you’ll never see the sun and the wind will rip right through you as if it’s trying to steal your soul. Those cooler days are what we Florida natives live for. Forget the sun and heat. We don’t enjoy stepping outside where the sun feels like it’s melting off your skin, and being naked feels like you’re wearing too much clothes. Now we want the days when you can wear shorts, a thin long-sleeve shirt, and flip-flops. Actually, I think most of us live in flip-flops, and it gets confusing when we have to wear closed-toed shoes for no professional reasons.

Sunday was a perfect day for baseball. When you stepped outside, it looked like rain. There was a cool breeze, and the sun wasn’t overbearing. The rest of the country might have groaned at the weather, but we were thankful for a break from the sweltering heat.

My husband grabbed my daughter’s hoodie as I tried to find a jacket that would fit my very large four-month-old. I didn’t think we’d have to tell our oldest to grab a jacket because he lives in his hoodie, even when it’s nearly 100° out. So, of course, when we got to the baseball stadium, he looked at me and asked, “where’s my jacket?” But thankfully, he didn’t need it. He was too busy running around like a madman with the rest of his teammates to even know if he was chilly or not.

All the parents sat together, drinking beer and munching on hot dogs and the most delicious Philly Cheese Steak nachos. We watched as the oldest boys ran around trying to catch foul balls or entice the pitchers warming up in the outfield to throw them a ball or sign an autograph or two. But what I thought was funny was how repeatedly we kept commenting on how perfect the weather was and how everyone enjoyed being outside.

I don’t think it mattered that there was a spring training game going on. Yes, there were times when the boys would sit down and watch the game, but they were too busy having fun. It was great to see kids being kids and being outside away from electronics. My daughter asked if she could go to the small field, and we said sure. Not only could we see the field, but my husband purposely picked her brightest pink hoodie. That way, we could spot her in a crowd. So as we talked, drank, and ate, we watched this pink wosh roll down the green “hill.”

For three hours, the kids were independent of their parents. We could still watch them. All the boys wore their bright green jerseys. It was fun to see the sea of green floating around.

Once the last call for alcohol came across the jumbo screen, the adults groaned. We weren’t ready for this beautiful day to end. Some discussed going to the tiki bar in someone’s community, while others talked about completing the errands they had avoided while enjoying this break from life. My husband and I admitted that although we wanted to go to the tiki bar, our youngest was done for the day, and it was time to go home.

On the drive home, my daughter was rambling on with her brother. They were talking about everything that happened, everything but baseball. While engulfed in their conversation, my husband flicked on the windshield wipers. The rain that we so desperately needed was finally starting to fall. But I could only think how happy I was that the rain waited until after the game. I guess the universe knew we needed the day to enjoy getting a little bit of pink on our cheeks.

Lent, Mommy Blogs

Day 5: Sea World

A day late, but I was drafting this in my head on my drive home from Orlando. 

Yesterday Adelyn and I had a girl’s day at Sea World. The drive up is about two and a half hours if you don’t hit traffic, and thankfully we didn’t. Before we headed out on our mini road trip, we grabbed coffee for me and a donut for her. This gave me about ten whole minutes of silence while she devoured her strawberry sprinkle donut. And do you know why I wrote strawberry instead of pink? Because I had to listen to a twenty-minute ramble fest about how her donut was strawberry, not pink, and it was the best tasting donut, better than chocolate, and they should only make strawberry sprinkle donuts. 

I don’t think I had my radio on for much of the trip. Adelyn has quite the imagination, and I wanted to listen to her wild tales. Occasionally Adelyn would ask me to turn up the radio so she could sing songs she knew, and if she didn’t like the music, she would ask me to turn it down. At one point, she sang Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and asked me to sing with her. 

“Mommy, I love when you sing with me,” she said after the third time through. 

Part of me wanted to be snarky and ask if she had potatoes in her ears because mommy doesn’t have a good singing voice, but the part that asked her what other songs she wanted to sing. 

When I decided I wanted another baby, I was worried about how our relationship would be. Adelyn has always been my tiny shadow following me, but is also very much her own person. I wasn’t sure if adding another little dependent would change things, and in a way, it has. I see her actively searching me out for when she wants her one-on-one time where, as before, I think she had gotten used to me just being there. Now my time is precious because it’s split between three instead of two. 

At one point on the trip up, things got quiet. I looked back in my rearview mirror, and she was quietly playing with her stuffed beluga whale. She told her stuffie we would see its mommy and explained how much fun we would have today. I’m pretty sure my heart exploded. 

I feel like one of the few parents who doesn’t hand my child some form of electronics when they get into the car. We have crayons, markers, and coloring books in the backseat for the kids if they get bored. Also, there is a window for them to stare out of because it’s not the worst thing in the world for them to be bored. The boredom tends to spark creativity in Adelyn. She makes up songs and stories or suddenly remembers what she did in school instead of her usual answer of “I don’t remember.”

There is a song that I must remember to thank her music teacher for teaching her. She asks over and over again, “are we there yet” and the parent responds with, “not yet, look out the window and tell me what you see.” This sparked a wild tale about alligators in the water eating the cows grazing in the fields we passed.  She asked why there were no houses along the road, and I explained we were in the middle of the state. This started a five-minute giggle-fest because she thought I said snake. She told me everything around us was what made up the snake, and we were driving on its belly.

The closer we got to ending our trip on the turnpike, the wilder she became. At one point, I told her I would feed her to the sharks if she did not calm down. This did not calm her down. 

“You can’t feed me to the sharks!” She cried. “If you feed me to the sharks, you won’t have a little girl.”

“That’s okay. I’ll make a new one.” I teased. 

It probably wasn’t the best idea because now she was telling me how I couldn’t make any more babies because daddy said no more babies, and I would be stuck with all the stinky boys. 

As silly as Adelyn can be, she knows when to chill. As we pulled off the turnpike, she quieted down. We turned onto 417, and the roads were congested. In my mirror, I saw her trying to read the map. When we left in the morning, I showed her where on the map to find the distance and the length of the trip. So she proudly announced we had ten miles until sea world. When I asked her how long that was, she said, “I don’t know. It’s what the map says.”

Arriving at Sea World manifested the loudest squeal I’ve heard from my daughter. She pressed her beluga against the window, pointing at the billboard with the beluga whale. We entered the gates and headed toward the beluga whale exhibit. We earned a few funny looks because I wore a sweater, and Adelyn asked me to help her zip her hoodie while it was nearly 80 degrees outside. 

As we walked up the ramp of the wild arctic exhibit, we heard this strange yell. As we got closer to the first enclosure, we discovered that the bizarre sounds came from Adelyn’s favorite sea animal, the beluga whale. I don’t think we could have timed it better if we had tried to. We showed up just as the trainers were feeding the whale. For the next forty-five minutes, we sat and watched as the trainers worked with the whales. At one point, Adelyn asked if her baby brother was a beluga because he made the same weird sounds when he was happy. The trainers had them dive deep, swim on their backs, and do vocal tricks for extra fish. When they floated on their backs, the beluga looked strangely human. I was later told that their cries sounded human underwater. It made me wonder if belugas were partly to blame for mermaid lore. As the whales came close, Adelyn would hold her stuffie over the net so they could see it. I warned her not to drop it in the water, and she said it would be okay because then her whale would be home with its mommy. 

I don’t know how I felt about that. Adelyn had made up her beluga’s life story as we drove to Sea World. She said that its daddy was killed, the bad people captured its mommy, and the baby was abandoned. That was until we adopted it, and the baby whale came to live with us. When I asked why her mommy was at Sea World, she said it was because the baby people hurt the mommy, and she couldn’t live by herself anymore. 

I have no idea where this child gets her imagination from. 

After leaving the beluga whales, we passed the harbor seal. It wasn’t very active. It was lying on its side, sleeping. Adelyn asked me if it was dead. I told her it was most definitely not dead, and if she looked closely, she would see it making silly mouth movements. She said, “aw, he’s boring when sleepy,” and we moved on to the walrus, who was the opposite of boring. Every time we’ve seen the walrus, they were lying around or being a cork in the water; however, today, they were zooming around their enclosure. Adelyn kept giggling at how big and fast they could move. 

We left the arctic and headed to Sesame Street, where Adelyn could ride all the rides. While I have a very adventurous little girl, she is tiny and can not ride the big kids’ rides. She immediately ran to the Slimy the worm ride and waited in line. She did really well as we waited. Looking around the area, she saw the roller coaster. She wasn’t sure how she felt about the ride. Mind you, the last time we went to Sea World, she rode it four times. After we rode the Slimy ride, we headed over to the roller coaster. Adelyn told me the line was too long, so we moved on. We walked around Sesame street, headed towards the characters where she also didn’t want to wait, and sooner than I expected, we were leaving. 

It was about a half hour until the Orca show, and I wanted to get a good seat. So we headed into the empty theater and headed to the center. She looked at the lower seats as we climbed and asked why we didn’t sit there. I told her that the area was the splash zone, and she scrunched her nose at me. While we watched the show, she was grumpy with me. But as the splashes got bigger, her eyes widened, and she told me, “mommy, they are so wet! And they smell like fish.” She was no longer upset with our decision to sit a little higher. 

After the Orca show, she asked if we could return to the belugas. I had no problem with that. The trip was meant for us to do what she wanted, and if seeing the beluga would make her happy, then why not. When we got up to the exhibit, she noticed something was missing… The whales. I suggested we go downstairs. Maybe they were playing underwater. As we passed the seal’s enclosure, it was empty. The walruses had trainers in their enclosure feeding them. Adelyn skipped the walruses and the seal and headed straight to the belugas. But instead of the giant white whales, one sassy fat seal was swimming around. The look on Adelyn’s face was priceless. 

“How did they escape?” she asked as the seal swam by the window. 

I didn’t have an answer. I didn’t know how or where the two giant whales went. 

As we left the wild arctic for the second time, she made up a story about how the belugas traded space with the seal because she needed more room to swim and that the belugas wanted to take a nap without people watching them. 

We spent the rest of the day walking around and watching the animals. It was so fun to see how excited she was to see animals she loves watching documentaries about. 

Before we left, she asked if we could go back to Sesame Street land to ride the carousel. As we waited in line, Adelyn noticed the little girl behind us. The little girl had been trying to talk to her mom, but the mom was too busy on her phone. I also noticed her trying to tell her mom what horse she wanted to ride and her favorite character. But as the child talked, her excitement faded. The mom never responded. She was scrolling through her phone, looking at TikTok. Adelyn, being the five-year-old that she is, loudly asked, “why is the little girl so sad?” I told her I didn’t know. But before I could ask her to keep her voice down, she boldly suggested, “maybe her mom should put her phone away.” 

I think I turned five shades of red. I don’t know why this mom was on her phone. Maybe she needed a mental break, but when you hear to put your phone away from a stranger, a child, for that matter, it’s rough. 

Thankfully, our turn to ride came up, and we boarded the carousel. Adelyn picked the orange horse because “it’s my favorite color.” It’s not my favorite. I hate orange, but it’s an inside joke with my family now. As the carousel went around, the mom took pictures. The little girl waved at her dad, and Adelyn told me she missed her dad. I asked if she missed her big brother, and she did yes. I asked her if she missed her baby brother, and she said, “I would if he was a sister.” The phone mom laughed at Adelyn’s response. I asked her, “Really, you don’t miss Bennett.” and Adelyn said, “yes, I miss him too. But why does he sound like a beluga whale?” I didn’t have an answer for her. 

I told her it was time to go, and she asked if we could ride the roller-coaster, and I said sure. We waited in line, and she was bouncing off the walls. I could tell she was tired. When she’s tired, she gets fidgety. We climbed into our car, and she yawned. “Mommy, I’m going to go to sleep.” 

“on a roller-coaster?” I asked. 

She closed her eyes and leaned her head on my arms. “yeeeees, ” she said with a smile. 

The ride started, and she opened her eyes. We quickly went around the track. As we rounded the corner at the end of the ride, she had a giant smile. She looked at me and said, “Okay, we can go home now.” 

Walking out of Sesame Street for the second time, she held onto my hand and closed her eyes. “I’m sleepwalking,” she told me with a silly grin. 

I picked her up and carried her gaps way over the bridge. But my child is a horrible kola. She doesn’t hold on. She is just dead weight. When I put her down, she whined about walking and how far the car was. She asked why we couldn’t just sleep next to the whales. 

By the time we got to the car, I think I was dragging her. She kept pretending to sleep while standing. Once we made our way home, she told me it was too cold… Even though she had two blankets. I called my husband and told him about our day and that we were on our way home. After I hung up, I looked into the rearview mirror and saw the grumpiest face. “What?” I asked. 

“I can’t sleep when people are talking. I need stories. “

I laughed, “isn’t that the same thing.” 

“No, because stories are fake, and when you’re talking to daddy, it isn’t fake.” 

I rolled my eyes and turned on her playlist. In about five minutes, she passed out. With no one to talk to, I switched the songs to my playlist, and for the next two hours, I loudly and horribly sang to every song. 

Lent, Teaching

Day 4: Work Life Balance

There is something strange about having a tiny communications device always attached to you. Because of this, it gives people the false sense that they are entitled to your time. This way of thinking is highly prominent when it comes to work-life balance. People expect you to respond to them immediately and get upset when you don’t. They don’t understand that, yes, they may send you a message, but that does not mean that you are under any obligation to respond. 

I have found this way of thinking to have been amplified since becoming a teacher. 

When I worked in broadcasting, I received a plethora of emails at odd hours. The network I worked at aired in the Middle East, and since I lived on the east coast of Florida, it meant my primary communications would be late at night or in the early morning hours. But I also worked from 3 to 11 at night to accommodate this kind of communication. 

There were a few times when I was on vacation that I had to call into work and walk someone through where to find the files. I received compensation for working during my time off. 

This kind of compensation is not extended to teachers or really to anyone for that matter. 

As a teacher, I expect emails from parents and students, but I did not expect the entitlement of how quickly both parties expect responses back. I have received emails from students while I was teaching, and I could not respond. That student sent me six emails in a matter of fifteen minutes, demanding I answer their question. Mind you; this student asked when I would enter their grade for their late work that should have been turned in three weeks prior. While this kind of correspondence is utterly uncalled for, I can excuse it slightly because my students’ ages range from 11 to 14.

What isn’t excusable is the same behavior from their parents. 

My contracted work hours are from 8:45 am – 4:15 pm, Monday through Friday. I do not earn extra pay or time off working outside those hours. I arrive at work usually around 8:15 and begin answering emails. I will even answer emails after hours if I’m not busy with my family. In the last three years, parents and students have exploited this time extension. 

When I started teaching, the emails came between 4:30 to five. But now, in my third year, emails are coming in at all hours of the night. Students and parents are emailing me between nine and ten at night. A: I don’t read them because my newborn needs my full attention, B: I’m usually getting ready for bed, and C: I teach tv production, and nothing significant requires an immediate answer. 

Students have become so accustomed to emailing teachers whenever they feel like it they don’t ask questions during school hours. They don’t feel it’s necessary because if they have any issues, they can email at midnight. Even though it’s not expected or encouraged for teachers to communicate after hours, that does not mean I haven’t received hostile emails from parents because I didn’t respond when their student asked me a question—those emails I choose to ignore until the next school day. There are zero reasons for me to get upset or flustered over things I can’t fix at home. 

If a student had a question on a project, they should have asked it during class. I make sure students have ample time to complete their work in school. I know students these days have a lot on their plate, and as I said, I teach TV Production. They shouldn’t be stressing over my class when they have much more complicated math and ela classes to worry about. 

It’s disappointing how many emails I have waiting for me when all my students know my classroom door opens a full hour before school starts. When I have encouraged them to come in in the mornings for help, they tell me it’s too early, or their parents won’t bring them because it doesn’t fit into their schedule. I’ve been told that if I just answered my emails over the weekend, they wouldn’t have to come in early. But then I informed them that answering their emails after hours didn’t fit into my schedule. 

Short Stories

Rockview: The Seaside Escape

The early evening sun was beating down on the weathered dock, warming my slightly tanned legs. It was only two weeks into summer, and I hadn’t put on more than a swimsuit and cover-up—Chripchrip. The little cricket alarm on my phone sprung to life, informing me it was time to roll over. I silenced it and did as requested, rolling over and soaking up the last of the evening rays. I didn’t want to have a bronze stomach paired with a ghostly booty.

“I see the bad moon a-rising. I see trouble on the way,” the song rang out on my phone. “Hello?”

“You done cooking?” Jackson asked on the other end.

“Oh, come on? Am I that predictable?”

“Sittin’ on the dock of the bay,” he sang, “watchin’ the tide roll away.”

“Okay, Otis Redding, you’ve made your point.” I sighed as clouds covered the sun, leaving me only with a cool breeze coming off the water. “You should stick to drumming. You were off-pitch.”

“You know, I think singing is in my future.” Jackson laughed as he started to hum another classic rock song.

“Are we getting dinner still?” My stomach growled. I unintentionally skipped every meal basking in the sun, enjoying my vacation.

“Just waiting on you.”

“Cassie, you know I’m not leaving until you’ve showered, blow-dried your hair, did your makeup, picked out what you want to wear, and changed three times. And before you say anything, ” Jackson chuckled, his keys rattling, letting me know that he was already on his way to the truck. “Yes, my dear, you’re that predictable. Yes, I’ve made reservations. And yes, I’ll be there in 45 minutes. So get moving.”

I laid there for about five more minutes before picking up my book and heading towards the house, walking the worn-out grass path that led away from the dock to my front porch. The roof was about ten years old, but it was still holding. Secretly, I hoped a hurricane would do enough damage so the insurance would pay for it, but knowing my luck, that wouldn’t happen until after I replaced it. The windows probably leaked more ac than it kept in but survived more storms than any new builds down the road. Since they hadn’t broken yet, I figured we were safe. Especially since I knew we’d never ride out a storm this close to the ocean. The pillars that lined my porch’s facade were begging to be repainted and were next on my list of realistic things to do right after I addressed the squeaky screen door.

The house was old, two hundred fifty years old, built by my great grandparents when they left the cape seeking warmer waters. It passed onto my grandfather, who added an attached garage When automobiles came into fashion, and then went to my dad, who used it as a vacation house. Dad said he wanted it to be filled with grandbabies, laughs, and happy memories, not just as a hidden sanctuary from the world. Instead of waiting to die as his fathers had before him, he gifted me the house for my 30th birthday this past spring.

However, an old house does not mean old plumbing. Jackson and I updated everything we could afford during winter break, which meant a tankless water heater and a massive shower head. Jackson thought I was ridiculous for wanting something that both of us could fit under at the same time. I just wanted to feel like I was drowning in Hell’s waterfall when I washed away the day’s stink.

I didn’t pick the showerhead for us to share. I loved the idea of being wholly encapsulated in a water column that blocked out the outside world. Besides, the cascading waterfall was the only thing that could penetrate my thick curls. The saltwater always wound them too tight, and most dainty showers might as well have been throwing water at me with a Dixie cup.

As I was humming Bad Moon Rising, I heard something downstairs.

Not again, I thought. Last time some creeper came to the door uninvited Jackson… I didn’t want to think about it. Unattended, the shampoo was running into my eyes, wiping it from my face. I listened again, but all I heard was the constant cascade of running water.

“Fuckers,” I muttered to myself as I washed out the last bit of shampoo. “You don’t have to break my front door.”

I groaned and pulled my towels from the rack. I couldn’t find my tablet, which I usually kept close. With my hair wrapped up in one of the towels and using the other to dry myself, I glanced over at the alarm clock on our nightstand. Jackson was still 10 minutes out. Though always punctual, Jackson was never early. I peeked out my bathroom window, but I didn’t see his black GMC Sierra at the end of the drive. I grabbed my phone off the counter, annoyed that I never downloaded the security camera apps.

“Hey babe, where are you?” I asked when he finally picked up the phone.

“I’m about 10 minutes out. What’s wrong?”

“Can you get here any quicker?” I asked, silently thanking God for the massive mahogany door. Any lesser wood might’ve splintered by now. Immediately I heard his truck pulling off the road and onto the gravel. I looked out the window one more time to be sure. “Somebody’s banging at the door, and all I can see is what looks like an unmarked cop car.”

Jackson sighed, “Did you check the cameras?”

“No, I didn’t check the cameras. I was in the shower and —

“And you left the tablet downstairs?” He sighed. “I told you to download the stupid app.”

“No, it’s in my nightstand,” I corrected him as the security camera notifications rang out behind me. “I would have called you first anyway.”

“Cassie, first you check the cameras, then you call me,” he said, “I’ll cut through the Johnson’s pasture and be there in less than 5.”

Almost in perfect sync with each other, the banging stopped just as Jackson hung up. Whoever was at my door should have left if they were smart.

Annoyed, I marched across the room to fish out my tablet, which was shoved deep inside the nightstand drawer. Twenty-six notifications from the security app awaited me. Of the sixteen cameras arranged around the property, three of them were fixed on the porch. I enlarged the view from the doorbell camera. There were two men at the door, and they looked uncomfortable as hell with their dark blazers and dress shirts buttoned up to their necks.

Jackson was already on the way, and it didn’t look like these two were set on breaking in, so I decided to finish getting ready. With my tablet in hand, I made my way to the bathroom to blow-dry my hair. I didn’t have long. Jackson could drive across water if he thought I was in trouble.

I gave up after a few more passes of the round brush and the dryer on high heat. There was no chance I was beating the Florida heat. It was sweltering outside, and between my damp hair and the humidity, even wearing just a towel felt heavy. I thought for a moment about how I could pull off a swimsuit cover-up as a dress but remembered the last time I did, that I ended up throwing it away. Red wine stains are the devil. Before I could decide on an outfit, I heard the roar of Jackson’s V-8 pulling up to the house.

I checked the clock and laughed. “Three minutes. Good timing, my love.”

I yanked a soft pink Maxi dress off the hanger and matched it with a pair of golden Roman strappy sandals. As Jackson neared the house, he slowed, letting the truck amble toward the two men so they could sweat a little more before they could ask whatever dumb questions they came to ask.

I could see the fire in Jackson’s eyes before he ever slammed the truck door. Men in suits always set him off, and these two were no exception. He never understood why they willingly wore nooses around their necks, though it would be easier for him to hang them from the rafters after he bled them out.

“Can I help you, gentlemen?” Jackson asked, winking at the camera.

The tall one, with a shiny spot on top of his head, fumbled as he tried pulling out his badge. “We’re looking for the owners of the house.”

Jackson read the badge from the edge of his sightline, never breaking eye contact with the sweating agent. “I’m the owner’s husband. What can I do for you?”

“We were under the assumption that a Derek Morris owns it.”

“Don’t know who’s updating your records at Quantico boys, but I got the credit card debt to prove this is our house.” Jackson scratched his lower back, just above the bulge where he kept his Glock holstered on his waist. “Now, if you don’t mind telling me why you’re standing on my front porch giving my wife a show on the security cameras when I know she’s supposed to be getting ready for dinner.”

Damn it.

I closed the app and headed back into the bathroom. The humidity lingered, making my dress stick. I wiped away the fog from the mirror, watching the last of my metallic scales recede into my hairline.

“Finally,” I whispered. With my scales gone, I saw how my skin glowed from today’s sunbathing adventures. I decided to skip makeup and let my sun-kissed face be free. Grabbing my saltwater pearl earrings from the countertop, I headed downstairs just in time to see Jackson come through the door.

“You missed all the fun,” he teased, locking the deadbolt.

“Who were they?”

“If they’re legit,” Jackson said, watching the black sedan drive away. “Feds. I have a feeling their department is classified.”

“Thank you for saving me,” I said, wrapping my arms around his neck. “Again.”

He kissed the tip of my nose. Instinctively he wiped his mouth, expecting my makeup on his lips. “You sure you’re ready?”

I crossed my arms over my chest. “Don’t I look ready?”

“Cassie, there were feds outside, and you’re just going to go out there naked?”

“I’m not naked,” I told him, avoiding eye contact. I looked for my purse, but it wasn’t hanging on its hook. I turned around to see if I had left it on the kitchen table. “It’s fine. If I need anything, I have stuff in my purse.”

Jackson sighed. “I wonder about you sometimes.”

“Only sometimes?” I asked as my stomach growled extra loud as if it was threatening him.

“Yeah, sometimes I wonder, and other times I just know.” Jackson laughed as he picked up the towel I had used earlier, revealing my purse underneath. “Cassie, are you okay?” he asked, handing it to me.

“I think so…I don’t know. I feel like my head’s stuck in the clouds more than usual lately. I’ll get better, though.” I smiled up at him. “I promise to be perfectly normal once you feed me.”

“I won’t hold my breath,” Jackson chuckled, nearly falling over as he held the door open for me. “I know who I married.”

Giggling, I walked out onto the porch and toward the truck. “If I weren’t starving, I’d take offense to that.”

We drove along the coast, passing a few farms with fields of cattle resting in the evening sun. The pastures were what I loved most about our town. Because there were acres of land in-between each home, neighbors didn’t bug each other unless they genuinely needed help.

“Did you find out what they wanted before you scared them off?” I asked as I watched the setting sun glisten over the bay.

“They were asking questions about your great-granddaddy. Not entirely sure what the feds would want with a dead man.” Jackson turned left at a four-way stop heading towards the small downtown.

An intricately woven cast-iron archway stretched over the street announcing the town’s name: Rockview. Just to the left was Dolphin Cove Marina, the original landing site of the town’s settlers. Legend had it that a pod of dolphins guided their ships through a storm and safely into the bay, narrowly missing all the rocks hidden by the monstrous, hurricane spun waves.

“You still in the mood for surf and turf?” Jackson asked as we waited for a few overly sun-kissed people–obviously, tourists since the locals stayed tan year-round–to cross the street before we continued down the road.

“Surf and Turf? No, I’ve been craving Franks all week!” I squealed. “I can not wait to sink my teeth into an order of ribs.” I always slathered them with extra BBQ sauce, but tonight, I wanted to drink it from the bottle.

“You going to need a napkin over there?” Jackson asked.

Tourists were everywhere, and I loved it. They brought life– and money– to our sleepy seaside escape. Without the snowbirds, I doubt the town’s quaint architecture of this town would have survived the army of contractors set on turning our brick and limestone buildings into soulless clumps of glass and plaster. Small clothing boutiques and tourist shops that sold cutesy, beachy trinkets were closing up for the evening as restaurants began adding extra tables and chairs onto the sidewalks. Even the food trucks were out tonight hoping to steal away some of the guests who were unwilling to wait for the next available table.

“You might want to call them and let them know we’re going to be late,” Jackson told me, adjusting the rear-view mirror.

“Looks like those feds weren’t done asking questions.” I smiled at him. “At least I’m all dried up.”

“It’s Florida,” he reminded me. “You know what humidity can do to you.”

“Well, what am I supposed to do? Walk around with a fan on my face? Or should we move back north and dry out like the rest of my people?” The hunger was wearing on my nerves. “I can’t help what I am.”

“That’s why you have that make-up. To hide the fact that you’re a fish,” he teased.

I clenched my jaw. “I’m not a fish. I breathe air, thank you very much!”

“Okay, dolphin.”

“Do you want me to eat you?” I asked sharply. “Don’t take any detours. If they want to poke around for information, they can do it while I’m sipping on wine.”

Jackson snickered. “Whatever you say, princess.” I leaned over the center console and punched him in the arm. “Was that supposed to hurt you or me?”

I didn’t answer him. I kept quiet until we pulled into Frank’s parking lot. It was the only restaurant in town with valet parking, and Jackson refused to use it. He drove us around to the back, where the employees parked, and opened the door for me.

“Heaven,” I said, inhaling the sweet and spicy scent of BBQ ribs and brisket wafting from the smokers.

“If there’s a heaven, it probably smells like this.” Jackson peeked inside his uncle’s smoker. Jackson picked up the baster brush and took a swipe with his finger. After a second tasting, I grabbed it from him. “He needs to add more cayenne pepper.”

“He needs to do no such thing,” I said as I licked the brush. “Your uncle creates magic. Don’t you dare go changing anything,” I stuck the brush in my mouth like a tootsie roll pop and sucked the rest of the sauce off of it. Jackson stared at me appalled but slightly turned on and leaned in to lick the sloppy splotches of BBQ from my face and lips.

Before things could get scaly, we entered the busy kitchen, and as usual, not a single person noticed us. The intoxicating aroma of wine, garlic, and boiling onions danced alongside the savory smells of andouille sausage, corn, potatoes, and of course, Old Bay Seasoning.

“If it’s not my favorite little mermaid!” Uncle Frank’s booming voice erupted from the front of the kitchen. “You’re just in time.”

“In time for what?” I asked, trying to avoid getting caught in one of his sweaty bear hugs. I failed. Instead, his monstrous arms wrapped around my thin frame nearly twice.

“I was just about to drop the crabs in the pot. You wanna help?” Uncle Frank asked, releasing me with a kiss on the cheek.

Jackson lingered behind as we walked over to the live crabs. “Hi, Uncle Frank, it’s just me, your own flesh and blood. Your godson and the reason why you even know Cassie.”

Uncle Frank lifted his eyebrows, shoving his hands into the tank. “What’s got him all twisted?”

“Some feds showed up at the house asking questions, and he let them leave alive.” I leaned down to watch a few unbanded crabs take swipes at Uncle Frank.

“That would leave me all sorts of grumpy, especially since they were coming after you.” Uncle Frank chuckled, emerging from the tank with his chest half wet.

I looked at the ground, avoiding eye contact with him. “They might be in your dining room right now.” “What the hell?”

He groaned. “Cassie, why did you bring that rabble into my restaurant? I have to look respectable for the snowbirds.”

“I think as long as your food continues tasting like it does, you could walk around naked, and most wouldn’t mind.” That earned me a deep belly laugh.

“I’d mind.” Jackson sighed. “And I can see them. Sarah sat them at the bad table. That wolf is one smart kid.”

“That’s why I keep her around,” Uncle Frank bragged. “She needs to work on her people skills, but I don’t have to worry about security when she’s here.”

I dropped two crabs into the boiling water. I always felt conflicted about the idea of keeping creatures in captivity. I had no problem hunting for my food. It felt less like murder when whatever I was after had the chance to run away. I felt a little bit better knowing that most people believe that crabs cry when they get dropped in boiling water. It’s not so much they’re sobbing as it’s them cursing me a thousand different painful deaths. Maybe they shouldn’t be so damn tasty.

Elijah, a veteran server, came in and grabbed fresh bread from a basket. As he was about to leave, he made eye contact with me and pointed to his hairline. Shit, my scales! Playing with a boiling pot of water wasn’t such a great idea.

“Um, babe,” I ran over to Jackson, who was watching the two FBI agents through the small round window in the kitchen door. “We have a problem.”

“Yeah, I know, those guys aren’t the feds.” Jackson turned and saw how bad it was. “Holy shit Cassie. Your face. This is why —”

“I know, I know. I fucked up.” I can’t believe I thought I could get away with no makeup.

It was the main thing that kept me from, well, looking like a fish girl who forgot to grow gills. I wanted to scratch my hairline. It was painful to have the scales hidden under my skin for so long. Stupid curiosity was getting the better of me. I wasn’t a cat. I didn’t have nine lives. What the hell was I thinking going out in public without protection?

Jackson pulled me close to his chest, keeping his breathing level. “We’ll figure this out, my love.”

I’m not sure what was going on with me. I had never been triggered by steam before. Usually, it took a full-on shower for even the smallest of my scales to make an appearance. I had never lost control over my body to the point where I murried out in public.

Holding my arms tight against my body, I shivered from the pain of the finlets as they sliced through my dry forearms. “I swear if you stab me with those spikes, you’re going to be angry with yourself for ruining my shirt.”

He was right. I would be mad if I ruined his shirt, again, for the third time this month. Blood wasn’t the problem. I knew how to get blood out of clothes. What I didn’t know was how to sew.

Uncle Frank took one look out the swing door and quickly shuffled us away. “My dear, let’s get you into my office. Easier to clean up any spilled blood.”

“You’re a shitty liar,” I told him with a fake smile. “The feds have vanished, and my guys can’t track them.”

Uncle Frank said flatly, “And I have a restaurant full of paying humans that I’d like to keep happy. So dry up in here before we have more to worry about.”

“You act more like him than you do your dad,” I told Jackson as soon as I knew Uncle Frank was out of earshot.

Jackson shook his head. “You’re just lucky he loves you because anyone else would have been out on their ass.”

“Do you honestly think they were Feds?” I asked as my body started to get control over itself.

“You know the government loves to employ are kind,” Jackson reminded me. “Love, I saw scales on when he whipped the sweat away. There’s a possibility he’s Muir.”

“Fuck,” I whispered. “It’s been over 250 years. They can’t possibly still be holding a grudge.”

“You hold grudges if I don’t take out the trash on time.” He reminded me. “There are countless amounts of Muir that blame your granddaddy for abandoning them in the new world.”

I looked up at the ceiling, trying to fight back the tears. We weren’t immortal, but for centuries we were indestructible, taking to the sea when our bodies needed to heal. But our healing source has become contaminated. It wasn’t something that happened quickly or even done on purpose. It was a by-product of the carousel of progress, as humans and Muir like created new and marvelous things that no one can live without, came new ways to poison us. We didn’t realize what was going on until it was too late.

Jackson folded me in his arms. “Want me to call your dad?”

“No,” I said. “Let’s have dinner first and then call him.”

“Fine, but you can’t stab me at the dinner table,” Jackson said, rubbing his hands on my now recovered arms. “You know how Frank is about getting blood on the furniture.”

We left the office and made our way to Sarah, the hostess. She smiled a toothy smile before leading us to our usual spot on the deck. It was close enough to the water for me to feel the breeze and not to have to worry about the moisture triggering anything.

“Chris will be out in a moment,” she said, dropping off the menus and returning to her stand.

“Why is Chris working tonight?” I asked, opening the menu. I never actually ordered anything from the menu. Uncle Frank usually knew exactly what I wanted and had the cooks making it before the waiter took our drink order. But after the whole Muirring out in the middle of his kitchen, he might have forgotten.

Jackson flipped open the drink menu, scanning the long list of beers. I knew he was searching to see if they finally added red ales to the list. “He’s covering all of Janice’s shifts. Frank said that Janice just stopped showing up, so they sent a few people to check on her. Her place was cleaned out.”

“Hm,” I said more to the menu than to Jackson. “I wonder if she started getting a body count.”

“Well, an Erinyes can only be good for so long.” Jackson folded the menu and looked around. Our server still hadn’t appeared and thankfully, neither had the feds.

“I told her working here would be hard, too many choices to snack on. A bar is the perfect place to find someone breaking their wedding vows.” I looked around at the other couples, wondering who was breaking their marriage vows. “Where’s is Chris?”

We watched as Jessica and Rachel walked by our table. Each of them smiled at us and kept ongoing. I didn’t blame them. Everyone was in the weeds tonight, which is probably why the new guy was so late.

Our usual server, Steve, nearly passed us but stopped. “Why don’t you guys have drinks yet?”

“Because Sarah sat us in Chris’ section.” I sighed.

“Why the fuck would she sit you with Chris? I got to talk to that girl,” Steve shook his head. “She just triple sat him. I think she’s punishing him for gambling way their rent again.”

Steve left the table without taking our order.

“Bring us a bottle of red!” I shouted at him.

Steve stuck his hand in the air to acknowledge me.

“Well, at least it wasn’t the middle finger this time.” I smiled at Jackson.

On the floating dock, a guitarist strummed a relaxing melody. I listened, trying to wash away my mounting fear. I watched couples sway back and forth on the dock bar sipping on drinks, not having a care in the world. I was jealous. I wanted to live in their world where monsters didn’t exist.

“So, Muir feds?” I rolled my eyes. “That’s new.”

“If they are actual feds, we’re fucked. I don’t know where else we can go that’s more off the grid than a town with two stoplights.” Jackson grabbed my hand and kissed it. “Wanna buy a boat and sail away.”

“As much as I loved the idea of disappearing from the whole world. Dad would kill us if we did that.” I laid my head on the table. “Where’s our wine?”

Jackson started to stand up but quickly changed his mind. “Don’t turn around.”

Of course, I turned around.

The tall, not bald federal agent was now impersonating Chris. His shirt was two sizes too small, Chris’s name tag was half hanging on, and the buttons were buttoned unevenly. The man was trying to carry my bottle of wine, but it was obvious he had no serving experience as it nearly fell off the tray twice. Even if I’d never seen Chris before, I knew, even at this distance, this man wasn’t human. Hell, I knew he wasn’t Muir. I don’t know how Jackson overlooked the bulging eyes and wide-set nose. All telltale signs of Salamander folk.

“Ugh,” I made a cat face to hold back the bile, trying to escape from my stomach. “Why do they always smell like the receding tide?”

Jackson laughed at me, but it seemed as though he was unaware of the approaching smell of sulfur and rotten eggs. The closer he got, the more overwhelming the smell became.

“They smell. How do you not smell it?” I asked in a hushed voice.

“You Undine are so weird?” Jackson shrugged.

I stopped as the bottle of wine came into my peripheral. “Where’s Chris?” I hissed as he uncorked the bottle.

“He’s unhurt. My partner gave him a sleeping draft and stashed him in the utility closet. It’ll wear off in less than an hour,” the waiter said. “I know, it was drastic, but we need to talk.”

“About what?” Jackson demanded loud enough to earn the glances of the couple at the table next to us. Their eyes flashed yellow, exposing that they weren’t human, making me worry less about the disruption.

I just hoped Uncle Frank wasn’t going to catch wind of all this.

“My partner and I should have handled this in private but, here we are,” he said, pouring Jackson a glass of wine. “I promise I didn’t poison it.”

Jackson locked eyes with the Salamander. “If you had, it would have been the last thing you did.”

“Sir, killing you would make our journey mute.” The Salamander looked around. “There are factions in the north talking about a Muir and Undine couple. They are saying the offspring’s blood will-.”

“You’re barking up the wrong tree, buddy.” I laughed so hard that I brought more attention to us from all the tables nearby. But the Salamander’s emotions never wavered. “I’m not pregnant.”

“At first, we thought they were speaking of your mother. Since she produced a hire so early in life, but now,” the man leaned in close, smelling me.

Jackson nearly flipped the table, getting out of his chair. Pulling the Salamander away from me, he growled. “Do you have a death wish?”

The Salamander threw hands up in the air, “I had to be sure,” he stammered. “But ma’am, you’re pregnant.”

“Cassie?” Jackson stared at me. “Is he- is there any possibility?”

“I’m still two days away from even thinking that is a possibility.” I stammered. “And even if I were, I have no clue what our child could do for the Salamanders.”

“It’s not just us.” He said, rubbing his throat. “Your child could save the aquatic peoples from all the human pollutants. Its blood is the cure. It’s the reason we left the old world.”