(The episode opens with the sound of ocean waves lapping on the shore. The sound stays throughout the episode, underneath the narration.)
The beach was just crowded enough to be comfortable as Shelly and her daughter, Gina, set down their chairs.
“Hot! Hot! Hot!” Gina sang, almost dancing across the sand.
She dropped the cheap pink flip-flops she’d been carrying and opened her tiny chair. Then she waited impatiently as Shelly opened her own.
“I’m gonna go play on the jetty!’
Shelly glanced over at the jetty. It wasn’t far away and there were already a few kids climbing the rocks.
“Okay, but stay on the beach side,” she said.
“And right where I can see you!” she added as Gina took off.
Now that Gina was situated, Shelly could finally relax. They had three more days left in Gloucester and she was determined to spend as much of that time as she could sitting in the sun with a book.
She pulled out the crime novel she’d been reading and opened back up to her page, sinking into the gritty noir while keeping half an eye on her daughter by the water.
The hot sun on her shoulders started getting painful a little while later. “Gina!” Shelly called over as she got up and pulled sunscreen out of her tote bag. “Come over and get some sunscreen!”
Gina came running over, her wet feet and pink bathing suit coated in sand.
“You having fun over there?” Shelly asked, squeezing some sunscreen onto her hand and rubbing it into Gina’s shoulders. “I saw you over on the rocks. Any good starfish?”
“Naa, but there’s a girl over there and we’re playing!”
“Oh yeah?” Shelly asked with a smile.
“Yeah! She’s so nice!”
“That’s great, sweetie.”
Shelly finished applying her daughter’s sunscreen. “Alright, you’re all set. Go have fun! And don’t go in the water for a few minutes, let the sunscreen soak in.”
Gina took off again and Shelly started applying her own sunscreen. The sound of splashing immediately reached her and she sighed.
Oh well. They were on vacation.
Shelly looked up from her book a little while later. Gina stood in front of her, hair wet and wild.
“Hey, Gina-girl, what’s up?” she said, setting down her book. “Having fun?”
“Yeah! Me and Coral are playing dolphins.”
“Coral, huh? Is that your friend?”
“Yep! We’re pretending we’re dolphins. But she’s better at it because she can swim really fast.”
Shelly frowned. “Oh yeah?” she said. “You’re not swimming away from the jetty, are you?”
Gina pouted. “No, Mom. You said stay by the rocks, remember?”
Shelly kissed the top of her head, tasting salt and sun. “Yes, I did. And you’re doing a great job listening.”
She picked her book back up.
“Besides, Coral has a fin. So she’ll beat me anyway.”
Shelly paused, then looked at Gina. “What did you say?”
“Oh, she has, like, a tail? So she’s a faster swimmer than me. But that’s okay because she’s super nice and fun. Can I go back over?”
Shelly laughed. “You came to me!”
“Oh yeah. Okay, bye!”
Gina took off and Shelly laughed. A new imaginary friend then. Alright.
“Mom! Can I have a Capri Sun?”
Gina was back, her face pink from the sun. “Sure, sweetie,” Shelly said, unzipping the cooler to pull one out.
“And can I have one for Coral?”
Shelly stopped, hand still in the insulated bag beside her. Then she pulled out two pouches. It wasn’t like they were in short supply, Gina’s imaginary friend could have one.
“Do you want to meet her?”
Gina looked so excited and happy that Shelly didn’t have the heart to say no. Not when they were on vacation. “You know what, sweetie?” she said as she stood up, “I could stand to put my toes in the water for a few minutes.”
Gina slid her hand into Shelly’s and started leading her toward the jetty. It was a little less busy now, a few older kids playing further out and a couple men fishing in the deeper water. But beyond them, Shelly could only hear the waves and the occasional seagull.
“She’s up here, Mom. Just on the other side of the rocks.”
They stepped onto the boulders at the water’s edge and Shelly frowned. “Gina, those look slippery. Have you been playing on them?”
“They’re not, Mom,” Gina said, pulling her forward.
They were. The jetty was wet from the incoming tide and Shelly could see blankets of barnacles in gaps that were easily the size of her daughter.
“Listen, honey,” Shelly said, a little irritated with herself for not paying closer attention to what Gina had been doing. “This is a little too dangerous just to play a game with an imaginary-”
She froze. In the water ahead of them were two figures with snarled, black hair. Both were holding onto the rocks with gray-green hands and gazing up at her and Gina.
She gripped Gina’s hand, putting herself between her daughter and the figures in front of them. Who were holding the rocks at the base of the jetty while their green fins (oh God, fins) floated in the water behind them.
The larger one gazed up at them with the same stunned expression Shelly could feel across her own face. They turned to the smaller one.
“Coral, is this your imaginary friend?”
Their voice was raspy and slightly gurgled. Shelly took a tiny step toward them, holding out her hand.
“Uhh,” she managed to croak out. “Capri Sun?”