Despite having walked the same trails since she was seven, the views in Guilin never lost their beauty. The odd clusters of peaks covered in lush forests seemed something an American adventure novel would contain, like the one she had read as a child after her father brought it home. She gazed down from the side of one of the peaks, hair blowing in a light breeze that carried the same humid air she had grown up with. The day was hot, and the sun danced in flashes across the river’s surface. Today was like any other, but tomorrow wouldn’t be.
Tomorrow, she is moving away. She had gotten into the University of Washington in Seattle, which she was beyond proud of. As a child, Tao had always wanted to go abroad to learn, but her parents denied her wish. Now that she was eighteen, she had more control over her life and choices; not that her parents were super controlling, but they often tried to coddle her. Now she could go out and explore her life, and hopefully her sense of self. She had her secrets, revelations, and panics, but none of them were safe enough to explore in her own home.
When she finally was able to tear herself away from taking a final look at her city, she knew that her hike home would take a couple hours at best. She hoped she’d make it before sundown, in hopes to avoid an upset mother and father and be able to have one last glorious dinner made by her aunt. Maybe if she was fast enough, she’d get home right at the golden hour and could have her favorite soup under her favorite tree.
She eventually reached the last leg of her journey, trailing along the Li river bank. A river cruise ship glided past her through the water as the sun slowly began to get closer to setting. She had begun to doubt the chance of getting home before the golden hour, when a familiar face popped up from the water. Her long brown hair floated atop the water, and she was wearing something akin to a swim top, light blue with darker flowers.
“Fancy seeing you all the way out here, Tao.” The girl teased as she swam to shore. “You really should be packing since you’re leaving tomorrow.” The college bound girl smiled fondly at her with all the warmth her face was capable of, mostly thankful she was able to see Fen one last time before leaving.
“Yeah yeah, I’m aware. Just wanted to hike one last time before taking off for Seattle.” Tao said, almost a fully true statement. She crouched next to the river bank to get closer to Fen’s level. The girl pulled herself to shore, and revealed an actually very normal sight. Fins. Where human legs normally would be, a fish tail took its place with the same structure and design as a grass carp. Fen’s webbed hand came up to clasp Tao’s the best it could. They giggled and then looked out into the river again, watching a fisherman and his cormorants float by.
The Li River in Guilin was known for its fishermen, as well as their merfolk population. They often helped each other; when a net was lost, a mer would retrieve it. If a mer needed medical help, some fishermen would come together and pay for the expenses. Most merfolk didn’t work human jobs since they didn’t need money to survive, but you could find one working as a fisherman occasionally.
Tao and Fen met when they were eight-years-old. The regular old merfolk cliché of: Human fall into water. Merperson take human out of water. Friendship happen. Hooray. After their first meeting, every weekend she could, Tao ran to the river and played with Fen until sunset. Over the years, the two had created such a strong bond, just looking at Fen made Tao’s heart soar. She had been almost hoping to not see Fen today, terrified of breaking down in front of her best friend as they said their goodbyes. Deep down, she knew one of the reasons she went on this hike was for the chance to see her friend.
She had been right, Tao was a step away from breaking down. The human and mermaid sat in silence for longer than they should have if Tao wanted to get home in time. She didn’t care enough. Holding Fen’s hand with a steel grip as they stared at a golden sun and sky, current of the river babbling soothingly in the background.
“I’m thinking about working.” Fen’s voice broke the silence.
“Why?” Tao turned to look at her in confusion, ignoring her instinctive need to hide her tears.
“I wanna get a phone.”
“Again, why?” Tao’s sass dripped though, and Fen exhaled a half laugh.
“I wanna be able to talk to you when you’re gone… I’m gonna freaking miss you.” With that, Tao cracked. Tears streaked down her face, full steam ahead. A wail builds up in her throat as she dropped her head into the crook of Fen’s neck to sob. Fen’s arms came to encircle her within seconds, hanging on for dear life as she cried into Tao’s shoulder, too. They sat there and cried for a long while. By the time they finally stopped and lifted their heads, the sun had dipped below the horizon. They looked up, then into eachothers dark brown eyes.
“You need to go.” Fen hiccuped.
“Can I swim you there?”