I sat in my usual spot, at the Seaside Bar and Grill, staring out the window at the surfers below.
It was early afternoon and the place was empty except for me and Kels, all three hundred pounds of him, behind the bar.
The sunlight and salt air tumbled in, carrying the sound of gulls, and I was thinking that there were days when California really was paradise with half my brain, and remembering that evening I first met Charlie with the other half, when the dolphin surfaced just beyond the breakers and called toward shore.
It's funny how these things happen.
Its call didn't cause me any pain I can remember, but still, I couldn't bear it. I shrank away from the window, then grabbed the sill and slammed it down, sealing myself in the bar.
Kels glanced my way at the sound, rolled his eyes, and went back to his inventory.
I'd never felt that way before, but I knew exactly what it meant. All the heat drained from my blood, and I gave a single, violent shiver.
The dolphin was still calling to me, silently, from the other side of the glass.
I leaned forward.
The sun played across my face, and the reflection of an old man stared back at me from the window.
An impressive old man, to be sure: I still had a full head of hair, gray but curly; a distinguished goatee with a few flecks of black offsetting the silver. I only wore the glasses for style—I didn't need a prescription. I had a sparkle in my eye and a bounce in my step, but I was, undeniably, old. Old enough to have made my mark on the world. Old enough to know who I was. Old enough to have nothing more to prove.
How long had it been?
I couldn't remember.
I thought of opening the window again, just a crack—but I didn't.
Instead, I pushed back my chair and looked at Kels. He was messing with the remote control for the television over the bar.
"I'm going back, Kels."
He looked up. "Back?"
"Before it's too late."
He raised those black eyebrows of his, thought about it, then nodded.
"Good for you."
I have no idea whether Kels believed I was a dolphin. I'd told him the story a hundred times—all about the first time I changed into a human, all about Charlie finding me on the beach. I'd told Kels my whole life story, for that matter. He always listened patiently, raised his eyebrows, stared at the bar top—or the glass he was polishing with his stubby fingers—and made interested noises.
He probably thought I was nuts.
"This going to be a formal swim?" He was looking my way again.
He nodded at my garment bag, hanging over the back of a chair.
" 'Cause you have a tab, you know."
"I'm just going to change here, later."
"I've got some things to do before I go. I can't just run off and leave a bunch of loose ends, can I?"
He shook his head and aimed the remote control at the TV.
I stood up.
"Wait! I want to see this."