After Jim finished up at the police station, he guided me out into the baking heat of the summer day, and towards the heart of the town.
Everywhere I turned, there were new things that Scuttle had never even mentioned. Like these slim little things called cell phones that came in array of colors, shapes, and sizes. Jim even had one-but he said it was older than most. He even showed me how to use it.
Being so close to Jim made me think about what the old witch had said back at the station. His skin radiated warmth like the sun, but it was a gentle kind of warmth, not so harsh. His warmth didn't make me-as Scuttle had described it-"sweat". He smelled like something I could only describe as clean, like the sheets on the bed in my room at the Inn, and it was sweet and intoxicating. Whenever he touched me, my whole body tingled and I had to hide my blush.
As we entered a small place called a "dry cleaners", and I watched Jim walk up to the counter to talk to the manager, I realized that the old woman was right. I already view Jim as more than a friend.
This thought made my skin turn cold, like it had been in the depths of the sea. My throat felt thick and lumpy. I couldn't love Jim. He wasn't like anything I wanted in a guy. He was rude, impatient, rough, and never really spoke his mind. He wasn't talkative. He didn't express himself. He wasn't proper material for a princess of the Atlantic.
Then and there, I decided that I wouldn't think about Jim in that way ever again. I may have been attracted to him now, but we would never work. And besides, I'd only been on shore one day! The only man I'd met was Jim! I had to get out and meet more guys before I made a decision on who to love for the rest of my life on land.
I was very set on my decision until Jim turned back around and focused those piercing gray-blue eyes on me, motioning for me to hop up from my seat and come with him.
Why oh why did my heart have to start beating faster?
I clenched my fists. He held open the door for me, and I blushed uncontrollably.
If only I could control it!
The rest of my first day on land flew past.
I followed Jim around as he ran his errands. After the police station and the dry cleaners, we went to the post office, a bakery (where I had to beg for him to get me this amazing little thing called a cupcake), and then he got this thing called a "text" on his phone from his friend Ben.
"Sorry, Ariel," he said. With his free hand, he touched my elbow and started to guide us in the opposite direction of the Inn. "Ben needs me. I promise it'll be quick and then we can go straight to the beach like I said."
I had to hold back a smile. In my head, I'd been making a list of pros and cons. Another pro: Jim keeps his promises. Then, suddenly angry with myself, I jerked out of Jim's grasp and walked the rest of the way to his friend's abode deliberately a step behind him. He only gave me a curious, slightly amused glance and let me be. I tried to convince myself that I hated him for being so nice to me, but I just couldn't.
Jim's friend, Ben, had a tiny little gray cottage on the sea. The porch was rickety and unkempt, palm trees withered by the dirt drive, and all of the windows were open to the salty breeze coming off the water. Curtains that used to be a sunny yellow, now a dingy gray, fluttered like ghosts up above our heads. I started to ascend the steps, but Jim stopped me and pointed towards a large, wide door.
"Ben's always in the garage," he explained.
I raised an eyebrow. What's a garage?
"It's like a big room for cars and people's junk." Jim smirked. "Since Ben's mom is gone all day with her job, he keeps himself busy out there."
When I continued to look confused, he just chuckled and grabbed my wrist.
"C'mon," he urged. "You'll have to see for yourself."
I jumped at his touch and scooted out of his reach. His eyes seemed to darken for just a second, but it might've been my imagination. He wasn't making it easy for me with all of the physical contact.
Jim didn't speak to me again as he knocked on the garage door, which made a hollow bang, bang, bang sound. Clanking and whirring resounded from the other side of the door, as well as a strange type of music that sounded like screaming seahorses. I winced, my ears still sensitive to all of these earth noises. Jim knocked again, harder this time, and not a minute later, the music cut off. A crash and a mumbled curse followed. Finally, the door slid upward with a jar and a boy who's head barely reached Jim's chest squinted up at us through a thick pair of glasses. His square face was dirty with grease and grime. His skin was the color of caramel, and his bright green eyes startled me. He had skinny arms and skinny legs, and his rusty brown hair was sticking up in every which direction.
"Jim!" the boy cried, immediately jumping on my guide and squeezing him with all of his might. Jim didn't return the hug; instead, he endured it though he looked like he wanted to shrug it off. Something in his small smile told me that he wouldn't do it because he was fond of Ben.
"Hey, Ben," Jim greeted the boy sullenly.
Ben reluctantly let go of Jim and excitedly started chatting about some sort of project he'd been working on. Jim listened intently, his expression concentrated and his chin resting on his fist. The entire time Ben talked, I stood there awkwardly, feeling invisible. I didn't mind, but I felt like I was intruding in a way. And my skin was just itching for saltwater. With the sea so close, it was hard to control the urge to kick off my shoes and go running into the waves.
Eventually, Ben had to take a breath, and Jim cut in. "Hey, kid. Instead of explaining all of this to me, why don't you just show me?"
Ben nodded eagerly. "Sure, Jimmy! Of course!" Then he turned and took off into the depths of the garage, disappearing as fast as a dolphin.
I caught Jim's eye as we walked into the garage to wait for Ben. Jimmy? I mouthed around my smirk.
He shrugged. "I've told the kid a million times that my name's Jim, but he just refuses to call me anything but Jimmy." He sighed and rubbed at the back of his neck. "He also doesn't understand my strict 'no touching' rule."
I laughed soundlessly. He cracked a small smile. Warmth built in my stomach and churned like the ocean during a hurricane, but I tried to tamper it down. There surely was a connection between us, if only a meager one. I couldn't shake the feeling that I should be less comfortable around Jim, just meeting him and all. Instead, I felt an ease that usually came with a lifetime of companionship.
However, a moment later, Ben returned and I was invisible again.
When Jim and I finally got back to the Inn, the sun was setting and the savory smells of food drifted on the breeze and my stomach rumbled hungrily. My new feet and legs were quaking with the effort of walking around all day, and when I got a good look at my toes and heels, they were riddled with these horrible little lumps Jim said were called "blisters".
Jim helped me up the stairs. The dining room for the guests was full to its limit, and the hungry tourists gobbled down whatever food Mrs. Sarah set down in front of them after their long day of exploring the beach town. Jim put away the dry cleaning and the other things he'd picked up at different stores before setting off to help his mother in the kitchen. "Come on, Ariel," he called to me over his shoulder. "I'll get you something to eat back in the kitchen."
I nodded. I trailed after him to the kitchen, where he had me sit down at the small table and served me up a plate of salad and a bowl of something he called "spaghetti". Both were delicious, and within no time, I was asking for seconds. He raised an eyebrow and his eyes flitted over my body. "For such a tiny girl, you sure eat a lot," he mumbled before refilling my bowl with more noodles and meat sauce.
The guests left the dining room just as quickly as they had came. They left their mess for Mrs. Sarah, Addie, and Jim to clean up. I contributed by putting on the same apron from before and helped gather the dishes onto a tray to wash. When Mrs. Sarah gently shooed me away, Jim smiled and told me that I was free to go to the beach.
Without a backwards glance, I flung off the apron and sprinted out the back door. I was more than ready to find Sebastian and Flounder and tell them everything about my first full day as a human.
Ehh. Short update. Next chapter will be in Jim's POV. Sorry for the long wait!
Thanks for being patient!