(a Magical Midlife Mom flash fiction story, told from Melissa's point of view)
My teenage daughter Regan held her nose as I opened the trunk to Dirt Dash, my beat-up beige hatchback that I refused to trade in for a newer model. The strong odor of fish wafted out.
“Are you sure selkies even celebrate Thanksgiving?” she asked.
“Who cares?” I grabbed one red bucket and motioned for her to pick up the second. “It will be a nice gesture either way.”
Regan wrinkled her nose but grabbed the bucket of fresh cod, keeping the handle as far away from her as possible as we trudged across the secluded gravel parking lot. “How did this not stink up the entire car?”
“Ida gave me a rune stone that keeps any odors within a tight radius. The smell shouldn’t travel much farther than the trunk.”
“Remind me to thank Ida later. This all seems like a bit much just to spread some holiday cheer.”
“Hey, the selkies saved our bacon back when your fae grandma wanted you dead. It’s the least we can do in return.”
“You’re giving them dead fish in return for saving our lives?” Regan asked sarcastically.
“Of course. Who doesn’t like food? And Gabriel told me selkies never say ‘no’ to cod.”
Regan continued to make faces as we wound our way through a dense path of conifers on our way toward the beach. I decided not to comment. This wasn’t only about repaying a massive debt to the selkies. During my first year as the official Stronghold HR manager, I decided it was my mission to spread holiday cheer.
“You could have invited everyone to a turkey dinner at the office,” Regan grumbled.
“I said everyone likes food. Not everyone likes turkey.”
“That’s why you have the potatoes, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. Who in their right mind doesn’t like pumpkin pie?”
Regan halted in her track to give me a sorrowful look. “I’m so sorry.”
I raised an eyebrow at her. “Why?”
“Because that means the end of your relationship, and I know how much you liked him.”
I rolled my eyes and kept going. “Har. Har. You are hilarious.”
Regan giggled, jogging to keep up with me. Welcome to the world of sarcastic teens.
Even with Regan’s bad jokes, I was grateful for her company. I wasn’t a huge fan of making the hour-long drive out to the coast alone, and she knew it. Instead of hanging out with her friends on a Saturday, she chose to spend it with me. It warmed my heart.
Then Regan ruined it. “Can you let me drive on the way back?”
At the end of the day, she was still an opportunistic teen with a learner’s permit.
I’d fought off animal shifters, seasoned knights, and actual demons, but nothing scared me more than the idea of Regan behind the wheel.
“Sorry, kiddo, but I’m not ready for you to drive on those twisty mountain roads between here and Salem. We need to stick to easy Sunday morning driving for now.”
“But I’ll never learn how to really drive that way!” Regan protested.
“And I thought you were just coming with me out of the goodness of your heart. I guess we both have to deal with disappointment.”
We’d made it through the treeline to the rocky path that led down to the beach. We grew silent, partly due to the argument, but the muddy path and steep terrain also forced us to concentrate as we balanced the heavy buckets in our hands.
When we got to the bottom, we trudged onto wet sand that clung to the bottom of our sneakers in clumps. I don’t know how they do it, but the selkies always knew when to appear at this secluded beach. Today was no exception. Before long, a dozen shiny gray pinniped heads popped up among the waves.
None of them came to shore, though. Instead, we waited until a gorgeous, mostly-naked woman rose out of the foam, like Aphrodite from the sea. Her silver hair cascaded over her dark skin. The only bit of clothing she wore was her fur pelt around her shoulders.
Rowena, leader of the selkie tribe, approached with an amused smile. “Is that cod I smell?”
I nodded enthusiastically. “I brought two bucket loads for you…for Thanksgiving.”
Her brow crinkled in confusion. “What is that?”
“I told you so,” Regan muttered behind me.
I ignored her. “It’s a human holiday where we express our gratitude for all the good things in our life. We always top it off with a meal, so I decided to bring you some.”
“You eat raw cod?” Rowena asked, surprised.
“No, we tend toward turkey, potatoes, and pumpkin pie.”
Her grin widened. “I’m glad you brought the cod. No offense, but that sounds disgusting.”
I turned around and finger waved at Regan. “I told you so.”
Rowena laughed at our antics. “You two remind me of my conversations with Sadie.”
My heart lightened at the name of Rowena’s young selkie daughter. “Where is she?”
“She’s off on a foraging expedition of her own.” Rowena frowned. “I was worried she was a little young for such an excursion, especially given her brazen nature. But then I realized that I would only hold her back if I did not allow her to grow.”
I blinked, taken aback by that statement. I looked over at Regan, half expecting another “I told you so,” but she refused to look at me.
Rowena helped Regan and I distribute our fishy snacks by chucking them out into the waves, watching the various seal heads grab them eagerly in their jaws before diving back under the water. Rowena saved a few for herself and her daughter to be eaten at a later time.
“Thank you for your kindness,” Rowena said before doing a full body flip back into the wave, expertly wrapping her pelt around her like a cloak so that she hit the water as a seal.
Regan offered to put my bucket into hers and carry them back up to the car, but I took them from her. “I’m sorry about earlier,” I said. “I’ve changed my mind. I’ll let you take a short driving shift on the way home.”
Regan’s eyes widened with joy. “Really?”
“Really,” I said, hoping I would not regret this decision when we were driving at the edge of the curvier roads. “As long as you promise to take absolutely every safety precaution.”
“I will!” she said, grabbing the buckets from my hands and dashing up the path with energy only young people have. “Thanks, Mom!”
As I trailed after her at a more reasonable pace, I paused to smile at the gently rocking Pacific Ocean. “Thank you for the parenting advice,” I said to an absent Rowena. I’d come to perform an act of kindness for the selkies and ended up getting some much-needed advice in return.
My heart full of gratitude, I followed after my daughter to our next adventure.
Here's hoping I'd survive.
Read more of Melissa's magical adventures in the Magical Midlife Mom series.