Aquarium of the Pacific was an eleven minute bus ride away. Tanissa had considered insisting that she pay (at least for the bus), but Brekkyn was in a bad mood, and she was a little afraid of her right now. She sang to the bus driver, then turned around and sang to the entire bus full of commuters. Like a radio being turned down, the people stopped talking and laughing, going quiet and sitting contentedly in silence. “How is that possible?” Tanissa asked.
“I don’t care,” Brekkyn spat, and sat down in the first available seat.
Tanissa nearly walked to a different row in protest, but her friend patted the seat next to her and, like a dog, she obeyed. But now she was paranoid: had she sat down next to Brekkyn because she wanted to? Or because of the mer-girl’s song? Would she even know if the song had affected her?
But now that she was worried about it, what if she just obeyed out of fear? Brekkyn was spoiled, but she wasn’t a bad person, was she?
Tanissa was still turning this over in her mind when the bus pulled up right in front of the aquarium, which was a big ugly grey warehouse, but with waves etched into the sides. She thanked the busdriver, who had a happy, empty-headed expression on her face, and hadn’t when they’d gotten onboard.
“What do you want to see first?” Brekkyn asked. Tanissa had never been to an aquarium before, but she figured that--
“Let’s go see the sharks,” Brekkyn said before Tanissa could answer. “Sharks are the best. And dolphins.”
The older girl wasn’t sure how you could like both, but did not comment. “Do they have a place where there are dolphins, and you can swim with them?” She’d seen something about that on TV once.
“No, no dolphins,” the younger girl said as they approached the entrance. “But they have stingrays. You can pet them.”
“Pet stingrays? Don’t they, like, stab and sting?”
“No, they’re totally nice. You’ll see.”
Tanissa had a thought, then went ahead and voiced it. “Maybe they’re nice to you because you’re, you know . . .”
Brekkyn rolled her eyes. “That’s racist.”
Suddenly, Tanissa had to laugh. She didn’t know where it came from, and she tried to control herself, but that struck her as oddly funny.
“What?” Brekkyn asked.
“Don’t laugh at me,” the girl muttered, and it wasn’t a bratty child remark, it sounded colder, more grown up.
“Anyway, you’ll see, stingrays are nice. Like dolphins.”
“But nobody swims with stingrays.” But she was ignored.
Well, they turned out to be manta rays, not stingrays, but the aquarium was a really fun, really beautiful place. Fish of every shape and size, freshwater and saltwater, were on display, in small tanks and huge swimming pool-sized ones. There were some albino whales you could observe as they swam in what looked like hazy, ice-cold water. There were walruses that you could watch on both the surface and underneath the water. There was a giant fishtank shaped like a sphere with fish so colorful they didn’t seem real. There were sea turtles and swam in a circle as though running laps on a track.
“I come here all the time,” Brekkyn said. “It’s like going to the ocean, only better.”
“Do you have, like, a season pass?”
Brekkyn didn’t even give her an answer on that one, just a condescending look. Of course, the mer-girl had a season pass to everything.
“You come by yourself?”
“Usually,” the pale girl admitted. “My mom used to come with me, but she got bored of just standing here, watching the swimming things. So I just come alone now.”
That sort of sounded sad, but Tanissa thought of how the thin woman Brekkyn lived with cringed away from her “daughter,” and it didn’t seem so sad anymore.
“I could give you a tour,” the younger girl suggested. “I know about all the exhibits and stuff, and can tell you anything the workers say.”
“Alright,” Tanissa said, remembering the tour she’d taken of her dad’s building when she first arrived. That may have been when she liked Brekkyn the most.
“They were going to have penguins here once,” she said, “but they said they’d have to keep it dark during the summer or something, and they’d be no fun to look at.”
“Why?” “Dunno. Penguins are stupid anyway.”
They stared at the turtles for a few minutes, then Brekkyn decided it was time to move on. “They let me feed them once,” she boasted.
As amazing as all the sea life was, Tanissa was getting seriously tired of hearing about all the special treatment she was used to. Sometimes, it felt better to wait in line for something, let everything build up until it was your turn. But she didn’t think the girl would understand that. There were movie stars and singers who always got the best tables, everything for free, and ushered to the front of the line at Disneyland, and they all felt they deserved it, were entitled to that sort of treatment.
“Do they have piranhas here?” she asked her “guide” upon seeing a squat grey fish staring at them and the three or four other kids nearby..
“No. They’re not from the ocean, dummy.”
“But they had salmon back there, and catfish.”
“Those are lake fish. Or river fish, or whatever.”
Brekkyn put her hands on her hips. “Tell you what, we’ll talk to the manager or something, and I’ll get him to put in a piranha tank.”
“If I try hard, he’ll make it happen. Might take some time.”
“No,” Tanissa said, “I won’t be around long enough.”
“Yes, you will.”
“I was joking. I wouldn’t want to see piranhas anyway. Sharks are good enough.”
They did watch the sharks, which swam and swam, looking for something to eat, both beautiful and terribly ugly at the same time. The giant fish ranged from large to huge, and the tank was so big as to take up one whole section of the building. There was a section shaped like a tunnel, where people could walk through and feel as though the sharks were all around them, and watch them from every angle. Tanissa considered joking about going swimming in that tank, but didn’t dare.
“That one’s a hammerhead,” Brekkyn pointed out, as though that wasn’t the easiest shark to identify. “And that scary one there? A mako.”
Tanissa stared at it. It was sleek and pointy, with a mouth so full of teeth it couldn’t close it all the way. Its eyes were so big and black as to look like a mistake in a child’s drawing, or something manipulated with Photoshop. As it turned and swam away from them, she got a unsettling thought. “You . . . you can’t talk to sharks, can you?”
“Sharks?” The pale girl tilted her head, seeming to think about it. “I bet I can.”
She focused on the ones directly ahead of them--several fish-sized and one about the size of a person--and began her little song. Tanissa winced. It wasn’t as though the song was ugly--quite the contrary, in fact--but she had grown to dread the tune, and the effect it had on people.
And sharks, apparently. The small ones immediately turned on the big one, and began to nip at its fins and gills and tail. The big shark snapped at the smaller ones, managing to grab one in its jaws, but the others continued to bother it, not really doing any damage, but really getting on its nerves. The water around the injured fish went pink with blood and fish particles, and the sharks nearby converged on that area, trying to get a taste of the dying little one.
Tanissa looked away. “Make them stop, please,” she whispered.
“Why? This is, like, a treat to them. A game.”
No, it’s a game to you, Tanissa nearly said, but didn’t. The girl had a mean streak in her, and if she could make sharks turn on each other . . .
Other than that, the trip was nice. There was something peaceful about all the water and fish and blue lighting, something relaxing and centering, and Tanissa saw it affect Brekkyn as well. “I come here all the time,” she said for the third or fourth time that day.
Tanissa thought that sounded nice, and wondered if Dad would like to see all this. “How much is a ticket,” she asked.
“Ticket to what?”
“It’s always free for my friends.”
Tanissa made sure not to sigh. “But what if I came here without you? Like with my dad?”
Brekkyn’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t do that. This is our place.”
“Right, but if--”
“If your dad wants to bring me, he can get in free too,” she said, as though granting a favor.
Tanissa let it go. There was probably a website that listed the prices, if that ever came up.