With a minimal amount of knocking over the soap, toothbrushes, and mouthwash, I managed to turn on the sink. From there, I leaned forward so the water could run across my face briefly before moving the stream towards my gills and easing the burning dryness enough that I could breathe again. It didn't completely banish the discomfort and difficulties. And it still felt weird using fresh water instead of salt. I was born to have saltwater flowing through my gills. But it did feel better. That was the important part.
I kept still for a little longer, letting the water wash over my poor skin and gills. Summer was always harder to deal with since the heat dried me out faster. Just a few minutes in the direct sunlight on the warmest days left me feeling itchy and gasping. Of course, it was also the time of year where sprinklers, kiddie pools, and trips to the beach offered sneaky opportunities to get wet. It was a balancing act.
Honesty, my entire life was a giant and complicated balancing act, both figuratively and literally. From the moment I decided to leave my proper place beneath the waves and see the world of humanity, I've been trying to combine what I am and who I want to be. What was meant to be a quick exploratory trip to learn more and practice my mimicry skills became a more permanent choice when I saw a red-haired stowaway on a fishing boat.
Living on land while pretending to be human wasn't easy for an octopus, but I decided to do it because I fell for Scarlet instantly that stormy night. Back then, I didn't know everything such a life would require. I knew it would involve prolonged time wearing a suit of clothing and trying to convince eight tentacles to behave like a pair of arms, legs, and a mustache. But that was just the beginning of the adaptations.
I bought a few books on human and octopus biology eventually, hoping it would make it easier to figure out the differences and perfect my charade. Humans directly control their limbs while I can only offer vague directions of what I want to do, demonstrating how the centralized brain compares to my more decentralized one. While it worked well when in the ocean with eight tentacles, I have problems keeping my movements coordinated and human-like. Humans always know exactly where their limbs are in relationship to their bodies, but I have to see mine. Then there's the fact that they possess a stiff internal skeleton to give them structure, stability, and control while I don't. Any type of support for my body I needed was usually accomplished by my buoyancy in the water. Supporting all my weight on four tentacles stuffed into a pair of pants isn't exactly easy. Add all of these problems up and there are plenty of reasons why I have trouble controlling myself out of water. Even the easiest tasks are a challenge to perform, my efforts resulting in chaotic messes.
Breathing was another challenge I never really considered before I decided to live as a human. As long as my gills were kept moist, I could always manage the few times I crawled out of the ocean. It wasn't completely comfortable outside of saltwater, but I could handle it. So I didn't think about it too much until I moved out of the water permanently.
But when my gills slowly and gradually dried out, it would start to hurt and my breathing would become more difficult and labored. A biology designed to filter oxygen out of seawater didn't handle dry air quite as easily. If I put off remoistening my gills for too long, I would start suffocating. That wasn't fun. Not to mention it also would draw attention to me that I didn't need if I was going to keep my secret. But since my clumsy movement knocked things over anyway, spilling water on myself randomly doesn't even cause a comment anymore. And I talked Scarlet into buying a humidifier for the house, which helped a lot. But sometimes I still needed to dip my face into a sink or float in the tub in order to catch my breath.
Abrupt knocking at the bathroom door startled me into losing my balance, sending me slipping to the floor and tangling my limbs with the plunger in the corner. It was pure luck that I let go of the sink handle before I fell. My suction cups tended to have a firm grasp once attached and that can lead to problems when I don't release them in time. We'd already repaired the bathroom twice this month. I wasn't eager for third remodel.
"Honey, are you all right?" called Scarlet from the other side of the door. "You've been in there an awfully long time."
I gave her a quick and reassuring blub, causing my wife's pleasant voice to remind me to hurry up. A few seconds later, her footsteps moved away from the bathroom. She believed me. I relaxed a moment before clambering back into a vertical position and reaching for a towel, managing to grab it on my fourth try. I couldn't go out there dripping water or there would be questions. The trick was to be slightly moist rather than overly wet or dry enough to suffocate. Balance was key.
Talking was both tricky and easy. It didn't require the same level of coordination that most of my accomplishments needed. It had slightly different challenges. I practiced as much as possible when it came to speaking properly, but there was only so much I can do without vocal chords, a tongue, or lips. An octopus just wasn't designed to make the same sounds as a human mouth and vice versa. Even if octopuses were social enough to actually have names among each other, there is very little possibility that I would have a name that my wife could pronounce. And when I spoke, all my words came out as blubs. Thankfully my family and at least some of the people I dealt with managed to understand what I meant. Apparently they thought I just have a strange accent and were too polite to mention it.
I was actually fairly lucky that most people were too polite to comment on a lot of things. They didn't mention my odd skin tone, my lack of fingers, or my oddly-shaped head. If they noticed, they never said a word about it. Pretending to be a human was easier when they purposefully ignored anything strange. I could knock over everything in the room, fail to pick up an object a dozen times, and struggle to remain vertical, but they would intentionally not realize it wasn't normal for humans.
Except for Chef Fujimoto. He noticed everything. He knew I was an octopus from the very instant he saw me on that fishing boat. He could see right through my charade and he wasn't afraid to tell anyone who would listen. Of course, no one else ever paid him any attention when he started screaming about fish being out to get him. The poor man might be right about me, but he's also very paranoid and could benefit from some form of therapy. I did feel sorry for him. I truly did. And I would tell him that, but it was hard since he kept trying to attack me at every opportunity. His desire to expose my secret, his goal to turn me into calamari, and his lack of concern about my family getting caught in the crossfire was all very concerning and really provided an incentive to avoid him at all cost.
Somehow I managed to open the door on the first try and barely tripped over the table in the living room on the way out. Getting through the kitchen without the usual disasters, I stepped back out to the yard. Once again the summer heat hit me and I felt my fresh layer of moisture evaporating already.
"Hey, Dad, watch this. I've been practicing with my soccer ball all morning and I think I finally got this trick down."
Tommy ran up to me, kicking his soccer ball almost high enough to hit my head. He managed a brief look of panic as he realized the trajectory, indicating that he didn't mean to do that, but an awkward step on my part already brought me lower to the ground and the ball soared over me to bounce off the side of the house.
Addressing him with a mildly scolding blub, I gave him a stern look. The seven year old brown-haired boy frowned and dropped his gaze to the ground briefly.
"Sorry, Dad. I'll be more careful," he said apologetically. Then, brightening up, he asked, "But wasn't that cool? It looked like something Sports Johnson would do."
I patted his head while blubbing reassuringly about his skills only for a dark-haired five year old to nearly knock me to the ground with the force of her excited hug. I didn't mind, though. It would be nice for once to have a reasonable excuse to fall.
"Dad, I saw a butterfly that looked exactly like my hair clips," said Stacy. "Do you think they're long lost twins? Should we arrange a family reunion for them?"
A blubbing chuckle and a short explanatory blub later, Stacy canceled her planned reunion for the butterfly and her hair clip. Instead, I listened to her and her brother discuss the possibility of unicorn hockey games. I moved myself to the picnic table, rearranging my limbs a few times until I vaguely looked like I was sitting. One tentacle refused to cooperate, but having one "arm" wrapped around my body wasn't too bad. Once I was in place, I turned my attention to watching Tommy and Stacy play.
Stacy looked exactly like her mother, only smaller and without her red hair. Tommy looked less like Scarlet, though I could see some similarities around the eyes. Neither of them looked anything like me, but that was to be expected. They were completely and utterly human.
I remember talking to Scarlet about the topic of children shortly before I proposed to her. She mentioned that she wanted them, that she wanted to be a mother someday. I already knew by that point that I loved her and that I wanted to spend the rest of my life on land with her. But I also knew that we couldn't have offspring together. No matter how much I pretended otherwise, I wasn't the same species as her.
With very apologetic blubs, I explained to Scarlet that I couldn't have children and that it would cause me a lot of problems to even try. Of course, this was back before I bought my books on human biology and I was thinking about it mostly in octopus terms. So while I was imagining ripping off a limb and eventually suffering mutual deaths, she was thinking of completely different issues.
But Scarlet was a very sweet, very wonderful, very understanding woman. She pointed out there were other options if we ever wanted a family, like adoption. That was a completely novel concept to me at the time. It captured my attention. I'd never imagined having children since I'd always assumed that I would be dead before I would get to see them. But now that I started entertaining the idea of seeing children grow up and actually raising them… I realized I wanted that. She wanted children and so did I.
We researched the different possibilities both before and after the wedding, Scarlet being as thorough as she would when following a lead in a story for the newspaper. In the end, we chose to go for artificial insemination from an anonymous donor. Part of me still worried what would happen to her throughout the entire pregnancy and I couldn't relax until both she and our infant son were home from the hospital, Scarlet showing no signs of spontaneously dying. But the moment I took my first look at little Tommy, everything seemed right. He was perfect and so was the entire world. And it somehow improved even more a couple of years later with Stacy.
It was so amazing watching them grow and learn. They started out so small and fragile that I was afraid I'd break them. Considering how much damage I do with normal tasks, it was a legitimate concern. But then they started crawling and then walking, going from wobbly movements that matched my attempts to something more coordinated. They started babbling and then talking. Their personalities developed. They became little people with likes, dislikes, interests, and questions about the world. It was so strange and fascinating. And I wouldn't get to witness such miraculous changes if I had octopus children. I would have missed out on something wonderful.
"Honey," called Scarlet, stepping outside. "Kids. I made some lemonade."
With a blub of enthusiasm and ignoring the itching burn as my gills started growing uncomfortably dry again, I reached towards the tray with the pitcher and glasses that my wife carried. It took all my concentration to avoid knocking over the pitcher, but I did eventually snag a glass on my sixth attempt. The fact I spilled half my lemonade before I got it near my face did little to discourage me.
Living on land while pretending to be human wasn't easy for a cephalopod like me. Gills, too many limbs, no bones, and trouble speaking comprehensively were all reasons why it shouldn't work. I'm not meant to live like this for years. Even if I managed to look vaguely human, there were also the responsibilities and obligations of being a husband and father. Taking care of my family wasn't simple (though some of my attempts to provide income by recovering treasures sunk on the bottom of the ocean were fairly straightforward and convenient), but I managed to keep my life balanced so far.
It wasn't always easy living this life while keeping my secret, but it was the only reason I gained my family in the first place. Octopuses have three hearts and I love Scarlet, Tommy, and Stacy with them completely. If the choice was the normal life of an octopus or the three humans I love most, I'd rather drape myself at the picnic table, gills burning as the summer heat dry them out, trying to hold my glass of lemonade the right way up, and spend time in the backyard with them.
This was something I couldn't have anywhere else. If all my challenges and discomfort with living out of the ocean was the price, then I would gladly pay it a thousand times over to have my family with me. It was worth it. I wouldn't trade my family for anything in the world.