"You want a clam?" said Pearl.  She offered an open one over to him on one of her tentacles.  It was the short tentacle, but if you didn't look closely, you couldn't really tell.

"No thanks," said Nemo.  He wrinkled his nose.  "It looks yucky!"

"Just try it for me," said Pearl. Boys didn't know what was good for them. She held her tentacle still and waiting.

Nemo took a nibble.  It wasn't half-bad, really.  He finished it off, eating out of her hand, so to speak. He kinda liked that part.  Maybe he liked it better than the clam.

"See!  I told you!" Pearl swished in triumph.  "Want another one?"  She worked a tentacle into the sand and dug out another clam--a jewel box clam this time.

"Let me open that," said Nemo. "I'm too big to let someone else open my food."  To let a girl open my food, is what he meant.

Pearl looked skeptical.  "I dunno.  I don't think that you have the beak for it."

"You're just saying that because of my lucky fin."  It came out sounding harsher than he'd meant.  Nemo snatched the clam away from her and wrestled with it between scales and fin.  No bivalve was going to show him up in front of a girl.

The clam snapped and flipped and clamped him on the nose. "Ow!" Nemo screamed more in shock than in pain. The clam flipped off his nose and disappeared into the sand while Pearl giggled until she inked.

Nemo rubbed his nose, the sting lessened considerably by her smile.  It was aimed straight at him and it was beautiful.  He'd give up a dozen noses for that.

Just as quickly, the smile vanished.  "What are you staring at?" Pearl looked down.   "Uh-oh, I inked again." She turned a cloudy shade of red and balled her tentacles in against her.

"You look beautiful when you ink," said Nemo.

"Really?" Her skin started to pale to that nameless shade of iridescent pink. 

"Uh huh.  I think that girls who ink are awesome."

"You're just saying that." Pearl tried not to sound so pleased, but her blasted skin tone gave her away again.

Nemo swam over.  "No; it's true.  I think you're really--great."

Pearl took his lucky fin.  "Thanks.  I like you too."  She thought about kissing him, but didn't.

"I don't want you to die."  Nemo just blurted it out.

"Huh? Now where did that come from?"  Pearl's skin started to mottle.  Mollusk or vertebrate, boys never made any sense.

"Mr. Ray said that when girl octopuses fall in love, they have babies and die."

"That's a funny way to put it," said Pearl.

"So, what really happens then?"

"When we fall in love, we make thousands more babies, and after they are born and free, we're done and we can die."

"That's what I said!"  Nemo still sputtered sometimes when he got upset.

"I dunno," Pearl picked at her tentacles.  "It didn't sound the same when you said it."

"I love you, but I don't want you to die," said Nemo.  The pressure in his gills pounded harder as his distress increased.  He swam in agitated little spurts in a way that had a striking resemblance to the habits of another very similar looking clownfish---although he would never admit it.

"Don't be silly," Pearl said.  "You and I can't make babies.  You're a fish.  I can only make babies with another octopus."

Nemo stopped.  He hadn't thought of that.  "Then, it's okay?  I can love you?"  Nemo's lucky fin twitched a little.

"Mmmhmm," said Pearl.  "I'd like that--I think."

"Good." Nemo exhaled the breath of water he had been holding.  "Because I want to marry you, Pearl."

Pearl laughed so hard she inked again.  "I just told you, I can't marry you; you're a fish!"

"But--"  Nemo struggled for comprehension.  His ears roared worse than they had when he was stuck in the filter and his breath came just as hard. 

"I want my babies, Nemo. I want thousands--hundreds of thousands!  We're all going to die, but I want my babies to live.  Just like your mom wanted you.  I'm going to marry an octopus."

"But you can't!  He can't love you if he would let you die like that!  I would never do that to you, Pearl!"

Pearl rubbed her underside. "I want my babies, Nemo.  It's what I've always wanted.  I'm just trying to grow up and be big and strong enough to raise my eggs properly like my mom did for me."

Nemo looked away.

"You do want me to be happy, don't you?"

More specifically, Nemo wanted her to be happy with him.  "Yeah.  I guess.  Yeah."

Pearl dug in the sand.  She tried a peace offering.  "You want another clam?"  It was the very same one as last time. Apparently this was not going to be his day either.

Nemo shook his tail.

Pearl tossed the clam aside.  It scrambled back into the sand thanking its lucky stars.  Pearl watched him for a minute.  Fish!  Who knew what to do with them?  But he was cute.  And sweet.  And he liked the way she inked.  She ambled over to him.  "My dad says I can't date until I'm at least two.  Maybe you could be my boyfriend until then, okay?"

If Sydney had taught Nemo nothing else, it had taught him to be grateful.  "Okay," he said.  She shook his lucky fin.


Marlin came home that night to find Nemo already lying on the anemone floor.  It wasn't even dusk.  That was odd for him.  That boy was usually into everything.

Nemo opened one not-sleepy eye and beckoned Marlin closer.  "Dad, would you tell me about mom?"