Opening her eyes, Mattie saw the familiar bright blue-green water surrounding her. She heard one of the handlers describe the color as teal once. Words are fuzzy for Mattie, but she enjoys them. The sound of them, the different tones of the humans’ voices when they say them. She can tell what kind of day they are having when she hears their greetings, even from the floor of her enclosure, she somehow knows.
Speaking of voices, Mattie can hear the familiar gurgling rumble of a voice from the water’s surface and can see her favorite human hovering at the water’s surface. Mattie floats to the top to say hello and get head pets. She lets out a huff as she breathes in the air.
“Good morning, Mattie,” Gia smiled and rubbed her hand over the manatee’s head.
Something about Gia’s tone and expression concerns Mattie. Although she is smiling and her voice has a soothing tone, there is a sadness about Gia.
Mattie hates sadness. She’s already had too much of it. Her life started alone and injured in this world. Mattie doesn’t remember much about her mother, but she knows she misses her very much. She constantly craves the love her mother gave her, even if it was only for a brief time. Sometimes Gia felt like a mom to her. Mattie knows it’s not the same, but she felt deeply connected to the young woman. Gia is nurturing and takes care of Mattie like she was her own child.
Sitting there with Gia, the five-year-old manatee saw something in the human’s eyes. They were filled with tears. Instantly, Mattie worried. Was she being relocated to another aquarium? The thought terrified her. She didn’t like the last aquarium she was in at all. The enclosure was terribly small and Mattie had been bullied by an angry dolphin who didn’t want to share space with another large mammal.
Mattie wound up with an injured tail which meant she couldn’t be released into the wild once she was old enough. Thankfully, Gia and the Oasis Marine Laboratory rescued and rehabilitated Mattie and this has been her home for the past three years. Mattie liked it here, even if it was lonely at night, but Gia kept her company as often as possible.
As the human continued to cry, Mattie pressed her head into her hand, wanting to comfort her friend. Then it hit Mattie. She knew what was wrong. There was something different about Gia. Mattie sensed it.
“It hurts so much. Why did this happen?” Gia sobbed. “I was so ready to be a mama, Mattie.”
Mattie rose further out of the water to press her face in Gia’s lap. Gia threw herself on top of the animal, welcoming the extra comfort. Being an orphan, Mattie wished she could tell the young woman she was already a mother, not only to her, but Gia nurtured all of the animals at the laboratory. While many of the doctors and caretakers helped the animals feel better physically, Gia was different. She often spent days off at the laboratory to play with Mattie and all of the other social marine life. She gave so much love and comfort to these hurting animals. Gia was all of their mothers.
Mattie knows it’s not the same. She had felt the life that had been growing inside Gia and how happy that made her. It hurt Mattie not to be able to somehow give Gia what she wanted and needed. This must be how Gia feels daily at the laboratory. She can’t give all of the orphaned babies back to their mothers. She can’t give them all back their freedom either.
“How cruel this world is,” Mattie thought.
A commotion was heard at the doorway. Gia wiped her tears, gave Mattie one last hug, and hopped up to help her colleagues. They were wheeling something in and before Mattie could process what was happening, something splashed into the water.
“Oh no, I have a roommate. I hope it isn’t a dolphin,” Mattie worried. “I haven’t had luck with them. Maybe it’s a sea turtle, they usually make good roommates…”
Mattie was afraid to look as she sunk down into the water and saw a brown blur swimming toward her. The blur almost smashed into Mattie but stopped short to stare at her in amazement. The new creature was much smaller than Mattie yet looked similar to her with black eyes and a hopeful whiskered face. Unlike Mattie though, the manatee calf had a scar across its face. Other than the scar, the calf appeared to be in good health.
The two manatees stared for a few moments before the baby got restless and began to circle Mattie in a playful manner. Never having a true playmate, Mattie was unsure what to do at first, but soon caught on.
The older manatee showed her new companion how things worked inside the aquarium, where they feed, the window where they can observe humans doing silly things and making faces at them, and most importantly, Mattie’s favorite napping spot. She swam to the bottom of the enclosure and snuggled into some seagrass. The calf nestled against Mattie and rolled on its side. Instinctually, Mattie draped a flipper over the little one and together they drifted off to sleep.
Gia headed down to the observation deck and watched the pair as they slept together as a mother and baby would. An uncontrollable smile filled her face.
“Good job, Mattie. I knew you’d make a great mama.” Gia wiped a tear.
A man stepped beside Gia and put a hand on her shoulder.
“Are you okay?”
“You should have stayed home today.”
Gia shook her head. “I needed to be here. I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”
“Seth, I’m okay,” she squeezed his hand that was still on her. “They give me hope. Mattie looks happy, doesn’t she?”
“She does. So does Tiny Tim.”
“You know he’s going to grow out of that name,” Gia laughed.
“Then it will be ironic,” Seth shrugged.
Gia turned around, “Let’s do it.”
“I thought you didn’t want–”
“I changed my mind.” Gia turned back to the sleeping manatees. A mother and her adopted son. Mattie opened her eyes and Gia could swear she was smiling at her, thanking her for the gift of a baby.
“Are you sure?” Seth asked.
Gia looked back at her husband. “I have never been more sure of anything in my life.”