Read Fins Are Forever Online

Authors: Tera Lynn Childs

Fins Are Forever (10 page)

Soon this wil be nothing but a bad memory.

“The change won’t get too bad in one night,” I explain. “If you start to feel dried out, drink a glass of salt water. And if it gets real y bad, take a salt bath.”

“Okay… .” Brody sounds like he’s stil in shock, and I can’t blame him.

“Don’t worry,” I say, “it’l al be over before you know it.” He scowls, like he wants to argue with me. He doesn’t get the chance.

The kitchen door swings open.

“Hey, I saw the light on—” Quince steps into the kitchen and, in a repeat of Aunt Rachel’s earlier reaction, freezes on the spot. “What happened?”

“Hey, Fletcher,” Brody says with a grin. “I’m turning into a merman. How cool is that?”

“Brody,” I growl.

“Oh, sorry,” he says. “Did he not already know?”

“He did,” I say through clenched teeth, “but—”

“Then it’s no big deal.”

“Lily?” Quince sounds a little nervous. Or jealous.

“Don’t look at me,” I say, pointing at Doe. “I’ve learned my Brody lesson.”

“Dosinia,” he says, sounding like a disappointed father.

Doe rol s her eyes.

Just wait until
my
father hears what happened.

“I don’t know about you kids,” Aunt Rachel says, “but I’m famished. Who wants pizza?”

Everyone but Doe does. I’m so angry about her stunt, I forget about her human education. She can starve for al I care.

While we’re waiting for Lorenzo’s to deliver, I fix Brody a glass of salt water and focus al my energy on thinking positive thoughts about the quick trip to Thalassinia. I don’t have time for things to go awry like last time. I real y don’t.

“Why do you think she did it?” Quince asks.

I look at him, barely making out his features in the waning moonlight. Two feet is too far away, so I scoot across the worn planks of his front porch until our shoulders touch.

“I have no idea,” I final y say. “Who knows why she does anything? She’s a toadfish who doesn’t care about consequences.”

A strong arm wraps around my shoulder and tugs me closer against his side. “I’m sure she has her reasons.” I sigh. “That’s what I’m worried about.” Losing your parents at a young age must lead to al sorts of behavioral issues. Her parents died in an awful fishing-boat accident when she was nine, and she’s been a bit of a rebel ever since. Doe always does whatever she wants to do, for reasons that make sense only to her. Maybe if I’d known Mom for a few years before that drunk driver hit her,
I
might be the one with a rebel ious streak. Thankful y, I have Daddy and Aunt Rachel.

I can’t fathom what would make her human-hating self actual y and knowingly bond with one, though. Why? She’s not exactly the sharing type, so I’l probably never know the answer.

“That doesn’t make what she did any less wrong,” I say, laying my head on Quince’s shoulder. “She didn’t give Brody a choice.”

I stare out toward the street, toward the thick green grass Quince mows every weekend, the cracked sidewalk and the smal hibiscus bush trying to consume his mailbox.

What I see, though, is the mental image of Doe’s wel -

kissed lips, and me swimming home with Brody. Hopeful y by this time tomorrow night the whole thing wil be a memory.

“She’s not completely lost, you know,” Quince final y says.

“She’s just trying to find her way.”

He has tons more sympathy for Doe than I have. He didn’t grow up with her. He wasn’t the focus of most of her tantrums and pranks. He can’t possibly understand.

“She’s old enough to know better.”

“I know you two have a history,” he says. “But I think she wants your respect.”

“My respect?” I rol my eyes as far back as humanly—or mermaidly—possible. “She has never done anything to earn my respect.”

He faces me, his blue eyes steady. “Maybe she’s never thought she had a chance of getting it.” His free hand finds mine in the almost-darkness, and he twines his fingers through mine. “Maybe you need to open the door a crack.” I look away. He can’t be serious. If Doe ever wanted my respect—and that is a Great Barrier Reef–size if—then she would have shown me respect, too. Instead, she treated me like sea slime.

“It’s not that easy,” I say.

“You’re the princess, Lily,” Quince says, his voice low and gentle. “How should a princess deal with Dosinia?” I almost say, “I’m not a princess for very much longer,” but I don’t. Because he’s right. Until midnight on my birthday, I
am
the princess. I have a responsibility to my kingdom, to my family, and to Doe to figure out how to get through to her.

If I don’t, things wil only get worse from here.

With a deep breath that pushes away al the history between me and Doe, I turn and lean toward Quince until our foreheads meet. So close I can feel him breathe.

“How do you always know just what to say?” I ask.

His laugh rumbles through me. “Practice, I guess.” I pul back and give him a quizzical look.

“I spent three years imagining what I would say to you if you were mine,” he says, tugging me back close. “I should hope I know what to say now that I’ve got you.”

“Yeah, wel , I’ve had almost eighteen years to practice being the princess,” I say, “and I stil get it wrong half the time.”

“Maybe bigger things take more practice.”

“Maybe.” But I don’t have much more practice time left.

This is my final royal duty, and I need to get it right. I just don’t know how.

There are digital cameras, sketchpads, and graphite pencils sitting on the art tables when Doe, Shannen, and I walk in after lunch.

Shannen and I exchange a glance and say, at the same time, “Self-portraits.”

My shoulders slump. This is my least favorite kind of art project. When we did self-portraits at the beginning of the year, Mrs. Ferraro said we would do them again near the end so we could see how “our perceptions of ourselves” had changed. I’ve been dreading today ever since.

Mrs. Ferraro is real y big on what she cal s self-discovery projects—autobiographical col ages, representational free-form sculpture, self-portraits. I think it’s her personal mission to be both art teacher and therapist.

“Precisely right, Lily and Shannen,” Mrs. Ferraro says as we head to our table. “You may begin whenever you’re ready. Take a digital photograph of yourself, print it out, and then proceed to sketch your self-portrait.” I sigh as I sling my backpack under our table.

“I’m sure the girls can explain the project to you, Dosinia,” Mrs. Ferraro says, before scurrying after the rest of the students trickling in.

“What’s to explain?” Doe asks, sliding her briefcase next to her chair. “Click, print, draw.”

Doe and I have been on a kind of if-you-don’t-bother-me-I-won’t-torment-you truce since last night. Saves a lot of tears and bloodshed, but doesn’t do much to get the mutual-respect thing going between us. I’m going to have to step up and be the bigger mermaid.

Eventual y.

“Pretty much,” Shannen says. She grabs the camera.

“Who wants to go first?”

“Just get it over with,” I say, not in a higher-road mood.

We go out into the hal , where we’l have the cream-colored cinderblock wal s as a background. I’m first. Until last night, I probably would have made some kind of overjoyed face for the camera—having found and caught the perfect boy and figured out my future and al , I should be thril ed—but now the best I can manage is annoyed resignation.

Shannen makes a very supermodel pose, with her lips pursed, cheeks sucked in, and eyes smiling as wide as possible. I don’t tel her she looks a little crazed. That might influence her sketch.

When Dosinia steps into position against the wal , she asks, “So that’s a camera?”

“What?” I twist the camera back toward me, as if needing to inspect it. “Yeah. This is a camera.”

“You’ve never seen one before?” Shannen asks.

Doe shakes her head.

Sometimes it’s so easy to forget why she’s here—

besides to make my life miserable. She knows nothing about the human world and it’s my job, my royal duty, to teach her. This is the perfect opportunity to further her human education. And maybe make inroads on the attitude thing, too.

“Wel , then,” I say, smiling, “let’s do this photo shoot right.” For the next several minutes, Shannen and I coach Doe in a photo shoot of fashion-magazine proportions. At first she just stands there, a blank expression on her face, staring intently at the camera. We give her poses to try, trade out accessories, restyle her hair, until we’ve exhausted al possible combinations. We even grab a fashion magazine from the classroom to show her what fashion photography real y looks like. When Mrs. Ferraro pokes her head out into the hal and says it’s time to get sketching, we must have taken over a hundred pictures.

After returning to the classroom, selecting our photos for the project, and printing them out on the computer, we settle in at our table with the paper and pencils.

“That was fun,” Doe says quietly, her lower lip chewed between her teeth and her attention on the photo of herself.

“I’m glad,” I say just as quietly. “I had fun, too.” Wow. We each said something to the other without breaking out into either a fight or insults. It must be a record. I should declare a Thalassinian holiday to mark the occasion.

Too bad I won’t be in a position to declare holidays much longer, because that would have been quite a celebration.

For several minutes, the three of us sketch quietly at our table. I begin by faintly marking the outline of my chin and jaw, my neck, and my hair, giving myself a boundary to work within. Then I move on to smal er features—nose, lips, eyes, freckles. Eyes are always the hardest. I try to keep my pencil extra light so if—when—I have to erase and start over, it won’t leave big gouges in the paper.

Mrs. Ferraro comes around to our table for an evaluation.

“Lovely work, as always, Shannen,” she says, “though I do wish you would relax your lines. Art is not always crisp.

Some of nature’s most bounteous beauty is found in rough edges and shadowed contours.”

Shannen nods, but I can tel she’s mental y rol ing her eyes. Mrs. Ferraro has been trying al year to get Shan to loosen up artistical y. Clearly it hasn’t worked.

I slide my sketch to the left so Mrs. Ferraro can see it better. It’s not done or beautiful or perfect or good, even, but I’m not hating it as much as I thought I would. Although I’m definitely better behind the camera than with the pencil, it’s not an embarrassing effort.

“Nice, Lily,” she says.

Then she moves on.

That’s it? No critique or comment or suggestion? Just…

nice?

For once I’m actual y not in hate with my project, and she can’t say anything more than “nice”? How disappointing.

I tug my paper back in front of me and hang down over my drawing, pencil clenched in my fist. Whenever we get scathing critiques, Mrs. Ferraro says she wouldn’t take the time to tear us apart if she didn’t think we had potential. I guess I am potential-less today.

I’m just about to scar my drawing with angry pencil jabs when Mrs. Ferraro, looking over Doe’s drawing, says,

“Spectacular, Dosinia.”

My ears perk up, and although I don’t lift my head because I don’t want them to know I’m listening, I am intently focused on every word.

“Your use of cross-hatching is extremely evocative for someone who has never taken art before.” Mrs. Ferraro holds up the sketch and cal s for everyone’s attention. “If anyone would like to see an excel ent example of impressionist sketching, please come see Dosinia’s work.” About half the class comes over and crowds around Doe to study her “excel ent example.” I try not to heave on my self-portrait.

“Why?” I mutter. “Why does this always happen to me?”

“What?” Shannen asks, drawing the col ar of her polo shirt with a—shocking—crisp line.

“Dosinia,” I whisper, as if I have to explain. “She always outshines me. Always steals everyone’s attention.”

“Even Quince’s,” Doe says casual y.

I jerk up to look at her.

I hadn’t thought we were talking loud enough for Doe to hear.

Her admirers gone, Doe’s focus is back on the sketch below her. But her mouth, her perfectly pouty, overglossed mouth, is pul ed into a smirk on one side.

“You do not,” I say, my voice low and hard, “have Quince’s attention.”

Slowly, very slowly, she lifts her gaze from the paper until she’s looking at me through her thick mascara-blackened lashes. For half a second she just holds my gaze with a piercing blue stare.

“I wil by the time you get back.”

My jaw drops open.

Truce over.

We glare at each other across the art table, Doe looking smug and me, I’m sure, looking completely shocked. She cannot possibly be thinking about putting her moves on Quince. Can she?

I’m not worried about Quince. I know he’s ful y committed to me, and he once told me he likes Doe wel enough, but she’s too immature for him. He wouldn’t be interested in her, even if I weren’t in the picture.

That doesn’t mean she won’t try.

And me having to disappear to Thalassinia for a separation is just the opportunity she needs. The opportunity she wants. The opportunity she—

I gasp.

“You did this on purpose!”

Doe bats her eyes innocently. “Did what?” Dropping my voice to a furious whisper, I accuse, “You kissed Brody because you
knew
I’d have to go home for the separation. You
planned
this.”

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