Read Fins Are Forever Online

Authors: Tera Lynn Childs

Fins Are Forever (11 page)

Her unfreckled shoulders lift in a lazy shrug.

As she goes back to her sketching, I feel like my blood is on fire. I can’t believe she did this. I can’t believe she would do something so underhanded, something that would affect Brody’s life as completely as the bond does, just to get the chance to steal my boyfriend.

“Is anyone else warm?” Mrs. Ferraro asks. “It suddenly got very balmy in here. Maybe the air conditioning conked out.” On the verge of scratching holes in my self-portrait, I set my pencil careful y down on the table. I take several deep breaths, trying to calm myself and my effect on the moisture in the air around me.

“You’ve sunk to a new depth, Doe.”

She doesn’t look up from her sketching.

“When I get back,” I say, trying to sound as stern as possible, “you and I are going to have a long talk.”

“If you say so.”

“I do say so,” I reply. “Because if you ever want to get back in the water, you have to go through me. This is not exactly endearing me to your cause.”

Though she doesn’t look up, her eyes widen a little, as if realizing she hadn’t thought this al the way through. But then she dismisses the feeling and goes back to her sketch.

What am I going to do with her? I’m not a problem solver.

I’m not good at resolving conflicts or settling disputes, which are just a couple of the reasons I should never be queen, if I were making a list. But with Doe especial y I’ve always been at a loss.

Hopeful y Daddy can give me some advice. That’l be one good thing about going home.

Chapter 6

rody doesn’t want to leave his precious Camaro parked Bat the beach unsupervised, so Quince gives us a ride in his mom’s junker car to Seaview Beach Park—the same spot where I first told Quince the truth about me. As impossible as it seems, I think his mom’s car is even more of a death trap than his motorcycle.

Dosinia, of course, just
to ride along.

“We should be back tonight,” I say for, like, the fifteenth time. “Tomorrow morning at the very latest.” That is nonnegotiable. My interview is tomorrow morning.

At ten o’clock. If we have to stay the night, I’l stil make it as long as we leave first thing. The key to my future and helping my kingdom from land might be in that interview.

Nothing wil keep me from making the appointment.

Quince pul s out of the driveway and into our street.

“Don’t go getting any romantic ideas about Benson while you’re down there,” he says with a smile. “I want you coming back to me.”

“Wel …” I pretend to consider. “He does know how to swim.”

Unlike Quince. That was the first of many problems with our bonding. Imagine me, a mermaid, bonded for life with a boy who couldn’t even swim. The idea was ridiculous. Now I can’t imagine being with anyone else.

“I’m learning,” he says.

“You’re trying, anyway,” I tease.

We’ve had a couple of lessons, but they have been tough.

Whenever we get into the water, I feel a little sad. Even if he becomes an Olympic-class swimmer, like Brody, we both know he wil probably never be able to go home with me again. The magical separation Daddy performed—at my request—made sure of that. He’s immune to the mermaid bond.

I’m not sure if he senses my sadness. I think he feels that, by learning how to swim, he’s getting closer to me. But I can’t help worrying that he’l never be quite close enough.

I’m total y fine with my future on land, but stil … it would be nice to be able to bring him home for a weekend or two. I can’t help but hold out a teeny-tiny bit of hope that someday we’l find a way.

I shake off the melancholy thought. No use crying over something that can’t be undone. We’re together, and that’s al that matters.

“You’re right,” he says with a laugh. “Couldn’t pick a better human to race home with if you tried.”

Tugging one of his hands off the steering wheel, I lace our fingers together and squeeze. I know his laugh was forced.

As much as he almost always seems to sense what’s going on in my head, I’m pretty good at guessing his thoughts, too. Sometimes I think—or hope—that maybe our bond never got ful y severed, that we’re stil magical y connected, but I know that’s not true. We’re just real y tuned in to each other. Just how I like it.

The entire time we’ve been talking, I’ve been trying to ignore the sounds coming from the backseat. Even if Doe only bonded with Brody to get a window of opportunity with Quince, the selfish sea urchin sure doesn’t seem to mind kissing him. Again and again and again.

“When I get back,” I say over the smooching sounds, “after my interview in the morning, we can take our ride down the coast.”

“I’l have Princess al shined up and ready to go,” Quince says as he steers the car into the beachfront parking lot.

We al pile out onto the blacktop and head for the surf line.

While the sand squishes beneath my feet, I focus in on my transfiguration, mental y forming a finkini beneath my shorts. Quince walks with me to the water line, not caring if his biker boots get doused with salt water.

Up the beach a few yards, Doe and Brody are getting in one last makeout session.

As soon as we slip beneath the waves, she’l turn her attention to Quince. I just know it.

“Watch out for Doe,” I tel him as I unbutton and peel off my shorts, revealing my finkini of lime green and gold scales.

“I’l take care of her,” he says, holding out his hand. “Like she was my own sister.”

“No.” I give him my shorts and then tug off my flip-flops and set them on top of the shorts. “I mean
watch out for her

She’s devious and has her sights set on you. She set this whole thing up just so she could have time alone with you.” Quince glances at the lip-locked couple. “You’re reaching, princess.”

“I mean it.”

His Caribbean blue eyes look directly into mine. “You have nothing to worry about here.”

“I know.” I wrap my arms around his neck and tug myself close. “But stil …”

“Okay.” He drops a kiss on my forehead. “I promise.” Another on my nose. “I’l watch out for a surprise attack.” And then Doe is completely forgotten as his mouth closes over mine. His lips have a way of doing that, of making me forget everything else.

“Are you ready to go?” Doe’s sharp voice penetrates my kiss-induced fog. “It’s only a few hours until sunset.” Wel , wasn’t that just as transparent as jel yfish in rain?

She’s eager to get me gone.

I pul back. Reluctantly.

“Yeah,” I say. “We should go.”

“Go,” Quince says, pressing one last kiss to my lips. “I’l be waiting for your cal . At your house or mine.” He nods to the pay phone at the edge of the parking lot, which I’m going to use to cal him for a ride when Brody and I get back. The coins I need to make the cal are tucked into the bra top of my swim tank.

Pul ing out of Quince’s arms, I turn to Brody. “Come on.” Brody and I head into the surf, leaving Quince and Doe standing on the beach. When we reach the depth where we can go under, I turn back to wave good-bye. And notice that Doe has inched awful y close to Quince’s side.

I scowl as I sink beneath the surface, pul ing Brody down with me.

I transfigure instantly, shedding my terraped legs for my tail fin. It’s somewhat cathartic. The familiar salt water and the magic of my change ease some of the tension Doe’s caused. She and her finful of trouble wil be waiting when I get back. For now, my focus needs to be on Brody.

Even though we—Doe, Quince, and I—explained the whole process to Brody last night, I stil expect his brain to resist breathing water. To face suffocation rather than risk drowning. To fight, like Quince did, holding on to his last lungful of air with desperate determination.

Instead, by the time I’ve finished changing into my mer form, Brody is sucking in big gulps of seawater like he was born to it. With Quince, I had to use the strength of my tail fin to hold him underwater until a breath became inevitable. I should have known that Brody the swim star would be the complete opposite.

For three years I dreamed of this moment, imagined it going exactly like this. Brody taking to the mer world as if he’d always been a part of it.

But now that it’s here, I only wish it wasn’t happening.

“This is awesome,” he says, getting even the voice adjustment right on the first try. “I’m total y breathing water.”

“Yeah,” I say, for some reason annoyed by how easily he’s adjusting to the underwater world. “It’s Valentine’s Day, Hal oween, and Christmas, al rol ed into one.” I turn my back to him and motion for him to grab my waist. He may be fast in the water, but he can’t compete with me in mer form. “Let’s get swimming.”

The feel of Brody’s hands on my waist is surprisingly ordinary. No sparks or heat or flashes of light, like when Quince touches me. Which only proves that what Quince and I have is special, and what I’d thought I would have with Brody was nothing but a fantasy. That thought reassures me. If that whole mess can work itself out, then surely this wil , too. Hopeful y sooner rather than later.

I take a deep breath and let out al my frustrations about the current situation, because real y, Doe’s reckless actions aside, I’m happy with how my life is turning out.

With a flick of my fin I push off, sending us out to sea. Out to home.

“Don’t forget to stay streamlined,” I remind Brody over my shoulder. “And dolphin kick as hard as you can.”

“No problem,” he says, and instantly my speed nearly doubles.

And as glad as I am that Brody won’t slow me down with drag the way Quince did, I can’t help but wish there was some way they could trade places right now. Forever.

If wishes were sea horses, then beggars would ride.

Besides, wishing for something impossible is only going to ruin my mood. Again. I should try to make the best of a bad situation. I should be glad for the visit home. I should be glad the situation isn’t any more complicated than it already is.

I kick harder, sending us sailing through the water toward Thalassinia. We’l be there before I know it.

With Brody’s dolphin kick making up for his extra drag, we make it to the edge of Thalassinia in about half the time it took me and Quince. We sail quickly over the deceptively organic-looking suburbs and industrial sections, heading directly for the royal palace at the center.

I don’t even stop long enough for Brody to get a scenic view of the kingdom. I just want this done and behind us.

Who knows what kind of havoc Doe is causing at home?

Or what kind of moves she’s making on Quince?

As we swim up to the palace gates, the twin columns of coral that mark the entrance to the palace grounds, the guards are blocking the path, tugging an object back and forth between them.

“It’s mine,” Barney says, pul ing the object sharply toward him. “I’m the head guard today.”

“But I,” Cidaris barks back, “am the senior officer.” The object jerks in his direction. “I get to hold the scepter.” After watching a few more tug-of-war exchanges, I swim up to them. Daddy is very informal with his staff, so the palace guards are practical y family. Especial y Cid, who’s been in the guard since before Daddy was born. He’s like my honorary grandfather.

Even if, on occasion, he acts more like seven than seventy.

“Hi, Cid,” I say. “Hi, Barney.”

The pair instantly stops their battle, turning to me with giant grins on their faces. Their hands fly to their foreheads in twin salutes of respect. I blush, remembering Brody at my back, and return their salute so they can relax.

“Princess Waterlily!” they exclaim simultaneously.

“We didn’t know you were—”

“No one told us—”

“It was kind of a surprise,” I say, nodding at my passenger.

“For both of us.”

Their gazes shift to Brody, who has released my waist and swum to the side so he can get a view of the palace.

Then the guards turn their questioning gazes on me. I can read the question in their minds as clearly as if I were telepathic. Anyone could.

What about Master Quince?

“Princess?” Cid asks cautiously.

“Don’t worry,” I say. The entire palace—the entire kingdom—knows that a couple of weeks ago I decided to return to land to be with Quince. They know, because my decision meant I was also giving up my future as their queen. News that juicy spreads like a red tide.

Returning home with another boy is probably a shock.

“This one isn’t mine,” I say, jerking my thumb at Brody, who is grinning like a fool. He looks like I just handed him the keys to an underwater theme park. “He’s Doe’s.”

“Lady Dosinia?” Barney asks.

Doe’s bratty behavior is widely known throughout the palace. They shouldn’t be surprised to learn she caused some big-time trouble in her short time on land.

The strangled look on Cid’s face suggests I’ve said something wrong.

“We’re just here to get the separation,” I explain. “Since Doe’s been ex—”

“Here, take the scepter,” Cid says, interrupting my explanation and thrusting the forgotten wand into Barney’s hand. “Go message bubble the palace that the princess is home.”

Barney looks like he wants to argue, but Cid adds, “That’s an order, whippersnapper.”

After a moment’s hesitation, Barney bows to me and then retreats to the guard tower. He doesn’t look one bit happy about being sent away.

Cid swims close and lowers his voice. “You should know, Princess, that His Highness has not made Lady Dosinia’s situation widely known.”

“Oh,” I say. “Okay.”

“Only his closest advisers and I know of her punishment.” He glances at the guard station, as if making sure Barney hasn’t emerged. “I think he would prefer that no one else in the kingdom be made aware of the exile.”

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