Read Fins Are Forever Online

Authors: Tera Lynn Childs

Fins Are Forever (14 page)

So hearing that, within her first week on land, she’s gotten herself bonded to a human boy is not exactly a shock.

“Meet me in my office,” Daddy says, pushing away from my bed. “Bring the boy so we can discuss how to proceed.” I spend a few minutes getting dressed and freshening up before going to find Brody. Margarite, the palace housekeeper, placed him in the South Pacific room—a casual space decorated in black pearls and giant abalone, with wal paper made from woven sea-palm fronds. It always makes me want to swim to Bora Bora. I’ve never been, but in my imagination it is as close to paradise as you can get.

I find Brody studying the ceiling of inlaid abalone that almost exactly represents the sky over Thalassinia at dawn.

It’s a masterpiece—and it’s only a ceiling. Even though I grew up here, I’m stil in awe of the palace’s majesty.

The same awe I see in Brody’s wide eyes.

“This place is amazing, Lil,” Brody says, echoing my thoughts as we make our way through the palace to Daddy’s office. “I can’t believe you never told me about this.”

“Yeah, wel ,” I say softly, “I’d always planned to.” Thankful y, he misses my double meaning. He doesn’t know that for three long years I wanted to bond with him, bring him home to Daddy, and eventual y take the throne with him at my side. He also doesn’t know that I’m insanely happy that never happened. We are nowhere near as compatible as I always fantasized.

“You know,” Brody says, his voice dropping to a serious tone even though he keeps looking excitedly around the hal , “I knew I wasn’t good enough for you.”

“I—” I choke on my response. He doesn’t mean what I think—what I fear—he means, does he? “You—what?” He stops gawking long enough to face me. He flashes me a heartfelt smile. “I’m glad you connected with Fletcher—

he’s a great guy.”

“He is,” I whisper. He didn’t come right out and say it, but I definitely get the feeling my secret crush wasn’t as secret as I thought. Embarrassment burns onto my cheeks.

“Did you know the roof is covered with
sea life?” he asks, turning away, his golden brown eyes wide with excitement as he swims off ahead of me. Even with me in mer form, I have to increase my speed a little to keep up.

I focus on ignoring my sudden humiliation. It’s a good thing I didn’t find out while I was stil crushing on him, because I might have flat out died from mortification.

“Yeah,” I answer, making myself pretend that nothing has changed. Apparently Brody is forgetting that I actual y grew up here. “Awesome, isn’t it?”

By the time we reach Daddy’s office, I think my cheeks may have returned to their normal, pale, freckled selves.

The royal guards outside the door salute as I approach. I return the salute and briefly wonder how they wil greet me when I’m no longer a royal princess. Wil they stil salute? Or just wave and say hel o? Or wil they not greet me at al ?

Wil they, like Doe, see me as a traitor, abandoning my kingdom for myself? I can only hope they see I’m trying to make the best choice for both.

They open the doors so Brody and I can enter.

Daddy is at his desk, bent over a stack of papers, studying intently. When his secretary, Mangrove, clears his throat, Daddy final y looks up.

“My apologies,” he says, waving us into the seats across from him. “I was just reading over separation law to confirm my suspicions. I’m not cal ed upon to perform separation very often, and I needed to refresh my knowledge.”

“Suspicions?” I ask, not liking the sound of that.

Daddy nods gravely. “In order for a separation ritual to work,” he says, running his finger along the paper, “both parties need to be present.”

“That’s dumb.” And a definite problem. I think about the missing portion of Doe’s mer mark and can come up with only one solution. “Wel , you’l just have to lift Doe’s exile for a day.”

“I’m afraid that is not an option.” He doesn’t explain whether it’s because he
lift her exile… or if he

The icy edge in his voices tel s me not to ask for clarification.

Like I said, I don’t want to know.

“Wel , then what?” I ask. There’s a human boy sitting next to me whose life wil permanently change without his permission if the separation is not performed by next weekend’s new moon. “It’s not like they can stay bonded.

They’re not in love, and Brody can’t become a merman.”

“Why not?” Brody asks.

I rol my eyes and ignore him. He doesn’t know what he’d be getting himself into. Besides the whole stuck-with-Doe-for-life thing—something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, except maybe the terrible trio—there’s the whole al ergic-to-chlorine thing that would make his swimming career pretty much fatal. Nope, even though Brody obviously loves the water and is enthral ed by Thalassinia, I can’t let him make that naïve choice.

“There has to be a way,” I insist. “I know. You can come to Seaview.”

Daddy can’t get away often because his duties are pretty much dusk to dawn. But surely he can be gone for just a day. It’s a pretty extreme situation.

“That is unnecessary. I have another solution.” Daddy turns to another paper in his stack. “An ancient transference of power ritual we located in the royal archives.”

“Transference of power?” I lean forward in my seat. “What does that mean?”

“It means,” Daddy says, smiling, “that I can temporarily grant you the ability to perform the separation.” Huh. I never even knew that kind of thing was possible.

Daddy gets some of his power from the trident—al the kings and queens of the mer world have them—but a lot of it comes from within him, too. From the power bestowed on him in his ascension ceremony.

I know that if I were bonded right now and being official y crowned on my eighteenth birthday, I would receive some power of my own. I just never knew it could be a temporary thing, too.

But if Doe can’t get to Thalassinia and Daddy doesn’t want to get to Doe, then I suppose this is the best choice.

Plus, it’l be cool to experience the kind of power that makes chil ing my morning juice seem like a card trick.

“Okay,” I say, bracing my palms on the desk. “Tel me what to do.”

Brody and I make it back to Seaview flipper fast, and before I know it I’m standing at the pay phone, waiting for Quince to answer my cal . When he doesn’t, I hang up, get my coins back, and then dial Aunt Rachel’s number.

Before she’s even said hel o, I hear the chaos in the background.

“Lily?” she asks above the shouting and some squawking and what sounds like drumbeats. “Are you back, dear?”

“What’s going on?” I shout.

“Just a little— Stop trying to catch the seagul , Dosinia—

you’re only frightening the poor thing,” Aunt Rachel yel s, sounding exasperated. Then, back into the receiver, she says, “I’l tel Quince you’re ready.”

I start to say thanks, but I hear the click when she hangs up before I even open my mouth.

Joining Brody on the beach, I sink down on the sand and rest my forearms on my knees, mirroring his pose. He seems lost in thought, and soon I am, too. I don’t want to think about the chaos that is obviously happening back home—like I said, Doe causing trouble is never surprising.

Instead, I keep thinking about Tel in and what if. Would it real y be possible for the mer world and the human world to coexist? Without us getting locked away like dolphins in an aquarium?

Maybe we haven’t been giving humans enough credit?

Maybe it’s just movies that make us think that humans wil go a little crazy if they discover we’re more than myth. If only there were a way to find out.

“I wish I could go back,” Brody says.

I angle my head so I can see him from the corner of my eye. He is staring out over the ocean with the kind of longing I’ve only ever seen in him when he’s getting ready to dive into the pool. It’s a look that says he’s counting the seconds until he’s home, until he’s in the water again.

“I’m sorry it has to be this way,” I say quietly. “Doe just does things without thinking.”

I may not know Brody as wel as I used to hope, but I know he wil dream about his time underwater for the rest of his life. He comes alive in the water, just like I do, so I can imagine how he felt when he could literal y breathe it in.

I wish I could make him forget the whole thing, to wipe away the memory so he’s not haunted by it, but after giving me the separation powers and explaining the ritual, Daddy warned me against doing a second mindwashing. Twice on the same human can be very dangerous.

Only as a last resort, he said.

So, in other words, unless Brody’s about to go on the nightly news.

Stil , I wish I could. For his sake.

Brody’s lips melt into a wry smile. “I think she knew exactly what she was doing.” He forces a laugh. “And so did I.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean—” He shakes his head. “I’m sure this sounds crazy, Lily, but I think she’s the one.”

“The what?” I choke.

“I don’t know how to explain it, exactly. When I’m with Doe…” He looks me in the eye. “She feels like home.” And I can tel he means it.

If they weren’t separated by half of Seaview or had been bonded longer than a day and a half, I could blame his feelings on the magic, the mystical power that takes two beings and joins them closer than any others. I’d think his mind was muddied by the emotional and physical connection of the bond. But the feeling in his voice, in his eyes, is real.

I know, because I feel the same way about Quince.

“I—” This is definitely a twist I didn’t expect. “I didn’t know.”

“Yeah, wel .” He shrugs. “I didn’t either. Kind of ironic, huh?

I spend most of my life acting like a player. I final y find the girl of my dreams
being with her means being in the water forever. Everything is perfect, except it has to end before it’s even begun.”

“I—” Why can’t I seem to finish a sentence? I’m just so stunned by the sincerity of his emotion. The Brody I’ve known, the one I thought I loved for so long, has never been so serious about a girl. Too bad he fel for my squid-brained cousin. “If there were any other way—”

“But there is,” he says, turning his body to face me. “You don’t have to perform the separation.”

“I do.” I don’t want to break his heart, especial y when he’s being so open and vulnerable about his feelings, but I have to. “Doe is young and impulsive and doesn’t care about anyone but herself.” I take a steadying breath, knowing this next statement wil hurt. “She only kissed you so she’d be left alone with Quince. She thinks she can steal him away from me.”

Brody pushes to his feet. “You’re wrong.” He dusts the sand off his shorts. “She cares about me, just like I care about her.”

“Brody,” I begin, not sure how to make him realize the truth about Doe when he’s blinded by his feelings. I probably can’t, so I try another tact. “There are things you don’t know about merkind.”

“I don’t care.”

Oh, he wil . “You remember how Doe said I’m al ergic to chlorine?” When he shrugs, I continue. “Wel , it’s more than an al ergy. Chlorine is toxic to merfolk. It’s fatal—”

“I stil don’t care.”

I jump up to meet him face-to-face. I have to make him understand. “You don’t get it,” I almost shout. “Your swimming career would be over.”

“ N o ,
don’t get it,” he says, shaking his head.

“Swimming is just a sport, a means to a col ege scholarship, at best. Doe is…” His face transforms into a sunny grin. “My future.”

How am I supposed to argue with that? I feel bad for Brody, I real y do. He doesn’t win in this situation, either way. I’m trying—in vain—to figure out something to say when I hear the rattle of Quince’s mom’s car approaching.

“Hurry up,” Quince shouts as the car squeals to a stop up the beach from our spot. “I don’t know how long your aunt can keep Doe and the seagul apart.”

Brody doesn’t hesitate, just stalks up the beach and climbs into the backseat, slamming the door shut behind him. I’ve barely got the passenger door closed before Quince is peeling out of the parking lot and racing for home. We’re halfway there by the time I get my seat belt clicked into place, and then we’re slamming to a stop at the end of our front walk and Quince is out and running for the door.

When I fol ow him inside a few seconds later, I’m greeting with a flurry of feathers, a lot of hissing and squawking, and Aunt Rachel, Dosinia, and Quince’s shouts.

“Corner it!”

“It’s heading for the stairs.”

“Stop her!”

“Herd it back into the kitchen.”

Brody and I rush toward the noise just in time to see Doe dive for Prithi while Aunt Rachel and Quince wave their arms to keep the wild seagul penned in between the sink and the refrigerator.

Unfortunately, Doe’s grab misses Prithi, who snakes between Quince’s biker boots and lunges for the bird. The terrified seagul makes a break for the doorway between the kitchen and the hal , which happens to be where Brody and I are standing.

“Duck!” I shout, pushing Brody aside as I leap for the seagul . It flies right between my hands and, just when I think it’s going to escape, I tighten my grip and feel the weight of its body between my palms.

“Got it!”

“Thank heavens,” Aunt Rachel gasps.

Quince, who turned his attention to Prithi when the gul escaped, says, “And I’ve got the cat.”

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