Read Fins Are Forever Online

Authors: Tera Lynn Childs

Fins Are Forever (18 page)

Suppressing the temptation to listen in on her conversation—if she doesn’t know how to dial a phone, she can’t possibly understand about extensions—I head to my room and hold the door open for Prithi to join me. Traitor that she is, she’s stationed outside the bathroom instead of fol owing me.

“I’m the one who feeds you, you know.”

She gives me a wistful look, like she wishes she could be in two places at once, and then turns and presses her nose to the crack under the bathroom door.

“Fine.” I swing the door shut behind me.

After retrieving my rainbow pajamas from beneath my pil ow and trading them for my towel wrap, I sit down at my desk and pul out markers and a blank sheet of paper.

Using an exercise we learned in freshman English, I fold the paper in half lengthwise and prepare to make a pros-and-cons list. I use a purple marker to draw a line down the middle. Then I title each column and begin fil ing them in.

Accept Tellin’s Proposal

Reject Tellin’s Proposal

Duty

Love

Daddy

Aunt Rachel

My kingdom

Myself

Legacy

Future

Living up to my potential

Discover new potential

Responsibility

Dedication
The people of Thalassinia

Quince

Leading my people underwater Protecting my people from above I’m not sure what I’d hoped to accomplish by making this list. Maybe I thought one side of the decision would far outweigh the other and I wouldn’t have to fret about it anymore.

The truth is there are valid reasons for me to make either choice. The only difference is… it’s a choice I’ve already made. I’m giving up my title and living on land, living with my human half and forging a future with the boy I love.

Without another thought, I crumple the list and toss it into the trash. That’s the end of that mental debate.

Then why do I stil feel so adrift?

Chapter 11

y lunch the next day, Doe and Brody are back in each Bother’s laps. By Wednesday afternoon I’m ready to throw them both back into the ocean. If only the waters of south Florida were chil y enough to cool them off.

When I stomp through the kitchen door after school and find them sharing one of the dining chairs, I stomp right on through to the living room before flinging my backpack to the ground.

I know this is what I wanted to happen, but does it al have to be so in-my-face?

“Something wrong?” Tel in asks.

I glance—okay,
glare
—at the armchair where he’s been spending practical y al his time since he got here on Monday. He’s mentioned his proposal a couple of times, but he hasn’t been pushing the issue.

“No,” I snap. “I mean, yes. Not real y. I just—” I shake my head. “I don’t need to see my baby cousin making al lovey-dovey with my ex-crush.”

I flop on the couch, jerk open the zipper on my bag, and pul out my SAT prep guide. Flipping it open to the next sample test, I slam it on the coffee table and slide down onto the floor to begin.

“You’ve been spending a lot of your time with that book,” Tel in observes. “May I ask why?”

“Because,” I explain, trying to scan the rules for the first section, even though I should have them memorized by now, “the test is on Saturday and if I don’t do real y, real y wel , then I won’t get into col ege because my grades have been pretty pitiful because until three weeks ago I thought I didn’t need to worry about a future on land because I was going to become a mer queen and spend my years ruling over Thalassinia instead of studying literature and American Government.”

A long silence fil s the room after my mini rant. Final y Tel in laughs and says, “Now tel me your true feelings.” I slump. “I know it’s not the most important thing in the world,” I admit. Things like war and famine and ocean warming come to mind. “But if I want to protect the oceans in an official, scientific capacity, then I need higher education. I can’t become a marine biologist without at least a col ege degree.”

“You can help the oceans in another way,” he says quietly.

I guess I should be thankful he’s been quiet as long as he has. Maybe he’s been patiently waiting for the right moment.

Now is
not
that moment.

“Tel me why.” I lay my pencil down in the open seam of the study guide. “Why do you think this is such a great idea?”

“I told you why.”

“You told me
a
reason,” I argue. “But I don’t think you’ve told me
your
reason.”

“Lily,” Tel in says, sinking down onto the floor next to me,

“you are the best hope for Thalassinia’s future. For the future freedom of al the mer kingdoms. With our forces united, we wil be able to enact positive change—”

“This is everything you said before.” And everything that tugged at the lifetime of duty that Daddy trained into me.

But something is missing. “You have another reason. I can sense it.”

“You’re wrong,” he says with another laugh. “I have been raised to honor duty before al else, just like you. I can imagine no better way to fulfil our duties than by joining our kingdoms for the greater good.”

“I just don’t think I can—”

“You know that’s why my father stopped speaking to yours, right?”

“What?” I jerk back. “No. Why?”

“King Whelk wanted to enter us into an arranged marriage,” Tel in explains. “My father disagreed. He wanted me to seek out my true love, my true mermate. When your father insisted, mine severed relations.”

“That’s impossible.” I shake my head, not able to wrap my mind around the idea of Daddy wanting to sign my future away on a piece of paper. It seems so unlike him.

“It’s not,” Tel in says. “This is another reason why I think my plan is a good one. It is what your father has wanted al along.” His gaze drifts toward the front door, but I can tel he’s not seeing anything. “As difficult as it is for me to admit, my father was wrong in this. Our union can only be for the best of both our kingdoms.”

He makes it seem so tempting. The fact that I’m even considering the possibility is ridiculous. But, like we’ve always said… “What if?”

“What if,” Tel in says, jumping on my opening, “we bonded and—”

“What if who bonded?”

“Quince!” I jump at the sound of his voice. He walks into the living room with a dark look on his face. And no wonder, if he heard what Tel in and I were talking about.

“I thought you were at work?” I ask, hopeful y not sounding

—or looking—guilty.

“I was,” he says flatly. “There’s a tropical storm coming in, so they closed the lumberyard.” He throws Tel in a dark look. “What if who bonded?”

“It’s just a game we used to play as guppies,” I explain before Tel in can respond. He could only make the situation worse. “One of us starts a what-if, and then we keep going down that path, alternating what-ifs until we get to a conclusion. Or we start laughing too hard to continue.”

“A game,” Quince echoes. “So, in what what-if are the two of you bonded?”

“It’s just a—”

Tel in interrupts. “I commented on how funny it would be if we had bonded as children,” he lies. “We almost shared a first kiss once or twice, but Lily was always the levelheaded one.” He grins at me. “Spurned my every advance.” I throw Tel in a grateful smile. Not that he and I were doing anything wrong, but stil . My relationship with Quince—our official boyfriend-girlfriend relationship, anyway—is stil pretty new. I don’t want him worrying over something that would never happen.

Like Tel in said, I’m too levelheaded to do anything so impulsive.

Tel in, probably sensing the almost tangible tension in the room, stands, clears his throat, and excuses himself to the kitchen. Seconds later, he’s fleeing the smoochfest he found there for the upstairs.

Quince, who has been standing, rigid and acting as the epicenter for al that anxiety, asks, “What was that real y about?”

“Nothing. I told you, we just—”

“Save it,” he says, cutting me off. “I know you better than anyone. I can tel when you’re lying to me.”

“It’s not a lie.” Not real y. We
were
playing a game and, even though for half a second I might have maybe sorta thought about actual y considering the idea, I wasn’t real y serious. I insist, “We were playing a game.” He looks at me for a minute, studying, trying to see through my words to decide if I’m tel ing the truth. Final y he closes his eyes and shakes his head. “Yeah, sorry. It’s been a long day.”

I cross the room and wrap my arms around his waist. “It’s been a long month.”

He gives me a quick hug and then leans back, nodding at the open study guide on the table. “You want some help?”

“Of course,” I say, grasping at the safe topic of my SAT

prep. As he settles, cross-legged, on the floor across the table, I ask, “Are you going to distract me by playing footsie?”

“Absolutely, princess,” he says with a wink.

“Then I won’t remember a thing.”

“It’s a samurai training technique,” he teases, spinning the test prep book toward him. “I distract you as much as possible right now.” He slides the book into his lap. “And you’l learn how to test through anything.”

“Samurai, huh?” I tease back, relieved to return to our relaxed positions. “We won’t get anything done.” He winks again and then gets down to business, reading the first question aloud. My good humor evaporates as I focus on trying to figure out the paral el relationship between dog and quadruped.

Chapter 12

“ ’m going to fail.”

I “You’re not going to fail,” Shannen replies patiently. “You can’t
fail
the SATs.” She signals a left turn, checks both ways, and then pul s out onto the street in front of school.

Her wipers swish back and forth against the tropical downpour. “The worst you can get on each section is a two hundred, I think, but they don’t assign letter grades.”

“Fine,” I whine. “I’m going to get two hundreds.”

“You won’t.” She spares me a glance. “You’l do real y wel in the reading and writing sections.”

With a groan, I drop my head into my hands, knocking it against the dashboard on the way. I just groan again and sink deeper into my freakout. I haven’t had enough time to prepare. I’ve wasted too much of what time I did have. And I’m going to have a complete mental meltdown tomorrow when the test begins.

I’l be lucky if I can speak in complete sentences at my interview after.

“The test is in the morning,” I complain. “I only have sixteen more hours to cram in some studying.”

Shannen pul s to a complete stop before proceeding onto my street. “No more cramming,” she says. “There have been countless studies that show the more you try to learn in the last few hours before an exam, the less you retain.”

“Real y?”

“In fact,” she says, a slightly smug smile on her face, “they suggest that it wil even make you forget things you already know.”

“Oh, no,” I cry. “Then no more studying.”

“No more studying,” Shannen agrees.

Wel , at least that gives me a little more freedom for my Friday night. I was already bummed because Quince had to run errands for his mom and couldn’t give me a ride home

—not that I mind riding with Shannen, it’s just become a routine for Quince and me. The thought of spending the whole night with my nose buried in a study guide was just sad.

At least now maybe Shannen and I can enjoy an evening of board games and wel -buttered popcorn.

“Wait a second,” I say as she speeds past my house. “You missed my turn.”

“I thought we could swing by the grocery store and get some caramels.” She steers onto Seaview’s main shopping street. “Ever have caramel corn?”

“No,” I say, intrigued. “Is it good?”

“It’s amazing,” she says, pul ing into the store parking lot.

Which happens to be right next to Mushu Sushi, my favorite land-based sushi restaurant. I give their red-lacquered doors a yearning glance.

“Want to grab dinner first?” Shannen asks.

Sushi is not her favorite, so I know she must have seen my longing look.

“Nah,” I say, trying to be a good friend. “It’s okay.” The OPEN sign next to their front door is dark. “Besides, looks like they’re closed.”

“Let’s check to make sure. I wouldn’t say no to some edamame,” Shannen says, jumping out of the car and dashing toward the restaurant to escape the rain.

“Okay.” I shrug and fol ow her, never one to turn down a plateful of sushi goodness. I move slowly, letting the water cover me with its soothing energy. By the time I reach the awning, I look a little bedraggled but I feel wonderful.

Despite the dark sign, Mushu’s front door swings open easily when Shannen pushes. She throws me a mischievous smile before walking in, holding the door open behind her.

Curious, I fol ow her inside.

“Surprise!!!”

Shouts bombard me from al directions.

I slam my palm against my chest before my heart can beat its way out. “Holy bananafish, you guys!”

“Happy birthday,” Shannen says, handing me a box wrapped with yel ow paper and curl upon curl of orange ribbon.

I take the box, stil in shock and stil staring around the room at everyone gathered in the tiny entryway. Besides Shannen, Aunt Rachel is there, beaming, and Quince, of course. He’s got that boy-did-we-get-you look on his face, and that makes me smile more than anything. Next to him, Brody and Doe are joined at the hip, and a little ways to the side, Tel in is lounging against the wal , which is paneled with narrow strips of a very red wood.

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