Read Fins Are Forever Online

Authors: Tera Lynn Childs

Fins Are Forever (3 page)

“Go then,” I say, giving him another quick kiss. When he starts to wrap his other arm around me, I twist out of his grasp. “Later.”

He breaks into a grin. “See if Aunt Rachel wil make those key lime bars again.”

“Is food al you think about?” I tease, shoving against his shoulder.

“No,” he replies, al serious. “Sometimes I think about footbal .”

He twists the throttle and is backing down the driveway before I can smack him again.

“Careful or I’l request the prune pistachio bal s!” Not one of Aunt Rachel’s greatest cookie experiments.

He laughs, that deep, unrestrained laugh that makes me shiver al over. As he roars off down the street, I watch until he turns the corner and disappears from sight. Oh, sigh.

When Aunt Rachel gets home from the pottery studio at seven, I have al the ingredients for key lime bars spread out on the counter. I am in no way prepared to actual y attempt this recipe by myself. Electronics are my friend, but cooking is not. The one time I tried to use the oven without supervision I nearly burned off my eyebrows. Lesson learned.

I’ve also finished my homework (except for trig, which I’m saving to do with Quince), so I quickly clear my books and notebooks into my backpack. Prithi meows in annoyance as I step away from the table, taking my toes out of licking range. Since the day I arrived, she hasn’t been able to resist licking or nibbling or rubbing against me at every opportunity. I wonder if mergirls are irresistible to al cats, or just to Prithi.

“What’s for dessert tonight?” Aunt Rachel asks as she drops a paper shopping bag and her always overflowing tote bag—fil ed with magazines, art supply catalogs, shawls, aluminum water bottles, and who knows what else

—on the bench by the kitchen door.

She amazes me. Even after long hours at the studio, she stil has a smile on her face and a bounce in her step. She is a woman of both boundless energy and unending generosity. Sometimes I step back and think about our situation, and I wonder how she managed to handle taking in a brand-new teenage niece without breaking stride for a second.

I guess it’s a testament to her take-things-as-they-come attitude. I don’t think I’l ever deal with change as wel as she does. Especial y not on an empty stomach.

Even from halfway across the room, I can smel the takeout. My bel y grumbles at the thought of food, but I tel it to wait.

Aunt Rachel inspects the array of ingredients on the counter. Smiling, she picks up a bright green lime. “Key lime bars again?”

I nod with a grin. “By special request.”

I invited Quince to start stopping by after work because hours of hauling and lifting and cutting and loading always leave him famished. His mom works at night, so she leaves a reheatable dinner in the fridge. Now when he gets home, he grabs the container from his fridge and then comes over to eat dinner and cookies. Aunt Rachel and I have always made treats—wel , she makes treats and I assist. It’s not much trouble to make plenty to share.

We always make extra treats for him to take home to his mom. Quince is practical y family, so she is, too. Besides, Aunt Rachel is always very generous with her kitchen.

“Let’s get them in the oven.” She takes one of the pair of matching homemade aprons, a pale water blue covered with a rainbow of sea life—she let me pick the fabric, obviously—and quickly knots the neck and waist ties into bows. She hands the other apron to me. “Once they’re baking, we can eat dinner. Italian takeout.” Mmm.

Fifteen minutes of sifting, mixing, crumbling, and spreading later—with Prithi circling my feet the entire time

—the bars are in the oven and Aunt Rachel and I are settled in at the kitchen table with plates ful of ravioli and breadsticks. Bread, by the way, is one of my favorite land foods. We can’t exactly bake up a loaf in the ocean. Lots of water. No fire. No bread. And on the scale of breads, Italian breadsticks—al soft and warm and drowning in garlic and butter—are at the very top.

I’m just sighing into my third one when Aunt Rachel asks,

“Anything interesting happen at school today?” She forks a bite of mushroom ravioli into her mouth.

I swal ow my bite of breadstick. “You mean besides the earthquake?”

“Heavens.” Aunt Rachel practical y chokes. “The studio was so busy tonight I’d forgotten. Is the school al right?”

“Everything’s fine,” I reply. I push a chunk of breadstick around in the sauce. “News team had to make a special announcement for Monday’s homeroom broadcast.”

“It’s so strange,” Aunt Rachel says. “They were interviewing a seismologist on the radio, and he said the apparent epicenter is not near any known fault line.”

“Did they say where?” I ask. Not that I’l know anything.

Despite a ful year of earth science with Miss Molina, I’m stil pretty clueless when it comes to land-based geology.

“Yes.” Aunt Rachel swirls ravioli through her sauce. “About forty miles off the coast. Just west of Bimini.”

“What?” I choke.

“Bimini,” she repeats. “It’s the westernmost island of the Bahamas.”

“I know what Bimini is,” I explain. “It’s in the eastern part of my kingdom.”

“Real y?” Aunt Rachel takes a sip of her iced tea. “Are earthquakes common in Thalassinia?”

“No,” I reply, confused. “Not real y.”

Most of the underwater quakes in the region hit farther south, around the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

Tremors in Thalassinia are more like the once-every-few-centuries kind of thing. The last one recorded by our people was about two hundred years ago.

And even then, the quakes aren’t strong enough to be felt on the mainland.

“Do you need to send a messenger gul to the palace?” she asks. “To make sure everyone’s al right?”

“Yeah, maybe.” I shake my head. “We’re not anywhere near a fault line, so I don’t see how the epicenter could be so close.”

Abandoning my ravioli, I head to the window above the sink and slide it open. I make a gul sound into the night, knowing that no ordinary gul would ever respond to my sad excuse for a cal . Moments later, a big gray-and-white seagul flies into the kitchen and lands on the counter.

I pul open the junk drawer and grab the pad of kelpaper I keep there just in case. As I scribble a quick note, just asking Daddy if everything is okay and whether he knows anything about the quake, the gul notices the dinner on the table.

“Oh, no, you don’t,” Aunt Rachel warns, waving her fork at the hungry bird.

I snip a piece of twine and tie the note to the gul ’s leg before he gets himself forked for going after our dinner.

“Take this to King Whelk of Thalassinia, please.” The gul gives one last longing look to the table ful of food before flying back into the night. Daddy wil have my note within the hour, and hopeful y I’l have an answer shortly after that.

I sit down and resume chewing my ravioli in silence, thinking about al the consequences that
might
have swept our way on land as a result of this huge earthquake.

Tsunamis. Mud slides. Whole stretches of the south Florida coast sucked into the sea.

Thankful y, none of this happened.

If huddling in a doorway with Quince and filming a special news report were the worst of the damages, then it was hardly a blip on the disaster scale. Plus I found out about the internship.

“You know Miss Molina?” I ask.

“Wasn’t she your earth science teacher?”

“Yep,” I say, pushing away my empty plate and grabbing for a fourth breadstick. “After we finished the special report, she told me about an internship program at Seaview Community. She thinks I might be able to get in.”

“That’s wonderful, Lily,” she says, patting my hand. “What kind of internship?”

I give her a quick rundown of what I know—which isn’t much, I guess, but I’l know more after I study the website and then meet with the director next Saturday. “I might be able to get a scholarship, too,” I add. “Which would be nice, since my grades are garbage and my SAT scores aren’t going to be much better.”

“You’re working on that,” Aunt Rachel says. “Between your test-prep classes and your extra study hours with Shannen, I’m sure you’l do far better than you expect.” I hope so.

After I decided to come back to Seaview, to pursue a life on land, I met with the school counselor for the first time.

She pul ed up my records, read through my grades, and then gave me a very concerned look. With a GPA in the barely 2.0 range, she’d explained, I would have to do extremely wel on the SATs or ACT to get into col ege.

Tests are not my best stroke. I’m far better in the water than I’l ever be in front of a book. But if I want to be anything more than a janitor at the aquarium, then I need col ege. My life on land needs to be at least as meaningful as my life as queen would have been. I don’t think I’d make a great leader, but I do think I could make a decent marine biologist. I know the oceans better than any human, and I am personal y invested in protecting and preserving them. If I can make the waters better and safer for my merkin, then my life on land wil have served a valuable purpose. What more could a soon-to-be-former princess want?

A sharp knock on the kitchen door washes away my thoughts. I jump up, thril ed. Quince!

Prithi chases after me, batting at my bare feet.

It’s not until I’m pul ing the door open that I wonder why Quince is knocking when he usual y just walks right in. The huge smile on my face disappears as soon as I see who’s standing on the other side.

Chapter 2

hat are you doing here?” I demand.

“W “Nice to see you too, Lily,” Dosinia says. “Miss me?”

Not hardly.

First of al , I left Thalassinia only a few days ago. I haven’t had time to miss anyone.

Second of al , my bratty baby cousin hates me and is general y horrid whenever we’re in the same place at the same time. Even if I’d been gone a decade, I couldn’t miss her. That would imply I actual y like being with her. Very much not the case.

“Why are you here, Doe?” I repeat, not bothering to hide the irritation in my voice.

It’s not a complete and utter shock to find a merperson on land. They don’t show up at
my
door, though, because of my royal status. They don’t want to impose. But many merfolk visit the mainland occasional y—some frequently.

Doe is not among them. Even if she didn’t despise me, she usual y wouldn’t step out of the sea to save her best friend.

She has a serious hate on for humans and avoids them like last week’s red tide. Which makes the fact that she’s standing on Aunt Rachel’s back porch more than a little suspect.

“I thought for sure Uncle Whelk would send a note,” she singsongs with fake sincerity. Pul ing a square of pink kelpaper from her cleavage, she says, “Ooopsy. Guess I intercepted the messenger gul .”

Pink kelpaper means it’s a private message and the gul should deliver it only to the intended recipient—me. Leave it to Doe to get it anyway.

Jaw clenched, I snatch the note from her sparkly fingertips.

“Daddy wil be pissed when he finds out you did that,” I say, angry but secretly pleased to know she’l be getting into trouble for this stunt.

“Not any more than usual,” she replies casual y.

Prithi, apparently thril ed to realize I am not the only fishlike girl in the world, darts between my legs and begins rubbing her head against Doe’s ankle. Doe glares at the cat and then rol s her eyes, as if deciding the creature is beneath her concern.

Like I said, Doe’s not exactly a fan of land dwel ers.

Guess cats make the list, too.

Ah-hem
. A discreet cough from behind me in the kitchen reminds me that Doe and I are not the only ones present.

“Lily,” Aunt Rachel says, “won’t you introduce me to your friend?”

I almost blurt, “She is
not
my friend.” But that’s not fair.

Aunt Rachel’s never met Doe. In fact, she’s never met any merfolk besides me and Daddy. Wel , at least not knowingly. When merpeople are in terraped—human—

form, the only thing that distinguishes them as children of the sea is the mer mark on the back of the neck. And even that can look like an ordinary tattoo if you don’t know what you’re looking for.

Anyway, a decade and a half of royal training sends me into social autopilot. I turn and smile.

“Aunt Rachel, this is my cousin Dosinia.” Jaw clenched, I meet Doe’s scornful glare head on. “Doe, this is my mom’s sister, Rachel.”

For an instant, an emotion flickers in her eyes. If I were looking at anyone but Doe, I’d say it was sympathy, compassion. But it
is
Doe, so it was probably just a speck of dust.

I sense Aunt Rachel moving up next to me. “We were just finishing dinner,” she says to Doe, “but I’m sure we can find you something. I think I have a frozen pizza hidden away for just such an occasion. And there are a few breadsticks left from our takeout.”

My
breadsticks, I want to shout.

Not that Doe seems interested. The look that passes over her face as she takes in the remains of our dinner on the kitchen table is pure revulsion. I’l admit it took me a while to get used to human food. For my first few months on land, I survived on mediocre sushi and fresh produce. It was at least a year before I had the courage to try pasta. Now I love it.

Stil , even though I understand that look, I’m defensive of human food. I am, after al , half human.

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