Read Fins Are Forever Online

Authors: Tera Lynn Childs

Fins Are Forever (4 page)

“It’s good,” I insist. “Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.” She gives me a confused scowl that says, What the heck are you talking about? Then, with a shake of her head, she says, “I’m not hungry.”

As if that were the end of a very deep conversation, we al fal silent. An awkward tension fil s the air. I don’t think any of us knows quite what to say.

I’m wondering what Doe is doing here.

Maybe Doe is wondering the same thing.

Aunt Rachel probably just doesn’t know how to react to finding another mer teen in her kitchen.

In the end, Doe breaks the silence.

“I’ve been exiled,” she blurts.

“What?” I demand, my jaw slacking open. Of al the possible reasons for Doe’s appearance on my doorstep, an exile would not have even made my list. “Why?” Exile is the most extreme punishment in the mer world.

The offender is banned from the sea, forced to live on land for the duration of the sentence. In other kingdoms it may be more common, but Daddy does not use that power lightly. In fact, I can remember only one exile in my lifetime: a merman who lost his mate, went mad, and tried to attack the palace by luring a group of great whites past our defenses. In his time in exile, he fel in love with a human and chose to stay on land to be with her.

I can hardly see Doe’s exile ending like that.

“What did you do?” I ask.

She shrugs and nods at the note.

With a rol of my eyes, I careful y unfold the kelpaper crushed in my fist.

FROM THE DESK OF

KING WHELK OF THALASSINIA

Dearest Lily,

Your cousin has finally taken her hatred of humans too
far. She must learn to move beyond her prejudice. To that
end, I have sent her to you, exiling her and revoking her
mer powers until such time as we decide she is ready to
return. I am sorry to put such a burden on you, but I am
sure you are up to the task. I would not have taken such
drastic measures were the situation not desperate.

Yours,

Daddy

Exiled without her powers? She must have real y crossed a line this time. Doe’s spent most of her life breaking whatever rules she can get away with—and if it made my life miserable in the process, then bonus—and suffering the pretty mild consequences.

Quince thinks she’s jealous of me and my soon-to-be-former title, but I think she’s just a toadfish.

Stil , until now her punishments have been more like cleaning out the palace kitchens or taking the algae-eating snails for a swim so they can empty their tanks. An exile is extraordinary. She must have done something truly horrible.

“What did you do?” I repeat.

Again, she shrugs. “Are you going to make me stand out here al night, or what?”

I give her a scowl that says I just might.

But Aunt Rachel doesn’t know her like I do and steps around me to say, “Of course not, dear. Please. Come in.” Aunt Rachel throws me a glance that suggests she’s not Aunt Rachel throws me a glance that suggests she’s not too pleased with my manners. She doesn’t see the gloating look on Doe’s face as she sweeps into the room.

“Doe… ,” I warn.

She ignores me. Turning to Aunt Rachel, she hands her another piece of kelpaper. “Uncle Whelk sent a note for you, too.”

Aunt Rachel gives her a questioning look before unfolding the paper and reading Daddy’s scribbled note. When she looks up, her eyes are bright like she might be on the verge of tears. “Of course,” she says, stepping forward and pul ing a reluctant Doe into a warm hug. “Of course you wil stay here while you’re on land. There’s a guest bed in my sewing room, and it’s yours as long as you need it.” Whatever Daddy wrote must have struck just the right chord with Aunt Rachel.

“What did the note say?” I ask her. “Why has Doe been exiled?”

She gives me a sad look and shakes her head. “He didn’t say.” Then, turning back to Doe, she says, “I’l go get your room ready.”

Before I can blink, I’m left alone in the kitchen with Doe, with Prithi purring dutiful y at
her
feet—the furry little traitor—

and less than no clue about what’s going on.

Aunt Rachel’s voice drifts back from the stairs, “Take the key lime bars out of the oven when the timer goes off.” Her voice grows fainter as she reaches the second floor. “Don’t forget to use the pot holders.”

“I only did that once,” I mutter. Burn blisters on both palms were more than enough to teach me that lesson.

were more than enough to teach me that lesson.

“So this is where you live?” Doe asks with a sneer, sweeping her piercing blue gaze over Aunt Rachel’s kitchen. “Kind of a drift downstream from the royal palace.” Her evaluation makes me look at the kitchen with fresh eyes. Like when I first walked through that door three years ago.

Aunt Rachel had met me at the beach, where Daddy tearful y passed me off to Mom’s sister. He stayed completely kingly about the whole thing, though, dismissing the tears as a bit of seaweed in his eye. Aunt Rachel had driven me home in her beat-up station wagon—my first time in a car—and let me into the house through the kitchen side door. The look on her face had been one of nervous expectation. She’d been worried about what I would think of her home, like I might not think it was good enough after living in the Thalassinian royal palace for so long. She shouldn’t have worried. I took one look at the sunny yel ow cabinets, sky blue wal paper, and rustic metal hardware, everything worn but homey, and fel completely in love.

Everything about this house is brightness and warmth and love, just like Aunt Rachel. So the idea of someone looking disparagingly—that means belittling; I’ve been studying my SAT vocabulary—at the kitchen is beyond insulting.

Especial y if that person is Doe.

Squaring my shoulders, I step up to Doe until we’re practical y nose to nose. She’s in my world now, and I’m immune to her fake charm.

“Listen up,” I snap, so she knows I’m serious. “I don’t know what you did to get sent here, and honestly I don’t care.” what you did to get sent here, and honestly I don’t care.” Okay, I do, but I’m not about to tel her that. “But know this: You can be your usual y hideous self with me al you want, but while you are a guest in Aunt Rachel’s home, you wil treat her with respect. You got me?”

In typical Doe fashion, she just meets my angry glare head-on, unblinking. Unfazed. Unaffected.

“Because if you do anything to insult, disrespect, or otherwise bother her in any way”—I lean even closer—“then Daddy’s exile wil be the least of your worries.” Doe doesn’t flinch.

As we hold our staredown, a blaring buzzer fil s the kitchen.

“That’l be your key lime bars, then?” she asks with a cool smirk.

“Aaargh!”

Spinning away from her, I punch the timer and jerk open the oven door.

“Don’t forget the pot holders.”

Ignore her, I tel myself as I snatch the pot holders from their hooks above the stove. She’s insignificant, like tiny little sea lice. I can’t let her get to me. Especial y if she’s going to be here awhile.

Son of a swordfish, that would be awful. Doe is bad enough in smal doses, let alone for an extended period of time. I’m not sure I would survive that.

I’ve just set the baking dish ful of key-lime-bar goodness on the stovetop when the kitchen door swings open.

“Why, is that key lime I sm—”

Quince breaks off in the middle of his teasing question when he spots Doe standing in Aunt Rachel’s kitchen. I adore seeing that look of utter shock on his face when
I
put it there. Not when it’s Doe’s doing.

“Dosinia?” he asks, sounding as confused as I am.

She drops her jaded, disenchanted facade and flings herself at him, shouting, “Quincy!”

It is only the questioning look he throws me over her shoulder that stops me from grabbing the stil burning-hot dish of key lime bars and flinging them at her obnoxious back.

That, and the fact that I would be beyond disappointed if the bars were ruined before we got to eat even one.

“What are you doing here?” he asks, pul ing her arms from around his neck so he can look her in the eye. “I thought you hated land.”

“Not land,” I say, circling around her to slip my arm proprietarily around Quince’s waist. “Humans.” I smirk at her dark scowl.

Then, turning a shining smile on Quince, she says, “I’ve been exiled.” She flicks a taunting look at me before returning her attention to my boy. “I’l be around a lot for a while.”

Doe in residence is not what I need right now. As if the SATs and interviews and new boyfriends and graduations and a mil ion other things weren’t enough, Daddy had to throw my squid-brained baby cousin into the mix.

Just great.

“You don’t know what she’s like, Shannen,” I complain.

“Real y, you don’t.”

Prithi, annoyed by the agitated movement of my feet, meows an echoing complaint. She spent the entire night crying outside Doe’s door. I’m pretty sure she’s only returned her attentions to me because Doe stil isn’t out of bed. I’m the only mergirl available.

“I can imagine,” Shannen says, checking over my SAT

sample test. “Lily, you spel ed your name wrong.”

“I’m distracted.” I take the paper back from her and erase al those bubbled-in circles before fil ing in a fresh set. “You should have seen the way she flung herself at Quince. Like he was her long-lost best friend, when she barely knows him and I know for a fact that she hates al humans.” Throwing Shannen an apologetic glance, I say, “Sorry.” Shannen waves me off, never one to dwel on an insult.

“Maybe she’s jealous,” she suggests, echoing Quince’s own interpretation of Doe’s behavior.

Why does everyone think this? They don’t know her as wel as I do.

Shannen asks, “How long has it been since she had a boyfriend?”

“A boyfriend?” I echo. “Doe?” Never, maybe. Doe is more the love ’em, leave ’em, don’t-bubble-message-me-I’l -

bubble-message-you type. “I don’t think she’s ever gone out with the same boy more than a couple of times.” Shannen quickly scans my revised test, marking up more than half the answers with her red pen. “Then she’s probably jealous of your relationship.”

Snorting in disbelief, I try to imagine a world in which Doe is jealous of me. Nope. Doesn’t exist. Although my relationship with Quince is completely enviable. Other than that, my life is pretty much murky. A big part of my future depends on a miraculously decent SAT score.

“Lily,” Shannen groans. This is going to be bad. “The square root of 121 is not 121.”

My head drops to the table. “I’m hopeless,” I mumble against the painted white surface of the kitchen table. “I’m never going to get into col ege.”

Even with the insider connection to Seaview Community, I stil have to get a better-than-pathetic score on the SATs. I have to prove myself capable of academic success or something equal y ridiculous. If only I could explain that school hadn’t seemed that important for the last three years because I was going to return to Thalassinia to be crown princess after graduation. Now that I was staying, I would total y focus more on my class work.

But thankful y since the human world is stil unaware that the mer world exists, I can’t exactly provide ful disclosure.

Sometimes I think my life would be much easier if I didn’t have to keep that part of myself a secret. It’s a nice brief fantasy, but then reality returns and I remember why that’s impossible.

Prithi laps at my toe, as if tel ing me she’s perfectly content for me to stay right here forever. At least until Doe wakes up.

“You’re not hopeless.” Shannen grabs a fistful of my frizzy blond hair and tugs me upright. “You’re just behind the curve a bit. Especial y in math. Your writing and critical reading scores are much better.”

“That’s because we speak English in Thalassinia.” At least I’m not from one of the Spanish, Danish, or Japanese-speaking kingdoms. I’d be toast. “If there was a whole test in marine biology, I’d ace it for sure.”

“Don’t worry,” Shannen says, her voice ful of a determination that might be the only thing between me and a life of fast-food jobs. “We’l get you in shape before the real deal in two weeks.”

“Two weeks?” I squeak. My head fal s back to the table.

“You just have to focus,” Shan explains. “Tune out other distractions.”

Easier said than done.

Until I decided to give up my crown and live on land indefinitely, col ege had been the furthest thing from my thoughts. I’d stick it out through graduation, just long enough to make Brody fal in love with me and go with me to Thalassinia when high school was over, so I could take up my duties as crown princess. That had been the extent of my future planning.

Now, there’s Social Security numbers and paperwork and a five-year plan and more things than I can possibly keep in mind at once. And that’s just the future stuff. There’s also the new boyfriend, my eighteenth-birthday bal , and the renunciation.

If I want to help my kingdom from above, through human channels, then I need to succeed. I need to do wel on the SATs and get on the col ege track, or I’l wind up watching my marine biologist plans float away.

Stil , I’m not giving up. I’m a Thalassinian princess, and we’re made of strong stuff. If I need to focus and remove myself from distractions, I can do that.

“How do you sleep on that contraption they cal a bed?” My short-lived optimism vanishes as Doe—aka Very Big Distraction—walks into the kitchen.

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