Read Fins Are Forever Online

Authors: Tera Lynn Childs

Fins Are Forever (5 page)

Abandoning my apparently less-tasty feet, Prithi pounces at Doe’s hot pink toes. Doe ignores her.

I glare at Doe. “You’l get used to it.”

It had taken me several weeks to adjust to sleeping on a flat surface rather than the curved shel -shaped beds we use in Thalassinia. But now I adore al my fluffy hibiscus bedding and being able to curl up on my side with the covers pul ed tight around me. It’s like being stuffed in a cozy clamshel .

“I won’t be here long enough to get used to anything,” she retorts.

She’s stil being vague about the details of her exile, avoiding any and al questions about what she did to get sent here.

“And just how long
will
you be here?” I ask, watching nervously as Doe surveys the room.

Her gaze lands on Shannen. Ignoring my question, she asks, “Does this one live here, too?”

I feel my land temper burning my cheeks. If we were in Thalassinia, the water would calm me until I was only mildly annoyed. But since we’re on land, I’m instantly on the verge of furious at her snide question about Shannen. No one disparages my best human friend.

“This
one
,” I growl, “is Shannen. A very good friend. She’s helping me study because that’s the kind of thing friends do.” Under my breath, I add, “Not that you would understand anything about friendship.”

“Nice to meet you,” Shannen says, offering Doe her hand.

Doe, of course, stares blankly at the hand before rol ing her eyes and stalking into the room. Prithi is fast on her heels. “Where can a mergirl find a glass of kelpberry juice in this place?”

Typical Doe. Walking in like she owns the world, treating everyone like sludge, and expecting them to cheerful y serve her. Wel , if she thinks she can pul off that attitude on land, then she’s in for a very harsh lesson. One I’m not going to teach her. She can sink or swim on her own in this world—I’m not going to be her guiding current. I’ve got my own life to get in order.

Ignoring Doe—and Shannen’s questioning look—I hunker over my study guide and reread the directions for the math section for the fifteenth time. (Note: They stil don’t make sense.)

I’m trying to interpret the meaning of the obscure instructions when Aunt Rachel sweeps into the room.

“Good morning, girls,” she says, her long, flowing skirt fluttering behind her. “Hard at work already?”

“Yes, Ms. Hale,” Shannen replies.

Aunt Rachel’s stopped asking Shannen to cal her by her first name. She’s practical y family—especial y now that she knows my big, fin-shaped secret—but she can’t seem to shake a lifetime of respect-your-elders training.

“Good morning, Dosinia,” Aunt Rachel says, setting her newspaper on the table and heading for the coffeemaker.

“Did you sleep wel ?”

Doe snorts.

The fine hairs on the back of my neck, just above my mer mark, stand up. I force myself to take a deep breath and release some of my fury on an exhale. It’s a technique I learned from Quince, and I’m going to need it if Doe is here for more than a day or two.

Especial y if she keeps insulting my nearest and dearest.

With my jaw clenched, I snarl, “You didn’t even give it a ch

—”

“Would you like some juice, dear?” Aunt Rachel asks before I can scold—er, explain to Doe about her inappropriate behavior. “There’s a pitcher in the fridge and glasses in that cupboard.”

Doe’s gaze fol ows the wave of Aunt Rachel’s arm to the refrigerator and then stops. “The
fridge
?”

“Don’t you have refrigerators in Thalassinia?” Aunt Rachel asks, sounding truly intrigued. Then she laughs at herself.

“No, I don’t suppose you would need them.”

“On land we need to keep things cold,” I explain before Doe can spit out the biting comment that’s already sneering across her lips. “So they don’t spoil.”

To save us al from some sort of incident, I shove back from the table and stomp to the cabinet. In Doe’s defense, this world is completely foreign to her. Not that ignorance excuses her rudeness.

“This is a glass,” I explain, holding one up for her to see.

We have glasses in Thalassinia—which is why Doe rol s her eyes at me—but they’re not for juice. Since everything back home is surrounded by liquid, juice wouldn’t stay in a glass for long. We have bottles for things like kelpberry and sand strawberry juice. I jab the glass into her hand and then pul open the fridge. With the pitcher of orange juice in hand, I pour a generous amount into her glass. “It’s orange juice.”

“The juice of an orange?” she asks, sounding confused.

It’s not that we never have oranges in Thalassinia—we do a lot of trading with land-based merchants and have a pretty astounding variety of land-grown produce. Especial y at the palace. But we only ever eat oranges in segments.

No one ever thought of juicing them.

“Yes,” I answer sharply. “Orange juice.”

Al of us watch expectantly, or maybe fearful y, as Doe cautiously takes her first sip of orange juice. It’s a smal sip, barely enough to give her a real taste, but enough for her to decide what she thinks about it.

It’s like we’re al holding our breath, waiting for her reaction. I’m not sure why Aunt Rachel and Shannen are so expectant, but I’m bracing myself for a Doe-style explosion.

A tirade, maybe, and orange juice flying across the room.

Never one to live up to expectation, Doe betrays no emotion. Just shrugs and takes another sip.

I’m not sure whether to smile or scowl.

“If everything is al right here,” Aunt Rachel says, pouring her coffee into a car mug and tucking her newspaper under her arm, “I’l be off. I have an early class at the studio.”

“Fine,” Doe says with a sunny smile. Total y fake.

Prithi meows contentedly as she circles Doe’s ankles.

“Yeah, I need to go, too,” Shan says. “Promised Mom I’d help her clean out the garage today.”

She shudders as she gathers up her things.

I give her a pleading
do-you-have-to?!?
look.

“Keep working through the sample test,” she says, pushing the book toward me. “I’l cal later to check on your progress.”

Moments later, Doe and I are alone in the kitchen, with only Prithi’s pleased purring interrupting the tense silence.

In a completely negligent manner, Doe holds her glass over the sink, twists her wrist, and lets the juice pour out. The look on her face dares me to say a word.

Oh, I’ve got more than one.

My anger needs to wait, though. First, I need to find out why she’s here.

“Dosinia,” I say, trying to sound stern while keeping the rising anger out of my voice, “why exactly did you get exiled?”

She shrugs as she sets the glass on the counter. “I have no idea. I certainly didn’t do anything
wrong
.”

“Nothing wrong?” Wrong, in this case, I suppose, being up to Doe’s own interpretation. No one gets exiled for doing nothing wrong. “Daddy wouldn’t exile someone for no reason. Especial y not a merperson of royal descent and especial y not with revoked powers.”

Revoking a merperson’s powers is even more serious than exile. That means Doe can’t breathe underwater, can’t transfigure, and can’t control the temperature of liquids.

She can’t use any of the personal magical powers that make us mer. She’s stil a merperson and subject to the rules and magic of our people, but as far as anyone can tel , she’s completely human.

That must bug the carp out of her.

Fine. If she won’t tel me why, then she can at least tel me how long.

“So you’re exiled—for no reason whatsoever,” I say, with a heavy dose of sarcasm. “And without your powers. How long wil we be stuck with you?”

She shrugs again. “Uncle Whelk didn’t say.” My teeth grind slowly together. “Then what
did
he say?” Pul ing back a chair at the table—the chair that neither Aunt Rachel nor Shannen had been using, as if she might get human cooties from them—she seats herself directly across from me. “He said you have to teach me to fit in here, in Seaview.”

Is that al ? Wel , if Daddy had to give me a task, at least this is an easy one. Fitting in has never been a problem for Doe. Although she can be—and usual y is—a total sea witch, she’s not a social leper or anything. She’s beautiful, and boys fal over their fins to please her. In Thalassinia she’s pretty popular. Shouldn’t be too tough to translate that into Seaview terms.

The biggest difference wil be the clothes. She didn’t bring anything with her, so at the moment she’s wearing the tank top she swam here in and finkini shorts made from hot pink and purple scales. Daddy must have left her just enough magic to maintain her modesty. Some of my clothes might fit her, but her curves are definitely, um, curvier than mine.

I’m not exactly eager to share with her, but I can make do for a few days.

“Don’t like my outfit?” she asks with a sneer when she notices me evaluating her attire. “You used to dress just like this. Then again, you used to be a mer princess.” I ignore her jab. “Your clothes aren’t exactly land appropriate.”

“Here.” She tugs a smal pouch from her deep cleavage and drops it on the table. “Uncle Whelk sent this to cover my expenses.”

I tug open the drawstring pouch to find an eyeful of pearls.

Beautiful white, cream, pink, and even a few rare black pearls, al in perfect condition. These wil fetch a significant amount.

They wil cover a lot of expenses.

“How long do you expect to be here, Doe?” I ask. The money we’l get for sel ing the pearls would pay al of our household expenses for a month. “When do you get to go home?”

Her gaze drops to the table, and she absently rubs at the scratch I made in the paint the first time I tried to make frozen pizza. Some of her attitude ebbs, and I see, for the first time, that she’s just as uncertain about this situation as I am.

Sometimes she makes it too easy to forget she’s just a sixteen-year-old kid.

“I don’t know,” she admits. “Uncle Whelk said I needed to stay here until I learned to appreciate humans.” Great. For Doe that could mean never. Not that I completely blame her, of course, given her history, but it’s a semi-impossible task.

“Did he say how to determine if you’ve succeeded?”

“He said you would make the cal .” She looks up, her blue eyes glowing with unshed tears. “You decide when I’ve learned my lesson.”

“Wel , that’s easy,” I say, jumping up, uncomfortable with her sudden display of emotion. “You stay here a few days, hang with my friends, act like you don’t want to kil them al with a death ray from your eyes, and we’l be good to go.” Even before I’m finished, she’s shaking her head slowly.

“He also said to tel you,” she whispers, “to consider this your final duty as princess of Thalassinia.” Duty.

With that one word I drop back into my chair. It’s the one word that can completely sink me. I’ve been raised my whole life to appreciate the responsibility of my position, to understand that duty comes before almost everything. And even though Daddy encouraged me to fol ow my heart—

which means giving up my place in the succession—that sense of duty is not so easy to dismiss. And if Daddy is cal ing on my sense of duty to deal with Doe, then that means I have to see it through to a legitimately successful conclusion.

It also means that whatever she did to get exiled is real y, real y bad.

“Oh, Doe,” I say sadly, shaking my head. “What did you do?”

I don’t expect an answer, and she doesn’t give one. But I know there’s no way I can give her an easy pass. I have a feeling there’s more at stake here than just my inconvenience.

Settling in on Doe’s toes, Prithi lets out a sad wail.

My feelings exactly. Wel , if Daddy thinks it wil serve Thalassinia to help Doe get over her human hate, then that’s what I need to do. Because responsibility is difficult to ignore, and until my eighteenth birthday I am royal y bound to fulfil my duty. Whether I like it or not.

“Let’s get you dressed,” I say, pushing to my feet. “We’re going shopping.”

Chapter 3

onday morning, Aunt Rachel drives me and Dosinia to Mschool. Quince gave me a kiss when I told him I wouldn’t be riding with him on his motorcycle and promised me another one when I meet him at my locker.

That wil have to sustain me.

While I’ve become a fan of his motorcycle—kind of—

sometimes I wish one of us had a car. His mom needs her clunker for work, just like Aunt Rachel needs her station wagon. On days when the Seaview weather verges on hurricane-force winds or torrential tropical downpour, a vehicle with a roof would be a definite advantage. Not to mention the fact that we could be on our way to school together right now, with Doe safely in the backseat—or maybe the trunk—rather than him roaring off on Princess alone and me stuck listening to Doe whimper the whole ride.

Until I get a job or Quince starts working ful -time, it’s motorcycles and borrowed rides for me.

“It’s fine,” I explain to Doe for the twentieth time since Aunt Rachel turned the ignition and put the station wagon in gear. “Just think of it as a wakemaker on wheels.” The wide-eyed, nostrils-flared look Doe shoots at me indicates she is not thril ed with the analogy. I’m surprised her death grip on the back of my seat hasn’t punctured the worn upholstery. I’m even more surprised that Doe is al owing this break in her I’m-too-cool-for-everything facade.

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