Read Fins Are Forever Online

Authors: Tera Lynn Childs

Fins Are Forever (7 page)

Silently saying, Don’t freak out. Too late for that. I reach down and lace my fingers through his, squeezing out my frustration on his hand.

“Doe says you’re an amazing swimmer, Lil,” Brody says, leaning forward. “How come you never tried out for the girls’

team?”

I squeeze Quince harder. I can’t exactly tel Brody it’s because I’m only a good swimmer in my mer form. The tail fin is a big boost in the underwater-speed department. With legs, I swim about as wel as a rock.

“It’s the competition,” Shannen says, coming to my rescue. “It stresses her out and she practical y drowns.” Doe snorts.

Quince laughs.

I squeeze until I think Quince might lose al blood flow to his fingers.

“Yeah,” I say, going along with the explanation, since it’s just about as believable as anything else I could come up with. “I don’t do wel under pressure. I faint. I have to settle for being swim team manager.”

“Besides,” Doe says, final y chiming in on the conversation, “Lily only swims in the ocean. She’s al ergic to chlorine.”

I force a laugh. Throwing her a dark look, I say, “That too.” She’s cutting it a little too close to the truth.

Mermaids aren’t just al ergic to chlorine. It’s toxic to us. If you want to cal human susceptibility to arsenic an al ergy, then yeah, I guess I’m al ergic. A quick dip in a public pool wouldn’t kil me, but it would make me real y sick. If I tried to stick it out for an entire swim practice, though… wel , let’s just say that I wouldn’t have to worry about my SAT prep anymore.

Quince, apparently realizing he’s in danger of losing his fingers—which would make working on his motorcycle real y hard—reaches over with his other hand and pul s off my death grip. But instead of withdrawing completely, he sandwiches my hand between both of his.

“I’l bet Lily has some great stories about Doe, too,” Quince says. “Don’t you, princess?”

For half a second I’m confused. Every single Doe story I have is an underwater one. He knows I can’t dish that dirt.


Don’t you
, princess?” he repeats.

He looks me in the eye and winks and I final y get his meaning. After growing up together, I know plenty of things Doe probably wouldn’t want me to share. I don’t have to actually
tell
the stories, just hint at them enough so Doe knows I won’t be bul ied by her. She’s not the only one who can tel embarrassing tales.

And I know the perfect tale to not tel .

I bolt up straighter.

“I do.” I throw her a warning look. “I have a whole
treasure
chest of stories.”

Her eyes flash. I know she knows exactly what I’m talking about: the time our cousins Kitt and Nevis made a fake treasure map and she spent two days scouring the Thalassinian garbage fields for a buried chest of rare pink diamonds. She was only about eight, but she is stil mortified by her gul ibility.

As if conceding that if we’re going to play hardbal , I might not win, but I won’t go down without a fight, she gives me a slight nod.

Score one for Lily.

The table fal s into a vaguely tense silence. I think we al realize that lunch is almost over and we’ve barely touched our food. I take this moment of silence to see what Doe has on her tray. She (wisely) passed on the meat du jour, a grayish hamburger with wilted lettuce, instead opting for strawberry Jel -O, vanil a pudding, and a banana. Al foods similar to ones we have in Thalassinia.

I think part of her human education needs to be about trying new foods. Sushi may top my list of al -time favorites, but I’ve developed a taste for corn dogs, tater tots, and apple pie. And you haven’t lived until you’ve tried tiramisu.

Maybe educating Doe in human ways won’t be al that bad.

After al , it
is
my duty. And if I get to consume some of my favorite foods in the process, then al the better. Tomorrow I’l have to get some extras on my plate to make her try. I’m pretty sure it’s taco day.

“Gotta run,” Brody says, pushing to his feet and picking up his tray. “We’re doing oral reports in history today and I need to review my notes.” He nods down at Doe’s picked-over tray. “Have you finished?”

She makes a kind of disgusted face and pushes her tray away.

“I’l take this up for you.” Brody stacks their trays and winks at Doe. “See you later.”

Her gaze doesn’t leave him until he drops off the trays and disappears out the cafeteria doors. Her interest in Brody is a little too interested for my peace of mind.

Before the human food lessons, I have to make one thing very clear. I wil not let my final act as royal princess end in a bonding disaster that can only bring trouble to my kingdom.

As soon as Brody’s out of sight, I say, “No.” Doe looks innocent. “No what?”

“No Brody,” I explain. “Absolutely, unequivocal y no.” She shrugs. “Whatever.”

I’m not sure if it’s an I-don’t-real y-care-about-him-so-no-big-deal shrug, or an I-like-him-and-I-don’t-real y-care-what-you-think one. Or maybe it’s a you’re-not-the-boss-of-me shrug.

“Dosinia,” I say, not wil ing to let this go, “this is serious.

You can’t mess around with Brody. I don’t know if I told you, but he accidental y found out the truth about me a couple weeks ago.”

“So?” she asks in a bored tone.

“So he didn’t take it very wel . He acted like a jerk and I had to—”

“Ancient history.” She reaches down and grabs a lip gloss from her briefcase, swiping it perfectly across her lips without a mirror.

Grrr. I can envy her makeup skil s later; right now I’m trying to make a point. “You can’t mess with any
human
, Doe.

The risk is too high. Think of what’s best for the kingdom.”

“Like you do?” she snarls, her voice ful of venom. “When have you
ever
put Thalassinia first?” My head jerks back at her verbal attack. “What do you mean?” I ask. “I take my responsibilities very seriously.” She snorts. “Right.”

“Doe, I—” I’m not sure what to say. Mostly because her accusation hits home. Because these are doubts I already have, doubts I’ve been wrestling with ever since I made the decision to return to Seaview.

Am I abandoning my kingdom by staying on land, by staying with Quince? Am I letting my ancestors and my subjects down if I give up my title? Is it enough to try to protect them from above, rather than lead them from below?

I can’t let these doubts consume me. I’ve made my choice, and Daddy supports me ful y. There isn’t another way to make things work that doesn’t leave me miserable for life. Besides, I can help more on the environmental front from up here.

“The kingdom wil find another heir.” I shake my head, stil trying to figure out where her attack came from. Whispering so no one around us can hear, I say, “Thalassinia wil be better off without me.”

Beneath the table, Quince pats my hand, reassuring me that he’s here if I need him. Shannen would come to my aid, too, but this is a moment between me and Doe, between merfolk.

Unimpressed by my assurance, she stands up and says,

“I’ve got to find my art class.”

My shoulders slump. Of course she has art. My luck is pretty stel ar when it comes to things like this. Of al the classes I could share with my squid-brained cousin who hates me and thinks I’m betraying our kingdom, it would have to be my favorite class. It wouldn’t be my life otherwise.

Shannen and I exchange a look. Mine, I’m sure, is defeated. Hers is apologetic. She knows how much I love art, so she knows I’m bummed. As Doe col ects her briefcase and stands, Shannen jerks her head at my cousin.

I know.

I take a deep breath.

“Wait,” I say with no enthusiasm.

Doe doesn’t respond, but she doesn’t walk away. I hear her booted foot tapping impatiently on the floor. When I don’t say more, she final y demands, “What?” Closing my eyes and taking a deep breath, I say, “We have art, too.” When Shannen nudges me in the ribs, I add,

“We’l walk with you.”

Doe drops her briefcase on the table, as if to say, Fine. I’l wait.

“I’l see you in trig,” I tel Quince, leaning down to press a quick kiss to his mouth.

He lays his hand, the one he nearly lost to my frustrated squeeze, reassuringly against my waist. He whispers, “Play nice.”

I growl at him. Me? It’s Doe we should be worried about.

She’s the cutthroat one. I’m always nice.

Wel , maybe not
always
. I reconsider. Thinking back to how I treated Quince before I learned he had feelings for me and before I figured out that I had feelings for him, too, I admit I’m
almost always
nice.

“Let’s go,” I say, snatching my tray off the table. “I don’t want to be late. Again.”

Chapter 4

y Thursday morning I’m so stressed out that I Baccidentaly boil my orange juice, have to run back upstairs and put on flip-flips that actual y match, and realize five minutes before leaving for school that I’ve completely blanked on my American Government homework—which is, of course, my first class, so I won’t have homeroom time to do the work sheet.

“Aaargh!” I slam my now-frozen juice on the counter. “I can’t take much more of this.”

Aunt Rachel doesn’t pretend to misunderstand my meaning.

“I know it’s difficult adjusting to a new member of the household,” she says calmly. Placatingly. “But it’s just a matter of time.”

I spin to face her. “I don’t
have
time,” I complain. “The SATs are in a week, and I haven’t been able to study at al .

Graduation is a month away. My grades are pitiful. If I don’t do amazing on this test, then it’s good-bye col ege, good-bye career, good-bye future.”

Good-bye becoming a marine biologist and any hope of helping my kingdom from land. Al my sacrifice wil be a waste.

“You’re overreacting.”

“I’m not,” I insist. “You know what the counselor said when I told him I’d decided to go to col ege. Wel , after he finished laughing.”

Aunt Rachel puts her newspaper aside. “I know, dear.” She wraps a reassuring arm around my shoulders. “But I also know that putting al this pressure on yourself isn’t going to help the matter.”

I slump. Because she’s right. Humans deal with stress poorly enough, but mermaids—a species with little stress in their natural habitat—don’t process it wel at al . Combine that with the added agitation of being out of the water for long periods of time and the fact that I’m sharing a bathroom with my drawer- and mirror-hogging baby cousin and, wel , it’s amazing I’m able to function at al .

“Everything wil be fine,” Aunt Rachel insists. “You’l do the best you can on the SATs, and who knows, you might do great. Besides, you have the interview with the director of the program at Seaview Community. You wil be amazed by what a face-to-face meeting can accomplish.” My mood brightens, and I’m about to ask if she real y thinks so when she adds, “No matter what happens, we’l figure things out.” Her voice drops to a more serious tone.

“That’s what life is. Facing chal enge after chal enge and figuring out a way to get through.”

I take a deep breath. I know what her change of tone means.

Between us we’ve already faced a lot of chal enges, like she’s faced figuring out how to go on after losing a sister—

my mom—and I’ve faced having to grow up without a mother. And then there was the chal enge of finding myself magical y bonded to a boy I thought I hated but who real y turned out to be my perfect mermate. That one turned out rather wel , by the way, so maybe not al chal enges are al bad.

Right on cue and reading my mind as always, Quince swings open the kitchen door and walks in. “Morning, Aunt Rachel,” he says, giving her a respectful nod. Then he turns to me. “Lily.”

Yes, that particular chal enge turned out pretty much perfect.

I launch myself at him. Arms around his neck, cheek against his shoulder. I’d probably be planting one on his lips if Aunt Rachel weren’t standing right there. He slides his arms around my waist and rests his chin on my head. I send my worries downstream for a while, sinking into the comfort of his embrace.

“Good morning, Quince,” Aunt Rachel replies. “Did you eat?”

I feel him shake his head. “Missed the alarm the first few times.”

“I’l fix you some peanut-butter toast.”

“I wouldn’t put you out,” he says, slipping into the southern-gentleman mode he seems to save for my relatives, “but my stomach would be most appreciative.”

“I’ve missed you,” I say, leaning back but not releasing him. “We’ve barely seen each other since Doe showed up.” I know he’s feeling it, too. There’s a hint of longing in his eyes, and somehow I know it’s about me. Moments like this make me daydream, make me wonder whether there’s a teeny-tiny filament of the bond stil connecting us. I ignore this thought, which invariably leads to a vain hope that Quince can one day return to Thalassinia. That’s something I can’t think about right now.

He grins. “Let’s change that this afternoon. I can take off from work and we could…”

He trails off when I give him a sad look.

“I can’t,” I explain. Why do the important things always seem to be in conflict? “I have an SAT prep class after school. It lasts until six.”

Quince knows how much getting into col ege means to me, now that I’m going to be staying on land. He’s been nothing but supportive of my desperate efforts to improve my chances at decent scores. But I also know he wishes we were spending more time together.

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