Read Fins Are Forever Online

Authors: Tera Lynn Childs

Fins Are Forever (8 page)

“How about this weekend?” he asks.

“I have that interview on Saturday morning.” I release him so he can take the peanut-butter toast Aunt Rachel offers him. “After that I’m total y free.”

He pul s out a chair at the kitchen table and takes a bite of toast, consuming almost half the triangle in one chomp. He nods while he finishes chewing. “Sounds good.” Holding the rest of the triangle in front of his mouth, he says, “I thought we might take a ride down the coast,” before the toast dis-appears into his mouth. “You’ve never seen the Keys, right?”

“Nope, never,” I say.

I glance at Aunt Rachel for approval. She’s usual y pretty tolerant with me, letting me have my freedom and independence—one of the perks of having a hippie holdout for a guardian—but sometimes she puts her foot down.

Like about last year’s state swim meet.

Managers aren’t invited to go unless the entire team qualifies. Since only Brody and one other swimmer from Seaview made the cut, my official presence was not required in Orlando. I wanted to go anyway, though, to support the team. And to spend quality time with Brody, of course.

Aunt Rachel had said absolutely, unequivocal y, one thousand percent not on your life. She couldn’t leave the studio for that long, and she wasn’t about to let me go, unchaperoned, to another part of the state with no one official y looking out for me.

The fact that I’d have been practical y alone with my crush probably didn’t help my argument.

I’d been devastated, but in retrospect, I know she was right.

This trip is different. I think. It’s not overnight and it’s not Brody. Also, I’m older by a year and she adores Quince.

She’s been pretty vocal about how glad she is we’re together. Hopeful y this translates into trusting him enough to take me on a mini road trip.

When she nods,
whew
, I say, “Sounds like fun.” I drop into the chair next to him at the table. “I miss riding on your motorcycle.”

He gives me a surprised look—because I used to hate Princess, aka the beastly death trap on wheels. My first couple motorcycle-driving lessons didn’t end real wel , but being a passenger is way different. I love the feel of the wind in my face and my hair whipping behind me. It’s like swimming in air.

Since getting a ride from Aunt Rachel that first day to get Doe registered, though, the toadfish cousin and I have been walking to school. No room for two passengers on Princess, and no way am I leaving Doe to her own devices.

Who knows what kind of trouble she could find on her way to school.

“You can get over that,” Doe declares as she walks into the kitchen, Prithi faithful y at her heels. “I’ve got a ride.” Quince waves at Doe, his mouth ful of toast.

“What do you mean,” I ask, “you’ve got a ride?” Doe looks just as fashionable as she has al week in an ankle-length skirt that changes from a deep purple at the bottom to almost white at the waist, a plain white tank top, and a big, silver multichain belt that hangs low over her abdomen. Even her briefcase doesn’t distract from the fact that she is obviously a cool girl.

Three days on land and she’s at the top of the social ladder.

How does she
do
that?

Plus she’s managed perfect makeup, perfect silver manicure, and perfect, nonfrizzed hair. Life is so unfair.

“Brody’s picking me up,” she explains as she pours herself a glass of grape juice, which she’s decided is a tolerable substitute for kelpberry juice. She turns to face me, glass in hand. “He didn’t want me having to walk
all
the way to school again.”

Al the way? I snort. It’s six blocks.

As much as I’d like to ride to school with Quince and not spend the extra fifteen minutes each way in dedicated one-on-one time with Doe, the idea of her and Brody alone in his car sends off warning bel s.

“You can’t ride with Brody,” I say.

Doe downs her glass of juice before asking, “Why not?”

“Why not?” I echo. I’m starting to feel like a broken record about this. Does she real y not get it? Or is she just trying to drive me insane? Both are viable options at this point.

“Because he’s a human. Because you’re not. Because you’re only going to be here a short time—”

“Because you stil have feelings for him?” I jerk back at Doe’s accusation. “What? No,” I answer after a heartbeat of shock. “Of course not.” I glance at Quince. I mean, he must know that I’m total y over Brody, right? Because I am. The only boy who gives me butterflyfish in the stomach anymore is Quince. I’m ruined for other boys. I know that’s a cliché, but it’s true.

He just kind of shrugs and rol s his eyes at Doe’s suggestion, chomping the last bite of his toast. He has his mildly jealous moments, but I guess this isn’t one of them.

Brody isn’t a threat anymore.

Doe sets her glass in the sink. “Then I don’t see what the problem is.”

“You don’t?” I push to my feet. “It’s just… wel , you… and he—”

I look helplessly at Quince and Aunt Rachel, hoping that one of them wil know how to get through to Doe. Quince shakes his head, and Aunt Rachel actual y says, “I don’t see the harm.”

Am I the only sane person who sees this as a shipwreck in progress?

“Then it’s settled,” Doe says. A loud
honk, honk
blares from the direction of the driveway between our house and Quince’s. “That’l be Brody. See you later.” She grabs her briefcase and heads out the kitchen door.

Dazed, I fol ow her, leaning out the door to watch her climb into Brody’s Camaro. He has his arm over the passenger seat, and when Doe sinks into the leather he tries to lean in for a kiss. Before I can shout “No!” she pul s back and laughingly pushes him to his side of the car.

Wel , at least there’s that. She’s not entirely without sense.

I can’t imagine what kind of disaster it would be if she let him kiss her and they wound up bonded. D-I-S-A-S-T-E-R.

On a melting-polar-ice-caps scale.

“This isn’t going to end wel ,” I mutter as I turn back into the kitchen.

Quince is there, wrapping his big, strong arms around me.

“Things could be worse,” he says.

“I don’t see how.”

“Wel ,” he says, leaning back to give me a cocky grin, “I could make you
drive
Princess to school.” As much as I want to stay in a bad mood, I can’t help but giggle. “Yeah,” I concede. “That would definitely be worse.

For everyone.”

Quince winks. “Especial y Princess.”

“I’m off to the shower,” Aunt Rachel announces. “You kids have a good day at school.”

When the sound of her footsteps on the stairs fades away, Quince asks, “Is she gone?”

I peer over his shoulder, through the kitchen, and into the hal beyond. Before I’m done nodding, his lips are on mine.

He gives me one of those long, soft, warm-al -over kisses that make me forget Dosinia and Brody and the SATs and anything that isn’t just enjoying this moment.

Ah, yes, I mental y sigh. Everything wil be fine.

Seven hours of school plus three hours of test prep equals complete brain fry. I’m pretty sure the goal of the SAT class is to teach me how to improve my score, but right now there are so many four-syl able words and mile-long equations floating around in my head that I can barely think straight, let alone actual y make sense of test questions.

If I took the test right now, I’d probably score a negative number.

For once I’m thankful for the walk home. Except for my nightly saltwater baths—which I’ve needed more than ever since Doe arrived, go figure—this walk is the first quiet time I’ve had in weeks. It should feel good to be alone with my own thoughts for a while. But as the whirlpool of test prep seeps slowly out of my brain, other thoughts flow in.

Like worrying about my interview on Saturday. And Doe’s impossible interest in Brody. And the whole renouncing-my-title thing.

Maybe it’s Doe’s presence, or the knowledge that I’m carrying out my final royal duty, but for whatever reason, thinking about the renunciation is getting harder and harder.

I’ve made my choice, and I know I can do a lot to protect Thalassinia here on land. It’s stil sad to think I won’t be Princess Waterlily anymore. I suppose it’s natural to have doubts about any major change. That doesn’t mean I’m making the wrong choice. It just means it’s a change.

Besides, I tried the alternative—giving up land and Quince and Aunt Rachel for a duty-fil ed life under the sea—and I couldn’t stand it. I’ve made the only choice I can.

With each step on the faded concrete I try to pound al those troubling thoughts out of my head. I can’t do anything about my worries right now. And dwel ing on them wil only lead to more stress and possibly an ulcer. Instead, I focus on the beautiful day around me, on the brightly colored flowers that line my street and the freedom of having time to myself. I focus on my breathing, thinking positive thoughts with every inhale.

Each lungful of fresh air feels like a crash of waves pounding the confusion out of my mind. The murk starts to settle and the waters clear. I look up at the sky, a perfect peri-winkle blue—which makes me think of my best friend, Peri, and I wonder what she’s doing right now, so far away.

I’l see her again soon because her mom is making the gown for my birthday bal .

Between the ocean breeze and thoughts of Peri and forced positivity, I’m starting to feel revived. Refreshed, like the crisp calm after a storm.

The only thing that could improve the situation more would be a long soak in a key-lime-salty bath. The tub and I have a date later this evening.

When I final y get home, I feel like a brand-new Lily and am looking forward to a post-school-and-test-prep snack. I think I’ve earned it. After bursting into the kitchen, I fling my backpack under the table and head to the fridge. There’s a sticky note from Aunt Rachel on the door, reminding us that she has a late class today and won’t be home until after eight. The good news is we’re going to order pizza.

That wil be a surprise for Doe.

She ignored me at lunch today and didn’t speak to me in art. Her message was clear: I overreacted this morning about her and Brody. Maybe she’s right. I should have more faith in her, I guess. She may be a boy-crazy toadfish, but she’s not stupid and she’s stil a merperson of royal descent. Duty and responsibility have been dril ed into her since guppyhood, too. Even if she usual y chooses to ignore them. She’s not going to accidental y reveal our secret or anything.

Grabbing a pair of cheese sticks from the fridge, I decide I need to apologize. If I’m going to teach her to not hate humans, I’m pretty sure she has to not hate
me
first.

String cheese is the perfect tension breaker and conversation starter—who doesn’t love peeling the stick apart string by string?

And just in case that’s not enough, I grab a pair of juice boxes.

Feeling optimistic, I bound up the stairs two at a time.

When I get to Doe’s door—the room that, until last Friday, was Aunt Rachel’s sewing room—I kick gently at the base while pul ing open one of the cheese-stick packages.

No answer.

Huh. I don’t know where else she could be. I mean, it’s not like she has extracurricular activities or an after-school job.

Besides, Prithi is staring intently at the crack under the door.

Doe must be in there.

“Doe?” I ask as I turn the handle.

Pushing the door open, my eyes scan the room for any sign of my cousin. As I look over the messy piles of clothes and the schoolwork strewn al over the floor and the unmade bed—Doe is clearly used to an extensive housekeeping staff—it takes me a few seconds to find her in the debris field.

Correction, to find
them
.

I get a view of way more Doe than I’d bargained for.

She and Brody are lying on her daybed, arms wrapped around each other, clothing stil intact but bunched and disheveled to the point of revealing skin that’s usual y wel and truly covered.

“Omigod!” I gasp.

I grab for the door handle, dropping the cheese and juice boxes in the process, and hastily pul the door shut, just as Prithi darts inside. That is something no girl should have to walk in on.

Heart pounding, I lean back against the closed door and try to erase the mental image.

But no matter how hard I squeeze my eyes, it won’t go away.

If only I could perform a mindwashing on myself.

I’m not sure how long it takes—two seconds? Twenty?—

but al of a sudden it hits me. After blurring out the below-the-waist bit of the mental image, my focus shifts to their upper bodies. The part of the image at the top of her bed.

Their heads.

My humiliation evaporates.

Fear and anger and utter panic flood my bloodstream as I whip around and throw open the door. It crashes against the wal and shakes the framed pictures of Mom’s family.

“Dosinia Sanderson!” I shout.

She and Brody are now busy rearranging their mussed-up clothing, trying to act as if nothing at al was going on. As if I hadn’t seen what I know I saw. Brody is on his feet, tugging his T-shirt back into place. Doe’s pretty much put back together, skirt hem down where it belongs with no inappropriate skin showing, and is busy smoothing out her hair.

Too bad she can’t do anything about her lips.

“What have you done?” I demand.

I can’t tear my eyes away from her plumper-than-usual mouth.

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