Read Fins Are Forever Online

Authors: Tera Lynn Childs

Fins Are Forever (9 page)

Casual y, as if she’d just accidental y spil ed her grape juice on the kitchen floor, she swipes one finger beneath her bottom lip, clearing away any displaced lip gloss.

“What does it look like?” she replies with a smirk. “I’m making out with my boyfriend.”

I don’t know how I manage to stay standing. By al rights I should col apse into a heap on the floor, next to the piles of shoes and dirty clothes. I feel like I’ve been caught up in a powerful current that is dragging me… wherever it wants to go.

As it is, I have to brace my arms on the doorjamb to keep from pitching forward. Every awful thing I’d been afraid of happening just happened.

Doe kissed Brody.

And now they’re bonded and Brody is turning mer.

D-I-S-A-S-T-E-R.

Chapter 5

ho’s ready for pizza?” Aunt Rachel singsongs as she Wwalks in the kitchen door. “I’ve got Lorenzo’s on speed di—”

She freezes when she sees the three of us—me, Brody, and Dosinia—sitting around the kitchen table. I’m sure none of us looks terribly happy.

Brody, at least, has the grace to appear mortifyingly embarrassed. Good. He should feel like a froggin’

clownfish after I found him making the moves on my baby cousin. And in my own house!

Not that I can be entirely furious with him. He doesn’t have the slightest idea what he’s gotten himself into—correction, what
Doe’s
gotten him into. He’s about to get the surprise of a lifetime, let me tel you.

Doe looks, as usual, unaffected. I might as wel have only caught her sneaking an extra bowl of plumaria pudding before bed for al the guilt she’s showing. She doesn’t even seem to care what she’s forced onto Brody, a boy she supposedly cares about.

I know she’s only sixteen. I was sixteen once, and I remember what it felt like—the emotions and the desperation and the acting without caring about the potential consequences—but what she did… wel , that makes every other teenage rebel ion pale in comparison.

She’s not only screwing up her own life, she’s screwing up Brody’s, too.

And me? I can’t see myself, but I’ve been clenching my jaw so hard for so long that my cheeks are getting cramps.

My back is stick straight and my fingers are wrapped tightly around the seat beneath me—mostly to keep me from flying across the table and wringing Doe’s unapologetic neck.

I just
knew
she was going to do something like this.

If we were underwater right now, I’m sure the sea would be boiling around me.

“Oh, dear.” Aunt Rachel sighs, sinking into the empty seat at the table. “What happened?”

“We just—”

“Shut. Up,” I snap at Doe. She has no right to speak at this point. She forfeited the right to defend herself when she
kissed a human
! Turning careful y and calmly—though probably more abrupt and furious—toward Aunt Rachel, I take a tight breath and say, “She. Kissed. Him.” Clearly, ful sentences are not an option at this point.

Prithi meows at me from under the table, as if defending her new favorite fish girl from my wrath. Turntail. She can go home with Doe if she loves her that much.

Aunt Rachel’s gaze swings to Doe, who is pouting petulantly in her seat. “You didn’t,” she says sadly.

“I
caught
them.” I turn my scowl on Doe.

Brody clears his throat. “Mrs. Sanderson, I—”

“It’s Hale,” I spit at him. He’s magical y bonded to a mergirl, and he doesn’t even know her guardian’s name.

What was he thinking? Sure, the whole bond thing is not his fault, but he was an equal party in the kissing. He should know more about Doe than that she’s hot. He just slid down another two notches in my estimation, and he didn’t have too far to go before reaching the ocean floor. “Her name is Rachel Hale.
Ms.
Hale to you.”

“Now, Lily,” Aunt Rachel says, laying a hand on my forearm. “I know you’re upset, but anger is not going to help the situation.”

I flop back against my chair, jamming my arms across my chest. She’s right, I know, but that doesn’t mean I can magical y send my anger away. That would take more bath salts than there are fish in the sea.

“What has the boy been told?” she asks me.

“Nothing,” Doe says. “Lily hasn’t let us—”

“I said, Shut. Up.” I jump to my feet and start pacing. “For the love of Poseidon, you’ve done enough damage for one day.”

“I know what we did was disrespectful,” Brody says, coming to Doe’s aid. I begrudgingly give him points—one point—for that. “But it’s not like we actual y… you know.”

“No,” I say as I suck in a deep breath. “What you did was worse.”

“You’re being a little melodramatic, Lily,” Aunt Rachel chides. “You know there is a solution to this problem.” I pace my way over to the kitchen sink, gazing out at the faded gray house across the driveway and wishing Quince didn’t have to work so many late hours at the lumberyard. If he were here, then everything would be easier.

He and I went through this very thing just a few weeks ago

—although, at the time, I’d thought it was Brody kissing me.

I’d been in the throes of a three-year crush, so I shouldn’t be held accountable for my actions. It was one big screwup from start to finish, but it worked out okay in the end. Quince is always far more levelheaded in crises—case in point, the earthquake. He’d know what to do, how to say it. Like a true princess. Prince. Whatever.

He isn’t here, though. I’m on my own. I’l have to pul on my big-girl finkini and deal with the problem.

Putting it off wil only make things worse.

Turning away from the sink, I lean back against the counter and face the table. Deep breath.

“There are a few things I need to explain to you, Brody,” I say, hands gripping the edge of the counter behind me for support. “Are you ready for some earth-shattering news?” Turning in his chair to face me, he looks confused.

This won’t be easy. Until that kiss Quince and I shared a month ago, I’d never told a single human about my magical secret identity. Aunt Rachel already knew when I’d come to live with her three years ago, and everyone else… wel , protecting my kingdom was far more important than sharing a juicy secret.

Now, once again, the revelation is unavoidable.

“First of al ,” I explain, clutching the counter tighter as if that wil give me courage, “Doe and I are not exactly average human

girls.

We’re”—I

squeeze

my

eyes

shut

—“mermaids.”

Silence washes through the room. I can’t even hear anyone breathing. No movement, not even a meow from Prithi. Final y, when I can’t stand it any longer, I force one eye open.

Brody hasn’t moved. Even the expression on his face is stil one of complete confusion. Clearly, he’s in shock.

“Mermaids,” I repeat. “We live in the ocean and can breathe wa—”

“I know.” He shakes his head. “I mean, I know what mermaids are, but… I think I already knew that’s what you are.” After a quick glance from me to Doe and back again, he smiles. “Not about Doe, you know, but somehow I knew about you, Lily. I mean, I didn’t know, but as soon as you said it, I felt like I already knew.” He smiles wryly. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

Actual y, it kind of does.

When the whole thing was going down with Quince a couple weeks ago, I decided to tel Shannen the truth. She is my best human friend, after al , and if I can trust anyone with my secret, it’s her. Brody overheard the confession, and in that instant I realized I didn’t want him to know. I didn’t real y love him.

So I performed a mindwashing to make him forget. It was my first—and, I hoped, my last—so maybe I didn’t entirely erase his memory.

For a second I consider tel ing Brody about the mindwashing. No, maybe not. It’s nothing bad, of course, but he might not be too happy about the fact that I’d messed with his memories. Who would be?

Not that it matters, because I’l just have to do it again as soon as he and Doe are separated. Nothing’s changed in the last two weeks to make me trust him with the safety of my kingdom. Which brings me to part two of the revelation.

“The other thing,” I say, bouncing nervously back against the counter, “is that a mermaid kiss isn’t just a kiss.”

“Oh for heaven’s sake,” Doe says, “stop swimming around the issue.” She grabs Brody by the shoulder and makes him face her. “Our kiss ignited a magical bond, and now we’re connected and you’re turning into a merman. Are you cool with that?”

“Am I—?” Brody laughs. “What?”

“Doe!” I can’t believe she just said that like that. No tact, no leading into the issue. Just
blam
, you’re a merman. As my brain processes the last bit of her declaration, I jump forward. “Whoa! Brody is
not
turning into a merman.”

“I’m not?” He sounds almost sad.

“I mean, you are,” I amend. “Technical y.”

“Then what—”

“But we’re not going to let it get that far,” I say to Doe.

“You’re getting a separation just as soon as we can get you two to Thalassinia.”

Doe’s smile is positively evil. My skin prickles with a mixture of fear and anticipation. Slowly she turns in her chair, wraps a hand around her curtain of caramel blond hair, and pul s it out of the way. Prithi takes the opportunity to pounce into Doe’s lap.

“I won’t be going home anytime soon,” she says, her voice laced with lava. “Remember?”

Her neck bared, I stare at the spot at the base where al merfolk are branded with the mark that makes them mer.

But where Doe’s two-part mer mark should be, only a hot pink kelpflower remains. The circle of waves around her mer mark is gone.

“Oh, honey,” I gasp, losing my anger for a moment. “I-I’m sorry, I forgot.”

That must have happened when Daddy revoked her powers. It’s part of her punishment. The outer ring represents a merperson’s aquarespire, our ability to live and breathe beneath the water.

I can’t imagine losing that part of myself. Even though I’ve chosen to live on land, I stil meet Peri off the Seaview pier a few times a week, and I stil plan to visit Daddy at the palace every few weeks. I stil feel the magical power of water in my nightly bath. I stil get energized by the rain. I stil
feel
mer in every way.

Being without that is unimaginable.

The line Doe crossed must have been real y, real y bad if Daddy felt the need to take the punishment this far.

Real y bad.

“What does that mean?” Aunt Rachel asks. “Dosinia cannot enter the sea?”

I nod. “That’s right.”

“Oh, dear,” Aunt Rachel says. “Are there any other options?”

The room fal s silent for a heartbeat.

Before anyone else has a chance to think, Doe says, “I know.” She lets her hair fal back into place. “
You
wil have to take Brody to the palace.”

“Me?” I stammer. “No, I can’t. I have SAT prep and my interview and homework and col ege applications and, and, and—”

I look helplessly around the room, at three sets of eyes watching me expectantly. Okay, two expectantly, one gloating.

“Is there any other way?” Aunt Rachel asks.

“There must be,” I insist.

I spend a few desperate moments racking my brain for any alternative. Maybe we could rent a submarine, or just a boat, and Daddy could swim up to the surface to perform the ritual. Or I could send a messenger gul to the palace and ask him to come to Seaview. That’s when I know I’m defeated. I can’t ask the king of Thalassinia to take a day out of his royal duties just because my schedule is kind of tight. Talk about unprincesslike behavior.

“There isn’t,” Doe says, her voice ful of smug finality. “And you know it.”

Slumping back against the counter, I know she’s right.

Doe can’t return to Thalassinia until Daddy lifts her punishment, I can’t ask Daddy to come here, and we need to get her and Brody separated as soon as possible.

Definitely before next weekend’s new moon. The last thing we need is the two of them feeling even more connected than they already do.

I mental y calculate my schedule for the next few days.

“It’s too late to go tonight,” I think out loud. Nightfal makes the ocean too dangerous to travel without an escort of palace guards. “If we leave right after school tomorrow, we might make it back here before midnight. Does that work for you, Brody?”

He shrugs. “I guess so.” Then he laughs. “I’l miss a swim practice, but I can tel Coach I’l be doing an open-water swim.”

“Brody…” I push away from the counter and approach him. “You know you can’t tel anyone, right? No one can know our secret, or we al —you included—wil be in serious danger.”

“I know, Lil,” he says, his tone uncharacteristical y serious.

His sober gaze flicks to Doe. “I wouldn’t betray you guys like that.”

“Good.”

Surely he can keep a secret until tomorrow, until Daddy performs the separation and thorough mindwashing.

Maybe this D-I-S-A-S-T-E-R isn’t as bad as I’d thought.

Maybe it’s just a Disaster. Or even a disaster. It can al be cleared up in one quick swim home.

I ignore the niggle of doubt that reminds me that that’s what I thought
last
time. That quick trip home turned into a two-week, life-changing ordeal.

But that won’t happen this time. Daddy has no reason to keep Doe and Brody bonded. Doe’s not a royal princess who wil lose her title if she’s not bonded by eighteen.

That’s just me.

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