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Tangled tides the sea mo.., p.13
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       Tangled Tides (The Sea Monster Memoirs), p.13

           Karen Amanda Hooper
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  "Why did the gorgons seal it off? Koraline said someone broke a promise, but what could've been so bad that they shut so many of you out of your own world?"

  His lips parted like he wanted to answer, but then he silently dipped straight down into the water. His long blue strands danced in every direction. He popped back up and slicked his hair back. "Let's get back to your story about the first time you met Lloyd."

  He had become a pro at dodging my questions, but I let him win this one. "It's dull compared to your memory. You don't want to hear it."

  "You're right. I don't want to hear it." He swam so close that his breath warmed my face. "I want you to share it with me."

  Reading his facial expressions was like trying to read a book written in a foreign language. Did the way he slowly batted his wet eyelashes mean he cared?

  "Okay." I took a jittery breath. "How do I do this?"

  He stared at me and raised his hands, touching my neck with his fingertips. The tingling started again. "Try to remember a detail that stood out. A place, smell, something you felt—whatever triggers that memory for you."

  I closed my eyes, trying to ignore the delicious heat Treygan's touch sent through me. I focused on the day my mom and I moved to Eden's Hammock.

  "Yarrraaa," Treygan stretched out my name playfully. "It won't work if your eyes are closed."

  I felt like an idiot. "Oh, right. Sorry."

  When I opened my eyes, he looked at me in that way again. The same way he did after I finished reading out loud earlier. All I could think about was the moment at Koraline's kitchen table when I had an overwhelming urge to kiss him.

  My muscles had been achy from sitting and reading so long, but when I looked at Treygan, the pain disappeared. Instead, I craved him in a way I had never felt before. I wanted his hands on my skin again, wanted to know what kissing him would be like. Did he have a girlfriend, or a wife, or some lost love on the other side? And if he didn't, could he ever see me that way, think of me as attractive, or want to kiss me?

  Days ago I despised him for turning me. I thought I hated him, but now—

  No! I mentally yelled at myself, snapping back into the present. I needed to stop daydreaming—especially about Treygan.

  I concentrated on a childhood memory to share with him. I stared into his blue eyes as I recalled the feel of sand between my toes, the smell of the baby powder my mother wore, and the peeling cherry nail polish on my mother's fingernails.

  Then I transported to a different time and place.

  Walking the sandy road between Uncle Lloyd's house and ours, my mother towered above me, her sandals dangling from two fingers. With every step she took, her red shoes swung back and forth, each time almost hitting me in the chest. I watched her so intently that I didn't notice we were standing in front of a yellow house until a man's deep voice said hello.

  "We've moved in," my mother said gruffly. I peered through the fence at all the colorful flowers in the man's yard.

  "Cleo, if you need anything, absolutely anything," the man said, "I'm here for you and Yara."

  At the sound of my name, I peeked around a bush of bright purple flowers and looked at him. His tan feet were huge and his toes were covered with fuzzy, white hair. A green garden hose hung from one of his hands. The other hand, covered by a yellow gardening glove, waved at me. I waved back and stepped through an arched trellis onto a sidewalk that matched the color of the man's hair. Several worms crawled along the pathway, so I stopped and pointed at them.

  "Lot a worms," I said in my high-pitched toddler voice.

  "Well, little one," he said, "when the waterin' starts, they tend to want to cross the sidewalk."

  "Why?" It was the textbook reply of most four-year-olds when an adult attempted to answer questions.

  He looked around his yard while he thought about his answer. "Many reasons, I suppose. The sun may burn too bright and they'll dry up, or a bird may fly over and take them for—" Maybe he thought it wasn't his place to explain the food chain to such a young and impressionable child, because he stopped himself before saying the real answer. "For a change of scenery."

  "Seen-or-ee?" I repeated, trying to save the new word to my limited vocabulary.

  He bent down and picked up a worm from the sidewalk, then gently set it in the grass.

  I giggled, arching my back and throwing my arms open wide. "Why you do that?"

  "Sometimes creatures need help getting to the other side," he answered with a wink.

  I squatted down and grabbed a slippery worm between my fingers, marveling at how slimy it felt and watching it wiggle back and forth. Then I set it in the grass, looked up at the man's yellow glove, then at his wrinkled face, and smiled. He smiled back, so I stood up, went to the next worm, and repeated the process, each time getting a brighter-than-sunshine smile from the big, friendly man.

  "Yara, we've bothered this man enough." My mother grabbed my hand and pulled me away from the two remaining worms that needed help.

  "Oh, it's no bother, Cleo," he said.

  "Still, sorry for all of this." My mother dragged me along, stumbling behind her. I kept looking back over my shoulder, worried about the worms. The man bent down, then stood up again and held his yellow-gloved thumb up at me. Even at four years old I knew that meant okay—that the worms were okay. The man in yellow would always make everything okay.

  I pictured the cluster of freckles on Treygan's cheek that reminded me of the Canis Major constellation. Instantly, I was back in the present moment, floating in the stream on Solis Island, birds tweeting from nearby trees, water trickling as it flowed past me and Treygan.

  "How did I do?" I asked.

  I wasn't sure if I had mentally brought him back with me, or pushed him out, or whatever I was supposed to do to end the memory, because he just stared, not blinking and not saying anything.


  "No," he murmured.

  "No, what?" Had I done it wrong?

  "The answer is no," he said a little louder, finally blinking.

  "What are you talking about? You didn't see my uncle's garden and the worms?"

  "I saw the worms, but—" He swam in a slow circle until his back was to me and gripped the grass on the bank. "The first memory you shared, in Koraline's kitchen. You wondered if I had a girlfriend or someone on the other side. The answer is no. I've never had anyone like that."

  My heart catapulted into my throat. I wanted to sink below the water and drown. He lived that memory as me too? He felt what I felt? Knew my thoughts about him? Knew I wanted to kiss him? I couldn't breathe. I was beyond humiliated.

  "And no," he continued in a stony voice, his tensed back turning forest green, his serpent hallmark darkening. "You shouldn't want to kiss me or know everything about me."

  I was too embarrassed to say anything, so I focused on the water flowing past me. Hearing my thoughts would have been bad enough, but he felt my emotions. He knew how giddy he made me. The feeling wasn't mutual. I had never felt so exposed—or so stupid.

  A blur of bright green appeared upstream. It got bigger and closer until the huge merman I met at the weed island poked his head through the water.

  "Hello, Yara," he said, water dripping from his green curls and eyelashes.

  "Hi." I couldn't remember his name. Pamby, or Plato, or something.

  At some point during my trance of humiliation, Treygan had turned around. His skin had returned to its normal color. His forehead wrinkled and his chin lowered when he asked, "Pango, how is she?"

  Pango! That was his name. He drifted toward Treygan. Without a word he wrapped his huge arms around him and they floated there, silently hugging. The urge to vomit returned. Did their hug mean Koraline was dead?

  Pango said something, but I couldn't hear him over the gurgling stream. I could see Treygan's face though. His wrinkles and tension fell away.

  "Is Koraline okay?" I asked.

  Pango faced me again. His emerald eyes were glassy. "She's still unco
nscious, but her vitals have improved. The Violets think she might pull through."

  I exhaled so loudly it surprised me. How long had I been holding my breath?

  Pango glanced back and forth between me and Treygan. "They're holding a healing vigil tonight after sunset. The Oranges in the area have been sent to spread the word since most folk weren't arriving until tomorrow."

  "We'll be there." Treygan squeezed Pango's bronze shoulder. I nodded, trying not to stare at his hallmarks. He was so big that every marking looked gigantic.

  "Indrea ordered me to rest for a few hours," Pango sighed, "so I'll be on my way, but I wanted to thank you again, Treygan. I owe you."

  Treygan unzipped the his armband and pulled out two joints. "You owe me nothing. Go rest."

  Pango took the joints, zipped them away in his armband, and dove beneath the water. He was so different from the bubbly, flamboyant guy I had met yesterday. It seemed like the life had been sucked out of him.

  "Is he close to Koraline?" I asked.

  Treygan stared downstream where Pango had disappeared. "She's his only sibling."

  Being bit by a shark felt like nothing compared to the guilt that ripped through me. Pango could lose his sister because of me. My stomach knotted. I couldn't swallow. He hadn't said goodbye to me when he left. He must know the attack was my fault.

  Koraline was unconscious somewhere and clinging to life, Pango hated me, and now that Treygan knew how I felt about him he probably wished he could ditch me again. Just when I started to give in and embrace the mer world, I was quickly becoming an outcast.

  "Well." Treygan pulled a lighter from his armband and lit a joint. "Change of plans. We won't have as much time as I thought to prepare for the ceremony. We'll have to start now."

  "What ceremony?" I asked as he passed me the C-weed. Earlier this morning at Koraline's house I had coughed like crazy the first time I tried to smoke. Hopefully this time I would look less like a dork. I took a few short puffs.

  "The Welcoming Ceremony," Treygan explained. "Tomorrow at sunrise every merfolk in this world will gather to welcome you as one of our kind. We celebrate in your honor until sunset."

  I coughed so hard I thought I might hack up a rib. Treygan smacked me on the back, pointed at the water in front of me and told me to drink. I dipped down, sipping from the stream until I stopped coughing enough to reply. "I don't deserve a celebration."

  "Oh, but you do." His blue eyelashes batted as he smiled. "It's a required step of your transformation."

  My chest was on fire, my throat stung, and my head swirled. I had never been good in crowds. Even visiting towns like Key West gave me anxiety because of all the people and commotion. A hundred merfolk were gathering to meet me? The urge to run or swim away again was overwhelming.

  "No worries. They will all adore you," he assured me.

  They didn't matter. There was only one merman in the world I wished would adore me—and he didn't want me to know anything about him.

  Sunset 4

  I couldn't believe I was swimming to Paragon Castle, but I needed to see Yara. If any of the merfolk—especially Treygan—found out she drank blood, they would try to keep her away from me. If they didn't know yet, then I needed to see her again before anyone found out.

  Nixie said the mer were gathering tonight for some kind of healing gig for Koraline. With any luck, I would find the one merman who might agree to let me talk to her. Maybe he had been promoted to a Blue by now. If he was on guard duty I could talk to him without drawing a lot of attention.

  Keeping my distance, I made a lap around the perimeter of the castle. More Blues hovered outside than I expected, but I didn't see him anywhere. Even a few Indigos stood guard. I watched all the Greens too, just in case he hadn't advanced over the years.

  A conch horn wailed through the waters, announcing the start of a ceremony. I hovered behind a reef, watching a few Blues and Indigos leave their posts and swim inside. The waters around me vibrated so strongly the hairs on my tail stood up. I turned around, expecting to see someone. A ten foot manta ray soared past my head, looping through the water. I would never get tired of watching the massive, winged-like creatures fly through the seas.

  A hand grabbed my elbow, spinning me around.

  What are you doing here, Rownan?

  Delmar, damn! No wonder I couldn't find you! Look at you, you're an Indigo.

  His face stayed stern and serious. Why are you here?

  Come on, not even a hello, how ya been? I haven't seen you in years. Is that any way to treat an old friend?

  We used to be friends. Not anymore.

  Well, I squeezed his shoulder. I hope that can change after we're back in Rathe. He glanced down at my hand and shrugged it away. So much for playing the friends card. How did you move up two ranks while Treygan stayed a Blue?

  He remained a Blue by choice. Now, why are you here?

  By choice. Of course. I should've known. I just wanted to see Yara for a few minutes.

  Ha! Delmar's lip lifted in a sneer.

  Del, whether or not you and Treygan believe it, she means a lot to me. We got pretty close these past few weeks. I want to make sure she's okay.

  She's fine.

  Man, relax. I raised my hands so he could see my claws weren't out. I'm not here to cause trouble. I just wanted to check on Yara.

  Rownan, this is a sacred night. You can't be here. Tomorrow is Yara's day of welcoming. Once that's over, you can see her. That is, if she wants to see you. Until then, don't let me catch you within a mile of this castle or Solis. Agreed?

  I looked away from him.

  He didn't know about her drinking blood or he would never agree to let me see her tomorrow. An entire night and day meant a lot of time for Yara or someone else to figure it out. Her first time cravings would start soon. Someone would recognize the behavior and know what it meant, even if she didn't. And if she didn't quench her thirst during her first cravings, she would survive the worst of it. She would have better control over future urges. She might be strong enough to resist drinking again altogether. Especially since her first drink was secondhand.

  I needed to see her tonight. But with the healing thing going on, and their pointless celebration tomorrow, the place would be swarming with merfolk. All eyes watching their prized inductee. Jack would have to figure out another way for me to get to Yara. Until then I had to let Delmar think I was fine with waiting. If he suspected something, they would never leave her side. Then we would really be screwed.

  Okay. I extended my hand. Enjoy the celebration tomorrow. I'll say a prayer for Koraline.

  His dark eyes narrowed, but he shook my hand. Thanks. Now get out of here.

  I swam away hoping I had played it cool enough, but when I looked back Delmar swam through the castle entrance faster than I had ever seen him move. He only moved fast for two reasons. He wasn't racing my dickhead brother, so that meant he was on his way to protect someone.

  Damn it.

  We floated outside the doors to the gathering hall with about thirty other merfolk. Each person who came forward to meet Yara was friendly, welcoming, and happy to see her, but her unease continued to grow.

  I feel like I can't breathe, she said, massaging her throat.

  Once we enter the hall you'll feel more relaxed. Indrea fills it with calming energy in preparation for the ceremony.

  Right, sure. She rolled her neck around. They need to hurry up. I might have a nervous breakdown.

  Just then the sea-glass doors swung open. Others swam into the hall.

  I rested my hand on the small of Yara's back. Remember what I taught you about adjusting your vision? She nodded. It's time to do it.

  Her lashes flickered. After one hard squint she smiled. I did it! It's so dark I can hardly see you.

  Good. I'll lead you in.

  We hadn't made it two feet into the hall before Yara stopped swimming. I glanced back, but she was floating in place, staring up at the tall, arched ceilings in awe
. For a minute I let her observe the hundreds of glowing jellyfish above us. They slowly bobbed through the water, opening and closing, most with long tentacles that dangled like ribbons. Gossamer bells of the sea, illuminated by their blue and white fluorescent lights.

  I momentarily established eye contact with her. If you listen closely, they make a soft ringing sound.

  She lifted her astonished gaze again.

  Some of the most exquisite parts of our traditions had become taken for granted over time. It felt good to stop and appreciate the spectacle above me. A minute later I floated directly above Yara, blocking her view. We need to get our lanterns and take our positions.

  This is incredible!

  I watched her with fascination. I had never been part of a new merfolk transformation. Seeing her reaction to things for the first time was like watching a child. She had barely seen a glimmer of how incredible her new life would be. Come, the ceremony will begin soon.

  When we approached the circle, two Reds handed each of us a lantern. I thanked them and led Yara to our places. Yara tried moving to my other side, but I guided her back between me and Pango.

  Stay between us, I explained. You should be next to folk you're comfortable around.

  Maybe you should be next to Pango. I could stand between you and Kai.

  Kai's place is on the other side of the circle. You're where you need to be.

  She glanced at Pango and he hugged her, but she looked uncomfortable. I hoped she wasn't still feeling guilty about the shark attack or assuming Pango blamed her. He didn't know about the blood incident yet, but his take on it would be the same as mine. It was an accident. Plain and simple.

  The gathering hall was even calmer than I expected. Indrea had done an excellent job.

  Still nervous? I asked Yara after pulling her focus away from her lantern.

  Um, no, but why are these fish glowing? She glanced at the three fish swimming inside the glass globe, each radiating a different color: pink, yellow and orange.

  It's called bioluminescence. It means living light. We each carry a lantern as a symbol of light and healing energy for Koraline. I glanced at my own lantern. The fish emitted a blue, green and white glow.

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