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Tangled tides the sea mo.., p.16
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       Tangled Tides (The Sea Monster Memoirs), p.16

           Karen Amanda Hooper
 
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  I nodded sadly.

  He twisted a blade of grass between his giant fingers. "None of the Violets were in this world when the gorgons sent word about the curse. Violets, Indigos and Blues rarely left our realm. When Caspian and Indrea realized how many merfolk would be trapped here, they chose to be trapped with us. While everyone else rushed through the gates to get home, those two were leaving Rathe behind, volunteering to help us survive." Tears pooled in his eyes and Merrick rubbed his shoulder. "Can you imagine?" Pango fanned himself and sniffed. "Such selflessness. They are two of my biggest heroes."

  I stared at Caspian and Indrea with a new respect. Not that I didn't think highly of them before, but wow. They gave up a world they loved for the unknown. Rownan said everyone assumed those trapped here would die. They knew they might die, but they did it anyway.

  I could only dream of being that brave.

  Caspian began a speech, welcoming everyone and thanking them for traveling to be here. When I glanced at Treygan again he was watching me. I sat up straight, taken aback by his attention. I gave a timid wave but he looked away, focusing on Indrea as she spoke.

  Then I heard my name.

  I didn't catch why Indrea said my name, but she stopped talking and everyone stared at me.

  I reached for Pango's hand, but he pushed on my back. "Go," he urged. "Indrea requested that you join them."

  My hands shook. Not excessively, but enough to make me fumble with my skirt when I stood up. The grassy distance between me and the castle was only twenty feet or so, but my legs were trembling. I would trip or pass out from fear, I just knew it. I had the undivided attention of way too many people.

  "Yara, please, come join us," Indrea said, loudly but pleasantly.

  I couldn't walk. Pango pushed the back of my calf, but fear had anchored my feet to the ground. Birds chirped, people shuffled around on their blankets, children giggled and whispered.

  Treygan appeared at my side. He lifted his elbow, offering me his arm. I clung to it like a lifeline.

  "Deep breath," he whispered to me, flashing a grin at Indrea. "Perhaps Yara was confused about how to reach the castle. Delmar, Sixel, the bridge please."

  The quiet didn't feel so deafening with Treygan beside me. People seemed to relax and move around again. Delmar and another Indigo were positioned in front of the castle entrance. A span of water separated them and the Violets. They both made a simple hand gesture and water rippled upward, forming a transparent bridge.

  Treygan placed his free hand over both of mine. My nails dug into his arm, but I couldn't loosen my grip.

  "Shall we?" he asked, taking a step forward. Somehow I uprooted my feet from the ground and walked beside him. With each step I felt a fraction better, knowing Treygan wouldn't let me fall. But when we reached the bridge he lowered his arm.

  "This part you have to do alone," he said softly.

  I glanced at the bridge, then at the Violets. They were all smiles on the other side. The bridge wasn't long, but it had no railing. That, combined with the fact I could see through it, convinced me I would fall off into the water.

  Delmar made an ushering motion, urging me to cross.

  I mentally repeated Treygan's words, deep breath, deep breath, but my legs were rooted in place again. Then Treygan's breath warmed my ear. "The sooner you get over there, the sooner you can come back here, with me."

  That's all it took. I walked forward, my skin tingling. Whatever the Violets wanted me for, I hoped they would hurry up. I wanted to be back by Treygan's side as soon as possible.

  Each Violet hugged me like they had known me all my life. One of them brought out a chair made of wood and stone. Caspian laid a shimmering fabric across the seat and Indrea invited me to sit down.

  Pango mentioned I would have to sit for a long time while each person gave me a token that represented their wishes for me and my future. I figured it would be later in the day, but after I sat down and looked out at the grassy bank of the lake I saw a line of people forming. Treygan wasn't one of them.

  Caspian went first, handing me the largest pearl I had ever seen. "Yara, my wish for you is eternal joy."

  "Thank you." I paused way too long before remembering my line. "I wish you the same."

  He kissed my hand and walked away. Thank goodness Pango had told me what to say. Otherwise, I would've had no idea how to respond.

  Indrea placed her fingers on my shoulder. "You may place it in the bowl now."

  "What?" I glanced up at her and the glass bowl she held. Pango hadn't mentioned a bowl.

  "You accept each wish with fresh hands."

  "Oh, right." I placed the pearl in the bowl and it rolled around, making a smooth, hissing sound.

  "No need to worry." Indrea smiled. "They are yours to keep in the end."

  A stocky Violet with chubby fingers handed me a pearl, smaller than the one Caspian gave me, but eggplant-colored and very pretty. "I wish you excessive, heartfelt laughter."

  "Thank you." I contagiously smiled at his chubby-cheeked grin. "I wish you the same." I admired the pearl again before placing it in the bowl.

  The next mermaid approached shyly.

  We went on like that for a long time. Almost everyone gave me a pearl of some kind. Big, small, perfectly round, oval, black, silver, champagne and every color or variety I could imagine. By the twentieth one or so, I started asking each person where they found it and what kind of pearl it was. That led to them sharing the story of why they chose it or what it meant to them, which made each pearl and person even more special to me.

  Pango gave me a baroque abalone, the most unusually-shaped of any pearls I received. The blue-green coloring reminded me of a peacock feather. He explained it was rare and abstract, like he and I were. After kissing my hand he stepped aside.

  That's when I saw Kimber for the first time.

  Delmar stood behind her, his arms wrapped around her curvy waist. Her sparkling eyes matched her curly, sky-blue hair. Her skin was as pale as Delmar's, but her hallmarks were silver, and while he wore a huge grin, Kimber had a closed-lipped mouth of stone.

  "Yara, this is Kimber," Delmar announced, a hundred times happier than I had ever seen him. His skin and hallmarks had a yellowish hue. "The love of my life."

  Kimber stepped forward. Her eyes were smiling, but her lips didn't move, of course. She handed me a teardrop-shaped pearl that was a lustrous mix of silver and blue. Then she handed me a small note card. Inside it read: Dearest Yara,

  My wish for you is that you always follow your heart. No matter the risk.

  With love,

  Kimber

  I stood up and hugged her. "Thank you, Kimber. I wish the same for you."

  She squeezed me tighter and Delmar chuckled. "She has that effect on me too. But move it along, your fans are waiting."

  I sat back down, watching her walk away and stand beside Pango. Sections of her skin were streaked with purple. I wondered what emotion that meant for her. Delmar placed a black pearl in my hand and I startled, realizing I hadn't placed Kimber's pearl in the bowl yet.

  "It's all right." He closed my fingers around both pearls. "We're a package deal." He crouched down in front of me, still holding my fist in his hand. "Yara, my wish is that you see deep inside of a person, past any insecurities, walls, or stony exterior, because it's the heart and soul that truly matter."

  How could I have ever thought the sweet, sentimental man in front of me was scary?

  "Thank you, Delmar." My voice cracked. "I wish you the same." I felt ridiculous saying it. He had already looked past Kimber's stony exterior. I had never seen two people so visibly in love with each other.

  The line of people continued behind him. A few people gave me gemstones, but they also had great stories about why they chose the one they did. I felt connected to every single soul.

  Over a hundred merfolk later, the gift giving ended. Indrea told me the bowl would be kept safe in the castle and delivered to me tonight. I almost argued that i
t couldn't be over.

  One merman hadn't been in line.

  Treygan hadn't given me a gift or wished me anything. Before I could speak up, Indrea announced the beginning of breakfast. Everyone cheered and Caspian offered me his arm to walk across the bridge.

  No one waited on the other side.

  All throughout the pancake and French toast breakfast I searched for any sign of Treygan, but he was MIA.

  Afterward, Pango escorted me around telling me about the activities, events and customs. They had foot races, swimming races, sand sculpture contests, a synchronized swimming show, live music, face painting—the list went on and on.

  The surfing contests were impressive, especially since several Indigos and Blues stood on land creating unnaturally high and crazy-shaped waves for contestants to ride. Merrick participated and pulled off astonishing tricks on his board, but so did Kai and most of her tribe.

  Then there were the jet-ski races. Pango ran the event, so I asked Merrick where so many jet-skis came from. He just grinned and said Solis was full of hidden surprises.

  "Merfolk like to play," Delmar added, stripping off his shirt and handing it to Kimber. "We have quite the toy collection." He kissed Kimber's forehead, then ran down the beach and jumped on a jet ski.

  Watching Kimber and Delmar being all sweet and romantic with each other all day made me miss Treygan even more.

  I had seen fleeting glimpses of him throughout the day—carrying trays of food to the lunch buffet, lifting a child into a chair to have her face painted, handing out joints to grateful people—but there was always too much space and so many people between us. A few times our eyes met, but he would turn away or someone would talk to me. By the time I looked up, he would be gone again.

  Even with all the people around me—some I now considered friends—I felt abandoned. Why did Treygan make that comment before I crossed the bridge if he didn't plan on spending any time with me today? Had I done something wrong?

  Dinner at sunset was a sit-down event. Tiki torches burned around tables covered with richly-colored fabrics. Elaborate floral arrangements decorated the center of each table. Drinks were served in coconut shells, and the food looked and smelled delicious.

  "Wow, they outdid themselves, huh?" I said to Kimber who sat beside me. She nodded and I sipped my drink. "Mmm, what is this?"

  Pango sat on the other side of me and raised his coconut shell cup. "Guava champagne. Isn't it dee-lish?"

  Everyone raised their coconuts and toasted. It wasn't until Kimber set hers down without drinking that it hit me. My cup banged loudly against my plate as I turned to her. "You can't—gosh, all day I never thought about—" How do you politely ask someone about their inability to eat or drink?

  Kimber's kind eyes squinted and she gave a little shrug, as if to say it's okay. She touched my hand, then leaned over and squeezed Delmar's shoulder. He and Sixel were talking, but Delmar held up one finger to his Indigo friend and looked at Kimber. She made a few quick hand gestures.

  "Sure," Delmar said. He smiled at me. "Don't worry, Yara. She eats and drinks. Quite the lush, actually, and hopelessly addicted to sweets."

  Kimber rolled her eyes and shook her head.

  "But how?" I asked.

  "She has a G-tube in her stomach," Delmar said, as if it were the most normal thing in the world.

  Rudely, my gaze drifted to Kimber's stomach as if I expected a tube to be sticking out of her dress. "You never get to taste anything?" She shook her head. "I'm so sorry." She shook her head faster and waved her hands.

  "Don't be sorry," Delmar said. "Kimber dislikes being pitied."

  I covered my food with my napkin. "We can't sit around here eating and drinking while Kimber can't enjoy it."

  Delmar wrapped his arm around her shoulder. She bowed her head, keeping her ice-blue eyes on me. Delmar seemed to voice her thoughts. "She has lived this way for decades. She hardly remembers what anything tastes like, so she doesn't miss it. We snuck home an hour ago and she had her meal, so eat, drink. Enjoy yourself."

  I tried not to look at her with pity, but I couldn't imagine what her life must be like. No food, no drinks, no talking. "Oh, my gosh," I moaned, dropping my head into my hands. "I'm such a horrible person."

  Kimber pulled my hands away from my face and raised her eyebrows questioningly.

  "All day it never occurred to me that you and I could talk if we went underwater. I would love to sit down—or swim down—and get to know you better."

  Her eyes lit up and she nodded vigorously. The stone lips on her pale face weren't exactly expressionless. They were in a permanent, subtle pout, the ends slightly curved upward. That must have been how they were when Treygan kissed her—almost smiling.

  Kimber was living proof of what could happen to me if I acted on my desires for Treygan. What would she tell me if she knew how I felt about him? Stay away from him? Don't get too close? I downed the last of my champagne and tried not to think about it.

  A merman took the stage and made an announcement about lost and found items, then cued the band to start playing. Everyone finished their dinner while the sun faded below the hills. I couldn't eat. My appetite was non-existent. Why had Treygan stayed away from me all day? Thinking about all the possible reasons made my stomach hurt.

  As I pushed my dessert around my plate I glanced around at the tables of colorful merfolk, searching for him. Finally, four dimly lit tables away, I saw him. He sat with his arms crossed over his chest, watching me.

  I didn't mean to, but I glanced at Kimber and bit my lip. It wasn't until he bowed his head, got up from the table, and walked away from the party that I realized my thoughtless action.

  "Kimber, since you aren't drinking that," I gestured at her champagne, "would you mind?"

  She handed me her cup and Pango laughed. "Cheers to Yara overcoming her shyness!"

  I downed the whole cup and stared at the dark hill where Treygan had disappeared.

  I hadn't been to a moondezvous party in ages. Jack and his second in command, Eve, threw one every weekend, but I always stayed away. They got too crazy, and it felt wrong partying without Vienna. But I had to attend tonight, and the vibe was already toying with me.

  Jack mysted some rich human into letting him throw the gig at her mansion while she was out of town. Eve chose a South Beach-chic theme. Illuminated water lilies floated in a glowing green pool. She went overboard with lights: round white paper lanterns strung through the air, backlit ice sculptures, frosted orbs sitting around the patio. Even the wine and martini glasses had lights in the stems.

  The D.J. had been throwing down wicked mixes all night. People danced everywhere. Merfolk might be gifted with singing, but no living soul could dance as well as a selkie. I loved watching my people showboat. My stomach kept knotting with excitement and guilt. I missed dancing with Vienna. She would've loved this party.

  Dina slid into my chair with me. "Looks like the moon, huh?"

  "What?" I grunted, pushing her legs off my lap.

  "This chair. It's big, white, and circular. Like the moon."

  "Feels like I'm sitting in an egg."

  "Cheer up, grump. Come dance with me."

  I had been bobbing my head to the beats all night. Dancing would relieve some of my tension, but Dina was into that raver glow stick crap that drove me nuts. "I'm waiting for Nixie."

  "Like Nixie won't make it known the second she arrives." She tugged at my earring. "We could sneak off to a cabana and let you get a practice session in before Yara gets here."

  "I don't need practice. She will be drinking from me."

  Dina grabbed an ice cube from her glass and rubbed it along her neck and chest. There was nothing sexual about it, it was just a humid night. All of us would have much rather been at Jack Frost's, but we wanted this party to feel welcoming to Yara, not freeze her to death. "You do realize the second she drinks blood from you, you'll want to devour her, right?"

  "There's only one soul I'll ever want to d
evour."

  She tossed what was left of her ice cube at me. "I'm getting in the pool. Eve frosted it. It feels amazing."

  I gave her a nod and watched her prance away in her black bikini. She had great legs, but Vienna's were ten times better.

  A winged shadow swept across the pool. I looked up to see Nixie fluttering to the ground near one of the cabanas. I jumped to my feet, but Jack was five steps ahead of me. He held back a white curtain while Nixie ducked behind it with Yara passed out in her arms.

  "Don't you question me," Nixie hissed at Jack as I entered the cabana. "It took so long because there were a hundred merfolk hovering around."

  "What happened?" I sat beside Yara on the lounger. "Why is she unconscious?"

  "She's not unconscious," Nixie snapped. She lowered her voice to a whisper. "I had to make her stop kicking and screaming. You have no idea how close we came to being caught by Delmar. He was watching her like a greedy hawk."

  "Did anyone see you?" Jack asked.

  Nixie's wings fluttered. "No."

  Yara stirred and made a low, moaning sound.

  "Shh, it's okay, baby." I pushed loose strands of hair from her face.

  Nixie morphed into human form. The gust from her wings disappearing blew the curtain walls of the cabana outward.

  "Rownan?" Yara mumbled, squinting with confusion.

  "Hey." I squeezed her arm. How the hell could I explain how she ended up here? Jack never mentioned this part of the plan, and I was a fool for not asking.

  "Look at you, party girl," Nixie interrupted, pushing me out of the way. "Finally awake, huh?"

  "What?" Yara rubbed her eyes. "Where am I? Where did you come from?"

  "Oh, don't tell me you don't remember?" Nixie ran her red nails along the inside of Yara's forearm. "My sisters and I came to your celebration to offer our congratulations, but you had slipped away and no one knew where you were. When I found you," Nixie lowered her voice and sounded sad, "you were all alone and crying about Treygan. Not to mention hammered on champagne."

 
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