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Tangled tides the sea mo.., p.18
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       Tangled Tides (The Sea Monster Memoirs), p.18

           Karen Amanda Hooper
 
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  "I'm eighteen now. Will they come for me?" Her trembling became steadier. I needed to tell her the rest before she became too weak, or in too much pain to comprehend it.

  "No. When your parents fled, the gorgons were furious and sealed the gate. On the Triple Eighteen—your true eighteenth birthday, which in the sea creature world means eighteen years and eighteen days, we have one chance to offer the sisters a replacement for Medusa. If by the end of the eighteenth hour—sunset—no one has offered themselves, then the gate will be locked eternally."

  Her pupils were huge, black suns. "I'm the reason the gate closed?"

  "Not you, your parents."

  Her body jerked and she let out a whimper. "The electric thing is back." Diamond tears ran down her cheeks. "That's why you stayed away from me. You knew I would be a gorgon soon."

  "That's not why." Her hair was a disheveled mess. I started removing the hairpins Pango had twisted it up with, letting her long locks fall into the water.

  She cried harder, shaking violently. "I'll do it. Everyone can go home."

  "No. Your mother arranged for you to be turned into a mermaid to protect you. You're a monster of the sun now. Your soul wouldn't survive in their cold, dark grotto."

  She gripped my arm tightly as another shock surged through her. "It hurts!"

  Her skin stretched taut over her tensed muscles. Soon the pain wouldn't be waves, it would be steady and unbearable. She continued crying, trying to catch her breath. "Why did you turn me?"

  "I vowed to your mother that I would."

  "But I could've opened the gate."

  "We figured out another way." I dipped her head back into the water and ran my fingers through her wet hair. "Someone else meets the requirements. They volunteered to take your place."

  The heron landed near us again. Yara's face twisted in pain. Her teeth chattered so hard I thought they would break. She started mumbling broken sentences about her mother.

  "The cravings will be excruciating soon," I said. "We're going away for a while. I don't know how long I can last, but we'll relive some of my memories. You'll be conscious through my soul, so you shouldn't feel your own physical pain."

  "Will that w-w-work?"

  Gods, I hoped so. "We're about to find out. Don't think about anything here. I'm going to try and keep us in a different time until the cravings stop."

  She let out a gut-wrenching scream as her skin rippled with pain. I hoped no humans were nearby to hear her. I placed my hand on her cheek. "Open your eyes, Yara. Let me take you someplace safe."

  Her teary eyes met mine. I made certain to keep my emotions under control as we spiraled away to another time and place. I silently prayed I could keep us gone long enough—preferably forever.

  Day 6

  Treygan was right. The pain and cravings stopped seconds after the teal and silver clouds blew across his eyes.

  There were too many wonderful memories to keep track of. I must have stayed in his mind for hours until a gentle push forced me out of Treygan's soul and into a bright fog.

  I had returned to my own mind and body.

  The first thing I saw was Treygan's sunlit face. His cobalt eyes looked exhausted. His blue-black hair was dry and spiked up in different directions. Yesterday I thought I had cut it too short, but he looked stunning. The sun was shining in the sky high above the water. It must have been nearing noon.

  "Hi," I said, gazing into his tired eyes.

  "Welcome back."

  He had me cradled against him, but when I began to move he let go and scooted back. I floated in the water, losing physical contact with him, and I hated how it felt.

  "It worked." I ran my fingers along the sandy floor beneath me. I felt strong and healthy. No shivering, no nausea, no overwhelming thirst for blood, no electrical shocks. "I don't remember feeling anything after the soul sharing thingy started—except what you were feeling. Which were mostly happy memories."

  "Good." He wiggled his feet free from the sand and swam past me into deeper water.

  "You must have kept me there for hours."

  "I wanted to make sure all your cravings had passed."

  Before Treygan took me away, every minute of sickness felt like forever. The pain was worse than anything I had ever felt. I kept seeing and hearing my mother. I thought for sure I was dying.

  Cringing at the thought of how awful the night had been, I swam after Treygan. How much suffering had he saved me from by sharing his soul with me for so long? Did it hurt him or make him sick? "You're quiet. Are you okay?"

  "I'm fine. We need to go back to Solis. Everyone will be worried about us."

  "Wait." I grabbed his arm. "I want to know more about my parents. You said my mother was a siren. So at some point she lived like Nixie and her sisters?" He nodded. "Did they know her? Did you know her?"

  "Yes and yes."

  "She could fly? And lived in your realm?"

  "Sirens prefer this realm. They thrive on taking human songs. Like her sisters, she spent the majority of her time here, with humans. And then with your father."

  "Wait. So the sirens are—or were—my mother's sisters?"

  "Mariza and Otabia were. Nixie took your mother's place in the trio after your mother turned human. There must always be three of them."

  "What do you mean by take human songs?"

  "One of the original purposes of a siren was to deliver human memories to the gorgon sisters. They can only experience life outside of the grotto through the sirens. The sirens have to take the memories entirely from a human's soul, otherwise it wouldn't hold up through two transfers—human to siren, siren to gorgon."

  "Those poor people. Memories just get stolen from them?"

  "Yes, but they don't remember them being taken. They never know they had them, so they don't miss them."

  "What if someone brings up an event or conversation they had and the person doesn't remember it? Wouldn't they figure it out then?"

  "Humans have terrible memories. They don't use a fraction of the brainpower they are given. They would dismiss the void and use their common line about getting old or shrug it off to forgetfulness."

  "My mother stole memories from people," I repeated. "How awful."

  "She had to. It's that nature thing I told you about. We can't fight the laws of creation. It would be like telling a human to never eat or drink anything. They wouldn't live a week without nourishment."

  "Still, I'd be furious if someone took a memory from me."

  His eyebrow arched. He looked everywhere except my face. Water lapped against his neck and shoulders. Such a peaceful sound, but I sensed something unspoken looming between us.

  "Treygan, what aren't you telling me?"

  "What did you say the other day? I plead the fifth?"

  "Uh-uh. That's my line. You're hiding something from me. Start talking."

  He pinched the bridge of his nose. "Do you remember Nixie taking you from the party?"

  "No, but she said I was drunk."

  "Mm-hmm. I might believe that, except you have a fresh bite mark on your lip."

  I ran my fingers along the raised scab. "That's why it hurts."

  "See, you don't remember her taking it from you."

  "No, not at all."

  "That one is gone forever, but it's probably for the best." He swam closer to me. "Don't be angry, but many of your memories were taken. The turning process, whether it be monster to human or vice versa, requires temporarily draining most of the life force out of a soul so it can be filled with whatever species they're becoming. For us that means our memories, for the selkies it's blood. The sirens require both. No one is ever completely drained of what and who they are originally. That would be fatal."

  "But Delmar turned me, and I still have my human memories."

  "Right now you have very few. Like I said, if Delmar drained you of all of them you would have died. Some of your strongest memories will return over time. Only a siren could completely take them from your soul."
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  I thought hard. I had memories of Uncle Lloyd. I only had a few of my mother, but she died when I was eight, so how much could I possibly remember? "No, I remember lots of stuff."

  "Think about it. How many events or conversations of your human life can you remember? Considering you've been alive for eighteen years, shouldn't you have many more? It feels like a lot because you don't remember the ones you're missing, or know they existed."

  "That's—no. I remember everything. I showed you that memory of the first time I met my uncle. I remember you showing up at my house in the storm, and the night you saved me from drowning."

  "Delmar left your strongest memories, your earliest, and the most recent. He couldn't touch the last several weeks of your life. Otherwise you might wake up not remembering anyone, or why you care about them, where you live, who you are, the basics. Some memories your soul clings to for survival. He leaves those."

  "How does he know which ones to leave?

  "He said they're colored differently, like he sees them through a sepia-toned lens, so he passes over them."

  "This is crazy. I know I remember everything. Maybe Delmar didn't erase much."

  "I would love for that to be true, but if so, you wouldn't have survived the transformation. Changing from human to monster takes a toll on the soul and body. We can test your theory, though. Three years ago a hurricane hit near Eden's Hammock. Do you remember it?"

  "What was its name?"

  "Otabia called it The Dryad. Sirens name storms after legends or fairytales, but humans attach names to them that we don't pay attention to."

  "I don't remember storms unless they were serious."

  "Serious?" he huffed. "How's this for serious. You were helping Lloyd board up windows and you slipped off the porch roof. You broke your left arm and needed twelve stitches in your elbow." He lifted my hand out of the water and bent back my forearm so I could see a faded, white scar. "You and your uncle stayed at Mercy Hospital in Miami for two nights until the storm passed. Do you remember any of that?"

  "No, but …." I couldn't believe it. How did I not know about the scar on my elbow? How could I forget staying at a hospital? "How do you know about all of that?"

  "I'm your guardian, Yara. It's my job to keep you safe. Though there were times—like the arm-breaking incident—I did a pretty poor job." He looked away, but I reached for him, wanting to assure him he had done a great job. He raised his chin and our eyes met. "I've been your guardian for fourteen years."

  "You—what? Fourteen years! You've been watching over me since I was four? And I never saw you?"

  "You saw me on several occasions. Most of the time I had reporters check on you. I'm sure it's a bit unsettling, but over the next several years most of your memories should return."

  "Years? I need to sit down." This was way too much for me to process while treading water. I swam to the beach. Treygan followed without argument.

  We approached the shallow slope of sand and Treygan stood up. Tan shorts hung low off his hips. I glanced down at my gown and tail. Any other time I got out of the water, I crawled up a ladder, or lifted myself onto rocks or land where my legs had time to appear before standing. This beach thing had me stumped.

  Treygan looked down at me. "You'll need your legs."

  "Thanks for stating the obvious, but you haven't taught me how to change while I'm in the water."

  "Right. Sorry. Concentrate on how your legs feel, imagine the space between them, the bones, bending your toes. They'll change."

  He made it sound so simple. I pulled my skirt up and stared through the water at my tail lying beside me, trying to imagine the feel of everything human. All I felt was sand and my dress brushing against my scales with the ebb and flow of waves.

  "Not working," I groaned.

  He sat down beside me. "You're not focusing on what you want to feel."

  "I am. It's just not working. Maybe that ability hasn't formed yet."

  "It has. You must not want your legs badly enough."

  "I do! I'm trying."

  "First, sit more humanlike. You should have your legs in front of you, not to the side." As soon as I adjusted my tail he reached his hand through the water and rested it where my knees would've been. "Feel good?"

  "I guess."

  His eyes squinted because of the bright sunlight behind me. He leaned forward, either to get closer to me or to use me for shade I wasn't sure which. He pushed my dress up higher and lifted his hand so it hovered an inch from my hip and upper tail. "Skin is more sensitive. In five seconds I'm going to set my hand down. Do you want to feel my fingers on your scales, or the skin of your thigh?"

  I couldn't answer. The raspiness in his voice combined with the thought of his hand on my thigh left me speechless. He kept his eyes locked with mine, waiting for my answer, but then my tail turned into legs and no words were needed. His warm fingers pressed against my skin.

  I wanted him to kiss me so badly I thought I might explode. My toes curled when he rubbed my thigh. His hand moved firmly down to my knee then back up again. I swallowed the warm air between us and put my arms around his neck, wanting to pull him on top of me. Instead, he stayed solidly upright. He slid his hand up my hip and around my waist and hooked his other hand under my arm, rising out of the water effortlessly with me attached. My skirt dropped to my feet.

  "There, see how easy that was?" he said gruffly.

  I lifted my face to look at him. Why, oh why did I have to fall for the guy who could turn me to stone? I leaned in and pressed my lips against his neck. He tasted like saltwater taffy. For a second he tried to pull back, but I kept a firm grip and kissed him again. He let out a deep breath and pressed himself against me.

  "Mmm, yes, so easy," I whispered, moving my kisses down his chest.

  I started running my fingers through his hair but his hands closed over mine. He pulled back, pushing my hands to my sides.

  "Enough," he said. "We can't do this. As incredible as that felt, it's wrong and unfair to you."

  "How is it not fair to me? I want to be with you, Treygan. We can find ways around the kissing thing."

  "It's not just that. We wouldn't even have two weeks together. The Triple Eighteen is days away. We shouldn't start something knowing how fast the end is approaching."

  "The end? You said I didn't have to live with the gorgons. You said someone volunteered to take my place."

  He clutched my hand to his chest. He stood so straight that his shoulders seemed to double in width. I could see my reflection in his eyes. "Yes. That someone was me."

  "You?" She gawked. "No. Last night you said I wouldn't survive in the grotto because I was a mermaid. You're a merman."

  "A merman with gorgon blood and genes," I explained, taking a seat on the beach.

  Yara kicked up sand as she paced in front of me. "You said I was chosen because I was born human. Your mother was a mermaid, and your father a gorgon. There's nothing human about you. You don't meet the requirements."

  "My father was the gorgon who turned human I told you about. A gorgon and mermaid could never be together—never mate. His physical passion would have turned my mother to stone. But he loved her, so he found a way for them to be together. He turned human, and they had me, which makes me part human."

  "Even though your father turned human, you still inherited parts of his gorgon qualities. How is that possible?"

  "I told you. When a soul is turned, part of who they originally were stays with them. Their children carry on that bloodline." Even I heard the shame in my voice. There was no hiding the fact I was an abomination. "No matter how twisted or unnatural it may be."

  Yara sat beside me and linked her arm through mine. "You were created this way for a reason. Nothing in this universe is by accident. What did Koraline's poem say? Beauty is hidden under a veil of tragedy?"

  "Beauty? Yara, I can't kiss you. I can never have a wife or children because if my emotions get too strong I turn people to stone. I've known my fate m
y entire life. I killed my own mother seconds after she gave birth to me." My voice cracked. "It was the first and only time we saw each other. She gave me life and I robbed her of hers. My father lost his soul mate because of me. How could any of that ever be beautiful?"

  Yara looked away.

  When you're raised amongst sea creatures, the legends are a part of you. Our kind knew my story. They knew about my father. Many mourned the loss of my Violet mother. Every mer parent warned their children not to get too close to me. No mermaid could ever consider me as a possible mate. But all of this was new to Yara. If seeing Kimber hadn't scared her away, this confession would.

  "You were an infant," Yara said softy. "You had no control over what you felt, or what happened. You have to forgive yourself for the past. What does your father say about it?"

  "I don't talk to him."

  "Why?"

  "I killed his wife. He's reminded of that loss every time he looks at me."

  "She was your mother, Treygan. You both suffered a loss. You should be there for each other."

  I stared out over the ocean. The stone wall I had tried to build around my heart felt like it might be cracking. "He would also be losing me in a few days. It's better that we're not close."

  Yara didn't say anything. She brushed her fingers up and down my arm, sending a rush of bubbles through my skin. It felt too good.

  "Why are you doing this?" I asked.

  "Doing what?"

  "Staying. Getting close to me. You know what I am and what I'm capable of. You should be running away."

  "You saved my life when I was eight. You volunteered to take my place with the gorgons. I've seen and felt the love you have for Delmar, Kimber, Pango and all the people in your memories. That proves who you are and what you're capable of." She cuddled up against me, resting her head on my shoulder.

  I wanted to wrap my arms around her, but giving in to our feelings would only make our task more difficult. Breathing in the scent of her hair was unavoidable. "You always smell like apple blossoms."

 
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