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Tangled tides the sea mo.., p.22
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       Tangled Tides (The Sea Monster Memoirs), p.22

           Karen Amanda Hooper
 
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  "You better share a dreadful memory," she purred. "Sadness, misery, that's what I want from you."

  I couldn't see anything. Not her face, her eyes, nothing—only blackness. "How about the night my mother died?"

  She loosened her grip on one of my wrists. Her wet tongue eased the burning sensation, but then her teeth sank into my flesh and I cried out in pain. My yelling faded away as she sucked warmth from my wrist and we spun through cold darkness.

  I relived the night my mother died.

  The stars weren't shining. I was sitting on the porch swing, kicking my small, bare feet back and forth so the swing would keep rocking. Crickets chirped frantically when a wind blew through the palm trees. A pinkish fog crawled closer to me, bending the grass in its path, causing the metal wind chimes to tinkle as the breeze reached the porch. I closed my eyes as it blew over my face, swirling my hair up into the air like it might carry me away. Then it whistled softly, continuing past me through the screen door and into the house.

  "Pretty," I said.

  The crickets fell silent. I could sense them crouched out in the grass, watching me with their tiny eyes, waiting. A sense of wrongness crept over me.

  I slid off the swing as slowly as I could, trying not to disturb the eerie silence that had fallen over our yard. I tiptoed to the screen door and peered inside. When I pulled the handle the hinges squeaked so loudly my ears rang.

  I held onto the banister and took the first step up the stairs, climbing one inch at a time, hoping if I moved slow enough my fears wouldn't come true. Even as an eight-year-old kid, I knew. Long before I cleared the last step and stared down our hallway to my mother's bedroom, I knew.

  A firefly lit up outside the bedroom door. I wondered if the crickets asked it to fly in and watch me since they couldn't see me from the yard. I walked forward, moving at a snail's pace. If I looked behind me I was sure I would see a slimy trail of heartache smeared along the floor.

  The firefly lit up again. It was in my mother's room. She would have yelled for me to get rid of it if she was awake, but my mother didn't yell. She didn't stir at all. I stood on the threshold of her room for six swallows. My mouth felt so dry I pretended each gulp contained the cherry Kool-Aid I had drank with dinner at Uncle Lloyd's house. The firefly twinkled. Outside, the crickets stayed silent. A floorboard creaked as I stepped into my mother's room.

  She stared ahead, the same way she used to do every night on our back porch. Her eyes were always wide and unblinking, seeing something in the water that I could never see and mumbling about my father. I had asked her what she saw once and she answered, "Heaven."

  My uncle had told me Heaven was where people went when they died, so I figured my father was out in the ocean, in some part of it called Heaven. That's why my mom stared at it so much. Now she was staring at the ceiling the same way, but I knew my father wasn't up there.

  My father had to be out in the water waiting for her. I sat on the floor beside her bed for hours, crying, picking at the scabs on my knees, and wondering how I could get my mother to Heaven. Then I had an idea.

  I kissed my mother's cool hand, dragged her out of bed, down the steps and out the back door. Through my grunting, I apologized to her every time her legs or arms thwacked against a step or doorway. By the time we reached the old rowboat on the beach, I was dripping sweat and my muscles trembled. The old rowboat was perfect for taking her to see my father. Flowers even grew through the bottom of it.

  I struggled for what felt like forever, rolling my mother up over the edge and into the boat. But then a strong wind blew and I was relieved at how easy it was to push the boat into the surf. At first the cold water made me shriek and gasp. There were no paddles, so I held onto the back of the boat and kicked, trusting my mother's word that somewhere out there was Heaven. I would keep swimming until we found it.

  By the time I noticed the boat was sinking into the water, I was out too far to turn back. I kept kicking, even as saltwater waves crashed against my face and burned my throat and nose. My feet and hands eventually went numb as water rose over the rim of the boat. The rough wood slipped from my fingers. I clung to my mother's body, too tired to kick anymore. And together we sank below the dark water, hoping to find my father.

  Tears were streaming down my cheeks when Otabia blurred back into my sight. She didn't have her wings wrapped around us anymore. Nixie and Mariza stood behind her. They all seemed much calmer and sad.

  "Who did you love more," Otabia asked, "your mother or father?"

  I sniffed and wiped my face. A lingering drop of blood ran down my arm. "I loved them both."

  "Ah, come, child, no need to be so diplomatic with me. You felt a connection with one more than the other. You may have loved them both, but which one would you die for?"

  "I don't know. My mother, I guess. If I could've traded places with her the night she died, I would have."

  "I see. When your father died so tragically, did you feel the same instinct to protect him?"

  "My father died when I was four. I don't remember it."

  "He died in a fire. Lungs gave out. Did you know he was a fireman?"

  I nodded.

  "The occupation says something about his spirit, doesn't it? Brave, heroic, selfless and fearless that man was—your mother's first and one true love. Made me and Mariza sick seeing her so attached to a man. She succumbed to your father's every whim. Dreamed of mortal marriage, a house and children. Quite a debacle, those two were."

  I wrapped my arms around myself. "She fell apart after he died because she missed him so much."

  "Your mother would have done anything to make your father happy," Mariza said. "Her biggest fear was that someday her perfect hero of a man would see her for the average and weak human she had become. That he would leave her, or find someone he loved more than her."

  Otabia swooped closer in one swift move. "Certain moments in time change our course forever. Do you want to know what your parents were truly like? I was there the day you were born. I stood by your mother's bed." She dug her talon into her arm and a line of black blood surfaced. "Drink and relive it for yourself. You'll find the answer you're looking for."

  My hands trembled, but I held her arm tight. I thought, over and over, I'm sorry, Treygan.

  Then my mouth closed over Otabia's bleeding gash.

  Her blood tasted like licorice. I cringed after the first swallow, and then in I went, spiraling into Otabia's soul and reliving her memory.

  We were in Uncle Lloyd's house. Otabia held my mother's sweaty hand while my uncle, Mariza and Nixie bustled around her. My mother was panting, her eyes looked tired but her face glowed. Sirens were emotionally connected, but besides feeling my mother's emotions, Otabia also knew her thoughts.

  She was ecstatic that she was giving my father his dream, confident that having a baby would bond them forever, but relieved that she wouldn't have to keep the child. My father looked worried, pushing the wet hair from my mother's face and coaching her through breathing.

  My mother gave one last push. Otabia, Nixie and Mariza all screamed in unison with her, all of them feeling the same pain. With my first cry, Mariza announced I was a girl. She laid me in my mother's arms. My father looked at me, his newborn, and joyful tears filled his eyes.

  My mother sensed the change in him. She realized the slimy baby crying between them had become his most important reason for living. Her worst fear had come true.

  My father had found someone he loved more than her.

  Her jaw tightened, her nostrils flared. She handed me to my father, closed her eyes, and wished I had never been born.

  I forced myself out of the memory and stumbled backward, away from Otabia. "Why would you show me that?" My eyes burned, trying to hold back my tears.

  "You fool! There is more you must see." She raised her bleeding arm. "Drink."

  "No. I don't want to know anymore."

  My mother had never been loving, but I had convinced myself it was because of
her sick heart, that she missed my father so much she had nothing left to give. My uncle made me believe she had loved me, she just didn't know how to show it. Now I had seen and felt the truth. My mother hated her own child.

  Worse than that, the memory revealed another heartbreaking truth. I stared out the open window at the sun trying to peek through rain clouds over a distant island.

  "Uncle Lloyd," I muttered, trying to fit all the pieces together. "In the memory, Mariza and Nixie had wings. You were all in siren form. My uncle knows about you. He knows about all of this, doesn't he?"

  Nixie glided over to me with drooping wings. "Of course he knows, sweet Yara. Who do you think helped your parents transform into humans? Why else would your mother have brought you back to Eden's Hammock?"

  I couldn't find any air to breathe. Rownan being a part of this and lying to me was bad enough, but Uncle Lloyd? The loving man who looked after me and raised me as his own daughter? He was a part of this? Which side had he schemed with? I thought of Rownan visiting the island. Uncle Lloyd never said much about him, but he never forbade me to see him or warned me to be careful of him.

  My uncle must have sided with the selkies. Why else would he allow Rownan on his island? The sisters talked at me, but their words evaporated into the faraway clouds. I felt faint.

  The only family I had, my uncle, had put on an act this entire time. The man I worried about and prayed for every night was nothing more than the grandmaster of a plan to bleed me dry and hand me over to the gorgons. My whole life everyone I loved had either hated me or deceived me.

  Everyone except Treygan.

  Wings flapped all around me. Torches roared around the room. I put my hands over my ears to drown out the sirens shrieking.

  When I turned around and saw Treygan standing in front of me I almost collapsed. He wrapped his arms around me and I buried my face against his chest.

  "Take me someplace safe," I begged him.

  Sunrises became more precious to me with each passing day.

  For fourteen years my life had been one constant countdown. It never bothered me until Yara became my love rather than my obligation. At times like these, when her delicate soul leaked through the cracks in her stubborn outer shell, I wondered if I had always loved her. Perhaps my overwhelming instinct to keep her safe had been more than sympathy or an old promise to her mother.

  Yara hadn't said a word since we left the nest. She went through the motions of swimming and eating. She even let me help her shower, but she never uttered a sound, never looked at me once. She only stared into the distance—into some world I couldn't currently be a part of. I let her be and didn't push her to tell me what happened.

  For hours she had been lying almost comatose on the sofa. I grabbed a white sundress from the supplies Delmar had thoughtfully provided and sat beside her.

  "Yara, you should sit outside and get some sun before it sets. It might help you feel better."

  She sat up like a robot and stared straight ahead. I studied her stiff profile. She looked defeated, beaten by life or whatever the sirens had told her. Or maybe she thought I had let her down. We had been apart for days. Pango tried to recap important updates, but I could only imagine what must have gone through her head these past few days.

  "I didn't want to be separated from you," I said. "It may feel like I abandoned you, but—"

  "What?" She turned to look at me.

  "I'm sorry. I don't know what thoughts have been torturing you all day, but if I caused any of your sadness, then I promise I'll try to make it up to you."

  She blinked. For the first time since the nest it seemed to register that I was with her. "You? No." Her eyes darted to the wall of windows behind me. Then her gaze drifted over our surroundings, taking in the expensive furniture, antique floor vases, Italian marble floors, and the massive living room. "Where are we?"

  "A secluded beach house. We can hide out here."

  "House? Looks like a mansion."

  I looked around too, appreciating the grandeur of the place for the first time. "Delmar likes to overdo things."

  She glanced at her terrycloth robe, then at the dress in my hands. "I vaguely remember us showering together."

  "You were crying. Hot showers are a comfort to humans. I thought it might help you feel better." Her cheeks blushed. Mine probably did too. "I tried to keep my eyes above your neck."

  "Tried?" She ran her fingers through the ends of her hair, inhaled and smiled. "Shampoo."

  "And conditioner. Once again, human comforts. I figured—"

  She wrapped her arms around me and rested her head against my chest. For a few minutes we just sat there, holding each other.

  "Does this mean you forgive me?" I asked.

  "Forgive you? For what?" She pulled back to look at me, clutching her robe to her chest.

  "Not coming to you sooner."

  "There's nothing to forgive. You're here now, that's all that matters."

  I ran my hand down her soft cheek, wishing to every god in the heavens that it could be different, that I had a long future ahead of me instead of rapidly dwindling days.

  "Is that dress for me?" she asked.

  I held it up against my chest. "What makes you think it's for you? Don't you think it would look good on me?"

  She laughed, the light in her eyes and voice slowly returning. "I can't imagine you in a dress."

  We were still laughing when she stood and dropped her robe to the floor. She raised her arms over her head while I fumbled with the dress, trying not to gawk at her beautiful, naked body. Vivid thoughts of what I wanted to do to her flashed through my mind, but I kept control of myself and slid the dress over her arms and head, pulling it down until it covered her. My hands lingered at her waist. I tugged at the fabric, pretending to smooth away invisible wrinkles.

  "So, yellowish white must mean you're blushing," she said.

  I felt my embarrassment intensify and her smile grew bigger. God, how I loved to see her smile; it was contagious. "We should get some sun before it's gone for the day."

  "Okay."

  "Shall we go up on the roof?"

  "The roof?"

  "When you were fifteen I checked on you and you were sitting on the roof of your house. I asked Koraline to let me know if you did it again. You did. A lot."

  Bewilderment flickered in her eyes. "I did? I don't remember that."

  "I want to snap my fingers and return all of your memories to you." In time, most of them would return, but I would never be able to see her that way, whole and sure of herself and her past—or future.

  "Right. The memory vacuum thing. Can't Delmar just give them back to me? Isn't there a reverse switch?"

  "If it were possible he would have done it already."

  "Okay then, to the roof. Maybe it will trigger something."

  We walked through the pool room and Yara whistled. "Fancy-schmancy."

  Delmar had thought of everything. Half of the pool was inside, but the floor-to-ceiling windows let in plenty of sunlight. We had a place to rest or swim without being spotted by high-flying spies. Not that I worried about the sirens looking for Yara. They were fed up with the situation. But when Jack found out we had run off together, he would come looking for us. If Rownan couldn't shadow me, Jack might myst a rich islander into searching by plane. But we still had a day or two before Jack would find out. No need to stay cooped up until it was necessary.

  I stepped out onto the pool deck and Yara followed, searching the exterior of the house.

  "Are there steps or a ladder or something?"

  "Or something," I confirmed, waving my hand and stirring the water in the pool.

  "Oh, right. Can I try operating the water elevator?"

  I glanced up. "I don't know. That's a long way to fall if you don't keep it solid."

  "You don't have faith in me?"

  I sighed inwardly. "Let's go over some basics first."

  She cracked her fingers and shook out her hands, preparing fo
r her first lesson in making water bridges. I didn't need to warm up my hands, but I would have them ready in case her first time wasn't perfect.

  Her first attempt was almost flawless. She hadn't noticed the gradual lean that would have eventually crashed sideways onto the patio, but when I pointed it out she straightened us quickly and took my directions without any stubbornness.

  After a trip back down to get a blanket, then another to get food and drinks, she mastered it and no longer need my help.

  "You were right. I do love it up here. The view is incredible." She rolled onto her stomach and rested her chin on my chest. "How come we don't get sunburned?"

  "One of the perks of being mer." I lay there, one hand behind my head, the other tracing the vines on her shoulder, trying to ignore the somber sun sinking from the sky.

  "I can't do it," she said. "I can't take your memories from you. You have to understand how impossible that would be for me."

  I ran my fingers through her hair. "If you don't do it then the selkies will kill you."

  "Not if they can't find me."

  "Do you think they'll stop hunting us if that gate doesn't open? They'll kill both of us, and I wouldn't blame them at that point."

  Her voice quivered. "You're all I have, Treygan. I can't lose you."

  "You have friends—Pango, Delmar, Kimber. You have Lloyd."

  "He's a liar. My entire life with him has been a lie."

  "Who told you that?" She turned away from me, facing the setting sun. A new hallmark of copper wings had formed across her back—the hallmark of a siren. I sighed. "You drank siren blood."

  "They promised to show me a way to fix all of this."

  "And did they?"

  "No. They lied. Just like you said they would."

  I scooted forward and wrapped my arms around her. "I'm sorry. I should have been there sooner."

  "It's not your fault. Everyone—my parents, the man I called my uncle, Rownan—they all lied to me. You are the one truth in my life, Treygan. You're the only soul in this world I fully trust, and you're telling me I have to help you forget me and leave me forever. How? How am I supposed to do that?"

 
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