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Tangled tides the sea mo.., p.23
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       Tangled Tides (The Sea Monster Memoirs), p.23

           Karen Amanda Hooper
 
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  "You have to be strong."

  "You're the strong one."

  "I'm strong because of you."

  She leaned against me and I inhaled the sweet scent of apple blossoms. I didn't know what else to say. If the roles were reversed, I didn't know if I could do it. My job was the easy one. Yara would be left behind to suffer. I hated myself for putting her in that position.

  "My—Lloyd," she said. "He's your father, isn't he? He's the gorgon turned human."

  "Yes."

  "I want to go see him. I want him to know that I know. I want to ask him how he could act like he loved me and then lie to me for fourteen years."

  "He does love you. He stayed out of this battle. He vowed not to take sides. Rownan and I pleaded our cases and he refused us both. We're his sons, but he told us he would have nothing to do with our plans. You can trust him."

  She remained quiet. I desperately wished I could hear her thoughts. "Will you go with me?" she asked.

  "I'm not letting you out of my sight again until the end of this."

  "Don't say that. The end. I hate the way it sounds."

  I nodded. "Come on, let's give my father a chance to explain himself. He has earned it."

  Seconds after we broke through the water, Lloyd stood at the back door frantically waving us into the house. "Hurry! Hurry!"

  "What's wrong?" I asked.

  "They've been passing by here searching for you two."

  "The selkies?"

  He pulled us inside the door and drew the curtains. "Selkies, merfolk, sirens. The only charmed place on the island is this house or within twenty feet of it. But if any merfolk are in the water nearby, they may have sensed you already."

  Yara stared at him with her mouth agape. "Look at you. Finally decided to stop pretending you're clueless, huh? You could have protected me from all of this. You could have protected your own son!"

  Uncle Lloyd looked hurt for a moment, but then glanced at the ceiling. "Yara, you and I need to talk upstairs. Treygan, you keep a lookout for anyone approaching the house."

  "We can talk right here." Yara crossed her arms and sat on the couch.

  Lloyd stood up straight. "Something tells me you have a few choice words for me, and I'd rather you say them in private, not in front of my son."

  Yara glanced at me and I nodded. He knew Yara's temper. I didn't blame him for wanting to handle the conversation behind closed doors.

  She stomped up the stairs and Lloyd followed. At first Yara's shouting was so loud I worried the sirens would be able to hear it from their nest, but after a few minutes the only sounds I heard were their footsteps on the floor above me.

  I prayed she would forgive him. Soon they would need each other more than ever.

  "You can't expect me to believe that!" I shook my head, trying to clear the absurdity out of my mind.

  "It's the truth, kiddo," Uncle Lloyd grumbled.

  "You're telling me that your failing kidneys and my mother's bad heart were the result of you keeping me away from the gorgons?"

  "And your father's lungs too. Stheno and Euryale sent a clear warning. Once we became human we weren't allowed to interfere with underwater politics. We interfered, so we had to face the consequences."

  I sat at the foot of the bed beside him. "How could they—how is that possible?"

  "The sisters have friends in high places. Poseidon is a god. He gave us life. He can easily take it away or make us suffer."

  My anger slowly drained out of me, but more questions rose to the surface. "So, if you aren't on Rownan's side, then why did you let him hang around here? You knew the selkies planned to kill me."

  He walked over to my dresser and opened the top drawer. "You're too damn lovable. I knew the closer he got to you, the harder it would be for him to go through with Jack's plan." He handed me my stone necklace. "Here, you dropped this. Found it on the road between our houses. Keep it with you at all times, you hear me?"

  I opened the locket and looked at the faded photo of my parents. "You and my father put the eighteen year spell on me. I get why that was bad. But what did my mother do that was so horrible? She wanted me to live with the gorgons."

  "Where in the worlds did you get that crazy notion? She would have done anything to keep you out of that grotto."

  "She hated me. Otabia let me see my birth firsthand. She wished I was never born."

  He harrumphed and rubbed his hands over his stubbly chin. "Look, I don't know what Otabia showed you, but Cleo did everything in her heartbroken power to keep you safe. It was her idea to run away from here and hide you. After your father passed, she was afraid she might die too and you would have no one. Then the gorgons would find you and take you anyway. She brought you back here and had Nixie send Indrea to advise her. They met with Treygan, asked him to be your guardian, and planned your transformation perfectly. She knew it was pushing the envelope way too far. She knew it would kill her, but she did it anyway, and she made sure that enough people vowed to look after you once she passed."

  I couldn't speak. I just studied my parents smiling up at me from a tiny, faded photo, and wished their love for me wasn't such a faded memory in my heart.

  Uncle Lloyd cleared his throat. "I wanted to tell you, but I couldn't. If I meddled, I could have died too. You would have been left alone. You were a child. We all wanted you to have a normal childhood. As normal as it could be, given the circumstances."

  "I think she's been trying to tell me something."

  "Your mother?"

  I nodded. "I've seen and heard her twice since I've been turned."

  Uncle Lloyd glanced at the corner of the room, then back at me. "You sure it was her?"

  "Who else would it be?"

  He scratched at the flaky skin on his arms. He looked worse than ever. "Could have been Liora. She's checked up on you several times. I needed to know you were okay."

  "Can you talk to her any time you want?"

  He grinned. "You used to be the one she communicated with all the time."

  "What?" I gasped.

  "Since you arrived on this island, she's been watching over you. When you were a kid, your mind was open to seeing and hearing her. She began teaching you, trying to prepare you for the Triple Eighteen hullabaloo. Your experiences with her were removed from your memory when they turned you, but who do you think made you a Yellow?"

  My eyes bugged. "Liora made me a Yellow? How?"

  "She was a Violet. A damn powerful one at that. Smart too. Blessed be, I loved that woman. She could predict my chess moves ten turns in advance." He glanced at the corner of the room again and smiled. "Liora was there when Delmar turned you. She wanted to make sure nothing went wrong. He couldn't see her, of course, and she was a bit offended that you didn't retain anything she taught you about merfolk, but by then she'd already granted you Yellow status."

  "Why Yellow?"

  "She knew you'd teach others a thing or two about love and loyalty."

  I had so many questions, but I worried the answers would bring my uncle more pain. He was already rubbing his knees like they ached worse than usual. "Could you die for telling me all of this?"

  "Maybe. But you're eighteen now. You have a home, a new family. You'll be fine. No matter what happens to me."

  The thought of losing him—and the fact that he had been sick all these years because of me—bordered on soul-crushing. Too many people had sacrificed themselves for me. I wasn't worth all this pain and heartache. It had to stop. "Treygan can't take my place. I won't allow it. Tell me what I need to do to live with the gorgon sisters."

  He laughed his big, full-belly laugh. "You won't allow it, huh?"

  "No. I won't. And I don't understand how you ever could. He's your son."

  "Yara, you're forgetting I used to be a gorgon. I know how they think. Treygan could never take Medusa's place. The trinity must consist of all females."

  My breath caught in my throat. "Then why did you let Treygan believe it for all these years?"
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  "He never spoke to me about it. Not one word. He never asked me for my opinion or for help. Probably too worried what would happen if I meddled one more time. He, your mother and Indrea came up with that hogwash plan. Liora said it was the first time Treygan had ever felt like he had a purpose. He could finally help someone instead of hurt them. I stayed out of it so I could live long enough to raise you. Meanwhile, Liora prepared you for what needed to be done."

  "But I have no idea what needs to be done."

  "Yes you do. Deep down you do. You just took the first step, volunteering to take Medusa's place. That's the most important part of the sacrifice."

  "What else do I have to do?" Again, his focus shifted to the corner. The room felt warmer and smaller, like there wasn't enough air for both of us. "Why do you keep looking over there?"

  "Liora," he said, but it wasn't a reply. He was speaking to her. "I think now is as good a time as any."

  I scanned the room frantically for any sign of light, an orb, anything, but it was just my bedroom. No signs of a spirit anywhere.

  Uncle Lloyd stood up. "Come on, ladies, we've gotta do this in my room."

  We stood in front of one of Uncle Lloyd's handcrafted wood panels, a mermaid similar to the one downstairs, carved in even more intricate detail. I had a jumbled flashback of talking to a woman in this same spot, but then it was gone.

  "How did I never notice before?" I asked. "The mermaid in all your carvings is Liora."

  "You don't remember much about these carvings, do you?"

  I shook my head.

  "Well, then," he coughed and wheezed, leaning against the portrait. "This might seem farfetched, but bear with us. In a minute she'll look very lifelike. Focus on her eyes." He spoke in a language I didn't recognize and seemed to be reciting a poem as he ran his fingers along the crests and ridges that were the mermaid's hair

  "I would ask you if this was a joke, but based on the last couple weeks of my life, my gut says you're dead serious."

  "You betcha. Liora is about to show you something that no living soul has ever seen. Remember all you can. Save it not just to your memory, but your soul. This is crucial for surviving the Triple Eighteen. I'll explain the rest when you get back. She's gettin' antsy." He said one final sentence in a choppy, foreign language then stepped away from the portrait.

  I took a deep breath and stared at the carved, teak eyes in front of me.

  When they turned bright amethyst I gasped. I had seen Uncle Lloyd's wife in photos hung throughout the house, but she looked human. Now she was a breathtaking Violet mermaid: blinking, moving and—if I didn't know better—living.

  Clouds passed over her eyes, and my chest was tugged forward before I could deny what was happening.

  I was Liora, standing in front of a waterfall. But unlike my experiences with Treygan, I could separate myself from Liora, even though I was living the experience as her. Just like I did with Otabia.

  A shimmering, multi-colored waterfall roared in front of me, the top lost from view. The water whispered poetry.

  "All you have to do is pass through it," said an angelic voice.

  As hard as it was to pull her focus away from the gorgeous falls, Liora turned to look at the speaker.

  The woman glowed bright as the sun. She had flowering vines for hair. Her skin matched the shimmering waterfall with swirling shades of pink, lavender, periwinkle, chartreuse and goldenrod. She smiled, and Liora thought of a pale crescent moon on a summer evening—one of those rare occurrences when the sun and moon are visible in the sky at the same time.

  Liora knew she had reached the place between life and death. She knew who the woman was, and what the iridescent wall of water was.

  "It is glorious through there," Medusa said. "No pain, no hate, only love and beauty."

  Liora looked behind us and saw an angry sky. Red lighting flashed over brown, muddy clouds. Moss-colored waves rose and crashed out of a threatening sea. A seagull shot out of the water, strangled by plastic six-pack rings. He flopped on the ground near her feet, eyes bulging, feathers slick with oil.

  Liora's gaze drifted from the stricken bird to her silver belly covered with amethyst hallmarks. A barren feeling washed over her, but she wasn't sure why. Half of her body was mer, the other half human, separated vertically but blending together in a seamless way.

  She picked up the seagull and lifted him into the waterfall. It parted like a curtain and the water sucked him through. On the other side his eyes instantly returned to normal and the plastic dissolved. He gave a joyful cry and flew off on strong, healthy wings.

  "So simple," Liora said.

  "So simple," Medusa repeated.

  Standing at the waterfall, Liora didn't see her life flash before her eyes. The people she left behind didn't weigh heavily on her mind. Life and all the people she knew were like a tiny thread brushing against her cheek while the rest of her was wrapped in luxurious, warm blankets of peace, love and happiness. The tiny thread could have easily gone unnoticed, but she felt it, mentally grabbed the end of it and held on tight.

  "My baby and husband," Liora said to Medusa. "I can't go yet."

  "Others will look after them."

  "My son turned me to stone. You cursed him to punish me. He will never live a normal life."

  "I do not curse my children. You chose this path. You chose to love a gorgon."

  "We have no control over who we love. You of all souls learned that to be true." Liora pointed at the waterfall. "That is your heaven. You had the love and foresight to create an afterlife for all of your children. Let me do my part in making sure my son will be alright."

  They both glanced at the raging, angry storm behind us.

  Medusa folded her hands in front of her. "I do not have the ability to send you back."

  Defeated, Liora spun in circles, alternating visions of the luminous waterfall and the turbulent sea. Light, dark, then light again. She knew there had to be a way to communicate with Lloyd and protect Treygan.

  "Angels," she murmured. "Humans have angels. Do we have that also?"

  Medusa's crescent moon smile appeared on her glowing face. She walked in front of Liora, turning her back to the waterfall. At first Liora searched Medusa's star-filled eyes, waiting for an answer, but then she saw something behind her. Subtle outlines of faces and bodies flitted through the water. Liora knew they were souls who hadn't entirely passed through to the other side.

  "The Inbetween is much harder than life or death," Medusa warned.

  "But they do it, don't they? They find a way to communicate and help the living."

  "Some do."

  "I choose to be an angel," Liora said firmly.

  "Are you certain, Liora?"

  "Yes. I will find a way to provide a good life for my son if it kills me." She laughed at her ironic last words as a wave swept us into the waterfall.

  "Oh, my gosh," I gasped, stumbling on the floor of my uncle's bedroom. My skin felt heavy and foreign to me. The wood panel had returned to normal, but I couldn't stop staring at it.

  "I can only imagine." Lloyd sat on his bed and sighed. "Yara, do you want to open the gate?"

  "Of course," I said, still shocked by what I experienced.

  "You're willing to take Medusa's place?"

  Images of a dark grotto surrounded by a red, raging sea terrified me, but everyone would go home. Hundreds of lives would be spared. I nodded.

  "If there was a way for you and Treygan to be together in the end, would you be willing to do anything—no matter how scary or crazy it seemed?"

  My heart beat so hard it pulsed in my fingers and toes. Could Treygan and I really be together? "Yes. I'll do anything!"

  He took a deep breath and looked at the empty space beside him. "Was it enough? Are you sure she'll remember when the time comes?"

  He was asking Liora. I couldn't hear her reply, but what did her memory have to do with me opening the gate?

  "Alright, then," Uncle Lloyd said. "Listen carefull
y. Liora has a plan. We raised you to be strong, smart, and to fight for what you want. Let's hope we did a thorough job."

  Day 14

  Treygan and I had been hiding out for three days.

  At night we rested together in the pool. During the day we would talk, tell stories, laugh, watch movies, play games, practice my abilities and push the boundaries of physically enjoying each other.

  Most of the time we only touched or caressed each other, but several times he let me kiss his neck, shoulders and chest. His lips were off limits, which made me crave them that much more. Twice I tried sneaking my mouth close to his, but he stayed in control—which drove me nuts because I never felt in control.

  We played a game where we wrote words and messages on each other's skin with our fingers. Actually, it was my game. He just played along, sometimes rather reluctantly, until I made moaning noises. Then he would write out long sentences that started at my neck and ended at my toes. I never translated any of those. My mind was mush by the time he got halfway through.

  I had never felt closer to anyone in all my life, but I wasn't allowed to tell Treygan about the plan. I couldn't even tell him what Uncle Lloyd and I had talked about because I worried sharing any details would lead to more questions. Questions that might reveal a truth I needed to keep hidden from him.

  Treygan had asked several times—in a nonintrusive way—if it went well, if Lloyd explained himself, if I was still angry, if I trusted him again. Uncle Lloyd advised me to put everything in the form of a question since I couldn't lie.

  "If I didn't trust him, why would I agree to let you cast his spell on the house?" I looked around the living room, but it didn't seem any different. "Do you think it worked?"

  "No idea," Treygan shrugged. "I never had my father's flare for spells. Let's hope I did it right."

 
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