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Tangled tides the sea mo.., p.24
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       Tangled Tides (The Sea Monster Memoirs), p.24

           Karen Amanda Hooper
 
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  "You've known you had the ability to cast spells, but you never tried to use it?"

  "My whole life I have fought using my gorgon abilities. If I could remove that part of my soul, I would."

  "Is that possible?"

  "No. Even Lloyd, who became a human, still has gorgon in him. It's in my veins, my muscles, my skin, and hidden away in my soul. There's no way to remove all of it." He paused. "We need to practice."

  I groaned and looked away. We didn't need to practice, but I couldn't tell him that.

  He lifted my chin. "Are you getting bored of my memories?"

  "Of course not. I just hate that you still expect me to take them from you."

  "You have to, Yara."

  "You keep saying that." I shuddered. "But I can feel when it hurts you."

  He wrapped his arms around me, purposefully breathing against my neck. "Afterward, I'll write on your body for as long as you want. An entire novel."

  We had moved into our bartering stage. He could always convince me to practice by making me melt physically. I wanted to say no, but he had a hypnotic effect on me that left me defenseless.

  "Fine, but you know I hate this. After I've successfully taken one, I'm done until the Triple Eighteen."

  "Deal."

  He sat on the floor and I crawled onto his lap. It was my favorite part, the calm before the storm, the silent moment before his eyes clouded over. He knew it too, so each time he waited a little longer, holding me, staring at me. No noise between us except our breath. The urge to kiss him suffocated me. Every cell of my skin screamed for his lips, but my urges had to go unfulfilled. That was the worst part.

  "Follow your desire until the end," Treygan said, "until your thirst is satisfied."

  He and I had very different ideas about what I desired. "Mm-hmm. Just get on with it."

  Silver and blue clouds passed over his eyes. Our souls became one.

  It was the day that changed Kimber's life. She was a Red, and looked like she couldn't have been more than twelve. A lollipop stick stuck out from between her pink lips. If I hadn't been living the moment as Treygan, I would have laughed at everyone gathered around a spinning glass bottle. I had seen the game in a movie before. What a ridiculous way to get someone to kiss you.

  Treygan thought so too. When the bottle pointed at him he didn't get nervous or excited. He felt sick. He glanced at Delmar, who looked cute and scrawny as a young kid with red hair.

  Treygan got to his knees and crawled to the middle of the circle. The rest of the kids giggled or made teasing comments. Kimber's skin flushed with blue as she pulled her pink lollipop out of her mouth and crawled toward Treygan.

  For a split second I was back in my body, staring at the constellation of freckles on Treygan's cheek, but I dove back into the clouds in his eyes, remembering his promise. If I succeeded at taking this memory from him, I would never have to try again. This one made him sad. He would be better off not remembering it.

  Treygan's lips pressed against Kimber's, but something felt off. I wasn't fully in the memory. I flashed back and forth between remembering the past as Treygan and me sitting in present-day Treygan's lap. Back and forth, over and over. It was so disorienting.

  Jealousy and need swept through me like a tidal wave. I couldn't believe how hard it was to stay in control, or to even stay in Treygan's memory. As Treygan, I felt Kimber's lips turn to stone and heard a kid shouting. Then I was me again, feeling warmth against my lips and flesh between my teeth.

  "Yara!" The panic in Treygan's voice snapped me fully back into my own body and I gasped, sliding my clenched teeth from his bottom lip. "Spit it out! Spit! Now!"

  Blood and saliva spewed from my mouth onto the floor. Treygan wiped frantically at my lips. He had already thrown me off his lap and scrambled to his feet. "Keep spitting! Do not swallow. I'm getting you water."

  He ran to the kitchen while I crawled to my hands and knees. My head spun. The gold veins in the marble tiles kept blurring. What made me bite into his lip like that? He had taught me how to consume mentally without drawing blood. Why did I bite him?

  He forced me to sit up, holding a glass to my face. "Rinse and spit. God, Yara, you can't swallow my blood. Please don't swallow any of it."

  I did what he said, taking a sip and swishing it around my mouth. I looked around with my cheeks full of water.

  "Just spit! We'll clean it up later."

  I spit it into a nearby vase. After another rinse I spit again and looked at Treygan, my hands shaking. "What the hell was that?"

  "Your thirst for blood kicked in too strongly. Sirens can drink gorgon blood without it hurting them, but I don't know how it would work with you being a mermaid. We can't risk it."

  "Oh, my God, look what I did to you!" I had practically torn a hole through his lip. Blood was dripping down his chin.

  "I'll be fine. Are you okay?" He held my face, examining me. "Open your mouth."

  "Nothing happened. I would know if part of me turned to stone."

  He looked in my mouth anyway, making me feel like a strep throat patient.

  "I don't get it," he said. "My emotions were way too intense when you bit me. My blood and saliva were in your mouth. I don't understand how I didn't petrify any part of you."

  "Maybe I'm immune like the sirens." I puckered my lips and batted my eyes. "Kiss me and we'll find out."

  He rubbed his thumbs over my cheeks. "Don't joke about that."

  Joking was all I could do. Not telling him the truth, hurting his lip and making him worry made me sick with guilt. "This consuming memories thing is never gonna happen."

  "It has to." He dropped his hands from my face.

  That simple action always stung. I had a few precious days left with him. Every time he stopped touching me—or looked away from me, or left a room—I got a sneak preview of the future. A future where we might not be together. What if Lloyd's absurd plan failed? I needed to know how Treygan felt about the ghost thing, but I had to word it right.

  "Promise me something," I said.

  "If I can."

  "Promise me that if this insane plan kills you, you'll come back and haunt me. None of that walking toward the light, or moving on because you think it will be good for me. That's crap. I want you forever. Even if it's just your ghost."

  "That's no way to live, Yara." He used a kitchen towel to wipe the blood off his face.

  "What if it was reversed? Would you want me to stay here with you?"

  "This is a pointless discussion. I'll be a gorgon, I won't be dead."

  He wasn't taking the bait. I would have to ask outright. "What if I died? Would you want me to haunt you?"

  "I don't think that's something we get to choose."

  I wanted to tell him about his mother and Uncle Lloyd, and about the waterfall, but they made me promise not to. "I believe it's possible, so please, humor me and answer the question."

  "What was the question?"

  I shoved his shoulder. "Would you want me to haunt you?"

  He pulled me onto his lap, raking his fingers through my hair and sending warm waves rippling over me. "I think your real question is do I want you forever. Yes, I do. If I could change all of this and you and I could be together, I would. But if you died, I don't know what I would want. Now that I know what it's like to have you, existing without you wouldn't be living." His hand glided to my shoulder, tracing the neckline of my dress. "I couldn't do this with your ghost."

  His touch lit up my skin with flames of mind-numbing pleasure. I didn't ever want him to stop.

  "You're my Yamabuki," he whispered. "You're tough. You'll survive this."

  Strong, steel-willed, refused to take no for an answer: Uncle Lloyd said I naturally possessed those qualities, and because of that he believed our secret plan would work. If he was so certain, then why couldn't I tell Treygan? Why did I have to keep such vital information from him? I flexed my biceps like a bodybuilder. "Yeah, I'm tough. That's what Uncle Lloyd said."


  Treygan kissed my arms. "You should listen to him. He knows what he's talking about."

  I hoped with all my heart and soul that was true.

  Day 17

  I had spent the last few nights locked in the basement of the bar. Lack of moonlight would have been bad enough, but Jack meant business. Each day the torture got worse.

  The steel door swung open, waking me from an imaginary nightmare and throwing me back into my real one.

  "You ready to start talking yet?" Jack asked.

  I lowered my head, too weak to hold it up anymore. He yanked me to my feet and dragged me down the corridor, through the dark, empty bar, and up the stairs. He kicked open the door and shoved me out onto the roof. Out into the blazing sun. Same routine as yesterday.

  I already knew what awaited me. Handcuffs dangled from a chain padlocked to the thick pipe connecting the main AC handler to the rest of the units. My coat was spread out over a metal box a few feet away from me.

  Jack didn't need to tell me to sit. I collapsed to my knees. He pulled the chain to me and snapped the cuffs on my wrists. The heat bordered on sweltering. My thirst got worse with each passing minute, but Jack wouldn't push it so far as to kill me—least I hoped not—so I suffered.

  He lit up a seag and bent down, blowing a cloud of cold smoke into my face. I tried to inhale whatever I could, but my lungs felt like they had melted out of my chest.

  "Rownan, this is the stupidest thing you've ever done. Just tell me where they are."

  I had stopped answering him yesterday when the sun fried my brain and my thoughts went all scrambled. I didn't even bother grunting anymore.

  "You traitor. You're willing to die so that mongrel brother of yours can hide away and play house with that harpy?"

  Mongrel. It must have slipped his mind that I was a mongrel too.

  "Thought I taught you better than this," he spat. "I thought you were loyal to our kind."

  I am. God dammit, I am.

  Dina walked over with a frosted mug of blood and squatted down beside me. "Tell him where they are so you can drink it. I hate having to do this."

  I leaned my head against the hot metal casing of the AC handler and closed my eyes. The first day my mouth watered so badly that I drooled all over myself. Today I had nothing left. My mouth was drier than the Mojave.

  "Set it down over there," Jack said, as if Dina hadn't gone through this same drill numerous times yesterday. She knew she had to leave it out of my reach, and we both knew what came next. "Drink from him."

  "Jack, he's white as a clam. I don't think—"

  "Do it!"

  She took my arm in her hands. I didn't open my eyes. "I'm sorry, Rownan."

  Her claw tearing through my skin didn't hurt. My soul being shared with someone other than Vienna was the agonizing part. I don't know how long she drank from me. I tried to block out everything: the pain, the heat, the thirst. One more day. I only had to survive one more day.

  Jack shouted threats and orders above me, but in my daze of half-consciousness none of it made sense. Dina held her bleeding arm in front of me, pressing the warm liquid to my lips. Part of me wanted to open my mouth, latch onto her and suck her dry, but I pictured Vienna's angelic smile and forced my teeth and lips to stay clenched together.

  Eventually Jack mumbled something and they both walked away. I toppled over, face down on the hot concrete. The metal biting into my wrists didn't hurt as badly as yesterday. The whirling roar of the AC units kicking on and off, the rattling of steel casings and the screeching of fan belts all blended into a satanic lullaby. Fans blew warm air around me, strangling me and burning my lungs.

  I refused to look at my coat. Thoughts of icy water, Vienna's cool and exhilarating kiss and our long future together in Rathe swirled through my cloudy mind. I focused on the sun until it burned my eyes. Finally, it faded from blazing orange to black, just like the end of a burning seagarette.

  I woke up from my haze of horror to the fluttering of wings and thought maybe I was dead. An angel stood above me, wings extended high at her sides. Light formed a halo around her entire body.

  "You stubborn bastard." Nope, not an angel. Just Nixie, silhouetted by the sun and looking down at me like I was some helpless creature at her boots. Which I was. "Why the hell are you protecting them?"

  I couldn't tell anyone about the plan. I hardly understood it myself, but if it worked the way Lloyd swore it would then I could endure any amount of suffering. My spirit lifted a tad when I thought Nixie might be there to help me. She could uncuff me, give me my coat, and fly me to the water.

  Ah, water. The thought of it stirred hope inside of me. But my luck wasn't that good.

  Jack appeared behind her, smoking through his gap-toothed grin. "Nixie agrees with me. Your plan to give Treygan and Yara time together was idiotic, but you succeeded. Time's up. Where is she?"

  I couldn't remember how many days had passed. Was their time up? Could the sun dissolving over the roofline be the Triple Eighteen? I tried to speak, but my mouth wouldn't open.

  Jack bent down and flicked ashes on me. "I'm done with this game. Drink that blood and tell me where the girl is or Nixie will start snatching away your memories of Vienna one by one 'til there's nothing left."

  The rest of my body had shut down, but my pulse pounded in every part of me. "No!" I barely gasped.

  "Well, looky there," Jack laughed. "That got a reaction out of him. Wish I'd thought of that threat earlier."

  "I still get a song, Jack. You promised." Nixie's high heeled boots clicked against the concrete and she squatted down in front of me. "Guess those panicked eyes mean you're agreeing to drink."

  Did I imagine her words? Lloyd couldn't have predicted every step of this so accurately. Yet here we were, right on schedule, the players reciting their lines almost verbatim.

  "Yeah, yeah," Jack said. "As soon as he's out of his vegetative state you can have your soul cocktail." Jack yanked me up by my hair and raised a glass to my mouth. I used what little strength I had to open my lips and catch the blood he poured. "Start talking."

  As I sipped and gulped from the glass, Dina covered me with my coat. The blanket of cold had never felt so good. "I didn't shadow him," I said in a weak whisper. "But I can. After I get my strength back."

  "Tonight you'll sleep in the moonlight and recover. Tomorrow you track that worthless brother of yours, we take the girl, and we all go home."

  I nodded and kept drinking.

  "It didn't need to be this hard, Rownan." Jack used my neck to put out his seagarette. I grimaced at the searing pain as he flicked the butt into my mug. "Nixie, take him to the pool next door. It's frosted. Dunk him then take whatever memory you want."

  Nixie grinned at me and licked her lips.

  No, Nix, I thought. I already have a song picked out for you; a long conversation between me and my father.

  Lloyd had been right. This plan could actually work.

  I had watched my last sunset.

  I stood in the doorway to the back deck, gazing past the pool at the ocean. Yara moved slowly down the steps and tiptoed through the house. I sensed her movements, but had no idea why she was being so sneaky. I didn't bother turning around when she crept up behind me. I trusted her too much to suspect anything.

  She whacked me over the back of the head.

  I stumbled forward and turned around to see her giggling and holding a pillow in each hand.

  "What was that for?" I rubbed the back of my neck—even though it didn't hurt.

  "Let's fight." She tossed me one of the pillows.

  "You want us to pillow fight? May I ask why?"

  "My wings hallmark got me thinking about feathers. I remembered one of my favorite scenes from an old movie, Almost Angels. Have you seen it?"

  "No."

  "There's this scene where a bunch of choir boys are getting ready to go to bed and one turns on a radio even though it's lights out and he knows they could get in trouble. The boys start dancing to
the music, and then someone starts a pillow fight. They're all laughing and smacking each other with pillows while feathers fly everywhere. They know they could get caught and be punished, but they don't care. They just go crazy and have fun. After watching that I always wanted to pillow fight with someone, but I didn't have any friends and smacking my uncle with a pillow never seemed like a good idea."

  "But smacking me with one does?"

  She smiled like a mischievous dolphin and nodded.

  "Seems a bit childish." I dropped the pillow at my feet and walked past her to the stairway.

  "Come on. Don't be so serious all the time." I was halfway up the stairs when she called out behind me, "Just because you're twice my age doesn't mean you have to act like an old fuddy-duddy!"

  "I'm a baby according to the sea monster aging scale," I shouted back.

  When I came back downstairs she was in the pool room. I hit the power button on the stereo and lively jazz music hummed through the house. I tore a small hole in each of the pillows I had grabbed from upstairs and tossed two to her. Her pout changed into a dazzling grin.

  "A real pillow fight requires at least two bundles of feathers each." I held my two pillows out at my sides. "This will get messy."

  "The messier the better."

  I let her take the first swing. Simultaneous hits on my hip and shoulder caused a few feathers to fly through the air. She watched them, giggling like a child. She was looking up, so I didn't miss the opportunity to smack her in the stomach.

  She must have had serious aggression bottled up, because she was relentless, smacking me nonstop. More feathers danced around us. I had never seen her laugh so hard, and it made me laugh too. It didn't take long for her pillows to become flat and droopy. My eyes lit up with playful revenge.

  She half-screamed a "nooo" through her laughing fit and ran away.

  "Payback time," I said, chasing her around the pool.

  She turned and attempted to hit me with one of her limp pillowcases. Then she slowed down and dropped her weapons, putting her hands out in front of her. "You can't really hit me, I'm a girl."

 
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