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Tangled tides the sea mo.., p.25
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       Tangled Tides (The Sea Monster Memoirs), p.25

           Karen Amanda Hooper
 
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  I raised my pillows. "No, you're a relentless Yamabuki."

  She pushed against my chest, keeping me at bay as she stepped backward. I kept moving forward, matching her step for step.

  "Okay, okay, how about we make a deal?" she pleaded.

  I shook my head and cocked my arm back to administer a severe pillow lashing. "No more deals. You're mine."

  We were both so caught up in the moment that neither of us realized how close we had strayed to the pool. Yara took one last step backward. In that split second her eyes widened and her arms flew up. I tried to grab her, but it was too late. She splashed into the pool, feathers flying all around her.

  She broke through the surface, coughing and spitting up water and laughing hysterically. She sifted wet feathers through her fingers. "A pillow fight in water. How appropriate for two sea monsters."

  I ripped open one of my pillows and flung its feathers into the air. Yara twirled around, trying to catch them while I dove in.

  My eyes stung from the chlorine. I expected to grab her feet, but found her fins instead and pulled her back under. In an instant her tail transformed to legs and she wrapped them around me as we floated back to the surface.

  "Thank you," I said, wiping water from her face.

  She pulled herself closer and squeezed her thighs tight around my hips. "For what?"

  "For the best times of my life."

  "Thank you for granting my wish for a pillow fight."

  "If it were up to me, I would grant every wish you ever made."

  Her smile faded and her legs loosened. She threw her head back and stared at the dark sky.

  "Hey," I said, squeezing her waist. "Where'd you go?"

  She looked at me and sighed. "Why didn't you wish me anything?"

  "What?"

  "The day of my welcoming celebration, everyone but you gave me a gift and wished me something."

  "I did give you a gift."

  "No, you didn't."

  I pulled her arm from around my neck and put it between us, nodding at her arm band.

  "That's your gift to me?" She snorted. "What does it represent? A long life of C-weed smoking?"

  "Did you look inside?"

  "Yeah, three joints. Thanks."

  I brushed my lips against her wrist. "You didn't find the real gift?"

  She looked down at her armband. "There was something else?"

  I flipped the top of the fabric down and unzipped the tiny, hidden compartment. "In there."

  "I didn't know it had another pouch." She dug her fingers inside and pulled out the pearl. "Wow. It's … incredible."

  "It's an agape pearl—the rarest in the worlds. I've only heard of one other in existence."

  "It looks like a diamond, or a crystal mirror. Where did you find it?"

  "In a strange-looking oyster at the gateway to our realm. When you hold it up to sunlight you'll see every color of the spectrum. Legend says Poseidon gave one to Medusa. It represents the highest form of love: pure, self-sacrificing, and eternal. Every time you look at it, I want you to know—" I looked away, focusing on the patio chairs around the pool. My emotions were too intense.

  Over the past few days Yara had learned not to force me to look at her. I had to keep my feelings under control.

  "Your skin is turning back to normal," she said. "It's okay."

  I shifted my gaze to the wet feathers floating between us. "I want you to know I would do anything to keep you safe. That's my wish for you, that you live a long, happy life. Full of freedom, sunshine, laughter and love."

  "You give me all that stuff."

  A massive lump formed in my throat. "I want you to find love again … after I'm gone. You deserve kisses, a husband, kids if you want them and—"

  "Stop it. I just want to enjoy this moment. This. Us. Right now. No thinking about the future. We still have tonight and tomorrow night to be together."

  The realization hit me like a torpedo to my chest. How could I have forgotten to explain the lie about her birthday?

  "What's wrong?" she asked. "I don't like the look on your face, or the green and blue covering your skin."

  "Yara, your mother led everyone to believe your birthday was a day later than it actually is. She arranged it that way so I could turn you before the selkies."

  She stared at me, unblinking, letting the information sink in. Her jaw went slack. "You mean, tonight is our last night together?"

  I tucked her head under my chin, hugging her close. "I'm so sorry."

  She squeezed her legs and arms around me tighter than ever. We floated there in silence, clinging to each other. Clinging to an impossible hope that the night would never end.

  Day 18

  I wanted to stop the sunlight from sneaking through the curtains. Forget controlling water, I needed the ability to freeze time. Treygan and I had moved into the master bedroom around three a.m. so we could curl up in bed together. Pretend for a while that it wasn't all coming to an end today.

  Treygan spooned up against me. "For the first time in my life I'm sad to see sunlight."

  I looked over my shoulder at him. "Do you really believe that by the time the sun sets today, we won't be together anymore?"

  "Yes, but it doesn't change the fact that all of it happened." He nuzzled my neck. "If I could make it all end differently, I would."

  "Do you think if we were normal, if you were just a merman and I was just a mermaid, that you would still love me?" The mattress bounced as he quietly laughed, so I reached around and pinched him. "What's so funny?"

  "A few weeks ago you thought our kind were anything but normal. And it's a ridiculous question."

  "What's so ridiculous about it?"

  "Never mind." He brushed his dry, warm lips against my shoulder. "But yes, I would love you if you were 'normal.'"

  I rolled over to face him. "What if you only feel that way because of what I represent? I'm the key that opens the gateway to your world. To you that's the most important thing. That's the only thing. You're feelings for me could be based on what I might be able to do, not who I am."

  "You're right, you are the key." He ran his fingers along my cheek. "You've unlocked something in me I never thought I would feel. Something Delmar has described to me for decades. I never believed the emotions he talked about were real—until you. Now you are the most important thing to me. You opened something inside of me, not the gate."

  I couldn't hold back my smile. "You said you weren't romantic."

  "I'm not."

  "That was romantic."

  He blushed. "Yeah, well, you bring out all sorts of silliness in me."

  Beams of sunlight spilled across his muscles and hallmarks. His messy hair was spiked up in sexy chaos. His constellation of freckles seemed to twinkle on his cheek. I couldn't imagine never looking at him again.

  "What are you doing?" he asked.

  "Memorizing you."

  "I like it better when you memorize me with your lips."

  I kissed each of his eyelids, his forehead and his nose. With my finger I wrote, I love you, starting under his anchor hallmark and ending just below his stomach. He propped himself up on one elbow and whispered to me to lie flat on my back. So I did.

  He leaned toward the foot of the bed. Starting at my toes, with his fingertip he wrote, Once upon a time, up the entire length of my legs. Then he slowly unbuttoned the front of my sundress. I forgot about the Triple Eighteen, the gorgons, the gate and everything else. I almost forgot my own name as Treygan used my entire body to write out what he believed would be our last chapter.

  Hours later, we were stretched out on the sofa together. Treygan told me stories about Rathe, his grandmother, what Delmar and Kimber were like as kids. He even told me stories about his father.

  I ran my fingers through his hair. "Is it weird for you to hear me call him my uncle since we aren't related?"

  "He's been there for you since you were born. I wouldn't be surprised if you called him Dad." He stared at the
ceiling for a minute and smirked. "He would've loved walking you down the aisle."

  "You would ask me to marry you?"

  He pressed his forehead against mine. "Definitely. You would have made the most beautiful bride the worlds have ever seen."

  Treygan's head snapped up. He cocked his head like he was listening for something. I could feel his heart pounding in his chest. He jumped to his feet.

  "What?" I asked.

  "Motorcycles. Lots of them."

  My heart pulsed in my throat. The mansion we were staying in sat at the end of a five mile dirt road. Delmar said no one would ever find us here. "Do you think it's the homeowners?"

  "No, Yara." His face tensed so tightly I thought it might crack. "It's the selkies."

  My stomach plummeted to my feet. The knock at the door caused both of us to jump.

  "Stay here," Treygan ordered.

  I sensed my uncle as if he stood in the room with us. "It's Uncle Lloyd. He told me he was coming here today at five. It's a quarter of." Time had slipped away from me. I hadn't said everything I needed to say to Treygan.

  He glanced down the hallway leading to the front door. "Better yet, stay directly behind me. Just in case."

  "In case what?"

  He pulled me to my feet. "Please, just trust me."

  When we got to the door Treygan looked through the peephole and swore under his breath.

  "Treygan," Uncle Lloyd shouted through the door. "Let us in. Rownan is here to help."

  "Sharkshit," Treygan yelled back. "You led them here!"

  "I swear on Vienna's soul, we didn't," Rownan said. "We don't have much time. Jack and the rest of them will be here in minutes."

  Treygan threw the door open and Lloyd and Rownan rushed inside. For the few seconds the door was ajar, I heard the rumbling of motorcycles in the distance.

  Rownan secured the deadbolt. "I know it's hard to believe me, but I swear I've kept them away as long as I could. I met with Delmar and told him you needed back-up. I turned on my own kind to help with this plan."

  "What plan?" Treygan asked through grinding teeth.

  Uncle Lloyd limped to my side and held my hand. "Treygan, we don't have much time. Rownan told Jack he'd come here, get you to trust him, and then drug you. They wanted you unconscious so you couldn't turn anyone to stone when they came to take Yara away."

  Treygan pulled me away from my uncle and began to say something, but Uncle Lloyd raised his hand. "Of course none of that is going to happen, but we need to act quickly. The sirens are on their way here. They'll fly you to the gate."

  I could imagine the bewilderment on my face. That wasn't part of the plan we discussed. Rownan half-winked at me. Did Lloyd really trust Rownan? Could I really trust Rownan? Should I have even trusted Uncle Lloyd?

  "Sirens don't want the gate opened," I argued. "What if they don't show up?"

  "They'll show," Uncle Lloyd said.

  Treygan's arm tightened around my waist His ears perked up again, but this time he almost looked relieved. "They're coming, Yara. Can you hear it?"

  He pulled me through the living room and threw open the patio doors. The motorcycles were louder, but somewhere in the distance was the faint humming of jet skis. Goosebumps spread up my arms. I searched the far-reaching ocean but saw nothing except the whitecaps of waves. Treygan held me tight, his heart pounding against my back as we squinted at the horizon.

  The first few merfolk broke through the pink and orange mist. They stretched across the water, growing in numbers and coming closer by the second. The sound of engines got louder as more and more appeared. There had to be dozens of them.

  I choked up. "They came."

  "I told you," Rownan said, standing beside us.

  The motorcycles were pulling into the driveway. One by one we heard each engine shut off. Any hope I had evaporated.

  Sweat dripped down my back. "They're already here. The merfolk won't make it."

  "They'll make it," Treygan promised, letting go of me.

  He walked out onto the deck. With open palms, he lifted his hands at his sides. His shoulders expanded as he took a massively deep breath. The ocean quivered like an earthquake shook beneath it. Treygan's back muscles rippled and veins bulged in his neck. He groaned, deep and loud, throwing his arms forward. The foamy surf ebbed back into the ocean, leaving nothing but miles of wet sand in its wake. Treygan lifted his arms higher. In the distance, enormous waves crested behind the mob of jet skiing merfolk. His groaning turned into a roar as he threw his arms backward. The waves rushed forward, pushing the merfolk toward the coastline so much faster than they had traveled just seconds before.

  I envied his power, but I was so proud and grateful to have his love.

  He dropped his hands and pressed his damp forehead against mine. "Nixie will be here soon to take us to the gate."

  I wiped the sweat from his face. "But you said to never trust the sirens."

  The jet skis poured onto the beach. I watched Pango, Merrick, Delmar, Kimber and many more merfolk raise individual waves from the ocean, surfing barefoot all the way onto the pool deck. Some ran into the house, others circled the perimeter. No one said a word. A dozen ran inside, spreading throughout the house and standing guard at every window and door.

  Delmar circled back through the kitchen and smiled at us. "A few were against this plan, but we still outnumber the selkies by twenty or more." He kissed my hand before running toward the front door. "Consider us invincible."

  Treygan's grip on me relaxed. Invincible. Uncle Lloyd always said there was no such thing, to never let your guard down.

  "Yara, where's your necklace?" Uncle Lloyd asked.

  "In my arm band."

  "Give it to me."

  "What necklace?" Treygan glanced between us. "What's going on?"

  I handed the stone locket to Uncle Lloyd and he shoved it in his pocket.

  "I gave her a necklace with good gorgon blood in it. In case you slipped up."

  My mouth dropped open. The red veins in the pendant were blood?

  "Why didn't you tell me she has been protected this whole time?" Treygan's eyes wandered suspiciously between me, Uncle Lloyd and Rownan. "Why are you taking it back?"

  Nixie landed outside by the pool. Her boots clicked against the tile as she strolled inside. "All these adoring fans, and no one laid out a red carpet for me?" She grabbed my hips and pulled me against her. "Oh, that's right. This is your big premier. Isn't it thrilling? All these people fighting for you?"

  "Not really." I tried pushing her away, but her strength was inhuman.

  Mariza and Otabia fluttered onto the deck, crouching in the doorway and clicking their tongues.

  Nixie assessed Rownan and Treygan standing together. "Rownan," Nixie purred, "don't you and I need to switch places?"

  Treygan glanced around in a moment of confusion. From the corner of my eye, I saw my uncle nod.

  It all happened so fast.

  Nixie blurred across the room, grabbing Treygan from behind. Rownan did the same to me, pinning my arms behind me.

  Treygan thrashed, yanking against Nixie's grip. "No! Get off of her!"

  Uncle Lloyd looked concerned but not surprised, so I didn't struggle. This had to be part of the plan. He turned his back to us, pulling a small, metal case from his back pocket. Treygan kept shouting, threatening everyone, yelling my name, calling for Delmar.

  "Calm down, son," Uncle Lloyd said gruffly. "You can't turn me or Rownan to stone, and the sirens are protected too. You're only risking Yara's safety by letting your temper rage." He opened his case and the silver tip of a needle glistened in the light. The blue liquid filling the syringe almost looked black.

  He plunged the needle into my chest so fast I never saw it coming.

  "Nooo!" Treygan's scream echoed through the high ceilings.

  Fire ripped through my heart, spreading through every vein and capillary. I screamed, long and loud, until my throat felt like it had had been sliced with razor bl
ades and my voice finally gave out.

  Uncle Lloyd kissed the top of my head. "I'm sorry, kiddo. I hate that it had to be this way." He kept speaking in a hushed voice. "I thought we'd have more time. I couldn't risk it. Not with the selkies pounding down the door."

  The room became tinted in shades of blue, then red. My eyes blazed. The flashing colors sent me into a dry-heaving fit. Treygan's screaming and the high-pitched squawking of the sirens made my ears feel like they were bleeding. My knees felt like icicles melting out from under me. Rownan released his grip and I slumped to the floor.

  Uncle Lloyd knelt beside me and held my hand. "Yara, look at me. Remember what Liora said. When you reach the waterfall, you'll be tempted. You'll almost forget everything here, but you have to fight. You've got to remember your purpose."

  That part I knew about. The needle to the heart was the shocker.

  He said he would have to inject me with evil gorgon blood, but we planned on a slow-drip IV. He said it would be worse than any pain I could imagine, but I agreed to it. If it kept Treygan safe, I would have agreed to anything.

  I couldn't remember the rest of the plan. Details blurred. I tried to ignore the deepfreeze spreading through my body. I gasped in agony. "How?"

  "Cling to important memories. You said you still have our first day with the worms. What did you do with the worms?"

  "Worms?"

  Treygan screaming threats at everyone made it hard to focus. I hated hurting him like this. Would he think I betrayed him?

  "Yara!" Uncle Lloyd shook me. "What did you believe about the worms?"

  I squinted through the blue haze covering my eyes, concentrating on Uncle Lloyd's face. "They—I wanted them to cross the sidewalk."

  "Why?"

  "Because … I didn't want them to die."

  "Right. You believed they should make it to safety. Just like the sea creatures. Remember your beliefs, Yara. Whatever happens, hold strong to your beliefs."

  I squeezed his hand, shivering and buckling over in agony. "I'm scared," I whimpered.

  "Fear is natural." He rubbed my fingers between his hands. "It's what you do with that fear that changes your fate. You can save all of them. You're strong enough. Stay true to your heart, even in your darkest hour."

 
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