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Tangled tides the sea mo.., p.5
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       Tangled Tides (The Sea Monster Memoirs), p.5

           Karen Amanda Hooper

  Rownan glanced at the window. "Be careful with him. He'll try to turn us against each other."

  I had never seen Rownan scared before, but now fear practically oozed from his sweaty forehead. Did he really think Treygan could come between us? I wanted us to get back to normal, but with these new revelations, I didn't know what normal was anymore. "He could never turn me against you."

  "Promise me that will always be true."

  To stop the room from spinning, I focused on his pale lips framed by his goatee. "I promise. Why can't Treygan just leave me alone?"

  His coat slid out of my fingers as he stepped backward. "I hate to say this, but you need him right now. He'll have to teach you to survive as one of them."

  "Whatever he has to teach me, he can do it with you here. I don't want to be alone with him."

  "You're one of his kind. He'll look out for you. Just remember your promise."

  I slid my hands inside his coat, wrapping my arms around his waist and burying my face against his chest. He smelled different, like saltwater and smoky mint, but I tried to ignore it. My legs felt stronger and my head felt clearer. "Don't leave me."

  "You have to go with him, but I'll be fixing up the house and trying to figure a way out of this mess."

  "Row," I looked up at him. "Do you think there's a way for me to turn into a selkie?"

  His ebony eyes seemed to glisten. "Legit? You would do that?"

  "I'd rather be part seal than part fish."

  "You did look hella cool in my coat." He kissed my forehead and turned away.

  I pulled him closer, but something still felt off. "I want a goodbye kiss."

  Our lips met and I waited for the familiar tingle to rush through me. Strangely, I felt nothing. We went through all the motions, his hand gliding up the back of my neck and his tongue making perfect circles around mine. So where was my tingly feeling? I opened my eyes and pulled away. My lips felt cold and tasted salty.

  "I'll find you soon," he said. "Put on your boots before you go downstairs. I'm still not ready for your fin premiere."

  We walked together down the stairs, our kiss on instant replay in my mind. Why was that kiss so bad? Were things already changing between us?

  I was careful not to splash water on my legs as we made our way to the front door. Treygan sat on the porch steps—wearing clothes, thank God. He didn't move a muscle as Rownan walked past him.

  "Why didn't you tell me?" I huffed once Rownan was out of ear shot.

  Treygan didn't turn around. His blue t-shirt stretched against his rounded shoulders. "Tell you what?"

  "That Rownan is a selkie."

  "It wasn't my place to tell you. Besides, you wouldn't have believed me."

  "You're probably right." He stood up and turned to face me. I sneered at his t-shirt. "Ironic, don't you think?"

  "What?" he asked. "That you don't believe what I tell you? Yes, ironic indeed."

  "No. It's ironic that you—the villain—are wearing a Superman shirt."

  "Superman?" He looked down at his chest. "I thought the S stood for Slimeball."

  "In your case it does. And why would my not believing you be ironic?"

  "Because merfolk can't lie."

  I had been distracted by the t-shirt, but now my eyes were drawn to his swollen bottom lip. "What happened to your mouth?"

  He lifted his hand and wiped away a drop of blood where a bruise was forming. "Strangest thing, a bird bit me and wouldn't let go."

  Fish, seals, and attacking birds. If only I lived in the desert, maybe my life wouldn't be so bizarre.

  Sunset 1

  She seemed to believe me. Nixie being part bird was the truth. Sure, she was a much bigger and sexier bird than Yara would picture, but a bird nonetheless. If she believed an absurd story about a bird pecking at my lip, then she must have experienced our inability to lie firsthand.

  "Really?" she asked. "We can't lie at all? To anyone?"

  "It isn't part of mer nature."

  "People decide their nature. If they want to lie, they lie."

  "That might be true for humans, but there are different rules for being mer. Same with selkies." I wanted to retract my last three words. I had set myself up for another round of twenty questions.

  "What rules do selkies have?"

  "You should ask Rownan about that. I wouldn't want to misinform you." I wanted to tell her about their aberrant lifestyle, especially since Rownan had filled her head with falsehoods about merfolk, but it wasn't my place.

  The pink and purple sky meant the day was ebbing like the tides. My part in Yara's transformation process was taking much too long. The crops hadn't been picked today, and I had missed appointments with four of my people. I hoped they would find C-weed from someone else to sustain them until I returned. With such a meager amount of plants drying in the sun, supply would be short for the next couple days. I needed to hand Yara over to her teacher so I could get on with my duties.

  "When I was upstairs," Yara said, "I knew you were approaching the house, even though I couldn't see you coming. What's that about?"

  "You'll sense when other mer are near. You'll also sense humans, but it's a very different feeling."

  My head ached from exhaustion. I pulled my last joint out of my waterproof armband and debated whether or not to smoke it. My loyal side wanted to save it for someone in more desperate need than me, but my throbbing head and aching limbs insisted I light it. Snapping my lighter shut, I inhaled and watched the sparkling smoke dance around me.

  "Perfect," Yara moaned.

  "Beg your pardon?"

  "You smoke weed."

  How did she know about C-weed? "Yes. Speaking of, we need to return to the ocean. People are counting on me for their supply."

  She leaned against the porch post and crossed her arms, making no move to leave. "Even more appropriate. You're a dealer."

  "Why do you sound so disgusted?"

  "Is that your job as a Blue? To deal weed?"

  "It's my duty as Treygan. I'm the only merperson who can access the plants."

  "Oh, of course." She mockingly bowed. "You're like the kingpin of the mer world."

  I took another puff and blew smoke in her direction, hoping she might inhale some. "Kingfin? What is that?"

  "Kingpin, not fin. Forget it. I'm tired of explaining things to you." She walked back into the house.

  I snickered. She was tired of explaining things to me? Surely she was joking. I stayed outside the doorway, assessing the water on the floor.

  She turned around and looked me up and down. "Aw jeez, are we like vampires or something? Do you have to be invited in?"

  "No," I laughed. "However, I do have manners. It's polite to wait for an invitation."

  She almost smiled. "Whatever. Come in." For the first time since she awoke from her transformation, the tension seemed to ease between us. "You should laugh more. It makes you less monsterish."

  I took one last drag from my joint, put it out on the doorframe, brushed away the ashes and replaced it in my armband. I stepped aside to clear a path. Flexing my fingers and reaching my hands in front of me, I guided all of the water across the floor and out the doorway. Within fifteen seconds the house was no longer flooded.

  "Holy crap!" Yara yelled, her eyes wide with astonishment. "How'd you do that?"

  I had forgotten how impressive our abilities might seem to someone who had never seen them. "Controlling water is one of our gifts."

  "Teach me how to do it."

  "Not now, Yara. We need to get back."

  She flopped her hands at her sides. "Something finally seems cool about being mer, and you won't show me how to do it?"

  I had to admit that part of me wanted to show off, but there was my promise to the Violets. I couldn't interfere in Yara's learning process. "You don't possess the ability to control water yet. Let's get you back in the ocean so you can strengthen your mer traits."

  "Please, Treygan, I'm exhausted and I want to sleep—here, in my
house. Not underwater."

  Daylight was fading with each passing minute. She needed to get to a resting pool. "Sleep isn't necessary for you anymore."

  "Don't tell me you people don't sleep," she said, taking her boots off. "You have to rest at some point."

  "Rest, yes, but not sleep. Only one half of our brain rests at a time. The other half stays conscious. We're similar to dolphins that way."

  Her nose crinkled as she rubbed her eyes. "How do you dream if you never sleep?"

  "We have ambitions and goals. We don't need sleep for that."

  "Not those kinds of dreams. Dreams like flying through candy-filled skies, or being a beautiful princess. You know, amazing, unexplainable things that stay with you after you wake up."

  "I'm not fond of sweets, and why would I want to be a princess?" I asked, following her into the living room.

  "Oh, shut up. You know what I mean." She flipped a light switch but nothing happened. The storm must have caused a power outage.

  "We can daydream, but even that seems like a waste of valuable time."

  "Forget it. We are obviously way too different to understand each other." She stretched out on the sofa, resting her head on a pillow and yawning. "My body feels weak."

  I should have insisted she smoke. How could I have been so careless? "Why didn't you say that before? You need weed."

  She crinkled her nose again. "I'm not a stoner."

  I went rigid. Did she know what I was? No, she couldn't possibly. She had to mean something else. "What's a stoner?"

  Her mouth twisted into a sneer. "Um, a drug addict. Man, what rock have you been living under?" She propped herself up on one elbow. "That weed you smoke, we call it drugs here in Humanville. It's illegal and kills brain cells."

  We couldn't be talking about the same thing. "C-weed does not kill brain cells. And it would be useless to humans. Eventually, you will have to smoke it—unless you're suicidal." And if that was the case, I had a different proposition for her.

  She rummaged through the coffee table drawers. "You smoke seaweed? Gross."

  "Not regular ocean seaweed. It's a plant that grows in the Catacombs—where the gateway to our realm is." It looked like I would be partly educating Yara whether I wanted to or not. "Souls entombed in the Catacombs act as a conduit between this realm and ours. A new type of plant started growing there. We had the Violets examine it, and they discovered its purpose."

  "Violets?" she asked, setting two candles on the table.

  I pulled out my lighter and lit them. A strong scent of vanilla wafted through the air. "Violets are the wisest of our kind. They discovered that if we smoke the plants, we stay healthy. If not, we get sick. We would all be dead by now if the lost souls hadn't graced us with C-weed."

  "Let me get this straight. This weed grows in an underwater graveyard, and you all smoke it? Eww! How sick and twisted is that?"

  "C-weed has to be taken from the Catacombs and dried in the sun. The spirits of the lost souls seep through the plants growing on the tombs, supplying us with our realm's energy. Because C-weed grows in Earth's ocean water and dries in the Earth's sun, it provides us with a life force that lets us survive here for longer than we could otherwise."

  Candle flames flickered between us, causing shadows to dance along the walls. Yara should know the rest of the story. About all the people who died rushing to swim through the gate before it was sealed. How their stone statues form an ominous labyrinth along the ocean floor, reminding us of the consequences of broken promises. But none of our kind should have to live with such a depressing image. Every day I was grateful to be the only merperson who had to wander the Catacombs' eerie pathways.

  "Sounds creepy," she mumbled, curling into a ball.

  I couldn't deny it, so I remained silent and watched her eyelids drift closed. She looked peaceful—such a change from earlier. After her breathing became slow and steady I thought about carrying her back to the ocean, but instead I covered her with a quilt like Lloyd used to do when Yara was a child. I would make up for the missed harvesting time tomorrow night.

  Yara should be granted one last night of sleep. Once her transformation was complete, she would never sleep again. She had been through so much in her short life, and over the next few weeks she'd be burdened with an enormous responsibility. The future of our kind depended on her. And we only had seventeen sunsets left to teach her how to do her part.

  Jack Frost's was infested with the regular crowd. Walking through the door, I inhaled the minty smoke filling the bar. The drastic temperature drop was a comfort I had taken for granted over the years. Air conditioning was pumped in to make the bar twenty-eight degrees Fahrenheit. It wasn't anything like authentic cold weather, but it beat being outside in the heat.

  When the bar first opened humans swarmed our turf, but the novelty wore off as more ice bars cropped up around the world. Little did they know our bar wasn't some Eskimo gimmick—it was a key to selkie survival. With bar tops, tables, walls and chairs made of ice, it almost felt like home.

  Nah, scratch that. It felt nothing like home. And now that Yara was a mermaid we might never see home again.

  I slumped onto one of the ice thrones.

  "What'll it be, hon?" Dina shouted over the music. She absently twirled her leather wristband. "Stiff, or stiffer?"

  "Stiffest. The nightmare has begun."

  She narrowed her eyes quizzically and scurried off to the bar. Jack's bushy brows lifted when she told him my order. He poured a tall glass of Siku vodka and made his way across the room. Jack didn't come out from behind the bar often, but only hours had passed since my last drink and I needed another. That hadn't happened in years.

  He handed me the glass. "Hey, son, Dina said you've had a bad day."

  A god-awful metal rock song blasted over the sound system.

  "Bad is an understatement," I shouted before slamming my drink in one gulp. The combination of alcohol and glacier water slid down my throat. An arctic chill traveled through my chest, along my arms, and extended to my fingertips. Body-freeze beat brain-freeze any day, but it still wasn't enough to numb me. "They won. They turned her."

  Jack signaled to Dina who slithered gracefully from behind the bar. Her black fingernails gripped the clear bottle of Siku as she poured us both a shot. Jack studied his drink in silence until the song ended. When a new song blared through the speakers he held up his glass. "A toast."

  "To what?" I asked, reluctantly lifting my drink.

  "To there bein' more than one way to skin a fish!" He swirled his vodka in circles and sniffed it like it was some fancy wine.

  "You know something I don't?"

  He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and smiled, flashing the gap between his front teeth. "I'm the oldest selkie this side of the worlds. I know who's hiding skeletons in their closet and who has an Achilles heel. Give me a seagarette and let's talk outside where I can hear myself scheme."

  "First I need a real drink."

  He winked as he stood up. "I'll have Dina bring it out. Got a fresh donation this afternoon."

  Out in the back alleyway, under a buzzing streetlight, Jack and I smoked while we discussed the situation. Yara's transformation couldn't be undone, but everything could still play out in our favor. We had time to convince her that we were the better side. She didn't have to live with the merfolk or play by their rules once she learned how to survive. She could choose us over them.

  "It could get messy," Jack said, "but in the end it would be worth it, right?"

  I sat on my chopper, considering his uncivilized plan. "I'll do whatever it takes to be with her again."

  "This ain't about just you and her. It's about all of us."

  "You know what I meant."

  Dina opened the door and stepped in front of my handlebars, passing me a frosty mug. "Here, hon. It's been on ice since it came in. She says it's full of passion and—"

  "Dina!" I flicked my seagarette at her. "I told you, don't ever tell me any
thing about the donor."

  "Sorry, I thought maybe—"

  "Back inside, Dina," Jack ordered.

  She shut the door without argument and I gulped down the blood, trying not to wonder who it belonged to. Whoever the donor was, Dina hadn't lied. Rapture coursed through me. I ached to devour someone—body and soul—but knew it would pass in a few minutes.

  "Damn," I grunted, wiping my mouth. "Somebody had a good time last night."

  Jack smacked me on the shoulder. "That's half the fun of donating to you. We can anonymously gift you with highlights of our lives."

  "I'm grateful for it, but it's nothing compared to—well, you know."

  "Soon that will all change. You two will be able to share your souls with each other and forget all about this donor business."

  "I hope so. For hours I've been walking around thinking I've lost my soul mate forever." I punched the seat of my bike. "Treygan's a meddling prick. Just like our good-for-nothing father."

  Jack stomped out his seagarette with the heel of his boot and tossed the empty vodka bottle in the dumpster. "Forget about him. We'll get Yara to side with us. Love will triumph."

  Right. That's what fairytales claimed, but from where I stood, everything just got a hundred times harder—and messier—for the love gang.

  Day 2

  Before I opened my eyes, I sensed someone watching me. Somewhere between half-asleep and almost-awake, it gradually came back to me. The hurricane, my tail, those tattoo thingies, the coldness in Rownan's kiss and—

  My eyes flew open and there he was. Treygan.

  "What a massive waste of time," he said. "Ten hours have passed since you closed your eyes. Do you know how much we could have accomplished in ten hours?"

  I sat up and pulled my blanket over my arms. Sunlight beamed through the living room window. "It's called sleeping, jackass. Ten hours is an acceptable amount of time." I could have slept for another two or three. "You didn't sleep at all?"

  "I told you, Yamabuki, I don't sleep."

  "Stop calling me that."

  "You can call me freak, kingpin, slimeball and jackass, but I can't call you Yamabuki?"

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