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Tangled tides the sea mo.., p.6
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       Tangled Tides (The Sea Monster Memoirs), p.6

           Karen Amanda Hooper
 

  I made a mental note to stop calling him names. "What do you do at night if you don't sleep?"

  "Work." He sounded awake and alert, but dark circles cradled his eyes.

  "All night?"

  "Yes, and it still isn't enough time."

  So Treygan was a workaholic. No surprise there. I could totally see him having a never-ending need to feel important. "If you didn't go to work last night, what did you do?"

  "Sat here, waiting for you to finish sleeping."

  He looked even stiffer than usual, like he really had sat in the rocking chair for ten hours. "You sat there all night watching me sleep? Are you one of those deranged stalker types?" Dang it. Again with the name-calling.

  "May I request you refrain from insulting me or any of our people today? I am running low on patience and might not have the restraint I had yesterday."

  "Restraint?" I leaned forward. "Are you threatening me?"

  "You will know if I threaten you. There will be no question about it."

  "I don't like your tone."

  "I don't like wasting an entire day and night here on land accomplishing nothing while our people are getting sick. I'm behind in my work, and you have a lot to learn in the next few days. We have to go." He stood up and walked to the door.

  "When can I come back?"

  "You may not want to come back."

  "Oh, I'll want to come back," I picked at the hardened pools of candle wax on the coffee table. "You're delusional if you think I'm going to spend the rest of my life underwater."

  "You'll be able to come and go as often as you like once your initiation is complete. That will take a few sunsets."

  "Sunsets? I'll be gone a few days?"

  "Yes."

  "I need to see my uncle before we go."

  "Your uncle?"

  "You know, the man whose house you stole me from."

  He tilted his head back like he just remembered something. "Right, of course. But please hurry. You're part of a much larger family now. Some of them are suffering because we've been ashore too long."

  Some of them are suffering? My uncle's kidneys could shut down at any moment. I needed to be on the island looking after him. Instead, I had to go live like a fish. I followed Treygan out on the front porch. He kept his face to the sky, eyes closed, as I summoned up conviction for my next argument.

  "First off, none of you merpeople are my family. My family is my uncle—that's it. Secondly, don't blame your insufficient drug supply on me. Your people are suffering because you turned me against my will."

  He didn't move or open his eyes. "Go say goodbye to Lloyd. If you aren't back in twenty minutes, I will come get you."

  "Don't you go anywhere near him."

  He turned and looked at me. I expected his eyes to be piercing and angry, but he looked calm and indifferent. "Be back in twenty minutes and I won't have to."

  "Ugh! I h—I hay—"

  "What? Hate me? You don't know me well enough to hate me. Now go."

  The walk to Uncle Lloyd's was a daily routine, but today it felt strange. Trees and shrubs had been blown over by the hurricane. Flooding shifted the sand and dirt along the roadways and made hills and barriers where none had been before. Uncle Lloyd's house hadn't been damaged, but it looked different. Maybe it was the sun rising behind it, or the reflection off the ocean yards away from his porch, but the house appeared to be surrounded by a shimmering bubble.

  The thought of explaining everything to him made my stomach hurt. The truth was unbelievable, but according to Treygan I couldn't lie. What could I possibly tell him? Hey, Uncle Lloyd, this is Treygan the merman. He turned me into the Little Mermaid and I'm going to live under the sea for a few days. Hold down the fort while I'm gone. Yeah, that would go over well.

  I knocked on the door and stepped inside. "Morning," I called.

  Uncle Lloyd came down the stairs with his usual laid-back grin and a limp that made my heart ache. "Happy birthday, sweetie."

  My birthday. I had almost forgotten. "Thanks! I'm officially an adult. You can evict me from the house whenever you like."

  "I would never."

  As I followed him into the kitchen, I tried to memorize every detail about him just in case I ended up being gone longer than Treygan said. All things considered, he looked pretty good for being in his sixties. He still had a head of thick, white hair. Most of his muscles had gone flabby over the years, and he walked with a limp because the dialysis made his legs cramp and his joints ache, but he kept a positive attitude. He always wore yellow. Whether it was bright, tropical shirts, Capri pants, or his garden gloves, almost every memory I had of him involved a garment in some shade of yellow. Uncle Lloyd was my own personal sunshine, even during the dark times.

  He grabbed a cake box out of the refrigerator and set it on the table. Opening a kitchen drawer, he pulled out two packages wrapped in pink and green paper. One was flat and rectangular. The other was small and square.

  "You didn't have to get me anything. You already give me too much." I recited the same line every year before I tore open my gifts, and every year he smiled and watched in silence. I opened the flat one first. A manila envelope felt like it held papers of some sort.

  "What's this? A million dollar recording contract?" I puckered my lips and turned my chin over one shoulder—my best pose for an album cover.

  "Unfortunately, no. However, your voice has sounded more velvety these last couple days. Maybe this adulthood thing is making you rock star worthy."

  "Really? I sound different?" I tried to focus on the typed document in front of me to calm my nerves. My hair turning blonde, my voice changing; surely Uncle Lloyd would start getting suspicious of— "Oh, my God!" I blurted out, finally comprehending the words on the paper. "This is a deed to mom's house with my name on it."

  "It's your home now. Free and clear."

  This, along with a million other reasons, is why Uncle Lloyd was my superhero. "This is—it's way too much. I can't accept—"

  "Yara, we both know my days are numbered. I haven't enjoyed forcing you to grow up so fast, but I need to make sure you'll be taken care of when I'm gone."

  "You promised not to say things like that. They'll find a donor soon."

  "Alright, then." He folded his hands in front of him. "How about stating the obvious? You earned the right to own that house a long time ago. You haven't exactly had a normal childhood, kiddo."

  He had a point. My mother never cooked, cleaned, or did laundry. In fact, she never did much of anything. Some days she didn't get out of bed because she was too tired. She had a weak heart, which up until Uncle Lloyd set the story straight, I thought was my fault. Every night I would go to her room to say goodnight, and she would tell me that my father and I made her heart sick. I didn't remember much about my father. He died when I was three, but back then he and I were an imaginary team. Together, we made my mother sick.

  After she was gone, my uncle explained that her weak heart was a medical condition. She was also heartsick—very different from a diseased heart—over my father's death and the fact that she couldn't give me a better life. I still questioned if his take was an accurate one.

  For the first few years after I moved in with Uncle Lloyd, I visited my old house every day, hoping my mother would magically reappear. When I turned thirteen my uncle let me stay the weekends by myself whenever I wanted. At sixteen he let me live there alone full-time, as long as I checked in with him every day. It was our secret, and if anyone asked I had to say I lived with him. No one ever asked.

  Now that I was eighteen it didn't have to be a secret anymore. A new secret took its place. One we couldn't share. I had to keep the truth from the man who had never kept anything from me. I would come back in a few days and pretend nothing had changed. Uncle Lloyd would never have to know about this mermaid thing, and we could return to our normal routine.

  "Thank you," I said. "This means a lot to me."

  I remembered Treygan's threat to come get me
if I took too long, and my pulse quickened. I didn't want him showing up and having to explain him to Uncle Lloyd. My hands shook as I hurriedly unwrapped the next present.

  It was a pendant made from a grayish-colored stone. Veins of deep red snaked through its polished surface.

  "Thank you, I love it," I said in a rush, despising Treygan for making me hurry through my birthday.

  Uncle Lloyd laughed in his deep, full-bellied way. "You haven't seen the best part. Open it. It's a locket."

  Inside the cracked stone I found a photo of my mother and father. They looked young and happy. I examined my father closely because he was sort of a stranger to me. "Oh," is all I managed to say.

  "You don't like it?"

  "I'd rather have a picture of you."

  "Yara, they're your parents. They gave you life. Treasure their memory always."

  I closed the locket, rubbing my thumb over the smooth surface. "What kind of rock is this?"

  "It's an old sea stone. Protects those who keep it close to their heart."

  I hated having to leave him. What if he got worse while I was gone? Or what if—I couldn't think about losing him. It would be a life without sunshine. I held the necklace out to him. "Will you help me put it on?"

  Uncle Lloyd secured the clasp while I held my hair up. The stone hung low against my chest and felt cool on my skin. When I turned around to thank him I got a titanic head rush and swayed forward.

  "Easy there." He held onto my shoulders. "You alright?"

  I squeezed my eyes shut repeatedly, trying to blink the dizziness away. "Yeah, sorry—minor dizzy spell." Except it wasn't minor. Shades of blue and red flashed across my vision and my limbs felt like gummy worms. Treygan said we'd get sick if we were away from the water too long. If this is what he meant, and weed could cure it, bring on the smoke fest.

  "Maybe you should sit down," Uncle Lloyd said.

  "I'm fine. I just haven't eaten since—jeez, I didn't eat at all yesterday or today." How had I forgotten to eat? My stomach never growled once. No hunger pains or anything. If merfolk didn't eat, I'd be pissed off. I loved food and didn't want to give it up just because I had been turned part fish.

  "Your blood sugar must be plummeting. How 'bout some cake?"

  I forced a smile. "Birthday cake?"

  "The best kind." He sliced two pieces and put them on plates.

  "What? No birthday song?" I teased, still feeling lightheaded.

  "You're the singer, not me. I didn't want to torture you on your special day." He was right. Singing was not one of his talents. Things like gardening, wood carving and repairing boats were what he did best.

  I stuck my fork into my first bite of cake, hoping I'd be able to taste it. If I didn't get hungry anymore, had I also lost my sense of taste? Moist, dark chocolate cake with buttercream icing slid onto my tongue. Sugary decadence exploded in my mouth, more intense than ever.

  "Mmmm," I moaned with pleasure. "This is the best thing I've ever tasted!" I definitely hadn't lost my sense of taste. If anything, it was amplified—or exceptionally great cake. I wasn't sure.

  "Glad you like it. I ordered it from a mom-and-pop bakery in the Keys. Locals rave about how good their stuff is."

  "They ain't lying. In-freakin-credible."

  "Glad I listened to the recommendations." He smirked while I shoveled more chocolaty goodness into my mouth.

  I couldn't believe how fast I finished. I fought the urge to lick my plate clean. "May I have another slice?"

  He pushed the box across the table. "Help yourself. And relax, would ya? You look like you're about to rush out the door."

  Guilt is a funny thing. Uneasiness coated my stomach, totally killing my appetite. The remaining cake read Happy Birth Yara in pink icing. We had eaten the "day." Fitting, because a few short minutes were all I had left with my uncle.

  "Uncle Lloyd, I have to go somewhere for a few days."

  The wrinkles around his eyes deepened and multiplied as he slid his fork out of his mouth. A bit of frosting clung to his bottom lip. "The birthday getaway?"

  "Kind of."

  "Well, enjoy yourself, but be careful."

  That was it? No more questions? "Don't you want details?"

  "You're more responsible than most adults I know. I trust you."

  "Wow. Okay." All that worrying for nothing. My allotted twenty minutes were almost up. "I hate to eat and run, but I have to get going."

  "I understand." He pushed back his seat, chair legs squeaking across the tile floor. He didn't seem worried at all. "Both boats held up well during the storm. You're welcome to take either one."

  The boats. Right. He would definitely question where I went if I didn't take a boat. Had Treygan considered that in his ridiculous plan? "Guess I'll take mine. Better gas mileage," I added nervously.

  He kissed the top of my head and set our plates in the sink. "You've outgrown Eden's Hammock. It's a big, fantastic world out there, kiddo. Go explore it."

  I didn't want to explore. I wanted to stay here and take care of him, but he seemed anxious for me to leave. How long had he felt this way? What if something happened to me? What if I never came back from Mermaid World? Wouldn't he miss me? The thought of never seeing Uncle Lloyd or Eden's Hammock again made my eyes burn as I fought back tears. "You're going to take good care of yourself while I'm gone, right?" He nodded. "Say you promise."

  "I promise." His promises were worth more than gold.

  My throat tightened and my new necklace felt like it was suffocating me. I reached up to adjust it, but the stone was so warm that I clenched it in my hand, pressing the heat into my palm.

  Suddenly, another feeling rushed through me. Comfort or safety, followed by a flash of a forgotten childhood memory: Treygan's blue eyes staring into mine as I coughed up water from my burning lungs. The image was so clear.

  How could I have forgotten?

  He had cradled me in his arms while I stared up at a black, starry sky. He looked younger, unafraid, caring. His warm fingers wiped away the tears running down my cheeks. Then he swam so fast, carrying me through the cold water. He kept promising me everything would be okay, that I was safe. He was so … different.

  I sprang up and gave Uncle Lloyd a quick hug. "I have to go! I love you."

  "I love you too," he shouted as the front door slammed shut behind me.

  I took off running toward my house. I couldn't get back to Treygan fast enough.

  Eden's Hammock had seen its share of death and despair. It contained more secrets than the gorgon grotto. The ominous energy in Yara's house—though years old—made my head spin, so I retreated to the porch for fresh air.

  We practically collided with each other. "Yara, what's wrong?"

  Struggling to catch her breath, she managed to gasp out, "It was you." She bent forward, bracing her hands on her knees. "Why didn't you tell me?"

  "What are you talking about?"

  "That night …." More panting and bobbing her head. "You … saved my life."

  I said nothing. Merfolk cannot lie, but we always have the option to remain silent. She couldn't be referring to that night. She couldn't remember. I had made sure of it.

  When her breathing steadied, she stood straight. "Why?"

  "Why what?"

  "A million whys! Why didn't you say anything? Why did you let me call you all those names and be so mean to you? And why didn't I remember you saving my life until a few minutes ago?" She stepped closer and I held my breath. "The night my mother died, you saved me from drowning. It was you, wasn't it?"

  I couldn't claim that I didn't know what she was referring to. Not one sunset had gone by when I didn't think of that night. How could she remember it? I froze that memory minutes after it happened.

  "Answer me," she pleaded.

  She seemed vulnerable, like the girl I rescued ten years ago, except now she looked even more fragile. What happened to that bratty know-it-all who stormed out of the house earlier? She had returned looking like an a
ngel, begging me for answers I never thought I would have to give.

  "Treygan?" Our eyes locked. As much as I wanted to look away from her, I couldn't. No one ever had such an emotional pull on me. I had never been more thankful that I wasn't underwater. If she could hear the thoughts running through my head about our past and her history, it would further complicate an already complex situation.

  My voice came out hoarse. "We need to get back."

  She grabbed my wrists. "Please, tell me the truth. It was you, right?"

  Tears glistened in her eyes. The thought of her crying made my chest constrict with pain. Great gods, was I having a heart attack?

  Her grip tightened. "Please, tell me I'm not crazy. The night my mother died, I remember putting her in the boat, jumping in the water and swimming for what felt like forever, but then everything goes gray. I've never been able to remember what happened after that. But a few minutes ago it all came back to me. I remember. You were the one who saved me. Right?"

  My heart pounded so hard that the floorboards under us should have been vibrating. "You said it out loud. That means it's true."

  She let go of me, but didn't move away. "Why didn't you say anything?"

  My wrists tingled where her fingers had been. I rubbed at them, trying to get the sensation to go away. "It didn't seem important."

  "Didn't seem important? I almost died! You saved me and carried me back to shore." Her eyes darted out over the yard as if watching the memory play out in front of her. "You carried me here, took me in the house and wrapped me in blankets. Uncle Lloyd came in and—wait, do you know my uncle?"

  My head throbbed again. I turned away and unzipped my armband, desperately needing to smoke.

  Yara stood so close to me I could feel her body heat against my back. "I remember the two of you talking," she half whispered. "You told him I shouldn't remember anything about you."

  I couldn't turn around. I couldn't face her. I knew how intrusive it felt to have someone steal a song from you. Freezing one was a similar violation of the soul. It had seemed like the right thing to do at the time, but if she remembered what I had done, she would see me as the worst kind of thief.

 
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