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Tangled tides the sea mo.., p.8
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       Tangled Tides (The Sea Monster Memoirs), p.8

           Karen Amanda Hooper

  My answer must have been written on my face, because she continued before I could speak.

  "Many think of gorgons as our temperamental gods. That's a matter of opinion, but they are undeniably powerful. They used to watch over us, but after Medusa was killed they couldn't anymore. Thank goodness, because if they get angry they can make our lives hell. They're not very forgiving."

  "They sound like monsters."

  She playfully bumped her shoulder against mine. "We're all monsters."

  "Speak for yourself."

  "Well, like all monsters, gorgons still have a soul and feelings. Beauty, my favorite poem, was written by Medusa's great-great-granddaughter. She's a gorgon—obviously—but she inherited Medusa's passion and positivity. 'Beauty is sometimes hidden under a veil of tragedy.' I read those words every morning. They give me hope."

  "Hope for what?"

  Koraline stared at a waterfall in the distance. Her eyes dimmed with a contagious sadness. "For a world where it isn't us against them, a place where all of us can coexist peacefully again. But more than anything it reminds me to love. Screw the rules, damn the consequences, and just love. Love until it kills you, because there's nothing better worth dying for."

  We both stayed quiet, listening to the birds and water surrounding us. Then she shot me a sideways glance like she expected me to say something.

  "Love. Got it," I offered, hoping that would appease her.

  "Oh! I almost forgot." She glided down the steps to the lawn and sang a wordless song. When a similar tune answered in the distance, she turned around and stuck her hands in the pockets of her skirt. "Kai will be here soon. She's a messenger. I'll send her to tell Treygan you're okay."

  "I need to talk to him in person."

  "You need to start your education."

  Why was everyone so insistent about that? "Hey, do you know what a Yamapuku is?"

  "You mean Yamabuki?"


  "Sure. It's a gold Koi fish. Why?"

  "Treygan kept calling me that."

  She pursed her lips together, holding back a laugh.

  "What's so funny?"

  "They are the most, um, what's a good word for them—adamant kind of fish."

  "You mean stubborn."

  "To-may-to, to-mah-to. He probably called you that because of your yellowish coloring and meant it as a compliment."

  "Probably not," I grumbled to myself. "What do the colors mean?"

  "Reds are students. Oranges are messengers. Yellows are teachers, but you, sweetums, are an anomaly. You should have begun as a Red like every other merfolk."

  "What about green?" I asked, looking at her pigtails and lime-tinted lips.

  "I'm a reporter. However, I've been asked to teach you since I'm a rank above you. The Violets worried if you were taught by another Yellow, you might not give them the respect they deserve. Plus, they know I love to teach. Or learn. I just adore knowledge."

  "Treygan said he's my guardian. Is that what Blues do? Guard humans?"

  "Heck, no!" she huffed, as if I had said something offensive. "They guard everything sacred to us, especially the Violets and the castle."

  Castle. Of course, there had to be a castle. Why wouldn't there be a castle in this fairytale land? "Why do the Violets need to be guarded? Wait, why do I need to be guarded?"

  "We'll get to that part. I've prepared a couple lessons to get us started. You'll have to learn History and Popular Mechanics first."

  "Koraline, I don't mean to be difficult," or stubborn, I thought, "but I don't plan on being part of this world. I just need to learn how to survive on land and pass for human around my uncle."

  She tugged on the ends of her hair and opened her mouth to say something, but then we both sensed someone coming.

  A tawny-skinned girl swam up the stream toward us. Her crinkly, orange hair reminded me of Cheetos

  "Our Yara is awake! Hello, Miss Yara!" The young girl waved excitedly. "I am Kai. 'Tis an honor to meet you."

  I waved back half-heartedly and walked down the steps. Koraline leaned down to talk to her and they exchanged a few words.

  "See you soon, Miss Yara," Kai shouted before diving beneath the water.

  "That was quick." I watched the blur of orange swim away from us. "Where is she off to in such a hurry?"

  "To report to Treygan," Koraline said. "He wanted to know when you were awake."

  Without hesitating, I dove into the water to follow her. I needed to see Treygan and refused to let Koraline tell me no.

  Delmar and I hurled packages of C-weed onto the shore.

  "She can't be that bad," he insisted.

  "You're right. She's only impossible ninety-five percent of the time."

  "She's the key that unlocks the door to our world, Treygan." Delmar almost said something else, but the others approached.

  Pango was a great physical asset when it came to hard labor, but he was also the most notorious gossip in all the waterways of the worlds. His green curls broke through the water, followed by Merrick's floppy, yellow bangs.

  "Gentlemen." I nodded.

  Pango spit a mouthful of water at me and flicked me with his tail. "Don't gentle man me. You two sped ahead so you could discuss our newest Goldilocks. You better share some juicy porridge with Papa Bear."

  "Pango, there isn't that much to tell."

  Merrick rolled his eyes. "Even I'm declaring sharkshit on that one."

  "Yes," Pango agreed, untying the rope around his shoulders to release his bags of weed. "You two hijacked the girl during a hurricane and changed her against her will. This is the most interesting initiation to date. Start dishing it out. Too hot, too cold, we're not picky bears. Just give us something scrumptious."

  Delmar shot me a look of caution.

  My guess was Merrick didn't care to hear details. He and Pango were polar opposites—one of the many reasons they were perfect together—but we all knew Pango wouldn't drop the issue until he received some sort of update. We had a few hours of work left to do and I didn't want to listen to Pango whine or beg the entire time. I had been harvesting most of yesterday, all night, and half of today. The lack of rest made me irritable.

  "You'll be disappointed, Pango," I said. "She abhors us."

  He finished heaving the last of his packages onto the rocks and turned to help Merrick. "Us? All merfolk?"


  Throwing his head back, he let out a theatrical laugh. "She hasn't met me yet. No one could ever abhor me. I'm too loveable." Merrick chuckled and Pango punched him on the shoulder. "It's true and you know it."

  "I didn't argue," Merrick said before diving underwater for a bag that slipped off his ropes.

  Pango watched him swim away before probing further. "Whom has she met so far to establish this abhorrence? Just you and Dr. Doomsday?" He flicked his head in Delmar's direction.

  "Hey!" Delmar shouted over his shoulder, climbing the rocky ledge onto land.

  "Delmar, darling, you know I love you, but let's tell it like it is. You are a bit intimidating with your dark hair and ghostly complexion. That raspy voice of yours probably convinced her she had met the Grim Reaper of the sea."

  Merrick glided back through the water. "What have I missed?"

  Delmar finished buttoning his shorts and opened his arms wide. His indigo hallmarks glimmered in the sunlight. "I have been named the Grim Reaper of the sea."

  Pango clapped and Merrick snorted a laugh. "Only if Daddy Death is a closet die-hard romantic who wouldn't hurt a shrimp."

  We all climbed out of the water and grabbed shorts from the shed. Pango reached for a pair of sneakers and I raised my brow at him.

  "What? I got a pedicure yesterday. Sand is a great exfoliate, but it's murder on the polish."

  For being six-feet-five-inches and the most muscular merman around, Pango was exceptionally feminine at times. Merrick was a saint for putting up with his high-maintenance lifestyle.

  "Lace them up and get to work," I grun
ted. "We're way behind."

  Pango bowed dramatically. "Yes, master."

  I shot him a look that said don't, but he just laughed and tied his shoes.

  We were hanging the last bag of plants to dry when I sensed the girls approaching. "You have got to be kidding," I groaned, turning to look out at the ocean. I expected one, not three.

  "What?" Delmar asked, squeezing excess water from several leaves, but then he also sensed them. "Oh. Never mind."

  "Good, glittery gumdrops, we have visitors!" Pango sang. "But horrors, I'm not equipped to make a proper first impression. Why don't we keep designer apparel on this island in case of emergencies?"

  Merrick patted Pango's stomach. "You look great. She'll drool once she sees your washboard abs."

  Pango sighed. "I hate it when my perfect body is the first thing people see. I'm more than just a pretty face, ya know?"

  My plan was to stay away from Yara until we began our training together, but here she was, showing up where I worked. I threw my garden shears so they struck the ground a few inches from Pango's shoe. "She shouldn't be here."

  Pango squealed and jogged in place. "You heathen! I could've lost one of my little piggies."

  "Pango, cool it for a minute," Delmar ordered.

  I made my way to the water's edge followed by Delmar, Pango and Merrick. Kai was first to reach us, with Koraline and Yara close behind.

  "At least we know she's awake," Delmar murmured.

  "What is she doing here?" I shouted to Kai and Koraline.

  "My apologies, Mister Treygan." Kai lowered her guilty eyes.

  Koraline reached the rock wall at my feet. "She insisted. She wouldn't let Kai leave without her, and I wasn't about to let you yell at Kai for it."

  "It's your job to tell her no, Koraline."

  Yara waved her arms above her head. "Hellooo? I'm right here. How about taking it up with me?"

  I shifted my annoyed gaze back to Koraline. She put her hands up protectively. "You know what she's like. There's no stopping a Yamabuki."

  Yara glared at me. Of course she had already asked Koraline about that.

  Pango peeked over my shoulder. "Hello, Yara. I'm Pango. Enraptured to meet you."

  Her eyes widened. No doubt wondering why such a huge man spoke in such a prissy manner.

  "This is Merrick," Pango continued, resting his hand on Merrick's shoulder, "the most handsome merman of all the oceans. But don't start fantasizing, because he's spoken for." After kissing Merrick's cheek, Pango motioned at Delmar. "And word on the water is you've already been acquainted with Delmar."

  "Nice to meet all of you." Yara's pleasantry shocked me, but people couldn't resist Pango's good nature. I had never met anyone who didn't like him.

  "I'd like to speak to Yara in private," I announced. Kai and Koraline swam toward the beach.

  "Meet you merry maidens over there," Pango sang as he and the other men walked away.

  Yara swam up to the rocks and I knelt down. "What are you doing here?"

  "I pass out and you dump me at some stranger's house?" she practically hissed at me.

  "Yara, I wish you would stop being so difficult."

  "You mean like a stubborn Yamabuki?"

  I ignored her indignant tone. "For your own safety, there are rules you must follow and things you need to learn. I don't have time to argue with you every step of the way. There aren't enough hours between sunsets for me to complete my work and educate you. Koraline will answer any questions you have."

  "You saved my life when I was eight years old. I don't want to hear about that from Koraline, I want to hear it from you!"

  Childlike innocence flashed in her eyes again, even as she tried to put authority behind her words. What answer could I give that would satisfy her? The whole truth was far too complicated. "Many merfolk have rescued drowning humans. As I said, we have highly attuned senses when it comes to knowing when humans are near. I was in the right place at the right time." None of it was a lie.

  "My uncle told me a fisherman found me."

  I tried not to smile. "Well, I can be a fish-or-man."

  She rolled her eyes. "I know there's more to it than that. What are you hiding from me?"

  "Listen, I have work to do. Once I've caught up on cycling the crops, I'll meet with you and we can discuss it further."

  She crossed her arms, pouting with her typical disgruntlement.

  "Yara." I pulled my hair back so she could see the sincerity in my eyes. "A Yamabuki is the most steadfast of all Koi fish. According to legend, the Yamabuki is the only one to succeed at swimming up the River of Suffering and climbing into the mist of the Eternal Falls where it transformed into a powerful dragon. Not because of stubbornness, but because of determination, bravery and spirit."

  She blinked rapidly. Her glare softened with each flutter of her lashes.

  I stood up and shouted, "Kai, Koraline, please take Yara back to Solis."

  As I walked away I was tempted to look over my shoulder and see why she wasn't arguing or asking more questions, but I resisted.

  Not looking back at her was astoundingly difficult.

  Sunset 3

  Koraline and Kai swam on either side of me.

  Yamabuki. Steadfast. Brave. Did Treygan really see me that way? My uncle said similar things about me, even when I was a kid. I already missed my uncle. I missed Rownan too. This new existence was a lot to take in.

  The scenery during our swim to and from Weed Island was breathtaking. The tropical fish, the sea turtles, the coral and plant life: it was a never-ending aquarium. We swam high above an old sunken plane. On land, it would have looked big and majestic, but the deteriorating heap of aluminum on the sandy ocean floor looked so small and disregarded.

  At one point Koraline heard the engines of a cruise ship nearby, so we dove deeper, keeping far from its path. Three dolphins spun around us, clicking and whistling as one pushed a large leaf with its nose. The air bubbles they left behind tickled my skin. I kept hoping to see a selkie, assuming they'd look a lot like us except half seal, but no seals were anywhere to be found.

  I reached over and touched Koraline's shoulder. Koraline, can we talk?

  Sure. She made a short yipping sound and Kai looked over at us. Koraline pointed upward and we all swam to the surface.

  "Sorry," I said, bobbing up and down with the gentle waves, "but this couldn't wait. I hope you two don't think I'm fussy and stubborn like Treygan does."

  They stared at me, their chins dipping in and out of the water.

  "Oh, Miss Yara." Kai's eyes had been orange underwater, but now they were hazel and her hair was strawberry blonde. "Fussing don't bother me. I'm used to it. My sisters and brothers fuss and shout too. You remind me of home."

  So they did think I was fussy and stubborn. Way to make a first impression, Yara.

  Koraline smiled at Kai and nodded to me. "Go ahead. What did you want to talk about?"

  "Do either of you know where the selkies live?" I asked.

  Koraline's jaw practically fell into the water. "I didn't realize you knew about selkies yet."

  "My boyfriend is a selkie."

  "Boyfriend?" Koraline gasped. "How did I not know you had a boyfriend?"

  "Wait, were you one of the Reporters Treygan sent to spy on me?"

  "Well, I—" she fidgeted with her starfish necklace. "Yes, but I only checked on you once in a while. To be honest, I sort of slacked off these past few months. I figured I knew enough about you that I didn't need to keep a close eye on you. Plus, you seemed really suspicious whenever I came around. I thought I had blown my cover."

  "You and I met before? I don't remember seeing you on the island."

  She pursed her lips and glanced at Kai. "Um, well—"

  Kai interrupted. "Many times new merfolk forget things when they are turned."

  "Hmph, well, I'm sorry I don't remember. I've seen so many tourists over the years. Anyway," I continued, "I don't exactly know where my boyfriend lives, but
I need to find him. Do selkies live together like we do?"

  Kai shook her head. "No, ma'am, but they spend a lot of time at the frosty bar."

  "Frosty bar. Will you take me there?"

  "No way," Koraline chimed in. "Not a good idea. We need to get you back to Solis."

  I drifted closer to her. "Koraline, do you know what it's like to love someone?"

  She hesitated and her cheeks went pink. "Of course. I love my family very much."

  "Exactly. My boyfriend is one of the only two people I care about in this whole world. Please, imagine if you wanted to talk to someone you loved and nobody would take you to see them."

  Koraline fiddled with her necklace again.

  "Miss Koraline." Kai reached over and held Koraline's hand. "If Miss Yara needs love and her boyfriend has it for her, how can we say no?"

  Koraline sighed, tugged on one of her dirty blonde pigtails, and sighed again. "Fine, we'll go to Jack Frost's. But if your boyfriend isn't there then it's back to Solis. And if he is there, you can stay an hour at most."

  "Oh, thank you, Koraline!" I squealed, splashing water as I hugged her. "What about clothes?"

  "We keep clothes hidden under many piers," Kai replied. "There will be no problem finding something for you, Miss Yara."

  "Why do you call everyone Mister or Miss?" I asked. "You don't look much younger than us."

  "I'm from the Ketokys tribe. We have different customs. Anyone better off than me is Miss or Mister."

  "Better off? I'm no better off than you."

  "You are Yellow. I recently became Orange. You swim higher than me."

  I shook my head in confusion, but Kai just smiled and grabbed my hand. "Come, Miss Yara. We will find your selkie sweetheart."

  Koraline didn't look too happy, but the three of us dove beneath the water and swam toward Jack Frost's.

  We stood outside, looking through the windows at everyone in the bar.

  I watched Rownan sip his drink at a table in the corner. "He's the one in the white coat."

  Koraline grunted, "Of course he is," and turned away.

  "No," Kai said, "Cursed White Coat has a beard."

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