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Tangled tides the sea mo.., p.9
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       Tangled Tides (The Sea Monster Memoirs), p.9

           Karen Amanda Hooper

  Cursed? Cursed with good looks, maybe. "It's a goatee," I corrected. "I love how rugged it makes him look."

  "Miss Yara, he is a scruffy face. Scruffy face means a selkie is married."

  "What?" I laughed. "He's not married."

  "I cannot lie. Scruffy face on a selkie man means he has a mate."

  I whipped around, glancing between Kai and Koraline. Neither of them looked like they were kidding. "No, he would've told me."

  Koraline kicked a rock across the parking lot. "Yara, do you know much about Rownan?"

  "Of course. We've been together for weeks. He tells me everything."

  Kai snorted. "He tells you what you want to hear. Most of what the icy ones say is lacking truth."

  "Did he tell you why his coat is white?" Koraline asked. "Why he has the only white coat in a sea full of dark selkies?"

  "No, but—" I glanced at Rownan again. Why did I know so little about him? My hands felt shaky. I clenched the sides of my sundress and took a deep breath. "Come on, we're going in."

  "No, no." Kai stepped back. "Our kind is not welcome in frosty place."

  "Fine. I'll go in by myself."

  "Wait." Koraline grabbed my arm. "You can't walk in there blind. I wouldn't dare go with you, but it's my job to prepare you." She exhaled, eyeing the bar's tinted windows. "The place is freezing. Everyone in there is a selkie. They all know who and what you are. I don't know what happened between you and Rownan, but I'm guessing it was all an act."

  My breath shot out of my lungs like someone had punched me in the stomach. "An act? Why would you say that?"

  "Because they wanted you to be one of them, but Treygan got to you first. When you were human, Rownan had the ability to myst you, control your mind, make you think or feel whatever he wanted. He can't do that anymore. You need to figure out if your feelings for him are real or if he forced you to be attracted to him."

  I felt dizzy. Rownan had brainwashed me? I replayed every conversation, every touch, every kiss, every thought or feeling I had about him. None of it had been real? That seemed impossible. He would never play me like that. Would he?

  Even in the dim lighting of the parking lot I could see pity and sincerity in Koraline's green eyes. "I'm sorry. I know it's not easy to hear."

  After standing there speechless for a minute, I smoothed down my dress and glanced at the door. "I can find my way back to the island if you don't feel like waiting. I might be a long time."

  Kai put her hands behind her back and bowed her head. "You are brave to go in there."

  Koraline shrugged. "'You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor.'"

  "Plato?" Kai asked.

  "Aristotle," Koraline corrected.

  I thanked them both for helping me and opened the bar's front door.

  A blast of arctic air made me shiver. Almost every head turned to stare at me with dark, hostile eyes. I inhaled a deep, icy breath and stepped inside.

  Years of sitting in Jack Frost's most of the night had made me immune to looking at the door every time someone came in. But even after doing six shots and nursing my fourth pint, I couldn't ignore the silence that fell over the bar.

  Yara walked toward me, surveying everyone. They were checking her out with equal skepticism. I jumped to my feet and wrapped my coat around her.

  "Holy iceberg, it's cold in here," She gasped through chattering teeth.

  "I know. Let's get you back outside."

  "No." She shivered. "I n-n-need to talk to you."

  "Baby, you're freezing. Let's go to my house and talk."

  She nodded, pulling my coat around her. I pushed the door open and held my hand up in a screw you wave to anyone—meaning everyone—watching us.

  "My God." She stumbled off the curb, practically running away from the bar. "You all even look similar: the dark hair and eyes, the scars, all those fur coats. How do people not notice?"

  "You never noticed it."

  "I never saw so many of you gathered in one place before."

  "Humans don't come around here much. And if they do, well, they don't remember much by the time they leave."

  She held my coat open. "Why is yours the only white one?"

  "Because I'm so pure and innocent?"


  "It's because my father was a rare breed." I climbed onto my chopper. "Lame story, trust me."

  Her mouth hung half-open. "You drive a motorcycle?"

  "Hop on."

  "Umm." She eyed my bike like it was a rabid dog.

  "I won't let anything happen to you. You're irreplaceable to me." With that reassurance, she climbed on and wrapped her arms around my waist. "Hang on!" I yelled, cranking the engine to life. Her grip tightened.

  Two days with merfolk and she came back to me. Jack was right. She might take our side after all.

  We pulled into my driveway. I had barely shut the engine off before she leapt from her seat and started pacing. Something was obviously bothering her.

  "What's going on in that pretty head of yours?" I asked.

  She spun around and got up in my face. Her frizzy hair resembled a rat's nest. "Are you married?"

  Shit. I should have known this would come up. Since I couldn't myst my way out of the tough questions anymore, honesty was my best option. "Yes."

  Her fists slammed into my chest. "Go to hell!"

  "Wait." I held her hands, expecting her to pull away, but she only stared at me, unblinking, just like the eyes that haunted my dreams. "It was a long time ago. She's … on the other side."

  "I—wait. What?" Her angry glare changed to something resembling ruefulness. "I'm … so sorry."

  I shuffled my feet. The other side meant something different to humans. I knew that, but it was my way of telling the truth without telling the whole truth.

  She wrapped her arms around me and rested her head on my shoulder. "I had no idea."

  Whatever went on between us the past few months, regardless of how fake, this moment felt genuine. I hadn't mysted her into seeing me as charming or attractive. Whatever she was feeling, it was real. I wrapped my arms around her.

  "Hang on." She pulled back to look at me. "If it was a long time ago, how old are you?"

  "Much older than you." I ran my thumb along her jaw bone. "Let's go inside and I'll explain."

  My house was nothing spectacular. Yara studied the few pieces of furniture like they were a museum display. She peeked into an empty bedroom. "Where's all your stuff?"

  "I don't need much."

  "Obviously," she mumbled. "Do you sleep on the couch?"

  "No." I gestured to the back deck. "I crash outside. Wanna see?"

  We hadn't made it all the way through the sliding glass doors when she gasped, "Oh, how cozy!" She walked over to the circular mattress and felt the slick cover. "It's cold."

  "It's a selkie thing."

  "Why don't you sleep inside?"

  "The moon isn't inside."

  She threw her head back, saw the half-moon above us and smiled at me. "You love the moon that much, or is it another selkie thing?"

  "Second guess. Sit down and I'll dish details." I gathered my dirty t-shirts from an unfrosted patio chair, but she climbed into bed and waved me over.

  "Lie down and tell me."

  Goosebumps rippled up her legs, so I lifted her feet and adjusted my coat under her. "Keep your skin off the mattress or you'll freeze." I crawled beside her and lay back, putting my hands behind my head to avoid holding her. As much as I claimed I was okay with it, the mermaid thing was repulsive.

  Her much-too-warm head settled on my chest. I took that as my cue to start. "Do you know where we came from yet—the realm where merfolk and selkies are supposed to live?"

  "Sort of. I don't know the details, but I know everyone is trapped here."

  "Right, and we're all struggling to survive. Selkies need a cold climate."

  "You told me that. But you're warm-bloode
d, right?"

  "Laws of Earth species don't apply to sea creatures from our realm. We don't exist the way Earth's cold or warm-blooded animals do. We have some features of seals, and some of humans, but not all of them. We were created using different rules. We sleep in the moonlight to soak up this world's cold energy."

  "Sounds complicated."

  "It is to an outsider. Over time it will make sense."

  "So why do you stay in Florida? Why not go north?"

  "We can't be too far from the gate. That's where the plants grow that keep us from getting sick. We need a fresh supply daily."

  "Treygan said his C-weed does that for his people."

  "Your people," I reminded her, but she didn't tense like I expected. "Nah, you misunderstood him. They have the sun, we have the moon—hot and cold. Plants help. His C-weed is how they absorb energy from our realm. It lives in the plants they smoke and helps with the physical pain and weakness. We have something similar—seagarettes."

  "Cigarettes help you feel better?"

  "Seagarettes. There's a difference. Did dickhead tell you where his weed comes from?"

  "Yeah, some creepy graveyard underwater."

  "It's not creepy, it's tragic."

  She sat up. "I'm sorry. You're mad."

  "I'm not mad, but don't call it creepy."

  "Maybe this is what I need—to know more about this graveyard where magical weed and tobacco grows."

  I took a breath of humid air and fought back a cough. They were supposed to educate her, but it seemed I was stuck doing all the work, as usual.

  "That's opening up one hell of a Pandora's Box." I pulled a seag out of my wristband and lit up. Yara watched the smoke dance through the darkness with a new understanding.

  I hadn't talked about this night in eighteen years, but she needed to know. I blew a ring of smoke above us. "Her name is Vienna."


  "My wife."

  "Oh." She cocked her head to the side. "Hold on, you said is."


  She looked like she wanted to say something, but I continued. "Did they tell you when and why the gate to our world closed?"


  What would be their reason for waiting? Would telling her benefit our side, or help theirs? I've never been good at strategic planning. That was Jack's department. I figured I should stick with the honesty tactic. "The day that changed everything was eighteen years ago. The gorgons were pissed because—wait, do you know about the gorgons yet?"

  "Kind of."

  Figures. "Okay, here comes the crash course, because I'm exhausted and it's not my job to teach you this stuff, but your merfoes are doing a piss-poor job. So, the gorgons were lied to. Broken promises, a debt never paid to them, blahdy blah. They delivered a message to members of each group; us, your freaks, and the sirens."


  "You don't know about the sirens? What the hell have they been teaching you?"

  "I haven't exactly been the most cooperative student."

  "Well, I'll be damned if I'm going to do their job for them. Ask them about sirens later. They aren't a crucial part to this story anyway."

  She nodded as if to say okay, get on with it, so I kept explaining.

  "The message spread like an oil spill through the waterways. Whoever didn't make it through the gate by sunset on a certain day would be trapped in this world until the debt to the gorgons was paid. Rumor had it that wouldn't be possible for eighteen years. None of us could imagine being in this world for more than a week without going back to our realm. Years would be a death sentence. So everyone fled to the gate. Thing is, we were spread out all over this world. Some of my kind were in Antarctica and Alaska. The smart ones figured out ways to hop a plane then swim from Florida. Others didn't get back quick enough. It was a catastrophe. Like hearing your planet is about to be A-bombed and there's nothing you can do to stop it."

  "That's horrible," Yara offered meekly.

  "Horrible isn't the word. Imagine thinking everyone you knew was about to die a slow and painful death over the next few weeks."

  She rubbed her forehead, but didn't say anything.

  "Vienna and I were near Boston. We got back here as fast as we could. When we got within a half a mile of the gate it was … chaos." My chest ached remembering the terror of that day. "Merfolk and selkies rushed in by the dozens. Every pair of eyes I scanned was screaming, trying to figure out who had gone through and who hadn't. Many of them were yelling out loud." I paused. "Have you heard the sounds your kind make underwater yet?"

  "We talk through our minds."

  "So do we, but we have an underwater dialect too. To hear that many sea creatures screaming underwater …." I shivered. "I'll never forget it."

  "Why were they screaming?"

  "Everyone was worried about their families, friends, anyone they cared about—desperate to know if they were safe on the other side, or still making their way to the gate. Many were panicking, crying, debating whether to swim through or wait.

  "My cousin almost rushed past us, but I grabbed him, and asked if he had seen my mother. The look on his face told the truth before his thoughts formed. He said they'd been together off the coast of Maine. They left together, but she and his kids got tired near the end.

  "He had his son and daughter, one collapsed in each arm. He said he couldn't carry my mother and his kids. He tried, but—" I shrugged and closed my eyes. "He apologized for being weak. Said he'd never forgive himself for leaving her behind. They were his children. Of course he had to put them first. I assured him he made the right choice and I would go back for her.

  "He and Vienna both told me there wasn't enough time. My mom had been so close to where we were. If I had known, I could've carried her. We all would've made it in time." I took another drag. As if smoking could make me feel better. "I couldn't leave her behind."

  My heart raced like I was living the moment all over again. I rubbed my lips, remembering Vienna's cool mouth against mine. "I kissed Vienna and promised her I would make it back before the gate closed, then I pushed her through.

  "I searched the mob swimming past me, hoping to see my mom. For miles I swam the opposite direction of everyone else. Swimming against the flow of traffic wasn't easy, but I finally saw her and locked my arm around her waist.

  "Her scream was so intense I thought my mind might shatter. She thought I would've already been through the gate. She kept crying, telling me the sunlight was almost gone, that I should've gone without her. She was so exhausted she went limp in my arms. I never swam so hard or fast in my life. We blew past people. I couldn't feel my tail or arms, but I kept going, racing for our lives."

  Yara had stopped breathing. I didn't want her to see me upset, so I turned away and stared at the moon.

  "The gate came into view. We were seconds away from it. Then the gorgon kinfolk appeared. Five of them formed a line and forbid anyone to cross. Some obeyed, but most of us ignored them. We were too close to give up.

  "At first I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. All the selkies and merfolk around me slowed to a turtle's pace. Treygan and his grandmother were just ahead of us, but his grandmother looked strange. She had lost her color. Everyone had lost their color—except me and Treygan.

  "He was a Green back then. The only other trace of color in a sea of blue and gray. I couldn't understand why there was so much gray. That's when I realized my mother felt hard, like stone. I looked down to make sure she was okay, but her eyes were rock. Just like the rest of her. Like everyone. All those bodies. Everyone who crossed the gorgons' line had been turned to stone—everyone but me and Treygan."

  I waited for Yara to ask why or how we survived, but she only looked at me with glassy eyes and wiped a tear from my cheek.

  "I'm so sorry," she whispered.

  Part of me wanted to explain all of it to her. She had the biggest heart of anyone I had ever met. Too human for her own good, but that weakness would be they key to convincing h
er of what she needed to do. What if she accepted her fate, understood the sacrifice and opened the gate? I couldn't hit her with everything at once. She'd learn who and what she was soon enough, and she'd need time to accept it.

  "I'm exhausted, Yara. I need to rest."

  She curled up against me, adjusting her position several times. In my soul stirred memories of our realm and my love for Vienna. In my bed lay the reason for the curse, and the key to opening the gateway home.

  Yara was the only one who could make my life whole again.

  No matter how I adjusted, snuggling against Rownan felt uncomfortable. Like lying on a cold, hard, rubber matt. He didn't smell good either. A mix of saltwater, mint and—pennies, or something else I couldn't put my finger on.

  He lied about so many things, that he was nineteen, and that his parents lived in California. What really irritated me, even though it confirmed he must have a heart, was that he never told me about Vienna. Sure, that would have meant explaining why he looked like a teenager at age thirty or whatever—and that he was a selkie—but still, he should've told me. His wife might be alive in some other world, waiting for him. Why had he spent the last few weeks chasing after me and telling me how much I meant to him?

  "Row, was it all an act?"

  His only reply was long, deep breaths.

  I sat up, frustrated, and glanced down at him. Sound asleep.

  He lied—a lot—but for some reason I still cared about him. Nothing about him seemed attractive anymore. I had no—and I mean no—desire to kiss Rownan or sleep beside him. I had no desire to sleep at all, so I got up and walked inside the house.

  His place couldn't have felt less like a home. No decorations, hardly any furniture, stark, white tile floors and countertops—minimalist would be an understatement.

  I headed for the kitchen and opened the fridge: three glass bottles of tomato juice, fish fillets, and cans of sardines. Gross. I grabbed the juice and looked for a cup, but the cupboards were all empty. I swigged a huge gulp straight from the bottle.

  Shock made me spit it out. Definitely not tomato juice.

  Rownan's coat, my dress and the countertop were covered with the red stuff. I couldn't find anything to clean up my mess, so I used my skirt to wipe it all up.

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