Authors: Tracy Deebs
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Love & Romance, #Fantasy & Magic, #Royalty, #www.superiorz.org
“The land is dearer for the sea, the ocean for the shore.”
I didn’t know what I was doing there.
Didn’t know what I hoped to accomplish.
Didn’t know, even, how I’d found myself in these cold, dark waters when I was supposed to be thousands of miles away, in the heart of the Pacific Ocean.
But the fact that I shouldn’t have been there didn’t mean I didn’t want to be. Because I did.
I wanted to know.
what I once had—even temporarily.
The need to reassure myself—of their safety and happiness—was a throbbing wound inside of me, one that grew larger with every day that passed. I’d left here eight months ago because I had to. Because I couldn’t
Choosing the sea had been as necessary to me then as the beating of my heart. It still was. But in doing so, I had left a lot behind.
Too much, maybe, including huge chunks of that still-beating heart.
I couldn’t resist the urge one second longer. With a few swift kicks of my tail, I lifted my arms above my head and began to swim straight up. Within moments, I’d broken through to the surface. And was completely disappointed by what I found.
The sky above me was dark and endless, with stars dotting the landscape like an overabundance of fireflies. When I’d been human, this had been my favorite kind of sky—and my favorite time to walk along the sand.
But now it meant the beach was completely deserted, the only movement that of the waves crashing against the shore under the tall, yellow lights lining the adjacent street. I looked as far as I could in both directions, but it was so dark that I had to struggle to see, even with my enhanced vision. I was hoping for a glimpse of something familiar—
familiar—but there was nothing. Just the endless cycle of the ocean.
I had come all this way for nothing. The thought seethed inside me like an open wound, even as I told myself I needed to return to Coral Straits, the mercity where I now lived. The longer I floated here, the more I risked being discovered—by some lonely soul wandering the beach, by a passing boat, by another creature of the sea. For a second, Tiamat’s face flashed in front of my eyes, and I whirled around, half expecting to find the evil sea witch or one of her crazy henchmen behind me. God knew they’d been plaguing me for months.
But there was no one, nothing save the cold lap of water against my shoulders. Just like always.
Knowing it was the wrong thing to do, but needing even this most superficial of contacts so badly that should-nots didn’t matter, I swam a little closer to land. It had been so long since I’d seen them—months and months—two-thirds of a year in human time—and my soul cried out for them like they held its very salvation in their too-fragile human hands.
As I moved ever closer, my gaze fell unerringly on the large glassed-in house at the end of the block. My father’s house.
house—or, at least, it used to be. It was as beautiful as I remembered, though as different from the underwater castle where I now lived as I was from the girl who had dived into the ocean all those months ago.
The house was dark, the windows sheets of glass that reflected the omnipresent ocean, as everyone inside was still asleep. The lamp my father had left burning the first time I went under was now extinguished. The lack of that light told me louder than words ever could that he had given up on my ever returning.
The thought was an all-encompassing blow, and I reeled under it like a boxer at the mercy of a too-strong opponent. Even after all this time, after all the choices I had made, my feelings for my family were too strong to be ignored.
My pain-in-the-butt brother Rio.
And Moku, sweet Moku, the brother I had all but raised in my mother’s absence. I still saw the blinding sweetness of his smile every time I closed my eyes.
But I needed to see him—see
Needed to reassure myself that they were all right.
Needed to prove to myself that I had made the right decision choosing Kona and embracing my mother’s clan—and purpose—so completely. No matter that being mermaid was almost nothing like I had expected it to be.
That reassurance wouldn’t come as long as I was out here and they were in there.
So again, I flirted with danger. Again, I swam just a little nearer. A few yards, then ten, twenty, thirty. And willed Moku to wake up with each inch that I covered.
I didn’t want him out here on the beach—it was dangerous, a lesson I had learned all too well last winter. But it would be nice if he turned the light on in his room, wandered to the window. Let me get just a peek at his skinny shoulders and crazy hair.
I smiled as I wondered if the nanny my father had hired had managed to tame the crazy curls. God knew I’d given up on doing anything with them long before I’d ever gone under.
For long minutes I floated there, in the choppy waters off the shore of La Jolla, but Moku didn’t stir. No lights came on in my house, no slight figure looked out to sea. I really had come all this way for nothing.
Which is how it should be
, I reminded myself viciously as I dived beneath the ocean, trying to open myself up to the salt water, to the pain of that first, fiery gulp. It hadn’t gotten easier, even after all these months. The water filled my lungs, and the fear that I was drowning swamped me before my lungs stopped working and the small gills behind my ears finally kicked in.
When was I going to get used to this mermaid thing?
When was my body going to give up its painful fight to be human and embrace what it had become? Kona kept telling me to relax, that it would get easier, but instead, everything kept getting harder and more complicated, until the simple act of breathing underwater burned like hell itself.
I needed to let go. Hailana, the merQueen, had pointed that out to me the other day, had told me that my body was fighting the change so much harder now because of the ties with the land I refused to completely relinquish.
And on this point, I knew she was right. I could feel it in every part of me as I stretched out on the ocean floor that was nowhere near as far down as it should have been. In my desire to see my family I had wandered into much too shallow water.
But how was I supposed to just let go of everything I had been for so many years? When I’d grabbed on to Kona all those months ago—grabbed on to my feelings for him and the images he painted of the life we could lead—I’d been certain that, despite all the protests that had come before, what I found below would more than make up for the loss of my friends and family.
And it did
, I told myself sternly. It really did. I had Kona and the freedom of the entire ocean. I had friends and responsibilities and more magic than I had ever dreamed possible. I had my mother’s clan. Wanting anything else was silly, selfish. Not to mention dangerous, when my mother’s people needed me so much.
I was supposed to save them, supposed to protect them from the most evil sea witch who had ever lived. Even supposed to one day become their queen in my mother’s stead. Getting cold feet now wasn’t an option.
So what if things were different, harder, than I had anticipated? So what if being mermaid was not everything that I’d expected it to be? My doubts didn’t matter. I was exactly where I had to be.
My mother had done it for years. Had relinquished her life in the sea to be human. If she could do it, surely I could do the reverse.
And if it hurt to be this close to what had once been my life, I could fix that pain easily enough—by not coming back. When I was deep under, my previous life felt like a dream, nothing more. A bittersweet dream, absolutely, but a nebulous, unsubstantial one that was easy to ignore. It was only being here that made it all tangible again.