Randomly, Kona’s face rose in front of my eyes—intense and beautiful and full of an ancient knowledge I couldn’t hope to understand. I hadn’t seen him since he’d all but disappeared during the thunderstorm, but then it wasn’t like I’d exactly been looking for him. I’d been avoiding the beach like I would a particularly nasty bit of flotsam.
That hadn’t kept me from thinking about him, though, even when I was awake. The night before last I’d even looked up the origin of his name on one of those baby sites. I had been right—it was Hawaiian, and it meant “island wind” or “storm.”
The name—and its meaning—seemed to fit him perfectly. Maybe too well. Like a powerful storm, he had disrupted my life from the moment I first saw him. His presence was an all-encompassing thing, until I felt almost like I was moving back and forth at his whim.
“Tempest. You can’t hide from this.”
My dad obviously didn’t know me as well as he thought he did—if my transition was the thousand-pound purple gorilla in the room, then I was more than okay with pretending bananas didn’t exist. “I won’t be mermaid, Dad.”
“How do you know that? You love the water—you have the most natural affinity for it that I’ve ever seen. You might very well have your mother’s genes—”
“If I do, then that’s all I have from her and genes aren’t enough. You know what she said. I get to choose and I will never choose to be like her.”
“Sweetheart.” He tucked a strand of hair behind my ear. “You see everything in black and white. You always have. But life isn’t like that.”
I stood up, made a beeline for my closet. I couldn’t stand to listen to him, didn’t want to hear any more. It wasn’t like I didn’t know the lecture by heart—every time my mom came up I got the shades-of-gray speech. If I had to listen to it today, I just might lose my mind.
How could he be so understanding? She’d run out on him and my brothers and me like we were nothing more than a temporary family. One that stood in for the real thing while she experimented with life on land. In my book that was unforgivable, and I absolutely, positively would not become like her.
I refused to ever be that selfish.
Besides, how was my dad going to manage on his own? Working together we could barely keep up with Moku and his problems. How much worse would his disorders get—how much worse would he get—if I disappeared from his life as suddenly and completely as my mother had?
Yanking my favorite swimsuit off a shelf, I slammed into the bathroom. “Tell Mark I’ll be out in five minutes.” Anything was better than sitting here listening to my dad fumble for answers—let the ocean do its worst. I was strong enough to take it.
It was more like ten minutes by the time I had finally collected my board and made my way to the driveway, where Mark was waiting. He looked as good as ever, his shaggy blond hair almost obscuring his dark brown eyes from view. His midnight blue wet suit was rolled down so that it rode deliciously low on his hips, and if things had been better between us I would have gone straight for a lip-lock. As it was, I settled for a nod and an escort to the water.
He didn’t say anything as we walked, just strolled along beside me as if we had all the time in the world. I didn’t speak either, more because I didn’t know how to reach out to him than because I didn’t have anything to say. The problem wasn’t that there was nothing to say, it was that there was too much and I didn’t have a clue where to begin.
“I’m glad you came.” The words were low, uncertain, and I could almost pretend I’d imagined them if not for the fact that he was staring at me with a million times more intensity than an early-morning dawn patrol.
“Me too. I’ve missed it.”
“I’ve missed you.”
My heart—and my resolve—melted. “Mark …”
“You don’t have to say it back.” But his smile was pained, the look in his eyes intense.
“I did miss you—a lot.”
“So why’d you stay away?”
“I don’t know. I’ve just been really busy.” The lie stuck in my throat.
The look he shot me told me my lying skills hadn’t improved in the last few days. “I totally understand if you’re nervous about getting out there again. That spin would have shaken up any of us, Tempe.”
“I’m not afraid of drowning.” That at least was the truth. “I just haven’t had a lot of time.”
“That never stopped you before.”
Exasperation curled through me. “I didn’t come out here to get the third degree, Mark.”
“You’ve avoided me for almost a week and now you jump down my throat when I try to talk to you? What’s that about?”
“Nothing. I just want to surf, okay?”
His jaw clenched and I thought for sure we were in for a doozy of a fight—Mark and I weren’t on-again, off-again for nothing—but he managed to swallow whatever objection he had. “Well, let’s do it then.”
I nodded, then braced myself before looking out to sea for the first time since leaving my house. Dawn was just beginning to streak through the inky darkness; its fingers of red and orange wound through the night sky like fancy ribbons. Everything inside me strained toward the water, and I yearned to paddle farther out than I’d ever been before. To just sink below the surface and get lost for all time.
That wasn’t going to happen, though. I refused to let it, refused to want it no matter how my treacherous body seemed to feel. I would take this slow, and when it was time to head back to shore, I would do so.
“Hey, there’s my girl.” Logan slung a wet arm across my shoulders and I realized how late Mark and I were. The guys had already done at least one run.
“Actually, she’s my girl.” Mark’s voice was teasing, but the look in his eyes was anything but.
“How’s the water?” I ignored Mark, leaning into my friend with a grin. Being around Logan was like that—no matter how grumpy, sad, or pissed off you were, when he was around it was almost impossible not to smile. Even the discomfort of his arm against my sensitive skin was worth it.
“Dude, it’s going off! Best conditions I’ve seen all week.”
“So, where you been?” He nudged me closer to the shallows.
“Too busy to surf?” He clutched his chest in mock horror. “Blasphemy, I say. Blasphemy!” His Australian accent made the word sound hilarious and I started to giggle. I couldn’t help myself.
“I know,” I answered, striving for deadpan. “It was a nightmare.”
“I bet. Being landlocked is my personal idea of hell, you know.” He glanced down. “New swimsuit?”
“It’s the same one I wear almost every day.”
“Then maybe it’s you? Something looks different.”
I glanced down in a hurry, horror-stricken at the idea of yet another change creeping up on me before I could prepare for it.
“She looks fine to me.” This came from Mark, who rubbed a hand over my lower back in soothing circles as he eased me away from Logan.