“I don’t want to go, Daddy. I don’t want to go. I don’t want—” My voice broke as he settled me on the bed and patted my back like he’d done when I was a little girl and had gotten hurt.
“Nobody’s going to make you go anywhere, Tempest. You know that. Your mother said—”
I snorted. “Yeah, and she’s just so reliable, isn’t she?”
My dad sighed, long and deep like he was in pain, but he didn’t say anything else. We sat there on the bed for long minutes, silent and still except for the rise and fall of our chests.
“Tempest, look at me.”
I didn’t want to, didn’t want to see the disappointment and the pain in his eyes. But I knew that tone. My father didn’t use it very often, but when he did, it meant he wouldn’t tolerate disobedience. Reluctantly I raised my eyes to his.
“Being a mermaid isn’t a punishment.”
“No, it isn’t.” He talked over my objection. “It’s a gift, one that few people are ever granted.”
“Yeah, well, they can take it back. I don’t want it.”
“You don’t want it because you blame it for taking your mother.”
“Like you don’t?” The words burst from me. “She left you, left us, because of this thing.”
“No. She left because there were things she had to do, things she couldn’t do here on land. Things she had to be mermaid to accomplish.”
“What kind of things?”
“Important things. Private things.”
“Yeah, right. So private she couldn’t even tell her husband and family about them? And you believe that?”
I stared at him incredulously. “Why? She left you alone, with three kids to raise and no explanation. How can you believe in her?”
“Because I love her. And I trust her.”
His eyes narrowed dangerously. “Watch it, Tempest. She’s still your mother—and my wife.”
“Is she? Really? Then where is she? Because I thought a mom hung around. Thought a wife showed her husband her face occasionally.”
For once my father was at a loss for words.
Finally, when I was sure there was nothing else to say, he murmured, “Maybe when the changes start to take place, she’ll—”
My laugh was bitter. “I have gills, Dad. I grew a tail last week. I can barely stand to be touched and I’m so cold all the time I feel like I live in a freezer. I think the changes are already here.”
“You didn’t tell me.”
I tried to ignore the hurt in his voice. “What was I supposed to say?”
“How about, ‘Hey, Dad, something strange happened on the beach today’?” His eyes sparked with an unfamiliar fury.
“Like it’s that easy.”
“Why wouldn’t it be? I thought we could talk about anything.”
I looked away. “Not this.”
“Why not this? Why not now? I’ve been trying to talk to you about it for weeks, months.”
“Because you’re not the one I’m supposed to talk to about this, remember? It’s supposed to be her. She was supposed to come back for me. She promised to come back for me.”
I was yelling now, the rage I’d kept bottled up inside for so long suddenly spewing out in all directions. “She promised to help me through this, no matter what I decided. And after everything she’s done, everything that’s happened, a part of me was stupid enough to believe that she would keep that promise.”
I looked around the room wildly, held my arms up in an all-encompassing shrug. “But she’s not here, is she? And I’m weak enough to still be hurt by that. You would’ve thought I’d have learned by now, but I guess I’m as stupid about her in my own way as you are in yours.”
The words echoed in the room, and as soon as I’d said them I wanted to take them back. Would have done anything to take them back. Because my dad had aged ten years in the space of five minutes and that wasn’t fair. I shouldn’t be taking my anger out on him—he’d lost as much as anyone else in this whole miserable situation. Stood to lose more still, and yet he was behaving so much better than I was.
He shook his head. “Don’t be.”
“But I am. You didn’t deserve that—”
“Maybe I did.” He stood up, walked over to the picture window that made up one whole wall of my bedroom. “I’m sorry, Tempest. Really, really sorry. I know you love Mark and your brothers. I—”
“And you!” The words exploded from me.
“And me, of course. I also know you want to be a famous artist someday. And it stinks, absolutely stinks, that at seventeen you have to make this decision. Stinks even more that your mother might have been wrong and the decision might be taken out of your hands. I wasn’t expecting that.”
My laugh was sarcastic. “Neither was I.”
“But not talking about it, worrying on your own, or worse, ignoring it, isn’t going to make it go away.”
“But I want it to go away.” It was the cry of a little girl, one who wanted her father to fix everything, and it seemed to strike my dad as an arrow might, straight through the heart.
“God, Tempest, so do I. So do I.” For the first time he had tears in his eyes and when he opened his arms, I went straight into them.
We stood there for a long time, but still it wasn’t long enough. When he pulled away I wanted to grab on to him, to hold tight, and even though the pressure of his arm around my shoulder hurt like hell, I wanted to beg him not to let me go.
But that’s what children did and no matter how I’d been acting, I wasn’t a child—hadn’t been since the day I’d woken up to find my mother had simply swum away from us, and our life together, like we were no more than a passing fancy.
“I don’t know why your mother didn’t keep her promise to you—or any of the ones she made to me before she left. All I know is that she loved you very much and if she’s not here, there has to be a reason. If you don’t have a choice in this mermaid thing, there has to be a reason.
“I don’t have all the answers—or any answers, for that matter. Everything is more damn complicated than I ever imagined it would be, and you can’t know how much I wish I could help you through this. How much I wish I could just fix this. But I can’t and that kills me.”
“That’s why I didn’t tell you. It’s not your fault—”
“You’re my daughter and you’re hurting and I can’t help you. Of course it’s my fault.”
We both turned at the interruption, to find a sleepy-looking Moku standing outside my doorway, looking in. I’d probably woken him with my shouting.
“Yeah, Mo?” I crossed to him.
“I woke up. Can I have a glass of water?”
“I’ll take you, bud.” My dad put an arm around him and started down the hall, but stopped before he reached the stairs. “Get some sleep, Tempest. We’ll talk more in the morning.”