“You went from living in the ocean to barely looking at it, unless the boys and I begged you to take us out. Even now, I see you glancing out at it and you look so angry, so full of hate.”
“Not hate, Tempest. Sadness. Because I understand why your mother left. I didn’t like it. I wanted her to stay as much, if not more, than I want you to stay. Hell, I was even willing to share her—she could spend half her time out there and half her time here.”
It was the first I’d heard of it, the first time I realized something like that might be possible. Frissons of electricity ran down my spine at the thought, my brain adjusting to the idea that being a mermaid wasn’t all or nothing.
“Is that possible?” I demanded. “And if so, why didn’t she do that? Why didn’t she decide to stay with us at least part of the time?” I held my breath, my whole being waiting for his answer. Not just as an answer to my own predicament, but also as an answer to why my mother had abandoned us. Why she’d turned her back on the four of us, like we were a mistake she couldn’t wait to get away from.
“I don’t know, baby. I guess it’s more complicated than that. I mean, for a while that’s what I really thought she was going to do. Before she left, she told me she’d be back if she could. I believed her, spent years waiting for her.” He shoved away from the table, went to stand next to the same window I liked to look out of and brood. “A part of me is still waiting for her to keep that promise.”
It was back, that sense of betrayal that welled up inside of me whenever I spent too much time thinking about my mother. She’d promised me she’d come back too, promised that she’d see me through the change—or the rejection of it. But here it was, my seventeenth birthday, and she was nowhere in sight. It hurt to realize, even after everything she’d done, that I’d been waiting for her as much as my father had.
But enough was enough. No more waiting. No more wondering. No more mermaid stuff. I’d made my choice and I was done with it—no matter what Kona said or didn’t say. I wasn’t going to waste one more minute thinking of it—or my mother.
Still, the idea of turning mermaid not being all or nothing—it was hard to wrap my mind around it after all this time. Harder still to ignore it.
Blocking it out for a while, I said, “I’ve decided what I want for my birthday, Dad.”
He turned to me absently, his eyes a million miles away. “What, Tempe?”
“I want you to come surfing with me, like you used to. Just you and me and the water.”
I glanced out at the ocean, thought of Kona’s warning and the weird force I’d felt out there only a few hours before. But it was daylight now and my dad looked like he was considering my request. I wasn’t going to let anything get in the way of a chance to surf with my father again, especially not something as stupid as fear.
“Yeah. Right now.”
My father grinned, and for the first time in a long time it reached his eyes. “First one changed and in the garage picks the ice cream.” It was an old ritual, so old I’d nearly forgotten it. I bolted for the door, my father hot on my heels.
Maybe turning seventeen was going to be all right after all.
Word spread quickly that Bobby Maguire was out and about, and soon the beach was crowded with early morning surfers wanting a glimpse of their hero. Even Brianne and Mickey made it down and mingled with the guys as they watched my father surf.
I didn’t blame any of them, even as it bugged me that my time with my father was being encroached on. Watching him, even after all this time, was like watching poetry in motion. He was born to ride the waves—even the ocean seemed to know this.
“You ready, baby?” he asked as we paddled out for the fifth time, Mark, Logan, and Bach hot on our tails.
“You bet.” We’d already ridden the perfect tube, not to mention two bombs that had felled every other surfer who’d tried them. The morning was perfect.
I was happy for the first time in a long time—and from the looks of it, so was my dad. I could keep this up all day.
As I took off, a couple of seconds behind my father, I felt a powerful burning across my shoulders, as if the salt water had leaked into an open, aching wound. Pain flashed up my neck and down my back, its intensity catching me off guard. I bobbled, nearly fell off my board—a behavior that was becoming irritatingly habitual—but at the last minute managed to right myself.
Still, I’d lost the sweet spot and spent the rest of the time following my father—who’d nailed it like the pro he was—back to shore. As soon as we hit the beach, he was surrounded by a bunch of hopefuls, including some of my friends. He looked uncomfortable but not unwilling as he answered question after question.
Shaking my head in amused disbelief, I headed up the beach for my towel. My back was still on fire and I wanted to dry off—then get to a mirror and see if I’d somehow brushed up against something in the water that had cut or stung me.
Mark grabbed me before I got to my stuff, his arms going around my waist as he lifted me off the ground in an exuberant bear hug. I squealed and laughed, hanging on to his shoulders for dear life as he shook me like a rag doll.
“Put me down!” I demanded, but I was laughing so hard even I couldn’t understand the words coming out of my mouth. “Mark!”
With a grin, he did as I asked, but took his time sliding my body down his own. As he wrapped his arms around me and held me close, I pressed my ear to his chest and hung on tight. Guilt nearly suffocated me when I realized that I’d been kissing Kona less than four hours before. I told myself to let Mark go, that I didn’t deserve his affection.
Yet he felt so good, so normal, that I held on anyway. The beat of his heart beneath my ear soothed me like nothing else could.
I knew I should tell him about what had happened, but I couldn’t. Too many things were changing too fast. I couldn’t give up Mark too, and with his jealousy, I knew he’d never be able to get past it if he knew.
“Happy birthday, Tempest,” he whispered to me as his lips brushed over my hair and down my cheek.
“Thanks.” I held on tighter, afraid he would pull away.
He didn’t, seemingly as content to hold me as I was to be held. And as the salt water dried, the burning in my back weakened to a dull throb that was easy to ignore. At least until Brianne yelled “Get a room” to us.
I pulled away from Mark, then froze as I saw Kona chatting smoothly with my father about ten yards away.
What is he doing here? I felt panicked. He should be at home, asleep. Or at least out in Del Mar, riding the monster waves up there. Anywhere but down here on my beach, reminding me of all my crazy, mixed-up feelings.
When he and my father started ambling up the beach toward Mark and me, I turned away. I didn’t know what to say to Kona, didn’t know how to hide all the emotions rattling around inside of me after our late-night kiss and conversation. I knew he would be hurt and angry at the way I was ignoring him, but I couldn’t help it. I didn’t want the next time I spoke to him to be in front of Mark, not when I knew my confusion would be written all over my face. As I already mentioned, my boyfriend had a tendency to see too much.
I turned away, headed toward my towel, but stopped when Mark grabbed my hand. “Whoa, Tempest. What is that?”