“You know, it’s going to be okay, Tempest.”
“I don’t know that. And neither can you.”
“Sure I can. The power of positive thinking and all.”
At that exact moment, the only thing I was positive about was that my life was completely, totally, 100 percent screwed up—all because I’d dived into the water after a guy who hadn’t even needed me.
Typical. Just typical.
I leaned down, started dabbing peroxide on my injuries.
“Here, let me do that. You’re being way too rough.”
“It doesn’t hurt.”
“Liar.” Kona took the brown bottle from my hands, grabbed some cotton, and started cleaning my ankles so gently I barely felt it. He didn’t talk for the longest time, and neither did I. But as he finished with one leg and moved on to the second, I couldn’t keep the questions at bay any longer.
“My mom said I had a choice—that at seventeen I could choose what I wanted to become. Are you saying that isn’t true?”
“No, it’s true.”
“So I can still be human.”
“Strictly speaking, yes. But—”
“Good. I want to go home.” I hadn’t been able to get Moku, or Mark, out of my mind since I realized it had been over two days since my party.
“But,” he continued as if I hadn’t interrupted him, “I don’t think that’s the choice you’ll make. Not when you hear everything that’s at stake.”
“Sure, I will. It’s not like I’m a real mermaid anyway.”
I noticed with satisfaction that this slowed him down a little bit. He squatted back on his haunches and stared at me. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“When I came after you, when I tried to shift—I couldn’t.”
“Of course you could. You got here, didn’t you? You wouldn’t be able to do that if you were still human.”
“Yes, but—” I paused, strangely humiliated by what I was about to say. Which was insane, right? Because it’s not like I wanted to be a stupid mermaid anyway. “I didn’t grow a tail. I tried to—I mean, I wanted to shift so that I could follow you, and my gills started working, but …”
“That’s it?” he asked incredulously. “That’s all you’ve got? ‘I’m not a mermaid because I didn’t get my tail’?”
“You make it sound like a little thing. I kind of thought having a tail was the defining factor in being a mermaid.”
“It is. But every merperson gets his or her tail at a different time. You can’t just wish it to happen—God knows, tens of thousands have tried, but it doesn’t work.”
He recapped the peroxide, put it aside. “Tempest, your tail is the last thing you get and it doesn’t happen until you’ve proven yourself.”
“Proven myself to whom?”
He shrugged. “That, I don’t know—the ocean gods, the universe, fate? It’s not like I ever had to go through it. With selkies, things are way different.”
Part of me wanted to explore the differences he was talking about, but another part was completely hung up on what he’d said about mermaids. “Are you sure? My mother never told me that—”
“Yeah, but from what I can tell, your mom never told you much of anything, right?”
I hadn’t anticipated the attack and his words hit me like a runaway train. I wanted to protest, to tell him to leave my mother out of this, but the fact of the matter was, he was right.
My mother hadn’t told me what to expect, hadn’t kept any of her promises to me, hadn’t done anything to make my transition—or lack thereof—any easier. Which made the fact that I was down here all the more absurd.
My thoughts must have shown on my face again, because Kona murmured, “You know, just because your mom didn’t tell you things doesn’t mean she doesn’t care about you.”
“Yeah, but it doesn’t mean she does, either.”
It was his turn to look out the window, his turn to stare at the ocean instead of at me. He sounded so tired when he said, “It’s not that easy, Tempest. Things are all mixed up down here right now and—”
“Yeah, and things are really mixed up with me too. She promised me she’d come back and instead she’s left me to deal with all this whacked-out stuff on my own. That’s not love.”
“Maybe she’s got her own stuff to deal with.”
“What does that mean?” I demanded, determined to keep at him until he looked me in the eye.
“It means that the whole world doesn’t revolve around you.”
“That’s a crappy thing to say. I’ve never thought that it did.”
“No. But you sure feel that way about your mother, and her world.”
Was he being deliberately obtuse, or was he just crazy? “She’s my mother,” I repeated. What about that fact was he missing? One day she’d been the most important person in my life and the next she’d been gone. One pathetic letter didn’t make up for that and it sure as hell didn’t count as maternal support. How could Kona not see that?
“I’m sure, if she’d been able, your mother would have come to you, Tempest. But sometimes what you want to do is very different from what you have to do. Believe me, if being a member of my clan’s royal family has taught me anything, it’s definitely taught me that.”
His words were razor-sharp talons scraping across my already-raw emotions. I felt exposed, as if everything I was inside was just hanging out for his own personal amusement.
Of course, the ridiculous clothes I was wearing didn’t help. I flopped on the bed and pulled my knees up to my chest for more coverage, all the while praying the shorts didn’t do what Kona had predicted and split right down the middle.
But then again, that was the least of my problems right now. I couldn’t believe he was talking to me like this. I’d spent years listening to my dad defend her and couldn’t stand that Kona was doing the same thing. He was supposed to be on my side, damn it. Not hers. Somebody was supposed to be on my side, right?
I wanted to call him on it, but settled instead on simply asking, “What do you know about it anyway?”
Kona finally turned to me. Sighed. “Look, it’s complicated.”
The anger came roaring back, stoked hotter by the hurt that lay just under the surface. “Don’t you tell me that!” I yelled. “Don’t you tell me that it’s complicated like I’m some kind of child who can’t understand. Tell me the truth, lie to me. I don’t care. But don’t tell me that.”
My mother had told me in her letter that things were complicated. My father had told me the same thing over and over again, every time I asked him anything about why she had walked out on us. Nothing else, just that it was complicated and that I wouldn’t understand. I’d taken it from them because I hadn’t had a choice, but there was no way I was taking it from Kona too. Not after everything I’d been through.
“For most of my life someone has patted me on the head and told me they’d explain things to me when I was older. That there were things in this world that were beyond comprehension—” I was shouting, but couldn’t seem to stop.