Yeah, well. He shrugged. Things have changed.
Do you want to go or not? he demanded.
Of course I want to.
Then stop asking questions and let’s move. He turned me around to face the way we’d just come. And just so you know, if that’s where you were headed when you took control, you were going in the wrong direction.
Well, perhaps if I’d grown up down here I’d have a better sense of where things are. As it is, everything looks the same to me.
We swam in silence for a few minutes, then I asked again, What things have changed? I wasn’t going to let him put me off. Not now, not about this.
When we first met, my loyalty was to Cecily. Now it’s to you.
It was a shock hearing my mother’s name come so casually from Kona, especially in reference to the word “loyalty.” It made it sound like he knew her really well.
I do. She’s been a friend of my family’s since long before I was born. He shot me a glance out of the corner of his eye. She’s the one who asked me to check on you, to make sure you were okay.
I didn’t know what to say to that, didn’t even know how I felt about it, so I didn’t say anything. Just swam silently beside Kona as I tried to figure out how this new information about my mom changed my idea of her—or if it changed it at all.
Where is she? I asked abruptly.
I’m not sure. Kona looked calm when he said it, but there was tension in his body that belied the serenity of his face.
I thought you were taking me to her. I tried to stop, but he grabbed my arm, propelled me forward.
I’m taking you to her clan. I’m not sure if she’ll be there or not, but it’s the best place to start looking for her.
It’s made up of about ten thousand mermaids. She’s the high priestess, which means she’s the queen’s major adviser. But everyone knows that Cecily’s pretty much been running things for the last six years.
The timing wasn’t lost on me, and as Kona’s grip on my wrist loosened, I wondered if he’d phrased it like that deliberately—to show me that when my mom had chosen to leave me six years before, it was because she had something really important to do down here.
I turned the idea over in my mind, the thought that my mother had abandoned us not because the lure of the ocean got to be too much, but because her people needed her. Wondered if it would make any difference in how I felt about her.
It turned out it didn’t. Maybe that was cruel of me, maybe it showed my self-absorption, but I didn’t care. She’d run out on us, left my dad alone with three kids who didn’t know where their mother had gone.
It was all well and good that she’d wanted to sacrifice her old life for her clan, but what about everything that came with that decision? No one had ever asked my brothers and me if we were okay with her sacrifice. With our own. Maybe she should have thought about how things were going to end up all those years ago, before she’d crawled out of the ocean and gone looking for a human lover.
If she’s so important to her clan, why isn’t she there? I finally asked. Where is she?
She’s looking for Tiamat. Once she realized the sea witch had broken free from her imprisonment when you were ten, Cecily started hunting her. And when she realized Tiamat was after you—she sent me to find you.
That doesn’t make any sense. If she thought Tiamat would try for me, why didn’t she come herself? Maybe she could have caught her.
Again, he didn’t answer, but by then he was so tense that I didn’t need him to. I was figuring things out on my own. She had been there. My mother had watched as Tiamat had tried to talk me into joining her, had watched as I’d tried to save Kona’s life after he’d been struck by lightning.
And she had done nothing. She’d been too busy setting me up as bait.
When I thought of how I’d called out to her, how I’d pleaded in my head for her to help me even as she was betraying me, it made me feel like I was breaking apart. Made me scream deep inside of myself. It was worse, so much worse than anything I could ever have imagined.
You wonder why I don’t want to be mermaid? I demanded, my voice shaking with rage. Why on earth would I want to be like her?
They’re not all like her, you know. Cecily is … He struggled with how to describe my mother, so I filled in the blank for him.
As big a menace as Tiamat?
No. It’s not like that. She’s just driven.
Driven enough to use her daughter to trap a monster?
Kona turned on me then, his anger as palpable as mine. You don’t know what it was like. When Tiamat was free last time, no one was safe. Not merpeople, not selkies, not even humans. The carnage was unbelievable.
And how do you know that? I thought she’s been trapped for five centuries. You may be old, but you’re not old enough to have lived through that.
Cecily said— He stopped abruptly, figuring, I guess, that any quote he attributed to my mother wasn’t going to get him very far with me.
Or maybe he was finally clueing in to the fact that she had used him too. Had sent him to the surface to “help” me when she could have done it herself. Had nearly gotten him killed and then stood by and watched as I fumbled around trying to save him.
Look, it wasn’t a lie, Tempest. The history books in school talk about that time, about how nothing was safe when Tiamat was around. She took down ships, caused tidal waves that wiped out whole cities, killing anyone who came near her. She had to be stopped, and your mother stopped her. She’s a hero.
Right. A hero. The word tasted bad.
I kicked, hard, suddenly not wanting to be anywhere near Kona. She might have used him, might even have been willing to sit back and watch him die. That was on her.
But for a while there, he’d let her. He’d hung out with me, with my friends, and all along he’d had a secret agenda. He’d kissed me and all along he’d been plotting behind my back with the mother who had abandoned me. He’d told me we were meant to be together, yet hadn’t bothered to tell me what I needed to know to make an informed decision.
I turned on him, suddenly. Which way is San Diego?
He got it right away. No. Tempest, come on. Don’t do that.
You don’t get to tell me what to do. Either point me toward home, or I swear, I will blunder around this whole damn ocean on my own until I find it.
That’s ridiculous. We’ve come this far—just let me get you to your mother’s territory and then we’ll try to figure everything out.
What’s there to figure out? She used me. You used me.
It wasn’t like that.
Oh, really? Then, please, tell me. I’m all ears. What was it like?
She came to me, told me your seventeenth birthday was coming up. She asked me to look in on you, that’s all. To keep you safe.
And you just agreed?
Because Cecily asked me to. You don’t know what she is to our people. Because she’s your mother, you don’t see her for what she really is. I couldn’t turn her down.
So that’s what all this has been about? I demanded. You trying to keep me safe for your precious Cecily?
No! He turned around, shoved his hand through his hair in obvious frustration. Maybe at the beginning, but not after I met you on that beach. Not after I kissed you.