By the time the game ended, my dad and I were down by a huge margin, and Rio and Moku were the self-professed champions of the universe. Afterward, I settled on the couch with champion number two and his favorite book, Fright Night, but before I was three pages in, Moku had drifted off to sleep.
I was a little drowsy myself, so instead of carrying him to his room like I normally would have, I wrapped my arms around him and snuggled into the couch. It felt good just to hold him, to know that he was safe and I was safe, even though it felt like my entire world had fallen down around me in the last few days.
Still, I couldn’t help going over and over my confrontation with Tiamat, couldn’t help trying to figure out how it could have gone differently. Logically, I knew it was over but I couldn’t let it go. I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to.
Which was why, when my dad came through, brandishing his wallet and the car keys, I volunteered to run to Frazoni’s and get the pizza. Anything was better than sitting around the house, staring at the ocean.
“Are you sure?” my dad asked. “You look tired. I’ll be happy to go get it.”
“I’m fine,” I said. “Honest. It’s just been a long few days.”
“I can imagine.” He slung an arm around my shoulder and peeled three twenties out of his wallet. “On the way home, stop at that bakery you like and pick up whatever you want. We should celebrate.”
Celebrate what? The fact that I had gotten two people killed and had actually killed a third? Or the fact that I had hurt Kona when all I ever wanted to do was love him? Or maybe we should celebrate the fact that during my brief stint as a mermaid I was, hands down, the worst one ever?
I wondered what my father would say if I busted out with that. I’m pretty sure I would have lost him at the beginning, right around the revelation that I had killed someone. Not that I could blame him—that’s when I pretty much lost my mind too.
There was so much I wanted to say to him, so many things I wanted to get his opinion on. But for the first time in my life, I found that there was a gap between us, one I had no idea how to bridge.
So instead of pouring out my problems to him, I took the money and asked, “What do you want me to get?”
“I already ordered the pizzas—they should be ready in twenty minutes. As for dessert, I don’t care. You choose—preferably something fattening.”
I looked at my father in mock disbelief. “I think that’s the first time I’ve ever heard you say that.”
“Not for me. For you.”
I snorted. “So far today you’ve stuffed me with In-N-Out, popcorn, and now pizza. I’m not sure how much food you want me to eat.”
I expected him to make a joke, but he was serious when he said, “Have you looked in a mirror lately?”
I shook my head. After what had happened, I couldn’t look myself in the eye.
“You were gone over two weeks and I’m pretty sure you lost ten pounds that you already couldn’t afford to lose. You’re skin and bones.”
“All that swimming,” I joked. “It burns a lot of calories.”
“Yeah, well, now it’s time to get them back.” He paused, then asked a question that had obviously been bothering him for a while. “How far did you go, Tempest?”
“I don’t know. Maybe a few thousand miles.”
That’s when my cooler-than-cool, find-your-niche-in-the-world dad paled visibly. “You traveled a few thousand miles? Through the ocean? On your own?”
“It wasn’t as bad as it sounds.”
“I hope not, because it sounds pretty damn awful.”
I nearly laughed. If it only sounded pretty awful, I must have done a better job downplaying it than I thought.
It hadn’t all been awful, my conscience reminded me.
Maybe not, but the last days I was there pretty much overshadowed anything else that had happened.
Tired of talking about it, even more tired of thinking about it, I snatched the money and the keys from my dad’s hand and then headed for the door. “I’ll bring you something chocolate,” I called over my shoulder.
“Bring yourself something chocolate. And Tempest, if you think we’re done with this conversation, you would be mistaken.”
With those ominous words ringing in my ears, I headed for my dad’s car. Usually, I drove my own but the keys I’d grabbed had been for his Corvette and there was no way I was going back in there now, not while he was wearing his very rare, very effective on-the-warpath look, as Rio liked to call it. The fact that he didn’t chase after me, demanding that I give the keys back, proved that he had missed me even more than he’d let on.
After driving, very carefully, down Prospect, I snagged the last spot in back of Frazoni’s and headed inside. I was a little early—the pizzas probably wouldn’t be done for another ten minutes, but I figured I could while away the time playing one of the old-school arcade games that lined the back wall. When I came here with Mark, he usually monopolized all the good ones.
But as I was approaching the original Pac-Man game in the corner, I froze as I realized that Bach was playing it. Tony and Logan were standing behind him, paper cups in one hand and slices of pizza in the other.
Part of me wanted to back away, to pretend that I hadn’t seen them. I wasn’t ready for this, something screamed inside of me. I wasn’t ready to be the Tempest they remembered. In their minds only a couple of weeks had passed since they’d seen me, but for me it felt like an entire lifetime. Maybe two.
I had just taken the first step to retreat when Logan glanced up. His eyes met mine and he started to smile, casually, until he realized who he was looking at. Then he let out a gigantic shout, emptied his hands onto the table behind him, and picked me up in a gigantic bear hug.
“There you are, Tempe! About time you showed up around here, girl!”
Despite the fact that I’d tried to avoid seeing him, once Logan’s arms were around me, I hung on tight. He felt good and familiar and right, so right. After how wrong everything had been the last few days, a hug from him was exactly what I needed.
“Hey, my turn.” Bach nudged him out of the way and took his time whirling me around.
“I feel honored. You gave up a winning game of Pac-Man for this hug.”
He shrugged. “Yeah, well. I missed you. We all did.”
“Right.” Tony slung a companionable arm over my shoulders and tugged on my ponytail. “You’ve been gone forever.”
“It’s been boring without you,” Logan said, picking his pizza back up and taking a huge bite. “I mean, Mark’s been moping around like an idiot, and without the two of you, who’s going to give me any competition for the waves?”
Bach flipped him off. “Yeah, right, man. You’re a legend in your own mind.”
“Exactly,” Tony agreed, deadpan. “He’s the surfing stud of La Jolla.”
We all laughed, but within seconds the sound dried up in my throat. A quick glance over Logan’s shoulder revealed that Mark was halfway to the table. He hadn’t seen me yet—I was pretty much covered by the guys—but that would change any minute now. And I didn’t have a clue how I was supposed to act around him.
Bach spotted him at about the same time I did, but instead of shrinking back like me, he shouted across the restaurant, “Hey, man, get over here! Your girl’s back.”