What did that mean for Rio and Moku? We all knew they would be faced with the decision of whether or not to remain human on their seventeenth birthdays as well, but Mom’s letters to them had made it seem like their choice was somehow less important, less life altering, though I didn’t know why.
I hoped she was right, hoped they weren’t destined to go through the same pain and confusion I was going through. That they weren’t destined to make the same mistakes I’d made.
But it was still just one of the many reasons why I was angry at my mother, still angry at Cecily the great mer priestess. Of course, the fact that I was furious with her only made me feel more guilty. It was a vicious circle, one that was slowly eating me alive.
Which is why, when Mark texted me during the last period of the day, I decided to take him up on the invitation. Anything was better than sitting in my room and trying to decide who I hated the most: myself, my mother, or Tiamat.
I’d gotten stuck helping Rio with his homework—today was the new nanny’s day off—so I was the last one to get to Mark’s. As I stood on the front steps, waiting for him to answer, I could hear the music and laughter coming from inside.
Mark opened the door with a grin and a warm hug that made me smile. But when he bent down and tried to kiss me, I instinctively pulled away. He didn’t say anything, but I could tell he was upset, and I couldn’t blame him. It had been almost four weeks since I’d gotten home and the most I’d let us do was a quick peck on the lips.
And the worst part was he’d been really patient, trying to give me time to grieve for my mother and everything. But the sad fact was, my mother wasn’t the only one I was grieving for.
I missed Kona, missed the way his lips felt against mine. Missed the way it felt to be in his arms. And most of all, I missed the way he looked at me, like I was the most important thing in the world to him.
I had spent the last few weeks alternating between breaking up with Mark and telling myself not to be hasty. Once, not that long ago, I’d been completely in love with him.
And the truth was, I loved him still—it was hard not to. He was smart and funny and sexy, and he took such great care of me—when I let him. Why shouldn’t I try to continue my relationship with him? I’d made up my mind, four weeks ago, that I was never going to see Kona again. So what was I supposed to do, sit around and pine for him for the rest of my life?
“Hey, earth to Tempest. You want something to drink?” Mark asked, gesturing to the mini fridge under the bar.
“Sure. I’ll take a Diet Coke, if you’ve got it.”
He grabbed my soda and a beer for himself, then settled down on the sofa beside me.
Someone had put Crazy Days on Mark’s huge flat-screen TV, but no one was paying much attention to the wipeouts on the DVD. Instead, they were trading stories of the worst ones they’d ever had and laughing like hyenas. Though he kept his arm around me, it only took Mark a minute or so to get into the action.
I listened for a little while, but it got boring fast. I mean, seriously. How many times can you hear about a wave shrinking a guy’s nuts before it’s one time too many?
Shrugging out from under Mark’s loose hold, I wandered onto his balcony. It only took a minute before Bri and Mickey joined me.
“Thank God!” Mickey said with an exaggerated eye roll. “If I had to hear about one more of their private parts I was going to hurl.”
“Even Scooter’s?” Bri teased with a grin.
“Especially his. I am so over that, girl.”
“I told you he was a bad bet,” I said.
“Yeah, well, there’s bad bets, Tempest, and then there’s him. That guy is a walking relationship repellent. I swear, I walked in one day and he said, ‘You’re so sexy.’ ”
“What’s wrong with that?” asked Bri, confused. “I wish Bach would tell me I was sexy every once in a while.”
“He was talking to his board!” Mickey and I answered at the same time.
“Okay, that is bad.”
“Really bad,” I agreed.
“Yeah, well, we can’t all have fine boyfriend material like you’ve got sitting over there, Tempest.”
I nodded, though I really wasn’t paying attention. We’d had this discussion so many times I could carry on my part of it in my sleep.
But when it came time for me to say my patented “Yeah, Mark’s great,” both of my friends looked at me like I had grown another head.
“Are you even listening to us?” Bri demanded.
“I just told you I saw some skank putting the moves on your guy and that he wasn’t resisting, and all you can say is he’s great?” Mickey stared at me in disbelief.
“What?” I stared back in confusion. “Mark’s seeing another girl?”
“Not seeing her exactly.”
“Not yet, anyway.” Mickey twirled one of her long curls around her finger.
“Okay, look, go back to the beginning and tell me everything.”
Ten minutes later I was convinced Mark wasn’t as patient as I’d thought he was. Oh, he hadn’t done anything—at least according to the information Mickey and Bri had—but even they admitted they didn’t hear everything, on account of their relationship with me. But if my friends were to be believed, a certain cheerleader had spent a lot of time looking at Mark lately and he’d been looking back.
I didn’t know how I felt about that. I mean, it wasn’t like I had any room to judge after what I’d been doing with Kona a few weeks before. My friends, however, had no such reservations. Bri wanted me to have a heart-to-heart with Mark, and Mickey just wanted me to brain him with something. As for me, I didn’t know what to do. Of everything I was feeling, the most overwhelming emotion was relief. As if I had one last loose end to tie up.
I stayed outside long after Mickey and Bri went in, complaining about the cold. Though I was freezing and the wind felt like a whip against my too-sensitive skin, I wasn’t ready to face Mark yet. I didn’t know what I wanted to say to him, didn’t know how I could tell him—after all this time—that I understood what he was going through.
He was a good guy and he had stuck by me, but I couldn’t expect him to hang around forever. I wasn’t even sure I wanted him to, not when I didn’t have a clue how I felt about him anymore.
It was almost dark and the others had started heading home to do homework when Mark finally joined me outside. His hands were in his pockets and his eyes were more troubled than I had ever seen them.
He shuffled his feet for a few seconds, looked at everything but me. And then said, “Tempest,” in that voice of his that meant we needed to talk.
And suddenly it was easy, so much easier than I’d expected it to be. “It’s okay, Mark.”
“What’s okay?” He looked at me warily, as if he thought I was trying to trick him.
“Chelsea. She’s cute and seems really nice. If you like her, I think you should ask her out.”
“Ask her out? Where’s that coming from?”
“Come on, Mark. We’ve been friends for a long time, longer than we’ve been going out anyway, even off and on. Let’s not ruin that by holding on to this thing too long.”