I glanced at him, saw him staring at the waves with a concerned look that was at odds with his normally obnoxious behavior. And suddenly I knew he’d seen what had happened—had watched from his room as I’d almost drowned.
No wonder he was being a bigger pain in the butt than usual. He must have been panicked—we might not always get along, but we stick together. After Mom left, we’d had little choice.
I tried to catch his eye, but he wouldn’t look at me.
“Good.” My dad kept watching the waves and I tried to pretend I didn’t know what he was looking for. But that was just one more lie—he was looking for the same thing he was always looking for: my mother. Too bad he hadn’t figured out what the rest of us had: that after six years, it was pretty much a lost cause to expect her to swim on home and take up where she’d left off.
Finally, he forcibly jerked his attention away from the window and focused on us instead. “Tests today?”
“Spelling,” Moku said proudly.
“You know your words?”
“Tempest quizzed me last night. I got them all right.”
My dad shot me a grateful look. Moku had ADHD and was in the middle of being tested for dyslexia. Trying to get him to spell words was more painful than having your wisdom teeth yanked out—without anesthesia. My dad tried to work with him too, but it was rough going. Mo just responded better to me.
One more reason this whole nightmarish birthday thing just plain sucked.
“I’ve got a math test today,” Rio volunteered. “I’m going to ace it.”
“You studied?” my father asked incredulously and I couldn’t blame him. Rio was about as interested in school as I was in quantum physics.
“What? Like that’s so hard to believe?”
“Yes.” My dad and I answered in tandem, but then I remembered the cute blonde Rio had been sitting with when I’d picked him up from school the day before. Her arms had been loaded with books—maybe he was trying to impress one of the smart girls. It would be a nice change of pace.
“Whatever.” With a shrug, Rio slid his bad attitude back into place.
“How about you, Tempest?”
“Not until next week.”
“How’s the college search going?”
“It’s not.” My voice was flat, angry, but I couldn’t help it. At the rate things were going, I’d never get the chance to go to art school. Never get to paint in Paris …
I slammed the door shut on the self-pity before I made myself sick. Seriously, nobody likes a whiner.
“All right, then.” My dad backed off.
In the hallway my mother’s grandfather clock—the one she’d insisted on having and the one my father kept just in case she ever came back—chimed seven times, prodding us all into action.
“Tempest, I’ll drop Mo at school today if you can take Rio. I have an early meeting set up.”
“Hear that, shrimp?” I deliberately used the nickname Rio hated. “I’ll be ready in ten minutes, so get your butt in gear.” On my way out of the kitchen, I slipped Moku’s lunch into his backpack, then ruffled his hair affectionately. “I’ll pick you up after school.”
“For pancakes?” he asked eagerly.
I laughed. “For pancakes.”
But once I was on the stairs, heading toward my room, my smile slipped. I was frightened—frightened for myself and frightened for my family. What would happen to them if I couldn’t resist the change?
Sure, my mind chose humanity—like it always had. But my soul, my treacherous soul, yearned for the absolute freedom of the Pacific.
For a girl who had always prided herself on her mortality, the betrayal cut like the sharpest of knives.
And my painting? If I went too long without putting brush to canvas, I felt like a part of me was missing. The idea of disappearing under the waves, of never again creating something, had me twisted into knots.
Because I couldn’t change the past—or, I was afraid, the future—I tried to put it all out of my mind and concentrate on the present instead.
If I didn’t hustle, I would be late for school. Yet even as I yanked on my favorite pair of perfectly faded jeans, I couldn’t help looking at the storm-tossed Pacific one more time. And wondering where I’d be next year.
The fact that I didn’t know—for the first time in my sixteen years of existence—scared me to death.
By the time I got to school, after dropping Rio at junior high, I had only enough time to find a parking spot—about a million miles away, of course—and then book it to class before the second bell rang. First period was AP Chem with Mr. Hein and he was even more of a stickler when it came to the tardy policy than the other teachers.
One second late and he started filling out a detention slip and he didn’t really care what excuse you had. Unexpected female emergencies went about as far with him as stories of flat tires did. I should know: Brianne had tried them both this year, along with a whole host of more inventive excuses that had also been shot down as the school year progressed.
Which was why I was completely out of breath—not to mention soaked to the skin from the untimely winter storm that had hit just as I’d pulled into the parking lot—by the time I slammed through the open door of Mr. Hein’s chem lab one second before the tardy bell rang. I was glad I hadn’t bothered with more than lip gloss and a ponytail—any other efforts would have been completely washed away.
“Good morning, Tempest. So nice of you to join us today.”
“Sorry,” I gasped as I squished my way to my desk in the center of the second row, right in front of Bri and next to our other friend, Mickey (yes, like the mouse—long story short, her mother went into labor at Disneyland). “Traffic was—”
“Mmm-hmmm,” he interrupted, letting me know without words that my excuse—no matter how true—was no more believable, or important, than Bri’s fictitious ones were.
“This week we’re going to talk about the structure of matter,” he droned. “I want to start with the different types of atomic bonding …”
“Good waves?” Bri whispered as I took my seat in front of her.
“Bad traffic.” I pulled out a notebook and started to take notes on ionic and covalent bonding, even as I tried to ignore the chill working its way through me. I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it until my clothes dried—right now I was so cold that it felt like my very bones would shake apart. Add to that the fact that my neck felt like it was on fire—heat and pain licking their way from behind my ear to the top of my shoulder—and it promised to be one hell of a day.
“Here.” Mickey slipped off her leather jacket and handed it to me. “Your teeth are chattering. Again.”
I wanted to refuse—it looked expensive and I was so wet I was afraid I’d ruin it—but she was right. My teeth were chattering, my hands trembling so badly I could barely take notes. “Thanks,” I whispered as I slipped into it. Immediately her body heat started to dispel some of the chill. It didn’t warm me—nothing could do that these days—but at least the cold was almost bearable.
Chem dragged, like it always did on non-lab days, and by the time the bell rang I was sure I’d have nightmares about the chemical bonding of atoms. I could see the whole thing now—me running screaming through a dark hallway while elemental compounds with huge teeth and sharp claws chased me down.