1. I can’t wait.
Months of crossed fingers, doubt-ridden smiles, and
whispered worries have led to this day. This sunset. Now that
almost here, I can’t wait. Not any longer.
can’t control the sun either. I may be immortal now, but I
have no true power over time. All I can do is squeeze Clay’s
feel his fingers interlace with mine.
he murmurs in my ear, his breath like the warm
California breeze that sweeps over us, rippling the blue water
glints silver-white in the sunlight.
family’s saltwater swimming pool features a disappearing
edge like a waterfall that looks as if it flows seamlessly into
Ocean below. My sisters and cousin all swim in listless circles,
jewel-toned tails swishing beneath them, their lovely faces
with concern they try to hide. But I’m not in the pool. I’m
a lounger in my bikini, my legs in place and ready to run down
beach at a moment’s notice. Next to me sits Clay, fully dressed
looking strangely out of place in his trademark ripped jeans,
t-shirt, and Doc Martens.
stare at the late-July sun as it starts its slow descent
toward the waves. Up here, in the backyard of my family’s Malibu
estate, we’re safe from prying eyes. The beach below may be
but our neighbors can still see it from their windows, and not
them are members of our Community of land-dwelling Mer. To stay
hidden from our neighbors’ view, nothing will rise from the
until darkness cloaks the sandy shores.
2. “You should get
back,” he says, nodding up the winding path
toward my house. I punch in the security code, and he pushes
open the gate. It scrapes through the gravel until the opening
wide enough for him to step through. But he doesn’t. He stands
there, waiting under the white, bell-shaped blossoms of one of
brugmansia trees. I place my hand over his on the iron gate as I
step in close. Clay brings his other hand up to my cheek,
with fingers calloused from his guitar strings, drawing me
His handsome features—so familiar and so astonishing—gleam in
the moonlight, then grow so near they’re indiscernible. I let my
flutter shut. Let myself taste Clay’s lips against mine. Get
lost in the
richness of every touch, every press of his tongue and graze of
suspiciously familiar, syrupy voice lurking in some hidden
crevice of my mind asks me if I really think I’m doing this
maybe he’s comparing me to her. Surely she must have
been a better
kisser. But I push that voice back into its dark cave as I wrap
around Clay and he brings his hand back to cup my head, tangling
his fingers in my hair as my chest presses against his.
in a flurry of breathless, whispered goodbyes, our mouths
come together and apart, together and apart, until he slowly
himself away and down the street. With one final flash of hazel
promise to see me in the morning, he disappears around the
after several hours of carefully smiling while catching up
with my parents, I lie in my sea sponge bed in the hidden
beneath our house and try to sleep. As a layer of satiny salt
covers me like a blanket, I force myself to
replay tonight’s kiss instead
of imagining what risks the next few days will bring.
3. It’s my
last day of normal, and I plan to enjoy it. While my parents
are getting caught up at the Foundation, I plan to sit right
all snuggly on Clay’s couch and not think about what’s coming.
think about how tonight, more Merfolk from across the ocean
will surface here in Malibu. Not think about where I’ll be this
All I’m going to think about is Clay and maybe how I
can get to know his lips even better. I scoot closer to him on the
couch, rest my head on his shoulder, and inhale. He played me
of his new songs on the guitar earlier, and the cinnamon scent
guitar polish still lingers. He strokes my hair, and this
with its overstuffed, checkered furniture, humming AC, and
television—turns into the most relaxing place in the world.
next to Clay, I can forget for a few minutes that I’m a Mermaid
just be a normal girl.
can I … can I see your tail?”
I sit up
so fast, Clay’s hand gets tangled in my hair. Ow. “You’ve
seen my tail plenty of times,” I say as he works his fingers
It’s true; he’s seen it whenever he comes over and I’m swimming
in my pool with my sisters or spending time in the grottos with
my parents. But now that we’re alone and there’s no water in
deliberately transforming into my tail just so he can look at it
like putting myself on display.
never seen it up close,” he says, twisting his thumb ring
around in a circle. He’s right—and that’s on purpose. I’ve been
a point of keeping our alone time as human as possible. We hang
at the pier, walk on the promenade, grab sushi or
normal stuff. Clay’s a human guy and I just … I don’t want …
lot to take in. What if I scare him off? What if up close, he
tail’s gross, that I’m gross?
haven’t said anything, he pushes on. “Every time I see you
with your tail, we’re around your family, and I feel like I
stare.” He lets his fingers sweep through his own dark hair,
claps a hand on his denim-clad leg. “It’s just, it’s a part of
beautiful part, and … but if you don’t want to, that’s cool. If
weird or whatever … ”
my gaze from my lap. “Did … did you say beautiful?”
corner of his mouth quirks up. An expression I know well.
down at my lap again, and he rests a hand on my thigh, the
heat of his palm warming my skin through the thin jersey of my
“I think you’re beautiful,” he says.
me? I want to ask. Even the parts that are more halibut than
my tail, but it’s always been this secret part of me, the part
I have to keep hidden. How will this human boy in front of
handsome, patient human boy—react to seeing it up close? I guess
there’s only one way I’ll find out.
4. It’s much easier
than I expected to do what Ondine advises and settle
in to a life on the island. Especially once I’ve gone up top.
know what I thought the surface of the island would
look like; when I heard this place was a California nature
I pictured some dry shrubs by a rocky beach and maybe a few old
turtles. Boy, was I wrong.
the periphery of the island by the shore looks like that,
but that isn’t where we spend our time.
other day here, classes end early, letting out midway
through the afternoon. That’s when the other girls and I head
island’s surface. We swim through an underground tunnel that
out at the very center of the island.
In the most breathtaking lagoon I’ve ever seen.
epic. Lush green mountains and trees work along
with the cloaking spells to hide a natural pool of the bluest
from passing ships or the occasional visiting scientist. Many of
cascading crystal waterfalls I’ve marveled at in the caverns
the island originate here, flowing down from the mountains and
the rippling water, creating caves in secret pockets behind.
of every color line the banks, and species of sea
birds I’ve never seen before soar overhead or nest in the
treetops. Like Ondine herself, this lagoon strikes me as
straight out of a storybook. Mermaids play tag beneath the
or sun their jeweled tails on the rocks peeking through the
bask on the banks while they run white fishbone combs through
their shining, long hair.
fantastic as our swimming pool is at home, this? This is
better. Never before have I been allowed to release my tail
the sun out in nature before, warming my golden scales in golden
rays and soaking up that warmth until it drives me to dive into
cool, refreshing waters of the lagoon. It’s like travelling back
through the centuries, to before Mer hid our existence from
when Mermaids could lie out on ocean rocks and be admired by
passing sailors who’d go home and regale townsfolk with stories
the beautiful maidens they’d seen at sea.