Of Poseidon 02: Of Triton (4 page)

BOOK: Of Poseidon 02: Of Triton
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Abruptly, Galen sees their exit and takes it. He slows down to a crawl around the curve, which appears to irritate the driver behind him. But the driver behind him doesn’t have hundreds of years left to put up with Grom.

Galen scans the main road for a sign with directions to the Budget Motel; Rachel said Nalia used her credit card to check in there earlier. A wave of excitement courses through Galen when he sees the dilapidated sign. The lights are burnt out behind the
and an
, and to Galen, it looks like a smile missing some important teeth. The hotel is one story, L-shaped. It looks even more neglected than the sign. Some of the windows have masking tape across them. Other windows have blankets instead of curtains hanging in them. Galen wonders why Nalia would choose such a place.

As they near the entrance, it occurs to him just how crestfallen he was not to find Emma at her house where he’d left her. The churning disappointment of not seeing her when he’d expected to, of not wrapping her in his arms the way he’d planned. He glances at his brother, trying to imagine what exactly it was like for him to lose Nalia all those years ago. If Grom felt for Nalia the way Galen does for Emma, then it must have felt like a living death. Every single day.

He should know that I can’t allow a tiny law to separate me from her.

Galen pulls into the dark parking lot of the motel as Toraf and Rayna wake up like twin monsters. “Are we there yet?” Rayna says around a yawn, her words almost indiscernible because of her cracked voice.

Galen nods. He creeps the vehicle past room after room, holding his breath, paranoid that Nalia could somehow identify the sound of the SUV by the way it crunches gravel beneath the tires. But he could be beeping his horn to the tune of the radio and Nalia couldn’t care less. Because Nalia’s car isn’t here.

Where are they?
He grabs his cell and dials Rachel, then waits for her to call back. When she does, Galen tries to extract the frantic out of his voice. “They’re not here.”

“Oh, she’s good,” Rachel says. “Hold on, sweet pea. Let me look at something and I’ll call you back.”

Ten minutes later, she does. “Okay,” she says, all business. “She took out some cash at an ATM in Chesterfield about half an hour ago. She definitely knows you’re looking for her.”

“How can you be sure?”

“Because she’s using cash now, sweet pea. She might have even checked into the hotel to throw you off. Cash is harder to trace, and she took out enough to get by for a couple of days if she’s careful. If she’s smart, she’ll get off the interstate, too, and take the back roads to wherever she’s going. That’s what I would do. Your best bet is to get off the interstate when you get to Chesterfield. Then keep your eyes peeled.”


Rachel laughs. “Peeled, as in everybody needs to be looking for that car. Gas stations, restaurants, rest stops. She has to stop sometime, and she won’t stray too far from the main road, not if she’s as smart as I think she is. Still, if she’s stupid enough to use her credit cards, or make another withdrawal, I’ll let you know.”

“We’re never going to find them.” Galen leans his forehead against the steering wheel. Grom stiffens beside him.

“Sure you will,” Rachel says. “Tell you what. I’ll fly to Kansas, rent a car, and start working my way back toward you. We’ll ferret her out that way.”

Galen grins. He’s not exactly sure what “ferret” means, but he’s seen dolphins use Rachel’s technique sometimes to trap fish. They come at them from all sides. “Okay. Thanks.”

“No sweat.”

As soon as Galen hangs up, Grom is pelting him with questions. “Why aren’t they here? What did Rachel say? Is Nalia okay?”

It’s weird for Grom to be asking about Rachel. Those were two worlds Galen thought would never have anything in common. But they had something in common all along. Him.

“Whoa,” Toraf says. “When’d
start talking?”

“I have to relieve myself,” Rayna says. “Right now. This place looks nasty. Find a clean gas thingy.”

Galen eyes his sister in the rearview. “Since when do you need a human toilet to relieve yourself?” She can—and certainly does when the notion strikes her—squat anywhere for that kind of thing. As much as she loves all things human, some of their customs do not appeal to her impatient side.

She shrugs. “I want some cookies, too. Seems more efficient to just make one stop.”

Galen pinches the bridge of his nose.
Nalia owes me. Huge


start to look alike. Dilapidated fences, ghostly barns, tiny grocery stores whose one car in the parking lot might belong to the owner. And not a single pay phone. You’d think, with how much other ancient stuff these towns keep around, they’d at least have rescued one obsolete pay phone from extinction.

I’m not even sure why I want to use a pay phone. I still don’t have a plan B for how I can get my mom and Galen one-on-one without risking our safety; if Galen is the one lying and he did bring a Syrena party with him, I’d be putting Mom at risk for arrest and me for … I don’t want to think about what they’d do to a Half-Breed like me. And even if I had a plan B for escape, executing plan A—getting them face-to-face—is pretty stinking difficult since Mom knows I already tried to stall her once. There’s no way she’d let me get away with it again.

Still, the bigger part of me is not convinced that Galen is lying. Maybe I’m in denial or whatever, but he seems too real, too open with me to be lying. Not that I think Mom’s lying, either. I could tell that she truly believes that she killed Grom and that our lives are in real danger. But it could be that she’s mistaken somehow. Maybe Grom really is alive and maybe they really did leave to go get him. Maybe there is another crazy explanation for why they each thought the other was dead for half the century.

The thing is, I can’t take the chance. I can’t just stand around and keep my mom prisoner with lies when I’m the only one she can really trust. I feel bad about calling Galen. But I feel bad about ditching him, too.

I’ve just got to figure out how to get to the truth without endangering anyone. And until I do, there’s no point in even calling Galen.

Which is good, because obviously it’s more important to these townsfolk to salvage things like fire-hazard gas pumps that still have the rolling-dial numbers instead of preserving something more useful, like pay phones.

And at least the interstate had decent fast-food choices. In the backwoods route Mom opted for, we’ve got to choose between mom-and-pop diners with mismatched tables and hot sauce bottles for toothpick holders, or fast-food chain knockoffs with questionable health standards.

My stomach growls for the eleventeenth time. With Mom’s urgency to put as much distance between us and Galen as possible, I’ve now skipped breakfast and lunch.

“I’m hungry, too,” Mom says without looking at me. “I think we’re just going to have to tough it out at one of these little hole-in-the-wall places.” When I roll my eyes, she says, “Remember when we took that road trip to Atlanta, and we found that dumpy little diner right outside the city? You said they had the best peach cobbler in the world. Maybe we could get lucky here.” But her expression doesn’t look quite as hopeful as she scans the roadside for options.

She chooses a stucco building that boasts “We Serve Breakfast All Day” with a huge sign in the front window. When we open the door, a velvet sash tied to the handle and overwhelmed with jingle bells alerts the five patrons that we’ve arrived. We take a booth by the front window and Mom orders coffee.

I peer over my menu, watching as she dumps sugar into the steaming cup. It’s something I’ve seen a million times; she’s always had a little coffee with her sugar. But I’ve never seen it knowing who and what she is. Before, she was just Mom with a caffeine addiction. Now, she’s Nalia, the Poseidon princess. There is no sugar in the Syrena world. There is no coffee. Galen dry heaves at the first taste of either.

Mom notices me noticing her. “You might as well ask,” she says, as if any amount of stirring could dissolve the pound of sugar she’s dumped in her cup.

I unroll my silverware. “I was just wondering how long it took you to get used to human food.” I eye her cup for emphasis.

“Ah.” Just then, the waitress, whose name tag says “Agnes,” returns for our order. As if to promote irony, Mom orders pancakes with extra syrup. I get a burger. Restaurants like these usually build a decent burger.

When Agnes leaves, Mom corrals the mug with both hands as if trying to keep it warm. “I don’t drink coffee for the taste. But what’s not to like about sugar, right?”

“Galen gags on anything sweet. Mostly, he gags on anything not seafood.”

Mom smiles, as if she’s only tolerating the sound of Galen’s name for the sake of talking about sugar. “It takes some time. I’ve been on land quite a while, Emma.” She leans closer, lowers her voice. “Since World War II. If you think about it, that means I’ve been human longer than I was ever Syrena.”

She says this as if I actually know the real date of her birth. My eyes are in danger of falling out of their sockets. I already knew that Syrena live to be hundreds of years old. That they age well. Sure, Mom has a few grays streaking her hair. Some wrinkles tugging at her blue eyes. But she doesn’t look like the moldy four years old she’s claiming.

She presses her lips together as the waitress sets a bottle of syrup on the table. When she leaves again, Mom says, “That’s it? No more questions?”

Oh, but there are. “How did you really meet Dad?” I realize then that I feel a sense of disconnection with my life. That if Mom isn’t who I thought she was, then Dad couldn’t possibly be, either. The story was always that they met in college and fell in love at first sight. Now that I reflect on it, the whole story sounds like a generic, all-purpose romance. Boring and cliché and BS.

Mom nods, as if I asked the right question. “We met years after I’d come ashore. I was selling souvenirs on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, and at night I worked at a freak show.” She grins. “As a mermaid.”

I gasp and she laughs. “Oh, not a real one, mind you,” she says, eyes full of nostalgia. “They dressed me up in this ridiculous costume with a sequined fin and had me swim around a huge tank and wave at the tourists. The ring leader—Oliver was his name—liked that I could hold my breath for a long time.” She shrugs. “It was pretty cheesy, but it was easy money.”

“So you weren’t in college.”

“I wasn’t, no.” She takes another sip. “Your father was though. He was visiting for spring break. I mugged him.”

“You what?”

“You have to understand I didn’t make very much money, even with two jobs. It hardly even paid for my food. I couldn’t fish, because—”

“You didn’t want anyone to sense you in the water.” Otherwise, she could have been pretty self-sufficient.

She nods. “So one day I see this group of cocky college students, spending money left and right. Pulling wads of cash out of their pockets to pay for small purchases, like ice cream.” She rolls her eyes. “They were flashing it. They wanted people to know they were rich.”

“Doesn’t mean they wanted people to mug them,” I mutter.

Mom shrugs. “No, but they were trying to attract attention from the ladies, so I made sure to act interested. Your dad was one of them. I’d seen him before. He came to the freak show a lot and just sat there and watched me. Boy, did he make me feel uncomfortable. After a while, he got up the guts to ask me on a date, and all I could think was that a free dinner sounded fabulous. He took me to a nice restaurant and a picture show—that’s what we called movies back then. Afterward, he insisted on walking me home, but since I didn’t have a home to walk to, I made up an address and let him walk me to it. That’s when he told me he’d seen me breathing underwater, in the tank.”

The waitress interrupts then, setting Mom’s pancakes in front of her, and lowering a tower of beef and cheese and bread in front of me. “You all set, then?” Agnes says.

Mom and I nod. “Let me know if you need anything else,” Agnes continues. “Lester just pulled a strawberry pie out of the oven, and it’d be downright sinful if you didn’t try it.” With an awkward wink, she leaves.

“I want strawberry pie,” I tell Mom, shaking the ketchup bottle for my fries. “It’s the least you could do.”

Mom smiles and steals a fry from my plate. “Agreed. Maybe I’ll have a piece, too.”

I eye her pancakes doubtfully. “So anyway. What do you mean he saw you breathing underwater?”

“Well, you know we draw water into our lungs, and get oxygen from it, right?” She lowers her voice to an almost-whisper.

I nod. Dr. Milligan had told us that, after studying Galen. I wonder if Dad discovered this feature of Syrena lung function while studying Mom.

“I tried to be discreet about doing it, you know, taking small breaths, or going to the opposite side of the tank. But somehow he noticed.” She drizzles the pancakes with syrup for what seems like a decade. Then she sets to cutting them up. “Well, that officially ended our date, to say the least. But more than that, it meant I had to leave the boardwalk. I couldn’t risk him blowing my cover—though, when I think about it, I’m not sure how he would have proved it—but I didn’t have the resources to leave on my own. So I pulled a gun on him and demanded his wallet.”

The soda in my mouth becomes the soda in my nose. “You had a gun?” I cough and sputter into my napkin.

Mom’s eyes go round and she presses her finger to her lips, mouthing, “Shhh!”

“Where did you get a gun?” I hiss.

“Oliver lent it to me. He was always looking out for me. Told me to shoot first and run. He said the asking-questions-later part was for the police.” She grins at my expression. “Does that earn me cool points?”

I swirl a fry in the mound of ketchup on my plate. “You want cool points for pulling a gun on my father?” I say it with all the appropriate disdain and condescension it deserves, but deep down, we both know she gets mega cool points for it.

“Psh.” She waves her hand. “I didn’t even know whether or not it would fire. And anyway, he didn’t hand me his wallet. He propositioned me instead.”

BOOK: Of Poseidon 02: Of Triton
10.12Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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