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To Tell or Not To Tell
“Are you sure you should be doing this?” Zach Philips asked me nervously, his eyes darted around the deserted beach.
“Zach, stop being a nervous Nelly,” I reprimanded. “It’s not like I’m playing with the time machine again. I know what I’m doing.”
“That’s what you said just before you set your kitchen on fire. And before you accidentally made Phyllis into my crazy-eyed stalker. And before you took me camping and gave me hives. This time I’m going to make a wild guess here and say, no, you don’t know what you’re doing. You’re going to get yourself into some kind of ridiculous situation that shouldn’t happen in real life but does because this is you we’re talking about.”
I crossed my arms and tried to look angry, but I was too excited. “Come on, Zach, have a little faith. How many times have you wished that you were a mythical creature? Like, a trillion? Let me have my moment.”
He looked around the beach again. “What if you get caught?”
“I won’t. Because you are going to stand guard. Besides, anyone who sees me will probably think they’re hallucinating.”
“No. No way, not again. I can’t be involved in every one of your crazy schemes.”
I huffed at him. “Are you kidding me?” I asked as I pulled my shorts off of my bathing suit bottom. “We came all this way just for you to refuse to help me? That’s not very supportive of you.”
“Supportive of me?” He asked loudly. “How am I not being supportive? I’m just trying to talk you out of doing something we’ll all come to regret.”
“You know, you are literally on my back about everything.”
“Brook, that’s not even something I could do literally if I wanted to.”
“Whatever,” I demanded, “just stand guard.” I pulled a small green tube from my shorts’ pocket and ran to the water’s edge.
“What is that stuff anyway?” Zach asked, peeking over the rock I’d sat behind.
“It’s called Seashell Gel. You rub it on,” I explained as I did just that, “and then water activates it, turning you into a mermaid.”
“For how long?”
“Just until I dry off. Then it will take more gel and more water to turn me back.”
“Zach!” Phyllis’s voice rang down the beach.
“What? How did she find me?” his eyes doubled in size as he asked.
I was suddenly reminded of one of the biggest reasons I’d snuck out today. My stupid step-cousin was back in town and I didn’t need her around right now. I had enough on my plate with me still trying to find a date to the Under The Sea dance at school.
I tossed the tube on top of my shorts and dove into the water as quickly as I could.
I was a strong swimmer even without the tail that was quickly growing. I swam in spirals, pushing myself further and further out to sea, laughing as I went.
I slowed to a stop and let myself bop above the surface. I gently floated up and down on the pulsing blue water, my tail hidden away beneath me.
Sometimes I missed doing this with Hayley. She wasn’t such a worrier like Zach. The two of us mermaids would swim around out here for hours at a time having so much fun together. I sighed and looked around, wishing more than anything right now that she was here with me. I dove back down into the water, letting my tail gracefully flap down after me, just like real mermaid tails did.
I stretched as I woke up in a strangely lit cave. “I must have really tired myself out,” I laughed. The laugh returned as an echo. “Oh my gosh,” I suddenly realized, “everyone is going to be waiting up for me. Now I’m really gonna be in trouble.”
It struck me as ironic that here I was actually getting to be under the sea, and I was the one who had to worry about the stupid dance at school. Of course, I knew I couldn’t go alone. Who would I dance with?
I dove into the shimmering light in the water and quickly resurfaced in a larger section of the cave. I admired the moonlight as it danced through the little waterfall that covered the cave’s opening, thinking about how much fun Hayley and I would have if she were here. We like to float on our backs out at sea and watch the stars. Stars didn’t have the same meaning for humans as they did for us Xena, but Hayley still had an interest in constellations and stuff.
I passed through the waterfall into the larger portion of ocean. The moonlight I’d been in awe of three seconds ago was suddenly concentrated into a single full moon. I shook off the fear that had tried to settle on me. There was nothing to worry about. Full moons were typically omens for me and my family, but I’d be home soon and everything would be all better.
As soon as I’d turned my back, a shadow crossed over the moon. I looked back up, but only saw the giant ball of light staring quietly back at me. “You’re over reacting,” I told myself out loud. “Nothing bad is going to happen. You’re going to get home, sneak back into your room, and no one is ever going to know the difference.”
I swam along home until I heard a loud explosion close by. My first thought, of course, was to ignore it. I mean, what could I do about it? Besides, I was trying to not be seen in mermaid form.
With a sigh, I turned around to survey the damage. On top of a burning boat stood two people: a guy and a girl. The girl quickly dove off of the boat, but the guy swayed backward and flipped of into the water.
She’ll save him, I thought to myself. But she didn’t She swam in the opposite direction as quickly as she could. I gave a huge sigh. I didn’t really have much of a choice here, did I? I dove into the water again, swimming down after him. The water was blackness. My eyes darted around and finally spotted him when I’d gotten within a few feet.
I’d seen plenty of mermaid rescues in movies. I swam behind him and wove my arms under his, pulling him up to the surface.
When I’d gotten him to shore, I pulled him as far in as I could, considering the fact that I still had a tail. Unfortunately, Zach must have taken my stuff back with him. That meant the tail wouldn’t go away until I air-dried. At night. On the beach. Gee, thanks a lot Zach.
I flopped down next to the boy. I could be here a while. As I studied his strong features, a sea breeze lifted up the dark hair around his face. He was really cute. But he couldn’t be from around here. I would remember seeing a face like that at my school. I gently brushed a piece of wet hair from his face.
He suddenly jumped up, opening intense blue eyes, scaring the living sunlight out of me. I hopped back into the water quickly, swimming from the shallow to deep water. I was gonna find that kid when I got out of my fin. He was going to fall madly in love with me and we would live happily ever after.
I slipped out of my bedroom quietly the next morning. If I could just get to Zach’s house and get that seashell gel back before my parents could figure out what I’d done, I’d be all set.
I grabbed a ginger ale from the fridge as sneakily as I could. And shut the door quickly, ready to bolt out of the house.
“Didn’t hear you come in last night.”
I jumped to see Peter standing where the refrigerator door just was. “How long have you been standing there? Geez, you almost gave me a heart attack!”
“Brook, last night was a full moon.”
“Uh, duh,” I answered as though I’d known the whole time.
“So where were you?”
“I was in my room. Doing homework.”
“Yeah, like that’s even believable!” he scoffed.
“Well that’s what I was doing,” I insisted. I had told a bad lie. So it happens. Now I was stuck with that story.
“Let’s see if Mom and Dad believe your story,” he suggested.
“No, wait.” He stopped and looked at me. “Okay. But if I tell you where I was, you have to promise not to tell anyone.
He looked me up and down suspiciously. “Fine.”
“Okay, I was at the beach. I just went for a little swim. Then I met this guy and we hung out for a little while. Don’t worry,” I quickly cautioned when I saw his protective-older-brother face coming on, “nothing happened. We just sat around for a bit and then I had to run to get home.”
“That’s the truth?” he asked, not sure if he fully believed it yet.
“That’s the truth. But remember, you promised.”
“I know, I know,” he opened the fridge and pulled out a bottle of his boring purified water.
My mind shot back to the boy from the beach. Had Hayley still been here, we would have been talking about him all night. I mean, I could still talk to Zach about this kind of thing, but he couldn’t understand the way another girl could.
I picked up a box of Poptarts from the counter and tried to choose a flavor for breakfast. “I have to go to Zach’s house,” I informed Peter. “We’re going to the mall to find me a dress for the dance.”
“Has anyone even asked you yet?” he asked, unscrewing his water’s cap.
“No, but I have a feeling that this guy I met might.”
He shrugged, “Maybe. But you did run out on him last night, right?”
Yeah, but first I saved his life!
I was in Zach’s livingroom about five minutes later, waiting for him to finish up with some crazy “rush of inspiration” that he had. Whenever he came up with something like that, it meant that I would be waiting until he wrote down whatever this spurt of genius was in his little notebook.
I rolled my eyes. “Zach, how much longer?”
He shushed me and continued to scribble furiously in that little notebook of his. I don’t think he’s ever gone anywhere without that thing.
Knowing that it could be over an hour before he was ready to go, I sighed and found my way into his kitchen. “What do you have to eat in here?” I asked even though I knew there’d be no reply. I opened his fridge and a few cabinets before I decided to have a bowl of ice cream.
“What am I in the mood for?” I asked myself. “Chocolate Lovers’ Delight, that sounds good.”
I walked to the cabinet to find myself a bowl, but there weren’t any. Didn’t anyone in this house ever clean their dishes? The blinking green light on the dishwasher caught my attention. Aha! I opened the door and pulled out the first rack of dishes. I pulled up a bowl a little too quickly and the dirty dishwasher water splashed up on me.
“Gross!” I cried, grabbing a dishcloth from the counter. I wiped it on my face, but it was just as wet as the bowl.
My legs felt strangely wobbly. I shrieked as I fell down. “Zach! Can you come here a second?”
Zach walked in. “Brook what do you—What did you do?” He looked at the mermaid tail in wonder.
“I don’t know,” I answered as he tossed me a dry towel. “I left the seashell gel with you. This shouldn’t happen.”
“Don’t worry,” he told me sarcastically, “you know what you’re doing.”
“Yes, I do,” I countered, standing up on my dried legs. “Before I saved that boy, something weird happened with the full moon. Maybe it just made the gel have a longer-lasting effect. I’ll just keep dry until it wears off.”
“Wait, what boy?”
“Oh, right. I’ll tell you about it on the way there. I have got to go shopping.”
“This dress is so perfect!” I told Zach as we walked into a small café in the mall with shopping bags in our hands.
“Here,” he dropped the bags onto the table. “Now that I can finally put all your stuff down, I’m gonna go grab us our usuals.”
I nodded as he walked away. It was nice to have a guy friend with such a great sense of style to help me pick out a dress for the dance. I’d look magical in the shimmering blue dress. Now all I needed was the date.
Wait a second! I held my breath as I stared at the boy across the room. It was the same guy I’d saved at the beach! I’d found my Prince Charming! Happily ever after, here I come!!
“Hi,” I greeted as I sat down at his table. “I’m Brook. Are you new around here?”
His deep blue eyes almost made me melt. “Yeah. I just moved here from England.”
England! My and Hayley’s favorite boys came from England!! “Oh, that’s cool,” I answered, pretending to be less interested than I actually was.
“I’m Alex Grey,” he offered his right hand to me.
I shook it, letting my hand linger in his longer than necessary. “Alex Grey,” I mused as I took my hand back. “That sounds like the name of a best-selling author.
He laughed. “I’m not much of an author, unless properly inspired.”
“And what inspires you?” I asked in mock seriousness, a little smirk forming from the corner of my lips. Whatever it was, I was sure it wouldn’t be like Zach’s inspiration.
“Oh, the inspiration can come from anywhere. A full moon. A fair rose. A beautiful girl like you.”
The way he looked at me made me blush a little. I giggled, truly flattered. Curly brown locks fell from my messy updo and into my matching eyes. I rested my thin hands on my torn bluejeans as I shifted in my seat, my fingers playing with the green sequins on my thighs. I wanted to ask him about the school dance, but for some reason I felt a little nervous.
Zach suddenly appeared with two coffees in his hands, looking at me curiously. I rolled my eyes at him and tilted my head slightly toward Alex. Hayley, as another girl, would have easily taken the hint, but Zach seemed confused. “Uh, Brook, our table is over there. The one with all our stuff on it?”
I sighed and stood, upset that I’d been interrupted before I’d gotten the nerve to ask him out.
“Brook, would you have lunch with me tomorrow? I know a really good place.”
I grinned. “Like a date?”
I didn’t scream, but I wanted to. I bit my lip with delight and pulled a pen from Zach’s hand, searching my pockets for a piece of paper.
“No, take mine.” He took the pen and neatly scrawled his number onto my palm, stretching his right arm over my shoulder and steadying my left hand with his.
Electric joy tingled up and down my spine. I couldn’t help but grin wildly as I studied the number on my hand.
“That was him!” I told a clueless Zach after Alex had left. “That was the boy from the beach. The one that I’m destined to spend the rest of my life with! Should we name our daughter Ursula or Melody?”
“Brook, you don’t know him yet.”
“His name is Alex Grey,” I sighed.
“But you just met him. As your best friend, I’m just telling you that you tend to be a little bit too optimistic about your relationships.”
“Don’t you believe in love at first sight?” I asked. “I bet Hayley does.” I saw the hurt look in his eyes and tried to amend myself. “It’s just that she’s a girl and she’d probably understand girly things like this. I’m sure that we’re going to be together forever,” I announced proudly.
“I haven’t heard that before,” he answered sarcastically.
“Don’t be a ninja who steals people’s dreams. Alex and I have obvious chemistry. When I look at him, it’s like no one else in the world exists.”
“That’s only because you’re so good at ignoring me,” he corrected annoyingly.
I sat across from Alex in a place called Cleo’s Grotto Grill, gazing into Alex’s blue eyes. Despite the name and the menu, the place was well decorated with silky white tablecloths and candles on every table; the lights were tinted in a dreamy orange glow. “This is amazing. I should always leave the romantic moments to you,” I girlishly giggled.
“Well, I can’t deny that this was amazing,” he smiled, “but so was my inspiration.” He reached out and took my hand. His other hand retrieved from his pocket a small red box. Actually, it looked a lot like Hayley’s locket box. The one that she kept on her dresser all the time.
I took the box and looked up at him in shock. “What is it?”
“Open it,” he laughed.
“Oh, right.” I opened the box with a gasp. Inside lay a pearl necklace with a crystalline heart at the bottom. “It’s beautiful.”
He removed the necklace from its resting place and slipped it over my head and around my neck. “And watch what happens when you get it wet.” He pushed my glass of water to me with a little too much force. The water slid back and forth, a few drops spilling over the edge and onto the table.
Great, really? I pushed my chair away from the table. He had to choose today of all days? This was just my luck. Any other day and a splash of water would have meant less than nothing to me. In fact, I loved water, which is why Hayley and I were always sneaking the Seashell Gel. “I’ll just check it out when I get home.” This wasn’t going the way I’d planned, not that first dates usually did.
“I made it myself,” he insisted, shoving the glass so hard that a miniature wave almost hit me.
I leapt from my seat just in time. “I’m sorry, Alex, but I just remembered that I have somewhere to be. I promised Hay—uh, Zach—that we’d work on some school-related thing. I have to go.”
He lightly grabbed my hand as I tried to make my getaway. “Would you come to my house for dinner, then?”
“Mhmm,” I quickly nodded before running out of the restaurant. As my luck would have it, it was raining, too. I did the only thing I could think to do, considering that we were right by the harbor. I ran to the end of the dock and dove in before my tail could sprout.
Well, this worked out just fine, I thought. Now he’ll never want to see me again.
“The food is delicious, Mrs. Grey,” I told Alex’s mom that night.
“Thank you, Dear, you’re so sweet.” She smiled and offered me some more.
I hastily accepted, though I tried to act like I wasn’t starving. That wouldn’t make a very good first impression. She was a great cook, and everything at the table tasted like it had been made in a wonderful restaurant.
“The three of us are going to the beach on tomorrow. Would you like to come with us?” Mr. Grey asked me.
Of course I’d like to go, but I couldn’t chance getting wet in front of them. Not until I figured out how to stop the magical transformations.
“Oh, I would love to, Sir, but I have a family engagement that day.” I felt really bad when I saw the devastated disappointment in Alex’s eyes, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it. Until I could control this stupid mermaid tail, I had to avoid water.
Thankfully, the conversation soon changed gear and we talked for several hours about topic after topic.
“Brook,” Alex asked as I readied to leave, “would you do me a favor?”
I was nervous about what this favor might be and whether it might involve water, but I already had him thinking I didn’t want to be around him. We were never going to get married and have a daughter if he never wanted to see me again. “Sure,” I answered with a smile.
“I’m working on a project for the school art expo,” he explained. “Would you be my model?”
That was simple enough. “Of course.”
“Okay, then meet me at the park across the street from your house Friday after school.”
“Brook?” I looked up from my lunch to see Alex standing by the table. In an extremely unhelpful manner, Zach quickly picked up his tray and moved to another table so Alex could sit.
“Hey, how’s it going?” I asked nervously, knowing that I’d blown him and his family off the day before.
“So, funny story. I ran into your family yesterday at the beach.”
Thank you, family. You just had to be out in the sun, didn’t you? What’s wrong with staying home, eating baloney sandwiches, and watching reruns of sports games?
“You did?” I faked shock, though I knew I didn’t have a very good explanation just yet.
“They had no idea where you were. In fact, they seemed to have the strange notion that you were with my family on the beach.”
“That is weird,” I admitted. “They must have had the date confused or something.”
“Brook, why don’t you just tell me the truth? Why did you blow me off? If you have a good reason, I’m sure that I’ll understand.”
What qualified as a good reason? I was an alien who was morphing into a mermaid and couldn’t be on the beach? I didn’t think that would work. “I’m sorry. I just—don’t really like the beach, and I didn’t want you to think that I was blowing you off.”
He looked unconvinced, but he stood and walked away without another word.
“What did he say?” Zach asked when he’d seen the coast was clear.
“Nothing, Mr. Unhelpful.” I sighed. What was I supposed to do about this guy?
I stared at the ceiling most of that night playing with my cell phone every now and then, half-expecting to hear from Hayley, as though she weren’t out killing zombies or something.
I loved Zach, but as close as we were, he was a guy. There was no way he’d understand all of this relationship stuff the same way Hayley did. I needed a close girl friend to talk to about these kinds of things.
I rolled onto my stomach and looked at the picture we’d taken at my birthday party. The two of us were smiling widely and giggling, which is exactly what I wanted right now. But I knew that there wouldn’t be much hope of that. Not until her mission was complete, anyway.
I’d been posing in the park for hours, and my limbs were starting to hurt from being held in one place to long. “Alex, are you done yet?” I asked without moving my stiff mouth.
“No. I’m trying to decide if I want the fourth painting to look like the first three. Perhaps we should change the setting? Oh, the museum would be a nice place. We could put you next to the mummy exhibit.”
“Fourth?” I dropped out of my uncomfortable position. “You already finished three?” I rubbed my stiff jaw as I rounded his easel to see the paintings of myself.
“Yes. Three of the most beautiful paintings of the most beautiful girl in the world.” His eyes were shimmering as he looked at me happily, though they seemed to flash with something else for just a moment. “That’s you.”
I gave a half-hearted laugh and forced a smile. “You don’t have to paint all these pictures of me.” Not only was modeling hard work, but I was starting to feel a flush of embarrassment.
“Oh, I haven’t finished just yet, Brown Eyes. I still need you to model.”
“I’m just gonna take a little break,” I told him as I passed.
“No matter. The image of your unmatchable beauty is etched into my mind. I’ll continue until you get back.”
I think that crossed the boundary of flattering into a little bit creepy. I mean, I did like him, but there was definitely something wrong with his newfound obsession. It’s like there was some other reason that he was doing this, and I couldn’t figure out what it was.
I needed to talk to someone about this. And it couldn’t wait until Hayley decided to come back.
I ran into my house and slammed the door, dropping into one of our big sofa chairs. Zach, Kay, and Rosie were sitting on the couch.
“How’s it going?” Zach asked.
“Fine. It’s going great. In fact I—I—Oh my gosh, he’s driving me crazy. I just don’t know what to do. We’ve been out there for hours and he still wants to draw me. I mean, my time is valuable, right? Right?”
Zach shook his head; the girls looked at me doubtfully, causing me to cross my arms. He walked up to me and whispered, “You have to tell Peter. He can help you.”
I hated that he was right, but all the same, I knew that Peter would know how to get me out of this mess.
I banged on Peter’s bedroom door three loud times.
I marched in and sat on his bed.
Turning away from whatever he was working on at his desk, he studied my worried face. “What did you do?”
“Well, remember the guy from the beach?” I waited for him to nod. “I may have told a teeny white lie. We did meet on the beach, kind of, but we weren’t just hanging out.”
He looked angry and worried, so I quickly continued. “I used the Seashell Gel. I was out swimming that night, and I saved him when his boat went on fire. Then I met him again at the mall and everything was perfect until he almost got me wet, because then I had to keep running from him, which hurt his feelings and now he wants to paint pictures of me all day long!” I stopped rambling and took a deep breath.
There was a moment of silence while he stared hard at me. He put his pencil down by his notebook and joined me on his bed. “Brook, you know you should have been home. Just because there’s no one around to watch you doesn’t mean that you should be so reckless all of the time now--”
“Peter,” I sighed angrily, “it’s not like I’ve never been outside in a full moon before. Nothing terrible has ever happened to me.”
“This was a Bluemoon,” he explained.
I wasn’t as smart as him, or even the average person, so I had to ask, “Should that mean something to me?”
“It’s a rare type of full moon that can produce stronger effects. It must have prolonged the effect of the Seashell Gel. You need to undo it before the next rainfall or it could be permanent.”
He handed me a tube of cucumber melon lotion.
“The chemicals in this counteract the effects of the gel. Hurry up and put it on so you can back before he suspects anything. Uh, oh.”
“No, don’t say uh oh,” I begged, following his gaze out the window. “Oh no.” Alex was walking toward my house with his arms full of paintings. I started lathering that cream on my arms and legs like my life depended on it. The purple shimmer that my skin was quickly adopting told me that it had started to work.
I darted down the stairs and outside as quickly as I could, making my way to Alex. He sat on the curb in front of my house with his chin in his hands and his artwork thrown onto the sidewalk. “Hey,” I greeted timidly, shoving the bottle of lotion into my purse and hoping that the shimmer, which had become subtler, could pass for body glitter. He barely moved as I lowered myself to sit beside him. “Alex.”
“What are you doing?” he asked me.
“What do you mean?”
“You stood me up at our date, blew me off with some excuse about not being able to go to the beach, and now you run away while we’re in the middle of my project.”
“I’m sorry,” I barely whispered, looking into his eyes deeply. “I don’t know. It’s just that I had this really good friend and she would have known exactly what I should say to you, but she’s not around anymore, so I just have no clue what I’m doing. The night—“ My skin still had a slight glow to it, and I could hear thunder and see clouds gathering. If I was going to keep my secret, I’d have to get inside now, which meant risking losing Alex for good.
“Okay,” I told him, “the truth is pretty crazy. Are you sure that you can handle it?” My eyes widened as I nervously toyed with a stray piece of my hair. I wasn’t at all sure about what I was going to do next.
“There’s someone else, isn’t there?” he asked sadly. The thunder clapped right above us and my hearts nearly stopped as the first drops of rain free fell from the sky.
“No. The reason I’ve been kind of avoiding you has nothing to do with you or any other guys. I think that there’s something I need to tell you.” I couldn’t speak quickly enough, within seconds I was drenched. I knew that tears, as well as raindrops, were dripping down my face. This was the moment of truth. The moment when he’d see me the way I was when we’d really first met.
But nothing happened. I held my breath as he stared at me in anticipation. I looked at my arms, which had returned to their peachy color. I had legs, beautiful humanoid legs, and not the tail of a fish. The lotion had worked its magic.
“Well, what is it?” he asked earnestly. “Whatever it is, I’m here to listen. I promise, it can’t be crazier than some of the things I’ve seen and heard.”
Actually, you have no idea. “I just really like you a lot. I’ve never fallen for a guy so hard so quickly before, though I’m sure Hayley and Zach would definitely have something to say about that,” I laughed, almost to myself.
“I like you too,” he smiled, taking my hand lightly. “I think that you’re an amazing girl. That’s why I’ve been so unbearable this week. I know we’ve only just met, and I have no intention of rushing anything, but I was afraid of losing you so soon.”
I blushed at his heartfelt speech. “Yeah, I feel the same.” Before I knew what I was doing, I leaned in, tilting my head to the right. He leaned toward me, but before our lips could touch, I suddenly remembered our surroundings and hopped to my feet. “Oh, the paintings!”
They were stuck to the pavement like chewed gum, completely ruined. “Oh, don’t worry about them,” he laughed. “I can always paint another.”
I smirked. “Let’s get out of this rain,” I suggested.
“Yes, in just a moment.” I stood watching and waiting for him to do something.
“Why are we standing out here,” I laughed. I couldn’t help but let out the chuckles of relief that I had at the moment about the Seashell Gel and about this new relationship with Alex. Something told me that we really were going to be a great couple.
“Now that we’ve bared our souls to each other, I have something important I want to ask you.”
“What is it?”
He grinned and took my hand again in both of his. “Would you be my date to the Under the Sea Dance?”
I laughed uncontrollably, but managed to quickly undo any offense with, “Yes! I’ve been waiting for you to ask!”