Of Neptune Page 14

“Why would he do that?” Reed looks Galen square in the eyes.

Galen decides Reed has a gift for discernment.“We were wondering the same thing,” he mutters.

Emma laughs. “It’s obvious he wanted us to find you. Oh, um, no, Neptune,” she stutters. “I meant he wanted us to find Neptune.”

Reed shifts his attention back to Emma. “I’m glad he did.”

Galen is quite certain Reed is not under any false impressions about his relationship with Emma. And he’s just as sure Reed doesn’t care. Reed is thoroughly enchanted by Emma, and Galen can’t blame him.

But I can knock his teeth out.…

Reed continues to ask questions, and Emma continues to offer vague but truthful answers: Her mother has lived on land all of her life. Her father was a human doctor, who knew her mother was Syrena. She met Galen off the coast of Florida. The kingdoms are aware of her existence, and for the time being are okay with it.

To Galen’s relief, Emma doesn’t offer any information about their Royal heritage or the recent events that led to her discovery. He knows she feels a connection with this new stranger, and while he doesn’t like it, he at least understands it. Reed is a Half-Breed like her. With that carries novelty and curiosity, and for Emma, a certain sense of belonging. Especially if they’re approaching a town full of Half-Breeds.

But Galen’s not about to trust this blond boy who oozes charm. Galen has been fooled by a good-natured smile before. It won’t happen again.

9

IT’S LIKE Galen’s not even in the car with us. Reed and I converse while Galen broods over the steering wheel. At Reed’s direction, he pulls us onto a winding gravel road, leading us farther and farther into the woods, closer and closer to the cleavage of two nearby mountains.

To the town of Neptune.

There is a wooden sign at the edge of town with the words WELCOME TO NEPTUNE carved in big letters at the top and TOWN OF MEMORIES at the bottom in smaller, more elegant letters. The sign stands in a flower bed lined with white-painted rocks. Galen’s gaze seems to linger on the bottom words as we pass. I want to ask him about it, but I know better than to do so in front of Reed.

Galen’s quiet saturates the air between us, a silent disapproval of my immediate acceptance of Reed. It occurs to me that Galen could be jealous, too, which is moderately insane. Especially given our afternoon make-out session just hours before. So I decide to give him the benefit of the doubt and treat his withdrawal from the conversation as caution. Actually, I’m kind of hoping this is about Reed in some way and not about the existence of Neptune, or my excitement about it. Because of course I’m excited. What’s not intriguing about a town of Half-Breeds? Surely Galen can understand why I’m so interested. And if not, he should make more of an effort here.

The SUV pulls onto what looks like the main street of Neptune. A row of small, endearing stores and offices line both sides of the street. To me, it’s the cliché depiction of a town in the old West, only there are cars parked in front of the businesses instead of horses tied to wooden posts. A medley of people promenade the concrete sidewalks. Some are obviously Syrena—olive skin, black hair, violet eyes, classic muscular build. Others are obvious Half-Breeds. And then there are those who could be human—or a cocktail of all three species combined. There are blond pale Asians. There are blond lighter-colored African-Americans. Old and young. Male and female. A walking jumble of species and races and ages and genders.

I take it all in, ignoring my growing excitement and Galen’s deepening scowl. “So all these people live around here? Where?”

“They live in houses, just like regular people. We live like humans here. Because most of us are partly human.” Reed gives me a meaningful look, which I pretend not to notice.

“So what do you do here?”

“What do you mean?”

“What is the purpose of the town? Is this—” I sweep my hand toward the buildings and people around us. “Is all this just for show? Or are those shops really open?”

Reed laughs. “Of course, they’re open. We need hardware stores and post offices and grocery stores just like any other town. We have electric bills, too, you know.”

Mind-blowing. “So how does it all work? How do you pay the electric bills?”

“This is turning into a social studies lesson.”

I roll my eyes. “You know what I mean.”

“We are pretty self-sufficient. I work part-time at the grocery store after school, but I take off summers for fishing. Some of the humans commute to neighboring towns to work at banks and insurance companies or whatever. I guess I don’t know how else to explain it. We’re just a normal town.”

Reed doesn’t know how to explain it, and I don’t know what else to ask. I guess I thought maybe it was all for show and they were all independently wealthy like Galen. But Reed is right, they really are a normally functioning small town. As normal as a town full of Half-Breeds could be.

We halt at the only stoplight in sight, in front of what appears to be a three-story cottage-like bed-and-breakfast—a big sign in the front indicates there are no vacancies. A man sits on the front porch in a white rocking chair. So far, he is the only one who seems out of place, and maybe that’s just because he’s wearing a white lab coat covered with the soil he’s packing into the potted plant in front of him. He looks up and pauses, watching the SUV as if it were an approaching predator. Once again, I’m grateful for the tinted windows.

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