Of Neptune Page 27

Until I notice Reed smirking at me.

“What?” I say.

He shrugs innocently. “I was just trying to imagine you using the Gift in the ocean. And I was getting a little jealous of it.” He gently steers us clear of some drooping tree limbs that hold a masterpiece of a spiderweb. “What’s the biggest fish you’ve ever talked to?”

The answer immediately pops into mind. “A blue whale. I named him Goliath. You’ve never been in the ocean?”

“Of course not.”

“Why?”

“Well for starters, it’s against our law. And secondly, didn’t you hear what Triton did to Tartessos? Not pretty.”

No, it wasn’t pretty. I can’t imagine the same thing happening to Neptune. “Understandable.”

“Besides, I’m not trying to get speared by the almighty ocean dwellers.” The way he says it carries a sudden hardness. Like when you get to the pit of a cherry. “You’re friends with a blue whale?” Apparently, Reed can go from smug to incredulous in snap-point-two seconds. “Weren’t you afraid?”

Terrified is a closer description. But I can tell Reed is in awe of me right now, so I decide to sit back and enjoy the moment. “I was at first. It was before I knew I had the Gift. I thought he was going to eat me.”

“Blue whales eat krill. If he ate you, it would have been an accident.”

“Comforting. Truly.”

“So he didn’t eat you. You’re a horrible storyteller, you know that?”

So much for awe. “I realized that he was gentle—and that he responded to my voice when I told him what to do. I knew then that he wouldn’t hurt me.”

“How often do you see him?”

I’m aware that my shoulders sag a little as the regret broils from my stomach to my throat. “Actually, a few months ago he was harpooned by some idiot fishermen. I didn’t see him for a long time after that. Then one day a few weeks ago, he came to me out of nowhere. I could still see the scar, and I gave him some extra love. But I don’t care what scientists say about how fish have no feelings. Goliath acted differently. He wasn’t as playful as he was before that happened. It’s like he was traumatized or something.”

Reed gives a solemn nod. “Um. Whales are mammals. They definitely have feelings. But touchy-feely feelings? Not sure about all that.”

“Well, I’m telling you they do.”

“Right. So. We don’t have to fish if you don’t want to. We can turn around and go back.”

I tilt my head at him. “But you said we weren’t going to keep the fish. Did you mean it?”

“Of course I did. I would never lie to you, Emma. I’m way too scared of you.” He chuckles. “But sometimes when you’re fishing, they swallow the hook. I’ve never thought of it, but to me, swallowing a hook and having it ripped out of you could be kinda traumatizing, don’t you think?”

Of course it would. Which is why I never intended to let him catch a single fish. But I still want to see his face when I thwart his plans. “Are you trying to back out now? Afraid you can’t beat Toby after all?”

Reed sits a little straighter. “I changed my mind. We’re not turning back now. Not even if you ask.”

I’m becoming very good at baiting males. The rest of our ride is spent in silence. I can tell we’re getting close to our destination because every time I try to chit-chat, he mumbles his answer and glances over his shoulder. Guys really take this sport-fishing thing to a whole new level of weirdness.

At last, Reed holds up his fist and shuts off the engine. The lulling song of frogs and the fast-moving current over a sandbar contrast against any silence we might have had. We come to a halt in the widest part of the creek so far. Reed makes quick work of hooking two crickets on his line. I can’t help but wonder if the scientists are wrong about insects, too. What if they actually do feel pain, and here I’ve let him impale two live crickets?

“Life’s too short to use dead bait,” he says almost superstitiously. I wonder what kind of fishermen’s lore he just satisfied by telling himself that. Ridiculous.

So Reed is not in an eco-friendly mood right now. He’s all determination and focus and testosterone. He turns his back to me and casts off the back of the boat in one smooth motion.

Finally, my time has come.

With glee, I pull back my hair and shove my face in the water. I open my mouth to shout and large air bubbles escape first, tickling my face as they rise to the surface. But I will not be deterred. “Swim away!” I scream. “You’re all in danger! Swim away!” I see the backends of fishtails scatter, just as they’re told. Minnows, a water moccasin, a turtle. Other bigger, striped fish that I can’t identify make a whooshing sound with their speedy departure. When I come back up, Reed is reeling his line in with a scowl.

“I just knew you were going to do that,” he grumbles.

“I should have done it before you murdered those two crickets. See something, say something, you know?” His pouty face is borderline adorable. It makes him look like an older version of Toby. And Toby corners the market on pouty face.

“Are you going to do that every time then? Is there any use in trying to find another hot spot?”

“Pretty much, yes. And if wasting time is your hobby, by all means, look for another fishing hole.” Or whatever they’re called.

A mischievous smile stretches across his face. Oh no.

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