Of Neptune Page 56

“What did they look like?”

What did they look like? “I told you. They were full-blooded Syrena. One of them had a big nose, as far as I could tell.”

Reed rolls his eyes. “Awesome. That’s super-helpful. Thanks.”

If Galen had use of his hands, he’d be massaging his temple right now. Or dotting Reed’s eye. “It was dark and they knocked me out. I never really got to see their faces.”

A silence falls between them then, one filled with aggravation and helplessness. Minutes come and go with nothing useful presenting itself as an escape. Just when Galen thinks they’re done with the conversation for good, Reed pollutes the air with a question. “So if you saw pictures of us together … does that mean you know I kissed her?”

33

THE COUCH in the basement of city hall is everything a basement couch should be. Comfy. Pastel floral. Fuzzy in spots. A true relic from the 1990s. And it’s the only piece of furniture in the entire room, aside from bookshelves and filing cabinets lining the walls.

So this couch is where I’ll be sitting when I call Mom. When I tell her where I’ve been, what I’ve been doing, who I’ve been doing it with. I’ll be perched atop this cushion like a vulture, shoulders scrunched, head hanging, waiting to be chastised.

I gently toss the phone back and forth between my hands. The universal symbol of stalling.

It’s time.

As I dial, I’m hoping and praying that she won’t answer. She didn’t answer any of my check-in calls yesterday and hasn’t returned them either. And if anyone had a mother to be suspicious of when she doesn’t answer the phone, it would be me.

This time she does answer. Breathless. “Emma, I was just about to call you.”

“I called you several times yesterday,” I say, enjoying the upper hand while it lasts. I’m sure I can hear the quiet thrum of a vehicle in the background. I can’t tell if I’m on speakerphone.

“Did you? My phone accidentally fell in the fish tank, so I had to get a new one.”

“The fish tank?” Our fish tank is built into our living room wall. You literally have to reach underneath the wall to feed the fish or change the filter. Accidentally dropping a cell phone in it is a feat of clumsiness even I couldn’t achieve.

“Yes, sweetie. Your grandfather told me where he sent you, and when I threw the phone at his head, I missed and hit the fish tank, shattering it everywhere.”

Great. “I was just calling to tell you all about that, actually.” I wonder how much Grandfather actually spilled.

“No need.” Her voice is smooth and sweet as molasses. I’m in huge trouble. “I’m on my way to get you.”

This makes my stomach feel like a nest of hornets. “I don’t need to be rescued, Mom.” This is not going how I planned.

“Apparently, Galen thinks you do.”

“You talked to Galen?”

“He called Grom and left a message for him not to come to Neptune. Any idea why?”

“When was that? Where did he call from? Is he okay?” Why is everyone except me experiencing Galen sightings?

“He called from his own cell phone this morning. Grom called him back, but he never answered. It just goes straight to voice mail. I’ve called the phone company to have them track the location.” She’s quiet for a minute, then says, “He sounded panicked, Emma. We think he’s in trouble.”

I think he is, too. This morning he was spotted running through the woods, toward the river. Now I find out he called Grom and warned him away from Neptune. “It’s got to be Kennedy,” I blurt.

“Kennedy?”

So then I explain everything that happened in the woods with Reed. Mom is quiet for a long time. “Where are you now?”

“For my protection they put me in the basement of city hall. There are two guards at the door.”

“Sounds a lot like keeping you prisoner.”

“All I have to do is ask one of the guards, and they’ll get me whatever I need. I’m not a prisoner.”

“Emma, what exactly is going on here? What have you been doing in Neptune all this time? I’m getting mixed information here. Galen wants us to stay away, but you want us to come?”

Here is the moment of truth. “I mean, I want you to come to Neptune, but just to visit. Not to like, get me or whatever.” Or like, grab my ear and use it to escort me to the car in front of the entire town. Nalia Poseidon Princess McIntosh still thinks doing things like that is okay. Deep breath. “I don’t know why Galen doesn’t want you to come. We had a fight, and he said he was going to tell Grom about Neptune—that’s all he told me before he left. I want you to come because … because I’ve made friends here. And they want peace. With the ocean kingdoms. With the Royals. They want to be able to swim in the oceans. They’re like me.” Yep, I’m screwing it up. I feel like a telegram machine firing off fragments and incomplete sentences with the eloquence of a woodpecker. I’m glad Reder’s not here to see just how effective I am in the ambassador role.

Mom takes a minute to decipher my word vomit. “Your grandfather was wrong to send you there by yourself.”

“Indeed I wasn’t!” I hear in the background.

“You brought Grandfather?”

“I brought everyone,” Mom says defensively. “Just in case.”

I imagine Rayna and Toraf and Grom and Grandfather cramped in Mom’s tiny car. I wonder whose lap Toraf is going to sit on for the ride home, because it’s not going to be mine. “Where are you anyway?”

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