Bay grabbed my wrist as I pulled my shoulder bag over my head.
“What?” I narrowed my eyebrows at him. I knew exactly what. I fought the urge not to sigh. He’d been amused at first, but now it wasn’t so funny.
“Where are you going?”
I pulled my arm free. “I told you. I’m meeting the guys at the beach.”
“The humans, you mean?”
I shook my head. “Whatever. We’re all the same, Bay. Why can’t you leave me alone?” I went to swim away, but he was already in front of me.
“Because I hardly see you anymore.”
I huffed. “That’s because you never want to come with me.”
He stared at me for a moment. “I don’t even understand you anymore, Cleo. What do you want?”
“I want to spend a day with my friends.”
“What about your friends down here? What about us?”
I rolled my eyes. “Bay, please. I never had many friends to start with. What’s wrong with my new friends?”
“They’re not like us.”
“They’re exactly like us.”
I put my hands on my hips. “Fine. Not exactly. They have legs, and I have a tail. But outside of that, we’re exactly the same.”
“No.” He was shaking his head. “No, we’re not. You haven’t told them you’re a mermaid, have you?”
I tried to swallow the sudden sand in my throat. “It’s not important. They might already know. I’m not sure.”
“You haven’t told them because they won’t understand. Humans don’t understand us.”
“How do you know? Have you ever spoken to one?”
“No. But I’ve heard some stories. Do you know what they do to mermaids?”
I pressed my lips together. “Stop making things up, Bay. Please, I’m going to be late.”
“Cleo.” His voice dropped into something softer, and his eyes devoured mine. “Please don’t go.” He squeezed my hands. “I miss you.”
I looked down at the sand. I didn’t want him to give me that look.
“I love you.”
I sighed. “I love you too.”
He lifted my chin up with his finger. “Then can’t you do this one thing for me?”
I pulled myself away. “No. Bay, you don’t understand. I feel like I can be myself with them.”
“And you can’t with me?”
“No, that’s not what I’m saying. I feel like I can be my real, true self.”
“Except that your real, true self is a mermaid.”
“Is it?” I whispered the words before going to swim off.
“Cleo? Please.” He appeared in front of me again.
“No, Bay. I’m not going to stop doing something I love for you.”
“That’s how it is, is it? You choose them?”
“What? There isn’t a choice. I don’t need to choose.”
“Well, maybe you do.”
“No, I don’t. Leave me alone.”
“No. You need to start acting like a mermaid. You’re a princess!”
“Well maybe I don’t want to be a princess!”
He shook his head. “You need to understand what you are, and what you aren’t. This isn’t healthy. You need to stop it.”
“And why do I need to do anything you say?”
“Because this is madness. Humans hurt mermaids, Cleo.”
I shook my head.
“No, they don’t.”
“They do. Listen to me. Have you not heard the stories?”
“But you haven’t seen them, Bay. You haven’t heard them talking.” I pushed some hair off my face. “I just don’t see how a world with such wonderful things could be bad.”
“Trust me. I don’t want to see you get hurt.”
“No. Not my friends. I don’t care what you say about humans. Even if you’re right, I don’t care. My friends would never hurt me.”
“All right then. Why don’t we go and see?”
“What?” My blood went cold, and I choked on the word.
“Yeah. Let’s go see.”
“No, Bay. No.”
“You said you wanted me to come with you. Now I am.”
“No. Don’t ruin this for me. Please. Don’t you see how happy this makes me? Can’t you see how much I love them?”
“You love them,” he scoffed. “What about me? Do you love me?”
“Of course I do.”
“Do I make you happy?”
“Well, yes, of course.”
“Then why do you need them?”
He shook his head and swallowed. “I see. I guess we’ll have to do this the hard way.”