I chased Bay through the waters, screaming the whole time. But he wouldn’t slow. He wouldn’t stop. I pulled on his tail when I got close enough, but he just yanked it from my grip. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t flinch. I was ruined.
He was going to break down everything I had built. And for what?
I pulled in a huge breath of what I now knew to be air, as we appeared a little way off the beach.
“Where’re your friends?” he asked.
“I won’t show you. We’re going home.”
“No, we’re not. We’re staying right here. Don’t you think your friends have a right to know who you are?”
I spotted Jason in the distance, followed by Ben, Jack, Sienna, Ami, and Meg.
“It doesn’t matter. Don’t you see how wonderful that is? It doesn’t matter that I’m a mermaid. It’s not important.”
“Please, Bay.” I was almost crying. My voice was shrill and cut into me. But he wouldn’t budge.
It was over. My life was over.
Bay said nothing as they made their way towards to us.
“So this is the boyfriend you’ve told us so much about,” Sienna said.
“That’s right.” Bay crossed his arms over his chest, squaring his shoulders.
“Can I ask?” Meg tucked some of her beautiful red hair behind her ear. “What sort of a name is Bay?”
His eyes widened. “Excuse me?”
“Yeah,” Jack called. “It’s pretty stupid.”
Bay shot a look at me as my face went red. I knew that look. I went to dive on top of him, but I was too late. The words had already escaped.
“It’s a mermaid name.”
I crashed in front of him and glared right into those bright eyes of his. He pressed his lips together, more pleased with himself than he had any right to be. Hidden in my chest, my heart was beating a furious rhythm.
“A mermaid name?” Jack was laughing. “Why? Was your mum a freak for mermaids then?”
“No.” He almost spat the word.
I shook my head at Bay, grabbing his arms and holding the tears inside. He couldn’t ruin this for me. He wouldn’t. Would he?
“I am a mermaid.”
The ball was dropped from Sienna’s hands, and they all started at us.
And then they started laughing.
I floated away from Bay, shutting my eyes and sighing. I could almost count down the seconds to my doom.
“What’s so funny about that?” Bay said.
“Cleo said you were funny. But I didn’t think you’d be that funny.” Ben went to steal the ball off Sienna, but Meg grabbed it first.
“No?” Bay threatened them with that word, and the smiles dripped off their faces. “You think mermaids are funny?”
“I wouldn’t say funny,” Jason said. “But nonsensical.”
“Yeah. Like unicorns.”
Bay looked right at me. “You hear that, Cleo? Like unicorns. I’m sure your father would love to hear that.”
“Bay, please. Please don’t.”
But I could already see him grabbing for his tail.
“No!” I shrieked it, but it wasn’t enough.
“Are we funny now?” Bay lifted his seaweed-green tail out of the water, and the noise stopped. The laughter. Everything. Except for the bursting of the ball under Meg’s nails.
They all stared at us.
“W—What?” Ami crept closer.
“And before you start lying to your new friends, Cleo, you can forget it. Your new friend Cleo here is a mermaid too.”
Before I could say anything, Ami dropped under the water, and I felt something touch my tail. I yelped and pulled it into my body as she appeared in front of my face, this bizarre look creeping across her mouth. When I looked up, they were swarming closer to us.
“Wait!” I shrieked. “What are you doing?”
“You’re a mermaid?” Meg almost squealed it. “I can’t believe it!”
I held out my hand to stop them, but they didn’t slow. “It doesn’t mean anything. We can still be friends, can’t we?”
Jason exchanged a look with Ben. “Sure.” But that look on his face was all wrong.
Their eyes were glowering with something. Dark. Dangerous.
Fear leapt into my throat and tried to move me and freeze me all at once. Even though I could survive up here, I couldn’t breathe.
They clawed for me at once, and I screamed. Something pulled at my neck before letting go.
I grabbed for Bay, and he clasped my hand so hard it hurt as he pulled me into the water, deep into the ocean, neither of us stopping until the legs of my lost human friends were long behind us.