Of Triton Online - Anna Banks
MY EYES won’t open. It’s like my lashes are coated with iron instead of mascara, pulling down my lids with a heaviness I can’t fight. A medicated kind of heaviness.
I’m disoriented. Part of me feels awake, as if I’m swimming from the bottom of the ocean to the surface, but my body feels floaty, like I’m already there rolling with the lull of the waves.
I run a groggy diagnostics on my other senses.
Hearing. The hushed roar of tires negotiating a road beneath. The repetition of a cheesy chorus on an eighties radio station. The wheeze of an air conditioner that has long needed attention.
Smell. The wispy scent of Mom’s perfume. The pine-tree air freshener forever dangling from the rearview. The conditioned leather of her car.
Touch. The seat belt cutting into my neck at an angle I’ll pay for later. The sweat on the back of my legs, pasting me to the leather.
I used to love this about my parents. I’d come home from school and the car would already be packed. We’d take off without a destination, me and Mom and Dad and sometimes my best friend, Chloe. Just driving and seeing and stopping when we wanted to see more. Museums and national parks and little specialty stores that sold things like plaster castings of Sasquatch footprints. We fell victim to Dad’s hobby as an amateur photographer, forced to hold touristy poses for the camera and the sake of memories. To this day, our house is practically wallpapered with past road trips—pictures of us giving one another bunny ears or crossing our eyes and sticking out our tongues like asylum patients.
The car jolts, sending my thoughts chasing after each other in a hazy race. Memories churn in a kind of mental whirlwind, and a few clear images pause and magnify themselves, like still-life photos of a normal day. Mom, doing dishes. Chloe, smiling at me. Dad, sitting at the kitchen table. Galen, leaving through the back door.
Wait. Galen …
All the images line up, filing themselves in order, speeding up, animating the still shots into a movie of my life. A movie that shows how I came to be buckled in Mom’s car, groggy and confused. That’s when I realize that this is not a McIntosh family road trip. It couldn’t be.
Two and a half years have passed since my dad died of cancer.
Three months have passed since the shark killed Chloe in the waters of Destin. Which means that three months have passed since I met Galen on that beach.
And I’m not sure how much time has passed since Galen and his best friend, Toraf, left my house to retrieve Grom. Grom, the Triton king, Galen’s older brother. Grom, who was supposed to mate with my mother. Grom, who is a Syrena, a man-fish. A man-fish who was supposed to mate with my mother. My mother, who is also Nalia, the long-lost supposed-to-be-dead Poseidon princess who’s been living on land all these years because _________.
Speaking of Her Esteemed Majesty Mom … she’s lost her freaking mind.
And I’ve been kidnapped.
GALEN STEALS glances at Grom as they approach the Jersey Shore. He looks for emotion on Grom’s face, maybe a glint of happiness or gratitude or excitement. Some hint of reassurance that he made the right decision in bringing his brother here. Some sign of encouragement that he didn’t completely unravel the cord of his life by telling Grom where he’s been. Who he’s been with. And why.
But as usual, Grom is like a stingy oyster, all rigid exterior and sealed shut, protecting everything inside. And as usual, Galen has no idea how to shuck him. Even now, as they reach the shallow water, Grom floats like an emotionless piece of driftwood making its inevitable journey toward shore.
Galen retrieves a pair of swimming trunks bunched up under a familiar rock—one of the many hiding places he has around Emma’s house—and hands them to Grom. He leaves his brother to stare at the Hawaiian-style fabric while he and Toraf find their own pairs of shorts and slide them on. Before Galen switches to human form, he takes the time to stretch his fin, kneading his fists into the length of it. Ever since they left Triton territory, his fin has ached nonstop because of all the tension leading up to this, up to Grom reuniting with Nalia.
Up to the answers they’ve all been waiting for.
Finally, Grom changes to human form and eases the trunks up as if the leg holes were lined with