Just for Fins Page 2

Aunt Rachel returns to the table with a tray of lemonade-filled glasses. She sets one in front of each of us, careful to keep them away from the kelpaper.

I lift my glass to take a sip, waiting for the freshly stamped royal seal to dry so I can start composing the invitation without smearing the ink.

When Tellin and I talked on my birthday—both before and after the bond-in-name-only that allowed me to keep my crown and stay with Quince—we decided that calling a council of kings and queens was the best way to help his dying kingdom.

Ocean warming and coral bleaching are having catastrophic effects on Acropora. Things are so bad, Tellin almost forced me to bond with him because he thought a stronger alliance with Thalassinia would save them. When he explained what was going on, I couldn’t swim away. I bonded with him, to retain my title and my power to call a council of kings and queens to make a formal request for aid.

For too long his father’s pride kept them from asking for help. We have to act quickly now.

After my birthday ball, Tellin returned to his kingdom to share the news with his girlfriend and to prepare. He’ll meet me back in Thalassinia this weekend for the council meeting. If everything goes according to plan, by the time the meeting is over, Acropora will have offers of supplies and support from every ruler in attendance.

With the seal dry on the first sheet of kelpaper, I stare down at the pale-blue expanse and nerves kick in. I know this is what needs to be done, and that my responsibilities as crown princess will only continue to grow. But still, the idea that I am writing to request the presence of the most powerful merfolk in the Western Atlantic—and on such short notice—is more than a little intimidating.

I dip the quill in squid ink, hold it over the page, and feel the same hesitation I experienced two days ago as I was about to sign my title away. That hesitation made me realize that I can’t just walk away from my duty. I couldn’t then, and I won’t now.

I press the quill to the paper and start writing.

I’m only a few words in when Dosinia says, “You spelled ‘requested’ wrong.”

“What?” I scowl.

She can’t be right. She’s on the other side of the table, reading upside down, and—


Son of a swordfish.


Even the cat knows I’m wrong. I crumple the kelpaper into a wad and toss it behind me with the ever-growing pile of other screwups.

With a frustrated sigh—or maybe a groan, I’m not sure—I drop my head onto the table. I hear the clink of glass on wood, but I don’t care. Why is this so hard? Why do I keep screwing up on something so simple but so important?

Maybe I should have signed my title away. Thalassinia would be better off.

“Um, Lily . . .”

My muscles tighten. Quince only uses my real name in serious situations, like when he’s telling me he loves me or that I’m too good for Brody. Or—I’m guessing now—when a tipped-over pot of squid ink is seeping across the table.

“It’s my hair, isn’t it?” I ask, not lifting my head.

“Yeah, it’s all over—” Brody grunts as something, maybe an elbow to the ribs, interrupts him.

“You look beautiful in blue,” Quince says.

“Very . . . mermaidy,” Shannen offers.

“I’ll get a towel, dear,” Aunt Rachel says.

Seconds later I feel something wrap around my hair. Holding the towel in one hand, Aunt Rachel pulls me upright with her other. Everyone at the table—Doe, Brody, Shannen, Quince—stares at me like I’m a beaten guppy. Which only makes me feel worse.

“Why don’t you go take a bath?” Aunt Rachel suggests. “It will make you feel better.”

And it will get the squid ink out of my hair. She doesn’t say the second part out loud, but I know she’s thinking it.

I stare helplessly at the mess on the table. “But I have to finish the invitations,” I insist. “They need to go out tonight, or the kings and queens won’t have time to make travel plans for this weekend.”

“We’ll get all the stamping done,” Shannen offers.

Quince nods.

I shake my head. That’s only part of the process.

“I’ll help,” Dosinia says with a long-suffering sigh, shrugging out of her magenta cardigan. “I can write the invitations.”

She reaches for a stamped sheet of kelpaper and a second, unopened—and unspilled—pot of squid ink.

Prithi stretches up to rub her nose against the sweater.

I’m tempted to scowl at Doe. Since when does she volunteer, even reluctantly, to help beyond her ever-present willingness to criticize someone else’s work?

But as I stare at the mess and the big smear of squid ink on Aunt Rachel’s white table, I think it’s probably best for me to take a time-out. If Doe actually helps, great. If not, at least I’ll have a clear, calm—and clean—head when I come back down.

“Okay,” I say as I stand up. “I’ll be quick.”

Everyone nods and goes about their work. Shannen stamping the kelpaper, Quince moving it into a row in front of Doe. Aunt Rachel mopping up the spilled squid-ink mess. And Doe scratching a quill across the page in what looks like elegant, legible script.

At the doorway I turn back and see Brody carrying a finished invitation over to the counter, where it can dry safely.

“Thanks, guys,” I say, knowing that between the bath and their support, everything will turn out fine. I hope.

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