A day went by. Then another. Evie had started texting and calling Zac from the moment she left Rita's house. She continued to do so over the next few days. She offered support and solace. She offered an unbiased ear, as far as she could provide it, for him to air his grievances and his concerns. She was trying to be there for him.
He did not respond. He did not come in to school on Monday, the second day after that fateful night. She did not get any indication from Cam that he had seen or spoken to Zac. As for Erik, he caught her eye briefly while she was en route to a class. It seemed like he wanted to say or ask something. She brushed on past, not paying attention. Ondina had told her all she needed to know about Erik and where his concerns really lay. Certainly not with Zac.
After school, she considered going to Zac's house to see if she could corner him and force him to talk. She set the idea aside and headed home instead, keen to get some homework done while she had the opportunity. She would be working at the café for the rest of the week, this was her only real day off.
It was that decision—homework, and not Zac—that led to a startling realisation. She resented him.
As Evie walked home, she rolled this thought around in her mind, as though she were tasting a complex wine, exploring all angles. She was Zac's girlfriend and he was ignoring her. No, that wasn't quite it. She was offering to help and was being rebuffed. No, not quite. She wasn't perfect, but she could forgive his confusion and anger. She had been the one to preach to the other girls about the way he might be feeling and that this would take time.
No, the reason she felt that spark of resentment, even anger, right now was that she realised that Zac was the reason she was stranded. Sirena, Mimmi and Ondina, the natural-born mermaids. Zac, as it turned out, the natural-born merman, give or take a few years of blissful ignorance. And then there was Evie. Now the freak of the group. Painfully human compared to the rest of them, but no longer properly, wholly human. She winced as she passed a house where the lawn was being watered by a careless gardener and she found herself suddenly shaking with suppressed anger.
Not only had Zac abandoned her to focus on his own problems, he had probably not spared a thought for what this transformation had done to her emotionally since it had happened.
She thought back to Sirena's friendly attitude, even the other two girls who were trying to help take care of her and ensure that she was able to handle the transition and control her powers. That wasn't what she wanted, though. It never had been. She had wanted to go back to normal. To be completely human again. Were they helping her with that? Could it even be accomplished?
She had reached her house at this point and slammed the door shut behind herself.
'Evie?' her dad called from his study. 'Is that you?'
'I'm going to do homework, Dad!' she called, vanishing upstairs. Yes, there was also her dad and the fact that she hated lying to him. More than anything she wanted to tell him, to ask for his help. Nobody else seemed to be interested in getting her back to normal, but he certainly would. Still, she needed to consider the consequences. What if he did something horrible in a mistaken effort to help her? Electroshock therapy was considered an effective treatment that people thought would help their loved ones not that long ago. And that was for people with mental illness, not fishtails. No, she needed to stay quiet.
She launched herself onto her bed and pulled out a textbook. She opened it to the relevant chapter and started writing out a formula in her binder. A few tears escaped her eyes and landed on the paper, smudging the pencil. She looked at the door, panicked, but no change occurred.
'Lucky me,' she thought. 'At least I can cry without turning into a freak.'
When Evie arrived at school the next morning, she saw Zac sitting in the back of the classroom of her first class, slouched over and staring fiercely at a spot on the floor. He looked up briefly when he saw her come in and she sat in the front row of desks, nearest to the door. As far from him as she could go. She did not turn around to see if ignoring him had had any kind of effect. At the moment, she really did not care.
The rest of the day went by in much the same way. Zac avoided her and she studiously ignored his existence. Homework last night had been a struggle and sleeping even more so. She had spent an extra half hour this morning applying eye makeup carefully to cover up the splotchiness on her face from her extended crying jag. It didn't help that she could not have a proper shower or even hold her face over a bowl of steaming herbal water, her usual remedy for sleepless nights.
Zac may or may not have noticed this. Evie did not know and frankly did not care. Her focus was on getting through this day, and the next, and the next.
She saw the little cluster of mermaids sitting on the terrace as she arrived at the café. Two blonde heads, one brunette, chatting animatedly. Sirena spotted her and waved her over, but Evie continued into the building, ducking past a customer carrying a takeaway cup overflowing with orange juice. She knew that one or all of them would come charging in soon, hoping to corner her for information about Zac.
'Evie!' Mimmi called, walking rapidly towards her. 'Didn't you see us? How's Zac? We haven't seen you since that night…'
Evie looked down at Mimmi and swallowed hard. Zac. Of course it was Zac.
'He was at school today,' she replied evenly. 'But I didn't speak to him. Sorry, Mimmi.'
Mimmi nodded her understanding but looked at her with a question in her eyes. She could probably tell that Evie was not very happy. She had never been one to have much of a poker face.
'Is he ignoring you, too?' she asked sadly.
For whatever reason, this angered her more than anything else Mimmi might have said at that moment. No, she wanted to scream, I'm ignoring him and his temper tantrum, and you should, too. She held it in and just nodded.
'I've got to get back to work, ok?' She was on edge and needed to get away before she exploded at this girl who didn't really mean her any harm.
Mimmi smiled wanly and headed back outside.
Evie watched her go and felt her anger subside slowly. She busied herself at the till, pulling together the mess of receipts that somebody had left there earlier. Erik was late, as usual. No shock there, he seemed to have decided that shift hours were a suggestion and not mandatory.
As the afternoon wore on, she found herself less and less willing to stay and do any work. What was the point? The job earned her pocket money to buy clothes and shoes. Somehow those things seemed to matter very little in light of everything else. As soon as Carly walked through the door, she asked if she could take a break and wandered outside, breaking into a run as she left the café terrace. She did not stop until she reached the park nearby, where she let herself collapse under a tree. The tears were starting up again, entirely unbidden, and she just wanted to hide herself away.
'Hey, are you OK?' she heard a deep voice, and looked up to see a very unwelcome intruder. Erik.
He seemed surprised to see that the crying girl was Evie, and knelt down next to her.
'What's going on?' he asked, more gently. 'Has Zac said something to hurt you? Is he still not talking to you?'
There it was again. Always Zac. This was not about Zac.
'Erik, go away' she moaned and then added, 'You're late for your shift.'
He was more perceptive than she had given him credit for, though, as he sat down on the ground.
'I'm not going anywhere until you stop crying,' he said stubbornly.
'Well, then we're going to be here a while!' she replied with a sniff.
'That's ok, I'm not in a rush.'
'No, you never are, are you?' she mused.
Erik grinned then. 'You land people, always running around, slaves to the clock.'
Evie felt the anger stirring again, overriding her tears. You land people.
'I'm not a land person, really, am I though?' she demanded. At this, Erik raised his eyebrows.
'You are definitely human, if a bit touched by magic,' he replied.
She glared back at him and spat, 'If this is a bit, I hate to think what your idea of a lot of magic is.'
He raised his hands in a sign of surrender and tried for another smile. That usually worked with girls.
Evie realised he was trying to distract her from the cause of her woes—hate to see a crying girl, Erik?—and she stood up.
'I'm going home,' she told him. 'Go to the café. You're late for your shift.'
About to walk away, she added, 'Tell Carly I quit and I'll call her later.'
Erik watched her go, entirely perplexed. She had seemed to adjust to the mermaid thing. What had dredged all of this up? Was it about her boyfriend suddenly turning out to be less human than she originally thought? Or was it something else?
He sighed and walked towards the café. He really had swum into something complicated here. He could only hope it would be worth it.