Months after Nikki's tedious adventure underwater, she's called back for more than just a fun time during summer break. Ships are being wrecked and men are disappearing, it's up to Nikki and Caspian to figure out why. But there's another problem, Nikki's Aunt and Uncle have come for the week of her birthday, and they don't plan on leaving her alone for one second.
Summer Break. Everyone who has ever went to school knows the joy of the thing. While my friends and teachers went on vacation to out of state wonders, my family stayed home. Dad didn’t want me spending every minute I could in Ke’ana, so I got a job. At first Caleb and Dad didn’t remember being under the power of the siren’s song, it took five days before they recalled the conversation between Mom and The Queen, and remembered following us to the Kingdom after. Dad didn’t like being underwater, and he didn’t join me on my trips after. James and Peter were too young to remember it was real, and were too scared to follow me to the edge of the shallow end. I didn’t know what Mom and Caleb did while we visited, they had taken to the freedom of popularity with no responsibilities, and I didn’t like the attention as much as they thought I should. Instead I spent my time in the castle, or outside the city walls, with Caspian. Not only was he teaching me Sireneum, like he promised, but also to fight better, to be a better ruler, a leader. Unlike the other members of my family, I was seen as royalty, a princess, an honorary daughter of The Queen’s family. I needed to act to part.
"Nikki!" My manager called from across the kitchen.
I looked up. "Sorry, Wes."
"Now’s not the time to be lost in thought, let’s get these pizzas through the oven."
I straightened up and looked at the board, the screen had filled with orders since the short break between hours. Jazz had the first one sauced already.
"Pepperoni." She told me.
I slide it down to Kevin at the end of the make line. "Pepperoni." I repeat.
"Does it get cheese too?" He asks.
"Yes." I said with a roll of my eyes.
By the end of my shift I had flour on my shoes, pizza sauce in my ponytail, and dishwater on my shirt. I was glad to have gotten the next week off, I had plenty of time to ignore washing my uniform until the morning before I started again.
"Night everyone!" I called.
"Cya!" They answered in unison.
I grabbed my purse and walked out the back door, scrapping toppings out of my nails as I strode to my ride. Twenty more hours and I would be driving myself.
"Night, Nikki!" Called Wes, who was in the process of figuring out why the garbage truck hadn't come last night.
I waved to him as he started yelling at the phone again.
"How was work?" Dad asked as I started the old station wagon.
"It was good." I told him.
"You smell good."
I laughed to myself, he always said a man's favorite perfume was the smell of food. It didn't even have to be good food. It was a short drive home, only ten minutes. I'd have walked if Dad didn't think I'd go straight to the beach. I eyed the ocean as we passed, the full moon mirrored on it's surface.
"Not this week." Dad said, reading my mind. "Uncle John and Aunt Lucille got here early."
"They’re already home?" I asked, I was hoping I’d already be there before they came.
"They made good time yesterday."
Dad was also hoping that we’d get home before them. Even though I hadn’t seen them in a few years, I was pretty sure they remembered their green eyed, shorts wearing niece.
"Can I just sneak in through my window?" I asked as we pulled into our neighborhood.
Dad sighed. He too wished he could sneak inside through a window.
"No, no you can't." He finally said.
I parked the car in the garage and we got out.
"Hello!" Aunt Lucille sang from the kitchen table. As I hung up my key she walked quickly to hug me. "Boy, have you gotten so tall! Last time I saw you, you were only about yea high," She swiped her hand above her hip for emphasis. "And now you’re all grown!"
"Night, Lucille." Dad said from the kitchen threshold, not that Aunt Lucille payed attention, she was so busy focusing on me. Dad had enough time to slip across the kitchen unnoticed.
Well played. I thought. I waited patiently as Aunt Lucille rummaged through her purse.
"Here." She held out a small wrapped gift. "I got blue ones for the boys, but your a girl, so I figured you’d like the pink one better."
She waited as I carefully unwrapped the box. Under an impossible amount of tissue paper, was a neon pink anklet.
"It’s got a dolphin, see, isn’t it cute? The boys have sharks. I wanted to get you all a gift, even though your birthday is in two days, and we stopped by this cute little building with the most adorable tiny stuffed animals. But I knew you’d all be older, not counting the little boys of course, and I knew how much time you all liked to spend at the beach, so when I saw these cute things I thought, perfect!"
I put the box on the counter and looked at the thing. The dolphin's top fin was missing, making it look more like a manatee.
"Thanks, Aunt Lucille." I said.
"Try it on." She urged me.
I hesitated. The scar on my dominant leg ran down to my ankle. Instead I shifted to my left leg and pulled the pant sleeve up.
"Aww, doesn’t it look just cool! And I’ve got one too!" She lifted up her own pant sleeve to show me hers.
"Lucille!" Mom whispered harshly from the living room. "The boys are trying to sleep."
"Oh, you’re right, I should let you get to bed. Your Uncle already put your cousins down, goodnight!"
I waved goodnight to her as I walked across the living room and up the stairs. I got ready for bed quickly, leaving the anklet on the desk. I paused to look out the window. I could go one week without going to Ke’ana, this was going to be easy.
"Nikki!" Peter and James yell in unison.
"It's Saturday." I draw the blanket over my head. "Leave me alone."
"Aunt Lucille told us to wake you up."
"Really." I say sarcastically.
"Yeah, she said she's going take us to the beach after breakfast for ice cream and swimming!" James yells.
I hear them shuffle quickly toward my bed. Before they jump on me I flip the blanket over on top of them and run out of my room. Giggling their defeat, the boys follow me down stairs. The smell of sizzling bacon has filled the kitchen and coaxed both my Dad, and Caleb to come out of their hiding places and sit at the table as Aunt Lucille described their new home to the tiniest detail. I sit down next to them as the little guys run down to the basement to wake up their cousins.
"Nikki." Caleb whispers.
"What?" I ask.
He gestures to my leg. I had forgotten I wore shorts to bed.
"Besides," Aunt Lucille continued, she took a step back, about to turn around. Caleb jumped from the table. "I don't think anyone will notice it now that I had the rest of the carpet died red."
Caleb stepped in front of her, making her turn in a complete circle so she didn't drop the bacon.
"Oh, sorry, Aunt Lucille." He said, taking the plate from her. "Can I help you with anything?"
Dad scooted his seat back and I made my escape to my room. I pull on a pair of fluffy pajama pants and return to the kitchen.
"Nikki, your face is all red!" Aunt Lucille says worriedly. "Did you sleep in winter pajamas all night?"
"It was actually pretty cool in my room." I tell her, I also wasn't supposed to mention how the hot and freezing cold temperatures no longer bothered me.
"Really? I thought the air conditioning was only working downstairs and in the basement."
"It's on the fritz." Caleb said, one of the most qualified people in our family to lie. He and Dad had tried to fix it the week before and ended up breaking it further, causing Mom to convince Uncle John to come down with Aunt Lucille and fix it for us.
"Oh, well as soon as John wakes up I'm sure he'll look at it with Stan while we're gone."
"Gone?" Caleb asks.
"Oh! Darn, that was going to be a surprise. I'm taking everyone to the beach before noon!"
I laughed. Aunt Lucille couldn't keep a secret if her life depended on it. Caleb faked a happy laugh and smiled and we listened to Uncle John yelling at his three kids. It wasn't long before everyone was successfully crammed around our small table and we begun eating. Marley, older than me by nine months, stood in the corner on her phone, nibbling the corner of a piece of toast. The boys, Ben and Avery, sat still like well behaved children, while my brothers amused themselves with a kicking war underneath the table.
"That's my leg again." I said, scowling at Peter.
"Wasn't me!" He complained. "It was James!" He rudely jabbed his finger into James' back.
"Ow!" I bent over and hugged my knee in my hands, careful not to slam it up against the table.
Across from my plate I could see Avery with a small smile, though she kept her head down.
"Can I be excused?" I asked Mom.
She nodded. "Clean up your plate first."
I scraped sticky syrup off my plate into the trashcan and lightly set the dish into the sink. I stumbled over the toys now back in their places on the stairs and made it to my room. I doubted I even knew where my bathing suit was, let alone a pair of none suspicious shorts. I did, however, find a pair of old jeans with lots of holes in them. Those wouldn't be too out of place. I got dressed and fished out a T-shirt. Back down stairs the little kids yelled relentlessly about the new ice cream shop. It would be the perfect cover. I found my wallet and pulled out a twenty dollar bill and stuffed in my back pocket, along with my phone.
"Ready to go?" Aunt Lucille's voice rang louder than the smaller ones.
"Yes!" They yelled.
I followed the others into Aunt Lucille's bright orange van and tried to ignore their off key version of row row your boat. I envied Marley and her purple earbuds, mine had somehow ended up in the basement toilet the same day school had been let out. Aunt Lucille parked the car and everyone tumbled chaotically out. The beach wasn't packed, but it wasn't empty either.
"Why don't you guys go and swim?" Aunt Lucille suggested.
"I couldn't find my bathing suit." I told her.
"Oh. What about you, Marley? I know we packed one of yours."
Marley shrugged and kicked off her sandals and sat down on the large blanket Aunt Lucille was arranging. "I'll go in a minute." She said.
I helped Aunt Lucille set up the umbrella and walked toward the water. In order to change my whole body would have to be wet, which left me to wade in the shallow end. The boys splashed each other, while Avery stood off to the side with a bucket.
I fingered the locket around my neck. Ke'ana was almost completely rebuilt, and I was stuck here. I wondered what they were doing right now, what kind of things Caspian had prepared for me that I would have to miss. I had told him I probably wouldn't be able to visit them this week, but that didn't stop my longing.
I stepped back onto the sand. The pull was strong, as if the kingdom was calling for me today, but I needed to stay on land. I turned around and stopped, Avery stood behind me, holding her bucket full of water at shoulder height.
"Don't." I said.
She seemed in thought for a moment. Staring at me with curious eyes.
"Mom!" She screamed, terrified.
I watched her run before looking over my shoulder. Not too far away a small fishing ship was turning hard toward the docks. Smoke billowed out from somewhere inside. Very faintly I could hear the noisy alarms echoing back to us. I ran back to the shore. Aunt Lucille was on her phone, talking to someone about the ship, and Marley was taking a video. Others around us had the same idea, talking either to friends or streaming the footage. The ships never came this close south, even when docking they usually came in from the north because of the sandbar that marked O'Na Kai, but this one somehow got over it. The sound of metal straining under pressure screamed in our ears. Suddenly the ship snapped in half and the siren's stopped. The crowd gathering close to the water cried out and watched in horror as the front half slowly sunk. Police siren's started from behind us, along with the ones on the beach. The back half of the boat stayed upright, the sandbar had saved it. Shiny strips along life rafts bobbed with the waves.
"Get out of the way!" Aunt Lucille yelled.
We followed her back to the van. Policemen and firefighters stopped along the road and in the large parking lot, each waiting for instructions. A load bang came from the last half of the ship and on of the poles came down.
"Ma'am." One of the police men said to Aunt Lucille. "We need to clear a sections of the beach for the rescue team."
"Okay," She said.
"I don't wanna go home!" James yelled. "I wanna watch burn!"
I rubbed my head as everyone else voiced their opinion. The policeman took a step back.
"Ma'am?" He yelled over them. "The new ice cream is just on the docks, you can wait there for one of us to take your statements."
"Perfect!" Aunt Lucille yelled. She turned to the little kids. "Quiet! We're going to get some ice cream!"
All but Aunt Lucille's kids yelled louder. I directed her to the Frozen Cream shop and watched the boat as we walked. The sand was collapsing. I had to wait outside the small building with Marley and Caleb as Aunt Lucille got the other four their ice cream. When it was our turn I felt a little bad for the old woman behind the counter, but she looked at us lovingly like she would her own children and beamed at us with her yellowing teeth.
We sat on the edge of the dock, watching the rescue as our ice cream melted in the sun. Marley sat against the shaded side of the building, afraid to over heat her phone.
"I'm sorry about this." Aunt Lucille spoke suddenly. She rubbed my back. "This was supposed to be a relaxing day."
"It's fine." I said. "This is interesting."
"Boom!" Peter yelled.
The actual sound was more deafening, and vibrated in our chests. More smoke billowed out. Three orange rafts had already landed on the shore, there were two more coming in and four rescue boats surveying the area.
Suddenly Aunt Lucille shot up. "The police is here," She announced. "I'm going to go give my statement and then we can leave."
We watched her walk away.
"Jane." Caleb whispered. I turned to him. "Don't you need to be out there? That's Ke'ana territory."
"No, I don't. It's their problem unless they find the kingdom."
"It'll be too late if they do. You're supposed to be protecting them."
I sighed and rubbed my head. I had been sworn a protector before I went up against the Makara. I didn't like that Caleb had to point that out.
"You don't have to worry about it." I said. "They've been there since forever and no one's seen them."
Creaking metal filled our ears and more smoke drifted into the air. We had been waiting for it to settle for two hours, and it was finally starting to come down.
"What if it's the Makara?" Caleb asked.
"This isn't the first wreck," I said. I paused. Telling him that this wasn't his problem would make him upset, he wanted to be just as much apart of them as I was.
"We should warn them." He continued. He reached his hand out. "Here, tell Aunt Lucille I went to the bathroom." His hand hovered in front of my face and I looked at him questioningly. "Give me the necklace and I'll tell them."
I hit his hand away from my neck. "Leave it alone Caleb. They're fine."
"Nikki, give me-"
"Caleb," I said sternly. I watched as the last half of the ship began to sink. I sighed, I'd have to play the position card. "You don't have the authority to order a member of the Royal Guard. If they need help, they will tell me." Aunt Lucille shook the officer's hand and started walking back to us. "End of discussion." I told him quietly.
Aunt Lucille towered over us. "Time to go." She said. "We've been here long enough already."