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I never realized I was afraid of flying until I was hurtling through space at a kajillion miles an hour on my way to my mom and dad's beachside tropical wedding.
"Um, Jade?" My best friend, Cori, leaned over and whispered in my ear from 16B, the airplane seat beside me. "You okay?"
The "Fasten Seat Belts" light dinged, and my stomach dropped as the airplane hit turbulence for the umpteenth time. The smelly toddler behind me kept bashing into my headrest, and the lady in front of me had her seat reclined all the way back, adding to the claustrophobic feeling of the flight.
Plus, I had a feeling Stinky Pants had a doo-doo in his diaper because that wasn't the food cart I was smelling.
"Yeah, I'm totally okay," I replied in the most convincing voice I could manage. Okay? I should be ecstatic. We were on our way to the Eutopia Resort in the Bahamas so my mom and dad could finally tie the knot and make our family official. "Couldn't be better. Why do you ask?"
"Um," Cori said, "because your fingernails are digging into me and I think you're about to draw blood." She winced, looking down at her arm pinned to the armrest.
"Oh! Sorry!" I released my death grip and glanced at the flickering red images from the television screen on the back of the seat in front of me, which was tilted at an awkward angle thanks to Miss Snore-A-Lot in 15A. "The, uh...movie is just really intense."
Cori shook her arm to get the blood flowing again and leaned over to check my screen. "You're watching Elmo."
"Right." I'd tried to find something to watch earlier to keep my mind occupied but got distracted by the fact I was basically putting my life into the hands of a pilot I'd never met.
I drew in a few deep breaths, trying to get oxygen to my brain, and glanced down at my frayed jeans, green Chuck Taylor sneakers, and my favorite oversized "Achin' for the Bacon" T-shirt, compared to Cori's funky seashell-beaded tank top and graphic flowery-print skirt, which she'd matched with gold gladiator sandals. Like always, Cori had dressed for style and I had dressed for comfort.
Only, the joke was on me because I was anything but comfortable.
"I know it's Elmo," I continued, "but he just lost his puppy and he's sad. Very, very sad."
I scanned the seats in front of me and spotted Mom and Dad in row 14. Their heads were tilted toward one another, probably making last-minute wedding plans about flowers or refreshments or music. Everything about the trip had been so last minute that they were still trying to pull together all the details for the wedding. But I'd never seen them happier than during the past few weeks, since Mr. Chamberlain presented us with official passports from his secret source. Those passports finally made us legitimate human beings rather than just underwater sea creatures with an identity crisis.
"Does Elmo even have a puppy?" Cori looked at me through narrowed eyes. "You're freaked out about something, aren't you?"
The plane hit turbulence (again!), making the flight attendant stumble a bit, but he braced a hand on the back of one of the seats and smiled brightly, then continued handing out packages of stale pretzels as if nothing had happened.
He didn't fool me. We were going down with the plane-straight into the watery depths of the Caribbean Sea. I felt it in my gut. Even for a part-time mermaid like me, that didn't sound like a very healthy prospect.
Taking a lesson from the flight attendant, I turned to Cori with a smile plastered on my face.
"Me? Freaked out? No..."
Just then, Stinky Pants's mom stood up and whacked the headrest into the back of my skull as she struggled to carry her toddler to the closet-sized bathroom to (hopefully) change his diaper.
"Is it all the gossip you were telling me about back home?" Cori asked as I rubbed the back of my head. "You know people just need stuff to talk about because their own lives are so boring, right?"
It was true-the Port Toulouse rumor mill had kicked into high gear since news spread about the reason for our trip.
Did you hear? Dalrymple Baxter is marrying his dead wife's sister!
I'd overheard a few women at Dooley's Drugstore saying how scandalous the wedding between my dad and my "aunt" was. Most of Port Toulouse thought Mom had drowned in a swimming accident at Gran's cottage the year before. Little did they know that my "Tanti Natasha" was actually Mom's secret identity to cover up the fact that she's a mermaid and very much alive!
"That's kind of a bummer, but no," I replied. The upcoming Baxter wedding might seem sketchy to people who didn't know better. But like Dad said, we'd cope with the whispers and finger-pointing when we got back.
"Is it because I came with you guys a few days early since my mom couldn't get time off work?" Cori persisted.
Cori's parents had jumped at the invitation to join us because Mrs. Blake and Mom had been best friends since Cori and I were toddlers. But the Blakes couldn't meet up with us until Friday, just in time for the Saturday wedding.
In fact, not everyone could come on our trip. Serena was spending our weeklong fall school break underwater with her mer-parents and Gran was nervous about flying because of her pacemaker, so I was totally pumped that Cori could come early and that our friends (slash boyfriends), Luke and Trey, would be flying down with their parents at the end of the week too.
"No, of course not," I insisted. "I'm glad you're here."
"'Cause I totally could have waited to come with my parents, but I kind of couldn't wait to get out of Port Toulouse," Cori said. "Oh, geesh. Now I feel like an idiot. You guys have never flown anywhere together before, especially out of the country. Am I creeping on your family time?"
It was true about never flying out of the country. The main reason was because Mom never had a passport or paperwork proving she was human, since she, um, actually wasn't. Now that she was legit as far as the government was concerned, thanks to Mr. Chamberlain, it opened up a whole new world of possibility, which was awesome!
"It's not that," I insisted. "But hold on a sec-why couldn't you wait to get out of Port Toulouse?"
"Ah, just something stupid," Cori said.
Cori had slept over at my house the night before so we could leave early for the airport that morning, and I knew she and Trey had been texting until late. "Does this have something to do with Trey?" I asked, taking a few deep, cleansing breaths to keep my mind off the fact we were flying on top of the clouds.
"It's nothing, and don't change the subject," Cori said.
"I'm just changing the subject because you're changing the subject!" I retorted but I made the mistake of glancing through the airplane window. I instantly regretted it because my stomach started pitching like a dinghy on the open sea. I slammed the window blind shut.
"Oh!" Cori's eyes popped open in realization. "You're afraid of flying, aren't you?"
I stuffed the last few stale pretzels in my mouth and crumpled up the bag. "It would help if they had better snacks."
"You're unbelievable." Cori laughed and shook her head.
"What?" I demanded. It was easy for her-her family had flown to tons of places: Florida a few times during spring break and once to British Columbia where they boarded a cruise ship to Alaska.
"Sorry. I'm not making fun of you, but think about it!" Cori leaned over and whispered. "You took down an underwater empire full of Mermish baddies a few weeks ago, and now you're afraid of a teensy-weensy airplane?"
"Maybe?" I said quietly.
"Listen," Cori continued, "you're just paranoid about everything these days, which is understandable considering what you've been through this year. But trust me, danger isn't lurking around every corner. Not everyone is out to get you, remember?"
Cori had a point. The last few months had been the craziest of my life. I'd learned I was part mermaid and found out my mother hadn't drowned. I'd finally freed Mom from Talisman Lake, so she could find the hidden tidal pool that would help her become human again. In the meantime, I'd started dating a boy (Luke) who turned out to be a mer-boy too, and together we helped bring democracy to the underwater mers off the coast of Port Toulouse.
With all that behind me, I should be able to just relax and enjoy a vacation with my friends and family, shouldn't I?
"You're right." I took a deep breath and tried to relax. "I know you're right."
"Do me a favor," Cori said cheerily. "For the next week, pretend mermaids are just mythical creatures like vampires and zombies. You're dry, on land, and human, and nobody is out to get you. Make that your mantra, okay?"
"Dry. On land. Human. Got it," I said quietly, putting my earbuds in and trying to find a TV channel that didn't involve Muppets so I could distract myself for the rest of the trip.
"Cool." Cori pulled the airplane blanket up to her chin and rested her head on my shoulder. Soon, she was sleeping like a baby and, ugh, drooling all over my shirt.
I shifted in my seat, trying to get comfortable. Maybe Cori was right. Maybe I'd gotten so used to things going wrong and danger splashing out at me from every corner that I didn't even know how to live a normal life anymore.
Meanwhile, Stinky Pants and his mom settled back into their seats behind me, smelling a whole lot fresher, and Miss Snore-A-Lot finally woke up and brought her seat forward.
Maybe things were looking up!
Especially not, since the airplane seemed to start to nosedive into the ocean!
I gripped the armrests as we started plummeting to our watery graves just as the seat belt and "No Smoking" signs flashed on and a message rang out over the speaker:
Ladies and gentlemen, we are beginning our descent into Nassau, Bahamas.
Perfect. So we weren't nosediving into the ocean after all-just crash-landing onto the runway probably.
And not a moment too soon.