The Fate Of The Muse

By: Derrolyn Anderson

Only Aunt Evie and Ethan knew about the strange power I had to enhance people’s innate gifts and talents, and that was one secret I desperately wanted kept from everyone else. As a fellow mermaid-human hybrid, my Aunt Evie was possessed of the same ability. Unlike me, she was a practiced manipulator, and she wielded her power with relish.

Evie couldn’t really describe exactly how it worked, but she said I’d know it when I felt it. She was right about that, for seeing my friends flourish brought me feelings of intense satisfaction that went beyond mere altruism. Apparently, the power was strongest when I really truly wanted someone to succeed, and capriciously affected some people more than others. Most disturbing, it wasn’t always positive, for I was capable of bringing out the worst as well as the best in people.

“C’mon,” Ethan slipped his arm around my waist, “Let’s dance.”

He’d surprised me earlier in the evening by knowing all the ballroom steps, and he took me out onto the floor for every slow one, leading us smoothly and expertly.

“Where did you learn to dance?” I asked him, watching as his face clouded over a little.

“I, uhm, well… I had to go to the prom last year.”

I realized that his former girlfriend had made certain that he knew how to dance properly for her senior prom. I smiled to myself; it had taken some doing, but I’d mostly gotten over being jealous of her. He was all mine now.

“Evie made me learn,” I teased him.

Aunt Evie had always stressed the fact that a social education was at least as important as an academic one. She was convinced that the hours I spent in dance and etiquette lessons would pay off someday; visions of me consorting with high society danced in her head. “Think of all the formal occasions in your future!” she’d say breathlessly, “You never know where you’ll end up being invited.”

For most of my life I’d never imagined doing anything other than traveling with my father in remote agricultural areas. Our lifestyle was unlikely to ever require high heels or dancing, and I was comfortable with things as they were. Nevertheless, I always humored Evie, partly because my father was convinced that I needed a feminine influence in my life; but mainly because she was impossible to resist.

Dad was finishing the last few weeks of a crop research project in Afghanistan that I feared wasn’t going as well as he had expected. I couldn’t help but wonder how my life would be if he’d allowed me to accompany him like I’d wanted to in the first place. His decision to send me to stay with Abby and Cruz in Aptos had set a whole chain of events into motion that led to the discovery of my true heritage, answering questions about my mother that had been hidden from me my whole life.

It also led to me being kidnapped by a greedy sociopath, where I was held hostage along with two captured mermaids. Evil and ruthless, Peter had hatched a plot to breed mermaid hybrids and raise them as his own personal muses; using them to manipulate his super-rich clients. He actually thought he could force me into going along with his perverse plans, believing I could be persuaded with threats and bribes. I grimaced in revulsion at the memory.

After I’d escaped him, Peter ended up dead at the hands of his equally vile backers, and I was nervously aware that they were still out there– wealthy and powerful people who knew exactly what I was and where I could be found. For now, it looked as though they were going to leave me alone, and I fervently prayed it would stay that way.

Just the thought of them made me cling onto Ethan tighter. He maneuvered us off the dance floor and into a dark corner, pulling me into his broad chest, “How long before we can get out of here?”

“I’m afraid Cruz has after-plans,” I said.

“We never get to be alone anymore,” he complained, pressing his cheek against mine.

I sighed, “He said he has a surprise for us.”

“Hmm…” he crooned in my ear, “Can’t we just say, thanks– but no thanks?”

I shook my head no, “He went to so much trouble to make me this dress,” I gestured around the room, “And this whole thing is really important to him.”

Ethan smiled in amusement, shaking his head. He still couldn’t get over the fact that going to the prom meant absolutely nothing to me.

I continued on, “I think I owe him my gratitude, and at least one night of my life.”

“I’m grateful for this dress too,” he ran his hands across my bare shoulders and down my back, bending to plant a row of kisses along my collarbone. His warm lips started blazing a trail up my neck that made me shiver.

I turned to meet his face with mine, feeling the blood rush to my cheeks.

He was right, we hadn’t been really alone in ages. Between Ethan working virtually non-stop, and my pregnant Aunt Abby concentrating the full force of her nesting instinct on me, we had barely been able to hold hands under the kitchen table lately. Maybe it was just as well.

I was truly head-over-heels in love with him, and I’d marry him tomorrow if I could, but a maddening little shadow of a doubt remained in the back of my mind. I couldn’t help but wonder if my muse powers had somehow manipulated him into making the ultimate commitment without really considering it.