#3.1 in the Forgive My Fins series
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The Thalassinian Marketplace is, in my opinion, one of the wonders of the underwater world. Held on the open sands of the old town square, the market boasts vendors of every kind hawking their wares. Farmers come from the rural regions, beyond the edges of the city, with barrels of sweet smelling sand strawberries, fresh kelp, and pickled sea fans. Lobstermen put the fattest of their herd on display. Breathtaking bouquets, tasty delicacies, and even the odd salvage stall, selling human treasures that have been found on the ocean floor. A mergirl could get lost in all the options.
But I know exactly where I'm going. I swim past the food and flower displays, over the organic sea life stalls, and around the tables of trinkets. I make straight for my favorite vendor. Paru's Pearls.
Pearls are plentiful under the sea, and many girls consider them ordinary. Plain. Common. To me they will always be the most beautiful things in all the oceans. I love the way that some gleam and others sparkle. They come in all the colors of the rainbow, from bright white to soft pink to inky gray to the blackest black I've ever seen.
I can't wait to browse the latest collection.
As I turn a corner, an older merwoman loses her grip on her shopping basket, sending a dozen live starfish tumbling across the aisle. I swerve out of the way as the woman dives after her lost bounty, then turn around to help. Most of the starfish remain within reach, and the woman quickly gathers them back. One is making a gallant bid for freedom.
I retrieve the wayward starfish and return it to the woman. "This one almost got away."
"Such a sweet dear." Her face crinkles into a bright smile. She reaches up and pinches my cheek. "Thank you."
I smile back before turning and continuing toward my destination. The pearls are calling.
I approach the stall, swimming with such momentum that I stop kicking and float the rest of the way. If I weren't so excited, I might have noticed the trio passing in front of the stall.
Of course I crash hardest into the meanest of the three.
"I'm so sorry," I blurt, kicking myself out of the way, out of reach. "I wasn't looking where I was—"
"Swim much?" Astria asks, sneering.
"Yeah," Piper chirps. "Swim much?"
I stare wide-eyed at the terrible trio. Astria, Piper, and Venus have been awful to me since guppihood. They take great delight in making me feel as small and worthless as possible. They try to belittle my best friend too, but Lily is the princess. They can't be as cruel with her or there might be repercussions. With me, though, they act without restraint.
It doesn't help that they're gorgeous. Astria has beautiful red hair and perfect alabaster skin. Piper looks more like a California mermaid, with sunny blonde hair and a fake tan that almost matches her golden tailfin. Venus is the most exotic, with dark skin, waves of midnight curls, and rich mahogany scales.
I feel dim in their presence. With my boring brown hair and brown eyes, I practically fade into the shadows. Only my tailfin, a bright copper in a thousand shining shades, makes me feel special.
Looking down and away, I mutter another, "I'm sorry," and try to swim past.
Astria never lets me get away that easily.