CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT: The Summer Queen

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CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT: The Summer Queen

Story didn’t know what was the hardest: telling her mother that Pinni had been returned to the sea, her body transforming into foam once reunited with the ocean, or that she’d seen her father again. Regardless, Almera was taking it remarkably well, given the circumstances.

She sat heavily on her coral-encased bed, clutching the worn photo of Milton. She traced the contours of his face with her fingertips, and then closed her eyes, as tears slid out of one corner.

“Did he… did he say anything… about me?”

Story sat down next to her and wrapped a hesitant arm around the queen’s waist. “Actually he did. He said he’s still in love with you.” She didn’t know if telling her mother that had been the wisest thing, but it seemed to help. Almera laid her head on Story’s shoulder and took a deep, shuddering breath.

“Thank you, Daughter.”

Story just stroked her mother’s hair soothingly in response, and it felt natural to do so. She was still getting used to the idea of having her mother back in her life but had determined she would make an effort to really get to know her.

“What will you do now?”

Her mother’s question surprised her. She thought the answer was pretty obvious.

“We need to go back to Ailes. It’s already been over a week, and I’ve got an apple that needs planting, and another queen I need to report back to.”

“So you’ll be leaving soon?” Sadness and loss tinged her mother’s voice.

“Why don’t you come with us? It would be nice to spend more time with you, and I’m sure Eilath would enjoy seeing you again.” Story still had no idea what the deal with the two of them was, though it was clear they were no longer romantically involved.

Almera sat up and raised an eyebrow. “While I would love to see Eilath again—if anyone could be called my greatest friend, he would be it—there are others who would not wish to see me.”

Story eyed her mother and then sighed. “Do what you think is best. But we do need to go soon. I promise I’ll come back and visit for longer.”

Her mother brightened. “Just promise me one other thing, Daughter.”

“What’s that?”

“I’d better get an invite to the bonding ceremony.”

“Mom!”

“What? A mother’s got to think ahead.”

“We’re just courting!”

“Right. And you left your father and siblings behind because you missed me and Adair?”

Story couldn’t meet her eyes. “Well, yeah, I mean, I just found you guys, and I had seventeen years with Dad, so…”

Almera smirked at her, while her sea green eyes glittered knowingly.

“Um, I think I need to go. You know, tell Adair to pack, and stuff. Yeah. Bye.” Story fled from the room, her mother chuckling behind her.

* * * * *

The three of them glided up the canal toward Eánna’s palace on their selkies. Ped had refused to leave Eirnin’s side ever since Pinni’s death—which had made any attempts at even hugging awkward. But after Eirnin forcefully pointed at the water opening in the floor and threatened to throw him out of Story’s room if he didn’t behave, Ped stopped trying to interrupt them every time they kissed or cuddled. He’d even taken to sleeping on the floor next to her bed, and she found his loud snoring comforting in a way.

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