I'm climbing the steep pathway from the beach to West Marin Heights. I carry my "rescuer" as far away from my body as possible to keep his leg from dripping blood on me.

We are surrounded by stands of redwoods huddled in their tight family circles. Redwoods have to intermingle their ridiculously shallow roots and stay close or one good wind and they fall. The older trees tower into the sky, morning light filtering through their limbs, while the saplings cling to their bases. All the circles have at least a few charcoaled tree stumps blanketed in moss, sprouting bouquets of ferns, each frond shaped like a mermaid's tail.

Leaves crunch under my bare feet, and the long grass is scratchy against my ankles. I forgot to pack shoes. My mom's totally going to be on my case. I'm covered in goosebumps because all I'm wearing is a gauzy white sundress. Mom told me to pack a sweater, but I didn't, mostly based on principle. Parents are always trying to overdress their fingerlings when they go landside. Sometimes it feels like they use layers of clothing to coddle us when they can't be around to do it themselves.

"This is embarrassing," says the vampire. "I can't have you carry me into school. Just give me a little more of your blood."

"No can do, vampire. I have a strict no-drinking policy. My blood stays in its own circulatory system. Tell me where the infirmary is, and I'll drop you off as quietly as possible."

"I don't need an infirmary, mermaid. I need the commissary. Fresh blood will heal me."

I shiver at the thought of eating in a cafeteria that serves blood. "Don't call me 'mermaid.' It's insulting."

"Then don't call me 'vampire.'"

He has a point. (Or two of them!) "What should I call you?"

"Pierce. Pierce Knightguard."

"Seriously?" I roll my eyes. Sorry, can't help it. It's in the teen handbook. Look it up: Must roll eyes when people say anything absurd. (Footnote: especially when person responsible for said absurdity is a parent.)

What?" he says, looking a little hurt.

"You're a vampire named Pierce?"

"So?"

"I mean ... it's a little obvious."

"You can't talk to me that way, even if you are cute and delicious."

I let Pierce slip from my arms. He lands with a muted thud on a bed of redwood droppings. "Oops. Sorry about that." Just like with sharks, you have to show dominance right away. If I let Pierce think of me as a healthy breakfast food, I'm screwed. I'm nobody's kelp smoothie.

"Hey," Pierce jumps up on to his good leg. "That hurt."

Okay, that wasn't nice of me. I didn't have to drop an injured classmate, even if he is a ravenous vampire. "Wait, let me carry you," I say. He folds his arms across his chest, which is totally exposed because of the way I ripped apart his shirt earlier. At least that's one thing I've done right today. He's balancing on one leg as gracefully as a blue heron. "Come on. I shouldn't have done that."

"Actually, it might've been a good move on your part." He gives me that crooked grin, and his dimples are so deep, he could hold a good-sized pebble in each one.

"What do you mean?" Neptune's Beard, Pierce is handsome. Even missing an alarming chunk of a major body part, he makes Finn look like a rubber-lipped serf perch by comparison.

"I mean," his dark eyebrows furrow into a V. Why is he getting all serious on me? He licks his lips. "I mean, your blood tastes like ..."

"What? Crack? Vampire crack?"

"Why would you think something so horrible? No, you taste like the first rain on a crackling desert landscape."

My jaw drops. A vampire poet? He hops closer to me. I take a step back even though I want to throw myself in his arms and kiss him again. He leans close to my neck, and I can feel my pulse thudding in my throat. He smiles. How embarrassing. He can sense my heart rate accelerating. "Well, that makes me feel better," I manage to croak.

"Race you to school?" He hops backward and throws his head in the direction of the craftsman bungalow on top of the hill, a thin line of gray smoke snaking from the chimney.

I laugh. "It's no fun to race the leg-impaired," I say.

"Come on. Loser has to grant the winner a wish."

"I'm only one-eighth fairy. I'm not authorized to grant wishes."

"Anyone can grant a wish, Waverly," he says.

Hmmm. This has possibilities. I can wish for him never to come near me again. "You got it vampire." I take off. Even if I'm not a fancy, supernaturally fast, one-legged creature of the night, I'm not going to let him show me up, though I feel a little guilty not at least giving the invalid a head start.

"It's Pierce!" He yells. I look over my shoulder in time to see him launch into the air. He buzzes my head as he flies over.

"What, you can fly?" I can't believe this jerk. I'm carrying him, and the whole time he could have flown himself to class? Vampires suck!

I stomp the rest of the way up the hill. When I reach the top, I hear the chattering and giggling that signifies a gathering of students. It's coming from the biggest building, which lies across a meadowed courtyard. Not until I cross the threshold into the crowded hall, do I realize, I hadn't told Pierce my name.


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