Shine: Chapter Sixteen


Emily froze. So did Drago.

“You better not have been murdered!” Sofia shouted, loud enough that Emily would have been able to hear her from the top of the lighthouse. She pounded on the front door with one of her fists.

Emily was underneath the pier.

Hide,” she hissed at Drago. She was going to have to pretend she’d been going for a walk or a swim. Something normal. Being under the pier was not normal, but that just meant she’d have to try and emerge inconspicuously.

Drago pushed himself as silently as he could under the water, as Emily tried to fix her dress.

Shit. Dress. Swimming in a dress was also not normal. When did it get so difficult to be normal?

… always. It had always been difficult.

She stood up in the water and poked enough of her head above the wood to see if the coast was clear.


The coast was not clear. She ducked back down beneath the pier, trying to figure out how to pretend she wasn’t there.

“Do you hang out under the dock now like a weird harbor seal?” Sofia asked, her voice moving closer. Her footsteps thudded on the wood. Emily sighed and accepted futility.

“Sometimes,” she said, sullen, emerging enough to peer over the wood again.

“I haven’t seen you in forever,” Sofia complained, “and now you’re telling me you’ve been hiding under a dock this whole time?” She put her hands on her hips, three-inch heels tapping in a way that looked unstable. Emily didn’t understand how she could walk in those without tipping over. Emily couldn’t walk barefoot without tipping over.

“Not the whole time.”

“Are you depressed?”


“Did Mantonio dump you?”

“No! And that’s not his name.”

“Okay, well, if you want to convince me that your mystery man isn’t trying to keep you isolated for murder reasons, you’re gonna have to join me for brunch.” Sofia knelt and offered both her hands to Emily to help pull her up.

Emily bit her lip. She didn’t want to leave Drago. Every minute with him felt precious still, and time away from him felt wasted. She wanted to wait until the next time he had to leave, for his mysterious merman reasons, and get all her errands and social life done then.

Which wasn’t super practical, now that she was thinking about it. And unsustainable, in the long term, unless she wanted to end up having to choose between the people she loved. Secrets were secrets, but friends were friends.

Knowing when to keep them was an important part of secrets.

“Sofia,” she decided, “I want you to meet my boyfriend.”

“Oh, lord.” Sofia rolled her eyes, tilting her head back in a plea to the heavens and dropping her hands. “Is he here?”

“Maybe,” Emily said, recalling that she hadn’t actually cleared this plan with Drago beforehand. “Wait right here and I’ll talk to him, okay? No peeking.”

Sofia rolled her eyes again as Emily disappeared back underneath the dock.

Drago was nowhere to be seen, so Emily waded deeper into the water, far enough that she could reach underneath it and try to wave her arms for attention. She felt foolish doing it until she saw the top of Drago’s head, just high enough above the water that she could see his eyes.

It actually made him look… scary. Like he was going to leap out at her and pull her under.

She waved both her hands in a ‘come here’ gesture.

Drago narrowed his eyes at the pier and didn’t move.

“I want you to meet her,” she whispered. Drago seemed to sink a little lower in the water. “Please? You can trust her. She’s important.” She clasped a fist over her heart as if that meant something he should be able to understand.

Drago didn’t move at first, but eventually and slowly he came closer to her, still watching warily for Sofia. Sofia, thankfully, did not peek.

“It’ll be okay,” she assured him, bending lower to better look him in the eye. “Nothing bad will happen. She’s special.”

Emily poked her head back up over the edge of the pier. “Okay,” she said, pulling herself up to sit at the edge. She patted the wood beside her. “You can come say hi.”

“He’d better be wearing pants,” Sofia warned, stepping closer. She didn’t sit down, despite Emily’s invitation. Her jeans were much too expensive to risk. “If you two were fucking when I got here, I don’t need to see that.”

Sofia,” Emily complained, mortified.

Drago came up out of the water, only to his shoulders. Sofia looked him over with disdain as a reflex. She stilled as she processed.

“What,” she said finally.

“This is Drago,” Emily said stiffly, gesturing with both hands. “Drago, this is Sofia. She’s my best friend and she promises not to tell the government that you’re here. Right?”

“… why does he look like that.”

“Don’t be racist,” Emily scolded.

“You know that isn’t what I meant,” Sofia said.

Drago did a quick backflip into the water and back up, enough to show off a quick flash of his tail. Sofia shrieked.

“Also,” Emily said, “I’m sorry because he definitely isn’t wearing pants and I know you said that was a dealbreaker.”

“Are you fucking with me?” Sofia demanded.

“My boyfriend is a merman and I lied because it’s supposed to be a secret because people aren’t supposed to know that mermaids are real but I’m telling you because you’re special. Also it wasn’t totally a lie because he is foreign and he’s like a sailor, and Ray can be short for Drago. So I barely lied.”

“Oh my god,” Sofia said.

“I know,” Emily said.

“This cannot be a real thing,” Sofia said.

“It kind of is, though,” Emily said.

“Are werewolves real?” Sofia asked.


“Because if mermaids are real then maybe werewolves are real, and if that’s the case I’ve made some posts about a hypothetical werewolf boyfriend that I need to delete,” Sofia said.

“I’ve seen those posts,” Emily said, “and you should delete those for unrelated reasons.”

“Is this why you said that thing about his dick?” Sofia asked.

“What?” Drago asked. Sofia shrieked.

“Oh my god, he speaks English,” Sofia said, covering her mouth. “I thought he was Italian.”

“No,” Emily said. “I think he’s tropical. I don’t know. I don’t think they have countries underwater. Do they? Do you guys have different groups with designated areas?”

Drago contemplated the question with narrowed eyes. “There are clans,” he said finally, “with territories.”

“You hadn’t thought to ask him about that until now?” Sofia asked.

“We were busy,” Emily said defensively. “I don’t want to pry. The fact that he exists is supposed to be a secret, I’m not going to demand answers about the ocean government.”

“That’s the first thing you should ask,” Sofia said.

“A merman?” Emily asked, incredulous. “The first thing I should ask a merman, who is real and hot and saved my life, is about governance?”

“Yes,” Sofia said. “What if he’s a mer-fascist? You don’t know!”

“He’s not a fascist,” Emily said, offended.

“How would you know?” Sofia asked. “You’ve never asked.”

“I don’t need to.”

“You’d be surprised. So he can’t grow legs or anything? He stays in the water?”

“I’ve wheeled him around in a chair before,” Emily said. “He doesn’t shapeshift. Drago, come sit.” She patted the pier beside herself since Sofia wasn’t going to be sitting anyway. Drago did not look pleased by this turn of events, but reluctantly pulled himself up out of the water.

“Oh,” Sofia sighed, “it was the arms, wasn’t it?”

“What?” Drago asked again as he turned himself around to sit. Emily did not dignify the question with a response, turning pink. “Ah,” Drago decided, and he gave her a quick peck on the cheek. Emily squeaked in surprise, turning redder.

“Hmph,” Sofia said, unimpressed.

“She’s protective,” Emily explained.

“Good,” Drago said. “You should be protected.”

“God,” Sofia said. “Of course you moved into a lighthouse to be closer to the merman boyfriend you got because you went swimming in a thunderstorm. I don’t know why I’m surprised.”

“Is that good or bad?” Emily said.

“It’s you,” Sofia said, “which means that if it was anyone else I would hate them.” Emily pouted. “Don’t you start with me,” Sofia warned. “And you,” she added, pointing at Drago. “If I find out you’re planning to eat her, or drown her, or drown her and then eat her, I’m going to kill you.” Drago nodded. “Do you actually understand what I said, or are you just nodding?”

“I would sooner die than hurt Emily,” Drago said solemnly.

“You will,” Sofia said with a nod.

“That’s not necessary,” Emily said. “I thought you’d be more understanding once you learned that he’s a merman.”

“All that means is that it would be even easier for him to hide a secret second family,” Sofia said. “Are mermen monogamous, or did you join an aquatic polycule?”

“What?” Drago asked.

“She’s asking if you have others,” Emily explained, tapping the spot where her necklace would sit between her collarbones.

“For me, there is only you,” Drago said, his gaze intense.

“Gross,” Sofia said. “I don’t mean that,” she added, “I’m jealous. And it’s gross. Stop being cute.”

“You know I can’t,” Emily said.

“I know,” Sofia sighed.

“You can’t tell anyone about him, Sofia,” Emily warned.

“I know that,” Sofia said. “What do you take me for?”

“Not even our friends,” Emily said. “If Gus finds out then the whole world will find out, and if we tell Alex then Gus is the only one who doesn’t know and that’s not fair.”

“It still doesn’t seem fair,” Sofia said.

“Gus can’t keep secrets,” Emily reminded her. “Putting him in a position where someone else’s safety depends on his ability to keep secrets isn’t fair to him, either.”

“Shit,” Sofia huffed, crossing her arms. “Is this going to be like that thing where Anne got married and had kids and now we never see her anymore?”

“We can still hang out,” Emily assured her. “I’m not ditching you guys.”

“You say that,” Sofia said, “but now every time we ask if you want to go to the movies, or get dinner, or grab lunch, or go to a show, you’re going to be like: I could do those normal things, or I could spend time with my merman boyfriend catching exciting new fish STDs.”

Sofia,” Emily hissed.

“What?” Sofia said. “Are you going to tell me you’ve been making the merman wrap it up?”

Emily turned red. “He isn’t human,” she muttered.

“Which means you should be extra careful,” Sofia said, “because swapping bodily fluids with non-humans is a great way to attain the title of patient zero when they discover some weird new fish man disease.” She threw up her hands. “It’s fine, it’s whatever, clearly that dick is out of the bag,” she said, putting her hands on her hips. “For the record, I think ditching your friends for magical mermaid adventures is the objectively correct move. That doesn’t mean I’m happy about it, but I get it.”

“She is your clan,” Drago suggested, “and you love her.”

“Exactly,” Sofia said.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Emily said.

“I am the one who is staying,” Drago said. “My territory is here now.”

“I thought you were nomadic,” Emily said.

“I was,” Drago said.

“He’s U-Hauling,” Sofia said. “He’s as bad as you are.”

“Yes,” Drago agreed. It was unclear how much of the sentiment he’d understood.

“Okay,” Sofia said. “I’m putting my foot down.” Emily and Drago both looked up at her from where they were sitting. “No puppy dog eyes,” she ordered, which made the puppy dog eyes worse. “Emily, I am going to go pick up our food to go. I’ll get him sashimi, I don’t know if he can have carbs.” Emily and Drago both shrugged, for different reasons. “While I’m gone, you’re going to find a table and chairs so we can sit outside with the merman and not ruin my jeans. When I get back, we’re going to have brunch, because I skipped breakfast so I could guilt you into having brunch with me and I’m getting hangry.”

“You didn’t have to do that,” Emily said.

“I don’t have to do a lot of things,” Sofia snapped. She huffed. “I’m trying to be supportive of your little whirlwind mermaid romance, but honestly, you don’t look like you need much support. You look pretty supported. While I—we are on a deadline. In two hours, it’s not going to be brunch anymore, and I need to bitch about my week over brunch while you agree that I’m right about everything, or I am going to fucking lose it. Okay?”

“Okay,” Emily said.

Drago slowly raised a hand to give a thumbs-up.