She went up to her floor and entered her dad’s apartment. A sappy song from the Eighties was playing on the stereo--Ryan L. Richie or somebody--and Dad was . . . dancing in the living room.
“Daddy?” she said, trying not to laugh.
He was doing the Disney princess thing of dancing by himself like he held a partner, and was signing along, rather terribly. “I wanna share all my love with you,” he crooned, and Tanissa giggled when she saw the big grin on his face, a moony face like a twitterpated . . . well, Disney character.
He stopped, smiled even bigger, then scooped her up in his big arms, continuing the dance. “You will always beeeee, my endless love!” he sang.
“Dad, put me down!” she laughed. He did so, but not before giving her a big smooch on the forehead. “What, uh, is this?”
“Ooh, baby,” he beamed, “I have the greatest news.”
“I’m in love.”
“In love. I’ve fallen in love. I didn’t think it’d happen again after your mama, but, well, it did.”
“When did this happen? With who?”
“Today. Just now. You know your friend Bracken’s mom?”
“She’s the one. Tannie, I have never fallen so hard for a woman before. I don’t know what came over me. But the heart’s a surprising thing.”
The song kept playing, but Tanissa didn’t hear it. “Daddy, is this a joke? You just met her.”
“And shit is she beautiful, baby,” he exclaimed, shaking his head. “And to think she was right under my nose this whole time.”
Something was wrong. “Daddy . . .”
“How would you like to have a little sister, Tanissa Mae?”
And then it suddenly made sense. Somehow, this was her doing. Tanissa grabbed her father’s hand, holding it tightly to get his attention. “Daddy, did Brekkyn talk to you? Today?”
“That lil white girl has the loveliest singing voice. Must take after her mama!”
“She sang? Just now?” She looked around the room, as though the brat could be hiding here even now.
“You know, that girl is the sweetest thing. Smart too. You could learn a thing or two from Brekklyn, baby.”
Tanissa swallowed. That rotten, spoiled little monster had come up here and placed a spell on her father. “Dad, you’re not in love,” she said, trying to sound logical instead of emotional.
“I’m not in love, just because!” Dad sang out.
What the . . . ? “Brekkyn’s mother isn’t even pretty, Dad. She looks . . . she looks like a homeless lady.”
He wrinkled his nose, like he was trying to amuse an infant. “I like ‘em skinny, baby. And I’m not exactly Tyson Beckford, you know.”
“You should be happy for me, Tannie.” His expression went ninety percent serious, but there was still a hint of a smile in his eyes. “It’s been lonely without your mother, without you. And to have found love again, with a kind, smart, hot lady like that . . .”
“She’s not hot, Dad. You’re under a spell.”
He scowled for just a second--less than that, really--then grinned again. “You know, it feels like that. And when it happens to you, I hope you feel like that too.”
“No, Dad!” she practically yelled. “Brekkyn is part mermaid, and she has this . . . this siren’s song to make people do what she wants.” She wanted to start from the beginning, tell the tale of how she witnessed this again and again, and even forgot about however many times the trick had been pulled on her. But he didn’t look willing to listen, so she simply said, “I’ve seen her do it to people, I swear to you.”
Her father scowled again, and this time, it stuck. “You are too old to believe in that sort of, you know, kid stuff. That little girl is wonderful, simply wonderful, and you would be lucky to have her in the family.”
“Family? What are you talking abou--”
“I’m gonna ask Mrs. Conlee to marry me. I’ve been saving a little money. It’s probably enough for a decent ring. I don’t know, though, maybe I coul--”
“Misses Conlee?” repeated the distraught daughter, trying to maintain her calm. She was failing. “Do you even know her first name?”
That gave Dad a little pause. “Well, I guess not. I may have forgot it. But that’s something I can ask her before the real question.”
“Dad, she won’t marry you. She’s . . .” Tanissa trailed off. What was she going to say? What could possibly matter? After all, if Brekkyn wanted it, her mother--foster mother--would fall in love too.
“Tanissa,” Dad said, all patience and lovey-dovey positivity gone. “Part of growing up is accepting change. First your mama and me, then me moving here, now this. If you can’t be nice about it, then I guess our little visit will be done.”
She gasped slightly. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, your mama didn’t want you here to begin with. She has full custody.” He squared his burly shoulders. “If you’d rather go back with her, that’s fine with me.”
Tears stung at the corners of her eyes. She knew this wasn’t her father talking, but that didn’t make it hurt any less. “But this is our daddy daughter time,” she breathed, trying to get through to him.
“I’ve got two daughters now,” he told her, not unkindly, but she still responded to it like a slap in the face.
“No. No, Daddy. Don’t say that. She made you say that.”
Dad grew a tired expression. Finally, he said, “She wants me to be happy. That means a lot.”
What he wasn’t saying was, somehow, that witch had convinced him he loved her and her mother more than he did his own daughter. The tears did come now. Tanissa wanted to make fists and strike him a hundred times, or run to her room, slam the door, and start wrecking furniture. But instead, she stepped up to him, threw her arms around her father, and hugged him hard, crying into his work uniform.
The man at the aquarium had had a hearing aid in one of his ears. He heard Brekkyn’s song, but he hadn’t heard it. Tanissa didn’t know how to turn off hearing in one or both ears, but she had a new iPod, and if she had an earbud in, blaring Rap music or Metal, maybe she could be effectively deaf to the song. She had to try.
She stuck the bug in, pressing it tight, then decided that wasn’t enough. After she started up the iPod, she went downstairs, passing by her humming father, who was shaving in the bathroom. She knocked on the Mannions’ door.
Mrs. Conlee answered it. She looked worse than usual, dark circles under her eyes, her lips twitching. “Tanissa,” she said, barely above a whisper. “You shouldn’t be here.”
Tanissa could barely hear her with the music blasting and the tone of her voice. “How do I break the spell?” she asked the woman, no doubt she’d know what she was talking about.
The woman shook her head. “You can’t. It just wears off. When it does, run away, take your papa and run.” Implicit in her gaze was the desire that she could also run away.
Tanissa tried to imagine what life must be like for this unfortunate lady. She had a fairly good idea what she had been doing in the bathroom that had so infuriated her ‘daughter,’ and why she would be doing it. Being in a house with a mind-controlling sociopath would be like living in a prison with no hope of parole.
Tanissa only got one word out. “Maybe--”
From elsewhere in the apartment, Brekkyn’s voice called out. “Mom? Mom, who is it?”
The woman tensed, as though a spider was crawling on her neck. “Go!” she hissed.
But it was too late. Brekyyn came out of her room, beaming when she saw who it was. “Tanissa!” she exclaimed, drawing out the name in an ugly, nicknamey way.
“Mom, leave us alone,” the mer-girl said, and the woman obeyed, again like a beaten dog.
Tanissa stayed in the hall, not coming inside.
“Well, you just gonna stand there?”
“Why did you do that to my dad?” It was all she could do not to start slapping and punching.
“Do what?” Brekkyn asked, her eyes wide with feigned innocence. “It’s not my fault they fell in love.”
“Your mom’s not in love with my dad.”
“She will be. You’ll see.”
“Please, don’t do this. He never did anything to you.”
“Big sister,” Brekkyn said patiently. “I didn’t do anything bad. He actually looked way happier when I left him.”
“Leave us alone. He’s not gonna be happy with you as a stepdaughter.”
“He’ll think he is.” This was the voice of experience talking.
“You little bitch,” Tanissa vaguely heard herself saying. All her fear had suddenly switched to anger. “Do you have any idea what right and wrong is?”
And Brekkyn began to sing. Tanissa could hear the strange language, and she got a sense of, something, a happiness, a sudden liking for the rotten girl standing in front of her . . . but that was all.
“So, have I shown you the roof yet?” Brekkyn asked, sweetly. “There’s a lock, but it’s broken.”
Tanissa had no idea what she was supposed to do, to appear under the mermaid spell, whether she should grunt and obey like a sleepwalker, or just answer normally. “Okay,” she said, as though it was a great idea.
Normally, she’d be fine with going up to the roof, but with Brekkyn, there was no telling what that meant. Tanissa suspected she would get trapped up there alone or something, and wouldn’t you know it, the lock would work after all.
Brekkyn left the apartment, not bothering to tell her mother where she was going.