Whenever Tashaun saw water, he couldn’t help but think of Abella. His mind drifted along the shore of the lake by his home and he dreamt of watery palaces below, where the undine must rule. The same palaces Abella retreated to, crying and broken, after she’d seen his deceit.
“Father warned me of humans!” She’d cried. He had gripped her wrist, turning her away from the watery depths that waited just off the end of the dock. “You’re all the same!” She had said, pulling away from his embrace.
The moonlight had caught her blond hair making it appear almost silver. Standing in the light of the full moon, the serene lake behind her, Tashaun couldn’t help feeling like he was being caught up in a fairy tale he might have heard when he was a child.
A fairy tale he’d ruined. He’d thought they’d last forever. He was certain Abella was the one. From the first moment he’d seen her emerge from the water that midsummer day, he’d known for certain she’d stolen his heart. He’d come to realize that he’d stolen hers just as certainly.
He’d heard people talk of undines, but he’d never truly believed the tales until he saw her. Webbed hands had melted into long fingers; her plump fin eased into long, slender legs, her seagrass hair turned blond in the morning light. Maybe she’d been a figment of his imagination, brought on from a long night of celebration, but the longer he spent with her that day and the soberer he became, Tashaun realized that she was real.
If he’d remembered the lore of the undines when he saw Abella, he might have steered clear of her. They were believed to be ruled by passion and the deepest emotions of the heart as only a being of water could truly be. He’d learned more of his own heart when he was with her than he had in all of his ventures and all of his travels.
Until he’d met Giselle and had fallen to her snares. She wasn’t nearly as lovely as the undine. Where Abella was light and pure heart, Giselle had been dark and pure lust. He’d fallen hard for her and after the night of fire fueled passion, Giselle had left him feeling empty and broken for his trespass against Abella’s heart.
To this day he would swear that Giselle had cast some kind of spell on him. Why else would he have done what he’d done?
Behind him, the sounds of wedding preparations intruded on his thoughts. He turned to see his mother and stately father instructing florists where to put arrangements and caterers where to put the food until the reception.
It was his wedding to a woman named Genevieve, but it might as well be a prison sentence. Wedding Genevieve was smart for his family. The daughter of a local spice merchant, it made fiscal sense even if there was no love between them. He hoped, in time, that a kind of love might grow between their hearts. She was lovely, if a little dull. But that wasn’t her fault. No one could compare to the bright light that was the memory of Abella in his heart.
He wanted the wedding less than he’d wanted to break Abella’s heart.
He cast a mournful gaze back to the lake. Whenever he saw the water, the thought of the first passionate embrace with the undine ebbed through his heart like the moon powered tide. She may have left him months ago, but she still held his heart as if in a fisherman’s net.
It could be worse with Genevieve. In fact, if he didn’t marry her, it would be worse. His family would be destitute. Tashaun turned away from the lake and the memory of his love from the watery realms. Now he had to face reality.
He’d cheated the undine, and while most people thought that was a stupid thing to do, he’d come away from the encounter alive, but broken.
How he wished he’d died.
“Tashaun?” a familiar voice called from the end of the dock.
Tashaun spun, staring in disbelief as his watery maiden stirred from the murky depths of the lake.
“I’ve seen you here many times,” Abella told him, her arms folding over the sun-warmed wood of the dock; her seagrass hair streaming around her face and over her supple breasts.
“But why?” Tashaun asked, closing the distance between them and coming to a knee before the undine. “Why did you never come to me before now?” Why had she waited? Why did she come now, when he was to be wed? If she’d only come a week earlier, a day sooner, he could have taken her for his own, and they would have run off together.
Maybe if she could take to land, the same magic that allowed her to walk the earth could allow him to swim the depths of the lake.
“You ask me such questions when it was you who drove me back to the deep?” Abella asked. There was a fire in her silvery eyes, one that warned him that, though she came to him, Taushan still tread on dangerous ground.
“You still haven’t forgiven me?” Tashaun asked, sitting back on his heels. If she hadn’t forgiven him, why was she here? “After what I’ve told you? You of all beings should understand the power of magic.”
“You mean how Giselle bewitched you?” Abella asked. It sounded more like she was mocking him.
Tashaun nodded anyway.
“Where I’m from, we are told that no magic can sway a true heart. A heart that is resolute with its feelings can never be turned away from where it wants to be.”
“You doubt my love for you?” Tashaun flinched.
“I did,” Abella said.
He reached for her, but the undine listed away from the dock, her hands treading water, the shadow of her tail beneath the surface keeping her afloat.
“But . . . now?” Tashaun asked. He should never have come down to the lake today. He should never have looked for her once she’d left; however, Tashaun’s heart had seemed to heal in the months since he’d seen Abella last. But no matter how much he thought it had healed, seeing her once more tore open all of those old wounds leaving his heart shattered and his soul lost if he couldn’t have her one last time. He should have tried harder to convince himself that she wasn’t real; that undines were only fables. The kind of love he’d felt for her could only end in ruin. It wasn’t real. Love like what he felt for her could never last. Like a kindling flame, his passion for the undine would destroy him.
Abella eased toward the dock once more. “I’ve come to heal my heart. I can finally lay eyes upon you without my heart feeling as if it’s being pulled from my chest. I can look upon your face and know that whatever you’d done that night had nothing to do with me and everything to do with you.
She reached up for his face, and Tashaun let her webbed fingers cup his cheek. With that one touch, her soft skin, the cool damp of the lake that seemed to ebb from deep within her, chased away all of his worry, all of his fear.
“We can still be together,” he told her. “It’s not too late. Let’s run away together . . . now!” Weave your magic over me. Take me to the depths and teach me to breathe the water of your home.”
“There’s no magic to teach you to breathe water, Tashaun,” Abella said. “None.”
Tears slipped down Tashaun’s face. “Are we not meant for one another.”
It wasn’t true. It couldn’t be true.
“You saw to that the night you lay with Giselle. You think I’d have you after that?”
What?” Tashaun asked. He shook his head as if what he’d heard her say was somehow false; somehow a conjuring in his mind.
“There’s no faith in your heart.”
“How can you know the depths of my heart? You don’t know how I’ve longed for you all these days. You don’t know how I’ve sat here, staring out into the water, hoping for death to just stop the pain of losing you.”
“Death?” Abella asked. Her hand gripped his cheek tighter. Fire flashed in her eyes once again. “Death is what you wish for?”
Tashaun swallowed heavily. “Don’t you love me?” he asked, changing the subject.
“I did,” Abella told him. “But that love died the night you lay with Giselle and threw it all away.”
He should have listened to the legends. Undine are not to be crossed, but Tashaun had always learned from his mistakes and in this he would learn the hard way. The poisonous vengeance of her kiss paralyzed Tashaun long before Abella pulled him down into his watery grave.