CHAPTER 7HEAR HER SONG (COMPLETED)
The pair had parted ways. Joy had informed Niylah that she had to speak with her people about the halfling theory and what it meant for her kind. They had agreed to meet when the sun met with the sea. Niylah figured that meant sundown so she had a full day to talk to Tom and figure out what the hell was going on.
Niylah had left the beach, watching as Joy's stunning teal fin flicked the surface of the water before disappearing below. She was awestruck as she started her trek home. It felt so surreal, like a dream she had yet to wake from. How could this be a reality? She knew this town was built off the mermaid folklore, but she never once thought it could be real. Then again, she had never given it much thought. She had moved away when she was young and was always preoccupied with other things back in Colmoore.
The sun was well over the mountains now as Niylah walked along the road. She hugged her arms, rubbing them to try and keep warm. The early morning was crisp and chilled her. It didn't help that she felt like her stomach was in vicious knots. No matter how much she thought about it, she couldn't wrap her head around the idea that her parents weren't who she thought they were. She never once considered she might've been adopted, but to be adopted because she was half fish? Despite how ridiculous that sounded, she couldn't forget the image of Joy's tail waving back and forth against the water. If mermaids could exist then the possibility of her parentage being wrong could be legit.
Niylah was lost in her own thoughts when a car pulled up next to her. She looked over to see Sheriff Busby hanging out of the window of his patrol car. “Your dad has half the town looking for you, kiddo.”
Your dad. She had to fight the urge to recoil at that. What if Tom really wasn't her father?
The sheriff got out of the cruiser and opened the passenger door for her. “You're not a criminal, so I won't have you sit in the back,” the sheriff said.
Niylah walked to the other side of the car and climbed inside. She buckled up as he continued to speak. “He's worried sick about you, you know? You gave us all a scare.”
Niylah merely nodded at his words. She hoped he wouldn't ask where she had been.
“You know,” Sheriff Busby didn't seem like he was going to quit just yet. “When I first met Tom, we were just kids.” He held up his hand to show how small they were. “And then he saw Caroline. He couldn't stop chasing after that girl. I knew she'd give in eventually.”
The sheriff chuckled before growing more serious. “I thought after they had you, they'd stay together forever. I guess it helped for a bit, but then Caroline went and ran off.” He let out a wistful sigh as if remembering his younger years as if they just happened.
Then, a thought occurred. “Did you ever see my mom when she was pregnant with me?”
“Oh, probably.” His tone seemed amused. “Nobody realized Caroline was even pregnant until you showed up.”
“She didn't look like she was pregnant?”
“Never really noticed,” he said. “I guess she hid it well.”
That was the last question Niylah asked him as they pulled into the driveway. She could see Tom pull open the blinds to look outside. As she stepped out of the cruiser, he came racing down the steps to greet her.
“Where have you been!” He raced over to her, grabbing her shoulders. He turned back to address the sheriff. “Thank you for bringing her back home, Sheriff.” He embraced her tight, but Niylah was only feeling a spark of rage, and the more she was near him, the spark was growing. She was sure it would become a blazing fire.
Niylah waited for Sheriff Busby to leave before heading inside. She wasn't going to confront Tom with the sheriff near. She'd be locked in a loony bin for sure.
Niylah and Tom headed inside. As soon as they entered the kitchen, Niylah opened to speak, but Tom was already talking.
“Niylah, where have you been? Do you know how worried I was?” She turned to face him. She could see that there was fear behind his eyes. What was he afraid of? That she was hurt or that she'd leave?
His concern only fueled the fire. “You were worried?” Her tone was acidic – mocking. She couldn't believe it.
Tom looked confused. “Of course I was! You just got home from the hospital and then you go missing? I thought I lost you!”
Niylah scoffed. “How could you lose something that isn't yours?”
Her words seemed to have cut him. He took a moment to gather himself before letting out a sigh. “Look, Niy. I know I haven't been a great father, but I'm trying here.”
“Are you even my father?”
Tom seemed taken aback by her question. “What? Of course, I am. Did your mother say something-”
“She didn't say anything!” Niylah cut him off. “Something happened tonight that has me confused and I just want the truth. Are you my father?”
“Niylah, what are you talking about? Yes, I'm your father.”
“Stop lying!” Niylah spun around, throwing her hands in the air with exasperation.
“Niylah, I'm not lying.” Tom was calm despite her frustration.
“You are! I know you aren't my real parents.” She didn't know where that came from. She wasn't sure that Joy was even right. Perhaps something deep down, something she didn't even realize, always knew.
“Niylah...” When Tom spoke, she could tell he had stepped closer. “I'm not lying. I am your father, but your mother isn't.”
“What?” Niylah whipped around, her voice barely a whisper. She could see the pain in his expression.
The two had settled on the couch as Tom tried to explain himself. Joy had dropped a bomb on her, but Tom had set off another. He was her father but her mother wasn't her mother. She wasn't expecting that one.
“I loved your mother,” Tom began. “I still do, but we struggled a lot.”
Niylah knew this much. Her mother was the one to leave and he stayed back.
“We always wanted children but your mom...it was difficult for her. We were told it would never be possible for her.” Tom hunched forward, resting his elbows on his thighs.
“Then how...?” Niylah trailed off, letting him answer.
“Having a family is all your mom ever wanted – all we ever wanted. Our relationship wasn't perfect and we fought a lot. And...”
“And?” Niylah prompted.
“And one night, we fought and I left. I just needed some air. I met this woman and one thing led to the next. It didn't mean anything, I promise. I didn't even tell your mother about it until nine months later, she shows up...with you.”
“I'm the result of an affair!” Niylah choked with disbelief.
“I told your mom the truth and it was tough, but your birth mother couldn't keep you. Your mom, your mom now, wanted children that she forgot about it. She raised you as her own. I don't think she ever truly forgave me for my infidelity but we made it work for a little bit.” Tom looked up at Niylah.
“She never wanted to stay here. The small-town life was never for her but I couldn't go with her. I had to stay and help my parents. I didn't fight for custody because I knew how much Caroline loves you.” Tom attempted to smile. “I hurt her and I couldn't do it again by taking you away.”
Niylah grew silent, taking in everything she heard. So this woman Tom had an affair with could possibly be like Joy. Her biological mother could possibly be a mermaid.
“We both love you so much,” Tom assured her. “I'm sorry we kept that from you.”
Niylah forced a small smile. They had been hiding the truth from her. Her dad was also hiding his business with that threatening man. What else could be hidden from her?