Normal is Never Coming Back
Jade is totally confused. As in, "will this be a leg-day or a tail-day?" kind of confused. Even worse, it's been forever since her first kiss with Luke and now―nothing. Not even a text message.
But Jade doesn't have time to figure out the weirdness of boys and how to use her shiny new tail. (Seriously, being a mermaid should come with a handbook.) She has to come up with a plan to get her missing mermaid mom back on dry land.
The only problem is...Jade is afraid of the ocean. But even aqua-phobic mer-girls have to take the plunge sometime...
Praise for Real Mermaids Don't Wear Toe Rings:
"Bravo to Hélène Boudreau for hitting the bull's-eye with a fresh, affectionate, watery twist on the classic coming-of-age-story."―New York Journal of Books
"The author keeps suspense high...while tapping straight into young teens' angst about friends, enemies, and boys."―Kirkus
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Hélène Boudreau writes fiction and non-fiction for children and young adults from her home in Ontario. Her debut middle grade novel, Acadian Star, was released last fall and was recently nominated for the 2009/2010 Hackmatack Children's Choice Book Award.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The month leading up to my fourteenth birthday was the most exciting time of my life.
1. I found out my mom hadn't drowned but was actually a mermaid.
2. I discovered I was part mermaid too.
3. I rescued my mom from a bunch of mer-freaks in Talisman Lake and freed her into the ocean so she could have a chance to become human again.
4. I had my first kiss.
5. Did I mention my first kiss?
The month since my fourteenth birthday, however? Not so exciting.
My mom was still floating around in the ocean somewhere, and I had no idea if she'd ever make it back home. Plus, it was getting harder and harder to keep my mer-secret from my best friend Cori and I hadn't seen my crush Luke since he left for camp weeks earlier, so I was beginning to feel like I'd dreamt the whole first kiss thing up.
All in all, the month of July was beginning to feel like an Ice Age and a half-especially since I'd spent most of it scooping up ten trillion cones full of ice cream for every man, woman, and child in my small oceanside town of Port Toulouse.
I poked my head out from under the awning of Bridget's Ice Cream Parlor and glanced up and down Main Street, silently begging for Cori to come in early for her shift to save me from my suffering. The summertime ice cream "parlor" was basically a window of Bridget's Diner opening up onto the street. Customers could order from the sidewalk or come in and order from the counter.
"Hiya, Jade." My boss Bridget emerged from the kitchen and plunked a tub of ice cream into the cooler in front of me. "Got ya more Klondike Golden Vanilla."
"Thanks, Bridget." I managed a smile, thankful that she'd given me the job since I'd been bugging her to work there every year since I turned nine. I may have been having a cruddy summer so far, but the free ice cream samples were a definite perk.
"No problem, hon." Bridget adjusted the tub in line with the others inside the ice cream cooler. Just then, the bell over the front door jingled and a fresh crowd of hungry tourists and locals streamed into the diner, calling Bridget back to the main counter. "Gimme a holler if it gets busy."
"Okeydokey!" I answered.
But Bridget's Diner was always busy. Especially once summer was in full swing and Port Toulouse's population tripled in size, as boats sailed up our world-famous canal from the Atlantic Ocean to the "wild, rustic beauty of Talisman Lake." I scooped up a double order of cones and tried to ignore the crushing pain of frostbite shooting up my forearm while Chelse Becker collected the money and stashed it in our cashbox without counting it.
"Chelse," I whispered. "You still owe them thirty-seven cents."
But Chelse was in her own little world, bopping along to something thumping through her earbuds and staring at her cell phone. She'd recently come in second in KIX 96 Radio's Fastest Texter contest and seemed determined to take next year's title, judging by how fast her fingers were flying across her phone's screen.
"Enjoy your ice cream." I handed the customers their change after nabbing it from the cashbox.
Chelse's family had a cottage across the lake from my Gran's in Dundee. You might wonder how a girl like private-schooled, country-clubbed, equestrian-trained Chelse came to work at Bridget's instead of spending her summer jet-skiing or working on her tan (I know I did). Turns out, Chelse's sixteen with a car and can do drop-offs and pickups for the restaurant in a pinch-plus, she was in a bit of a financial bind.
"And then," Chelse had complained, three weeks before, as she dumped her bag next to the counter on our first day of Ice Cream Parlor duty, "my mom said I couldn't bring friends to the cottage until I paid for the canoe. It wasn't my fault it drifted off and I missed curfew. That idiot ex-boyfriend of mine must have tied it up wrong."
Chelse would trample me with her prize-winning show horse if she ever found out I was to blame for losing her canoe. Not like I planned to tell her that I'd borrowed it to transport my mermaid mother to the freedom of the ocean, but I couldn't let her take the fall either.
So, with every scoop I scooped, I mentally watched my paycheck go into the Pay Back the Beckers for their Rare Aboriginal Canoe Fund instead of saving up for that new laptop I'd been drooling over. I hadn't exactly worked out how I was going to pay Chelse back without blowing my cover but until then, I'd tucked the money away and made do with my ancient laptop's missing L key. One, so I could relieve my guilty conscience, and two, so Chelse could quit her job and Bridget could hire someone who actually knew how to make change and didn't need seventeen phone apps to get through her day.
"Hey, Sunshine." Cori finally arrived, wearing an awesome Cori Original denim sundress and hand-dyed cotton scarf. "Look who finally decided to make an appearance." She rolled her eyes and tilted her head out into the diner.
Trey. And Luke. First-kiss Luke.
"Lu-" I tried to wave but Cori caught my arm and pulled it down. She gave me a wide-eyed-pursed-lips-shake-of-the-head look before disappearing into the kitchen to stash her stuff.
From what I could tell, Luke hadn't seen me across the crowded, noisy diner. He stood with his back to me as he waited with his brother for a booth to clear out.
"I'm not sure if they have gelato, honey." A woman stood at the parlor window with her little boy, thankfully interrupting me from making a total idiot of myself. She patted a fussy, brand new baby in a sling and tried to contain the struggling toddler with her free hand. "Just give me a second while I get Olivia settled and I'll ask the girl."
"Huh?" I asked, blinking uncontrollably. It took me a minute to catch on to what the customer was saying. I recognized the mom from Dooley's Pharmacy a couple weeks before, only now she had an extra baby to go along with her rubber band of a toddler. She looked like she hadn't slept in days. "No, sorry, we don't serve gelato. All our stuff's made from local dairy products." I smiled at the toddler and tried to catch his eye to distract him. "Made with real cows."
The boy laughed and stopped pulling on his mother's arm.
"Did you know," I continued, trying to distract him long enough for his mom to readjust the binkie in her baby's mouth, "we get our chocolate ice cream from brown cows, vanilla from the white cows, and strawberry from cows that forget to put on sunscreen?"
The boy put a hand over his mouth to stifle a giggle and jumped up and down. I leaned over the counter and tousled his hair then turned to his mom.
"I'm pretty sure they serve gelato bars at Mug Glug's across the street." I pointed to Mug Glug's awning.
"Thanks." She smiled appreciatively and took the boy's hand to turn to go.
I waved as they left then glanced across the diner.
Cori reemerged from the kitchen and slapped my arm with her apron before pulling it over her head. "Don't you dare go over there. You've lasted this long. Don't cave now."
I turned to see that Luke and Trey were now sitting in their usual booth by the window. I say "usual" but I hadn't seen Luke there since he left for Outward Bound at Camp Whycocomagh at the beginning of the month.
"You're right. I know you're right." I peeled a banana and got started on that morning's sixth banana split.
"Of course I'm right." Cori replenished the stack of waffle cones. "Not a phone call, not a text for the whole entire time he was gone. Unacceptable."
"Yeah, but the camp does have a no cell phone policy," I pointed out. "At least that's what their website says. Remember that for when Trey goes in August." Luke and Trey took turns at the camp and traded off mowing lawns during the rest of the summer.
"Seriously, Jade?" Cori looked up from her pile of cones and sighed in exasperation. "You checked the website?"
"What?" I dolloped strawberry sauce over the banana split. "It's up there for everybody to see!" I was just taking a page from Dad's book and using technology for the power of good.
"And has Luke called since he got back from camp? Nooo." Cori stretched out the word and sneered. "Those Martin boys are all the same. Trey hasn't called me since Sunday either." She stopped piling cones and eyed me seriously. "You haven't broken down and called Luke, have you?"
"Creeped his Facebook page?"
"Nn-oo." I hoped Cori didn't detect the hesitation in my voice over the schkrrrr sound of the aerosol whipped cream.
"Good girl. Because, trust me," Cori warned, "if you text him first, you've pretty much given up any relationship power you may have possessed up until that point."
I had a feeling Cori had read one too many Teen Cosmo magazines but I'd listened to her. And I'd suffered in silence. And I certainly didn't scribble Luke's name on every piece of scrap paper lying around the house or practice what I'd write in his yearbook. And I definitely didn't do every compatibility quiz in my own Teen Cosmo magazines just to find out whether our summer romance was "Made in the Shade," "Too Hot to Handle," or "Too Cool for School."
Nope, not me.
But Cori was right; except for a couple texts before he left for camp, Luke had basically ignored me since her pool party-which isn't so unusual, given my dating history.
But Luke was a mer. Like me. Didn't that count for something?
"Uh...I think that's good." My customer, Mr. Howser, nodded at the mound of peanuts I'd piled onto his banana split.
His wife got two spoons from the spoon cup and looked at me skeptically. "Are you okay, dear?" she asked.
"Oh! Yeah, okay. Sorry!" I smiled, but the more I thought about the Luke situation, the more irked I got.
I stole another glance at the Martin brothers' booth while I squirted a final squiggle of chocolate sauce over the banana split. Who did Luke think he was, anyway?
I served up the banana split then pulled off my apron.
"I'm taking my break."
Cori caught my arm and stared me down. "Why do I get the feeling you're about to flush three weeks of self-control down the toilet?"
"Don't worry. I'm doing this for all of womankind. Guys have been getting away with this stuff for far too long."
"This can only end badly." Cori dropped her hand from my arm and joined Chelse at the ice cream cooler.
I ignored her and stalked around the counter and across the diner in ten long strides. Luke was going to live to regret dissing me. He looked up when my right foot came down hard onto the clickety tile floor like a soldier on march.
"Well, well, well...look who just decided to resurface," I said, silently pleased with my ironic choice of words. I was on fire.
"Save it." I put a hand up to stop him.
Both he and Trey gulped. Good. I had them right where I wanted. Intimidated and off balance. I was going in for the kill.
"Not that I give a flying flip phone what has been going on with you for the past three weeks, but FYI: kissing a girl, then basically going all radio-silent on her is not cool. So, unless you're about to tell me you've been roaming the plains of Africa on the hunt for the last wildebeest with no visible signs of civilization for ten thousand miles, I don't want to hear your excuse."
That rolled off my tongue way too easily. I gave myself a mental pat on the back, crossed my arms, and waited for whatever weak, pathetic excuse he had to offer.
Luke shifted in his seat and winced. He looked at Trey before turning back to me.
"I'm, uh...I'm really sorry, Jade," he said quietly. "I was gonna give you a call as soon as I got home from camp but our mom was rushed to the hospital in Renworth on Sunday. We just brought her back home today."
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