by Debra Goelz
Nothing says ‘I love you’ quite like a statue constructed in your honor. Which is why I’m reclining on an algae-covered boulder in the bay, twenty feet from shore, with a strategic array of seaweed covering my ‘bits.’ I’m posing for the Advanced Sand Sculpting class at West Marin Heights—California’s premier high school for supernaturals. The pitted surface of the rock bites into my bare skin. What we must suffer for art!
I am Cupid—the god people love to love. Just voted Earth’s Hottest Deity Alive by God Monthly Magazine for the seventh year in a row—an honor I’m determined to maintain. With armies of admirers on earth, this shouldn’t be too hard. For proof, check out the Hallmark aisle during Valentine season.
It’s no surprise the class has chosen me as their subject. Some say I’m already a sculpted masterpiece considering my golden skin, rippling muscles, flawless hair, and a devilish smile that inspires lust in even the most frigid creatures.
How I pitied those crusty, worn-out, Olympians who sentenced me to repeat high school as a punishment merely out of jealousy. Foolish gods, hiding away on mountains, condemned to be forgotten.
I beam at my classmates on the shore—twenty of them at different stages of creating me-shaped masterpieces out of sand. My heart stutters when I catch the eye of Rip Tide—prince of the merfolk, second most handsome student at West Marin Heights, and my boyfriend—as he leans jauntily against his shovel. He has legs because, as you well know, merfolk only have tails underwater. I blow him a kiss.
“Eros!” A piercing shout interrupts my musings. “Hold still.” It’s Gaia, earth’s most humorless goddess, creator of the actual earth, and my least favorite West Marin Heights teacher. Gaia was perhaps one of the few who didn’t adore me. All because the seaweed covering my nethers had accidentally slipped the last time I’d posed for her class.
“The name’s Cupid!” I roar, my voice carrying over the crashing waves. “Eros is a weak baby god, not a hunky, sexy man god.” I glare at Gaia.
The bubbling laughter of mermaid Waverly Fishwater, cousin to Prince Rip Tide, wafts along the wind. “Go ahead, Rip Tide, ask him,” she says, elbowing him.
“Ask me what, my love?”
Prince Rip Tide casts a glance at the students assembled on the beach. Fairies, werewolves, vampires, mermaids, and that one boy with smoke coming out of his ears who really ought to see a doctor about his condition. “Not in front of them…”
My curiosity is piqued. What could he want to ask me in private? In my excitement, I sit, and my seaweed “garb” tumbles into the frenzied waves.
“Eros, your seaweed!” Gaia thunders.
Before I can cover myself, the wind howls past my ears. A flash of lightning arcs across the sky. The ocean swells. This spectacle snatches away the attention of my admirers, who drop their tools and gawk at the display.
“Hey!” I call over the din. “Eyes on me!”
Gaia clasps her hands. “He’s here!”
“Who’s here? Did you invite someone else to sculpt me?” Maybe the interruption is alright. More is better.
“No, our next model has arrived!”
“Your next what?”
Waverly gasps and points to a spot somewhere behind me. Almost in unison, the merfolk begin to scream like BTS just showed up for a surprise concert.
I turn to see what’s causing the hoopla. It’s Poseidon, atop his seahorse, surfing in on a massive seaweed-infested wave, as tall as a cyclops. I ball my hands into fists, preparing for battle as said wave crashes over me, ejecting me from the rock, pulling me away from shore, and forcing me into the depths. The water churns; fizzy bubbles shoot up my nostrils. My stomach twists. I flap my arms and legs when something like a band of steel wraps around my torso.
In seconds, I’m propelled to the surface, bobbing in the heaving surf, coughing up saltwater. To be clear, I’m coughing only because saltwater is disgusting, not because I’m rattled. As I gain my bearings, I find myself staring into the liquid rainbow eyes of my love. He’s so beautiful, with his greenish gold curls fanning over the waves. His brows scrunch together, and he holds me at arm’s length, giving me the once over.
My face and ears heat despite the icy water. Poseidon is probably on shore, now about a hundred feet away, gloating to my classmates about my unplanned submersion. “What are you doing? I had the situation under control.”
“Of course, you did.” He grins. I can’t tell if he’s humoring me. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
I peer toward the beach where the mermaids and fairies stroke Poseidon’s steed, while the vampires and werewolves fawn over his trident. “I’m perfect,” I say through gritted teeth.
Rip Tide notices where my attention lies. “Impressive trident.”
“Not you, too,” I groan.
He smiles and cocks his head like I’m an endearing child. “I suppose I can ask you my question now.”
“Does it involve you, me, and a bucket of edible glitter?” I say, proving I’m no child.
“I… what? No.” A pity. “Would you be my plus-one at the annual Poseidon Festival this weekend? It’s at the merpalace.”
My nose wrinkles. “I suppose he’ll be there.”
“Poseidon? He never goes,” Rip Tide laughs. “Not since The Great Merfolk Fiasco of 1328.”
I cannot help but notice the Crustiest of all Gods swimming toward my modeling rock. He positions himself on top with as much finesse as a corpulent sea-lion. Bile rises in my throat. “I’m going to my rock,” I say.
“Don these.” Rip Tide hands me my favorite Hawaiian-print bathing shorts.
I slip them on. “Good idea. Wouldn’t want to make Old Barnacle Breath insecure!” Then I launch myself toward Cupid Rock, as it shall henceforth be known, where I shall teach the usurper a lesson.
When we arrive, I climb up, while Rip Tide, still in tail form, floats in the water. “Lord Poseidon, welcome to West Marin Heights,” Rip Tide says, bowing his head.
“Prince Rip Tide,” Poseidon nods in reply. “Always happy to assist the class in sculpting a true god.”
I clench my fists. “Everyone knows there’s only one god that matters.”
“There’s more to life than being the center of attention, Eros. Now, why don’t you go shoot a few arrows? Inspire some affection for someone other than yourself.”
I fold my arms across my muscular chest. A chest that could launch a thousand ships. A chest that could topple civilizations. A chest that graced the front cover of God Monthly Magazine seven times! “Your face is inspiring some affection from my fist,” I mutter.
“Excuse me?” he thunders.
Gods always thunder!
“Eros!” Gaia bellows. “Prince Rip Tide! Class is not over. Return to shore this instant!”
From below, Rip Tide pokes my heel. I flinch, nearly slipping on the slick surface, heart hammering in my aforementioned illustrious chest. Still, I quickly recover. “Never poke a god,” I warn.
In reply, Rip Tide backs up, smashes his tail on the surface, showering me with water. Must be a customary mer apology. “Come, Cupid, it’s Poseidon’s turn to model.”
My mouth opens and flaps closed as the gift of language abandons me. Faced with such an affront, my boyfriend bows to this poor excuse for a god instead of standing up for me, Cupid—hottest deity alive for seven years? Sure, Poseidon is like the god of the entire sea, with the power to fling the merfolk out of his domain for any disrespect, but that’s not the point! Rip Tide is my boyfriend.
“I need a moment with Eros.” Poseidon eyes Rip Tide. “Alone.”
My boyfriend gives me a pleading glance. The sort of glance that says please don’t anger the Lord of the Sea and get my entire species thrown out of our kingdom. Then he disappears beneath the waves.
“I overheard Rip Tide inviting you to my festival,” Poseidon says. “You will decline.” Stupid supernatural hearing allowed him to hear us from shore.
“What kind of deity passes up the opportunity to be surrounded by worshippers. You do remember it’s part of the whole god gig, right?”
“There are more important things than the fawning of strangers, Eros. The God of Love should know this.”
“The God of Being Hot and Admired Wherever He Goes knows that the more love you have, the better.”
“Your vanity knows no bounds,” he sneers.
Vanity? That’s when you think you’re hot when you aren’t. Thinking you’re hot when you are is just being honest. I roll my eyes. “Jealous?”
“Do you really believe that the more love you have, the better, no matter how fleeting or shallow?”
“Well, you’d know about shallow things,” I mutter. “Your personality is as deep as a puddle.”
“You know what? I’ve changed my mind.” Poseidon carefully draws a slender golden curse canister out of his wet chiton. “Perhaps you should go to my festival.”
I reel backwards, holding my hands up in surrender. “That isn’t a toy.”
“So true.” He smirks, uncorking the canister. “I hereby curse you to be admired by strangers.” A beam of red light bursts from the canister.
“What?” I almost laugh at such ridiculousness. “What sort of stupid–” are the last words to pass my lips before the curse hits my chest, knocking the breath out of me. I lose my balance and plunge into the sea.
Festival Day arrives. Prince Rip Tide, Waverly, and I swim toward the merpalace—a formation of shells and iridescent bubbles lit by bioluminescent jellies. At its base, grasses undulate like graceful hula dancers. It’s like a beautiful sea monster curling along the ocean floor. The sheer scale could make lesser beings feel small. And speaking of lesser beings, I surreptitiously scan the palace yard for Old Chumbucket.
Of course, he’s a no-show.
With his stupid curse of popularity.
Rip Tide takes my arm. “Come on, I want to show you my rooms,” he thinks at me seductively. Beneath the waves, we must communicate via telepathy. If you’ve ever tried to have a chat at the bottom of a pool, you’ll understand why.
“You two swim along,” Waverly says, picking up on the ‘we want to be alone’ vibe. “I think I see my old friend Carla over there.” She flicks her tail and takes off like an arrow.
We pass into a courtyard where merfolk are erecting a statue of Poseidon. Is it rude to think that his fish sticks aren’t to scale? Rather like he’s hiding a whole cod in his piece. I’m about to point this out when a cacophony of screams fills my head.
Prince Rip Tide’s eyes widen in horror. I follow his gaze. Coming at us from multiple directions is a horde of mers. Careening into me, they caress my skin with clammy fingers and grab at my toga. “That tickles.” There’s the sound of tearing fabric, and ouch! Some of my golden curls are now in merfolk hands.
At first, I’m annoyed, but alas, who can blame them? A god floats among these simple folk, and they want to bathe in the divine.
A female crushes her mouth to mine, and it would be rude to push her off, so I kiss her back. I am the God of Love, which means living up to the hype.
“What are you doing?” Rip Tide carps.
“Giving the people what they want, of course.” I think back.
“Come on, Julia,” a mermaid says. “Stop god hogging!”
“Guards! Guards!” Rip Tide cries. “Help!”
Before I can say, “What are you doing, silly prince?” the mer-pile scatters, cast aside by a cadre of great white sharks. They circle us, keeping the merfolk at bay. The poor mers pout, their shoulders slumped, lips trembling. “Why’d you do that?” I ask Rip Tide.
“You mean save you?”
“I mean stopping my fans from adoring me.”
“You think that’s what this is about?”
“You’re obviously jealous of my magnetism.”
Prince Rip Tide clenches his handsome jaw and raises an eyebrow. “Something here isn’t right. This isn’t normal.”
Oops, might’ve forgotten to mention the curse, but it’s too late now. “Don’t worry, dearest. There’s plenty of me to go around.”
Rip Tide’s parents, the king and queen, make their way toward us. Rip Tide turns and swims to greet them, but they bypass him and approach me. As attractive as the queen is, I’m surprised when she lands a juicy one on my lips.
“I’ll be in my rooms. Alone.” Rip Tide sulks away.
For a moment, I think I ought to go after him, but it’s difficult to worry about Rip Tide’s tantrum when surrounded by such adoration, so I leave him to think about his behavior. As the King and Queen escort me toward the palace for a personal tour, I nod at the Poseidon statue and grumble something telepathically about its inaccuracies. The king commands the workers: “Find the sculptor, and get him a chisel. Poseidon’s assets are overstated.”
“Right?” Wow, it’s great to be Cupid.
It’s time for the ceremony. I stand offstage, ready to present myself to my fans, who are packed in like sardines. The king and queen are already on stage in their giant clamshell thrones, but Rip Tide’s shell is empty. Thought he’d be over it by now, but alas.
I beam out at the adoring crowd when I notice Waverly flapping her arms at me like a lunatic. Her desperate attempt at attention is pathetic.
“Stop making a scene,” I scold her.
“Cupid, Rip Tide is missing!”
The ichor in my veins runs cold.
The mer-king rises and holds out his arms toward me. “And now, everyone, please give a merfolk welcome to the god who brought love under the sea. Earth’s hottest deity alive. Cupid!”
The crowd cheers, filling my heart. I want to bask in their love, but Waverly’s clenched fists and flip-flopping tail are hard to ignore.
For a moment, I’m frozen with indecision. But my beloved, Rip Tide, may be in danger.
The cheers turn tinny and hollow, echoing around my head like air.
I dive off the stage, Waverly grabs my hand, and launches us into turboswim. In seconds, the crowd is as silent and distant as a memory.
“Slow down!” I command. The ocean is a blur. Coral scrapes against my bare legs. “Where are we going?”
“The ransom note said we must get to the Pirate’s Cave by midnight if we want to see Rip Tide again! We have five minutes!”
“Why didn’t you say this earlier?”
“I tried, but you seemed to feel your fans were more important.”
I’m about to argue, but maybe she’s right. I’m spared from bothersome introspection by our arrival at the mouth of a dark cave adorned with a pirate flag affixed above the entrance. My heart thrums. I don’t know what to expect inside—a giant squid, an army of angry hermit crabs, badly dressed murderous ghost pirates?
But whomever it is shall suffer my wrath.
I swim deeper into the dark, feeling my way along the rock walls with Waverly at my back. Villainous laughter echoes into my mind from ahead. A villain who won’t be laughing when I fillet him with my bare hands.
A dim light glows from the end of the tunnel. With nary a thought to my own safety, I charge through to save my beloved only to find him in a fit of giggles, bubbles streaming from his mouth, in the company of Poseidon.
I stop so fast Waverly smashes into me. “What in the name of Hades is this?”
“Ah,” Poseidon says. “There, did I not tell you he would come?”
“Rip Tide?” I telepathically sputter. I turn back to Waverly, who’s smiling! “What’s going on?”
“How was my party?” Poseidon says. “Did they adore you?”
“And how did it feel?”
I look at Rip Tide and feel the love flooding out of him, enveloping me, warming my skin, my muscles, my bones. “Good?” I lie. My shoulders sag. “Okay, hollow.”
Poseidon raises himself. “Love is… what did you say? ‘Shallow as a puddle’ when it comes from a sycophant. Only true love fills you.”
“You faked a kidnapping to dent my ego?”
“We didn’t want to,” Waverly says, “But Poseidon was very persuasive.”
“He found us while you were on your tour,” Rip Tide explains.
“Do you know how scared I was?”
“Yes,” Poseidon says. “Which is why I’ll remove your curse. But take heed or someday your prince may be lost forever.” He extracts and uncorks the canister. There’s a prickling in my chest, right above my heart, as the curse bursts out, arcing toward the container. I feel lighter. Like Atlas tossing the earth from his shoulders. “Now, I have a party to ignore. If you’ll excuse me.” I think about apologizing for the changes to his statue, but since he’ll never see it, and I’m not an idiot, I stay silent.
“I’m going too,” Waverly says, seemingly eager to depart. Also, not an idiot.
After they’re gone, I approach Rip Tide. “I’m sorry. You know I love you more than all the mers in the ocean.”
“I worried you’d changed. Sorry I doubted you.”
I wrap my arms tight around my prince, feeling his heart beating as if it’s inside my body. “I am the one who’s sorry for getting the tiniest bit self-absorbed.” Rip Tide laughs. “I’m lucky to have you.”
“We’re both lucky.”
An eel slithers past my calf. I kick it away and yelp, tightening my hold on Rip Tide. “Uh, you were going to show me your rooms.”
“Yes. And I have a surprise.”
I pull back to search his face for clues. “Edible glitter?” I speculate.
He winks. “I know it’s your favorite.”
Now that’s love.
© Copyright Debra Goelz
Debra Goelz is a refugee from Hollywood where she served as a financial executive for companies like Jim Henson Productions and Universal Studios. After garnering over 12 million on-line reads on Wattpad, her YA fantasy, Mermaids and the Vampires Who Love Them, was published by Hachette Audio and released as a Chapters game. She lives in a magical redwood forest in rural Marin County and believes mermaids frolic nightly in her pond.
Read the Rest of the November Issue
- How to Give Your Toddler a Tail by Amanda Helms
- I’m Not Ready to Leave by Zion Mc Neil
- Ife’s Ride by Tracy Ramey
- Blended Mer-Family by Lisa Wee
- Field Trip to See the Mermaid by Beth Cato
- Love Unlike Us by Beata Garrett
- Suburban Mermaids by Elya Braden
- Babysitting a Kraken by AJ Hartson and Wakey Nelson
- Cupid Under the Sea by Debra Goelz
- Cupid Under the Sea by Kate Stailey
- Dumi by AJ Hartson and Wakey Nelson
- Exchange (A Coral Study) by Katherine Quevedo
- Ila, The Mermaid of Batticaloa by Sharanya Manivannan
- Reunion With My Mermaid Dolls by Jennifer Fenn
- The Pied Piper vs. the Sirens by Gwynne Garfinkle
- Ryota the Kappa by Yoshiro Takayasu
- Sunlit Surface, Depths Below by Maria Haskins
- Past Waves by Lawrence M. Schoen
- The Tail End by Jennifer Loring