It was all Monica’s fault, Kate Didio decided. If Monica hadn’t texted her with the news she’d scored a date with that hot Tyler Hopkins, Kate wouldn’t have texted her back, and if Monica’s dating coup hadn’t distracted her she would have paid more attention to where she was walking while she texted, and she wouldn’t have hit the rim of the fountain in Talbot’s Peak’s sculpture garden, and she wouldn’t have tripped and fallen in and found herself thrashing around in danger of drowning in a whole two feet of water in a fountain shaped like a dog’s water dish. Monica was going to die.
So was Kate, from acute embarrassment. She stared around. Thank God the streets were practically deserted at this time of the morning. Everybody was at work, or caffing up at the coffee shop before they went to work. No one had spotted her blunder. She might just get out of this with only wet clothes and a shred of dignity intact.
Twin heads popped up on either side of her, slick as seals. Twin grins, one with a tooth missing, beamed at her. A boy and a girl, about six years old. Where had they come from, Kate wondered in shock. She hadn’t heard any additional splashes over her own loud floundering.
“Hi,” the girl said brightly. The hair currently plastered to her head was probably red when dry. She had the bluest eyes – no, wait, they looked green now – no, they went back to blue momentarily, then hovered somewhere in the middle. “I’m Tula. That’s my brother Garth. Did you come to swim with us?”
“Um … ” Kate squatted in the knee-deep water and stared from one child to the other. The boy had the same color-shifting eyes and shorter, darker hair. She blurted the first thing that popped into her head. “What are you doing in the fountain?”
The little girl giggled. “We just got back from -- ”
Kate’s gaze shot up to the source of the voice. Oh. My. Lord.
He looked like some sea-god stepped from the breakers: tall, slender, broad-shouldered and tan, with long dark blond hair currently slicked back by water and the same ocean shades of blue and green in his eyes as the children. And wearing only swim trunks. Very brief, very wet swim trunks.
Amazing, how dry one’s throat could get even when one was sitting in a fountain.
“What did I tell you about talking to strangers?” this sea-god said to the girl.
“Don’t talk to strangers,” the girl sing-songed dutifully. She rolled her eyes with her back to the man. The three had enough features in common, and his tone had enough of that weary paternal fatalism, that she guessed he must be their father.
Of course. Hot dad strips down to his Speedo and takes his kids for a dip in the town fountain on the way to school. Happens every day.
“Y’know,” the girl said reasonably, “if you told her your name you wouldn’t be strangers any more.”
The man’s lips pressed together. He reached out and lifted Kate to her feet. His hands were incredibly strong. He must work out a lot. Or do a lot of swimming. Sort of like her head right now. She stood unsteadily in a cascade of fountain water and shoes and a skirt that were probably ruined by now and couldn’t think of a single thing to say.
“I’m Jess Durand,” the man offered, somewhat reluctantly, sounded like.
“I’m Katydid. I mean, I’m Katy. Kate. Kate Didio.” Atta girl, Katy, she thought, babble like an idiot in front of the wet hunky stranger. He probably thought she was brain damaged. “I fell in the fountain,” she added, and mentally winced. What snappy repartee.
One corner of his mouth twitched upwards. “Katydid?”
Oh God, don’t let that start up again. She straightened her shoulders. Water dripped from the ends of her hair. “Kate,” she said firmly. “I think I’m okay.”
He held her steady with his hands on his shoulders and studied her sodden outfit. “Nothing appears to be damaged,” he said.
On her end, at least. Not a flicker of the panic he felt showed in his impassive face. He’d moved hundreds of miles inland, away from the ocean, to keep his children safe. He’d gone to great pains to hide his nature from Talbot Peak’s many predators, and to disguise the portal to the underground ocean he’d opened in this fountain. Now this flighty human female had almost literally fallen on top of it, and on top of them. If she’d tumbled in on the other side she would have seen them emerge.
It must have been an accident. Karkarias would never employ a spy this inept.
“Would you like a cup of coffee?” he asked. “To warm you up.”
“No thanks. I better get home and change.” It suddenly hit her what she was staring at, beyond a smokin’ wet guy. “Omigod, you must be freezing.” She shrugged out of her blazer and tried to drape it over his shoulders, in spite of the futility of the action. He was probably drier than her coat. “I live close by. Let me get you a towel.”
This time he smiled fully. “We’re used to brisk weather. We’re, um, Swedish. I’d better get the guppies to school. We’re running late as it is.”
“School.” The little boy made a rude noise, which his sister copied. Their father shooed them out of the fountain, then stepped out and lifted Kate over the rim and set her on relatively dry ground. Her feet squished in her soggy pumps. The few morning stragglers on the streets did not so much as glance at the group by the fountain. Just another morning in Talbot’s Peak.
“We also live close by,” he said. “Do you need an escort home? Will you be all right?”
“I’ll be fine. What’s a little water? Get your kids to school before they get in trouble.”
He smiled and offered a polite good-bye and herded his twins toward the street. She finally noticed the children also wore bathing suits. All three were barefoot. A morning dip in the public fountain. The longer she lived here, the stranger this town got.
A glint of sun on plastic caught her eye. Her cell phone lay by the rim of the fountain. She swooped down and snatched it up. Thank God it hadn’t gone into the drink with her. It seemed to be working okay. She glanced up again just in time to spot the swim team at the curb. His glute muscles, with the Speedo’s fabric hugging them like Krazy Glue, were working just fine too. Kate basked in the view until they crossed the street, then texted Monica. You still there? Wait’ll you hear this.
# # #
For What It's Worth section: Carcharodon carcharias is the scientific name of the great white shark. For those of you not comic geeks, Tula and Garth are the real names of Aquagirl and Aqualad. One by one, the Justice League is coming to Talbot’s Peak.
Hope you all had a great weekend