Mermaid Brynn Finley swam into her bedroom and went directly under her bed. If you knew Brynn, you’d be able to tell she was extra excited and enthusiastic on this particular Friday afternoon. When she emerged from beneath the bed, she held a large box. It was just an ordinary hat box, but if you knew Brynn, you’d know this was no ordinary hat box. It was decorated with pretty shells and bits of colorful coral and a pretty green bow. Brynn’s eyes were bright and happy as she opened the box.
Inside was her extensive and impressive collection of Mermies.
Mermies were poseable dolls that young mermaids (and even some merboys) all over the sea loved to play with. Brynn’s collection included Mermies of many varieties. Their hair was fixed in different styles and hues. They had various complexions and eye colors. There were mer-kids and mer-babies and handsome Mermie mermen. Brynn began carefully removing the Mermie dolls from the box.
There weren’t just dolls in the box, of course. Inside the box were smaller boxes, compartments, and pouches, each filled to the brim with the Mermie accessories that Brynn had accumulated. In addition to the dozens of Mermie outfits, dresses, coats, hats, and hair-pretties, Brynn had toys for the mer-kids and ties for the mermen. Brynn’s Mermies had miniature books, dishes, furniture, and even a little pink shellphone. One of the Mermies was a doctor and had a lab coat and a medical kit. Another was an undersea architect, with blueprints and drawing desk. The Mermies had a sports car and a big shell-a-vision and even a cute little pet dolphin.
“These Mermies have nicer stuff than most real merfolk,” mumbled Brynn.
Brynn was setting aside and arranging the Mermies she planned to play with that evening. First there was the one with purple hair and a teal tail, whom Brynn called Rain. Next was her favorite merman Mermie, a doll she called Ben. When Brynn played with Mermies, she’d frequently conduct marriage ceremonies between Ben and Rain.
Then there was the beautiful Mermie with white hair, whom Brynn called Shine, and which Brynn felt more than just a little resembled her best friend in the entire world, Jade. If Brynn were being completely honest, she would admit that Shine was her most favorite of all her Mermies because the doll did look like a grown-up version of Jade.
If you knew Brynn, you’d know that the reason she was setting out her Mermies this way was because Jade was arriving soon for a sleepover. It’d been only a month since Jade’s mother had accused Brynn of stealing her necklace and forbade the two mermaids from seeing each other. While that had led Brynn to forming a new friendship with a smart merboy named Will and some other merstudents, she had missed Jade terribly. They had a lot of catching up to do, along with playing Mermies and drinking kelpshakes and calling each other “dahling!”
Brynn was so glad that all the terrible trouble with Jade and her mom was in the past now. It had been discovered that the sea witch, Phaedra, and her assistant, Ian Fletcher, were responsible for stealing the necklace. The mer-police had apprehended them, and Brynn’s name had been cleared at last.
Jade’s mother, Mrs. Sands, felt awful for keeping the mermaids apart, so it wasn’t surprising when she agreed to let Jade sleep over at Brynn’s house. Both Brynn and Jade had been looking forward to this particular Friday for days and days.
Brynn brushed Shine’s and Rain’s hair, and then positioned them more carefully on her bed. They had to be just so.
Tully, her pet sea turtle, swam over and sniffed at the dolls.
“Don’t mess those up, Tully,” Brynn chastised. “Jade will be here soon, and I want everything to be perfect. We’re going to have the bestest best-friend sleepover that there ever was! We’ll play Mermies and listen to Jay Barracuda and the Killer Whales, and mom said we could have anchovy pizza and—”
Before Brynn could finish telling Tully everything she had planned for their sleepover, there was a knock at the door.
“Finally! It’s Jade!” cried Brynn, and in the next instant, Tully was alone with the mob of Mermies and the trail of frantic bubbles Brynn left behind when she zoomed out of the room to answer the front door.
“Hi, Jade!” she cried as she yanked the door open.
But to her surprise, Jade wasn’t the only mermaid there. Along with Jade was another young mermaid.
This other mermaid had soft, pink-colored hair into which was pinned sparkling sea glass and shells. Also, her ears were pierced—something Brynn’s mother had said Brynn wasn’t old enough to do. Brynn was certain she’d never seen this mermaid before, but she also had to admit that the newcomer was very beautiful. The mermaid’s long and slender tail glinted in metallic shades of green, violet, and blue.
“Brynn,” said Jade, “meet Priscilla Banks. Her family just moved to Fulgent. I invited her to join us for the sleepover.”
“Oh, hi, Priscilla. It’s nice to meet you,” said Brynn, and she tried to say it like she meant it, and under different circumstances, she probably would have. In fact, there was something familiar about Priscilla. Had they met before? It didn’t matter. But Brynn had spent the entire week planning and waiting and looking forward to her Mermies sleepover with Jade—just Jade.
“It’s nice to meet you, too,” said Priscilla.
Was there something strained in Priscilla’s voice?
“So,” said Jade, “will it be all right if Priscilla joins us tonight?”
“Uhm, well, I guess,” stammered Brynn, her mind racing. Did she know Priscilla already? But more importantly, what kind of mermaid just barged into a sleepover like this? “We’ll, uhm, we’ll have to check with my mom, I suppose,” Brynn stammered, still trying to sound more pleased than she felt. Priscilla seemed nice, but why’d she have to show up now? Why tonight? Why with Jade? Why couldn’t the sleepover go as planned, with just Jade and the Mermies and the music and the anchovy pizza and—
“Uhh, hey, Brynn?” said Jade.
Brynn blinked back to the present moment. “Huh?” she grunted.
Jade chuckled and said, “Are you—ya know—gonna invite us in?”
“Oh! Sure! Of course. Come on in!” Brynn laughed nervously. “Sorry. Where are my manners? Ha ha. Gee. Yes, come in.”
Jade and Priscilla were both holding overnight bags and pillows. They swam into the living room and set down their things. Priscilla looked around the living room of Brynn’s house with one skeptical raised eyebrow.
Brynn noticed and asked Priscilla, “Is something wrong?”
“No, no,” said Priscilla. “It’s just, your house is so—”
“So—what?” said Brynn, folding her arms.
“So—cozy,” said Priscilla.
“You mean small?” asked Brynn, placing her hands on her hips.
“Well, yes, but that’s not so bad, is it?” said Priscilla. “Small can be good. I bet your housekeeper can finish up fast!”
“Housekeeper?” Brynn was feeling more than a little annoyed. Who was this mermaid?
Jade jumped in. “Hey, Brynn, maybe we should find your mom and make sure it’s okay if Priscilla stays the night.”
Brynn shot Priscilla a sideways glance and said, “Yeah, maybe you’re right, Jade. Hey, mom!”
“Yes, dear?” Her mother was in her room on the other side of the cave, but in just a few seconds, she appeared in the living room.
Brynn had never thought of her family’s home as being small. It always seemed like the perfect size. Besides, their coral cave was similar to many of the mer-homes in Fulgent. Brynn looked around, trying to imagine what it’d be like to see her home for the first time.
“Brynn?” her mother said.
Brynn blinked again back to the present. “Mom,” she said, “Jade’s here for the sleepover, but she has this friend with her.” She turned to Priscilla and said, “I’m sorry—what was your name again?”
Jade elbowed Brynn and scoffed. “Brynn,” she whispered hoarsely, “her name’s Priscilla.”
“Right,” said Brynn. “Priscilla, a mermaid I don’t know and have never met before, is here and wants to sleep over, too, but I know that’s probably a bad idea because she just moved here, so it’s not okay, right?”
“Nonsense!” cried Brynn’s mom with a grin. “Priscilla is perfectly welcome to stay the night! Priscilla, I assume you’ve checked with your parents?”
Priscilla nodded and shot a knowing glance at Brynn.
“Then there’s no problem,” said Brynn’s mom.
“Great,” Brynn muttered. “What a relief.”
Jade jumped in again. “Fin-tastic! Let’s get our stuff and get this party started!” As the young mermaids picked up their overnight bags, Jade leaned over and whispered to Brynn: “What’s the matter with you?”
“Where did you move from, Priscilla?” asked Brynn’s mom.
“I used to live in Atlantis,” Priscilla said with a sigh. “It was the most beautiful place. But then my father decided we needed to move here. We hired a pod of whales to move our entire chateau to Fulgent.”
“Brynn, you have to see her home!” Jade squealed. “It’s huge! And it’s all made of white stone; it’s so pretty.”
“Sounds—really—swell,” said Brynn.
Priscilla shrugged. “It’s all right,” she said.
“Hey,” said Brynn. “Are you wearing makeup?”
It was more of a statement than a question, because it was quite obvious that Priscilla was wearing makeup, and not just a little lip gloss and blush like Brynn’s mother sometimes let her wear, but glittery bright eyeshadow and mascara and—was that highlighter? Brynn thought Priscilla looked just like one of the models in Young Mermaid magazine.
“Of course I’m wearing makeup,” said Priscilla. “Do you like it?”
“Sure,” said Brynn, she was thinking that Priscilla seemed a lot older than she and Jade. “So you go to the high school, then?”
“I wish,” said Priscilla, who was examining her manicured fingernails.
“She’s in sixth grade, silly,” Jade answered. “Same as us.”
“What? Did you get held back or something?” asked Brynn.
“Brynn!” Jade chastised.
Brynn shrugged frantically at Jade.
“No,” responded Priscilla, sounding bored. “I’m twelve. Like you. You just think I look older because you don’t know about make-up and fashion out here in this backwater burg. Back in Atlantis, all the sixth-grade mermaids wear makeup, and you can’t tell us apart from the high-school mermaids.”
Brynn hadn’t really thought much about wearing makeup other than for dance recitals or real dress-up occasions. And so she felt a little nervous around Priscilla, and she wasn’t sure if it was because she was in awe, or intimidated, or just jealous.
But she wasn’t going to let this change of circumstances ruin the fun evening she had planned.
“Well, anyway, let’s go to my room. I’ve got everything ready,” said Brynn.
The three mermaids swam to Brynn’s room.
“Whoa,” said Priscilla as they entered Brynn’s room. “How are all three of us supposed to fit in here? Is there a guest bedroom somewhere? And it’s so dark—how do you see in here?”
As with the rest of her house, Brynn had never thought about the size of her room before, or about it being dark. This had always been her bedroom, and it had seemed perfectly fine up until that moment. Priscilla’s comment about the size and lighting of Brynn’s bedroom made her cheeks feel hot. Half of her wanted to defend her home and the other half just wanted to hide.
While Brynn contemplated the state of her bedroom and how to respond, Priscilla spotted the Mermies that Brynn had lovingly arranged on her bed.
“Oh, cool, Mermies!” said Priscilla with a funny laugh.
Brynn smiled. Maybe Priscilla wasn’t so bad after all. It could be fun to have a new friend to come over and play with Mermies.
“I used to play with Mermies all the time!” Priscilla picked up Shine, the doll with the white hair. “So, you’ve got a little sister? And you both live in this little bedroom?”
“I don’t have a little sister,” said Brynn.
“Oh. Then these are your little brother’s?” said Priscilla, holding up the doll and shrugging one shoulder.
“I don’t have any brothers or sisters,” said Brynn. “These are mine. All of ’em.”
Priscilla’s tail fin waved through the water, and she smirked. “They’re yours? Wow. I thought only little mermaids played with Mermies. No one in sixth grade at my old school played with Mermies.”
Brynn huffed and asked, “What do they do for fun?”
Priscilla shrugged. “Go to the mall, hang out, talk on the phone, whatever. But we certainly don’t play with little dolls.”
Brynn was speechless, and if you know Brynn, that didn’t happen very often. She shot a glance at Jade, which Jade correctly interpreted as, “What in the sea is going on here?”
Jade erupted with a hasty, nervous laugh. “Um, yeah, Brynn. Mermies were cool when we were little mer-kiddies, but we don’t play with them anymore, do we?”
Brynn’s mouth dropped open and she blinked many times in rapid succession. “What are you talking about, Jade? We played Mermies all day just a week ago. Priscilla is holding Shine, your favorite Mermie!”
“Oh, Brynn, Brynn, Brynn,” said Jade with more nervous laughter. “You—are—such—a—kidder!”
Brynn held up her hands. “Hold on, Jade,” she said. “You’re saying you don’t like Mermies?”
“Not—any—more!” said Jade, and she scowled at Brynn, which Brynn correctly interpreted as “Just go along with what I’m saying because you’re embarrassing me in front of Priscilla!”
Brynn huffed but decided to play along. Jade was her best friend, after all. Brynn forced a loud laugh and said, “Right, right. We used to play with these dumb dolls all the time, but not anymore, of course.”
“Then why are they all laid out?” asked Priscilla.
“Hmm?” puzzled Brynn. “Oh! Yes. Well, I was going to throw them out, see, since I haven’t played with them in so long.”
“Yeah,” answered Jade. “Might free up some room in here.”
“You know,” continued Priscilla with a smug smile, “if you’re in the middle of cleaning out your room, we could always move this sleepover to my place. It’s much larger and brighter, and it’d probably be a lot more fun.”
“Maybe another time,” said Brynn. “My mom’s getting us anchovy pizza, and I’ve got a movie for us to watch.”
“What movie?” Priscilla asked.
“‘While You Were Swimming’,” answered Brynn.
“Oh, I’ve already seen that,” said Priscilla. “Very boring. Not worth watching. But if you come to my house, we can play with the new Orpheus Shell my dad bought.”
“Oh, wow!” said Jade. “You have an Orpheus Shell? I’ve only seen those on shell-a-vision.”
“They’re super fun,” said Priscilla.
“What’s an Orpheus Shell?” Brynn asked.
“It’s a pod made from a giant shell. You sit inside and it plays music and has a light display and gives you a massage and there’s aromatherapy. It’s very posh,” said Priscilla. “Only two people can be in it at once, but we can take turns.”
“That sounds fin-tastic!” said Jade. “It must have cost a million sand dollars.”
Priscilla shrugged again.
“Well, I don’t think my mom will want me to sleep over there. She was already planning on us doing stuff here,” said Brynn.
“Let’s ask her,” said Jade, and before Brynn could respond, Jade was already swimming down the hallway.
“Wait!” yelled Brynn. But by the time Brynn and Priscilla followed after Jade, she had already found Brynn’s mom, Dana, in the kitchen.
“Brynn wants to know if she and I can sleep over at Priscilla’s house,” Jade said.
Brynn glared and grumbled. This sleepover was not going as she’d planned.
“Well,” said Dana thoughtfully. “I’m all in favor of making new friends, but I haven’t met Priscilla’s parents yet, and it seems a little late in the day to be making such big plan changes.”
Brynn smiled. For once, her parents’ silly rules were working for her, instead of against.
“Let’s just stick with the plan for tonight, girls,” said Dana.
“Guess we’ll just have to stay here,” said Brynn with fake disappointment.
Priscilla raised an eyebrow and said, “Jade, you could still sleep-over at my house.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Brynn objected. “Hold your seahorses there. Jade is here to have a sleepover with me. We’ve been planning this all week!” Brynn felt her heart pounding, and her tail felt shaky. She’d met this Priscilla only minutes before, and suddenly everything was floating sideways. She glared at Priscilla who has examining her nails again without an apparent care in the world.
“Mrs. Finley, could Brynn at least do a late-over?” asked Jade. “She could just hang out with us at Priscilla’s house until it was time for bed and then you could pick her up?”
Dana Finley considered this with a tilt of her head. “I suppose that would work. Okay then, you mermaids have fun! I’ll pick up Brynn this evening. What’s your address?”
“Mrs. Finley, have you seen the white and gold castle not far from the elementary school?” Jade said.
“Oooh,” said Dana. What was it that Brynn heard in her mother’s voice? Surprise? Or was she impressed?
“Sure, I know where that is,” said Dana. “I couldn’t miss it.”
“That’s what everyone says,” said Priscilla.
Brynn was so surprised at this weird turn of events, she didn’t know quite what to say. She was glad to be able to hang out with Jade, but she was so angry at Priscilla for barging in and changing all the plans, but she also knew that Jade liked Priscilla, so she wanted to be nice to Priscilla, too, but she felt something else. Could it be jealousy? Brynn shook her head. Why should she feel jealous? Brynn and Jade had been best friends since they were mer-babies. Just because Priscilla was beautiful and rich and new that didn’t mean it would change anything between her and Jade.
Or would it?