These characters belong to Jonathan M. Shiff. This fic is unbetaed and is written by an American attempting to imitate Australian slang and spelling. If you see any mistakes, please point them out in the comments.
Originally written for LadySilver for Yuletide 2014 and crossposted from AO3.
"When were you planning on doing the dishes?" Dad asked Cleo from across the dinner table. "Some of those are from yesterday."
"I'm sure not doing them," Kim said. "Although there is this new dress I've been wanting… "
"Everyone does their own chores in this house. Right, Cleo?' Dad looked at Cleo pointedly.
Cleo ducked her head. "Right, Dad." Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Sam raising her eyebrow. "I'll do them after I do my homework. Promise." Right after you all clear out and I find some good rubber gloves. Or maybe just bribe Kim again.
"I thought you and Will finished your homework earlier," Sam commented. She'd seen him when he stopped by to help Cleo do dishes in repayment for a rare shell she'd found for him. She couldn't exactly tell her family that, though.
"Will was here?" Dad asked. "I thought he was dating Bella."
"He is!" Cleo quickly exclaimed. "I was just helping him with his biology!"
"I mean, he's a very good-looking boy-" Dad began.
"Dad!" Cleo and Kim both exclaimed. Cleo's cheeks burned.
Dad raised his hands as in surrender. "I'm just saying, you have some good friends. It'd be a shame if you let a boy get between you."
"Cleo's too smart for that," Sam interjected. "Right, love?"
"Exactly. Besides, Lewis and I have a date over video chat tomorrow."
Kim snorted; Cleo glared at her in response. Lewis and I have known each other since we were five! Just because we're young, there's no reason we can't make it work. No matter how far apart we are, we still love each other.
In the end, Cleo was stuck finishing the dishes herself. With long sleeves tucked into rubber gloves, she'd still have to be careful, but with any luck she'd stay dry.
"The water's not going to jump out and get you." Kim passed through the kitchen and grabbed a sports drink out of the fridge.
"I've...heard this is better for your skin," Cleo quickly made up. "Dish soap is so drying."
"Freak," said Kim under her breath, still rummaging in the fridge. Suddenly, Cleo felt a stream of liquid hit the back of her neck.
Kim had squirted her drink at Cleo. Brat!
Immediately, Cleo rubbed her neck with the dishtowel, trying to dry every drop. At the same time, she bolted for the bathroom.
Kim grabbed her wrist in an iron grasp. "What is wrong with you?"
"Let me go!" Cleo yelled. 6...5...4... She was almost out of time.
"I'm trying to help you. This fear of water has gone way too far," Kim said in an obnoxious, knowing tone, just as Cleo transformed.
Cleo lay on the floor, tail exposed, completely humiliated. "I can explain."
"What is there to explain? You're a fish!" Kim whipped out her phone.
"What is going on in here?" Dad poked his head into the kitchen, Sam following closely behind. "Cleo?"
"I can explain," Cleo repeated. "Kim, put that away!" She grabbed the dishtowel from where it had fallen and continued to wipe Kim's drink off her neck.
Kim snapped a photo. "This is so going on the internet."
"I'd like an explanation," Dad inserted.
"Don't you dare show that to anyone!" Cleo's voice was shaking now. This could be the end of everything. Furiously, she finished drying her neck and transformed back into her normal self.
"Cleo, what's going on?" Sam asked faintly. Cleo was too busy trying to snatch Kim's phone away to answer. Then she realized: her secret was blown anyway. She pulled the dishwater out of the full sink and whipped Kim with it- not hard enough to hurt, just enough to shock her into dropping the phone.
Dad was still asking questions, but all Cleo could hear was a buzzing in her ears. Kim was ranting, Dad was asking questions, and Sam was pale and puzzled-looking.
There was no need to knock on the Chadwicks' door; Mr Chadwick was outside, working on his bike. "Cleo, right?" he greeted her.
"Is Rikki home?"
"Inside." Mr Chadwick jerked his head toward the door. "Her room's second on the left."
Cleo smiled, hoping she didn't look as shaken as she felt. Inside, she could hear music blaring from inside Rikki's room. Cleo knocked on the bedroom door.
"Yeah?" Rikki sounded distracted.
Cleo opened the door. "It's me." She leaned against the doorframe.
Rikki was sprawled on her floor, painting her toenails. Slowly, she sat up and screwed the cap back onto the nail polish. "Spill."
Cleo fiddled with the end of her ponytail. "My family- they found out." It took effort to force the words out.
"Shut the door." Rikki jumped to her feet and slammed her bedroom window shut, smearing her toenail polish in the process.. Cleo closed the door, then perched herself on the end of Rikki's small bed.
Rikki squished between Cleo and the wall. "You didn't tell them about us."
"Of course not!" Cleo told the story to Rikki; as the impact of what had happened hit her, Cleo began to cry. After everything, after all their work to keep the secret, this was how it ended.
"Don't be such a drama queen." Rikki's harsh words were contradicted by her affectionate tone. "Zane's dad found out, and Dr Denman, and we kept it quiet then."
"But this is my family," Cleo said. "What if they hate me for lying? What if they think I'm a freak? What if-"
"We're mermaids with superpowers. I think we passed freak a long time ago," Rikki said.
Cleo leaned her head on Rikki's shoulder. "I never lied to my parents before all this, you know. I know that's kind of silly, but…" She trailed off.
"I get it," Rikki threw an arm around Cleo and hugged her.
Cleo's phone rang- Dad was calling. She pulled away from Rikki and turned it off.
"You're going to have to talk to them," said Rikki. "They know."
"When did you turn into the reasonable one?"
Rikki just raised her eyebrows. "At least make sure Kim doesn't tell everyone."
"I will," Cleo promised. "Just...not now."
It was dark out, but Cleo supposed she couldn't stall any longer. She owed her dad an explanation. She reached for the doorknob, then turned back to Rikki, who was standing on the sidewalk, arms crossed.
"I can't do this," Cleo said.
"It's your dad," Rikki said. "If anyone understands, it'll be him."
"We made Zane understand, didn't we?"
Fair point, Cleo thought ruefully. Really, I'll never understand what she saw in him.
Rikki softened. "Do you want me to come with you?"
"No. I need to do this myself." Cleo steeled herself and opened the door, stepping inside. "I'll call you later."
There was no one in the entryway, or the family room. "Dad?"
Dad appeared around the corner. "Cleo! There you are!" He hugged Cleo tightly.
"I'm really sorry," Cleo said. She wasn't even sure what she was apologizing for: for lying, for telling the truth, for being a mermaid.
Sam and Kim joined them in the family room, where Cleo explained what she could about mermaids. They don't need to know everything, she reasoned to herself, as she carefully omitted all the trouble their powers had caused. And her dad probably suspected the other girls were mermaids, but neither one of them brought it up.
When Cleo finished her story, Kim was the first to speak. "Can I have my phone back now?"
Cleo fished in her pockets. "I must have left it at Rikki's. I'm so sorry, Kim- I'll have her bring it by first thing in the morning."
Kim huffed a sigh and crossed her arms.
"I'm disappointed in you for lying to me for so long," Dad said gravely.
"I know, Dad, and I'm really sorry-" Cleo began.
He held up a hand to stop her. "I'm disappointed, and I wish you had trusted me, but I understand. But we're proud of you no matter what."
"Although I think it might be best if Kim and Cleo switch chores from now on," Sam said.