Cleo, Rikki, and Bella sat together at a small table inside Rikki's cafe. They met there frequently, even though Rikki and Zane were no longer a couple.
Zane and Rikki had managed to settle into a sort of forced friendship. Rikki had made it clear that she just wanted to be friends and Zane had had no choice other than to accept that. Zane didn't spend much time with the group anymore.
Rikki had looked for Zane as she'd walked in, but she didn't see him behind the counter. He was probably out riding motorbikes with Nate.
Cleo had been having a rough day. She'd been hard at work at the water park, working as an assistant dolphin trainer. Her coach/boss Laurie had been pressuring her to start working with the dolphins in the water. For obvious reasons, Cleo couldn't do so. Just touching the water would turn her into a mermaid, and that would automatically turn her into the main attraction of the water park. Laurie had jokingly told her repeatedly that he would get Cleo into the water, whatever it took. Cleo was starting to stress things.
"What are we going to do?" Cleo worried to Rikki and Bella.
"I don't know that there's anything we can do." Rikki said calmly. "I guess you'll just have to keep turning him down."
"I know." Cleo looked at her feet. "It's just, he keeps telling me I'm the best assistant dolphin trainer they've ever had." Cleo tried to keep the bitterness out of her voice.
Bella gave Cleo a sympathetic look. "I'm sorry." She said honestly. "I know exactly how you feel."
"Really?" Cleo looked at Bella curiously.
"Yeah." Bella answered. "Mrs. Nell keeps asking me when I'm going to take the swim test."
"Oooooohh..." Rikki and Cleo realized the problem. Bella had transferred to their high school that year. Each student was required to pass a basic swimming test before graduating. Rikki and Cleo had gotten it over with during their freshman year, before all of the mermaid business had started. Bella hadn't been so lucky. She'd been allowed to graduate with the class, but she had to complete the swimming test before her diploma would be valid.
"She calls to ask me about it practically every day." Bella groaned.
"Get a doctor's note!" Rikki suggested. "Say... you're allergic to chlorine or something."
"I thought about that already." Bella muttered. "Mrs. Nell offered to let me take the test in the ocean. I think she knew I was lying."
"Ah.." Neither Rikki nor Cleo could think of any other advice to offer Bella. The three sat together in a thoughtful silence.
"What's with the sad faces?" Lewis asked as he joined them at their table.
"Not sad." Cleo took Lewis's hand in hers under the table. "Just thoughtful. A little stressed."
"Stressed?" Lewis looked slightly concerned. "What about?"
The girls chatted to Lewis, sharing their concerns. Will joined the group a few minutes later. The five of them talked quietly for a while, going over and over the same things.
"Ok, enough with the serious talk." Rikki shook her head. "Snap out of it, guys."
"Rikki's right." Bella nodded. "This isn't that big a deal."
"Right." Cleo said firmly.
The girls all began jabbering with each other happily, occasionally letting Will and Lewis get a word in. In the back of their minds they still felt unsettled.
The three of them loved being mermaids and would never want to give it up, but they couldn't help but admit that things would be easier for all three of them if they were normal girls. Or, at least, if everyone knew their secret. Until they ended up under a microscope, that is.
Rikki turned to check the cafe, looking around casually for Zane. She, too, was wondering what things would be like if everyone knew their secret. The majority of what she and Zane had fought about had had a lot to do with her being a mermaid. If things were out in the open it would clear up a lot of problems. Not that she wanted to get back with Zane, of course.
The three girls each thought to themselves about how much easier life would be if they didn't have to keep this secret, but they didn't share their thoughts with each other. Revealing their secret simply was not an option.
The next day came quickly. Cleo hurried out the door to head to work. She liked working in the mornings, when the marine park was empty.
Laurie was standing by her locker when she walked in. "Good morning, Cleo." He greeted her.
"Good morning, Laurie." Cleo said warily. He had a gleam in his eye that she couldn't quite place. "What's up?"
"I have a surprise for you." Laurie tried to hide his grin. He held out a small, thin box to Cleo.
"What is it?" Cleo took the box in her hand.
"See for yourself." Laurie said.
Cleo opened the box. Inside was a name tag. She picked it up and read it out loud. "Cleo Sertori, Dolphin Trainer." Her eyes widened. "Wait, dolphin trainer?" She said excitedly.
"You've been doing a great job." Laurie clapped a hand on Cleo's shoulder. "I think you're ready to take on some actual training, instead of just being an assistant. If you want to, of course."
Cleo's heart sank as her excitement faded. What was she thinking? She couldn't be an official dolphin trainer. They were in the water all the time. They swam with the dolphins during the show. There was no way she could get away with working that job.
"Thank you, Laurie." Cleo said softly. "But I'm afraid I can't take the job."
Laurie frowned. "What? Why?"
"I, uh, I just don't think I'm ready for it." Cleo handed the name tag back to him.
"Well why don't you want to leave that up to me?" Laurie asked. "I think you'd be fantastic. Do you really want to just stay an assistant?"
Cleo didn't have much of an answer for him. "I'm sorry." She muttered as she picked up her apron and wandered outside to clean the grout on the edge of the pool.
The truth was that Cleo would absolutely kill to be an official trainer at the park. If she could be sure that she wouldn't have to get into the water she would do it in a heartbeat, but there was no way she could chance it.
For the second time in the last two days Cleo felt annoyance at the fact that she couldn't carry on like a normal girl. Still, she reasoned, even if the world knew she was a mermaid, she still wouldn't be able to be a dolphin trainer, would she? Cleo sighed as she scrubbed the mildew away from the floor tiling.
Bella's phone rang, waking her up out of a deep sleep. "Hello?" She said sleepily.
"Bella." Came a crisp voice through the line. "Have you set up a time to take your swim test yet?"
Bella sat up quickly, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. She cleared her throat. "No yet, Mrs. Nell. But I will soon."
"I don't need to remind you that the school has been very patient with you." Mrs. Nell lectured. "Normally we would have held you back a year because you technically did not meet the graduation requirements for your year."
"Yes, I know." Bella sighed. She'd heard this lecture many times.
"Although your grades were so good in all of your other classes we decided to make an exception." The administrator continued. "But we will need you to take care of this issue soon. Understood?"
"Understood." Bella said glumly, shutting the phone and throwing it onto the bed. She had no idea what to do. If she didn't get a valid diploma she'd never get into a good college. Most public schools required a swim test.
"This is so stupid." Bella muttered. "I'm a mermaid and I'm stressed because I can't take a swimming test."
Bella slumped back down on the bed, trying to decide on a job that she could work without going to college.
Rikki was walking along the beach, looking out over the water. She took a seat on the sand far from the water's edge. A group of teenagers were waist deep in the water. Rikki recognized Nate along with a few other girls and guys from girls were splashing the boys flirtatiously and the boys were tackling the girls into the water.
"Rikki?" An all too familiar voice came from behind her.
Rikki didn't need to turn around to know who it was. "Hey Zane." She said simply.
"It's been a while." Zane stood in front of her with his hands in the pockets of his swimming trunks.
"Has it?" Rikki looked out over the water.
Nate came trudging out of the ocean and headed towards them. "Zane!" He shouted.
Zane instinctively stood between Rikki and the dripping wet Nate. "I'm coming." He said, gesturing for Nate to go away.
Nate winked at Rikki. "Why don't you join us, beautiful?"
"Sorry, I don't want to catch anything." Rikki said as she stood.
Nate looked confused. "But the weather is warm?"
"I wasn't worried about catching anything because of the weather." Rikki called behind her as she walked away.
Zane watched her go before following Nate out into the waves. Rikki paused, turning back to watch the group having fun in the water. Zane looked like he was having a blast. His face was totally carefree. He didn't need to worry about protecting her from the water or keeping her secret.
Cleo and Bella were waiting for Rikki at Mako island when she swam up.
"Hey." Rikki sighed.
"Hey." Cleo and Bella's tone matched Rikki's.
"I got offered a promotion today." Cleo said blankly. She kept speaking before anyone could get too excited. "I can't take it. It's required that I get in the water."
"Oh." Rikki said. "I just bumped into Zane. He was hanging out with a group of our friends at the beach. In the water."
"I'm sorry." Cleo squeezed Rikki's arm.
"Mrs. Nell called again this morning." Bella murmured. "She's really on my case about taking that stupid swimming test. What am I supposed to tell her?"
"Tell her you're a mermaid." Rikki said vacantly.
Rikki's words echoed through the cave as the girls floated in the water.
"What if we did?" Cleo asked, sitting up.
"What?" Rikki's eyes narrowed.
"What if we told everyone what we are?" Cleo's voice was more animated than it had been a second ago.
"You can't be serious." Bella frowned.
"It would make everything so much easier." Cleo spoke quickly. "We wouldn't need to hide from anyone, I could explain to Laurie why I can't take the promotion, Bella you could take your swim test, Rikki, I don't know where you stand with Zane, but at lest you would know that it wasn't our secret that was keeping you two from being together. We wouldn't need to hide from our families. Everything would just be... easier."
"Yeah, until we get thrown into a cage and get cut into tiny pieces." Rikki said bluntly.
"But would that really happen?" Cleo wondered aloud. "I mean, we're a modern society. Sure, we'd probably have to let them run a few tests on us, but we're people. They couldn't really keep us locked up, could they?"
"Do we really want to take that chance?" Bella raised her eyebrows.
"Ok." Cleo spoke thoughtfully. "What if just one of us tried it?"
"Tried it?" Rikki freaked. "Tried to share the secret?"
Cleo hit the water in frustration. "I'm just so tired of keeping it a secret." She said passionately. "I love being a mermaid, but I just want to relax. I feel like we've been stressed about keeping the secret ever since the change happened. Rikki, do you even remember what it was like to be able to go a whole day without worrying about getting wet?"
Rikki shook her head no.
"Think about it." Cleo almost smiled. "Sure, we'd become almost famous, but it would get to be old news soon enough. We could ride out the initial wildness and then just enjoy our lives."
"I still don't think it's a good idea." Bella worried.
"Then you don't have to do it." Cleo said determinedly. "But I want to. I'm tired of hiding."
Rikki was looking at Cleo with wide eyes. "This doesn't really sound like you..." She mused.
"I know." Cleo nodded. "I feel like this has been building up inside me for years now, and I just can't hold it in any longer." Cleo looked at the other two seriously. "What do you guys think?"
Rikki spoke thoughtfully. "I think it's your life. If you want to go for it I'm not going to hold you back."
"Have you talked to Lewis about this?" Bella asked.
"Not yet." Cleo answered. "I wanted to talk to you two first."
Bella nodded. "I'm with Rikki." She said finally. "If you want to tell people what you are then go ahead. "But Cleo," Bella said seriously. "Don't tell anyone about Rikki or me."
Rikki looked at Cleo. "There's a thought. Don't you think people will figure out what Bella and I are once you tell people what you are?"
"I'll be careful." Cleo insisted. "People will be so shocked to hear there's one mermaid, they won't expect there to be two more."
Bella and Rikki did not look convinced, but they agreed that this was Cleo's decision. Cleo left soon after, to talk to Lewis and decide on a course of action.