Hey guys, many thanks for continuing to read. Sincere apologies for the slowness in updating. Hurricane Sandy, a nasty snowy nor'easter, a presidential election, and a nasty case of strep throat have completely kept me from anything remotely creative. I hope everyone is doing well, thanks soooo much for reading! :) There will be one more chapter after this, just to wrap things up.
Cleo hated to admit it, but Cole's power scared her a little bit. It was similar to her own, he could move water at will. But Cleo could manipulate water into any shape she wanted. Cole only seemed able to shoot different sized water bullets. Or cannonballs. He could raise the water into the air, but as soon as his fingers twitched the water would zoom into the nearest wall. Cole thought it was the coolest thing ever, but Cleo wasn't convinced.
"Check it out." Cole pulled up the tiniest bit of water and shaped it into a perfect circle. He moved his fingers and the orb shot straight through the wall of the cavern, leaving a perfectly circular hole in the stone. Cole laughed. "Did you see that? This is awesome!"
"Yeah..." Cleo frowned. "Cole, it really is awesome. But you're going to have to be really, really careful. You can never use this power in public. In fact, you should really try not to use it at all."
"What?" Cole stopped trying to raise more water droplets and looked at Cleo. "I mean, I get that I shouldn't use it in public, you guys never use yours in public, but why can't I practice on my own?"
"Cole..." Cleo tried to sound casual. "I know, but ours are completely under our control now. And they're not quite so... extreme." She swallowed. "Or dangerous."
"Dangerous?" Cole furrowed his brow as he turned to face her. "I mean, I guess mine is a little more dangerous than yours."
"Right, exactly." Cleo nodded, relieved that he realized it. "We'll practice, just not in front of the public at all. You've got to be careful, alright? This would really freak out everyone."
"Ok." Cole couldn't keep the disappointment out of his voice. He had finally discovered his power and Cleo didn't seem excited at all, just worried. Cole dropped his hand to his side. He didn't want to upset Cleo, he would practice in the safety of his own apartment.
"And I guess that's it." Cleo happily checked her watch. "I'll be headed back in a few minutes. Do you feel any better now?"
"I do." Cole answered honestly, letting his mouth pull into a small smile. "Thank you."
"No problem." Cleo patted him reassuringly. "Good luck with the press. I guess we'll see you around?"
"Yeah." Cole faced her. "I'll see you around."
Cleo shared a smile with him for a moment. "Don't worry." She said warmly. "Everything will be fine. You'll get used to all this."
"I wish I could believe that." Cole said bitterly.
Cleo squeezed his shoulder tightly before diving into the water and heading off out into the ocean, away from him. She felt sorry that Cole wasn't thrilled about being a merman, but he had done this to himself and he would just have to deal with it.
Lewis paced, checking his watch for the tenth time in the last few minutes.
"She'll be back soon." Zane walked to stand beside his friend, looking out the window with him. "Don't stress."
"Yeah." Rikki joined the pair. "She'll be back any minute."
At that very moment, Laurie's familiar SUV pulled into the driveway. Cameras flashed from the photographers who stood on the sidewalk, anxious for a snap of the mermaid.
"See?" Rikki patted Lewis's shoulder. "Told ya!"
Cleo carefully climbed out of the vehicle and hurried into the house, waving for a few pictures on the way. Lewis hurried to pull open the front door for her. Cleo rushed into Lewis's arms, holding him to her tightly.
"Sorry I'm late." She murmured, wrapping her arms even more tightly around his neck.
"I'm just glad you made it back alright." Lewis smiled brightly. "Where did Cole end up?"
"I left him in the moon pool." Cleo shrugged. "He'll be alright. But Lewis, his power." She beckoned for Lewis, Zane, and Rikki to follow her into the living room. The group took their seats on Lewis's oversized couch. "You guys should see what his power is." Cleo's eyes were wide.
She quickly filled in the rest of the group. Bella and Will were staying at the boat shed together, but a quick phone call got them all caught up.
"What do you think Cole will do next?" Rikki asked curiously.
"I have no idea." Cleo held Lewis's hand tightly in her own. "And I don't really care. The world knows about us, the world knows about him. We're all even."
"I'll bet the press is even more excited about him." Rikki reasoned. "A merman seems to have caused more of s sensation than us regular old mermaids."
"Fine by me." Zane chimed in. Zane clicked on the television as they a settled in. His face twisted into a scowl as the screen focused in on a familiar face.
"Dillon Chase." Rikki muttered, her voice dripping with contempt.
"And we'll be right back with Dillon Chase as he talks heartbreak, Rikki Chadwick, and what you don't know about mermaids." The interviewer said to the camera before the show went to commercial.
"Ugh, is he still talking?" Cleo groaned.
"Apparently." Zane said glumly before turning to Rikki, a confused look on his face. "He doesn't know about your powers, does he?"
"Nope." Rikki shook her head.
"Or how you guys became mermaids?" Zane continued.
"No, I don't think so." Rikki shrugged. "He just knows that we turn when we touch water."
"Then what in the world could he be talking about now that everyone doesn't know already?" Zane wondered.
"He's probably just running his mouth, using his fifteen minutes of mermaid fame." Rikki said, unconcerned.
The four watched the program, waiting for the talk show to come back on.
"And we're here with the heartbroken Dillon Chase." The pretty brunette said to the camera. "Dillon, tell us about your breakup with Rikki Chadwick." She looked at him sympathetically.
"Well..." Dillon shot the camera a sorrowful look. "I really thought she was going to be the one, Jenny. We had a connection like nothing I'd ever experienced before."
Rikki snorted. "Let's turn this off, he's totally full of crap."
"That's when I realized," Dillon's eye watered. "That she was using mind control on me."
"What?" All for teens shouted at the same time.
"That's right, it seems like mermaids can control our brains." Dillon said meekly. "I was just a fool, easily manipulated."
"That's really terrible." Jenny patted Dillon's shoulder. "But on a brighter note, your career has taken off like never before! I hear you've got your choice of movie roles, everyone wants a chance to work with you."
"That's right!" Dillon immediately brightened. "In fact, I'm happy to announce that I've just taken a role playing-"
Lewis clicked off the television. The four of them sat in silence, disgust clear on their faces.
"Seriously?" Rikki shrieked. "There is absolutely no way anyone will believe him."
"I'm going to call Laurie." Lewis said tiredly, rubbing his temples. "He can give us some advice."
"And I'll call Bella and Will." Cleo sounded just as worn out.
Rikki and Zane were left sitting together on the couch. Zane reached an arm around Rikki's shoulder and pulled her into him tightly. "No one will believe Dillon." Zane kissed the top of her head.
"This is a mess." Rikki said quietly. "I just wish we could get away from all of this."
"So let's do just that." Zane murmured. "Let's get out of here."
"Right." Rikki laughed. "And go where?"
"America, or somewhere in Europe." Zane answered automatically.
"Wait." Rikki sat up, looking hard at Zane. "Are you serious?"
"I've been thinking about it for a little while." Zane said quickly. "Hear me out. Yes, everyone knows who you are, but no one outside Australia has seen you in person, right?" He paused, smiling in anticipation. "Let's get out of here, Rikki. We'll go to another country for a while, lie low, keep things under the radar. Together."
Rikki couldn't help but smile a little as she looked at her boyfriend. "You are serious."
"Yeah I am." Zane held Rikki's hand gently in his as he looked into her eyes.
The pair sat in silence for a while, both lost in thoughts of just leaving this all behind. Rikki forced herself to be realistic.
"Zane, we just got back together." She said practically. "What if we fight again? And what about Bella and Cleo? And come on, do you really think we could keep things so low key that we wouldn't be discovered?"
Zane nodded, processing her words. "Rikki," He spoke slowly. "I have missed you every day we've been apart. I love you, and I always will. Do you love me?"
Rikki nodded wordlessly.
"Ok." Zane tightened his grip on Rikki's hand. "As for Cleo and Bella, we'll have to talk to them. See what they have to say. And to answer you, yes, I definitely think we could find somewhere and keep to ourselves enough not to be noticed."
"We've been thinking about doing the same thing." Cleo's voice came from the back of the room. She stepped inside. "Lewis got an offer from a marine institute in California, USA. They've offered a completely private apartment on campus with round the clock security and a pretty awesome paycheck. They want us to come down as soon as possible."
"Wow, that's cool." Rikki said nervously. "And you're going?"
"I think we are." Cleo smiled. "Is... that ok with you two?"
"Of course!" Rikki jumped off the couch and pulled her friend in for a tight hug. "What an awesome opportunity for you and Lewis."
"There are still a lot of details to work out," Cleo tucked her hair behind her ear. "But it seems like a good deal. And it'll be nice to get out of here for a while."
"We are thinking the same thing." Zane stood beside Rikki.
"Bella and Will want to stay here." Cleo's face had a tinge of sadness to it. "We'd all be split up."
"Laurie says not to worry, none of the news outlets are buying Dillon's claim that mermaids can control our minds." Lewis clicked his phone shut and fell onto the couch. "Dillon really didn't think this through. If you could control our minds then you'd be able to make the reporters leave you alone, or really anything else."
"And we clearly can't." Cleo realized.
"I'm sure you'll have to deny it a few times, but Laurie doesn't think it's going to be an issue." Lewis sounded ready to fall asleep.
A knock on the door made the four of the start. Zane hurried to check the peephole before opening the door.
"We just had to be with you guys." Bella said hurriedly as she and Will burst through the door. She made a beeline for Rikki. "Dillon Chase is an idiot." She said firmly before turning to Cleo and Lewis. "I am so proud of you two." She said with a grin. "America will be lucky to have you." Bella took a step back, anticipation glowing on her face. "I have an announcement."
Will stepped beside her, trying to hide his flushed face.
"Will asked me to marry him!" Bella thrust her left hand into the center of the group. A small but sparkling diamond shone on her fourth finger.
Everyone stared at her in stunned silence for a solid ten seconds before they realized just what she had said. And then the cheering began.