"Aww, Flippy! Nice try, good effort!" Taryn floated over to her new friend, running her hand over his back. He'd just attempted a jump through the hoop, but had fallen short and basically tumbled over himself. "You okay?" She dove under the water and rubbed the underside of his stomach where he'd hit the ring. She came back up and shook her hair. "Why don't we give it another shot?"
Flippy blew air out at her, shaking his head. He slapped his tail against the water, and flicked a spout of water over at her.
"Hey! Don't be mean." She splashed him right back. "Come on, Flippy. I know you can do this. I have faith in you." She scrubbed the heel of her palm against the side of his face. "You're okay, I'm right here. I won't let anything happen to you. I promise."
He looked up at her as if he didn't believe her, then clicked and whistled a few times. He darted out from under her touch, and in less than five seconds he was back on the other side of the hoop. He was waving his tail under the water hesitantly, like he was scared to try again, but that he would at least try if she believed in him.
Taryn grinned and held up both hands. "Ready..." She kicked her legs. "Set..." She waved her hands back toward herself. "Come on, Flippy! Come over to me!"
He backed up a little, then sped forward and leapt out of the water. This time he made it through the hoop with only the end of his tail hitting it. He landed back in the water, spraying her for the millionth time - not that she minded it.
"Good boy!" Seeing that he was a little dizzy (who wouldn't be after something like that?), she swam toward him and wrapped her arm around him. "Oh, you did it! That was great! See what you can do if you just believe in yourself?" She bent down and nuzzled her nose against his cheek. "You did a good job." She pushed off and paddled over to the edge of the tank. "Come here, I'll get you a treat."
Flippy perked up at "treat", and followed her eagerly, bumping into her a few times. He probably thought it was funny, and he hadn't gotten reprimanded for it yet, so of course he'd keep at it.
Taryn let out a snort of laughter, and leaned over the tank to grab a fish from the bucket she'd brought. She turned back around and gently nudged Flippy's stomach with her foot and wiggling her toes, chuckling. "Come on, you! You're only going to get it if you're nice to me."
Seeming to understand, Flippy plunged down into the water and then came back up right beside her. He snuggled his head against her waist, whistling and clicking and squeaking happily. He even closed his eyes, as if to let her know he was being nice to her and that he was comfortable with her.
Taryn giggled, and petted his head. "Oh, that's right, you're a good boy, aren't you?" She touched his nose with the fish, then held it up in front of his mouth so he could eat it. "There you go, there's your treat."
He snapped it out of her hands, though he was careful not to bite her, and started eating.
"Enjoy that, Flippy, you earned it."
"Hey, looks like he's doing better, huh?"
Taryn turned to see her manager standing there, smoking a cigarette. He took it out of his mouth and gestured to the dolphin. "You really are somethin', Tare. Got him under control inside of an hour."
She reached down and rubbed Flippy's head, and he clicked at her. "Yeah, well, if you guys would treat the animals with some respect and not abuse them, maybe they would be more willing to cooperate with you. I'm not asking much, you don't have to treat them like humans, but not cracking that whip - is that really too much to ask?"
Her manager rolled his eyes, and shook his head, slipping the cigarette back through his lips. "You're some kinda crazy hippie, Tare, ain't ya? Did you get him to actually jump through the stupid ring?"
"He's getting better at it."
He nodded. "Alright then. Well, first show's next week. You gonna get a new routine done by then?"
"Yeah! I was thinking up some routines where we swim together."
Her manager raised an eyebrow, pointing at Flippy. "You mean you're actually gonna perform with that thing?" He scoffed, then shrugged and turned to walk off, probably to his office. "Your funeral, Tare. Keep workin', alright? See you later."
Taryn kicked at the water angrily. "He's not a thing!" she yelled. "He's a dolphin! You probably think that's spelled with an 'f', huh? 'Cause you didn't even make it outta high school, so don't talk to me about my animals!" She crossed her arms in one sharp motion and pouted, sinking down into the water.
Flippy whined loudly and swam underneath her, nudging at her back and trying to push her up. He then came out of the water and bumped her elbow with his rostrum, rubbing against her arm.
"I'm fine, Flippy." She absentmindedly curled her arm around him, lightly scratching at his belly. "I just wish they'd treat you guys better. It's not fair." She glanced down. "You heard all those mean things he said about you, right? It wasn't just me who heard it?"
He clicked aggressively, bumping harshly against her and shaking his head.
"Whoa! Careful now." She kicked back over to him and sighed. "I know you're upset. I am too. But baby steps, okay? There's no use getting mad over something we can't control... not yet, anyway." She stroked over his back again, and smiled, trying to get back into the upbeat tone they'd had before her manager intruded on their practice. "Why don't we get back to the tricks? I have an idea for something we can do together. Come on!"
Flippy blew out a puff of air, but followed her anyway. After all, at least she didn't carry a whip and knife around.
Taryn adjusted her goggles to make sure they fit right, but this time she wasn't using a snorkel. Since she'd been practicing, she found it was more of a hindrance, since it went around her mouth while her mouth was open and while she was underwater she sometimes got confused - especially after turns - and took a breath, forgetting she shouldn't do exactly that while submerged in water. So she'd just decided to hold her breath while performing - her record was a minute and a half, and she didn't stay under with Flippy for more than about thirty seconds.
Speaking of her dolphin partner who was quickly wriggling his way into her heart. He was already in the bigger tank - with a new mark on his side, she noticed, probably from one of the other trainers' boots when they moved him. He didn't look like he was in too much pain though; he seemed excited. It was their first performance together, and she was excited, and he was attached to her, so why shouldn't he be excited? He deserved to at least enjoy performing, if he was forced to do it.
Taryn climbed up on the ladder and squatted down, motioning for Flippy to come over to her. "Come here, boy!" When he swam over, she caught his head in both hands and started rubbing. "Who's my good little baby? Huh? Who's my dolphin?"
He let out an excited burst of popping noise, and smacked his fins against the water, splashing her.
She laughed and nuzzled her forehead against his. "That's right! Flippy's my dolphin! Flippy's my good baby!" She pulled away, but kept her hands on him. "It looks like you're ready, so I guess I don't have to ask!" She leaned down and kiss the tip of his nose. "I know we'll do great."
We. Flippy chirped happily, doing a somersault in the water.
Taryn turned around to see her manager, yet again smoking. "Yeah?"
"You figured out the song for your routine, right? What are you doing?"
"Yeah, it's gonna be 'Firework'."
"Katy Perry? Interesting choice." He blew out some smoke. "I still say you're insane for swimming with that thing. What if he, like, goes at you like he has with every other trainer? It could kill you."
"He will be fine, and I told you he's not a thing. He's a dolphin." She put her hands on her hips. "Figure out how to spell that yet?"
He scowled at her. "Yeah, okay, you think you're smart. Just don't screw this up, or you'll be out of a job. And FYI, if you get fired, good luck finding anyone else who'll hire a stupid, radical upstart like you. Later."
Taryn rolled her eyes as walked off. "Whatever." She turned back to Flippy and stroked around his blowhole. "Don't listen to him, okay? We'll do fine, and I trust you not to hurt me. I know you wouldn't ever."
Flippy made a popping sound and swished his tail in the water, indicating that he was ready and eager to perform.
Taryn grinned, scrubbing her hands against each side of his head. Then she leaned down and rubbed her nose against his. "There's my good boy. We'll be starting soon, Flippy, just sit tight."
"Is everybody ready to have a good time?" Taryn called through the microphone, Flippy beneath her platform waiting for his cue.
The crowd cheered, whoops and whistles coming from every direction.
"I said, is everybody ready to have a good time!"
There was another roar of excitement, louder this time.
Taryn clapped against the microphone. "That's what I wanted to hear!" She gestured down into the pool. "This is Flippy!" She waved her hand up, from down by her knee up into the air. "Say hi to everybody, Flippy!"
Flipp did a few underwater somersaults, then leapt up and did two more in the air, spouting a stream of water from his mouth as he spun around.
Taryn giggled, petting Flippy when he jumped over to her, listening as the crowd cheered again. "Good boy, good boy. Ready?" She straightened back up. "Okay! Flippy and I are going to do a routine together!" She pointed to Carlos, the MC. "Hit the beat!"
"You got it, babe!" Carlos pressed a button, and "Firework" began.
"Do you ever feel like a plastic bag..."
She jumped up off the board, and jumped again, making sure she was ready.
"Drifting through the wind..."
She did some up-in-the-air turns, aiming for the surface.
"Wanting to start again?"
She hit the water, and shot straight to the bottom, holding her hands there in a sort of underwater handstand for a few seconds as Flippy whirled around her.
"Do you ever feel, feel so paper-thin?
Like a house of cards, one blow from cavin' in..."
Taryn flipped over onto her feet, shooting up toward the surface and breaking the water, throwing her arms back and floating. Flippy copied the pose, though his tail was up in the air.
"Do you ever feel already buried deep?
Six feet under, scream, but no one seems to hear a thing..."
She dove back under, flailing her arms and legs wildly. Flippy jumped up in the air and spun around.
"Do you know that there's still a chance for you?
'Cause there's a spark in you..."
Taryn looked up toward the surface, and reached for the dolphin's flipper that he extended down toward her.
"You just gotta ignite the light
And let it shine..."
She let herself fall into a dead man's float, aiming her face at the bottom of the tank and allowing her legs to go up above her, her arms flowing freely. As she did this, Flippy came up under her, waited a second, and then started nudging her upward.
"Just own the night like the Fourth of July..."
They both started at the bottom of the tank, and spiraled upward around each other toward the air.
"'Cause baby, you're a firework!
Come on, show 'em what you're worth!"
They broke the surface. Taryn threw her head back, put herself in a float, then did a somersault. Meanwhile, Flippy had leapt into the air and did a somersault too, landing in breach on his side and waiting for Taryn to come back up so they could continue.
"Make 'em go ah, ah, ah!
As you shoot across the sky-y-y!"
Taryn grabbed onto Flippy's dorsal fin with one hand, and on the side of his stomach with the other, holding on as tightly as she could without hurting him. She nodded, and he took her around the tank twice.
"Baby, you're a firework!
Come on, let your colors burst!"
They went up to the surface again. Taryn took a breath and let herself fall downward, kicking her legs up in the air and spreading them out, while Flippy did another few somersaults in the air.
"Make 'em go ah, ah, ah
You're gonna leave 'em all in awe, awe, awe!"
They ended by coming up together again. Flippy stood up on his tail, holding as long as he could, and Taryn did a float next to him.
The song cut, cuing to the audience that the routine was over. There was a deafening roar of applause and whooping. People were shouting and whistling, and some even stood up.
Taryn got up from her float, shaking her hair out and swimming over to Flippy, who'd splashed into the water and was horizontal again. He looked tired, but happy too. He was clicking at her, pulses of sound coming in between, and nuzzled her neck.
She grinned and rubbed at his neck too. "Good boy, Flippy. You did great. Let's get ready for the next one, huh?"