Lewis McCartney sat in the fifth row of Flight 341 to Key West, Florida. He had been lucky enough to get the window seat in the row—in fact, everything about his situation seemed to be nothing but lucky. Although he applied, he didn't actually expect to get into the American Marine Biology Institute. And yet, here he was: on a plane there now.
He glanced at the newlywed couple sitting next to him and then looked back to the Earth below him. The plane was currently above water. He sighed. Well, not everything about his situation was lucky.
It seemed that no matter where he looked he was reminded of Cleo, the girl he had been forced to leave behind. She was more than a girl really, not only was she his girlfriend but she was the most amazing person he knew. He wished that she could be sitting here with him—them both on their way to the American Marine Biology Institute—but he knew that even if she had applied and been accepted she wouldn't have come. It would be too much of a risk for her. Being at a Marine Biology Institute practically guaranteed that Lewis would be getting wet at some point, and Cleo couldn't get wet. If Cleo were exposed as a mermaid at this Marine Biology Institute, it would be like one of Lewis's nightmares come true. He would never forgive himself for placing her in such a position.
So, it was really a good thing that Cleo wasn't here, even if he missed her…a lot.
He looked out the window again. From the plane's altitude Lewis couldn't see the waves crashing on the beach, but he didn't need to. He could already see it in his head. The familiar scene made him smile, and for a minute he was able to pretend that he was still in Australia and Cleo had only just ducked beneath the water. He couldn't fool himself for very long though. He knew that the water he was looking at wasn't the Pacific Ocean, nor was the land the coast of Australia.
He wondered what Cleo was doing right now. He liked to think that she was with Rikki and Bella, having fun swimming around Mako Island. He checked his watch—she would still be asleep, not swimming.
He shouldn't be worrying about Cleo, he should be looking forward to all the studies he'll do and all the equipment he'll get to play with when he got to the institute. Although he hated to leave Cleo and the girls when they still hadn't figured out what was going on with Mako and the tentacle, he had to trust that Cleo would take over his research. Besides, no matter how much research he conducted on mermaids and Mako Island, he could never get any credit for it, nor would he ever try to. But that meant that he had to find some way to do research that could be credited, and that was one of the main reasons why he applied to the institute in the first place.
He reached into the back-seat pocket in front of him and pulled out the brochure AMBI sent him in the mail. On the front it showed a picture of the waters surrounding Key West, which were very impressive. Then on the inside there were pictures of schools of fish, turtles, dolphins and sharks—all very alluring—but Lewis had already looked through the brochure about fifty times during the 18 hour plane ride. He had practically memorized all the information inside as well.
Lewis felt a pair of eyes on him as he leaned forward and replaced the brochure. He knew exactly whose eyes they were too. He turned around and for a brief second his eyes met a pair of hazel ones. The light amber eyes belonged to a small girl with cropped black hair who he thought was probably about his age. Every time he saw her he got this strange feeling, like he had seen her somewhere before. But he had no clue who she was.
He had first caught her staring at him back in the airport in Sydney. When he first got on the plane taking him from Sydney to Los Angeles, he thought it was simply a coincidence that she was on the same flight, but when she sat down in the seat diagonally behind him on this flight to Florida, he decided that the chance it was a coincidence decreased. Sure, there was still the possibility, but then why did she keep staring at him?
He turned back around and shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Was it possible that she was one of the other five accepted into AMBI? He had assumed he was the only student in Australia who got in, but, now thinking about it, he realized that his assumption was probably wrong, not to mention a bit egotistical.
As the pilot announced that they would be landing soon, the flight attendant walked down the aisle carrying a large trash bag. When she reached his aisle, he reached across the couple, apologizing, and tossed his empty cup in the bag. The flight attendant took another step, letting the people behind him throw away their trash. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the short-haired girl toss a cup and napkin in the bag.
"Thank you," she said to the stewardess.
Lewis frowned. He wondered if he had heard her correctly. The girl's accent definitely wasn't Australian. It was American. Did that mean she wasn't another student selected to study at AMBI? It was still possible that she was, only she must have been chosen from the applicants from the United States. But then why had she been in Australia? Unless she wasn't even going to AMBI, which once again begged the question: why was she staring at him?
Was it possible that she thought him to be attractive? He had only dealt with more than one girl liking him once before. And, thinking back to everything that happened during that time, he had royally screwed things up before making it all right again. Since then, the only girl who has had eyes for him was Cleo, and that was the way he liked it. Just because he and Cleo would be almost ten thousand miles apart for six months didn't mean they weren't still together. He had every intention of returning and picking things back up where they left off before they head to college.
Over the loud speaker, the pilot announced that all passengers should "be seated with their seatbelts fastened" as the plane had begun its descent into the Florida Keys. Lewis checked his seatbelt and gripped the armrests next to him. He definitely preferred boats to planes—and after 18+ hours of being on a plane, he was very eager to have his feet touch ground again.
The wheels of the plane met asphalt and he was thrust forward as it came to a stop. It pulled up to the gate as the flight attendant welcomed the passengers to Key West.
Grabbing his backpack from the overhead storage, Lewis disembarked the 747. He followed the signs to the baggage claim to get his suitcase. The institute had said they would send a car for him, he just hoped he would be able to find it. Maybe the driver would be waiting by the baggage claim for him. Sure enough, as he stepped off the escalator his eyes caught sight of an old man in a sailor's hat holding a white poster that said his name on it. He gave the man a small nod before walking over to the carousel and pulling his suitcase off the belt.
Tugging his suitcase behind him, Lewis walked up to the old man. "Hi," he said, "I'm Lewis."
The old man held out his hand. "Nice to meet ya. I'm Jack."
Lewis took it and shook his hand. The man didn't move after that though. "Umm, Jack? Shouldn't we get going?" he asked.
Jack frowned at first but then raised his eyebrows. "Oh, no, not yet. We're still waiting on some—oh! There she is!"
Lewis turned around to see who Jack was talking about, only to find himself face to face with the short-haired girl from both flights.
She smiled wide at him as she came to stand with them. "Hi, Lewis!" she said enthusiastically, "I'm Leah."