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Aria held her breath as she slipped under water for her performance the next week. She thought about how different it was from swimming freely as a proper mermaid. When she was under the water with Kai, she didn’t have to hold her breath and all her movements were smoother. She couldn’t wait for the next full moon, when it would be her turn to transform again.
“You really shouldn’t allow yourself to get distracted,” Freya commented as they prepared to leave, “Our performance takes a lot of concentration, after all.”
“You seemed distracted, too,” Aria pointed out, “Is everything okay?”
“Everything’s fine,” the nymph rushed to assure her, “I’m just having to worry about you all the time, lately. It gives me a headache.”
“Then stop worrying. It’s not doing anybody any good.”
“Easier said than done.”
Aria offered her friend a smile. “You really don’t need to worry about me. I know I’m being a little wishy-washy lately, but I’ll be fine.”
Freya shrugged. “I’ll always worry about you, Aria. It’s what friends do.”
“Well, I will worry more about you, then,” Aria announced, “You need to take better care of yourself. Think of your health.”
Freya couldn’t help laughing at that. “You understand that I’m immortal, right? I don’t get health issues. As long as nobody destroys the ocean, I’ll be fine.”
“I think it’s safe to assume that’s not going to happen any time soon,” Aria decided, “Even so, you seem really stressed. Please, don’t tell me that’s all on my account.”
Freya looked down at her bag. “I’ve just had a lot on my mind, lately. I’ll be alright.”
“Nothing I can do to help, I suppose.”
Freya shook her head. “Just be my friend and stay by my side. That’s all.”
“Well, I can certainly do that.” Aria took her hand and smiled. “Shall we head out?”
They were halfway to the door when someone called out to them. They turned back to see Eric walking over with a pamphlet. He held it out to Aria as he reached them.
“I thought you might give this to your friend,” he told her, “It’s a helpline. He can call for advice or if he needs to talk.”
She took the flyer and looked it over. “That’s so sweet.” She couldn’t really explain that Alizarin would have no way of using a helpline. It was the thought that counted, right then.
Eric nodded. “Also, if there’s anything I can do, just let me know. I don’t know if he’s looking for a friend or anything, but I can be a pretty good one.”
Aria smiled and hugged him. “I know that.” She pulled back and looked at him. “You are probably the nicest guy I ever met.”
His ears turned red and he awkwardly rubbed his neck. “Well…I try.”
“We should get going,” Freya said, “You have school in the morning.”
“Right.” Aria smiled at Eric one more time before heading out.
“I saw that,” Adam announced from behind his co-worker as soon as the girls were gone.
Eric jumped and turned to face the assistant. “What?”
“You definitely scored some points. Good job.”
“I wasn’t doing that to score points,” he insisted, “I really just want to help.”
“You can do both.”
Eric shrugged. “I don’t want to think of it that way. There’s a teenage boy who needs help. Any effect me offering to help has on my relationship with Aria is just chance. If I try to help with the thought that it will help me, I’d just feel like a jerk.”
“You’re too nice,” Adam decided, “But I guess that’s what makes you so interesting.”
“You think I’m interesting?”
“I think you’re going to wind up getting yourself hurt one of these days because you’re being too nice to avoid it. Disasters like that carry a horrific fascination, don’t they?”
Eric stared at him for a moment, not sure how to respond. “I’m not as self-sacrificing as you think. I’m just not one to stand by and let other people be hurt if I can help. If you saw a car crash and knew you could save somebody in it, wouldn’t you do that?”