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Eric sat in the lab the next day with his head throbbing, despite the coffee and aspirin he’d taken earlier that morning.
“You can’t seriously be hung over,” Adam told him, “You had one drink! You must be the worst lightweight I’ve ever met.”
“Yeah, yeah…” Eric didn’t care enough to argue, even if he had some defense.
“And we didn’t even find you a girl.” Adam shook his head in disappointment.
Eric paused as he thought for a minute. “There might have been a girl on the beach.”
Adam looked at him with interest. “Might have been?”
Eric nodded, making his head feel like it was going to pop off. “We talked for a while. She was nice.”
“Did you get her phone number?” Adam asked.
“I don’t think so,” Eric admitted, “She kind of…left before I could.”
“She run away or something?” Adam wondered.
“No,” Eric hesitated for a second, “I don’t know. It’s a bit foggy. It seems like she flew off.”
Adam stared at him for a moment. “Are you speaking figuratively?”
“No,” Eric replied, “I remember her sprouting wings and flying away.” He knew it wasn’t possible, but his addled mind was telling him it had happened.
Adam continued to stare at him for another minute as he considered the response. “Seriously, you had one drink!”
“Are you still worrying?” Freya asked the next morning when Aria seemed to be avoiding talking to her.
The younger girl sighed. “It’s not like it was his fault. I can’t believe Sapphira would make him do something like that, knowing the consequences.”
“That’s how she was raised,” Freya explained, “She is important because she is a blue-tailed princess. What she wants matters. Alizarin is a red-tailed servant. He was raised to obey her, regardless of his own desires. That’s the only way of life they know. You can’t judge them by your standards because the lives you have lived are too different.”
“So, basically, you’re saying that he’s property?” Aria clarified.
Freya grimaced at the word, knowing she didn’t have a very good argument against it. “He serves the royal family, the princess in particular. Many would consider it an honor to be her bodyguard. That is hardly the position of a slave.”
“Yet he follows every order given without argument,” Aria pointed out, “and he can be punished even if he follows those orders. I expect he would have been punished if he disobeyed, as well. How can you say he’s not a slave?”
“I don’t know,” Freya admitted, “I don’t get involved. They would disagree with many things humans do. Idun disagrees with much of your leaders’ decisions, but she doesn’t fight to change them and neither would the merfolk, even if they could. Every culture must be allowed to exist as it is unless the people within it change things. How many times in human history have things gone wrong because one culture thought itself superior to another and tried to fix them?”
“How many times have people been saved because of that?” Aria countered.
“And whose place is it to decide who’s right or who’s wrong?” Freya shook her head. “It’s never so simple. One person, even a nymph, simply doesn’t have that right.”
“It’s just…not right,” Aria frowned at her lack of better words for the situation.
Freya sighed and gave her a sympathetic look. “If it bothers you that much, maybe you really should avoid the merfolk. If you allow them to know your thoughts like this, it will only get you into trouble.”
“I can handle it,” Aria promised her, firmly, making it clear that there was no way she would be convinced otherwise.
“Right,” the nymph frowned, but didn’t argue further, “So how are things going on the Eric front?”
“I need to get to school,” Aria announced as she scooped up her basket, “I’ll see you later.” She rushed out the door before she could be questioned further.
Freya watched her go and shook her head, knowing that Aria was going to have to figure something out fast or she would risk losing everything.
“Aria, you still there?” Ashley asked, waving her hand in Aria’s face. They were sitting together at lunch and Aria realized she hadn’t heard anything they’d said.
“Sorry,” she told them, “I just had a lot on my mind.”
“Boy troubles?” Megan guessed.
“Mostly,” Aria admitted with a sigh, “It’s a long story.” She didn’t think it would be possible to explain that she was thinking about helping a merman on top of trying to sort out her feelings for Kai and Eric. It was all just too complicated, even if they believed her, which she knew they wouldn’t.
“Men,” Megan commented, sympathetically.
“You make me jealous,” Ashley told her, “Most girls would love to have two handsome guys after them. All this drama is exciting, after all.”