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“I have to admit: they’re awfully cute,” Angela said as they watched the penguins.
“Don’t let them fool you,” Eric said, “They’re vicious little creatures, liable to bite your hand off at the first opportunity.”
She laughed at that. “Adorable and dangerous; I like them.”
She looked at him. “It figures your favorite exhibit would have birds.”
“I like birds,” he said, “Sue me.”
“How much do you like birds?” she wondered, “Would you want to be one if you could?”
“More than anything,” he replied, fervently, “I guess that must sound a little silly.”
“Not so much,” she assured him with a smile.
“You don’t think so?” He looked at her.
By way of answer, she brought her lips to his. It wasn’t a long kiss, but she could just about hear his heart beating as she took his hand. “Can you keep a secret?” she asked in a hushed tone.
He nodded dumbly as he stared at her.
“Then come with me.” She pulled him with her and he put up no fight.
Eric seemed to have forgotten how to form words as he allowed her to lead him out of the aquarium.
“What’s so funny?” Alizarin wondered as he saw Aria suppress a giggle.
“Nothing much.” She did her best not to laugh again, partially from nerves. “It’s just that I realized I’m kind of getting you back for those times you suddenly grabbed me, you know? I guess we’re even, now.”
“You could get into serious trouble, you know.”
“You could have gotten in trouble that time you trapped me in the shed.”
“I was following orders.”
“I’m not,” she said, firmly, “I made this decision and I know the risks, so don’t worry about me. If you’re at risk of getting in trouble for this, you can say the crazy land girl got a siren to help her kidnap you.”
“And get you in more trouble?”
Aria shrugged. “They’re already trying to kill me, so whatever.”
“This isn’t going to help your cause.”
She placed her hands on his shoulders. “Rin, it’s Christmas. I know that doesn’t mean much to you, but it means a lot to me. Let me do this for you in the name of Christmas, okay?”
He met her determined gaze and relented. “What am I supposed to do with my night of freedom, then?”
“That’s your choice,” Aria told him, “Kind of the point, you know. Tell me what you want to do and we’ll do it.”
He fell into a thoughtful silence for a few minutes. “I don’t even know, to be honest. After all, I don’t really know anything about the land. What do humans usually do for fun?”
Aria had to pause at that. She usually went swimming for fun, but that didn’t seem to be the right answer in this case. It took a moment for anything to occur to her. “Well…we have parties and stuff, I guess.” Her eyes widened as she thought of that. “The party!”
“I’m not really welcome at those parties,” Rin pointed out.
“No, not the merfolk parties; my party…well, my friend’s party.” She ran a hand through her hair. “I should find Freya. We need to get going.”
“Am I supposed to look after him?” Kai wondered.
“I don’t need anybody looking after me.”
“Come with me,” she said before even thinking, “It could be fun and it’s a Christmas party, so you could see that.”
“Would that really be okay?” Rin asked.
“It’ll be fine. My friends are super nice,” she promised, “I’m sure they’ll like you.”
His expression made it clear he was less confident. “I wouldn’t want to cause you more trouble.”
“It’s no trouble. It will be fun.”
“Aria!” Freya rushed up to her. “You can’t go running off like that! Do you have any idea how worried I was?”