Six

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My night in confinement is cold and sleepless, the thin, threadbare cover barely enough to keep my frozen body warm. At eight am, a tray of breakfast is delivered to my room as usual: a glass of orange juice, a bowl of oats and two white pills with a small cup of water.

I wait for the keeper to leave before I take the two pills and crush them up with the side of my spoon, sprinkling the contents into the toilet before flushing the chain, just like Muriel taught me. Then I take a sip of my orange juice and devour the small bowl of porridge.

Our stomachs are much smaller than the average human and therefore we don't require as much food to become full, but I still can't help but wonder what it must feel like to be the guests in the café, able to gorge on food until they're physically sick.

At nine am, Lucy comes in and I reluctantly put on my tail, lowering myself into the freezing cold water. Once Rob joins us, Lucy has me run through my routine multiple times as Reece stands in the corner, his eyes dark, posture stiff, hand always trained on his gun and his eyes always trained on me.

He doesn't trust me. The girls and I have spent months getting the trainers to trust us completely. We've given them problems before, refusing to practice or perform how they wanted us to, but we quickly realized that kind of behavior got us nowhere.

No, if we ever want to escape, we need to be the model mermaids, we need them to believe that we love it in Marine World as much as they want us to. That's when they're going to let their guard down.

This new guard not only mistrusts me, but it's clear from his hand resting on his gun that he's afraid of me, of what I'm capable of, just as I'm afraid of what he is. Still, as much as I dislike him-dislike all of them-I need him on my side.

He has security access to the doors at night, he's the only way I'm getting out of the enclosure alive, and despite his frosty demeanor and his obvious dislike for me, I already know he's a better man than the others.

He'd asked questions about my safety, about my modesty, he'd carried me when I'd been struggling to walk, but he isn't going to be easily subdued, and if my plans to convince him to help me don't work, I'm just going to have to take that pass right off his belt and run.

"Out you come," Lucy finally says, climbing back out of the water, and I hop onto the ledge of the pool, waiting for further instruction.

Reece is so close, I can't help but playfully splash him with my tail as I do and he looks over with a scowl. I plaster on a smile in return and Lucy and Rob both laugh at my absurdity. Good, I need them to see me as a simple, playful mermaid and not how they're probably viewing Crystal right about now-dangerous.

When I look over at Reece, I see in the calculating look he's giving me that he isn't buying it, and something in my stomach drops. 

"Okay, Aura," Lucy says, "Rob will act as the guest this time."

Rob stands up from where he's perched on a rock and walks towards me, lowering himself into the water before I flip back in, submerging myself before bursting to the surface and offering him my hand.

Reece's hand twitches on top of his gun, as if he's waiting for something-anything-to give him a reason to shoot. Ignoring the fear coursing through me, I take Rob's hand before gliding him through the water towards me.

I spin us around in a circle as he smiles. We go on in the same vein all morning, Lucy timing me as I take Rob underwater, making sure I'm not deviating from the routine like Crystal had yesterday afternoon. Making sure I'm acting how I'm supposed to.

"All right, Aura," Rob says at last. "That's the end of the water routine. I'd like you to move to meet and greet please."

I nod and flip back out of the water onto the land. Lucy and Rob both hoist me onto the diamond encrusted chair in the corner and fan out my hair.

"We do a meet and greet for kids and a meet and greet for adults," Rob explains when Reece shoots him a confused look. "Five minutes each. Kid mode, please, Aura. What can you talk about?"

"I can talk about how much I love being a mermaid, how much I love the water. I can ask questions such as their name, if they saw any of the performances, if they will visit me again."

Rob nods. "Last one today, Aura. Adult mode, please. Run through scenario."

I take a deep breath and nod.

"You're beautiful," Rob says, immediately stroking the side of my arm and I twitch at the contact, trying my best to remain still.

"Thank you," I say with a forced smile. "Would you like to ask me a question?"

Instead, Rob's hand begins to travel up the length my tail, his hand stroking my bare stomach and I swallow hard.

"What are you doing?" Reece demands to know, closing the distance between us.

Rob looks up at him, impatience lining his features. "We have to prepare her for different kind of guests," he explains. "Some guests are a little handsy and try to push their luck, so we train her to understand what is acceptable and what's not."

Reece's eyes shine with anger. "And having a guest rub his hands all over her is acceptable? This is supposed to be a family establishment."

"If they go too far then of course we end the meet and greet," Rob reassures him. "But if they just want a little feel, we tend to look the other way. They pay a lot of money for the meet and greets and we want to ensure they come back."

Rob notices Reece's expression and sighs. "Come on, Aura, this session is done." He turns to me now, giving a severe look. "Take a ten-minute break and then we'll head over to the facility. Bear in mind you'll have to stay in confinement until at least tomorrow morning, and Reece here will be watching over you."

"When can I see her?" I ask, my chest tightening. Nobody has mentioned Crystal all day and I'm beginning to fear for her life. I've been useless at convincing them it was all an accident, that Crystal hasn't done anything wrong. They wouldn't be watching me like this if they

thought it was an accident, I wouldn't have been assigned a guard if they didn't think we were all dangerous now, and when Lucy looks down and gives me a long, sympathetic look, I know that wherever Crystal is, she is not okay.

"Probably not for a long time," Lucy admits, and dread fills the pit of my stomach as images of Muriel swim to the forefront of my mind.

Probably not ever again.

A/N

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