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Mer-made to Meet Each Other

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[Alright, children,] Rona said. [What’s the rule about surfacing? Yes, Logainne?]

[Surface slowly and make sure there's no humans around!]

[Yes. Remember, humans have strong violent tendencies towards unfamiliar beings, so it's better to err on the side of caution.]

A small ginger seahorse quickly raised his hand.

[What, Leaf?]

[If humans are dangerous, then why do we do the trip?]

She sighed. [Because we go as humans, Leaf. They don't know who we actually are. They assume we're a group from a different area. But that's for a different time.] Rona swam to the door. [Break time. Stay nearby. All of you are too young to risk surfacing.]

Logainne grabbed Leaf’s arm and guided him out the door. He leaned close to her. [Logainne…]

[What?]

[We should go to the rocks,] he whispered. [My sister said they're really cool.]

[No! No, Miss Perretti said no surfacing!]

He gave her puppy dog eyes, somehow looking sad but excited. [Please? It'll be fun. And we'll be safer if we go together!]

[You can't go anywhere without me, Leaf. You're permanently trapped in the buddy system. So no, we're not going!]

[Where are you going?] Marigold interrupted.

[Leaf’s trying to break the rules!] Logainne said.

[I’m just curious!] Leaf turned to his sister’s escort. [C’mon, Will! Do you wanna go to the sitting rocks?]

[Not particularly.]

Leaf groaned. [Work with me here. I'm not the only one that's curious! You guys are a bunch of squids.]

[It’s not worth it. We'd get in trouble.] Will frowned, not appreciating being forced into the conversation. [Just wait until after school. You know how strict Miss Perretti and Mr Mahoney are. Going now is a dumb idea.]

[Can you take me after school, then?]

Will sighed. [Fine. After school.]

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[This is a worse idea than I originally thought,] Will mused.

Leaf poked his head above the water. [It’s all clear. Come on, let's go to the rocks.] They surfaced onto the rocks and took in their surroundings. [Wow! It's so-]

[Shitty,] Will finished. [This is depressing. I hate it.] He glanced at the shore and yelped. [People!] When Leaf didn't duck down behind the rocks, Will tugged him down. [Are you trying to get us killed?]

[It’s just a child,] he pointed out. [That’s only person there. It's fine.] Leaf went silent and watched the person on the shore. A few minutes later, he had an opinion on the person. [Humans are cute.]

[They’re weird.] A few more people appeared on the beach and Will hid again.

[There’s another young one,] Leaf said. [Long brown hair.] They watched the people on the beach in silence.

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Olive Ostrovsky had had a miserable day. Everyone at her new school had been too intimidating to talk to, her mom was still in India, and her dad wasn't home. She had no friends, no parents, and no siblings. No one. So when she got home after school, she cleaned out her lunchbox and put in her dinner, grabbed a book, and left a note saying she had gone down to the beach. Then she had packed her food, book, and towel in the basket of her bike and ridden to the nearby shore. It was empty. Vacation season was over and school had started, and it was a more residential area anyway. She laid out her blanket, sat down, and cracked open her book.

Charlito Tolentino didn't normally go to the beach alone. He didn't ever swim alone, but today was a different kind of day. Today, all he wanted was a break from his friends and from people in general. They weren't bad friends, but they were loud and annoying at times and right now he needed some solitude. Alone time was something he didn't get at home. He shared a room with his brother. There wasn't a space in the rest of the house for him to be alone, so he rode out to the beach and spent it there.

Swimming was something peaceful for him. It wasn't his sport of choice - that was baseball, and he prided himself on his pitching in particular - but it was soothing to be surrounded by the gentle waves, to feel the cold water giving relief from the constant heat. He knew that he shouldn't swim alone, but he wasn't really swimming, just wading, and he was a strong swimmer. He'd be fine.

Olive was unaware of anyone else on the beach. It was, after all, a large area, and she was rather absorbed by her book. So she didn't notice a boy walking into the ocean. She didn't notice him lay back and float for a few minutes. Olive didn't know that he was somehow pulled further out to sea to a riptide that trapped him partially underwater, sending him into a blind panic.

Chip was painfully aware of all of this because it was happening to him. Yeah, he might've swam out a bit too far to float, and yes, he might've gotten stuck in a riptide. This was definitely a problem. Even someone thinking calmly and rationally would have found this a difficult situation, and a twelve-year-old was anything but calm and rational. His first reaction was to swim out of the riptide, something that was not going to work but he had convinced himself it could if he could just keep swimming. After a minute of furious, futile paddling he knew that it wasn't going to work. But what else could he do? If he was going to die a sad, lonely death, he at least wanted to die knowing he had tried something to stop it.

He was young and athletic, but he was panicking. Within two minutes he had no air left. Still, he used what energy remained to swim upward.

God, if only he had stayed home. It wasn't that loud. His brother wasn't that irritating. He would trade hours of future alone time to be at home right now, and not struggling in the ocean against certain death. What would his family think? What would his friends say? Everyone knew not to swim alone because of this. He was going to be remembered as that dumbass who broke the rules put in place to keep people from dying like this.

It was getting harder now. His legs weren't kicking anymore and his arms slowly drifted to his sides. The temptation to breath in was tremendous and he finally gave in. It would happen eventually, and the longer he struggled the worse it would hurt. His vision dimmed. He stopped thinking, stopped observing, stopped caring. None of that mattered now.