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The Mermaid and The Prince

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    Rose was sprawled out in her bed, on her back with her tired arms supporting her phone above her face as her golden waves lay spread out around her. This was a position many people all around the world found themselves in countless times, normally at night when they should be sleeping, just as she should be.

   Modern convenience however has made it so that she could rest on her bed, in the dark and still be in contact with someone an ocean away. She didn’t even have to wonder what he was doing. Tom had told her that he was getting ready for his morning run, just as she was debating turning in for the night. This is how it had been for the last few months, catching quick text messages and short calls when time permitted, seemingly one of them always being at work or asleep when the other was free.

   It wasn’t fair, yet it was what she signed up for. Not that she actually signed up for anything. But she kind of thought she did, when she allowed him to take her to dinner three times during his stay and spent nearly a whole weekend together. Rose felt like they had a connection, like they had something yet she was too scared to say anything before he left. Now, three months later, they talked every day and she still didn’t say anything, enjoying the happy state of whatever they were. He said he would come back, he would see her again and she accepted that.

   “I should be done in just a few more weeks.” Tom had said, referring to the shooting schedule for a series of advertisements. Once shooting was finished, they talked about him coming stateside to see her again. He said he was looking forward to it. She said she was too. He said he missed her. She said she did too.

   When the pictures loaded on her Twitter feed however, her fingers went slack around her phone and it plummeted from her hand as it had weights tapped to its back. Funny how that works, cell phones are so light that you carry them around all day without issue but drop them and noting falls faster. Or harder. And for some reason, phones always land square on the face, always. No matter how you are lying when you drop it.

   With a groan, Rose grabbed the offensive device off the side of the bed and rolled to her stomach for a better, safer look without risking damage to her nose or a black eye. With a few select taps, the screen loaded up a gossip website and images.

   First things first, her brain zoned in on the photo. It showed two people sitting at a cozy outdoor cafe. A man with hair that could almost be called ginger but still stuck close to a dirty blonde, fluffed a bit on top and clean shaven sat on one side of the table. One long leg was folded under the chair, the other stretched out near the woman’s leg. Dark slacks gave contrast to the light blue button down shirt he wore as one long arm rested across the table towards the woman.

   And what a woman she was. Legs for miles in a short summer dress that clung to her body. Dark curls cascaded over her back and red lips smiled at the man. The man was Tom, clear as day and the woman, Emma Hoss, had her delicate hand resting on his as she leaned over the table toward him. Her leg was maybe touching his, rubbing his. Rose felt ice wash over her at the sight and quickly moved onto the words.

   “A list Actor Tom Hiddleston was spotted getting cozy with young up and coming Emma Hoss.” The article stated. “The pair was snapped in a local London cafe getting to know each other and getting cozy. Tom’s known for keeping his relationships on the down low, so for a public spotting they must be serious. Emma Hoss is playing Tom’s love interest in a upcoming set of steamy advertisements for Jaguar. Did love blossom on set or did Tom snag her the part to spend some quality time with her? We may never know but remember, you saw it here first!”

   The article went on for a few more paragraphs, detailing Tom’s hush hush history of dating and how rare it was to see him in a public romance. It spoke of how his last spotlight romance was a whirlwind that ultimately blew up and evaporated, not without a lot of press interested. Also detailed was Emma’s past relationships. The writers seemed to hint that she slept her way to her position, earning favor with A list actors she wished to work with by spending time with them on her back.

   Rose sighed and tossed the phone on her nightstand. It was late and she needed to sleep. An early morning was coming, yet sleep would not come. Rather, she snatched up her phone again and finally did what she had been avoiding for so long. Rose delved into the depths of the rumor mill, getting lost in a sea of tabloid pictures, gossip rags and speculation that she didn’t surface from until hours later. At some point, she had fallen asleep with her phone in her hands.

   A ‘ping’ from her phone woke her, just two short minutes before her alarm was set to go off. As he had nearly everyday since he left, Tom sent her a text wishing her a good morning. Every morning after receiving that same text, Rose would send him one asking how his day was going. If he had free time before she had to go to work, he would call her and they would chat. Today, she ignored the message as she dressed and made the first of many cups of coffee.

   It worried Tom, when his message went unacknowledged. He was by no means a overbearing man, a needy man or a insecure man, but he missed her. Truly, deeply, right down to his bones, he missed her. Was she bored of him? Did she decide that whatever it was they were doing, what they had become, was too hard? Did she find someone else? Someone who could be with her? After a text wishing her a good day a hour and a half later was also ignored, he called her only to get her voicemail.

   For a moment, Tom considered not leaving her a message at all. It did no good to come off needy but the Beep to begin recording began too soon. It would look weirder yet if he left a recording of him breathing and background noise. Maybe she would just think it was a accidental call? Maybe she would think he was crazy. To be fair, he was. He was crazy about her. But it wouldn’t do for her to be doubting his mental state.

   “Good Morning, Darling Rose.” The sound of his warm voice rumbled through the phone and right down to her toes. Rose would never get used to hearing him say her name. “Unfortunately, it seems you’re busy this morning. I had hoped to hear your voice. I’m not sure when I’ll be done today, but ring me when you can? You mentioned you had news last night but I was so knackered that you wanted to wait to tell me until this morning. I’m ever so eager to hear what news you have. Have a good day, Darling.”

   Rose didn’t actually listen to the message right away. In all honesty, she avoided it until lunch time when the blinking icon finally annoyed her. It was nearing 8pm in London. His day would be coming to a close while hers still had so much left to it. With a sigh, she pressed the call button. He didn’t deserve to be ignored, to be ghosted when he didn’t actually do anything wrong. After all, she was just a mermaid from Vegas, a memory. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

   “My Darling Rose!” Tom cheered into the phone after a few rings and rose wondered what he called Emma Ross when answering her calls. “How is your day so far? All those fish behaving themselves?” He had a habit of talking about the fish as if they were her children. It wasn’t wholly wrong, she did think of them all as hers but still. In the background, she could hear the chatter of people and near him, the laugh of a woman. She wondered if it was Emma Hoss.

   “Everyone is healthy, sassy and accounted for.” She laughed. “We have a pregnant dolphin as of a week or two ago.” Rose glanced at the dolphin in question as she nibbled at what was left of her lunch. It was hard to fight the desire to ask where he was. It sounded like a pub of some sort.  

   “Oh, that is wonderful. Was that the news you had? I had hoped you had word on the photo shoot you wanted to do but that’s truly wonderful Rose.” Oh how he wanted to see how she would look swimming in the ocean, tail trailing in the water.

   “Nothing concrete yet.” Rose fibbed. They were sending her a travel itinerary later that week but plans could change. “How’s filming?”

   “Oh truly lovely. Everyone’s been a dream to work with. Emma has such talent, I’m excited to see where she goes.” Rose cringed at the name. Faintly she could hear a woman laugh and brush off the complement. She was there, with him.

   “I’ve got to go, work and all.” Rose impulsively decided to exit the situation. They should spend time together. They looked good together.

   “So soon?” Tom whined. “Very well, Princess. I’ll talk to you tomorrow?”

   “Yeah, sure. Have a good night, Tom.” Rose didn’t wait for him to respond before ending the call. There was still 20 minutes left to her lunch break officially, but she went back to work early.

   Tom was left looking blankly at his phone. He tried to tell himself that his Rose must be busy, if she was taking a short lunch. Perhaps she took her break early, and that’s why she had to go almost 20 minutes before she normally would when they talked on a lunch break. He tried to tell himself that everything was fine. Yet, he wasn’t sure he could make himself believe that.

   “My, that is a long face.” Emma spoke sweetly. No matter how she spoke, what she was saying, Tom always felt like her voice was sticky sweet with sugar. Never the smooth sweetness of honey like Rose, but the overpowering processed sweetness he often found present in American processed pastries. Yet she was in so many other ways a talented actress who had such promise. That was, as long as she could learn to control her voice.

   “Oh, I know, your Mermaid Princess mad at you? Does she want you to fly her out to be with you or is she wanting you to buy her something?” Emmy sipped at her fruity drink as she spoke, eyeing him, trying to catch a reaction.

   “She’s just busy today, Emma. She’s not asking for anything.” Tom spoke softly, trying to keep his voice in check.

   “Oh but she will. Why else would she want someone so above her. Someone who can’t even be with her. You know, I could be with you.” Emma trailed her long fingers down his arm as she spoke but Tom shook her off.

   “Emma, I do believe I’ll retire for the night. I’ll see you in the morning.” Tom made a point to excuse himself after draining the last of the beer from his glass.

   At home, he was left alone with his thoughts as he sipped his glass of whiskey. Thoughts of Rose and how he missed her made him feel as if he was drowning in loneliness. When he’d put her out of mind, Emma would surface. They had gotten lunch together a few days ago and since then, the woman had been all over him. It was annoying, yet innocent, he was sure.

   “I’ll be dreaming of you.” Tom didn’t remember sending the text at midnight when he finally retired for the night. He wanted to stay up until she would be off work but the whiskey and the early mornings combined to lull him to sleep while she was likely still swimming in the sun. His Rose. How he missed his Rose.

   Rose smiled at the text on her phone as she finished up for the evening. The resort was adding in official “mermaid show” and so her tank tasks were delegated out while she trained the official new Mermaids. There were two, both students from the local college and both majoring in natural sciences. They were good young woman and would do great things.

   “Sleep well.” Rose sent the reply before thinking. She forgot for a moment she was distancing herself from him. Distancing her heart from him. It would take time to learn, she knew that, yet she wished she had ignored the message. Before she had a chance to wallow in the failing of self control, her phone lit up. For a split second, she thought it was Tom, that she had woke him up. But it wasn’t.

   “Rose.” She answered as she pulled her purse over her shoulder. “Oh? Sweet. Okay. Yeah, yeah, that’s no problem. I don’t mind red at all. I’ll see you in two weeks then. Right. Goodbye.”

    Maggie walked through the resort listening to half the conversation, having fallen into step beside Rose as she came inside from the pools. “I got an A, before you ask. What was that about?”

   “Congrats, first of all. I told you that you could do it. Second- I’m going to Australia.” Rose grabbed the triangle out of Maggie’s hands and opened the box with a grin. The girl really knew how to take care of her.

   “What about red? What was that about?” Maggie  watched as Rose nibbled at the slice of pizza before snagging the soda for a drink as they walked.

   “They want to go full on Disney Little Mermaid. Bye bye blonde. God, this pizza is amazing. You are a saint, have I told you that yet this week?” Food was the way to Rose’s heart and soul. Spending so much time swimming, she was always starving.

   “Chris is from there, right? Maybe Tom will be visiting and you can see him. Or both of them. Or just a lot of Tom.” Rose rolled her eyes as she shoved more Pizza into her face. Maggie was obsessed with the fact that while he was in town, Rose and Tom did not sleep together.

   “I haven’t told Tom yet. I just got the call. He’s working anyway. According to the tabloids, getting cozy with an actress too.” Rose didn’t mean to admit the last bit. She didn’t want to acknowledge that she was feeling jealous. Green wasn’t a good color on her.

   “And you believe that why? Have you even asked him about it?” Maggie was amazed that someone she looked up to so much, an adult who had their life together, could be so stupid.

   “I don’t know. Okay? They looked cozy. They were holding hands on a lunch date at a cafe, sitting cozy at a table. It was cute. They looked sweet.” Rose didn’t want to talk about it. She didn’t want to think about it. So the whole way home she blasted the radio as loud as her poor truck could manage.

   At home she opened a bottle of wine and did her best to not think of anything for the rest of the night. Eventually sleep came and she saw Tom in her dreams. She saw Emma in her dreams. And the sound of the woman’s shrill laugh as she pulled Tom away from her, into her bed.

   “He’ll never be yours.” Emma said as she pulled Tom on top of her as he kissed and nibbled at her neck.

   Morning came too soon and yet not soon enough. Rather then the ping of a text message, it was her phone’s actual ringtone that woke her up. Blindly she groped for it and answered.

   “Are you dying?” Sleep was thick in her voice and Rose didn’t even pop an eye open to look at the time. All she knew was that she was tired and her alarm hadn’t gone off yet.

   “Only in my heart, for it yearns to be with you.” Tom’s voice was warm and seemed to wash over her. “Good morning, Darling.”

   “What time is it even?” Rose rolled over, clutching her phone to her ear as she nuzzled back into her pillows. She could talk to him in her sleep, she decided.

   “Time for you to get up, I’d wager. It’s about when you’d respond, normally at least.” Rose groaned and looked at her phone before shooting up. She forgot to set her alarm and if not for Tom, she’d be late to work.

   “Oh god, Thank you. I’d have overslept if you didn’t call.” Rose pulled herself from the bed and set about getting coffee going and dressed for the day.

   “Glad to know I’m not to be skinned for waking you.” Tom laughed lightly. “I wanted to tell you, I’ll be free in a week and a half. I wanted to know if you would mind terribly, if I came to see you? I’ve got some appearances lined up in LA and it’s not really all that far away.”

   “Oh.” Rose froze in her kitchen. Why would he really want to come see her?

   “Oh?” Tom mimicked back after a moment of silence. “Darling, I just thought…”

   “No, no. It’s just that I’m not going to be here.” Rose started.

   “Where will you be?” Tom asked, his voice tight as thoughts ran through his head.

   “I ah. Australia. I got confirmation last night for the project. I leave in two weeks.” Rose admitted.

   “Oh! That’s wonderful.” It wasn’t and Tom’s voice gave away his disappointment even as he tried to hide it. “You should have texted me right away.”

   “I figured you’d be asleep. Or busy with…” Rose cut her words off with a swig of too hot coffee. “Oh, hot! Hot! Still hot.”

   “With who?” Now he was truly confused. Tom was a smart man, but when it came to matters of the heart he didn’t always see things from all directions and this left him baffled.

   “Emma. With Emma. I just figured… It doesn’t matter. I’ve got to get to work. Have a good night. Day. Whatever. I’ll talk to you later.” Rose disconnected the call and jogged down the stairs to her car. Maybe if she ran fast enough, if she drove fast enough, she could outrun her traitorous thoughts.

   Tom was mystified. For the next few days he tired to call Rose, but every call went to voicemail. She would respond to text messages but only shallow small talk. Anytime he’d ask her anything of consequence, she would clam up and pretend she hadn’t seen it. It was all driving him mad combined with Emma’s near constant petting.

   The first chance he could, he met his mother for dinner. Hopefully she could give him some idea what he did wrong. Why the woman he loved thought he would be with Emma that night.

   The woman he loved. Did he love Rose? The thought was startling. Tom had always thought love was a grand revelation, something that he would realize he felt when looking at the woman dressed to the nines for him, during a perfect moment. That’s how it had always been but really, had that always been more him being in love with the very idea of being in love?

   Never did he need his mother as he needed her now. The sight of her waiting for him at the table warmed his heart.

   “Tom, how good it is to see you.” She wrapped him in a warm embrace as she stood to greet him. “You’re troubled.” She finally pointed out as they sat.

   “No, I’m fine. It’s fine. How have you been?” He was a bloody coward and he knew it.

   “Is it that girl, that Rose? Oh, what have you done to muck it up? You were so smitten with her.”

   “I don’t know. Mum, I have no idea. She wont talk to me. She wont tell me what I’ve done. I ask her and she ignores the question. She wont take my calls.” Oh yes, good job Tommy boy, break down for mum. He pinched the bridge of his noes with a sigh before running his hand through his hair.

   “Well, what did you talk about on your last call?” She nibbled at her meal as she watched her hopeless son.

   “She’s doing a photo shoot in Australia. She didn’t tell me right away because she didn’t want to bother me. She thought I was with Emma, I don’t know why she would think that?” Tom again ran his fingers through his hair as he watched his mother set to work, pulling out her phone and doing what he himself would never be brave enough to do again. She Googled him.

   “According to the gossip rags, you’ve been on at least one nice lunch date with one Emma Ross.” Tom’s eyes shot up to his mother’s.

   “What?” He gasped out. Surely Rose wasn’t one for gossip rags.

   “This one has pictures of you with her in a pub too. She’s petting you dear. Does she think you are a dog?” She turned the phone so Tom could see the pictures. They were poor quality but good enough. They had to have been taken just before he called Rose.

   “Bloody hell.”

   “Have you talked to her about this? About the press? About what comes with being your girlfriend? Tom, dear, have you warned her about how they lie?”

   “No.” His voice was small. They hadn’t had that talk. They didn’t even have the talk where they labeled what they were. “I don’t even know if she’s my girlfriend.” Tom weakly acknowledge.

   “You are a fool, my dear boy. I’d advise you set about making this right. If you love her, go to her.” It didn’t take much more to get him on the phone with his managing team. His mother watched with a smile as he stormed away, after their meal finished. He had work to do and she could only hope that he would manage to fix whatever he had mucked up.

   “There is a photo shoot in Australia I need in on. The one with the mermaid for the ocean conservation project?” Tom paused for a moment, waving at a fan and signing whatever was shoved in front of his face. “Yes, yes that one. Do whatever you have to do to get me on that project. Yes, I know it is short notice.”

   “Are you sure?” The man on the other end of the line hesitated. “It’s not really your thing. They are wanting to go full on Disney Little Mermaid vibes.”

   “Do whatever it takes. Promise whatever it takes. I don’t care if I bloody get paid for it. Make it happen.” Tom stormed home, ending the call abruptly and only beginning to relax when inside the safety of his home.

   He tried Rose’s number but again got voicemail. She had been answering fewer and fewer of his texts the last few days. He sighed and tried again.

   “Rose, I miss you.” Tom would send a similar text message every few days. It was one she ignored. She answered his 'good morning’ messages sometimes, asked how his work was going but avoided the topic of herself. Nearly each night she cried herself to sleep over pictures of Tom with Emma.

   New pictures seemed to surface every few days as well. They were on a small local press tour. They would laugh together, she would pet him. Rose hated most the pictures of them together at the pub. When it came time to travel, Rose was anything but rested and refreshed but at least she had managed to not cry herself to sleep the night prior.

   Rose hated to travel. Maybe that was why she settled in Las Vegas. Everything ultimately came to her. Plays, musicals, shows and exhibits all seemed to eventually stop by. It took far too long to board and leave Nevada. The time in the Air dragged on and she was ready to scream by the time they touched down in the Sydney. As much as she hated switching planes, the chance to really move around was welcomed. It took far too long to fly.

   “How are you Darling?” With a ping, her phone announced the arrival of a text message sent by one Tom, who couldn’t seem to let her distance herself from him.  

   “Just landed, switching planes.” Rose would have preferred to ignore him but with as tired as she was, she didn’t have it in her to break her own heart. Today, he would win, even if just for a few hours.

   “Can I see you?” It was an odd request but they had done a few video calls before she had seen the pictures. Before Emma.

   “You’re working or something, probably. And I’m in a airport. I’m not going to be 'that person’.” Rose did snap a picture of herself for him. She looked a right mess, no makeup and hair in a fluffy bun.

   Tom didn’t mean a video call. He hadn’t been requesting a selfie. He wanted wanted to see her. To be with her. To walk with her. To pick her up. But he didn’t know how to tell her that. How do you say 'I’ve gone behind your back and got in on your photo shoot’ without coming off as a stalker? Maybe waiting was the better option, he would be better able to talk to her if he waited. She couldn’t hang up on him or ignore him then.

   The picture he received had his heart stop. She lacked the tail and bikini that so haunted his most pleasant dreams. She was dry and decidedly on land, decidedly human. Unadorned, unmasked and unpolished. She was beautiful and raw. As he couldn’t tell her that however, he simply snapped his own picture to send back to her, making note to face away from the large window in his room.

   Rose smiled when his picture filled her screen. Tom wore a goofy grin and a plain tee that hugged him. It was hard to imagine anything he wore not hugging him, to be honest. It seemed no matter what he dressed in, the very fabric wanted to cling to him as much as she did. His suits had to be tailored within an inch of their life. How he didn’t pop a seam going about life, she would never figure out. If she looked closely at the dresser behind him, she could have seen a warning of what was to come, a magazine detailing local things to do. But she didn’t look closely, she couldn’t stand the pain in her heart seeing him. And so, she locked her phone without responding at all for half a hour.

   “Nice hair.” She finally sent as she was called to board the plane.

   “Yours is better. I fear I’m in need of a trim.” Tom smiled as he typed. His hair was longer now, curls messy and stained darker for the shoot. He wasn’t surprised when the conversation ended with that, Tom was well aware that she would be taking off soon. With just over three hours time until the moment of truth, Tom tried to relax.

   Rose was also trying to relax. It killed her to ignore him but the conversation on appearances, on hair, it was a dangerous topic that could easily lead to flirting. It would, she knew it would. Again she reminded herself to stay distant. He never promised her anything.

   They were just friends, she didn’t love him. He didn’t love her. Just friends. Who had kissed a few times. She was just friends with an actor. Just friends with Tom Hiddleston. A man who she loved.

   The work of. She loved the work of him. That’s at least what she kept telling herself.

   He was an actor. And a Englishman. And busy. And popular. And dated actresses. And singers. And not mermaid biologists. She wasn’t good enough, would never be good enough for someone like him so no point in getting invested. More invested. She wasn’t invested. She didn’t know him. Okay, maybe she knew him a little. Maybe she was a little invested in him. The idea of him. Shit.

   Yeah. Better to just ignore. Yep.

   It was late when the plane’s wheels touched down but Rose was more then eager to get off the plane and get to sleep in a real proper bed. The production company for the photo shoot had assured her a car would be sent and that was just fine by Rose. The last thing she needed to do was try to make it to the hotel half asleep without killing herself or getting properly lost.

   What she expected to find when she made her way to the airport exit, passed security was a man, probably wearing a suit the a paper sign reading her name. That is not what she was greeted with. Instead, she spotted a tall man, all legs it seemed clad in blue jeans and a light blue button down shirt. He wore dark sunglasses and had a baseball hat pulled low over his head. In his hand he held a glossy print photograph of a picture of a desert rose. Hesitantly, she walked up to him. Looking as he was, the man could only be one of two things.

   “Surprise!” Tom called in a singsong voice, complete with jazz hands. Rose couldn’t help but laugh, regardless of how conflicted she felt. It was good to see him, even if she could hardly see him in his current get up.

   “Why do you look like a serial killer?” Quickly she gave him a side hug, trying to touch as little of him as possible.

   “I’m undercover. You don’t know it’s me. No one does.” The boyish grin was so 100% him that Rose was amazed people didn’t start snapping pictures on the spot.

   “You look like a movie star who’s trying to not be noticed, or a serial killer. Honestly, both look the same.” Rose laughed, tugging on the bill of his cap to make her point.

    “Let’s get you to the hotel, you ungrateful meanie.” Tom pouted halfheartedly, snagging her bag off baggage claim when directed and leading the way to his rental car. He tried to ignore how far away she walked, hardly within arms reach. When he would reach out, she’d move away. Hardly would she even look at him in the eye. She was sitting in the passenger side Still, Tom opened her door for her and got her settled before seeing to her bag in the back of the expensive rental car. Finally, he sat down behind the wheel, yet didn’t start the car right away.

   “You’re not happy to see me?” Now it was Tom’s turn to not glance at her. With a sigh, he started the car and pulled away. “I’ve overstepped. I apologize. I should have-”

   “It’s great to see you Tom. I’m just surprised, I wasn’t expecting to see you. I wasn’t prepared-” She had cut off his words and now it was his turn to do the same.

   “Did you not want to see me?” Just a hint of the hurt he was feeling lingered in his voice. It’s easy to act when it’s all pretend, harder when your actual heart lay on the line.

   “It’s not that. It’s just…”

   “Just what, Rose?”

   “Nothing, it’s nothing. Are you in the area visiting Chris?” Tom noted the quick change of subject as they parked.

   “Right.” Tom’s answer didn’t make sense but he pushed forward just the same. “Can I take you to dinner? Surely you’re hungry.”

   “It’s late, Tom. I need to sleep and be up early. I ate on the plane, thank you anyway.” Another excuse.

   “Alright.” Rose could feel it in her bones. He didn’t believe her. He wasn’t buying her stories any more. But what did it matter? He had someone else. If he didn’t, he deserved someone that was his equal. Someone better.

   Tom insisted on walking her through the hotel, staying with her as she checked in and seeing her to her door. At no point did he let her take her bag from him. They carried on the whole time in silence. Rose felt her very heart in her throat and worried, if she swallowed too hard, would she crush it more then it already was?

   “Rose?” How very small his voice sounded, a whisper’s breath as he spoke. He swallowed hard and repeated her name again, stronger. He already had her attention however. She simply looked at him waiting, fearing what he would say.

   “What have I done? What ever it was, whatever I had said or done, please, tell me?” Her heart hurt as the man she seemed to only know as strength embodied, pleaded with her.

   “You’ve done nothing wrong, Tom.” How could she tell him? What should she tell him. God, how she didn’t want to have this conversation. In an effort to harden her heart, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath, standing in her room doorway where she tried to will the world away.

   Tom, not knowing what else to do, not knowing how to soothe his aching heart did the only thing he could think of. Slowly, hesitantly, he leaned down over her shorter form and softly brushes his lips against hers. Oh how good it felt to kiss her again. When her hand came to rest against his chest, he shifted, allowing himself to make better contact with her lips for a moment that was cut short all too soon when she pulled away while pushing against his chest.

   “Why?” Was all he could say as tears glittered along her eyelids.

   “We’re just friends. Things don’t have to be awkward. It’s okay.” The words she spoke hardly made any sense to him. They were friends? Was that all they were? All he was to her?

   “Just friends?” He dumbly parroted back.

   “Good night, Tom.”

   “Wait, Rose.” The door closed in his face, silencing his protests. While he stood, hands balling into fists, he heard the latch lock and the soft sound of a sob from behind the door. Whatever was going on, while he hardly understood it, he would fix it. That was his whispered vow before leaving her for the night.

   Inside the room, Rose rested sitting on the floor, back braced against the door, doing her best to contain her sobs until she finally heard the sound of his footsteps walking away. Questions danced in her head. Was she doing the right thing? Did she do the right thing? What if she was wrong? What if he wanted more? What if he wanted her? What if this wasn’t just a fling? What if he cared? What if they could be more?

   The only thing she could think of to silence the voice was to drink. Luckily, the hotel had provided a complimentary bottle of wine. By morning, it was gone yet she still hated herself for what she had done.

   That night, Tom spent much time pacing his room. Finally, he called Chris. Maybe speaking to someone who actually managed to both fall in love and stay in love would help. Poor Chris had to listen as his friend doubted everything. He questioned if he had misread her, did he misjudge things? Did she misread his intentions on their dates?

   At the end of the night, he felt calmer. Chris had told him of the moment he knew he loved the woman who became his wife. It wasn’t some grand moment. It wasn’t fancy. It was just an everyday moment, like many they had had before. The were dancing during a firework display and she was paying more attention to the lights in the sky then to where she was putting her feet. She stepped on his toes, panicked and tripped. Somehow, she managed to take Chris down with her and oh how horrible she felt about the slight rip in his suit pants. It was a sudden thought that hit him like a tidal wave as she fretted over his pants, 'God, I love this clumsy woman’. The thought was sandwiched between how the suit was fine, how he was more worried about her and how pretty the fireworks were that night. It was a perfectly ordinary moment and yet, in a subtly earth shaking way that you only can appreciate after the fact, it was profound.

   Tom realized then. Before now, he had never truly been in love. He had loved, sure. But never been in love. That passing thought, the passing idea he brushed off before was everything. No wonder people spent so much time looking for their light, if they were as dumb as he, the didn’t see it when it looked them in the face. He needed her and finally, he had a plan.

     Rose was awake at the crack of dawn, sitting in a salon chair contemplating her life choices. At no point during her many years of schooling did she think Marine Biology would lead her here. Not that she didn’t expect it to take her to Australia and the Reef, that was almost a given, even as it was dying.

   What she didn’t expect was to be sat in a salon in the name of marine biology getting her hair dyed something akin to ketchup red. Sure, it would probably look good when it was finished. Hopefully it wouldn’t bleed into the water and cloud the photographs. It wouldn’t do good to have the mermaid look like she was bleeding after all.

   In all fairness, these were experts and Rose didn’t have anything to fear. Probably. She had already had two cups of coffee but good god was she looking for a third. But the woman painting her hair wouldn’t let her budge. Dreaming about coffee would have to be good enough.

   So she daydreamed about coffee. She thought about Tom. Daydreamed about him. She thought about Emma Ross and cursed her existence. In reality, she knew if it wasn’t Emma, it could just as easily be another. Starlets were everywhere in Tom’s world. She had no way to compete.

   “Coffee?” A cup was suspended in front of her face and Rose looked dumbly at it, unable to process. “You clearly haven’t had enough. Ridiculously sweet with far too much cream for a respectable person.” Long fingers picked her hand up and wrapped her own fingers around the cup before helping her bring it to her lips, as if she was unable to do so herself.

   “Thank you. What are you doing here?” Unable to turn her head, Rose looked at Tom through the mirror.

   “I got back from my run saw you in the window looking like death warmed over. Complete with the bloodbath.” Tom laughed at his own joke. “I figured I’d shower and bring you back to life with some coffee. And so I did. Is it working?”

   “Maybe.” Tom winked at her as she sipped again at the cup. “Okay, thank you. God, coffee is a gift from God.”

   “I do normally answer to 'Tom’ but 'God’ works too.” Perched on the chair next to her, they ended up in silence after their laughter died down. Rose was kidnapped to the sinks where her hair was rinsed, shampooed, rinsed, shampooed and conditioned. It was a process. Rose was thankful not to have to do this often. She was finally freed from her salon prison with towel dried hair and Tom by her side.

   “I have to go to makeup next.” It wasn’t surprising when Tom insisted on walking her. He said he had to go that way as well and she rolled her eyes at him, not believing for a moment. Finally, she jogged in front of him before turning to walk backwards, facing him. Again he was struck by how beautiful she was, sans makeup and hair undone. It physically pained him how much he loved her.

   “For real, what are you doing here?” With eyes narrowed, she demanded an answer. She was almost intimidating, until she tripped over her own feet and almost went to the ground. Tom saved her, catching her before she could fall.

   “I’m your Prince.” Finally, he admitted when he let go of her before bowing dramatically.

   “You’re joking.” Her voice was flat.

   “Not even a little.” A wide smile lit up his face and Rose was lost. All she could do was laugh at the insanity of it. Of course, the man she was trying to avoid, trying to distance herself from would be a part of her photo shoot, the one she wasn’t sure she wanted to even tell him details about in the first place.

   While her makeup was done, Tom disappeared to dress for his part but returned to his seat after, wearing an Victorian style suit, sans jacket and shoes. They sat in awkward silence as Rose was stripped out of her shirt, revealing the purple bikini top under. When she had nothing on but it and a pair of black boy short bikini bottoms, they walked out to the boat.

   “Why didn’t you tell me?” Rose asked softly as they sat.

   “It was a bit of a last minute casting. I only found out a few days ago that I had secured the spot. In all honesty, I’m not sure what Luke had to promise to get me here.” Tom shrugged, sitting next to her.

   “Shouldn’t you be off promoting whatever it was you were doing with 'what’s her face’?” Rose cringed at the bitter green edge to her voice and reminded herself that he wasn’t hers.

   “Is that why you’ve been pulling away from me?” Sliding off the bench, Tom knelt in front of her.

   “I just… I don’t want to overstep, get in the way of a good thing for you.”  She couldn’t look him in the eyes.

   “Time to tail up, Mermaid.” A man spoke from off to the side, effectively ruining their moment. Tom hung his head with a sigh, knowing that they would have to wait to continue the conversation, if he could get her cornered again.  

   Tom watched in silence as she shimmied into the tail, turning from the woman who hand quickly enveloped his every thought over the last few months to the woman who so magically captivated him on sight. Smooth green silicone covered her legs in a ever shifting pattern, light greens, teals and accents of deeper colors gave the tail depth. Structurally, this tail was very similar to the one she wore when he first saw her. It was long, elegant and flowing, yet in a way that was always fascinating to him, it was stiff outside of the water.

   “Rose?” It took a moment for her eyes to meet his. “I thought I had offended you, driven you away. I thought somehow I…”

   “No, no. You didn’t do anything wrong Tom. You deserve to be happy.” She only spoke when his words trailed off. “If she makes you happy, by all means…”

   “What makes you happy? Don’t you deserve to be happy?” It was his turn to speak when her voice had trailed off weakly.

   “I’ll be fine. Always am.” Gazing out over the water, she wouldn’t meet his eyes again. Tom could see the tears shinning in them.

   “Don’t I make you happy?” His voice was soft and she almost didn’t think she heard him right until he continued. “Can’t I try? Can’t I be the one to make you happy?”

   “Tom?” Rose tried to question but he spoke over her just the same, his voice growing stronger with each word.

   “Don’t I get to try? Because, Dear Rose, that is what would make me happy.” As he spoke, Tom moved to again kneel in front of her, shifting so that every time she tired to look away from him, he was in front of her. Left with no other choice, she met his heated gaze.

   “But your with-” The statement was left unfinished as hi reared up on his knees and pressed his lips to hers. Softly, his hand reached out to cup the back of her neck, long fingers getting lost in the waves of her now cherry red hair. It was sweet and full of fire at the same time, as if heavy words, heavy emotions hung in the balance.

   “I’m not. I never was. I don’t want her. I never did. It’s only you. All I want is you. Since time began, you are all I’ve searched for, Rose. Long before I knew your name, knew your face. Long before I know what I was searching for, I was searching for you. You’re all I want, all I’ve ever wanted.” Tom’s rambling speech was cut off by a crew member.

   “While I appreciate love just as much as the next guy, we’ve got to get going before the sun shifts…” The poor man was awkward to break them out of their moment but Tom simply smiled at him before sighing. It couldn’t be helped.

   “I should- I’m just going to- I’ll just- You know?” Way to go, Rose. Looking like a right idiot. She chose the best method of escape, one she had hoped would salvage what little dignity she had left and cool her heated skin in the process. With little warning or notice, she leaned back and flipped herself over the railing and into the water, where she dove deep down and hoped that the cool waters would cleanse her foggy mind.

   Rose was thankful as she swam under the surface, colorful coral and fish surrounded her. They were in one of the few remaining healthy sections of the reef and yet, even here the damage could be seen. Above her, photographers took pictures from above the surface. Behind her, others in dive gear took more.

   Countless shots were taken with her red hair floating around her, matched in color by the red of her parted lips. Her lips and hair were the most the most striking features she wore, the rest of her makeup was left subtle. Soon Tom joined her in the water and pictures were taken of him swimming, dressed fully as his shirt billowed freely around him. The first few buttons were left open and at one point he shed his vest.

   He stopped often to breath but the crew was prepared. They hadn’t been counting on getting a free diver to shoot with her, so it was expected. Rose didn’t want him pushing himself, risking himself.

   While he swam, Tom was again mesmerized by her. His Mermaid Princess. His Rose. How he hoped she would be his. In the waters off the coast, she looked perfectly in place. His Rose looked as if she was right where she belonged. Tom wondered if he would look like he belonged with her in their pictures, or if her beauty would overshadow him.

   Finally, he swam toward her, twisting to face the surface before he relaxed himself and let his body drift, his legs falling under him and his back arched, head back and arms floating freely. It was a concentrated effort to relax himself.

   Rose swam to him, looking down at him and swam around his body. Tom could feel the soft brushing of her tail, fingertips and the silk of her hair as she circled him. His eyes were barely open, just slits to allow himself to keep track of how close to the surface he was. Finally. She brought her lips to his in what was the planned final shot. It was to look as if the mermaid was giving the lost prince a lifesaving breath of air and so Rose let a trail of bubbles free from the corner of her lips as Tom reached around her, wrapping a strong arm around her back. His other hand found its way to the silk of her hair.

   The feeling in the kiss was to be pretend, acting, just a photo shoot. Rose could feel the kiss down to her toes as he pulled himself to her and she to him. Red hair dances around them. Her legs twist and the tail curls behind his legs as his arms tighten around her. She clutches at his shoulders and back as she rights them.

   She can feel the slight spasm of his chest as his body begins to cry for air and so while she wished the kiss didn’t have to end, they parted. The scene had been scripted, outlined and so they knew what pictures they would need next. Rose swam off, gripping his hand in hers as she pulled him through the water behind her. After giving the crew enough time to snap the needed pictures, she pulled them to the surface.

   Tom gasped for air as soon as he broke surface. His lungs burned for it and he hoped that his face didn’t show how badly he needed air in the last few shots. Rose laughed lightly at him, his hand still held in hers as he calmed his breathing. As soon as their eyes met, he pulled her to him and kissed her deeply. It was a short kiss however, seemingly over just as it begun.

   “Rose?” Tom questioned as he pulled away. She wondered if he would always use her name as a question.

   “Tom, I-” His lips silenced her with a short kiss.

   “Let me speak. This is the perfect place for it. The perfect place for you.” With a thick swallow, he gathered his thoughts. They were alone in the water, the crew waiting for them off a ways.


   “Those pictures of Emma and me, the ones at the cafe? I’m sure you’ve seen them. I need you to know what we were talking about that day. I know they look cozy, I know she’s handsy and has a reputation. I know she wants me, regardless of what I tell her.”

   “Tom, no, its fine. You don’t have too. I trust you.” Rose wasn’t sure where he was going, where they were going. 

   “I do. And no you don’t. And that’s fine. Because I skipped that step, where I ask for your trust and promise not to betray it. We never had that talk. We never promised anything and that was wrong.” Tom smiled at her as he spoke. “ I was telling her about you. I was asking her if I was crazy. You make me crazy. I wanted to know if I’d lost my mind because I am so bloody in love with you. I know we’ve only had a few dinners, a few months of phone calls and texts. I know it’s too soon, but I love you and you need to know that. Only you.” Rose silenced him with a kiss.

   “So this makes you my-” Again, he cut her off. Rose wondered if she would ever finish speaking with him.

   “Your boyfriend. If you’d have me?” Hope shined in his eyes and Rose couldn’t deny him. “You don’t have to love me yet, I know it’s soon. I just want a chance.”

   “I love you too.” She said, instead.

   The photo shoot provided many amazing pictures that circulated that year, promoting ocean health and pollution awareness. The pictures were breathtaking. The two subjects, they looked nothing less then a mermaid and a prince, regal and so completely in love. Because they were.