Managing a small group of mermaids on land is a tedious and, frankly, tiring task. Maddie plops down on a chair at the Center, dragging a hand over her exhausted features. She briefly wonders how exactly did this become her actual life. She closes her eyes and releases a long, suffering sight. Then she hears soft footsteps that come to an abrupt stop. She turns to the newcomer.
“Maddie okay?” Ryn asks. There’s worry in her curious gaze, so clear to Maddie that she mentally scolds herself for being found like this.
“Yeah.” Maddie gives a small nod accompanied by a small smile. “Just tired.”
“You need sleep,” Ryn suggests, and yes. Maddie should absolutely go to sleep. But… But.
“Yeah, I know,” she sighs and stands up.
Ryn is wearing one of her sweaters, which is endearingly big on her small frame. The sight tugs at Maddie’s heart so much she puts a hand on her chest. Ryn notices (of course she does) her staring for a moment too long.
“What?” she asks, eyebrows furrowing only to immediately un-furrow again. It’s adorable.
“Nothing.” Maddie runs a hand over Ryn’s shoulder, covered by the borrowed sweater. “It suits you, is all. You should keep it.”
Ryn is looking up at her, as earnest as ever, and it would be so easy to just bend down and kiss her. Maddie feels the pull again and before she can stop herself, she’s doing it. Her hand on Ryn’s cheek, their noses almost touching now…
Their lips brush against each other, and Maddie sighs. However crazy her life is right now, this feels right.
Ryn presses into her, rising on tiptoe. Maddie instinctively wraps her arms around Ryn’s delicate torso, holding her steady and close. She feels Ryn’s hand on the back of her neck, stroking the short hair at her nape. The other hand rests gently on her shoulder. They kiss slowly, savouring the sensation. Ryn’s teeth softly tug on Maddie’s lip, and Maddie lets out a breathy chuckle. They break away and Maddie rests her forehead against Ryn’s, inhaling deeply.
“Better?” Ryn asks, and Maddie swears she’s being cheeky.
“Yeah,” she nods in the affirmative. She wants to say something else, but then-
Ben comes in, looking wind-swept and hurried. She and Ryn stay close but Ryn moves to stand by her side. Ben takes the scene in front of him in and the look of realization on his face sends a thrill through Maddie. She doesn’t feel guilty, no. Excited, rather.
“Did you need something?” she asks, looking at him expectantly.
Ben frowns, eyes glancing back and forth for a quick second before he gives Maddie a wide-eyed, empty look.
“… I forgot.”
Maddie laughs, loud and uninhibited. She sees Ryn smiling out of the corner of her eyes and Ben is chuckling too, scratching the back of his head sheepishly. A warmth spreads through her entire body, a feeling she associates with being in love.
“Stay,” she finds herself saying and she is not surprised to know that she means it. She misses Ben, truly. And she sees him working on himself and she loves him even more for it.
And so he tentatively shrugs off his jacket and comes closer, until Maddie can pick up on his scent; he smells like the ocean.
“So uh, what were you guys up to?” he asks, awkward and soft.
Maddie looks down at Ryn, smiling. “Kissing, mostly.”
“Oh cool. Can I join?” He wiggles his eyebrows and Maddie laughs again. Ryn still hasn’t quite got the hang of that, so she just grins wide.
With one checking look at Maddie, Ryn takes a step towards Ben, who is so much bigger than her that it’s almost absurd. She steps into his space and he encompasses her in a tight embrace. When they kiss, Ryn hums deep in her chest. It’s fascinating to watch the push and pull of the two of them and Maddie watches on hungrily.
She doesn’t realize she’s walking towards them until she’s already right next to them. Ryn turns her head to look at her, and Maddie can’t resist the urge to kiss her again. Ryn’s mouth now tastes faintly of Ben. (She wonders if Ben tasted her on Ryn’s lips before. The thought of it excites her.) When they pull apart again, Maddie looks up at Ben. His pupils are blown and his jaw is hanging slack, and really, it’s a little funny. She tugs at him and he goes, pliant, until their mouths meet with practised grace. Maddie lets out a breath and he inhales in turn, runs a hand down Maddie’s side until it comes to rest on her hip. His other hand is still on the small of Ryn’s back.
When they’re done kissing, they pile down on a bench by the table. It’s narrow and a little uncomfortable, but sitting this close together, nothing else seems to matter. Maddie presses into Ben’s side, Ryn practically in her lap. They sit in silence, happy to simply exist together for a few minutes. Maddie nuzzles her face into the crook of Ben’s neck. She’d doze off right here, were it not for his big warm hand on her thigh.
“Hey,” he murmurs, turning to look at her. “Let’s get you in bed.”
Maddie grimaces in disapproval but she knows he’s right. She shoots a look to Ryn, who nods.
“I stay here,” Ryn says, before adding, quite redundantly: “with others.”
“Okay,” Maddie says. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
And with one last kiss, they part ways.
Maddie may have fallen asleep in Ben’s car. She’s gently shaken awake by him and once her eyes focus enough, she’s surprised to find he drove her home. To her unasked question he simply says: “Your dad would be worried.”
She smiles and gets out of the car on her own. Before she heads inside, she stands on her tiptoes, hands bracing on Ben’s broad shoulders. She kisses him quickly and sweetly.
“Good night, Ben.”
“Good night,” he whispers, eyes crinkling as his lips tug upwards.
Ben waits until she disappears behind the glass doors before driving away.
However crazy her life has got, Maddie thinks when her head finally hits the pillow, this is right. She blissfully drifts to sleep not long after that.